The Cincinnati Reds are in first place

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Reds win.jpgConventional wisdom holds that one does not get too excited about anything going on in the standings before Memorial Day, and that’s still two weeks from now.  Still, how can you now get a kick out of the Cincinnati Reds sitting in first place?

Especially that first place came as the result of taking two of three from a St. Louis Cardinals team that everyone — myself included — figured would have an easier path to a division title than anyone in baseball.  Sure, I and a lot of others tabbed the Reds as their trendy little “they might surprise” pick, but we figured that a surprise from the Reds might be that they come within five games of the Cardinals. Not that they’d pass them up.

But like I said: it’s early. The current surge has had a lot to do with facing cold teams like the Pirates and a suddenly-skidding Cardinals squad. They’ve gotten great starting pitching — three complete games last week — and sparkling defense as of late that, while obviously indicative of talent, has been so good that even the most optimistic Reds backers can’t expect it to be sustainable.

But of course all good teams go through stretches like this. The key to staying in contention all year is avoiding skids, which is something the Reds — usually a respectable team on paper, but subject to swoons — haven’t been able to avoid in recent years.

But at the risk of reading too much into a good week, I’m going to say they can avoid it this year.  Defense isn’t as streaky as hitting can be and Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey —  two guys who have been beat up a bit in the early going — are starting to pitch to their potential.

The Cardinals will go back to winning soon, but I don’t see the Reds returning to losing.  There are just too many bad teams in their division to feast on, and I think the Reds will play continue to play good baseball and, at the very least, remain in the wild card hunt all season.

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.