Phillips Are First Rate

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Joey Votto plays first base, and Brandon Phillips second base for Cincinnati, and form one of the best right-side infield tandems in the majors.

The duo made their initial All-Star team this season, and are the heart-and-soul of a rising young squad that leads the National League Central by 3 1/2 games over St. Louis, after taking two of three from the Dodgers at the Ravine this past weekend.

It’s not hyperbole, but these two have restored and given hope to a once-proud franchise that boasts the “Big Red Machine,’’ – a legendary group that advanced to four World Series in seven years, winning in 1975 and 1976. Aside from a title in 1990, there hasn’t been much winning in the Queen City.

Votto bats left-handed and third in the lineup. On Sunday, he hit a homer and drove in three runs during the 5-2 win.

Votto can pull the ball to right, or hit with equal power the opposite way, which explains why he’s third in the NL in homers (29), and second in runs batted in (86).

Through Saturday, Votto was batting .321 (first), with 246 total bases (third), a .420 on-base percentage (first), and a .586 slugging percentage (second).

Votto advanced to the majors late in 2007, and has racked up no fewer than 24 homers, which he accomplished in 2008, his first full season, along with 84 RBIs, and a .297 batting average.

Votto will turn 27 next month, and was chosen in the second round by the Reds. It took a while to find his sea legs.

Votto’s breakout season was 2004 at Class A, where he batted .302 with 26 doubles and 14 home runs. He moved to Class A Advanced, and added five more homers.

This earned Votto, who has committed four errors, attention from Cincinnati’s front office, and eventually a trip to the big club where he hasn’t looked back after hitting four homers with 17 RBIs, and a .321 batting average in 24 games in 2007.

Phillips can be hot-tempered, saying what’s on his mind. It was his comment, “I hate the Cardinals,’” that set off a recent first-inning brawl between the two clubs.

The Reds have had problems with the Red Birds, losing 10 of 15 games, but have three left.

Phillips is Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter, despite having topped 20 homers three times, with a high of 30 in 2007.

In the three games with the Dodgers, Phillips had eight hits, and the 29-year-old is hitting .284 with 14 homers, 48 RBIs, 86 runs (first), and 143 hits (second) through Saturday.

Phillips was tabbed by the one-time Montreal Expos in the second round of the 1999 draft, arriving in the majors at the tail end of 2002, and after being traded to Cleveland, played in only 11 games.

Phillips saw action in 112 games for the Tribe in 2003, but played in 12 games over the next two seasons before being shipped to Cincinnati in April 2006.

Phillips made a name for himself that year, registering 587 plate appearances, batting .276, with 17 homers, 75 RBIs, 28 doubles, and 25 stolen bases.

Grinding forward the next season, Phillips, who has made two errors, scored 107 runs, stole 32 bases, drove in 94 runs, and batted .288.

Votto and Phillips are primed for a wild ride to the finish line.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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