Are the Reds the best in the NL?

July, 30, 2012
7/30/12
12:11
AM ET
There's something beautiful when a baseball team goes on a long winning streak. The nature of the sport is that it's immensely difficult to win 10 games in a row like the Cincinnati Reds. One great game by an opposing starter; three bad pitches by a relief pitcher; one crucial double play not turned or blooper that falls. It doesn't take much to end a streak.

The only other team to win 10 in a row this season was the New York Yankees. Last season, only the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers had streaks of 10-plus wins a row. The Reds stretched their streak to double digits with a 7-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday as Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce homered in the fifth inning to break the game open.

"A lot of pressure coming into the game knowing we won nine in a row, but I just attacked them," winning pitcher Mat Latos said. "Today it was in the back of my mind, but it's baseball. Just play."

In honor of 10 straight, here are 10 random thoughts about The Big Red Hot Machine.

1. Are they the best team in the National League?

I'm not quite ready to make that declaration. While it's impressive that their past six wins have come on the road, let's keep in mind who the Reds defeated: the Diamondbacks (one win), Brewers, Astros and Rockies. The Astros are fielding a Triple-A team right now and the Rockies aren't much better. The starting pitchers the Reds faced: Joe Saunders, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, Michael Fiers, Wandy Rodriguez, Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, Drew Pomeranz, Christian Friedrich and Jonathan Sanchez.

The Reds are combined 25-8 against the Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Padres and Rockies. The Nationals, 61-40 overall compared to the Reds' record of 61-40, have played those five teams 10 fewer games by comparison. The Reds still have 23 games left against the Astros, Brewers and Cubs; the Nationals get only 12 games against those three clubs.

2. But they've done this without Joey Votto.

True. The Reds are 11-2 since Votto went on the disabled list on July 16 because of knee surgery. Todd Frazier has started 10 of those games at first base (with Miguel Cairo starting the other three). Frazier has hit .269 with one home run and five RBIs since July 16, but Scott Rolen has played well at third base, hitting .306 with two home runs and five RBIs in 10 games without Votto. So while the Reds have missed Votto they haven't necessarily received zero production in his absence either.

3. Speaking of the Nationals, they've barely allowed fewer runs than the Reds.

Good point. For all the hype about the Nationals' rotation, the Reds have allowed just four fewer runs (in one less game), 362 to 358. The Nationals have a 3.25 staff ERA to the Reds' 3.26. True, the Nationals' rotation has a better ERA -- 3.13 versus 3.56 -- but the Reds' starters have pitched 32 more innings. That's allowed the Reds to concentrate more of their relief on their best guys -- although led by Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall, the Reds have the deepest and best bullpen in the league right now. They have six relievers who have pitched at least 35 innings and Sam LeCure's 3.47 ERA is the highest of the bunch. Amazingly, despite their home park, the Cincy bullpen has allowed the fewest home runs in the league. It's a knockout bunch and the depth ensures Dusty Baker isn't going to burn any of them before September.

4. Homer Bailey. Speak.

I predicted Bailey as a breakout performer before the season and he hasn't disappointed, coming on strong of late. He's 9-6 with a 3.53 ERA, including a 2.45 ERA over his past eight starts. Baker has responded by trusting Bailey to go deeper into games -- he's pitched eight innings in four of those eight games. As a fly-ball pitcher, Bailey is going to give up some home runs, especially in The Great American Ball Park, but he throws strikes and 12 of the 17 home runs he has allowed have come with the bases empty. He has allowed a .206 average with runners in scoring position, which has kept down his ERA. Maybe he didn't developed into the No. 1 or 2 once projected one he was a prospects, but he's finally a solid No. 3 or 4.

5. Will they make any moves?

The lineup is still very right-handed, with only Votto (when he returns) and Bruce swinging southpaw. Having both Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez as backup infielders is a waste of a roster space. Don't look for the Reds to make a big move, but expect Walt Jocketty to pick up a veteran left-handed bat for the bench or a platoon role in the outfield.

6. OK, the leadoff spot.

Yes, it has been a problem all season, with an MLB-worst .246 on-base percentage and .508 OPS. Baker has been hammered all season for sticking primarily with rookie shortstop Zack Cozart despite his poor production while hitting there. We'll see how Baker constructs the lineup once Votto returns. He obviously prefers to have a righty hit between Votto and Bruce (a strategy that I think is vastly overrated), but with Ryan Ludwick hitting well of late, maybe he keeps Ludwick in the cleanup spot and moves Brandon Phillips to leadoff.

7. What about the Pirates?

Hey, they're still hanging tough. It's rough when you go 7-3 like the Pittsburgh Pirates have over their past 10 games and still lose three games in the standings. "They're not going to go away, that's fairly obvious at this point," Bruce said after Sunday's win. "We have some series left with them, but any time you can gain a game it's great." Mark this upcoming weekend down on your calendar: Pirates at Reds, the first three of nine games remaining between the clubs.

8. Aroldis Chapman is back on track.

He had that huge blip in June when he lost four games in seven appearances, but since then he's appeared in 15 games, recorded 13 saves, and struck out 33 of the 53 batters he's faced. National League hitters, be afraid.

9. Hey, what about Todd Frazier for Rookie of the Year?

Frazier remains a big surprise, hitting .277/.333/.523. No, his future isn't as bright as Bryce Harper's, but his numbers certainly are better than Harper's .261/.338/.430 line. He has been one of the unsung heroes of the 2012 season.

10. The man with the toothpick.

It's easy to dish out criticism to Dusty Baker. When I do my weekly chat, it's become a running joke: Somebody makes a sarcastic comment about Baker's managing. I'm not saying it's deserved and he has been torn apart going back to his Giants days and his Cubs days, much of it justified. But he has also gotten a lot out of this team -- good seasons not only from Bailey but Bronson Arroyo, whom everyone assumed was washed up, and Mike Leake.

Sure the players always deserve most of the credit (or blame), but as we head into the final two months, I found myself rooting for Dusty. Hey, managers who have accomplished much less and made bigger blunders have won World Series titles. Maybe it's Dusty's turn.
Maicer IzturisGary A. Vasquez/US PresswireElliot Johnson has one thing to say: Catch me if you can!

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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