Cincinnati a definite postseason threat

Originally Published: August 9, 2010
ESPN.com

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Joey Votto
Votto

Joey Votto

There just doesn't seem to be enough room in the national consciousness for every player having a great season … but can't we find just a little room for Joey Votto? Initially passed over for a richly deserved All-Star berth, Votto has spent the past month proving he's absolutely for real. The season's still fairly young … but as things stand now, Votto's the best first baseman in the National League. And his performance is all the more dramatic, considering his only real competition for the title plays first base for the Reds' only competition in the National League Central.

-- Rob Neyer, SweetSpot Blog Network

Drew Stubbs
Stubbs

Drew Stubbs

With Orlando Cabrera on the disabled list and Paul Janish taking over at shortstop, the Reds have just one glaring hole: center field, where Drew Stubbs simply hasn't been getting on base often enough this season. Stubbs' 14 homers are impressive for a speedy center fielder, but his .301 on-base percentage just isn't helping the Reds score many runs. There's at least some reason for optimism, as Stubbs never had real on-base problems in the minors and posted a .353 OBP in Triple-A. He's still young enough to figure things out, but he's not a great defender and his speedy wheels won't matter much if he can't get to first base.

-- Rob Neyer, SweetSpot Blog Network

Quietly. There's no big, explosive winning streak. There's not even a huge series sweep against a rival. The Reds' longest streak (winning or losing) this season is five games. The only significant turning point in the season came in mid-May when Cincinnati won nine out of 10, all against NL Central foes. They went into that stretch down by 4½ games. They came out ahead, and haven't been more than two games back ever since. They play consistent baseball and have managed to stay a step ahead of those pesky Cardinals.

Cincinnati went into the 2010 season heralding young pitchers like Mike Leake (22), Johnny Cueto (24), Homer Bailey (24), Travis Wood (23) and Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman (22). Their young hitters -- Joey Votto (26), Drew Stubbs (25) and even Jay Bruce (23) -- have been a pleasant surprise.

Offense wins games …

It wouldn't be a huge stretch to suggest Votto as a Triple Crown candidate. He leads the National League in batting average, and is among the top 10 in both homers and RBIs. (You probably know Carl Yastrzemski last won the Triple Crown, but who was the last National Leaguer to win it? That was Joe Medwick of the Cardinals in 1937.) In July, Votto hit .362 and slugged .702 (meaning his average base hit was nearly a double). And after an August slump last season, he hit .385 from Sept. 1 on -- the best month of his career. If Votto can survive the "dog days" again this August, look for him on all the leaderboards as the season comes to a close.

Bruce made a huge splash in '08 when he hit .577 with three homers in the first seven games of his career. Some "cooling off" was to be expected. But he's hitting .255 this season and is the only Red to play in every game this year. He's chased way too many bad balls recently; if he snaps out of that habit, he could prove to be a threat at the bottom of the order.

… Defense wins championships

Until last week, the Reds led the National League in fielding percentage, and had committed fewer errors than any team in the majors except Minnesota. They're still in second place behind the Giants.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, the Reds' infield has turned the most "good fielding plays" (207) in the majors this season. Sixty of those belong to Brandon Phillips, the most among major league second basemen. Another 55 belong to Votto, which ranks him second (to Albert Pujols) at his position.

And there's pitching. The staff isn't flashy. The Reds' rotation is right in the middle of the pack in every major NL category. So why is Johnny Cueto 11-2 heading into Tuesday's start? Back to the offense. The Reds have averaged 5.3 runs of support every time Cueto pitches. In half of his 22 starts, they've scored six or more; Cueto hasn't lost one of those yet. Cincinnati has put up similar run support for Leake (5.15) and Arroyo (4.7).

See you in October

The Reds do have six games left with St. Louis, including a series that starts Monday night. But look at the rest of the schedule. Nineteen of the Reds' last 22 games are against sub-.500 teams (Milwaukee, Houston, Pittsburgh, Arizona). That bodes well for their chances of reaching the postseason.

-- Doug Kern, ESPN Stats & Info blog

From Baseball Prospectus

When the Reds host the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night in the opener of a three-game showdown between the top two teams in the National League Central, it will be biggest baseball game played in Cincinnati in this millennium.

The Reds haven't had a winning season since 2000 and haven't contended for a postseason berth since 1999, when they lost a one-game playoff to the New York Mets for the NL wild card. However, the Reds have won nine of 11 to move 16 games over .500 and take a two-game lead over the Cardinals with a chance to extend that margin this week.

It would be easy to write the Reds off as a fluke, especially after a decade of losing. However, there is nothing fluky about a team that leads the NL in runs scored (4.89 a game), is third in defensive efficiency (converting 70.9 percent of balls in play into outs) and sixth in runs allowed (4.14) this deep in the season.

The Reds seem quite capable of continuing their fine play for two months and earning their first postseason berth since winning the NL Central in 1995.

For more of Baseball Prospectus' analysis, click here Insider .