MLB MLB Team News NL Central — 12 August 2010

The Cincinnati Reds have surpassed most expectations thus far.

They were leading the NL Central Division. All Star Joey Votto is an MVP candidate. All Star Brandon Phillips is having another outstanding season. These two are the cornerstone pieces to a young team with the potential to compete in the Central Division for years.

Phillips’ 79 total runs rank him fourth among all second basemen in the Majors, tied with Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks. He is currently batting .283, .05 short of his career high in 2007. His .337 on base percentage would be a career high. His .454 slugging percentage would be the best since his career year in 2007.

The All Star appearance, well rounded stats and division lead evidently wasn’t enough for B-Phil.

He couldn’t let everything stay hush-hush. Flying under the radar didn’t appear to be enough for the 29 year old second baseman who became a star since coming to the organization.

Maybe the Bengals were receiving too much press for Phillips’ liking after they signed Terrell Owens. Owens, Chad Ochocinco and the Cincinnati Bengals ruled sports media. The way the Reds have played this season, they definitely deserve some publicity.

After the past two days, is this what Phillips and his Cincinnati teammates really want?

What they want or prefer is irrelevant. Phillips can’t undo the past.

The Reds are firmly entrenched in the spotlight.

All that matters now is that the target is officially branded on the back of each and every Red.

The comments Phillips made were great to see heading into a monstrous divisional series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

I like that Phillips was instigating with the Cardinals.

I love the intensity and passion. I even like the timing. I like that Phillips is trying to rally a team that has not seen much success in recent years.

I love baseball brawls. Benches clearing, tempers flaring, pushing, fists flying, mouths jawing and of course, feet flailing thanks to Cueto’s contribution. I want more. Especially between two rivals battling for first place in their division.

Phillips was clearly trying to rally his squad. They were one game above .500 in July. They came in to the series against the Cardinals winning five of the six games to open August. They had an opportunity to force the Cardinals to question the rest of their season.

The comments prior to the Reds’ series opener 7-3 loss on Monday didn’t become the talk of sports nation until Tuesday. Clearly, the Reds would come out swinging in Game 2 of the series.

Not exactly.

Phillips undid any positive that could have come from his rant on the Cardinals.

Last night’s scuffle would never have happened if Phillips stood his ground. He negated his comments with the love taps of his bat to the shin guard of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. I still believe he was trying to rally his team further. Why else would he instigate with Molina? He had to have known Molina wouldn’t let that slide.

The Reds, and more importantly, Phillips could not back that up.

They looked terrible during the scuffle. Johnny Cueto, please keep your legs down. I don’t care if you were scared. Chris Carpenter questioned where the Reds learned to fight after the scuffle and made Cincinnati look like the bitches.

Phillips did a lot of instigating to rally his squad.

It backfired.

The Reds lost to the Cardinals 8-4 and relinquished the Central Division lead.

Phillips faced great pitching in Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Adam Wainwright in the three game series. However, he did a lot of talking to only have two hits in 14 at bats, one run scored and one RBI in arguably their most important series of the season.

Maybe it wasn’t their most important season. But Phillips turned it into that.

Phillips put the target on his back. He put the target on the three starting pitchers of the series, Mike Leake, Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, as well as Votto and Dusty Baker.

Votto is the MVP candidate, but Phillips needs to make this his team. Phillips needs to kick it up a few notches higher than Cueto’s feet were last night when he was scared for his life while his back was against the netting behind home plate.

Seriously, Cueto, spikes in the air?

The team was riding high by laying low.

Fans voted Phillips into the All Star game. When Votto was ‘snubbed’ initially, he too was voted in by the fans. Baseball fans were clearly cognizant of the Reds’ success.

Everyone is now cognizant of the Reds.

Phillips has positioned the spotlight directly on top of his squad. Unlike last month when the spotlight was on righting Votto’s snub heading into the All Star game, the spotlight is now on the team for the wrong reasons.

People will question the team’s focus and mental toughness. Phillips will be the front man from here on.

Phillips has to take this Reds team on his shoulders. He needs to show that after push just came to shove, they’re going to punch the Cardinals back in the mouths where it hurts the most: The Standings.

Phillips, the team’s all-important leadoff hitter, needs to get on base at an astronomical rate now. His 13 stolen bases rank him fourth among eligible second baseman, but not close to the 32 he stole in 2007.

Among all second basemen, Phillips ranks tenth with 14 home runs. Hit 10 more on the way to playoffs. Rally the team with leadoff home runs. Focus on the ball, please, not the Cardinals’ bitching and moaning.

Pick up the pace if you want the spotlight. Put pressure on opposing pitchers.

If you want to dish it out, you need to be ready to take it back. The Reds couldn’t handle the aftermath of Phillips’s comments.

If the team falters down the stretch, everyone will look at his August 9th comments and August 10th scuffle as the reason for the turn southbound. They have one more important series against the Cardinals in the first week of September.

Phillips, Votto, and Dusty Baker will need to refocus the entire team. Relight the fire. Increase the intensity. Feast on the weak.

They have 10 series against teams currently below .500 from now until the end of the season.

Phillips’ ground out RBI in his second at bat in Game 2 cut the lead in half, 2-1. That Cardinals two run lead came from a Yadier Molina home run in his first at bat following the scuffle he helped initiate. Phillips’ first at bat was a ground out.

Molina and the Cardinals were fired up and wanted to throw Phillips’ comments back in the Reds’ faces. The Reds did not have the same fire to back up Phillips who may have been speaking for the entire team leading into the series.

Everything that could have gone wrong from Phillips’ comments has gone wrong.

Cincinnati went in looking for a sweep. They saw one.

St. Louis went to Cincinnati, swept the Reds, and stole the Division lead. While accomplishing that goal, they may have one upped themselves in the process. They may have also stolen the heart, pride and focus from this Cincinnati Reds team.

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Brandon Galvin

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