The last time the Cincinnati Reds played the Phillies—less than one week ago, I featured Reds first baseman Joey Votto in my opposition player highlight piece done prior to each series. Votto was enjoying a bounceback season after an injury-riddled 2014.
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This time, I’ll take a look at Brandon Phillips, who is in a similar situation to Votto. Phillips is similarly bouncing back, quietly having a strong season despite the team being in fourth place with a 24-31 record in the NL Central.
Like Votto, Phillips was bitten by the injury bug with the Reds in 2014. The 2nd baseman suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb while diving for a ground ball in early July, and was out for much of the second half of the season—one of the many reasons the Reds stumbled to a 76-86 record and a fourth place finish in the division.
In total, Phillips played 121 games, batting .266 with 8 home runs and 51 RBI. It was Phillips’ lowest home run total since 2005, when he played just a half-dozen games for the Cleveland Indians.
Phillips was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos in the second round of the 1999 MLB Amateur Draft. After three years in the Expos’ minor league system, he was one of the players sent to the Indians in a megadeal that in total involved six players, including Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee also going to the Tribe in exchange for Bartolo Colon.
Phillips made his major league debut with the Indians on September 13, 2002. He would spend four seasons in their organization, playing a total of 135 games at the MLB level. His most productive year with Cleveland came in 2003, when he played 112 games, smacking 6 home runs and 33 RBI in limited action with the Tribe.
With a mostly unimpressive stint in Cleveland, Phillips was once again traded—this time to the Reds in April of 2006 for a player to be named later (Jeff Stevens). At the time of the trade, Phillips was seen as a player who had upside, but hadn’t yet put it all together. The Reds took a chance on him for a small price, and Phillips soon showed what he had to offer.
In his very first year in Cincinnati, Phillips exploded for 17 taters and 75 RBI, also stealing 25 bases. He followed that up with arguably the best year of his career in 2007, when he hit .288 with 30 round-trippers and 94 RBI. His 30 homers that season were the second most in all of baseball for 2nd baseman, just one behind the Florida Marlins’ Dan Uggla.
At his position, few put up the consistent numbers that Phillips recorded from 2008-2013. During this span, Phillips averaged 18 home runs and 82 RBI a season.
Phillips wasn’t just a one-way player, either. He was arguably the best fielder at his position as well, finishing in the top 5 in both leagues in Fielding Percentage in 4 of those 6 years, and never finishing lower than 9th. His fancy glove work didn’t go unnoticed, as Phillips also was awarded 3 Gold Gloves.
The accolades didn’t stop there. Phillips was a National League All-Star in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and also took home a Silver Slugger Award in 2011. Phillips became one of the faces of the Reds, and would help bring playoff baseball back to Cincinnati in 2010 after a 15-year absence. Cincy would eventually lose to the Phillies in the 2010 NLDS.
As they did with slugger Votto, another one of their cornerstone pieces, the Reds locked up Phillips to a long-term contract in 2012. He received a six-year, $72.5 million contract that would keep him in Cincinnati through 2018. The Raleigh, North Carolina native led the Reds back into the postseason in 2012 and 2013, but the club would lose in the first round each time.
Even before his mediocre 2014 season started, many people began to question whether Phillips was declining as a player, specifically people in the Cincinnati media. Those questions elicited strong words from Phillips in an interview with MLB.com in the spring of 2014. Unfortunately for Phillips, he couldn’t back up those words, playing just 121 games last year.
Entering 2015 at the age of 33, the veteran second baseman hoped to redeem himself and use the doubters as motivation. Though Phillips didn’t hit much during spring training, the regular season has been a different story thus far. Phillips entered Monday’s game against the Phillies with a .309/.345/.387 slash line in 191 at-bats. He has knocked in 25 runs, his .309 average leads the team, and his 57 hits tie him for the team lead with Votto.
In his last 30 games, Phillips has gone 37 for 111 (.333). He has also walked 8 times and stolen 8 bases in those games.
In the 3-game series at Citizens Bank Park last week, Phillips tore up Phillies pitching with 8 hits in 15 at-bats, including 3 doubles. He knocked in 4 runs in the series and swiped 2 bases. He will be facing Cole Hamels in the first game, Aaron Harang in the second, and Jerome Williams in the series finale. For his career, Phillips is 75 for 270 (.277) against the Phillies.
Phillips bounce-back year is good news for the Reds, as they will likely need to start unloading some of their players in an attempt to rebuild if they remain near the bottom of the division heading towards July’s trade deadline. Phillips will be an attractive piece for teams looking to add a player who can handle the bat and play Gold Glove defense.
One of the Reds all-time greatest players, his 1500 hits and 264 doubles both rank 10th in franchise history. While he may not be grabbing headlines, he is once again on pace for another solid season both at the dish and in the field.
For all the doubters, Brandon Phillips has shown through 50 games that there is still plenty left for him to bring to a baseball club. Now, he must stay healthy and hope to continue his hot start.
First pitch Monday at Great American Ballpark is at 7:10pm.