The Cincinnati Reds rebuilt their roster this offseason by making a couple of large trades, dealing several top prospects to San Diego for Mat Latos and acquiring now-closer Sean Marshall for additional minor league talent. After a 5-0 win, powered by 11 strikeouts by Latos, in Pittsburgh over the Pirates, the team with high expectations sits in second place in the NL Central, 2.5 games back of perennial powerhouse St. Louis.
The Reds probably shouldn't be there. Joey Votto is hitting .293, yet has a .450 on-base percentage due to 26 walks, which leads MLB. The No. 2 hitter in the lineup has been outstanding all season in front of Votto, with, primarily, Drew Stubbs and Zack Cozart combining for a .318/.364/.514 line. Stubbs is hitting .340/.380/.553 (47 AB) and Cozart hit .354/.415/.583 (48 AB) before getting moved to the leadoff spot, where he has hit a paltry .182/.234/.318 (44 AB).
The problem for Cincinnati is their cleanup hitter or hitters. They have combined to hit just .178/.259/.277 with two HR and nine RBI in 26 games. Thirty-seven-year-old Scott Rolen received a majority of the at bats in the No. 4 spot earlier in the year, but he has posted a .118/.167/.176 line, posting just two 2B and one RBI in 34 AB. After returning from hamstring issues, Brandon Phillips has taken over the role, but he has only gone .240/.296/.400 in 50 AB, with two HR and eight RBI.
The only remarkable player in the Cincinnati lineup, outside of Votto and whoever is hitting in front of him, has been Jay Bruce. Bruce typically bats fifth so that the Reds don't have back-to-back left-handed hitters in the middle of the order. He has done well there, posting a .298/.344/.655 line in 84 AB, with seven 2B, one 3B, seven HR, and 17 RBI. I don't know if Dusty Baker knows this...Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth both hit left-handed and hit No. 3 and No. 4 in the Yankees lineup together. They were pretty good.
The Reds were once contenders and they went all in by making a big splash this past offseason. It would be a shame if they continue to struggle because Dusty Baker is "playing by the book," instead of realizing that the talent that Cincinnati has in Bruce and Votto could overcome the numbers game.