Don’t let the fact they have the second-best record in the Major Leagues fool you. The Cincinnati Reds need injured first baseman Joey Votto to return if they are going to play deep into October. Yet what the club is accomplishing without one of the game’s most productive sluggers is quite impressive.
Following their 5-4 win over the Cubs on Sunday, the Reds are 74-48 and own a comfortable seven-game cushion over Pittsburgh in the National League Central.
Votto has been sidelined since July 16 because of a torn meniscus in his knee that was surgically repaired the next day. He underwent a second procedure to remove cartilage from the same knee on August 10. The 28-year-old Canadian-born Votto played catch and fielded ground balls this weekend, his first field action since the August 10 operation.
Considering that Votto was batting .342 with 14 home runs, 49 RBI and a 1.069 OPS when he was placed on the DL, it would be understandable of Cincinnati’s lineup suffered without him. Signed to a 10-year, $225 million contract extension in April, Votto is the heart and soul of the Reds offense. The lineup is doing just fine minus Votto’s bat in the middle of the order.
Phillips, Ludwick, Frazier, Bruce, Rolen
Familiar names like second baseman Brandon Phillips, outfielder Ryan Ludwick and third baseman Scott Rolen; and younger Reds including Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce, have paced an offense that is a respectable sixth in the National League with 532 runs.
The 31-year-old Phillips, who is in his seventh season with Cincinnati, is batting .287 with 13 home runs, 64 RBI, 24 doubles and 10 stolen bases.
A leading candidate for National League Comeback Player of the Year, the 34-year-old Ludwick has a .272 average with 25 home runs, 69 RBI, 23 doubles and, a .580 slugging percentage and a .924 OPS. On Saturday, he belted two home runs and drove in three.
The often injured Rolen, who is 37, is batting just .249 with six home runs and 29 RBI in 209 at-bats, but over his last 10 games he has a .387 average (12-for-31) and has a .363 average since the All-Star break after struggling to a .178 mark in the first half of the season.
Bruce, a left-handed hitting right fielder, has a .255 average with 25 home runs, 76 RBI, 30 doubles and a .848 OPS. The 25-year-old Bruce is batting .325 (13-for-40) in his last 10 games.
Frazier, a versatile corner infielder who is manning first base, has 17 home runs, 54 RBI, five triples and a .889 OPS. His numbers over the last 10 games include a .447 average (17-for-38) to accompany three home runs and 11 RBI.
Exemplifying the complete team effort, the Reds are getting contributions from outfield call-up Xavier Paul (.342 average in 38 at-bats, catcher Ryan Hanigan (who is known for his defense and game-calling abilities but has a .346 average in his last 10 games and a .284 average overall) and shortstop Zack Cozart (.250 average and 13 home runs, including a .279 mark in his last 10 games).
Cueto, Latos , Arroyo
Cincinnati’s rotation, which is sixth in the majors with a 3.67 ERA, has supported the team’s lineup with solid outings. Johnny Cueto gives the club a legitimate ace and is a National League Cy Young Award contender with a 16-6 record and a 2.44 ERA. Right-hander Mat Latos – who was acquired in the off-season from San Diego for high ceiling prospects, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger – has not disappointed with a 10-3 record and a 3.56 ERA. Bronson Arroyo (9-7, 3.96 ERA) gives the Reds a reliable veteran in the No. 3 spot.
Mike Leake (5-7, 4.29 ERA, .275 opponent’s batting average) and Homer Bailey (10-8, 4.16 ERA, .280 opponent’s batting average) are passable for back of the rotation starters, though their marginal numbers often require the Reds’ lineup to produce when they are on the mound.
Chapman and The Bullpen
Cincinnati’s bullpen leads the majors with a 2.67 ERA and is anchored by fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman, who has a 1.35 ERA, 29 saves in 33 opportunities, a whopping 110 strikeouts in 60 innings, a 0.72 WHIP and a .135 opponent’s batting average. Set-up men Alfredo Simon (2.31 ERA, Jose Arredondo (2.61 ERA, .203 batting average against), Sean Marshall (2.70 ERA, .240 batting average against), Logan Ondrusek (3.25 ERA, .230 opponent’s batting average) and Sam LeCure (3.16 ERA, .245 batting average against) give manager Dusty Baker an array of favorable options.
The Reds acquired Royals closer Jonathan Broxton at the trade deadline, but he has struggled in his return to the National League. He posted a 2.27 ERA in 35 games with Kansas City but has a 7.20 ERA in six games with the Reds.
Votto’s return to the active roster, which is yet to be determined, will bolster the Reds lineup and depth since they will have Frazier and Rolen who can play third.
The Reds and the Washington Nationals are two of the most exciting stories in baseball this season, and the teams could meet in the post-season. Though it has Votto in the middle of the lineup, Cincinnati is not overly reliant on one player, and that team approach could be the difference in October.