Reds on the Prowl: Better to be the Hunted

Dusty BakerThere are some who actually feel it is better to be the hunter than the hunted as the races heat up as torrid August heat begins to give way to September breezes. Then there are those like yours truly who response in a word is hogwash!

Currently the Cincinnati Reds in  Houdini-like fashion in the recent absence of super star Joey Votto have fashioned a Central Division leading record that has grown in his absence to an amazing 26 games above the .500 mark, which is a bit mind-blowing all things considered. They were 12 games above the break even mark when the Votto news shook the Queen City.

At this point Pittsburgh and St. Louis are forced to do the chasing and in a couple of weeks have to do a lot of scoreboard watching and hope for help from an awful lot of teams if they want to make up the ground between themselves and the front running Reds, an unenviable position for sure.

Isn’t it better to have your destiny in your own hands at this juncture as the Reds do? That is a rhetorical question.

For those with short memories or those who just love numbers for the sake of comparison, when Reds faithful awoke on August 20 a year ago their heroes were 61-64, they resided in third place and trailed the division leading Milwaukee Brewers by 12.5 games and were even five games behind second-place St. Louis and kids stopped playing stick ball and started tossing a pigskin and the mindset became football before the calendar even turned to September.

There are many reasons the phrase, “what a difference a year makes” (just ask the Brewers) and we know all the generalities. The starting pitching has been nothing short of phenomenal in a dependability sense and the bullpen has been slamming doors all season.

A couple of kids, Zack Cozart and the surprising Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier have both been pillars of strength probably not counted on in that sense and this team’s chemistry accounts for a great deal of its success.

Now with Votto out, adding some lethal lumber on an everyday basis like Ryan Ludwick has to this lineup and the beat just goes on for this team that suddenly has a … sorry about this .. Cardinals like swagger, a confident team that knows it is good, knows what it can accomplish and believes in itself.

Meanwhile the closest teams in the division that reside behind the Reds will soon begin to sweat if they haven’t already, looking for answers, help and anything that will come in the form of a quick fix in an effort to make up ground. In fact the quick fix July 31 deadline is long behind us and teams are now assessing recent gambles while the Reds shook the dice but once and that apparently is all they had to.

At first it was conceivable that the Reds would struggle without Votto. It was only logical to think so and many hoped if they could tread water, and water was playing .500 in his absence, was likely the realistic hope of many.

Yet this team not only flourished but likely grew closer and their lead larger and that is a good thing considering Votto appears to be out a little longer than most expected, not making the next road trip to Philadelphia.

Don’t try to figure this out, just enjoy it.

And when you do, consider how things could be. The Reds, save for the fun season of 2010, have come to know only too well how the other half-lives in recent years.

Of course you have the also-rans, like San Diego or Seattle or Houston who unfurled the white flag by All-Star break. But few have enjoyed the magic carpet ride the Reds have thus far.

Take San Francisco at the moment, embroiled in a dogfight for the NL West title with the hated LA Dodgers. In the “What the Hell are you thinking category,” All-Star outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games. What a time for it. Bet they are glad they landed Hunter Pence. And lest we forget this season is officially a total disaster for two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecom who has been virtually ineffective all season.

Though no one sheds a tear for the New York Yankees, a once 10-game lead not all that long ago over the rest of the field in the AL East is now half that and they had to recently shelve C.C. Sabathia for 15 days with a sore left elbow.

Then there is that mess in Boston where the revolting players are now calling for manager Bobby Valentine’s head just as they did Terry Francona’s. Kind of ironic. Sox people hate the Yankees for all they spend and yet they have spent just as much over recent years and  the last few years the turmoil in Bean Town is eerily similar to the Billy Martin-George Steinbrenner days. In many respects they have become no less than the team they hate.

Or you could be in Detroit where the Tigers added slugger Prince Fielder, have two players who are going to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs (Miguel Cabrera and Fielder) and have one of the game’s best hurlers in Justin Verlander and may get edged out of everything in the cluttered mess with all the teams fighting for a postseason spot.

Or the Angels who on paper are simply loaded … and of course have the services of one Albert Pujols … but have never gotten it together this year and are starting to look like they will be lost in the shuffle considering Zack Grienke, their prized addition has not pitched well at all.

The Texas Rangers may lead their division and yet they are standing on shaky ground as their big addition Ryan Dempster has not only failed to pitch well but has to deal with personal issues and they are looking at a well past his prime Roy Oswalt now for help.

Then there is the burning issue in Washington where the team with the best record in the NL will soon shut down its ace prior to the playoffs. That is another story in itself and despite the team’s reasons, has to have a big effect on the rest of the team in more ways than one and agree or disagree, it will have major implications. I don’t buy it as you have to win while you have the chance because you can never count on getting another, but I am not running the club. Enough said, at least for the moment.

Of course there is no better example of a season-long disaster (various reasons, mainly health issues to key players) than in Philadelphia where the Phillies were supposed to be a super team. Or on a smaller scale in Miami where the underachieving (that is being nice) Marlins were actually picked by many to win the NL East even with the mighty Phillies as frat brothers.

There are scores more examples but you get the picture and when you focus on those  shots, it becomes clear what a wonderful position the Reds are really in. Even with a lot of baseball to be played, all things relative, a Wild Card may be the worst they would have to settle for. Imagine saying that at the outset?