COMMENTARY| There are a handful of player duos who are more critical to their team's production than the rest, but none are more important to their team than Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds. Without these two forces in the batting order, the Reds wouldn't be positioned to vie for their third NL Central division title in the past four years. With Votto and Phillips, the Reds meat of the order is all Canadian Bacon and Honey Baked Ham.
Since Votto claimed the Reds starting first baseman job in 2008, he has proven he is one of the best hitters in the game. Among players with more than 3,000 plate appearances, Votto ranks second among active players in on-base plus slugging percent with a .966 OPS and sixth overall among active players in batting average. With a contract extension signed in 2012 that made Votto the third highest-paid player in baseball history, nothing less should be expected.
As skilled as Votto is with the bat, the Reds survived without him for 50 games last year when their quarter-of-a-billion-dollar man went down with a knee injury, in no small part due to the performance of second baseman Brandon Phillips at the plate. Phillips hit .317 in July and August while Votto was out, which helped the Reds find enough runs to finish with the second-best record in all of baseball in 2012.
For all of his richly deserved defensive glory, the offense of Phillips is often overlooked. As a contact hitter who has struck out more than 100 times in a season only once in his career, Phillips still has enough pop in his bat to thrive as the Reds cleanup hitter when asked. This year at cleanup, Phillips is third in the NL in RBIs. As the Reds cleanup hitter last year, Phillips drove in 50 runs in 73 games while batting .303.
Since Phillips won the starting second base job for the Reds in 2006, he's been a steady source of output whether he's batted cleanup, leadoff or in between. His yearly average for his first seven full seasons with the Reds is 150 games hitting .280 with 87 runs scored and 80 RBIs with 20 home runs. Overall, Phillips only cracks the Top 50 among active players in a couple offensive categories, but his versatility in the order coupled with Votto's steadfast presence in the three hole, give the Reds most of the meat they need to power their way past the rest of the NL pack.
Including this year, Phillips is under contract for five more seasons, which will easily make Phillips the most prolific second baseman for the Reds in the modern era. Phillips stands to pass both Joe Morgan and Ron Oester this year for most games started at second base for the Reds since 1900.
Despite his longevity with the Reds and the dynamic defense, Phillips will live in the long shadow of the Hall of Famer Morgan as the best second baseman ever in Reds history, but his bat is intriguing enough to stack up against the amazing season Morgan had with the 1975 World Series champion Reds followed by another spectacular season in 1976, which earned Morgan back-to-back NL MVP Awards and the Reds back-to-back World Series titles.
Phillips won't blister the base paths the way Morgan did and won't have the benefit of having Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Johnny Bench behind him in the order, but Phillips will thrive as the complement to Votto as part of the most valuable batting duo in baseball today.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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