National League Central Race: Beware Complacency


By most objective analyses, the Reds will win the National League Central Division.  Houston became the first team in baseball officially eliminated from post season consideration this week and the Chicago Cubs will follow most likely during the next week of ball games.  As things currently stand, the Reds would join the Washington Nationals and the winner of the NL West between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

As of this morning, the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals will be featured in the first Wildcard round, a new single playoff game elimination contest that will serve two purposes for MLB.  First it adds one more team into contention in each league broadening the appeal of the playoffs to two cities and presumably higher ratings.  The second more insidious goal, is to prevent a team like St. Louis from winning the World Series from the wild card position.  If you can follow my logic:  a single elimination game forces the two wild card teams to send out their best pitcher in a “win at all costs” game.  The winner must then turn around and face the division champion with the best record (currently Washington) who will pitch their ace against the second best pitcher they have in their rotation.  So in the end, winning the division becomes critical and additionally, having the best record in the league offers a significant benefit with the opportunity to play a team that will enter the National League Division Series with one arm figuratively tied behind their back.

So with this in mind how do the Reds look as the season moves past the last quarter pole of the year?  They are 26 games over .500, 7 games in first place all without the services of the face of the franchise for the past month in Joey Votto.

When the season began, I felt this Reds club was poised to have a season similar the the 1972 NL Championship team based on the development of the roster and the improvements to the starting rotation.  In 1972, the Reds finished 95-59 in the last 154 game season.  This Reds club is on pace to finish 97-65 or about 3 games behind that ’72 squad.  What about the opposition?

In 1972 the Reds finished 10.5 games ahead of both the LA Dodgers and the Houston Astros.  The Dodgers were a team in transition with 49 year old Hoyt Wilhelm and 36 year old Frank Robinson on the team along with a group over youngsters under 25 including Bill Buckner, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Charlie Hough, Bill Russell and Steve Yeager.  The Astros were fresh off the blockbuster trade to open the season that brought Lee May and Tommy Helms to Houston and gifted the Reds with Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo and Jack Billingham.  They were led by a productive May and also had future superstars who spent time with the club during the season in Cesar Cedeno, JR Richard and Jerry Reuss.

These two teams from the 70’s shared a .548 winning percentage.  Flash forward to today and the Reds are being pursued by St. Louis and the Pittsburgh Pirates with winning percentages of .548 and .540 respectively.  The Reds will meet the Pirates 6 more times while finishing the season with 3 games in St. Louis.  The Reds should coast into the postseason at this point but at this point in the season it is incumbent on them to put themselves in position to surge into the playoffs at the top of their game.  The only fear they should have today is of failing to play the fundamental baseball that put them into this position.

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