For the majority of this young season, two names have been plastered at the top of the NL hitting leaderboards. There's no denying that Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto are off to fantastic starts of the season, and their resurgence is the perfect backdrop for a new series I'm kicking off here at Red Reporter, #TBT Reds-trospective. Let's turn our clocks back five years to April 30, 2010.
The 2010 season was a big year for the Reds. The team broke a fifteen year playoff drought. Joey Votto emerged as a perennial MVP candidate. Jay Bruce hit an epic home run, one that will still give us goosebumps when we tell our grandchildren about it in 30 years. But before any of that happened, the Reds were just a young team trying figure out how to become winners.
There was a lot to like about the Reds going into the 2010 season. The team was filled with young talent. We were hopeful for a return to form from 2008 top prospect in all of baseball, Jay Bruce, who had broken his wrist the prior season. This was going to be his breakout year, and some 2009 developments gave reason to believe that the complementary pieces needed for a good offense. Joey Votto had emerged as one of the best, young 1B in the NL, a third straight 20-20 season from Brandon Phillips, and a trade to acquire an aging but still productive Scott Rolen gave the fans reason to be optimistic. Drew Stubbs was going to infuse the lineup with some speed at the top and quality CF defense, but concerns still existed about whether he'd strike out too much to be useful. Many of us fans were skeptical about LF, where Manager Dusty Baker installed platoon bat Jonny Gomes as the everyday LF following a 20-homer campaign the year before. The catching tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez along with Orlando Cabrera at SS rounded out the lineup.
The big question on the team was the pitching. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo headlined the rotation. Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto had a couple of seasons under their belts, and while they were clearly going to be in the rotation, their relative inexperience made tem something of a question mark. The battle for 5th starter was between 2009 draftee Mike Leake and Reds 2009 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Travis Wood. Other darkhorse candidates like Nick Masset, Mike Lincoln, and Micah Owings were in the conversation as well. In the end, Leake jumped straight to the majors as the fifth starter while Wood began the year in Louisville with fireballing Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman. Francisco Cordero was the Reds' mediocre but passable closer, and Nick Masset and Arthur Rhodes had emerged as solid late-inning relievers.
April 30, 2010
Heading into the final game of the first month of the season, the Reds found themselves in second place in the NL Central, 4 games behind the rival Cardinals. The Reds sent Johnny Cueto to the mound seeking his first victory on the season. Brad Penny was pitching for the Cards. The Cardinals got on the board first in the bottom of the third, with Matt Holliday driving in two runs with a bases loaded two out single to LF. Those were the only runs the Cardinals scored on the day. RBI singles by Jay Bruce in the fourth and sixth innings tied the game up, before Jonny Gomes drove Bruce in later in the sixth for the game's decisive score. Cueto pitched five innings on the day picking up the win, with 3 Ks and 1 BB, before turning the game over to a procession of relievers who shut the Cardinals out down the stretch. With the win, the Reds moved to 12-11 on the young season, but their .422 Pythagorean Win % suggested that they had played significantly worse to that point. With a merely average offense and the third worst ERA in MLB over the season's first month, it was looking like more of the same for our Reds.
At this point in the young season, Jay Bruce and Ryan Hanigan (who was off to a very hot start in limited action) were pacing the offense in WAR with 0.8, with Joey Votto and Scott Rolen close behind. Jonny Gomes was the weak link in the offense at this point in the season, playing below replacement level. The problem was the awful pitching. Mike Leake led the rotation with a 3.25 ERA at this point in the season, with Johnny Cueto's 5.33 ERA looking good when compared to the ghastly ERAs of Arroyo (6.37), Bailey (7.06), and Harang (7.16). Yikes!
Thankfully, the season ended stronger than it started. Scott Rolen had a very strong first half, Votto broke out in a big way to become the league MVP. Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce had strong seasons, and the pitching that was so weak in April was very good the rest of the season. A mid-season call-up of Travis Wood added some excitement to what was starting to shape up as a promising season. After the All-Star break, Edinson Volquez would return from injury, leaving the Reds with a number of good (but no great) options for the rotation. In late August, the first-place Reds would call up Aroldis Chapman as an electric relief option. On September 24, Chapman threw the fastest pitch ever recorded by Pitch F/X in a game against San Diego. Four days later, Jay Bruce would hit a walkoff home run off of Houston's Tim Byrdak to clinch the Reds first postseason appearance in 15 years. We'll just pretend that's how the 2010 season ended.
Votto had earned his first (of many, amirite?) MVP award, and the talk of the baseball world during that offseason centered around several prime NL first basemen nearing the end of their respective contracts. Adrian Gonzalez was traded from San Diego to Boston following the 2010 season, much to the chagrin of the Padre fanbase. He went on to sign a $154 M extension in April of 2011. The Cardinals and Brewers decided to play one more season with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, respectively, in hopes of resigning them at some point before the start of the 2012 seasons. Each signed massive deals prior to the 2012 season, Fielder with Detroit and Pujols with Anaheim, leaving both teams with nothing but draft picks to show for it. The Reds went an entirely different direction. They offered Joey Votto a choice of a long-term extension or a three-year $38 M extension. He chose the shorter extension - a great move for the Reds which was met with a tepid response by a fanbase disappointed that the deal didn't buy out any free agent years. Just over a year later, after another stellar year from the star 1B, the Reds and Votto agreed to tack on an extension of 10 years and $225 M.\
So here we are. The Votto contract is the defining decision of the decade for the Cincinnati Reds. It's had some ups and downs, and there are certainly fears that the last few years of the contract will be a major burden on the team's ability to compete, but Votto is healthy and hitting as well as he ever has right now. His 2010 emergence led us out of 15 years of wandering in darkness and his resurgence is what gives us hope that the 2015 season may yet be a season as special for Reds fans as the 2010 season was.