The Cincinnati Reds fairly breezed through the 2012 regular season, thanks largely to the strength of their starting pitching rotation. With five pitchers who started at least 30 games this year, the Reds were blessed with an unusual degree of arm health to go along with the talent that led to a 3.62 ERA for the five starters. Chief among that group was Johnny Cueto, a 19-game winner who figures prominently in the Cy Young award discussion and around whom the Reds planned to build their post-season assault. All went well until the eighth pitch of Cueto's Game 1 start against the San Francisco Giants in the teams' National League Division Series last Friday, when back spasms sent him to the locker room. Now, ESPN reports that fifth starter Mike Leake will take the ball against the Giants this afternoon in Game 4, a development which likely means we've seen the last of Cueto for awhile.
Because Leake was not on the Reds' original playoff roster, someone has to go in order to make room for the right-hander who posted an 8-9 record with a 4.58 ERA this summer. With a roster already packed with starters and relievers, the only logical move is for Cincy to move Cueto to the disabled list. When that happens, he will become ineligible to return to action until the World Series, should the Reds make it that far. Swapping Cueto for Leake will make the path to their end goal much more difficult, but all hope is not lost.
The middle three pitchers in Cincinnati's rotation (Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mat Latos) are nearly interchangeable from a 2012 numbers perspective, and Bailey has entered the kind of zone where a no-hitter seems possible every time out. With rest and travel days factored in, it's possible that Leake might only see action once in each series, so the Reds should still be able to win series against any of the remaining teams (Giants, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals). In order to do that, though, they need lively bats more than ever, and the lumber went silent in their Game 3 loss to San Fran. In the process, the Reds managed to squander Bailey's latest masterpiece.
Losing Cueto may have been the biggest blow that the Reds could have taken as October nears its midpoint, but it should be recoverable. The New Red Machine will need to fire on all cylinders, though, to remain standing to the very end.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since the early 1980s, when gods like Dan Driessen and Cesar Cedeno roamed the ethereally green Riverfront turf. He thinks that Dusty Baker is the anti-Davey.
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