COMMENTARY | The Cincinnati Reds faced the proverbial gauntlet in their first three series of the year (at home against the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals, and then on the road against the hated St. Louis Cardinals).
Despite the trial by fire opening to begin the season, the Reds finished the tough part of their April schedule with a respectable 5-4 record.
While the Reds' winning record gives Reds fans something to smile about, the loss of Ryan Ludwick (and his 26 home runs last year) in the opening days of the season provided the Reds' foes with some hope of their own. In fact, without Ludwick in the lineup, the Reds typically trot out an opening four of Shin-Soo Choo (16 home runs in 2012), Chris Heisey (7 home runs), Joey Votto (14 home runs), and Brandon Phillips (18 home runs).
For a team that plays half its games in the bandbox known as Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, that's not exactly a lineup that will strike fear into an opposing pitcher's heart.
However, if Reds manager Dusty Baker could get past his belief that Chris Heisey is a two-hole hitter (rather than a seven- or eight-hole hitter where Heisey belongs), the Reds could turn a weakness into an incredible strength. Imagine a lineup with Choo, Votto, Phillips, Bruce in that order. Four hitters, each capable of launching a home run but also capable of getting a base hit and moving the line along with the hopes that the next player gets a multiple-RBI home run.
Whether or not fans agree with Baker, he has remained absolute in his belief that left-handed hitters such as Votto and Bruce should not hit back-to-back in the lineup on a regular basis. It seems unlikely that Ludwick's injury will change Baker's mind on batting multiple lefties in a row (in fact, Baker has kept Votto and Bruce separated in the lineup since Ludwick went down by moving Brandon Phillips into Ludwick's cleanup position).
Since Baker remains adamant about keeping Votto and Bruce separated in the lineup, he should move Joey to the second spot and slot Brandon Phillips in the three-hole. Although Joey Votto is considered a premier player (and a preseason MVP favorite by many), the truth is Votto's power hasn't quite returned since he hurt himself last year.
Until Votto begins hitting home runs again, he becomes more valuable batting behind Choo, who has been an amazing on-base machine thus far this season. With both Choo and Votto setting the table for Phillips and Bruce (who, when seeing the ball well, can hit home runs at a prodigious pace), the Reds would have possibly the best one-through-four lineup in all of Major League Baseball.
While having a formidable one through four in the lineup should be enough of a reason to at least entertain the idea of switching the order, there's a second reason to move Votto to the second spot -- and it's a lesson that can be learned from long-time Cardinals manager (and no friend of Dusty Baker) Tony La Russa. La Russa occasionally batted his pitcher eighth in the lineup in order to make a stronger 9-1-2 portion of the lineup.
In the Reds' case, they have a slick fielding catcher in Ryan Hannigan, who isn't a viable offensive threat, and the aforementioned Chris Heisey, who has consistently struggled throughout his career when playing every day. Couple that with the pitcher's spot in the lineup, and you have an extremely weak bottom three. However, if one of Heisey, Hannigan, or the pitcher can manage to get on base (and thus turn the lineup over), both Choo and Votto (in the first and second spot of the lineup) are great two-out hitters.
Throughout Dusty's tenure with the Reds, he has been nothing, if not infuriatingly, consistent and adamant in his beliefs (see Corey Patterson, Willy Tavaras, and a host of other such decisions that have marred Reds fans' views of Baker). However, with the Reds a consensus pick to finish at the top of the National League Central for the third time in the past four years, Dusty clearly has the talent to make noise in the postseason.
Like last year, how far the Reds go in the playoffs will probably be directly tied to how willing Dusty is to change with the times. And if that means moving Votto to the second spot in April in order to ensure a playoff appearance in October, well, let's hope Baker is willing to change at least one of his beliefs.
Chris Reed lives in Pennsylvania but has been a Reds follower for about thirty years. He has written extensively about the club for over a decade on various blogs and websites. He founded Nachos Grande, a blog that combines his love of the Reds and that of baseball cards.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cincinnati Reds
- Joey Votto
- Chris Heisey
- Dusty Baker
- Ryan Ludwick
- Brandon Phillips