Reds Clinch NL Central

After a fifteen year absence from postseason play the Cincinnati Reds have clinched their second division championship in three years. Mat Latos was in control Saturday with eight shutout innings before giving way to an Aroldis Chapman "tune-up" in the ninth. Offensively Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips crushed solo homers before a three run eight inning rally blew open the game.

Cincinnati entered the day needing either a win or a St. Louis loss to become the first team in 2012 to clinch a division championship. For a while it appeared like the Cubs would do the job for them until they blew a ninth inning lead en route to losing to the Cardinals in extra innings. The Reds would not be denied however, and rode Mat Latos for eight shutout innings before blowing their game open in the eighth in a 6-0 win over the Dodgers at Great American Ball Park. It is their second division championship in three years.

Latos was the central figure in the biggest deal for the Reds this past offseason when they sent three first-round picks plus last year's opening day starter to San Diego for the big right-hander. He started this season off slowly with a six ERA in April before coming around and putting together a strong season that the Reds had envisioned when they made the investment. He was in control all day Saturday and did not allow a runner past first base while scattering six hits and striking out seven without a walk to improve his record to 13-4/3.60 ERA. He gave way in the ninth to Aroldis Chapman who made his first appearance since September 10 to recover from shoulder fatigue. The Cuban southpaw retired the side in order with the help of a game-ending double play.

Jay Bruce got the scoring started when he crushed a solo home run in the fourth inning to raise his total to 34 on the season. Todd Frazier added on in the next inning with an RBI single. Brandon Phillips increased the lead to three with a towering shot into the left field seats in the seventh. The home team iced the contest in their final at-bat from an errant throw on a Chris Heisey bunt and a bases-loaded single by Zach Cozart that plated their final two. Phillips, Frazier, and Cozart had two hits each in the winning effort.

The win was the 92nd of the season by the Reds with ten games remaining. That tops their total of 91 two years ago when they made their first postseason appearance in fifteen years. It also was a sign that they are getting healthy. Chapman, Cozart, and Joey Votto all saw action after being sidelined at some time this month. Ryan Ludwick remained out of the lineup while nursing a groin ailment. Another noticeable absence was manager Dusty Baker who remained in a Chicago hospital because of concerns with an irregular heartbeat. Chris Speier has guided the team the past four games in his absence.

Perhaps it was fitting that they clinched with a shutout because strong pitching and defense has been key to their success all season. They have the second lowest team ERA in the N.L. (0.14 ER/9 inns. higher than Washington) and have committed the third fewest errors (only two more than leader Atlanta). Their resurgent offense has raised its runs/game to 4.26 which is around the league average. They are also around the average in AVG, OB%, and SLG%.

For the remainder of the season Baker and Speier will have a balancing act to best prepare their team by postseason. They will consider how much rest regulars will need to enter the playoffs fresh and how much action to give them to remain sharp. Meanwhile they are one game back of Washington in the loss column for securing the top seed that comes with the best record.

It's a good problem to have for the Reds. After a long period of postseason dormancy they are now aspiring to recapture some glory of years past. If they add four more victories it would give their 2012 edition one of the ten highest win totals in the 131 year history of the franchise. Of course the main item atop the agenda it getting ready for a deep October run. They figure to play longer this year than they did in 2010. Actually there's no way they could play shorter because the 2010 Reds were swept by defending champion Philadelphia. They were victims of a no-hitter by Roy Halladay and a Cole Hamels shutout. In between those atypical poor defense caused them to blow a 4-0 lead in game two.

But the list this Reds team really wants to join is the one with six others in franchise history that have won the World Series. On paper it would seem that they have a legitimate shot. Their pitching is better and most of their lineup has a couple more years' experience over the 2010 Reds. As for now they will use the next ten games doing whatever they can to enhance their chances while other teams battle for the right to meet them in a divisional championship series.

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