Cincinnati Reds Suprise Atop the NL Central Thanks to Youth

Nathan SollyContributor IAugust 4, 2010

HOUSTON - JULY 25:  Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds doubles down the right field line against the Houston Astros in the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park on July 25, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The surprising Cincinnati Reds are looking to make a playoff push for the first time since 1995, behind a roster mixed with youth and complementary veterans.

Since 2008 when the Reds traded big time slugger Adam Dunn and first ballot Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., they have been building around some of their top prospects, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Johnny Cueto in an attempt to get back to their storied history of winning teams.

The Reds have built a contender around these young players by adding in some veteran journeymen to provide some stability, leadership, and most importantly experience. They brought in Miguel Cairo, Scott Rolen, and Orlando Cabrera to provide experience, shore up the infield, and provide strong pinch-hitting options off the bench.

This mix of youth and experience has put the Reds a half-game up on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. Joey Votto has been the offensive catalyst for this resurgent Reds team.

Votto not only leads the team in batting average (.325), home runs (27), RBI (72), and OBP (.420), but he also leads the league in two of those four categories: batting average and home runs. In the third triple crown category, RBI, Votto trails only Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, David Wright of the New York Mets, and Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, and is well within striking distance making him a legitimate threat to win the triple crown and the front runner for the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

After drafting Arizona State standout Mike Leake in 2009 and signing Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman in the offseason to help bolster the starting rotation, many thought the Reds were still at least a year or two off from once again competing in the NL Central. Most figured both Leake and Chapman would need some time in the minors to adjust to the level of player.

While Chapman is still working in the minors, Leake performed well in Spring Training and made Opening Day rotation for his rookie campaign. With a 7-2 record, 3.57 ERA, and 1.40 WHIP, he has proven that Dusty Baker, Reds manager, made the right choice in taking a chance on the rookie.

As we get deeper into the season, the Reds are keeping a close watch on the amount of innings they put on Leake’s arm to ensure the longer MLB season doesn’t hurt the rookie’s future. This means down the stretch, the Reds are going to need to rely on some of their established and veteran pitchers such as Bronson Arroyo, Francisco Cordero, Johnny Cueto, and Arthur Rhodes, to continue their strong seasons and carry this pitching staff through the stretch run.

The return of Edinson Volquez to the rotation could be key to the Reds run at the playoffs. Volquez has had a rough couple of outings since returning after missing the first half of the season recovering from surgery to his pitching elbow. In his first three games back, Volquez has failed to last four innings in two of his starts, and has recorded just one win with a 4.50 ERA. If he can return to his 2008 form, his last healthy season, when he had a 17-6 record with a 3.21 ERA, his fresh arm will be valuable to the Reds down the stretch.

The Reds have so far proved this year that they are a true playoff threat. With the youth on the current team and what they have in the minors, look for this storied franchise to get back to its winning ways now and for the foreseeable future.