The Cincinnati Reds have dealt with more than their share of adversity this season, including a plethora of injuries, but as their battered nucleus gets healthy again the Reds will need them to step up. They have a trio of stars who have a long history of producing, and should finally be enough to contribute again. The sooner the better, as the National League Central division leading Milwaukee Brewers appear to be in this race for the long haul.
This nucleus revolves around three players, all of whom have been a part of playoff teams before in Cincinnati. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips will be counted on for one more run at a division title together. All three have suffered some sort of injury this season and all are far below their usual production.
Joey Votto – In a perfect world Votto would come off of the disabled list next week and return to his MVP form of 2011, changing the complexion of the Reds lineup completely. Given the condition of his knee, however, that will not happen this season, if ever. What the Reds would like from Votto the rest of the way is the best he can give them for as long as he can. He begins a rehab assignment Sunday with Louisville, and whatever form he returns with has to be better than where he was when he went on the DL. At that point, Votto was hitting just .245 with 12 RBI. That is not good enough for the 30-year old first baseman who is starting a 10-year, $225 million contract extension this season. Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty has to be kicking himself for agreeing to the contract, but for now the focus has to be getting what they can out of Votto in 2014. The Reds are in bad need of some thump and Votto at less than 100 percent is still their best option.
Jay Bruce – Bruce is similar to Votto in that he has had trouble with his left knee and already has had surgery this season. To his credit, Bruce came back as quickly as he could. In hindsight, however, it may have been too soon as he is hitting just .178 since his return. He also has no homers and 20 strikeouts in 45 at-bats since coming off of the DL. Bruce and Votto were once a feared duo in the National League, but injuries have muted the two this season. Manager Bryan Price needs Bruce to gain the form that has produced 30 plus home runs the last three seasons as quickly as possible.
Brandon Phillips – Phillips will turn 33 at the end of the month and is the oldest of this nucleus. At the moment he has an an abysmal on-base percentage of just .299. Perhaps Father Time is catching up with him, or he is still dealing with a bad back he tweaked in April, but the Reds are hoping for some of the magic he had just a few years ago when he was the premier second baseman in baseball. It might not be that far gone. Despite hitting .261 last season he still managed 18 home runs and 103 RBI.
Be it age or injuries, this trio, the nucleus of the Cincinnati Reds for several years, has had a rough start to 2014. They are on the cusp of all being healthy again this season. Price and Jocketty are hoping they make the most of it and recharge an offense that has lacked punch all season.
Commentary By Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Cincinnati Reds