COMMENTARY| This time last year the Cincinnati Reds were two games over the .500 mark and trailing the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central division. The Reds once again are trailing the Cardinals but not by as much as last year and sport a better record than the 2012 team, thanks largely to a recent six-game winning streak.
Although the win streak is a modest one and comes at the expense of a pair of bad teams in the Milwaukee Brewers and the Miami Marlins, the length of the win streak may spark many in Reds Country to recall the remarkable 10-game winning streak that the Reds peeled off last summer.
The 10-game winning streak at the end of July in 2012 wasn't so remarkable because of its length but was part of a surprising surge that elevated the Reds to first place in the division and a share of the best record in baseball without the services of then-injured first baseman Joey Votto. The win streak capped a 17-2 stretch that included 13 games overall without Votto. The Reds won 22 of 25 from July 6 through August 4 and left little doubt by the end of their monster month that the Reds were the team to beat in the division.
Of course, such a huge month had many in Reds Country ecstatic with the expectation that the 2012 Reds were in the midst of a season of destiny, which could only end with a World Series berth. The baseball gods, however, did not oblige, and the excitement of a great season instead ended with heartburn in Reds Country after the Reds dropped three straight at home in the divisional series.
During the first quarter of the 2013 season, the Reds have struggled to reassert that they are the team to beat in the division once again - for the third time in the past four years. The Cardinals have rocketed out of the gate behind unsustainable starting pitching, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have kept pace with the two proven contenders so far. Now that the Reds have strung together some success, the early returns of the 2013 season are enough to tempt Reds Country into believing once again that this year may be the real season of destiny for the Reds, thanks in no small part to center fielder Shin-Soo Choo and second baseman Brandon Phillips.
The Reds have a ways to go before pushing the 100-win envelope like 2012, but the resiliency of the team in the face of injuries to their ace Johnny Cueto and cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick have Reds Country optimistic that the best is still ahead. The 2013 Reds have not proven yet that they can beat good teams on the road. Until that challenge is met, the Reds can continue to grind out success by beating teams they should beat at home or on the road.
The upcoming road test against the Philadelphia Phillies doesn't exactly pit the Reds against a team that is good so far in 2013 but most definitely does present a road test against a team that has the potential to be a contender by year's end.
But even if the win streak is snapped at six games this time around, the excitement in Reds Country is rising and will continue into summer, even if the fall produces another bout of heartburn.
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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