Learning that Joey Votto needed surgery (via ESPN) was like taking a kick to the gonads. Blinding pain, followed by a slow and sickening feeling that didn’t stop until it reached the chestal region.
Apart from maybe Andrew McCutchen, there’s no more important player in all of baseball than Joey Baseball. And now he’s on the shelf, leaving the Reds’ on-base percentage up Poop Creek with no paddle in sight.
It took me a few hours, but I eventually came to grips with this development, and with the fact that the sky isn’t necessarily falling. Not just yet at least.
Here are five rational reactions to the Redlegs’ latest setback...
Most Reds fans are familiar with the two faces of starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo.That is, “Good-royo” and “Bad-royo.” Most of the time (and apart from his horrendous 2011 season), Arroyo is a stabilizing force in the rotation, consistently giving six or seven innings of quality ball. Sometimes he’ll really click and toss a nine-inning gem.
Then there’s Bad-royo, the guy who forgets to take his Mr. Hyde polyjuice potion and subsequently gets pounded into next Thursday. Luckily for us, Arroyo has kept his inner powder keg under lock and key for most of this season, but Bronson’s not the only Red who’s prone to the extreme swing.
Jay Bruce, he of all the talent in the world, almost NEVER puts it together more than one month at a time. In fact, if Bruce puts up great numbers in two months out of a season, it’s considered a huge success.
Witness: in 2010, Bruce hit over .300 in three of the six full months of the season (with an OPS over 1.000 in two of them). Besides that, he’s only hit over .258 in ONE month of each season (2012 so far, a full 2011, an injury-shortened 2009 and a full 2008).
With Joey Votto going under the knife today, it’s important that Jay Bruce puts a charge into his current July numbers (.178 BA, .599 OPS). With Brandon Phillips playing about as well as he’ll play and Scott Rolen deteriorating faster than skim milk, Bruce has to make this HIS team.
At least for a month.
Before hearing the Votto news, I was pretty much against adding an expensive bat before the trade deadline. Why? Because of Todd Frazier, that’s why. And because Ryan Ludwick has been smashing the ball in July.
The only logical spot for a new guy would be left field, but (until yesterday) Frazier and Ludwick could tag-team that, with the help of a surging Chris Heisey (when he isn’t busy navigating the offensive Bermuda Triangle that is Drew Stubbs’ center field).
Now, it looks like Frazier will be relegated to near everyday first base duty. Being down one heavy-hitting option in left, I’m more willing now to consider a Carlos Quentin-type transaction, and I think the Reds should be too.
There’s no one in Triple-A that can step in and provide the needed punch that Votto brought. And while Quentin might not either (he’s batting just .147 so far in July), he’d probably still be more effective in the cleanup spot than anyone else at this juncture.
Again, I’m not totally sold...but it’s time this idea got some serious thought.
Is Joey Votto the best hitter in baseball? Yes. Does he approach every at-bat like a he’s going in against a Sicilian with death on the line? He does. Would I let him marry my unborn daughter? Twice, and I’d pay.
But is he the reason the Reds are in first place? No, he is not.
The Reds lead the Central because they’ve pitched, plain and simple. Their ERA (3.35) is third in the NL. Their five starters haven’t missed a game. Their bullpen is tops in all of baseball, and led by the Cuban Zeus. They’ve been better than I can ever remember...and I’m 29.
Votto’s injury will really hurt an already mediocre offense. No one’s disputing that. But pitching is what got us here, and pitching can see us through.
When Castellini and Friends signed Joey Votto to what basically amounts to a lifetime contract, and then immediately proceeded to lock up Brandon Phillips, the mantra of the organization changed.
Indeed, the “Now! Now! Please God, just win NOW” refrain has been replaced with the more rational “win now, but not at the expense of winning tomorrow, the next day and for the next six years.”
As fans, we should not overlook this.
Votto did right when he opted for this surgery.
He knew that four months means nothing in the context of the Reds’ Master Plan. He was thinking big picture. He was being calculating (shocker). With the young, talented core that is in place, and the Reds pitchers staying on track, there’s no reason the standings four weeks from today shouldn’t read favorably.
As has always been the case, Joey Votto knows what’s best for Joey Votto. When he’s ready, he’ll be back, and fans/media/management shouldn’t ask for anything more. For yes, winning today is important, but no more than winning in October, and the Octobers that should follow.
Finally, it’s only fair that we put this injury in perspective.
Maybe I’m alone, but since day one (and all throughout Pittsburgh’s renaissance-y first half), I’ve only been worried about St. Louis. Sorry Steelers fans, I mean Pirates fans, but it’s true. And the Buccos’ 1-3 start to the second half only serves to reinforce those feelings.
Amazingly, despite significant injuries to almost every key player, the Cardinals have managed to keep pace in the division (currently 3.5 back, as the crow flies). Lineup mainstays like Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Jon Jay and Allan Craig have all missed substantial time, and heralded starters Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia have barely been factors (neither may pitch again this season).
Now, one could easily contend that constructing a roster fraught with geriatric coffin-dodgers opens a team up to these types of problems. I can’t argue with that. Nor would I want to. I hate the Cardinals and I love that their knees are turning to dust.
But I don’t want any disclaimers when the Reds win, either. If St. Louis’ duct-taped roster can stick around in this race, how will it look if the Reds crumble without their leader?
Like it or not, the Cardinals are the defending World Series champs. They got there, they won it and they’re capable of getting there again, assuming they use the same combination of voodoo and genie wishes that they did before.
The injury to Joey Votto actually presents Cincinnati with a golden opportunity to cement themselves as the class of the division. A team defined by many, not by one. If they don’t, if they wilt without without their leader, please believe that St. Louis fans will never let it go.
And THAT, my friends, would be the worst feeling of all.
For more from Reed Domer-Shank, visit his blog: J O U R N E Y M E N . You can also follow Reed on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact him directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.