Cincinnati Reds: Zack Cozart and the Kids Are Looking All Right

Illya Harrell@illya_1971Analyst IIApril 29, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14:  Zack Cozart #2 of the Cincinnati Reds leaps for a ball during a game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 14, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

It’s easy to be a Reds fan constantly focused on the negative—especially early in the season. But, you know, the home team has been looking pretty good lately. And Dusty Baker hasn’t been responsible for any of the three losses in the last nine games.

If not for a blown third strike call, the Reds could have easily won seven of of their last nine. In the Friday, April 27th, ballgame, when the Reds were going for the sweep of the Giants, Reds closer Sean Marshall, had one out after walking a one and allowing a single. He threw an obvious fastball strike to Angel Pagan…home plate ump Tim Welke blew the call. On the next pitch Marshall went with his bread and butter curve and Pagan parked it over the wall in left.

But that sort of stuff will happen over 162 games. And Cincinnati will get a blown call over the next 141 games that will lead them to a win.

More importantly, the Reds are starting to show life at the plate. And when the Reds hit as well as they have over the last nine games…good things happen. Back in 2010 the Reds won the NL Central. What what was their record after the first 21 ballgames, 10-11. This season after their first 21 they have that exact same 10-11 record.

Their starting pitchers have a combined 3.58 ERA, and the pen has an even better 3.06 ERA. Their most impressive stat is a 0.79 home runs per nine innings while playing half of their game in a homer haven bandbox.

Major stat heads will say that the pitcher’s earned run averages are skewed by a defense that is the best in baseball. And yes, the stats are skewed. But the fact is the Reds do have the best defense in baseball, and it’s not going anywhere. Three of the four infielders have a combined 11 Gold Glove Awards. The rook at short, Zack Cozart, is fitting in quite nicely with the vets. Check out this play from last night’s game.

The bats are coming around, averaging just under six runs per contest over the last nine games. And when your pitchers are allowing just 3.40 earned runs a game that translates into wins—lots of them.

A few guys have previously been bashed; namely Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick. While neither is hitting a respectable average, they’ve both had key hits when the team needed them. Jay Bruce is off to a monster season. Joey Votto is still putting up non-Votto numbers. But he’s Joey Votto, and he’ll come around. His on-base percentage ranks him fourth in the NL, and he’s leading the league in walks. Primarily due to his hitting in front of Scott Rolen for the first part of the season.

Dusty saw the light and moved Rolen down in the lineup and is using the white hot Brandon Phillips as his cleanup hitter. Votto will be getting better balls to hit…and his pop will come around. In the eight games since Dusty moved Phillips to cleanup he’s been on fire: batting .333, seven runs, seven RBI and two home runs—his first of the season. All while playing with a gimpy hamstring injury…which, judging by last night's triple seems to be healed.

But Dusty’s still Dusty, and he will surely cost the Reds a few games with knucklehead lineup cards, double-switches and poor relief choices. But there is no reason not to believe the Reds will keep hitting, continue to pitch well and play highlight reel defense. So maybe just maybe, like in 2010, they’ll overcome their managerial obstacle and win the division.

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