Dusty Baker is a really good manager in my mind, and he was absolutely the right man for the job when the Reds hired him to take them back to the playoffs. The 2010 season saw Dusty pull all the right strings. Mainly, he mixed up the lineup and seemed to pull the right strings at all the right times. Whether he led off Orlando Cabrera or Brandon Phillips, the move seemed to pay off. Yet in 2011, Dusty along with Walt Jocketty have yet to work together to put the very best lineup possible on the field for the Reds.
While there is still no reason for the Reds or Reds fans to panic, there are issues that have been talked over time and time again that continue to manifest themselves as serious problems on the field.
Some issues such as Edinson Volquez‘s control problems or Drew Stubbs‘ strikeouts will work themselves out over time and with adequate coaching from both Bryan Price and Brook Jacoby. However, there are two issues that can be addressed immediately without a miracle change in mechanics or a blockbuster trade. Those two issues are that the Reds are giving away outs because of Janish/Renteria’s struggles at the plate. Renteria has also been bad in the field and is range is nowhere near what it used to be. The second problem is that the LF position is not providing the offense that it did in 2010 which is leading to a drop in production from the entire offense.
Before addressing both problems allow me to identify the difference between the 2010 Reds and the 2011 team. Jonny Gomes carried the Reds offensively for the better part of 2 months last season to begin the year. His quick start had some saying that he should be an All-Star. He has struggled all of 2011, and neither Chris Heisey nor Fred Lewis have been able to fully take over the job. If in 2011, Jonny Gomes gets half as many of the 86 RBIs that he had last year, count me in as being shocked.
Additionally, Scott Rolen hit 17 HR and had 57 RBI at the All-Star break last season. After the break he hit just 3 more HR. He has continued that power outage in 2011 as he has just 3 HR and 30 RBI so far in 2011.
Despite the drop off from Gomes and Rolen, the Reds offense still leads the NL in runs scored per game, averaging over 5.
As we near week 3 of clamoring for Cozart at short, Cozart continues to rake at a .320 clip with 7 HR and 29 RBI. Cozart cannot do any worse offensively than Edgar Renteria and Paul Janish. He has also been complemented for his defense throughout his minor league career. What you lose in defense by replacing Janish with Cozart, you more than make up at the plate. If Cozart hits just .275 the rest of the season at the Major League level, that would be a full 42 points higher than Paul Janish. An in house solution at short would mean that Jocketty could focus more on acquiring a starting pitcher instead of another offensive threat.
Out in left field, Chris Heisey may very well be the man for the job. But playing just 1 out of every 3 games or just 2 of 4 will not allow him to get in any semblance of a groove. Constantly rotating Heisey, Lewis, and Gomes just prolongs the issue. Who is going to take the reigns of this left field job, and provide consistent offense for the Reds club. Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Drew Stubbs can only bail out the rest of the lineup so many times a week, and the Reds have suffered inconsistent streaks because of it.
My question is what is the issue with bringing up Yonder Alonso and giving the former first round pick a chance in left field. If just defense is holding back the Reds front office, let me offer them this note of reassurance. Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake are gold glove pitchers. Joey Votto is the MVP. Brandon Phillips has two gold gloves and will rack up more. Scott Rolen is the best defensive third baseman in baseball; Zack Cozart and Paul Janish are both tremendous shortstops with exceptional range. Jay Bruce should have won a gold glove last season, and Drew Stubbs runs down everything within reach in center field.
My point is…the Reds do not need to worry about defense! Furthermore, the reports from AAA Louisville have been that Yonder Alonso has adapted nicely to left field, and despite not having great speed, he has learned to adequately play the position.
Jonny Gomes is batting just .223 with 9 HR and 28 RBI. Fred Lewis is hitting .277 but in just 83 ABs. Chris Heisey is hitting .271 but is a key piece off the bench for Baker, and has hit better as a pinch hitter than a starter.
Meanwhile in AAA, Yonder Alonso is hitting .311 with 9 HR and 42 RBI. He had a cup of tea in the majors last season, and his AAA stats suggest that he is ready to hit Major League pitching. By striking out just 44 times while taking 28 walks, Alonso has the patience and batters eye to be an effective hitter.
Whether the Reds call up Alonso to play LF or trade him for another piece later this season, the Reds merely need to give someone a chance to be the full time left fielder again. Platooning three players is not working. It will not work in the playoffs, and it will be hard to win the division with that modus operandi.
What has frustrated me personally is that the Reds cannot merely spend and spend to buy a spot in the playoffs. They have done a great job drafting and signing the right pieces to build a winner from the ground up in Cincinnati. Their window of opportunity is not unlimited, and the Reds should not hesitate to put the best team on the field sooner rather than later.
In my mind, that team boasts the following lineup,
Alonso and Cozart provide depth that could produce with a level of consistency to keep the lineup hitting no matter who was streaking or slumping. If Votto and Phillips don’t hit right now, the Reds rarely have someone from the SS or LF position pick them up. Cozy and Alonso aren’t world beaters, but they give the Reds the best chance to win, so let’s get them on the field.
You can follow Alex Apple on Twitter @AlexAppleDFW