When you play a 162 game regular season, injuries come with the territory. Some teams roll with them while other teams get buried by them. Regardless of when they hit, it is never a good time for the affected team.
That is a lesson the Cincinnati Reds are about to learn in spades.
It was announced on Monday that perennial MVP candidate and All-Star Joey Votto would be undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, leaving the Reds without their team leader for the next three to four weeks. Votto had originally injured the knee on June 29th, but had returned for the All-Star Game and then to the Reds on July 7th. However, after playing with more discomfort, Votto felt it was best to get it out of the way now and be healthy for the pennant race. In the meantime, the Reds will have to learn to play without a .342 hitter with a 1.069 OPS for the next month.
While Votto’s intentions may be solid, as he will most definitely mean more to Cincinnati in August and September, the injury comes at a very important point of the season and one that could create a shift in power within the National League Central. And who are the beneficiaries to this momementus shift?
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That’s right folks, the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates have an ample opportunity within their grasp. Entering play on Monday night, the Pirates sat a single game behind the Reds for first place in the NL Central and 10 games about the fabled .500 mark that Pirates fans had only briefly heard about from wayward travelers. With a favorable schedule to close out July including match-ups with the Rockies(3 games), Marlins(3 games), Cubs(6 games), and Astros(3 games), the Pirates have a unique chance to put their stamp on the division. And by closing that run off with a three game set in Cincinnati against the Reds, who will still likely be without Votto, the Pirates can take control before Votto even heads out for a rehab assignment.
If the Pirates were ever looking for a sign to go out and make a serious splash at the trade deadline, this injury just walked up and slapped them with it.
Of course, there is another benefactor of the Votto trade and that is Pirates’s center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Votto was in the middle of a fantastic season, albeit one where the Reds were doing next to nothing to help him pad his stats. Still, Votto’s prolific bat was making a case for him in any and all discussions about a National League MVP. Comparing the two below, you can already see why both McCutchen and Votto were among the favorites for the award.
Now it is obvious to even the naked eye that McCutchen’s season has been far superior. Still, I can guarantee you that he and the fans in Pittsburgh are not broken hearted by the opportunity to pad that lead with a three to four week head start. That just leaves Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies as any form of serious competition for the award, but with CarGo being handicapped by the poor play of the last place Rockies it may not be any real competition at all.
The Pirates and McCutchen would not wish an injury on any one. But for a team with 20 years of bad breaks going against them, they are not about to look a gift horse in the mouth either.
Instead, they will simply keep raising the Jolly Roger and look to continue their own run of good luck.