CINCINNATI–The perfect paradigm of what the Cincinnati Reds need to do on the mound in the post-season played out the other night at the Great American Ball Park against the Milwaukee Brewers when Johnny Cueto, Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman combined to give the Reds a 4-2 victory.
Cueto, whose mid-section looks as if he has never done a sit-up in his life, but who has a right arm that seems borrowed from Iron Man, blazed his fastball past Milwaukee hitters at a velocity of about 92 mph for seven innings, allowing five hits, two runs and zero walks while striking out five. Then Broxton came in for the eighth and struck out three straight hitters. Chapman appeared for the ninth and set the Brewers down 1-2-3 for his 36th save.
“It was beautiful,” said Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips of the mound magic performed on behalf of his team. “It was gorgeous.”
The win was Cincinnati’s 93rd of the season, equalling the Washington Nationals for the most in baseball. The Reds clinched the National League Central Division title days ago and are marking time until the playoffs. Cincinnati is hungry for bigger things than just making it into the post-season this year. The Reds have their eyes on the big prize and if they have a shot at capturing their first World Series since 1990, pitching will carry them.
This was Cueto’s 19th win and he is the ace of a staff that also features a hot Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, a hot Mat Latos, and Mike Leake. And the relievers are even better. In addition to Broxton (ERA 2.25) and Chapman (1.55), the bullpen of Sean Marshall, J.J. Hoover, Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek, Jose Arredondo and Sam LeCure have excelled as a group.
Up until his last two starts Cueto had been in a brief funk with some shaky appearances. But now he seems to be throwing as well as ever. The biggest problem Cueto had against Milwaukee was being safe at second base. On a second inning play when he ended up halfway around the diamond, Cueto had to pause to do some stretching and received attention from the dugout.
“He (Cueto) scared the daylights out of us running the bases,” said Reds acting manager Chris Speier, filling in for the ill Dusty Baker. “He didn’t want to come out.”
Speier characterized Cueto’s ache as a cramp, but Cueto, speaking through a Spanish translator, made it sound as if the problem was slightly different.
“I felt something behind my hamstring,” Cueto said. “I was scared, too.” He said there had been flare-ups in the same area of his leg earlier, but he felt he was still good to go and told the team. “They trust me.”
Cueto should have one more start before the playoffs and there is no mystery about how much he wants to turn 19-9 into 20-9.
“That’s the goal,” Cueto said of winning 20 games in a season for the first time in his career. “That’s the goal I want. God willing I will get that one.”
It used to be that when a manager handed the ball to his starter he expected a complete-game performance. Now hopes have pretty much been ratcheted down to six “quality” innings. Given the change in trends, the Brewers game pretty much played out as a perfect Reds scenario with Cueto throwing seven strong, Broxton striking out everybody, and Chapman touching 100 mph on the radar gun.
“When they’re on, they’re great,” said Reds third baseman Todd Frazier.
What the team witnessed versus the Brewers is exactly what the team would love to see every day in the playoffs.