The Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds have more in common than the color of their uniforms. Both play in relatively new riverside ballparks. They have the two winningest managers in the National League. They also own the two best records in baseball.
If there was any doubt about their legitimacy, both have removed it by continuing to win with their most important position player out of the lineup. Without All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond, who returned Friday, the Nats went 19-6. Without All-Star first baseman Joey Votto, the Reds have gone 24-10.
In both cases, the teams adjusted with demonstrations of confidence in their organizations. In Washington, Desmond's injury gave rookie Steve Lombardozzi a chance to play every day and second baseman Danny Espinosa a chance to slide over to his old position.
With Desmond out, Lombardozzi hit .308, while Espinosa batted .288, glittered at short and put up numbers that were Desmond-like -- five home runs, 16 RBIs and three steals in 25 games.
The loss of Votto in Cincinnati has given the Reds' own versatile rookie, Todd Frazier, a chance to play every day. In 309 at-bats, Frazier has produced 17 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .288 average. In 298 at-bats before his injury, Votto had 14 home runs, 49 RBIs and a .342 average.
If the Reds and Nats are headed for a rock-the-red showdown in the National League playoffs, it also will be a showcase for two strong and self-confident organizations.
- Kevin Dunleavy