The Cincinnati Reds are on fire, but they’re going to need offensive help to be world champions in 2013.
The Reds won 6-4 against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday on the strength of a three hit night by Brandon Phillips and a clutch Shin-Soo Choo single in the 11th inning. The win marks their sixth in seven games, and they look primed to make another run at a central division championship. They better hope Phillips’ bat doesn’t cool off.
Coming into Wednesday, no team’s wins or losses are dictated more by their cleanup hitter’s success or failures than the Reds are with theirs.
Phillips has batted .302 with 12 HRs and 72 RBIs in the Reds’ 65 wins this season. In their 45 losses, he has batted just .208 with three HRs and 18 RBIs. The splits are quite remarkable. On Sunday, manager Dusty Baker told Fox Sports Ohio that the team needed a run of seven to eight straight wins before September to make it a dogfight in the NL Central. Almost on cue, Phillips heated up.
Over the last seven days, Phillips has batted .318 with two HRs, six RBIs and two stolen bases. The Reds now find themselves only 3.5 games out of first place. However, if they’re going to make a serious run at their first World Series victory since 1990, they’re going to need others to step up.
Coming off of a season that saw him bat .273, smash 19 HRs and finish third in the Rookie of the Year vote in just 109 games started, Todd Frazier has struggled mightily. Through Tuesday’s game, Frazier is batting .230 with 10 HRs over 103 games started this year. In the last 30 days, he hasn’t hit a home run, has driven in a total of six runs and is hitting at a clip of .195 with a .286 slugging percentage.
Given his struggles, Baker moved Frazier to the No. 2 hole in front of Joey Votto in the hopes of getting him some better pitches to hit. The experiment doesn’t appear to be working thus far. Frazier has batted just .103 in the last 14 days in that spot. If the Reds are going to make a deep run this year, they need Frazier’s bat.
Another second-year player that the Reds could use to heat up is SS Zach Cozart. Over the past 14 days Cozart is batting .167, and he’s looked very uncomfortable at the dish over the past week, batting just .059. Cozart didn’t bat for a very high average last year, coming in at .246. However, if the team could just get that out of him near the bottom of the lineup in the stretch run, that would go a long ways.
Last but not least, the Reds need Votto, their best hitter, to start slugging again. Votto does lead the league in walks and OBP and is batting .320 — so it may seem odd to criticize — but let the stats speak for themselves.
Votto is known for choking up on the bat and leaning out over the plate more with two strikes on him in an attempt for both more plate coverage and a higher contact percentage. This approach negates most of his power and hasn’t resulted in a higher batting average this season. Through Tuesday’s, game Votto is batting .190 with two strikes on him, and just .164 when behind in the count.
With runners in scoring position and two outs, Votto is batting .138 in 37 plate appearances as well. He is a great hitter whose ability to work a count and get on base is among the best in the league. However, the Reds didn’t pay him $263 million to draw walks and choke up on the bat. They need him to drive in runs.
Since his MVP season where he hit 37 HRs, Votto’s slugging percentage has dropped 100 points and his RBIs have been cut in half. Given that he has one of the league’s best leadoff hitters in OBP batting in front of him, his lack of RBI production is mildly alarming. Much like what Phillips does depending on where Dusty plugs him into the lineup, Votto needs to adapt his game. He simply needs to be more aggressive and hit for more power.
The Reds’ pitching is among the league’s best. If they could get Frazier and Cozart going, and also get Votto swinging the bat with more power, they could be serious contenders to win a World Championship in 2013. While it’s our jobs to watch and analyze, it certainly is nice to have the Reds back as perennial contenders again.