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Votto in vintage form with evolved swing

Big second half pushing Reds star into NL MVP Award conversation

CHICAGO -- Joey Votto has been producing for the Reds at the impressive level that allowed him to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2010. He should garner top five NL MVP Award votes with his 2015 performance, but the first baseman's tremendous second half has been largely away from the baseball spotlight.

Not caring about attention, Votto just wished his spike in production meant more to his team in the big picture. The 55-77 Reds are last in the NL Central standings and have already been eliminated from the division race.

"It's really very frustrating, because it's not part of important wins carrying us down the stretch," Votto said. "It's like I've paired my best play with our most losses, which is doubly frustrating."

Votto made those comments before Wednesday's game vs. the Cubs at Wrigley Field, where he hit the game-winning three-run home run in the ninth inning for a 7-4 Reds victory. It was his second ninth-inning homer for a win in five days.

Video: [email protected]: Votto jacks go-ahead three-run shot in 9th

In 130 games, Votto is batting .316/.457/.567 with 27 homers, 70 RBIs and a league-leading 116 walks. He should finish with over 30 homers, which he has only done once -- when he hit 37 in 2010.

"I like to think today is the first day of the next stretch of success in this organization. I just have to do my job," Votto said. "I have to continue to learn and evolve, continue to adapt how I feel, how the league adjusts to me and go from there."

Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt have been viewed as the NL MVP Award favorites among position players. But Votto's numbers are quite competitive.

• With a 1.025 OPS, Votto is ranked third in the Majors and second only to Harper's 1.086 in the NL. He has a 1.325 OPS in the second half, compared to Harper's .936.

• A 178 weighted runs created plus (WRC+) is also second in the NL behind Harper (193). The stat measures overall runs created by a player compared to the league average, adjusted for each ballpark.

• Votto's 6.5 wins above replacement (WAR) is second in the NL to Harper's 7.6.

• According to Cincinnati TV statistician Joel Luckhaupt, Votto has reached base in 116 of his past 200 plate appearances (.580 OBP). Since 1974, Barry Bonds is the only other player who achieved that rate, when he reached in 130 of 200 plate appearances in 2004.

In the second half, Votto is batting .399 with a .576 OBP and a .748 slugging percentage -- all best in the Majors. He's reached safely in his past 22 games. In the first half, he was batting a more pedestrian .277/.393/.484 and did not make the NL All-Star team when the game was held in Cincinnati. Around that time, iconic Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman stated publicly that Votto was no longer an elite player.

"At the time, I wasn't," Votto said. "It was a fair statement by him. His job is to comment on baseball. It doesn't bother me what you guys write or say. It's my responsibility to play, and then you guys comment on it. … The elite players go to the All-Star Game. I wasn't playing up to what I viewed as my level of play. He just made a comment on it. Big deal."

Votto's surge began as he and hitting coach Don Long started working more together and looking at video.

Gif: Votto's swing

"Honestly, it's him not being satisfied with where he was," Long said. "He really knows how to look at what he's doing and say, 'Is this what I really want?' We looked at video from years past. He really wanted to get back to where he is hitting now, the position to hit and the changing of his mindset. He's been able to use his lower half better and sync everything up more effectively."

The improvement of his swing is an area where Votto hasn't couched his enthusiasm.

"It can be elusive, but I feel like the transition to the swing I had in April to the swing myself and Don worked hard to refine and put into use on a consistent basis in July was something I'm very, very happy about," Votto said. "I was swinging and missing, fouling balls off, trying to do too much. I was unable to put the ball in play. That's been the biggest change since July."

When the year started, many wondered if Votto would be able to hit like he once did. He was limited to 62 games, a .255 average and six homers in 2014 because of quadriceps and knee injuries to his left leg.

"It's really been an odd season," Votto said. "On a personal note, I was coming back from an injury, I played well, I'm starting to play up to a standard I've set for myself. Hopefully, you get an opportunity to help the team win and do your part to feel like you're supporting every win."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.
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