Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stars aligning just right for the Reds

Even if the regular season ended today, the 2012 campaign has already been a special one for the Cincinnati Reds. They have electrified their fan base with a plethora of come-from-behind wins, walk-offs, defensive gems, fantastic pitching and all-around winning play on the diamond. They own the longest winning streak in baseball this year when they ripped off a string of 10 in a row back in July (prompting longtime broadcaster Marty Brennaman to shave his signature hair!) and have pieced together streaks of five or more wins on five different occasions. But best of all, they currently enjoy a comfortable lead atop the National League Central Division and appear to be a safe bet to make their second trip to the postseason in three years.

However, unlike 2010 when the team was swept away by the Phillies in the NLDS, Cincy is aiming for much more than just a taste of the playoffs this time around. Many players on the current roster vividly remember what the success of that '10 season felt like, and also the pain of being so quickly disposed of in the postseason. Having that experience under their belt can only help them in their pursuit of a world title in '12. So does having a proven ace (Johnny Cueto), perhaps another ace (Mat Latos), a dominant closer (Aroldis Chapman), a veteran run-producer with playoff experience (Ryan Ludwick), a MVP (Joey Votto), the possible Rookie of the Year (Todd Frazier), the best defensive second basemen in the game (Brandon Phillips), a player capable of carrying his team for periods of time (Jay Bruce), the league's best bullpen and a whole host of others as well.

And if those reasons aren't enough to tilt the league's pennant chances in Cincy's favor, maybe the following will instead.

Remember this guy?
Consider this: Dusty Baker's bunch has gone without their best player for over five weeks and have managed to post a 25-11 record and build a seven game lead in the division during his absence. Though a 7.5-game cushion isn't insurmountable, especially with the reigning champs nipping at your heels, it's pretty significant with just over a month remaining in the season. Add in the fact that Joey Votto will be returning (hopefully) by this weekend's series in St. Louis, and you can pretty much pencil the Reds into the postseason picture right now.

But as I stated previously, this team isn't content with just getting to October. Not with the talent this roster boasts and especially not considering what's transpiring among the other NL contending teams, mainly the happenings in Washington and San Francisco.

News of Melky Cabrera's positive PED test and subsequent 50-game suspension is a big blow to the Giants pursuit of the NL West title, let alone a playoff slot. The "Melk Man" ranked second in the league in hitting (.346) and third in WAR (4.6) at the time of the announcement and will no doubt be a major loss to a team who's already relatively offensively-challenged. If the Bruce Bochy-led team does manage to earn a spot in the postseason, I don't believe they'll be viewed as a favorite to lay claim to the pennant. With that said, a Giant thanks (pun intended) may be in order for Cabrera for his role in helping the National League secure homefield advantage in the World Series by being named the MVP of the All-Star Game. Unfortunately, he won't get to enjoy it if his club makes it there.

That's not even mentioning the season-ending injury suffered by second basemen Freddy Sanchez, the current one to starting pitcher Brad Penny, or the fact that Brian Wilson is out for the year too. The Giants have their work cut out for them as they try and fend off a feisty Dodgers club down the stretch.

Another playoff contender who's about to absorb some attrition, by their own doing nevertheless, is the Nationals. It's been widely reported that the club will "shut down" ace Stephen Strasburg after he reaches 160 innings pitched for the season -- he's at 139.1 right now. If the Nats hold true to their promise, that means Strasburg won't likely pitch at all in the last month of the season nor the postseason. The move is a precautionary one by the club to protect the arm of their 24-year old hurler who missed nearly all of 2011 with Tommy John surgery. Whether or not Washington decides to change their thinking remains to be seen, but a Nats team without Strasburg anchoring the rotation in October diminishes their chances greatly for a World Series run, in my opinion. That's bad news for the nation's capitol, but potentially good news for the Queen City.

So, though the Nats are on the verge of losing arguably their best player soon, the Redlegs appear close to getting their's back in the personnel of Joey Votto. And that's a scary thought when you consider the recent run they've been on (MLB-best 28-11 in second half). The point is, the Reds have the arms, the bats, the gloves and the stars aligning for them to make a legitimate stab at winning it all. Regardless of the outcome it's going to be a fun ride to see where this year's version of the Reds takes us.

No comments: