The Philadelphia Phillies 2016 season is underway, and each series will feature star and hot opposition players.
Here at TBOH, I am happy to be bringing our readers an ongoing series called “Phillies Opposition Roadblock” which will highlight those players to watch on the roster of each Phillies’ opponent. Sometimes that will be an obvious big-name superstar. At other times, the series will feature a particularly red-hot player.
The Phillies are opening up with a series at Great American Ballpark against the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are heading into 2016 in a similar situation to the Phillies, and their situation may even be worse. While their veteran talent will eclipse that of the Phils, they are on the wrong side of a rebuilding process.
I consider the position of the 2016 Reds comparable to the situation of the 2013 Phillies. They have some veterans that management would like to move, but are finding difficulty doing so.
The Reds were able to deal All-Star 3rd baseman Todd Frazier, but the team was unable to complete deals for outfielder Jay Bruce and 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips. They do have some nice young players, highlighted by speedy center fielder Billy Hamilton. But there is truly only one real star left in Cincy: 1st baseman Joey Votto.
Votto has been the integral piece of the Reds’ lineup since the 2008 season. In six of his eight seasons, Votto has hit over for a batting average over the .300 mark. The other two years, one was injury shortened, and the other he hit for a measly .297 mark. In every year with over 400 at-bats, Votto has swatted more than 24 home runs.
Votto’s patient approach drives pitchers crazy, and has led him to an on-base percentage over .400 in six of his full seasons. In fact, during the period of his career, no player in Major League Baseball has a higher on-base percentage.
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Even more frustrating for opposing managers such as Pete Mackanin with the Phils, is the lefty swinger’s ability to hit both left and right-handed pitching. Votto shortens up extremely well against lefties, leading him to similar career splits.
Over 3,288 career plate appearances against right-handers, Votto has a .316/.434/.547 slash line. In his 1,473 plate appearances against southpaws, Votto has produced a .299/.400/.506 line. His ability to stay back and hit balls the other way makes him a late game nightmare.
The Phillies found out that latter point on Opening Day. Votto was taking an 0-3 collar with three strikeouts over his first three plate appearances. But then in the bottom of the 8th with the score knotted at 2-2 and the bases loaded, he shortened up and came through with a clean 2-run single to center field, putting the Reds up 4-2 and starting them on their way to a 6-2 victory.
During this opening series, the Phillies will be faced with a difficult matchup early in games. They are running out three right-handed starters in three days in Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, and Charlie Morton. Votto tends to swing more freely against right-handers, and is more comfortable running a deep count. However, don’t mistake his patience for vulnerability. If he catches a mistake early enough, he will pound it.
Votto is easily the Reds most prolific weapon. In any big situation, the Phillies should pitch around him. Unfortunately, that was not possible in yesterday’s key late moment, as the bases were loaded. Lefty James Russell was on the mound, but as I highlighted earlier, with Votto those matchups really don’t matter all that much.
On a team stuck in neutral, Votto still provides the Reds a rare combination of power and an ability to hit in any count. If the Phillies want to have a chance to control the Reds offense, it could very well come down to containing Votto this week.