SAN FRANCISCO - Now that the thrill of winning the division for the second time in three years has worn off, and the excitement of making the playoffs has grown dimmer, the Cincinnati Reds and their fans are focused on winning in October.
Each nervous second that goes by means we're getting closer to first pitch in San Francisco (9:37 p.m. EDT on Saturday), and that means the hopes of the Queen City begin to get higher and higher for what has to be considered a promising run in the playoffs at the least for this Redlegs squad.
But there is a bad taste in Reds fans' mouths from 2010.
Think back to that NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Reds core lineup was mostly the same as it is now.
And what did that lineup go up against? Three of the best pitchers in the National League. It didn't end well. The Reds scored six runs in three games, including suffering a no-hitter in which Roy Holladay made the Redlegs look like a little league team at the plate.
The Reds and their fans tasted the postseason after a 20-year drought, and now they want more. And it's not a humble more that Reds fans are asking for, it's not just one win in the postseason; the buzz around the Queen City and the nation is that this team should go far.
Watching TV and reading articles online in the past week shows that some of the best analysts in the game have their eyes on this team, with some even predicting a Reds vs. Tigers World Series.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. As Dusty would say, "One game at a time."
Flash forward to this NLDS against the Giants.
What are the Reds facing? Three of the best pitchers in the NL in Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum (in that order).
What's different this time in the Reds' lineup? The added big bat of Ryan Ludwick, the solid average of Zack Cozart and break-out rookie Todd Frazier off the bench, but Reds fans should be worried that isn't enough.
In 2010, Joey Votto put up MVP numbers. This year, if you stretched his numbers through the entire season, he would be producing MVP numbers again, but unfortunately for Cincinnati, while Votto has kept his average around a very good .340, he's only driven in 7 RBIs and hasn't hit a single home run in a month of being back in the lineup. He's still one of the best hitters in the league, it's just that he's not picking up the big hits we're used to seeing him find with ease.
More bad news about the Reds' leader, he's hitting only .227 against San Francisco this year.
The Reds' bats in general all peaked too early. The team collectively is only batting .230 since Sept. 1, not to mention a huge decline in home runs (just 15 since beginning of September compared to 38 in August). Not a good sign against the collection of great pitching they're about to face.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on the Reds pitching, and by no means are they not up to the task, but a fact of baseball remains that you can't win a game 0-0.
In the other dugout, San Francisco has been playing much in the same way that the Reds did when their leader went down with injury in July.
After Votto's IR stint, the Reds collectively hit .272 in the month of August and played almost .700 baseball without Joey in the lineup.
When Melky Cabrera, the Giants' batting leader, was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs in August, the Giants all picked up their bootstraps and have put forth an effort very similar to the Reds down the stretch to make up for the lost presence in the lineup, with a collective average of .297 in September.
Anyone will tell you pitching is what will carry a team through the MLB postseason, and the Reds have it in every slot. But in this particular series, so do the Giants.
The Reds will have to take the Giants' starters deep into the game, with a lot of patience at the plate, as they have a significant bullpen ERA advantage (2.66 for the Reds vs. 3.50 for the Giants). If any Giants starter makes it to the 7th or the 8th inning, Cincinnati is in trouble.
One potential advantage that does swing the Reds way is the question mark that is Tim Lincecum this year. Lincecum has an ERA over 5, so the Redlegs have an opportunity to make him work, but if the old Big-Time-Timmy-Jim shows up, it spells bad news for the Reds' chances.
Reds fans will have to hope that the few days of rest for Cincinnati's bats jump-starts them for the next 30 days so this team can make a run deep into the playoffs.
Otherwise that bitter taste of Philadelphia cheesesteak won't be going away. At least not until next year.
To read why the Reds have " nothing to be afraid of ," check out John Popovich's story.
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