May 3, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake (44) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

Reds Potential Playoff Rotation: The Cueto Factor

It’s mid-August, not a day too early to start peeking at October. The Reds have rattled off five straight wins and are closing in on what ESPN considered just a two-team race in the National League Central. And while the Reds will have ample opportunity to catch both the Pirates and the Cardinals, it’s important to remember that a huge demographic, quite possibly the largest demographic of Reds fans, will consider nothing but postseason success the only measure of success for the season. And how well the Reds do in the playoff(s) will be entirely dependent on its pitching.

The Reds currently boast the 2nd best rotation in all of baseball. Unfortunately, they won’t be competing against the likes of Chicago and Milwaukee in October. I consider pitching to be the single most important facet of any team going into October. It just is. If you’re strung up on offense, just consider the 2010 World Series Giants, who finished 17th in runs scored. Fast forward to 2012, when the same Giants won it all again, at the initial expense of the Reds. Those Giants finished twelfth.

Giants had the seventh best ERA in 2012. Number one in 2010.

Some fans may recall last year’s NLDS when the Reds held a 2-0 lead coming back to Cincinnati needing to just win one of three. And while the final at-bats of Bruce and Rolen are forever engraved in our brains, consider the runs allowed by Reds pitching in the last two games of 2012 – eight, then six.

So if the Reds were to indeed take either of the two wild card slots, or even the NL Central, how does the pitching measure up, especially without the team’s bona fide ace? If Baker had to assemble his top three pitchers for a series of 5, right now, you have to include Tony Cingrani. Absolutely must, he’s not giving the team any other choice. Baker more than likely goes:

Latos 3.04, Cingrani 2.78, Leake 2.86. Those have to be the obvious three, right now, right?

Looks like a respectable three-man rotation that can hold a lot of offenses in place – but as stated before, it’s not like the Reds are looking across the field at Chicago or Milwaukee. If you take a look at Latos‘ and Cingrani’s records against the likes of STL, LAD, ATL and Pitt, you’ll probably feel pretty good about their chances in October against the same competition.

Mike Leake is a different story. Against the Cardinals this year, Leake is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. Against the Braves, 0-1 with a 5.14 ERA.  He does boast a 3-0 record against Pittsburgh at 3-0, 3.28. He hasn’t faced the Dodgers. And while there is little doubt Leake has matured immensely from last season, it’s hard to forget about Leake’s lone playoff experience when he surrendered eight runs en route to a Reds route.

That was supposed to be Cueto’s spot.   And now, in 2013, with the playoffs just less than two months away, the Reds find themselves in a very familiar yet uncomfortable position – Johnny Cueto is hurt. Leake looks to be the favorite to take his spot. The more things change…

Johnny Cueto, baseball’s fifth best ERA in 2012, will absolutely need to rejoin this team if it hopes to finally advance in October. The power and competence of every offense in the playoff field, minus Pittsburgh, is not a good match-up for the soft-tossing Mike Leake, ditto Arroyo. Homer Bailey your guy, to the point where he’s too much of a . The Reds will absolutely need their ace if they hope to avoid another early exit.

Last year, the difference between a possible World Series run in Cincinnati was the difference between Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Maybe that gap has narrowed. Maybe Leake has honestly come of age. But for once, wouldn’t it be nice for the Reds to send a bona fide Cy Young-vote getting ace to face the best competition in the National League instead of a guy just shredding his training wheels?

Lance McAlister was on the radio last evening talking about his surprise that Cueto isn’t being discussed more.  And while he clearly hasn’t been to blogredmachine.com, where I can seldom do anything else but talk about the forgotten ace, he makes a point. Cingrani has made it easy to forget about Cueto. The return to winning helps, too. But when Jeff Brantley says he’s expecting the emphasis to shift to having Cueto ready for 2014 instead of this October, the World Series expectations have to shift with it.

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Tags: Cincinnati Reds MLB Playoffs

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