LOS ANGELES – Brandon Phillips is a talker. It's what he does. From Twitter to TV, the Cincinnati Reds second baseman isn't shy.
Three hours before the Reds took on the Dodgers Saturday night, a documentary about Steve Bartman's infamous role in the 2003 Cubs Game 6 NLCS loss played in the Reds' clubhouse. Players questioned whether or not Moises Alou would have caught the ball if not for Bartman with the general agreement being that he would have.
When Phillips began watching, however, he made his opinion clear. Using words you wouldn't say in front of your mother, Phillips surmised that Alou wouldn't have made the catch. Players, coaches and writers were put on the spot by Phillips to prove him wrong. The only person that Phillips didn't ask was manager Dusty Baker, who certainly remembers the play all too well from his time in Chicago. Replay after replay, Phillips decided Bartman got the blame simply because he looked nerdy.
Because he is such a chatterbox, it should come as no surprise that Joey Votto and the team largely shrugged off Phillips' comments last weekend that his $72.5 million contract is a "slap in the face." No, the Reds won't be bickering back and forth in the media. That won't help them win ballgames and make up ground in the loaded NL Central.
The first-place Cardinals are the best hitting team in the league and have an elite rotation. Behind the best pitching staff in the majors, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in second.
But these third-place Reds aren't going anywhere without a fight.
Cincinnati has all the benchmarks of a championship contender. Even with ace Johnny Cueto on the disabled list, the Reds have five quality starters. Cueto's replacement, Tony Cingrani, has carried over his success from the minors to give the Reds a lefty in the rotation. Homer Bailey has the highest ERA in the rotation at 3.77, but he has thrown two no-hitters since last September. The bullpen, although thin, boasts lefty flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to close games.
The offense features Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo, the two leading on-base percentage players in the NL, and cleanup man Phillips has driven them in with regularity.
But Reds bats have gone cold the past two nights in Los Angeles and the return of outfielder Ryan Ludwick can't come soon enough.
"Health is going to be a big key for us," said outfielder Jay Bruce, who has homered twice in three games against the Dodgers this weekend, referencing the returns of Cueto and Ludwick. "Getting all our guys back, staying healthy for the remainder of the season."
Yet for all their success and promise this year, the Reds are rarely in the spotlight. Phillips' blunt comments about his contract grabbed a few headlines, but were quickly overshadowed by Ryan Braun and Biogenesis. Granted, they play in Cincinnati and they are "only" in third place, but as they have shown in handling the Giants and battling the Dodgers this week, they have the talent to be an NL contender. As a reward for being in baseball's best division, the Reds will likely end up in the Wild Card elimination game in October.
"Certainly, the one-game playoff would not be ideal," Votto said. "Sometimes you can't get too caught up in a particular year. If the Cardinals win 102 games or something and we perform well we don't want to be too hard on ourselves."
On Saturday, the spotlight was again on the Reds, but not from American media. With South Koreans Hyun-Jin Ryu and Shin-Soo Choo facing off, the game got plenty attention across the Pacific. Rapper Psy even made an appearance on the big screens as fans danced to Gangnam Style.
The Reds didn't seem to notice. Or rather, they didn't seem to care.
"I would if I was Korean," Baker said pregame.
These Reds don't like distractions. They like flying under the radar and they're banking on the challenge of playing in baseball's best division to pay off in October.
You won't likely hear them coming. Well, besides Phillips.
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