As Reds Coast to Postseason, 18 of 30 MLB Teams Alive

Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips (4)My bags are packed and I am ready to head to Boston, trading hanging out in Pleasant Ridge for Harvard Square and Clifton for Davis Square for a while. And as I am about to leave, the buzz here in the Queen City is all about that magical, mystical, yet statistically important number it will take the Cincinnati Reds to clinch the National League Central title.

When I return in a little over a week I truly hope all the magic number stuff is behind us as the Reds likely will be getting ready for the playoffs. But for now, the biggest concern is not the number of Reds wins or other team’s losses left to clinch as it is maintained that edge they will surely need at playoff time.

Actually things of late have worked almost as if scripted for the 2012 edition of the Reds who are an eye-popping 30 games above the .500 mark since the last day of the regular season in 1999.

Teams headed toward the playoffs know only too well that teams hopelessly out of contention will simply refuse to roll over and the perfect example of that needed wakeup call for the Reds was recently losing two of three at home to Houston who sports by far the worst record in baseball. And that series came on the heels of losing to another team that just simply refuses to unfurl the white flag, dropping two-of-three at home to Philadelphia.

The Phillies somehow have played themselves back into the Wild Card race with a stretch of torrid baseball, but the important thing here for the Reds is they had to regain that edge they once had and the Pittsburgh series provided the perfect opportunity and after three very tough games with the Pirates, thankfully for Cincinnati, it appears back. That grueling three-game series may have been just the test the Reds needed to get that proverbial edge back, regain that swagger and confidence boost that they are in fact one of the favorites in the NL to get to the holy land known in America as the World Series.

As everyone knows the Reds are in a very enviable position right now as so many other teams are bunched up and beating each others brains out, doing a little praying and a lot of scoreboard watching, hoping for help rather than divine intervention at this point.

Cincinnati would like nothing better than to have the extent of their worries setting up a playoff pitching rotation and setting up their playoff roster at this point. Nothing is set in stone as to a division title, but it is just a bloop single away from being a foregone conclusion at this stage of the season as the number .. the Reds’ sizeable division lead … does not lie.

At this point in the season, one that promises to be one for the ages with all the hotly contented races and chases, it is nothing short of amazing that no less than 18 of the 30 Major League teams still have hopes of postseason play now that the Phillies and Brewers have come back from the dead and are very much in the Wild Card race. Eighteen (varying degrees of chance), yikes!

For the numbers nuts, the best way to measure how a team has played in the second half is to hearken back once again to the All-Star break standings to what a team has done in the second half, a measure of how they are playing, although a look at September records tell a tale as well, one way or the other.

A prime example is the Pirates who not only had the look of a team about to break a 19-year losing streak but contend for a place in the promised land. In their last 32 games, they are 9-23. In fact that 19-year streak that seemed to be a slam dunk to end may not be such a monster dunk after all and now it seems quite possible the Brewers could fly right past them.

The Reds have been among baseball’s best as one can tell by their 30-plus record, having been a modest 47-38 at the time of the Midsummer Classic.

The Phillies were left for dead at that time sporting a 37-50 mark and mired in last place in the NL East, but are now 72-71, not a sparkling record but an astonishing turnaround. And the Brewers have been nearly as impressive now sporting a 72-71 mark after being 40-45 at the break.

One has to look no further than Boston or Oakland for those kinds of signs, positive and negative in the AL. Oakland was 43-43 at the break as was Boston. Since the A’s have  gone 39-17 while the Red Sox the other way going 21-36.

While on the AL, the deeper we go into September, the more amazing the O’s story becomes. At the start of play on September 13 they are in a flat-footed tie for first place in the AL East with the mighty New York Yankees and I doubt one could find any red-blooded baseball fan on the planet who would not be shocked about that.

However the O’s took a major hit recently having lost slugger Nick Markakis for the remainder of the season with a broken finger, yet they have been resilient and fearless thus far and just may find a way to work themselves into the postseason one way or the other. At this point that would not come as a surprise to anyone.

Want trends? Each of the past two September’s prior to this year, the Rays were 20-10 in the month. If you are placing bets, they are a solid one.

For about a month now most fans have looked ahead at strength of schedule for contending teams. That and a couple bucks will get you a good cup of joe at Pleasant Perk..

Examples can be cited endlessly these days but I will give you a couple for good measure. The Pirates, very much in the Wild Card chase, were recently swept at home by the lowly Chicago Cubs. The second-place Cardinals … make that their fans … like the Pirates faithful, had to feel they could make some headway when they saw San Diego on the September schedule. Not so fast.

For starters the Padres are 35-22 over their last 57 games and SD swept the Cards in San Diego this week.

What is equally as interesting as the underdogs taking it to the contenders are the interesting head-to-head match ups of the hopefuls with so much on the line, the Orioles battling Tampa Bay, both needing wins to make the grade. Likewise the series between the first-place Chicago White Sox and the second-place Detroit Tigers this week and then you have Oakland playing the LA Angels. Doesn’t get any better for baseball fans than those heavy-duty match ups that truly test the mettle of teams and frankly it is the way it should be. Not to mention how it juices up all of us baseball heads.

And of course there are more to come as the San Francisco Giants play the LA Dodgers the final weekend of the season and so many other tasty late September head-to-head season making or breaking series.

Another issue, prickly at times in this corner is the support of respective cities for their team when they need it most. I have mentioned it before and I think it is worth revisiting on a lesser scale, but a continued point.

I attended Tuesday’s Pirates-Reds game at GABP between two teams with postseason aspirations and sat among a less than modest crowd of 19,000 … we are talking about the first-place Reds who have been tearing it up. That night, just as a specific example, a meaningless game in Minnesota between the Twins and the KC Royals drew 29,000. That same night the Padres hosted the Cardinals and were just 113 fans shy of 30,000. You get the point.

I have heard all the reasons, first for the Monday night Reds game that drew a woeful 16,000, the Bengals opener is being blamed for the poor turnout. I am not buying into it.

But the commonly used excuses trying to defend Cincy as a baseball town is “hey, it is September Summer is over.” Isn’t it September in Milwaukee too where the Brewers draw far more each week night?

Likewise I hear all about the kids being back in school as another prime excuse. Don’t kids go to school in Philadelphia too?

Then I hear about the recession and money is tight. I am sure things are tight in St. Louis as well. I just find it so very disappointing here when this was once such a proud baseball town, but enough of that because those same “fans” that have been staying home will be fighting for playoff tickets.

As for the game, what is happening between the lines, another recent concern is the “dead arm” issues of apparently fatigued super reliever Aroldis Chapman. Time will tell if rest will be the right elixir, but aren’t you glad the Reds went out and got Johnathan Broxton now?

Seems likely the recent surge of right-hander Sam LeCure and the veteran-like presence of  youngster J.J. Hoover could well come into play more than anyone expected in a bullpen that is far and away already proved itself to be the best in the NL if not both leagues.

Then of course it is time for the subject of playoff matchups, mostly who you would not like to play at this time of year. For many fans, bring ‘em on, doesn’t matter who. In Cincy I would rather see about anyone but Philadelphia make the postseason for obvious reasons. And if the Phillies’ furious final comeback falls short, I am not sure I would be awfully wild about seeing the Giants, but I feel fairly certain the Reds will be ready if and when the time comes for all comers.

Now it is off to Bean Town to laugh at languishing Red Sox fans and bask in the glow of Cincinnati Reds success.