To help us get ready for our upcoming series with the Cincinnati Reds, I sat down with Slyde from one of the top Reds blogs on the net, Red Reporter.
The Nats Blog: I think this one is the most obvious to ask, what has made the difference in 2010 to put the Reds into contention?
Red Reporter: The biggest difference statistically has been offense. Last year, the Reds finished in the bottom 5 in average, OBP, and SLG in the NL. So far this year, they are in the top 5 in all three categories and lead in the NL in average and slugging. It's open for debate as to whether they can continue to be the highest scoring team in the league, especially since we questioned whether or not they could actually score 700 runs before the season started, but barring any major collapse by 2/3rds of the lineup, I think it's safe to say that if the Reds fall back offensively, they won't drop to the bottom of the league. Guys like Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, and Brandon Phillips are all having great years, and while all of them may fall-off, I don't think we should expect them to drop completely off the table. The real question for the offense is guys like Jonny Gomes and Jay Bruce. If they can maintain some of the success they had in the first half, I think we'll see a solid offense out of the Reds in the second half.
The good news for Reds fans is that after struggling for the first month of the year, the pitching staff has been lights out over the last month or so. Since mid-June, the staff has an ERA under 3.00. It has only led to a 15-12 record because the offense has started to falter a bit, but things could be much worse if the pitch and defense hadn't put things together.
The Nats Blog: Joey Votto may be one of the most underrated players in the majors, despite putting up strong numbers for three years now. Just how good is Votto, and what is he doing differently this year to have really taken that next step?
Red Reporter: I think Joey Votto is doing the same things he was doing last year, but the time he missed made him even less recognizable since he wasn't on top of any of the counting stat lists. However, he finished 3rd in the NL wOBA last year, which I don't think most people realize. I think what makes him great is that he is an incredibly focused hitter. He never appears to be taking an at bat easy. Also, he has some excellent power to the opposite field, which makes it very hard for pitchers to pitch to him. You can't really pitch him away because he's very comfortable going the other way with a pitch.
I also think the influence of Scott Rolen has helped Votto a lot. We frequently see Votto sitting next to Rolen in the dugout chatting. Joey has said multiple times that Rolen is a calming force for him, and he's seems to be turning Votto into a team leader, something the Reds haven't had out of their best player since Barry Larkin left town.
The Nats Blog: Jay Bruce, on the other hand, came into the league with a large amount of hype but despite projections of a strong 2010, he has continued to fail to really get over the hump. What does he need to do to become a star in this league?
Red Reporter: It seems to me that Bruce was making some serious progress at the start of the season, but has fallen back into some bad habits of late. I noticed last year via pitch fx data, that Bruce was trying to pull a lot of outside pitches and ended up hitting them on the ground to the right side. Earlier this season, he was taking a lot more of those pitches the other way. It seems like of late, he is back to trying to pull those pitches and the same old results are happening. He's still only 23, and I think we are seeing some progress this year, but we'd hope that he'd be a star by now. I think he will eventually be a 30+ HR guy, but he's also less than a year removed from a broken wrist, which may have sapped some of his power. If he can get back to hitting the way he did early in the season, he should still finish with some pretty good numbers, especially if his power starts to return some more as well.
The Nats Blog: Edison Volquez made his first start back from injury on the 17th, and looked great. Several years removed, how do Reds fans feel about trading away Josh Hamilton to land the talented but oft-injured hurler. Also, what impact can Volquez have on the National League pennant race?
Red Reporter: I'm still fine with dealing Hamilton for Volquez. Yes, it'd be nice to have Hamilton manning the outfield for the Reds, but I think Volquez will be #2 or better level starter for the next couple of years and he could anchor a very good young rotation over that span. Losing a year to Tommy John sucked, but there's no saying that Hamilton would have stayed healthy either.
Having Volquez come back at this point in the season is just like acquiring a front line starter via trade, but the Reds didn't have to give anything up. On a team that doesn't really have an ace, though it doesn't really have a weak spot in the rotation either, Volquez could provide that ace level starter. He may not be Cliff Lee, but given that the Reds didn't have to surrender anybody to get him, the return of value may be just as good.
The Nats Blog: How has the atmosphere at Reds games changed this year now that the team is competing again, is the city rallying around the franchise?
Red Reporter: It's funny, if you had asked me that question before this weekend, I would have said, not much has changed. Reds fans seems to be a little leery of committing themselves to this team. Over the last decade, we've had teams come out of the chute hot, only to fade once June rolled around. In fact, after 40 home games, this year's team had the lowest attendance ever at GABP. However, the Reds drew well over 100k for the three game series versus the Rockies this weekend, including the third largest crowd of the season on Saturday. There was a lot of enthusiasm and energy in the ballpark, despite the fact that it was hot and muggy all weekend. It'll be interesting to see how crowded this week's series is, given that it's not a weekend anymore and the Reds aren't having MC Hammer perform, like they did on Friday. Big crowds over the next 4 days will tell us a lot about how much Reds fans are buying into this team.Thanks again to Slyde from Red Reporter for the great interview.