Reds Celebrate Division Title With Their Eyes On The Prize
Reds Focused On More Than Just Playoff Berth
by Robb Hoff
September 24, 2012
It's different this time around for the Cincinnati Reds than it was in 2010. You can hear it in the voices, understand it in the word choice, and see it in the eyes of the players who were there in 2010 when the Reds won the N.L. Central Division with a much less impressive record than the one they sport this year.
Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce exude the force of will that this team is mustering as it readies for a playoff push that seems far less imposing for the up-and-comers of 2010.
The newcomers Mat Latos, Ryan Ludwick and Sean Marshall also calibrate the vibe of a team that is on the verge of fulfilling a season of destiny.
None of the postseason will be easy and shouldn't be expected to be any less of a grind than just about every win was for the Reds this year. The teams that lay in wait in the playoffs will all have their respective claims to title aspirations and rightfully so.
So as much as these Reds will be looking ahead, there's still plenty of work to do between then and now.
Here is the list of the Reds top priorities headed into the the last nine games of the season:
1. Get Dusty Baker back: The sooner the better for several reasons but none bigger than the health of this team's skipper. Baker is the glue behind the team's maturity and will be even more of a motivator in the clubhouse than he was before just by the sheer inspiration of his return from an irregular heartbeat.
2. Give Drew Stubbs at-bats: Stubbs is one of the most remarkable center-fielders in the game, but he is an atrocious hitter. Despite his batting deficiencies, Stubbs does have the ability to get red hot and carry a team offensively almost by himself for a brief time. Now if somebody...anybody....could teach him how to bunt by the time the playoffs start.
3. Get Ryan Ludwick healthy: Without left-fielder Ludwick, the Reds would have a less impressive record. His offense has proven to be a real difference maker and ultimately may be the ultimate difference for this team as the post-season cleanup hitter. His groin strain doesn't sound too serious, but this type of injury can get worse in a hurry if he rushes back too fast.
4. Rev up Aroldis Chapman: It was a great touch for Chapman to return to the mound from his nearly two-week hiatus for the division clincher. Now, the Reds must ramp him up from his recent inactivity due to shoulder inflammation. The post-season fate of the Reds is in Chapman's grasp.
5. Open up the competition for the final post-season roster spot: The Reds will have to decide whether or not to carry 14 position players for the divisional series or 12 pitchers. Dioner Navarro looks like a lock for the second catcher, but the likelihood that a non-catcher, left-handed hitter off the bench will be prioritized could mean that outfielder Xavier Paul gets the nod over Reds fifth starter Mike Leake.
6. Win the first seed: Last but not least important, the Reds have to push for the first seed and home field advantage throughout the post-season. They trail the Nationals by one full game for the right to face the Wild Card winner and must finish with one more win than the Nats to claim the top spot in the National League.