Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto’s return to form begins tonight

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - AUGUST 03: Joey Votto #9 of the Cincinnati Reds sits in the dugout during the 5th inning against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on August 03, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - AUGUST 03: Joey Votto #9 of the Cincinnati Reds sits in the dugout during the 5th inning against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on August 03, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

If the Cincinnati Reds have any hopes of making some noise, Joey Votto has to produce. Tonight’s matchup against Cole Hamels presents a great opportunity.

The Cincinnati Reds have won three straight games and have positioned themselves to make a run at the postseason. The Reds are just four games out of the final spot in the NL Wild Card and trail the division-leading Chicago Cubs by seven games in the NL Central. If the Reds are going to make some noise, Joey Votto has to be produce. He has a great opportunity tonight.

Joey Votto is one of the greatest players to ever put on a Cincinnati Reds uniform. Votto is a former MVP, a Gold Glove Award winner, and six-time All-Star. He’s been a fixture in the Reds lineup since 2008 and the model of consistency throughout his career. Well, he had been, until last year.

It’s hard to look at a season in which Votto made an All-Star appearance and led the league in on-base percentage as a down year, but that’s exactly what the 2018 season was for the Reds first baseman. Votto himself even admitted it. Here’s a quote from Joey via MLB.com during Redsfest this past year:

“Last year, I felt so out of sync with my game. I’ve said it before, but I felt a step behind all year. Normally, I feel a step ahead every day all year. So I’m doing everything I can to make sure I am prepared both physically and mentally. I am making sure I am completely ready for this coming year.”

Unfortunately, the 2019 season didn’t start off much better. Through the first 36 games of this season, Votto was slashing .206/.333/.333 with 3 home runs, 6 RBIs, and a staggering 34 strikeouts.

Fans became increasingly frustrated with Votto’s performance and understandably so. When a player of Votto’s stature is playing well below his expectations, it’s fair to be critical. Votto has set a lofty standard for himself, and while many throughout Reds Country were harsh in their criticism, it’s likely that Votto is always his biggest critic.

Thankfully, Votto has rebounded nicely, and since that time, his slash line is bit more in line with what we typically see from Votto. Since May 11th, Votto is slashing .283/.356/.434. While the power isn’t there, Votto’s batting average and on-base percentage are at least back to a respectable number.

In an effort to increase his power of late, Votto has adjusted his batting stance. It’s been well-documented over the last few weeks that Votto is no longer choking up on the bat and he’s standing more upright in the batter’s box. When asked about what prompted the change in his stance, Votto gave the obvious answer via the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“No homers. No homers prompted it, for sure. We’ll see how it goes now.”

Joey’s hit three home runs in recent weeks and he seems to be hitting the ball with more power. While a lot of fans are hopeful that Joey Votto returns to the player that we saw back in 2017, I don’t think it’s fair to expect that same level of production.

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Votto, now slotted in the No. 2 hole in the Reds batting order, is more of a table-setter for the offense. At nearly 36-years old, it’s unlikely for Votto to ever crack 30-plus home runs or 100-plus RBIs in a season. However, his runs scored are likely to go up, provided power-hitters like Eugenio Suárez keep mashing behind him.

Votto has a very favorable matchup tonight against Chicago Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels. Votto is 3-for-4 with a home run over the last two seasons against Hamels. Votto is one of the few left-handed bats that David Bell trusts against southpaws.

Votto has actually faired better against left-handed pitchers (.264/.355/.330) than right-handed pitchers (.257/.346/.428) this season in terms of batting average and on-base percentage. However, only one of Votto’s home runs this season have come off left-handers.

Joey has another favorable matchup this weekend when Kyle Hendricks takes the mound on Saturday night. Votto has a 1.083 OPS this season against Kendricks with a double and a home run in nine plate appearances.

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With the season winding down, there’s no better time for Joey Votto to assert himself. Typically, Votto saves his best for last, and the Cincinnati Reds will need Joey to play up to his potential over the final seven weeks of the season if they hope to make a run at the postseason. This series provides good matchups for Votto. I think he’ll take full advantage and ride that wave over the final weeks of the season.