Starting the Second Half Right
Starting the Second Half Right
Several teams have looked rejuvenated since the MLB all-star break ended, but no team has excelled quite like the Cincinnati Reds. With several lineup switches and a few nasty injuries, they somehow managed to start the second half of the season with a bang. Here’s how it all happened.
Going into the break the Reds trailed division rival Pittsburgh Pirates by one game and held a slight lead on second over St. Louis. After a three game opening-series sweep of the dangerous Cardinals, and the Pirates losing to the Brewers in 2 out of 3, the Reds found themselves in the lead of the Central Division and putting the Cardinals further out of reach.
The weekend began with the Reds and Cardinals playing at Bank of America Park and a 5-3 Reds win. Trailing 2-0 in the fifth Todd Frazier hit a solo homerun to pull the Reds within one. The Reds put up 3 runs in the 7th to take a two run lead. Each team added runs in the eighth and the Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman, closed game one by blowing by batters with his 102 mph heater. Game 2 was by far the highlight of the series where the two ball clubs could not be separated in 9 innings. In poetic justice Ryan Ludwick came to the plate in the bottom of the tenth and hit a game ending home run against his former team.
On Sunday one team looked for a series sweep and the other was just hoping to avoid a 0-3 start to the second half. The game had consistent good play with 2 runs being scored by each team through the first seven innings and both starting pitchers moving into the eighth. After giving up lead off singles, Homer Bailey (CIN) dug deep, with help from Reds Skipper Dusty Baker leaving him in, and retired the next three batters including Molina (STL) who had gone 3-3 with a home run that tied the game. This was the most clutch moment of the season for Bailey, in somehow escaping a very dangerous jam. In the bottom half of the inning the Reds Scott Rolen (another former Card) found himself with the opportunity to put his team ahead with two outs and the bases loaded. With a hit just high enough to be out of the reach of the St. Louis second baseman, Rolen and the Reds gained a 4-2 lead that set up Chapman’s 13th save and the weekend sweep.
The Reds split a four game series with the Diamondbacks, by a thrilling 6 run come-from-behind win to even the series, and they managed to stay a half game up on the Pirates. However, Cincinnati found out they would be playing the next three to four weeks without All- Star first baseman, Joey Votto, who is out with a meniscus injury that requires surgery. If a time this injury could occur, now is best, because it would appear there will be a three horse race for the NL Central title and potential Wild Card berth for the next best. Taking care of the surgery and rehabilitation will allow Votto to be ready for a run to seize control of the automatic playoff spot.
Cincinnati continued the good start when the Milwaukee Brewers came to town for three games. Pitching was the key for the Reds over the weekend, allowing four runs in three wins. The long ball also played a factor in the sweep, scoring all three runs in game one by solo- home runs. They added two more on the Saturday when Ryan Ludwick continued his hot start with a two run shot, and Brandon Phillips got in on the action with a two run bomb of his own.
Heading into Sunday the sweep looked likely with Johnny Cueto on the hill and he delivered, throwing 7 innings allowing one run and striking out 9. The Brewers threatened in the eighth with two on and two outs, Logan Ondrusek got out of a jam and left the Reds with a one run lead into the ninth. The “Cuban Missile” Aroldis Chapman completed his sixth save of the second half and seventeenth of the season. For trivial purposes, the most disappointing part of Sunday’s game was the lack of a home run which ended a streak of 70+ games in Great America Ballpark in which a home run had been hit, but with that came the Reds second sweep of the home-stand and the lead atop the central division.
With 6 NL teams within 3 games of each other, it looks like the playoff race is starting early. Of those 6 teams, the Cincinnati Reds trail only Washington by a half game for the best record in the league. The Reds have shown they can win in pretty much any way possible, and that includes winning without the help of Joey Votto.
by Kyle Horn
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