The Reds may have clinched the NL Central, but their work isn’t done yet.
They need to get that No. 1 seed.
Sure, the players need rest, and that’s important. But so is finishing with the top record in the National League.
First, it will be beneficial in the short term as the Reds will draw the wild card winner in the first round. The wild card winner will have presumably used its top starter in the wild card game, meaning the Reds would only have to face them once in the NLDS, while the Reds can send Johnny Cueto to the mound twice if necessary. This could mean seeing Kris Medlen, the hottest starter in baseball, only once, Adam Wainwright only once, Clayton Kershaw only once, etc.
This would also allow the Reds to avoid playing the first two games of the NLDS in San Francisco. Traveling to the west coast to face the pitching-rich Giants could put the Reds deep in an early 0-2 hole.
Furthermore, beyond the NLDS, should Cincinnati advance, they would be guaranteed home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the NLCS and World Series, the series format will return to the traditional 2-3-2, allowing the higher-seeded team to play the first two and last two games at home. This will give the Reds a great chance to get ahead early in the series, and play the deciding final two games at GABP.
Of course, there is a possibility that if the Reds finish behind the Nationals, Washington could lose in the first round and Cincinnati would have home field advantage in the NLCS anyway, but earning the top seed removes all other variables.
The Nationals currently lead the Reds by just one game with nine to go, although since the tie goes to Washington by virtue of head-to-head record, Cincinnati would need to finish with a better record.
Also, for what it’s worth, the last time the Reds finished a full (i.e. not strike-shortened like 1981) regular season with the best record in the National League was 1976 World Series season.
The schedule slightly favors the Reds. Both teams have six of their remaining nine games on the road. Washington plays six games against the Phillies and three against the Cardinals, who have a combined winning percentage of .521, while the Reds play three games each against the Brewers, Pirates, and Cardinals, who have a combined winning percentage of .515. The Nationals are 5-7 against the Phillies this year, but 3-1 against St. Louis. The Reds are 7-5 against the Brewers, 9-6 against the Pirates, and 6-6 against the Cardinals.
The Nationals, who already shut down Stephen Strasburg, appear willing to rest their starters once they lock up the NL East, even against wild card-contending teams like the Cardinals and Phillies. Here’s what manager Davey Johnson told the Washington Times about the matter yesterday:
“I really don’t give a rats [behind] what somebody thinks about my club and who I put on the field… I’m not supposed to rest my regulars after we clinch it? I’m resting my regulars. End of conversation.
It will be interesting to see how often the Reds play their key players. While it’s crucial to avoid injuries, earning the top seed is pretty important too.