Reds Move Up NL Elite as Phillies Tumble Down: A Fan's Analysis

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The Philadelphia Phillies may have technically had the last hurrah of their mini-dynasty in October 2010. Back then, Phillies fans like myself were convinced that a second World Series title in three years was imminent, after they swept the overmatched Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS. Back then, Philadelphia looked to be unstoppable while Cincinnati was a playoff newcomer just happy to be there.

But ever since the Phillies no-hit and swept the Reds in that playoff series, they haven't risen that far again. The subsequent NLCS loss to the San Francisco Giants, the NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals the next year, and this current wasted 2012 season made sure of that. Yet as the Phillies keep sliding from their glory days, the Reds are finding theirs.

As Cincinnati heads over to Philadelphia starting on Aug. 20, the Reds are 74-48 and are beginning to pull away from the NL Central. After making a mere cameo in the 2010 playoffs, this year's Reds don't seem likely to settle for a winless postseason this time. In fact, with the Washington Nationals still going ahead with shutting down Stephen Strasburg, and with the Giants having lost Melky Cabrera, Cincinnati could well be the NL pennant favorite going into October.

The Reds have gotten even stronger lately by doing what the Phillies haven't done all year - survive costly injuries. Losing 2010 MVP winner and 2012 MVP favorite Joey Votto on July 15 should have stopped Cincinnati in its tracks. Even now, Votto has met setbacks in his recovery and may not be back until September, with his health likely to stay a question mark in October.

Yet while the Phillies tanked when they lost Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay for extended stretches - and kept tanking even when they returned - the Reds have gone 24-10 without their leader. The team that couldn't hit a lick off the Phillies two Octobers ago with Votto - and still hits an average of only one point better than this year's Phillies - has somehow survived without their big offensive piece.

Unlike this year's Philadelphia squad, however, Cincinnati actually has more than one reliable pitcher. The Reds have the fourth lowest team ERA in baseball, have a Cy Young-level ace in Johnny Cueto and have seen hard-throwing Aroldis Chapman - who got knocked around as a rookie by the Phillies in Game 2 two years ago - become a Cy Young-level reliever.

In 2010, the Reds were the team of the future while the Phillies were the team of right now - at least at that time. It has only taken two years for Philadelphia to drop off, ever since the sky looked to be the limit after sweeping Cincinnati. And two years after Halladay no-hit the Reds in his playoff debut, he faces them again on Aug. 20 in a meaningless game with a sub .500 record.

The Phillies had to get swept by the Colorado Rockies in 2007 before they could learn to be a world champion. Now perhaps these Reds are ready to take a similar next step after being swept in their playoff debut - which hopefully won't end up being the last postseason series win of this Phillies' era.

Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.

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