COMMENTARY | Whether the Cincinnati Reds reach the postseason via wild card or division title, the team is built to play deep into October and appears to be on the verge of peaking as a team at just the right time.
After beating two division leaders -- the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers -- six out of seven games at the start of September, the Reds have to feel like some of the "Great Eight" magic of the Big Red Machine may be in the works as the Reds bear down for the final games of the regular season.
Heading into September 10 action, the Reds' rotation leads the NL in innings pitched (912), WHIP (1.15) and strikeouts (750). The starters are second in the league in ERA with a sparkling 3.35.
As good as the rotation has been in the absence of injured ace Johnny Cueto, the postseason stands to be even better with a more seasoned Tony Cingrani and perhaps even a healthy Cueto ready to start again at some point in October. The Reds have ace-caliber starters behind Cueto in Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Cingrani and should have a serviceable fifth starter at their postseason disposal when needed in veteran Bronson Arroyo or regular-season starter Mike Leake.
Despite the losses of eighth-inning relievers Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall to injury for most of the season, the Reds' bullpen has managed to overcome early woes and develop into an effective group. Anchored by fire-balling closer Aroldis Chapman, the relievers have posted a respectable ERA of 3.42 (6th in the NL) and registered an impressive WHIP of 1.18 (3rd in the NL). The evolving pen is relatively fresh after having pitched the second-fewest innings among NL bullpens (405).
Besides Chapman, the postseason bullpen will include lefty Manny Parra and righties J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure and Alfredo Simon. The remaining spots will be up for grabs among lefties Zach Duke and Sean Marshall, and righty Logan Ondrusek. Cueto is more likely to begin the postseason as a reliever but should move toward a starting role if the Reds do indeed advance to the World Series.
The 2013 Great Eight
Although there's no comparison between the original "Great Eight" of the Big Red Machine of the 1970s and the current Reds position players, the 2013 Reds may have soaked in some of the greatness that they collectively witnessed during last week's festivities that brought greats of the game like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan Pete Rose and Tony Perez front and center for them to admire.
Overall, the 2013 Reds offense has lacked some of the potency expected at the start of the season, largely due to the injury of primary cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick. Now that Ludwick is healthy again and likely to move back to cleanup for the postseason, the Reds stand to show better in October than they have in the regular season (3rd in the NL in runs with 626, 3rd in on-base percentage .328 and 4th in home runs with 143).
In terms of overall fielding percentage, the Reds rank just 3rd in the NL, but in terms of the caliber of fielders, the Reds may be unequaled in the NL. The Reds feature three outstanding fielders on the right side of the field who have the ability to get to balls that their peers can't. Second baseman Brandon Phillips remains one of the most astonishing fielders of this generation and right fielder Jay Bruce is virtually flawless in the field for his ability to break on the ball and freeze base runners with his cannon arm (tied for 2nd in the NL in assists with 12). Even though first baseman Joey Votto has committed more errors this year than any year in his career, he is still a Gold Glover with above-average range.
The Reds have also benefited from solid defense where it may not have been originally expected. Among NL third basemen with more than 100 starts, Todd Frazier leads the league in fielding percentage. Likewise, Shin-Soo Choo has shown he's more than capable manning center field. After committing two errors in one game on April 8, Choo has just one error since. Choo has proved he can cover a lot of ground and make up for the ground he can't cover with his strong arm.
The Reds have a specialized weapon unlike any other team in the major leagues, and his name is Billy Hamilton. The speedster adds a baserunning element that has already proven a game-winning difference. Hamilton must be included on the postseason roster, even if it comes at the expense of a left-handed bat off the bench like Xavier Paul. Hamilton is just too valuable at what he does to exclude from the postseason roster if the Reds are going to contend for a first World Series title since 1990.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds' season here.
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