After a less than desirable end to a four game series in Boston, the Indians now set their sights on their cross state rivals, the Cincinnati Reds. This is the first time in a long time that both teams look like legitimate contenders in their respective divisions. It’s helped add a little something extra to the Ohio Cup, a series that was already entertaining enough on its own merits. With that in mind, I decided to check in with Jordan Barhorst, one of the most entertaining writers over at Blog Red Machine to get his thoughts on the Reds and the series ahead. You can follow him on twitter @jordanbarhorst.
Wahoo’s on First: Shin-Soo Choo seems to have been one of the best offseason acquisitions in all of baseball. Are you surprised by how well he’s performed? We all knew he was a solid lead off hitter after last season but even we’re a bit surprised here in Cleveland.
Jordan Barhorst: I wouldn’t say surprised is the word. As a former Indian, and with Cleveland being in-state, I always knew he was a good ball player. He’s certainly outperforming even the highest of expectations the Reds fan base had for him going into the season, but I believe the reason he’s doing so well is the fact that Cincinnati seems to be a perfect fit for him. With this core of players (Votto, Bruce, Phillips, et al.) the roster has been broken down into a series of ‘cogs in the machine’ rather than a list of players as so many lineups have started to become. Last year the worst cog on the team was the OBP out of the leadoff spot, and if Choo has been doing anything, it’s been getting on base. His success is due to him performing his one duty very well, which is adding to the overall success of the lineup. So, not surprised, but very pleased.
Wahoo’s on First: What do you think of everyone who says Joey Votto isn’t doing his job out the three hole because of the lack of home runs and RBI? Shouldn’t being able to get on base and score runs (the whole point of baseball in the first place) overshadow that? Plus Brandon Phillips is more than picking up the slack. Is it a big deal or a just people looking to nitpick?
Jordan Barhorst: I’ve been a huge proponent of Votto over the years, power or not. I think the Reds philosophy as far as offense goes is a bit ahead (or maybe behind?) the times. Home runs are sexy, but they don’t necessarily win you ball games. Buster Olney had an amazing article for ESPN Magazine in the pre-season about Votto, in which our first baseman stated that he had decided that he would not make outs anymore. Such a bold statement would be regarded as silly if anyone but Joey had said it. I don’t think Votto is what everyone is looking for as far as ‘star quality’ goes, but if you ask anyone in Cincinnati, we don’t need a star, we need a ballplayer. And that’s exactly what Votto is. I alluded to the ‘cog in the machine’ metaphor earlier with Choo. Votto is the most efficient cog in the entire league.
Wahoo’s on First: Do you think the Reds have the arsenal to win the whole damn thing this year or do you still think there are one or two moves they need to make before the trading deadline to put them over the hump?
Jordan Barhorst: Over at Blog Red Machine I’ve dealt with this question in depth. I believe there’s a certain “it” factor required to win it all, and that’s just not something the Reds have had, despite deep talent. At first I thought we needed Chapman as a bonafide ace in order to win a championship, but I’ve since gone back on that idea. I think the twin terrors of Choo and Votto may be the “it” factor we’ve been looking for. They’re making a huge difference, and are seemingly always on base.
I honestly think if the playoffs were today, the Reds would have a very good shot to win it all. I hate to sound like a broken record, but it all comes back to the ‘cogs in the machine’ metaphor. Right now, everyone is doing their part very well. No one is putting up MVP numbers, but what I believe the team and possibly even the fans are realizing is that you don’t need an MVP to win a championship. If Choo keeps getting on base, Votto keeps hitting, and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce keep driving them in, the Reds will be a very difficult team to beat for anyone.
Wahoo’s on First: Is the Aroldis Chapman starter or closer debate officially over or will we have to deal with it again next spring?
Jordan Barhorst: I certainly hope it’s over. Speaking from the perspective of having been in both “Chapman for Starter” and “Chapman for Closer” camps, It’s all a waste of time, energy and our collective breath. I think this spring was sort of the definitive statement that Chapman will be the closer for the foreseeable future. Especially with the emergence of Tony Cingrani as a legitimate major league starter, the maturity of Mike Leake, the seemingly unbreakable consistency of Johnny Cueto/Mat Latos/Homer Bailey, and the number of great young arms in our farm system, there is not an immediate need for Chapman to start. Now, if he finds himself blowing some more saves and getting sent back to a setup guy, we might be singing a different tune. But I expect him to kick it into another gear in the next couple of months.
Wahoo’s on First: We’re clumping the next four games together as one series so, what do you think happens in this strange home and home 4 game series?
Jordan Barhorst: Both teams are playing very good baseball right now. The Reds are on a 5 game winning streak (the game today hasn’t started yet, but things are looking good for back-to-back series sweeps against the Mets and Cubs), and the Indians are a half game behind the almighty Tigers for first in the AL Central. This will be Cincinnati’s first real test in a couple of days, so I think they drop the first game in the series. However, at the end of the day, I think Cincinnati takes the series 3-1. Luckily for Indians fans I’ve been terrible at predicting series records this year, so you should be in line for a nice sweep