Joey Votto returns to the lineup, and his hometown, as the red-hot Reds battle the Blue Jays

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto gives a press conference.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto gives a press conference. / Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
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Who is the hottest team in the National League? Believe it or not, Reds Country, but it's your Redlegs. Both the Cincinnati Reds (11-26) and San Francisco Giants have won seven of their last 10 games and the Reds have been victorious in eight of their last dozen contests following a two-game sweep of the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field.

Granted, when you start 3-22, you're trying to pull your season from the bottom of the ocean-type depth, but there's no denying Cincinnati has been playing excellent baseball over the past two weeks. What's even more encouraging is the Reds are receiving positive contributions, not only from the offense but the starting rotation as well.

Entering play yesterday, Cincinnati starters have compiled an impressive 2.05 ERA over their previous seven outings and have allowed just 21 hits in 44 innings of work. Right-hander Tyler Mahle certainly held up his end of the bargain yesterday by tossing 6.1 frames of one-run, two-hit baseball in a 4-2 victory over the Guardians.

The Reds are one of the hottest team in baseball.

On the other hand, the Toronto Blue Jays (20-18) are flying in the opposite direction. The Jays have dropped seven of 10 and trail the scorching New York Yankees by eight games in the ultra-competitive American League East.

For a team built on offense, the Jays have been surprisingly mediocre at the plate. As a team, they are slashing .234/.300/.378 barely eclipsing the AL average slash line of .232/.301/.373 in two of the three categories.

Last year's runner-up in the AL MVP voting, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is off to an excellent start slashing .284/.368/.470 with seven homers and 21 ribbies. During the 2021 campaign, the 23-year-old slugger led the junior circuit in runs scored, home runs, OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. Needless to say, he'll present an incredible challenge for the Cincinnati pitching staff.

Cincinnati is just 2-7 lifetime when visiting Toronto, and this will be their first trip to Canada since the 2017 season. Amazingly, the last Cincinnati Reds pitcher to win a game at the Rogers Centre was Johnny Cueto in June 2009, when Willy Taveras and Joey Votto went a combined 7-for-10 in a Reds 7-5 victory.

Previewing the pitching matchups: Reds vs. Blue Jays

Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo vs. Blue Jays starting pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu

It's La Piedra Day as Luis Castillo (0-1 5.59 ERA) squares off against Toronto's Hyun Jin Ryu (0-0 9.00 ERA) in tonight's opener. Making his third start of the season, Castillo is still looking for the elusive first victory of his 2022 campaign.

In his previous two appearances this year, Castillo has been victimized by extra-base hits. Even though he's only yielded seven hits in 9,2 innings, three, a double and two round-trippers, have gone for extra bases. This will be the right-hander's first career start against the Blue Jays.

Former Dodger Hyun Jin Ryu and the Reds are no strangers to one another. The southpaw is 2-2 with a 4.33 ERA in five starts versus the Redlegs since the 2014 campaign. Gopher balls have been an issue for the South Korean to open the season. Ryu has been taken deep three times in a dozen frames.

Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene vs Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah

Cincinnati Reds rookie Hunter Greene (1-6 6.21 ERA) opposes Alek Manoah (4-1 1.71 ERA) Saturday afternoon for Charlie Montoyo's club. You couldn't be much better than Greene was in his last outing.

Tossing a career-high 118 pitches in holding the Pittsburgh Pirates hitless for 7.1 innings, Greene was the hard-luck loser in a 1-0 defeat. There are signs the fireballing right-hander is learning from his early-season struggles. The Los Angeles native has surrendered just one home run in his last 12.2 frames after being rocked for 10 homers in his first 20.2 innings.

What more can you say about Alek Manoah? The 24-year-old right-hander has not allowed more than two earned runs in any start this season. In his first 27 career starts, the West Virginia alum is an incredible 13-3 with a sparkling 2.81 ERA.

Reds starting pitcher Connor Overton vs. Blue Jays starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi

Sunday's matinee series finale will feature Connor Overton (1-0 1.82 ERA) battling Yusei Kikuchi (2-1 3.38 ERA) for the Blue Jays. I feel confident saying, Connor Overton has been the biggest (pleasant) surprise for the Cincinnati Reds this season.

Since making his Reds debut on April 30th, the right-hander has allowed just 15 hits and five runs in 24.2 innings of work. Additionally, his last outing was his most impressive. Tossing 7.2 frames against the Guardians on Tuesday, the 28-year-old limited Cleveland to a paltry two hits.

Southpaw Yusei Kikuchi was equally as brilliant in his last start. Hurling six innings of shutout baseball, the former Seattle Mariner held his former teammates to only one hit. In addition, the Japanese import has surrendered just three runs over his last 17.1 frames and compiled 20 K's.

Currently, it's Tyler Naquin's world and we're just living in it. Over his last 15 games, the Cincinnati Reds outfielder is slashing .309/.356/.600 with three round-trippers, and 12 RBIs with two stolen bases. Next, his impressive play has been rewarded.

Yesterday, Naquin became the Redlegs' first position player since Kristopher Negron in the 2014 season, to collect the Ohio Cup Frank Robinson Most Outstanding Player Award after going 8-for-15 with two doubles, three homers, and seven runs scored against his former team the Guardians. Honestly, I didn't even know this award existed until yesterday, but shoutout to Kristopher Negron.

Since arriving in the Queen City prior to the 2021 season, Naquin is playing the best baseball of his career. A former first-round selection of Cleveland, the left-handed-hitting slugger is slashing .267/.328/.473 with 22 homers and 90 ribbies in 516 at-bats entering play yesterday as a member of the Reds.

What the future holds for Naquin in a Cincinnati uniform is anyone's guess. Naquin will be a free agent following the 2022 campaign and his bat could definitely help a contender down the stretch this season. A word of warning Reds Country, let's enjoy Tyler Naquin while he's still a member of the Reds.

Prediction: Reds vs. Blue Jays

Despite their recent skid, the Toronto Blue Jays are a quality ballclub, especially at home. The Jays are an impressive 12-7 at the Rogers Centre his year. As result, expect the Reds to drop two of three and lose their first series in a couple of weeks.

Following the trip to Canada, the Redlegs return home to open a seven-game homestand versus the division rival Chicago Cubs and the equally as hot San Francisco Giants.

Ranking the Reds Top 5 defenders of all-time. dark. Next