07/29/12 4:21 PM ET
Best team in NL? Don't sleep on the Reds
Strong pitching staff helping keep NL Central leaders hot minus Votto
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
The Reds are 10-2 since Joey Votto got hurt, and that number is a great tribute both to manager Dusty Baker and the clubhouse leadership. Good teams have the ability to focus on what they do have instead of what they don't. Their sole focus is on winning that day's game.
If that sounds like a small thing, it's not. It's the singular characteristic that championship teams seem to have. When a team wins a World Series, it's always remarkable to look back at the contributions that came from up and down the roster.
Health is a factor, too. The Reds have used just 30 players, fewest in the Major Leagues, and they're the only team in the Majors that has used just five starting pitchers.
The Reds do the basics really well. They're tied with the D-backs for the fewest errors in the NL, and their bullpen has the NL's lowest ERA.
Cincinnati's starting rotation is one of the NL's five best, so even on nights when the Reds don't muster enough offense, Baker has been able to coax victory after victory out of his pitching staff.
The Reds are 57-17 when they score at least three runs and have come from behind to win 26 times. They've rallied from behind to win in the ninth inning five times. They've played 33 one-run games and gone 17-16 in them.
That number tells you Baker has had plenty of stress in working his way through those final nine outs. Actually, he doesn't have to worry about the final three because Aroldis Chapman has 'em taken care of.
Chapman has converted 21 of 25 saves, including 13 in a row. He's averaging 17.03 strikeouts per nine innings and has gotten 35 of his past 46 outs with strikeouts. If that 17.03 ratio holds up, it'll be the best in Major League history.
As new D-backs third baseman Chris Johnson said, "He doesn't just throw 100 mph. He throws 100 mph with movement."
In Johnny Cueto, the Reds have a legitimate No. 1 who has 16 quality starts and is among the NL leaders in both innings and strikeouts. Homer Bailey is having his best season, and Mat Latos has a 2.50 ERA in his past six starts.
Votto appeared to be on his way to the NL Most Valuable Player Award when we went down. Teams reflect so much of themselves in how they handle such things, and the Reds have handled Votto's absence just fine.
Brandon Phillips is hitting .364 without Votto hitting in front of him, and Drew Stubbs and Ryan Ludwick have both gotten hot, too. Overall, though, the Reds don't have a single everyday player (other than Votto) hitting .300.
General manager Walt Jocketty had a nice offseason in adding Latos, reliever Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson (who blew out his elbow). Now he is shopping for someone to hit at the top of the lineup.
Reds leadoff hitters have the NL's lowest on-base percentage, and Baker has tried five different leadoff hitters, including Phillips for three games. Victorino isn't having his best season, but he'd be an upgrade for the Reds.
The Phillies have listened on Victorino, and Jocketty has discussed Juan Pierre with the Phillies, too. Jocketty has also shopped for a starting pitcher, either as insurance or an upgrade.
It's not clear that the Reds need anyone. With the Cardinals now 6 1/2 back, the Reds may be good enough to win anyway.
Baseball is better when the Reds are really good, and they're drawing almost 30,000 fans a game at Great American Ballpark. That would be the franchise's highest attendance since 2003, the first season at the new park. In short, it's a good time to be a baseball fan in Cincinnati.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.