The Reds, having all but clinched the National League Central division, have played mediocre baseball in September. After losing two of three in Miami last weekend, Cincinnati has played exactly .500 baseball this month.
They have played just one team with a winning record, and have been grossly outscored. They are just three and six against the two last place teams, Houston and Miami, who have accounted for more than half of the September games so far.
The lackadaisical performance, in spite of the huge lead in the race to the post-season, should concern Reds' fans as well as the team's management. Believe it or not, September baseball does matter.
In the past five seasons, every World Series champion has played winning baseball in September. Last season, the Cardinals spent September fighting for the Wild Card spot, finishing ten games over .500 in September. The Giants had a similar battle the year before, winning the N.L. West by going five over .500 in the last full month of the regular season.
Even if the team had a substantial lead in the race, as the Reds do this year, each one carried a winning September all the way to a title. The 2009 Yankees won nine more than they lost in September, despite the fact that they easily won the American League East. The 2008 Phillies, who clinched the N.L. East early, were also nine over in September.
Successful play in September is also imperative to winning the pennant. Of the past ten pennant winners, all but the 2008 Rays had winning Septembers. That season, Tampa Bay finished just one game under .500 during the last month. Last season, Texas went 19-6 in September and went on to defeat Detroit in the A.L.C.S. The 2007 Rockies used a 20-8 September to propel them to the N.L championship.
Momentum is a key to advancing in the post-season, as these September records indicate. Such knowledge should be a crucial factor before Dusty Baker makes an ill-conceived decision, as he has done several times this month.
In the finale against the Marlins, Baker foolishly let starter Mat Latos pitch into the eighth inning. Latos had been sharp for the first six innings, but yielded a run in the seventh to cut the Cincinnati lead to just one. Baker let Latos take the mound for the eighth, and he yielded the tying run. The Reds went on to win the game, but it cost the Reds extra innings, and it cost Latos another victory.
Baker has made similar mistakes throughout September, mistakenly assuming the month is insignificant with the Reds leading the division by eleven games. With a couple of clubs battling for playoff spots on the schedule for the final two weeks, the Reds should look to play their best baseball of the year.
Their manager needs to treat September, not as the meaningless end of the regular season, but the beginning of the post-season. It could very well be his last full month in the home dugout at Great American Ball Park.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, three customers who have made him a lifelong fan of the Reds.
- Sports & Recreation