The Cincinnati Reds have taken just about everybody by surprise this year.  Going into the season, they were not a team that was expected to be involved in the playoff race at this time of the year, much less own the best record in the National League and be a lock to make the playoffs barring a 2007 New York Mets-style collapse in the final month of the season.

Normally, a team in their position would be viewed as one of the favorites to represent their league in the World Series, but much doubt has been cast upon the team due to their poor record against other contending teams and their not so stellar pitching. 

Despite these two factors, a very strong argument can still be made for their ability to go deep into October due to their explosive offense, but let’s first take a closer look at the case against them.

Cincinnati‘s pitching has not been good.  Not good to the tune of a 4.05 team ERA, ninth in the National League.  Of the NL teams still in serious contention for a playoff spot, Atlanta, Colorado, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco, only the Rockies are worse, barely, with an ERA of 4.08. 

Add in that their closer Francisco Cordero has a 3.47 ERA to go along with his six blown saves, and this bodes trouble for the Reds come playoff time.  

And now on to the most damning evidence against Cincinnati’s October hopes, their inability to beat the other contending teams. 

Of the teams mentioned above, the Reds are 10-16, a .385 winning percentage, and have a non-losing record against only one of them, Colorado, at 2-2, a record that could suffer greatly in the coming days as the teams kicked off a four game series on Monday, a game won by the Rockies. 

If you include St. Louis, a team that I believe is out of the playoff hunt, but until recently had been the Reds’ biggest opponent in their division, that record drops to 16-28, a .364 winning percentage.  Yikes!

For comparison, the Phillies boast a 24-15 record against the other contending teams, including Cincinnati, giving them a winning percentage of .615.  The Braves and Rockies are also vastly superior with records of 20-16 and 26-21, respectively.  The Padres, 19-23, and Giants, 19-27, have also struggled in this category, although not as mightily as the Reds with their winning percentages at least still above .400.  

It seems Cincy is facing an unbelievable struggle come the playoffs, particularly if they are matched up against the Braves or Phillies.

All hope is not lost for the Reds, however.  Coming into this week they had the highest batting average in the league at .272 coupled with the most productive offense with 679 runs scored this season, not to mention their 157 home runs, certainly giving them as good a shot as anyone in the NL despite their poor pitching.  The Reds also have the favorite to win the NL MVP in Joey Votto, something that cannot be overlooked.

We also all know that the playoffs are a completely different animal from the regular season.  One need only look at the 2008 Cubs and 2006 Cardinals to see that regular season success, or lack thereof, does not guarantee victory or ensure defeat in the postseason.  The Reds also boast a superior defense with the fewest errors and best fielding percentage of all the teams not only in the NL, but in all of baseball.

It also cannot be held against Cincinnati, as it has been by some in the national media, that they have beat up on the bottom feeders of baseball to the tune of a 69-42 (.622 winning percentage!) record against non-contending teams.

We hear all the time how championship teams need to possess a killer instinct that allows them to step on the throat of all inferior teams.  That is precisely what the Reds have done.  It is entirely possible that the team is waiting until the playoffs start to step up their game against the other winning teams.

One thing is for sure: The Reds have made the 2010 season much more exciting by injecting some new blood into the pennant race.  While it is entirely possible that their struggles against the upper tier teams will continue in October, it is equally plausible that they will find a way to reverse their fortunes and make a run at a championship.  Reds fans cannot wait to find out.

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