CINCINNATI — They say numbers never lie, but everybody knows you can twist them, turn them, juggle them and flip them around until they cry uncle.
Even the good folks at Stats, Inc., where numbers are their first name, middle name and last name, couldn’t fathom what is going on in the Cincinnati baseball world.
They wondered, as does everybody in baseball, how in the name of Mickey, Willie and the Duke are the Cincinnati Reds doing what they are doing without Joey Votto. How are the steadily pulling away from the pack in the National League Central like Secretariat in the Belmont.
So they sat down and did some figgering, baseballspeak for figuring: How can the Reds be doing this without one of baseball’s best players and for certain the best player to wear a Reds uniform over the last four years.
On July 15, the Reds led the National League Central by one game over the Pittsburgh Pirates and by 4 ½ games over the St. Louis Cardinals.
And the main reason was first baseman Joey Votto — .342, 14 homers, 49 RBI, league-leading 36 doubles, .604 slugging percentage, league-leading 66 walks, .465 onbase percentage.
Ironically, on that day manager Dusty Baker uttered some prophetic words: “Where would we be without Joey Votto.” He was about to find out.
On that very day Votto slid awkwardly into third base and it was later discovered that he tore the meniscus in his left knee and surgery was required.
Doomsday was declared in Cincinnati, the season was over, lock the gates and buy Cincinnati Bengals tickets.
But a very strange thing occurred. The Reds became The Band of Brothers, Minus Votto. They banded together and nearly every player stepped up on his game.
Here is some of what happened after Votto was plopped onto the dreaded disabled list, what has happened to put the Reds where they are on this day:
Third baseman Scott Rolen’s average lifted like a hot air balloon, .197 to .245.
Left fielder Ryan Ludwick, mostly a platoon player before Votto’s injury,began banging home runs and driving in runs and his average rose from .236 to .268.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips, who took over Votto’s No. 3 spot in the batting order, pushed his average from .288 to .294 and began driving in runs.
Center fielder Drew Stubbs, a strikeout machine hitting .212, still struck out an abnormal amount of time, but his average climbed to .230.
Todd Frazier, who signed as a shortstop and mostly played third base in the minors, replaced Votto at first base and began gaining rave notices as a possible Rookie of the Year, raising his average from .279 to .286.
Catcher Ryan Hanigan went from .276 to .282 and rookie shortstop Zack Cozart went from .244 to .248.
Amazingly, with Votto out of the lineup, right fielder Jay Bruce is the only regular lefthanded hitter in the lineup and he is the only player in the lineup to drop in average, but barely, from .249 to .248.
With Votto gone, the Reds put together a 10-game winning streak, lost five in a row, then won five in a row. Their non-Votto record was 21-8. At .724 it was the best record over that span in baseball.
And most importantly, that one-game lead they had over Pittsburgh and that 4 ½-game lead they had over St. Louis blossomed to a seven-game lead over both Pittsburgh and St. Louis. As for scoring, the Reds averaged 4.20 runs a game, 16th in the majors, with Votto in the lineup. With him out, they have scored 4.62 runs per game, 11th in the majors. The team cracks jokes about it now with quotes like, “We don’t need Joey. We’re better without him.”
They don’t mean it. They know how much better they’ll be with him back in the lineup, which probably will be around September 1.
With the way Todd Frazier is playing first base and hitting, a radio guy suggested, “Doesn’t Votto have to play his way back into the lineup.”
To that manager Dusty Baker bristled and said, “When Joey Votto is ready Joey Votto is back in the lineup. We need him. We’re a good team without him, obviously we’ve shown that, but we’re a better team with him. What will we do with Frazier when Votto comes back. We’ll figure that one out when we have to figure it out.”
Meanwhile, people like those at Stats, Inc. keep breaking their pencil points trying to figure this one out and all they can come up with is the cliché, “Go figure.”