At this point in the season, the division has divided itself into three clear categories – if not in quality, then in strategy. Our beloved Reds, clearly the bestest, prettiest, most talented team that ever ever ever was, are sitting on top of a 6.5 game lead. It’s not a huge lead – it definitely could be categorized as ‘surmountable’.
But it’s big enough that we’ve got to be the favorites – even if you think that we’ve been unholily lucky, or if you’re a Pittsburgh or St. Louis fan who thinks that your team is the bestest, prettiest, most talented. That means our strategy can be ‘not losing’. If we go, say 23-17 over the last 40 games, our rivals would need very strong finishes indeed. It’s also comforting to think that Joey Votto will be returning to our struggling lineup. But at this time, there’s no guarantee of when that will be, or when Joey will be back in full Vottonian form.
St. Louis and Pittsburgh currently are in category 2, at 8.5 and 6.5 games back respectively. The strategy for these two teams is catchup. Again, it’s doable, but unless we falter – it’s a big job. Of course, both teams are in excellent shape for a wildcard run. Right now, Atlanta leads the wildcard race, with Pittsburgh slotted in for wildcard # 2. The Giants are about the only other team in the mix, slotting in right between the Pirates and Cardinals.
The rest, even Milwaukee, who looked in half-decent shape half-way through the season, have been destroyed by the last month’s pace. Houston’s chucked their manager, and who knows what might be going on in the teams’ heads when you’re 20 games behind or more? Oh right, the Reds do, because lord knows, we’ve been there before. You have to feel good about facing the bottom three in this stretch – there’s a reason those teams are behind, afterall, but you still have to be cautious.
Here’s a look at how the Central stacks up against each other – and who they’ll be playing in the final stretches:
You can see that the Reds have really taken advantage of their HOU-CHC-MIL schedule. Unfortunately for us – Pittsburgh’s got a little strength-of-schedule advantage here – 22 games against the bottom half of the central coming up, with a decided home-away advantage. Still, while Pittsburgh and St. Louis have only one more series together, we play both of them six more games apiece. That’s plenty of space to make absolutely anything happen. (And I really hope Joey is back before then).
As for outside the division, here’s how our opponents look:
If there’s one comfort, it’s that St. Louis gets two series with the Nationals coming up. For us, the Phillies might be the wildcard. Yes, Philadelphia is on its way to having its first losing season since 2002, but with that rotation, you never know.
Right now, even though the Reds have that solid 6.5 game lead built up, I can’t help but feel that September might get pretty exciting.