CINCINNATI–The Reds are so hot that if you mention the name of the team fire comes out of your mouth. After whipping the San Diego Padres, 9-4, Thursday afternoon at the Great American Ball Park on a hot, sunny day, Cincinnati has won 20 out of its last 23 games.
That’s with MVP candidate and leading hitter Joey Votto on the disabled list for most of it. Thursday, that was with second-base star Brandon Phillips sidelined with a minor ailment, too. These are not the Three Musketeers, the Reds are more like the 25 Musketeers. Oh yeah, some guys are hot like outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who has almost been matching Albert Pujols’ recent surge in average and power.
But really, truly, this is the share-it-all team, somebody different stepping up to make sure the winning continues and the grasp on first place in the National League Central Division remains firm. The Pittsburgh Pirates hover close behind the Reds going into a three-game weekend series and a lot of that is attributable to the surreal season Andrew McCutcheon is having. The Reds, though, are getting big moments, clutch hits, from a wide variety of players, not being carried on the shoulders of one player.
Manager Dusty Baker is an old, wise soul. He never counts chickens until they have been shipped to market. After Thursday’s win he said he didn’t even know the Reds had won their 20th game in the last 23 tries, including three out of four from San Diego this week.
“I’m not counting,” Baker said. “I don’t know it until I look at the board over there,” as he took note of an informational accounting of team wins and losses.
Someone next to Baker’s desk in his office pointed out that he had set a goal earlier in the season of the team getting to 20 games over .500. At the moment the Reds are 64-41.
“But you’re greedy,” Baker said. “Then you want 25. Then you want 30.”
Todd Frazier provided the Reds’ initial lead with a two-run homer in that big inning. Frazier has been Mr. Versatility. He was the club’s top pinch-hitter. Then he played third base when Scott Rolen was hurt. Now he is lodged at first with Votto out. Frazier now has 13 homers, 40 RBIs and is hitting .275 in his fill-in roles. He is a prime example of how bench guys have been so helpful when needed.
“It’s pretty cool to see,” Frazier said of everyone pitching in. ” When you get that chance to be clutch, you have to be clutch.”
Cincinnati has been getting superb pitching. Thursday, on what was a comparative off-day for him, Johnny Cueto moved to 14-5 with the victory. Cueto has had 11 starts where he held opponents to one run or less. This was not one of them, but it didn’t really matter. The Reds exploded on Padre starter Ross Ohlendorf for six runs on six hits in the second inning when they sent 12 men to the plate.
Cueto was solid enough, throwing 7 1/3 innings while giving up four runs on eight hits. He struck out nine and walked only one batter. The righty faltered only in the third when the Padres collected three runs on four hits immediately after the Cincinnati rally.
“He had trouble in that one inning and it got a little hairy,” Baker said. “Johnny’s a battler.”
Even though he did not pitch Thursday, closer Aroldis Chapman has been clutch and a battler. He has 23 saves with a 1.39 earned run average after starting the season by refusing to surrender a single run in his first 24 appearances. Chapman has been known to hit 100 mph on the radar gun and in his 51 2/3 innings this season he has 96 strikeouts.
Everyone is doing the job on the mound, though. Bronson Arroyo has won three straight. Sean Marshall has been a lights-out setup man. And to this bullpen crew the Reds added Kansas City closer Jonathan Broxton at the trade deadline. Nothing like a little insurance.
In that second inning, in addition to Frazier’s home run and a double by catcher Ryan Hanigan, the Reds got singles from Rolen, Zack Cozart, Miguel Cairo and Jay Bruce. On their second at-bats of the inning, Rolen and Bruce also walked. So did Drew Stubbs. No wonder Ohlendorf was in the showers by the time the inning ended.
The Reds added two runs in the fourth and one run in the eighth with nothing stronger than a single. They also got excellent defense, including a diving stop at short by Cozart that was converted into a double play.
“Things are going good right now,” Hanigan said in an understatement. “Guys are playing loose. Nothing surprises me right now. There’s a long way to go, but it’s a good feeling.”
If things keep up like this, Baker will find his team 30 games over .500 after all and he’ll just have to make up a new goal to reach for.
Topics: Albert Pujols, Andrew McCutcheon, Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips, Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds, Drew Stubbs, Great American Ball Park, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals, Miguel Cairo, National League Central Division, Pittsburgh Pirates, Ross Ohlendorf, Ryan Hanigan, Ryan Ludwick, San Diego Padres, Scott Rolen, Sean Marshall, Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart