CINCINNATI - The Reds are the best team in Major League Baseball. With 80 wins and 52 losses, the Reds were 1.5 games ahead of the next best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals, not to mention 8 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.
Take that in for a second.
Reflect on the 22 years since the Reds were the best team in the MLB during their 1990 World Series season.
Think back to those recent rough times of Aaron Harang’s inconsistency, Francisco Cordero’s breath-holding save attempts and Adam Dunn’s younger years that went down as two strike outs per three at-bats.
Remember Brett Tomko’s shortcomings, Ryan Freel’s lack of development and the missing relief pitching throughout the first decade this millennia?
Now erase those bad memories and flash forward to this team. The starting pitching is solid, the bullpen is lights out and the offense doesn’t leave men on base.
And has anyone noticed that Joey Votto hasn’t been in the Cincinnati Reds lineup for more than a month?
Sure, you’ve probably seen the rotating door at first base, but the offensive production has been minimally affected.
You hear words like “stepped up” and “compensated” applied to the rest of the team in Joey’s absence, but those buzz words don’t really apply. This team hasn’t done anything different than they did with Votto in the lineup.
Look at the consistent replacement for Votto in the lineup, Miguel Cairo: He’s batting well below .200, but yet this team is playing .700 baseball with Votto on the DL, the time in which the Reds have shot to the top of the MLB mountain.
The team’s demeanor will remind Reds fans of the 2010 Central Division Champion squad. On that team, the same core was here, but the young players hadn’t developed the talent as they have today, and the group played more on hustle and heart.
They’ve carried that heart with them since then, and this team is postseason-bound thanks to the talent that has developed across the roster.
It may be cliché, but it couldn’t be more true with this year’s Reds: Everyone on this team isn’t playing for a contract, stats or to get to a certain win-loss record; this team is playing for each other and playing for your fellow man is the best way to make sure he crosses the plate.
And, man, it is fun to watch.
The Reds management deserves a lot of the credit for this year’s success. They got the three biggest potential contract distractions out of the way at the beginning of this year in Bruce, Votto and Phillips. Once they lock up Johnny Cueto longer term (his contract expires in 2014 with a 2015 option), there is reason to start thinking about season tickets throughout the next five to six years.
And the other pieces the Reds put in place on this team couldn’t have melded better.
They have the young and hungry talent that hustle every play like Zach Cozart, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce, and the wiley veterans just looking to give it their last and best shot at a World Series in Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez. To the superstars they’ve built around with confidence in their roles in Votto, Phillips and Cueto, to the guys that are out to prove they’ve got what it takes in Ryan Ludwick, Drew Stubbs and basically the entire Reds pitching staff.
Consider the Reds bullpen and how they’ve formed into a cohesive unit over the past few years. While the Reds added key pieces this year in Sean Marshall and what was hopefully going to be Ryan Madson, they’ve had the other guys on their rotation fall into roles the team needs. Alfredo Simon’s acquisition gave Cincinnati a long reliever and took pressure off Sam LeCure. With Madson’s injury gave clarity to the role in which Aroldis Chapman was going to not only fit into, but shine in. Marshall became the clear set up guy, but the rest of the bullpen took notice and started to strut their stuff (key Jose Arredondo’s breakout year and Logan Ondrusek’s early season dominance). Were it not for the injury to Nick Masset too, this pen would be scary good. All that said, credit Reds pitching coach Bryan Price for his hard work with these young men.
The wild card has always been Dusty Baker and his decision making with the pitching staff, but just this past week against the Phillies he took Cueto out of the game in the 6th when a run hadn't crossed the plate yet, knowing that his bullpen is as strong as it is, and the Reds got out of a no outs, men on second and third situation with as minimal damage as possible. Just a day before that, Dusty went to the mound and consulted Bronson Arroyo to see if he had enough to get through the 9th after a lead-off single. They came to the conclusion he didn’t, and the Reds pulled out a victory.
Even though it may have taken some time, Dusty Baker not only has his guys fitting into the perfect roles roster-wide, but he knows what those roles are and when to use them.
It’s rare a team comes together with such cohesive personalities, athletic abilities and astute levels of understanding of the