Thursday, August 1, 2013

Favorable schedule down the stretch gives Reds edge in playoff push

With two months remaining in the regular season, and with approximately 53 games to go, the Reds find themselves hanging on for dear life as far as their playoff hopes are concerned.

Entering play on Thursday, Cincinnati held a modest 4-game lead over Arizona for the last Wild Card spot, and faced a 6-game deficit to first-place Pittsburgh in the division standings.

Look, we all know that most anything can happen between now and the end of September, Oakland and St. Louis can attest to this after earning playoff berths on the last day of the 2012 season, but one thing that needs to happen if the Reds want to guarantee themselves a spot in the 2013 postseason is winning more games. This is easier said than done, of course. Fortunately, Cincinnati may hold a slight edge over other postseason-hopeful teams in regards to scheduling.

One of the advantages that the Reds will have moving forward is their favorable strength of schedule. For starters, this weekend will mark only the second time the Reds have played a home series in the last 26 days. All in all, Dusty Baker's bunch has played 15 of their last 18 games on the road dating back to July 8. Furthermore, 11 of those games away from home were played in a time zone three hours behind the one they are accustomed to in Cincinnati. They can thank their recent West Coast road trip through San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego for that.

The good news is that they are about to get reacquainted with Great American Ball Park over the next few weeks. Fifteen of their next 22 games will come at the friendly confines of GABP. Of those 22, 13 will come against teams with losing records. Seven of the remaining nine games will come against either one of the teams they are trying to track down, St. Louis (3), or one of the teams they are trying to fend off, Arizona (4). Luckily, all seven of these aforementioned games are at home, too.

September doesn't look too awfully bad for the Reds, either. Yes, they do play 13 of their 26 games against teams with winning records, but majority (16) of the games are at home. And seven of the games they have on the road comes against the likes of lowly Milwaukee, woeful Houston, and mediocre Colorado.

The last stretch of the season should be an intriguing one, though. If the Reds can somehow catch the surging Pirates in the standings, it will set up a compelling last week of the season, as the Reds and Pirates play each other six times over the final 10 days of the year. Each team will have three games in their home park with the final set of games coming at GABP.

So, the moral of the story is this: this team is actually in great shape. The Reds are about to get their starting left fielder (Ryan Ludwick) back from injury, as well as one of their key relievers (Jonathan Broxton), too. The Reds are also the beneficiaries of a rather favorable schedule, and let's face it, the offense can't be much worse than it's been over the last week. Add these factors to the fact that the Pirates can't play much better, and the fact that the Cardinals are without their best player for awhile (Yadier Molina), and you have got to like Cincy's chances at a playoff run.

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