The homestand was glorious. The Reds swept four games from the hapless Pirates and won tough series against postseason contending teams in the White Sox and Brewers. Just before that, David Bell’s club beat the St. Louis Cardinals two-out-of-three in Busch Stadium. The Reds are 14-8 in September and have won 9 of the last 11.
The Reds have vaulted up the standings. They have a legitimate chance to finish second in the division and are a front-runner for one of the two NL Wild Card berths. Smart number crunchers have aligned. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs put the probability of us seeing the Reds in the postseason at 86%.
Yet after all that good work, the Reds face the toughest challenge of the season. A road series against the Minnesota Twins. The homestand may have been glorious, but it’s also over.
Three not-so-fun facts:
- The Twins record is 35-22, first in the tough AL Central
- The Twins are 23-5 at home, best in MLB
- The Twins are 17-10 against teams better than .500
The Reds have a losing record on the road and are 11-16 against teams with winning records. Sure, we say, but this isn’t that team. This Reds team in the Twin Cities is the one we expected to see all season. The hitting to go with the starting pitching and solid bullpen. The Reds that have been around for a week and a half.
In the opposing dugout are the Twins that won 101 games last year and added Josh Donaldson and Kenta Maeda in the offseason [for details, see Kyle Berger’s Opponent Preview from earlier today]. They’ve won four in a row. They swept three games from Cleveland at home last week. They are 6-1 against NL Central teams at Target Field. The Minnesota Twins are more than capable of winning all three from the Reds this weekend.
The Reds finishing second in the NL Central will be harder than it looks. The Reds and Cardinals are tied as of today. The Cardinals have five games in four days in St. Louis against the Brewers. If it comes down to it, the Cardinals would play two extra games in Detroit against the 22-32 Tigers.
If the Reds win one game in Minnesota, they’ll finish with 30 wins. The Cardinals would need to win just three of their last seven games (remember, two of those are against the Tigers) to tie the Reds. The Cardinals have the tie-breaker edge with the Reds. If the Reds were fortunate enough to win two games against the Twins, the Cards would have to win four of seven.
The good news is the NL Wild Card spots are more accessible to the Reds, in no small part because they hold the tie breaking advantage over the Giants, Brewers and Phillies. If the Reds get to 30 wins, two of those teams would need to get to 31 for the Reds to be shut out of the postseason.
Getting to 31 wins will be a challenge for any of them. The Giants (28-27) finish up with the Rockies (24-31) today then host four games with the San Diego Padres (34-22). But if they win today and split with the Padres that gets the Giants to 31 wins. The Phillies (28-29) play at the Tampa Bay Rays (37-20). The Phillies would have to sweep the Rays to get to 31. The Brewers have 27 wins and would need to win 4 of 5 from the Cardinals to get to 31.
If the Reds get swept in Minnesota (remember, the Twins are 23-5 at home) and end up with the 29 wins they already have, they could still make it. But the risk of falling short would be high. The Giants have a good chance of winning two more and getting to 30 wins. To get to 30, the Brewers would need to take three of five from the Cardinals. It feels like both the Brewers and Cardinals are limping down the stretch and that series is a coin flip. The Phillies would need to win two of three in Tampa Bay to get to 30.
In short: This isn’t over. The Reds face their toughest challenge of the year this weekend. Winning one game out of three will probably be enough. And that’s a good thing.