Remember when the St. Louis Cardinals were running away with the National League Central? The Cincinnati Reds don't, as they have won seven of their last 10 and now sit in first place. Our experts discuss Cincy's rise in Thursday's Triple Play.
1. Todd Frazier: You buying or selling?
Katie Sharp (@ktsharp), ESPN Stats & Info
Selling. I know he just saved a man's life and was a walk-off hero for the Reds last week, but Frazier needs a lesson in plate discipline before I consider buying him. He has struck out in nearly 30 percent of his at-bats and won't take a walk unless the ball is thrown behind him.
Dan Szymborski (@dszymborski), ESPN Insider
Selling. Jose Bautista and Ryan Vogelsong have become solid big leaguers, suggesting that MLB has become some wacky bizarro universe where crazy things constantly happen, but Frazier isn't quite there yet. Frazier's history -- as a player already in his prime years who can fake a few positions, but a .261 AVG/.335 OBP/.453 SLG career line in Triple-A -- still overwhelmingly suggests that he's a role-player type rather than a future starter. Nothing wrong with that, given Scott Rolen's fragility and age, but if you think that Frazier has suddenly become a middle-of-the-order slugger, the Yankees probably still have a bunch of Kevin Maas jerseys stashed in a warehouse somewhere that you can buy.
Chad Dotson (@dotsonc), Redleg Nation
I'll buy, but I'm not overpaying. It's hard not to like Frazier right now. He's hitting very well (75 percent of his hits go for extra bases) and playing steady defense, and he even saved a Pirates fan from choking this week. Heck, he's a former Little League World Series hero! Frazier is 26 years old, however. He's a capable replacement for Scott Rolen, but don't expect stardom.
2. Dusty Baker is often mocked, yet his teams usually win. Why doesn't he get more respect?
Sharp: Dusty Baker may have won three Manager of the Year Awards, but the zero in that World Series column is what really hurts him. He also has just one pennant to his name despite managing nine teams that finished in first or second place in the division during the wild-card era. And I haven't even mentioned Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
Szymborski: Dusty is a solid manager for a certain kind of team, one that's already a contender and needs a manager who can simply keep the club together, rather than one that requires a little more creativity and fondness for youngsters to keep going, like the Tampa Bay Rays. What makes Baker such an easy target is that when he does something groan-inducing, it's usually loud and obvious, like his curious attachments to players like Neifi Perez and Corey Patterson, or his occasional reluctance to work his team's best prospects into the lineup.
Dotson: Dusty doesn't get respect because his weaknesses can be seen on the field, generally. For example, his handling of the lineup card borders on insanity, and he still hasn't figured out how to handle a bullpen. I've discovered a couple of things during Baker's tenure in Cincinnati, though: His reputation for abusing pitchers is overblown, if anything, and his skill at managing personalities in the clubhouse is real. He's not a good manager, but he's far from the caricature that's painted of him.
3. The Reds are winning in spite of Mat Latos (4.58 ERA). Will that trade haunt the franchise?
Sharp: It's not like Edinson Volquez is lighting up Petco Park every fifth night. Volquez has walked the most batters in the NL, and his WHIP of 1.354 is a lot more indicative of how he's pitched this season than his 3.46 ERA. Latos had shown signs of breaking out before giving up five home runs to the Rockies on Sunday, with a 2.35 ERA and 30 strikeouts over his previous four starts.
Szymborski: Not really. It's way too early to panic on a 24-year-old pitcher who is still striking out eight batters a game in the middle of a rather bland first couple of months. Yonder Alonso got way too much hype for a first baseman who never topped 15 homers in the minors and doesn't have Mark Grace's defense and batting average to compensate. Yasmani Grandal should have a good career, but the Reds had catching depth to trade. Edinson Volquez is still walking a million guys and his ERA is severely Petco-aided. Without the trade, the Reds had the looks of a team winning in the mid-80s, and that's just about the most profitable time for a team to try to swap some future wins for some current wins.
Dotson: Are we calling this trade a failure already, just because Latos had one bad month? In May, Latos is 3-0 over five starts, with a 3.26 ERA to go with almost three times as many strikeouts as walks. He's 24 years old and shows every sign of being the rotation anchor Cincinnati wanted. The Reds gave up value to get him, but I have a feeling Walt Jocketty & Co. are going to be very, very happy with this trade in the long run.