It has been 73 years since St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Joe ‘Ducky’ Medwick hit .374 with 31 homers and 154 rbi to lead the National League in all three categories, in the process becoming the last man to win the ‘Triple Crown’ in the senior circuit.

It has been 15 years since the Cincinnati Reds won their only NL Central Division crown, and 20 since their last National League pennant and World Series titles in 1990. In fact, it has been a decade now since their last winning season, when the 2000 club led by returning-hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr led the club to a 2nd place finish.

In short, it’s been a mostly long, hard ride for the fans of the Redlegs out in western Ohio since the days when Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and the rest of the ‘Big Red Machine’ under manager Sparky Anderson were dominating the National League during the 1970’s.

But in 2010, the winning is back in the Midwest. Victories have piled on top of victories, and the team woke up this morning in first place, 20 games over the .500 mark, 4 games in front of the previously favored St. Louis Cardinals. But the letter ‘V’ does not only stand for those ‘victory’ totals this summer in Cincy. The letter also stands for ‘Votto’, as in Joey Votto, the team’s 1st baseman and leader whose performances are MVP caliber, and also have him challenging to win the Triple Crown.

Votto woke up on Saturday morning with a .327 average, 31 homeruns and 91 rbi. He has also scored 90 runs and even stolen 11 bases. Votto’s average has him 7 percentage points ahead of fellow Triple Crown contender Albert Pujols and Colorado Rockies’ phenom Carlos Gonzalez at the top of the NL leader boards. The 31 homers have him tied for 2nd in the league with Adam Dunn, 4 behind Pujols. The rbi total leaves him 3 behind Pujols.

The fact that both Votto and Pujols are legitimate Triple Crown and Most Valuable Player contenders in the NL is, in fact, being bolstered by the competition to get their respective teams to the top of the NL Central standings at the finish.
 And the two clubs will meet one final time head-to-head, next weekend in Saint Louis, in what should be a major showdown for both team and individual honors.

Pujols’ place among the leader boards is expected most seasons. He has already won the NL MVP Award three times, including in the last two straight seasons. He is a 5-time winner of the NL Silver Slugger Award as the top offensive player at his position. Twice he has won the NL Hank Aaron Award as the top hitter in the league. His team is also a perennial contender, with the Cards having won the World Series as recently as 2006, another NL pennant in 2004, and the Central Division 7 times in the past decade.

The Reds and Votto have now emerged to challenge on both the individual and team fronts. As a 1st baseman, Votto is a direct challenger to Pujols’ dominance of the position over recent years. Here in Philly we are happy to have Ryan Howard and his prodigious power manning 1st base, but the numbers prove out that both Pujols and Votto are far superior all-around offensive threats the ‘The Big Piece’.

Many of Votto’s hits this year have been of the game-winning or game-changing variety, further highlighting his MVP candidacy. But he is far from the only reason that the Reds are in contention. They have an excellent all-around veteran infield with 3rd baseman Scott Rolen, shortstop Orland Cabrera, and 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips. Right fielder Jay Bruce is considered one of the best up-and-coming players in the game in his own right. Their young pitching staff has deep talent, and is supported by strong closer Francisco Cordero.

The Cincinnati Reds are back, and with players like Joey Votto leading the way, it appears at this point that they will remain strong contenders in the National League for the foreseeable future. That future is bright not just for the team, but also for the 1st baseman himself, who turns 27 years old on September 10th, and is thus only beginning what should be the prime productive years of his career.