CINCINNATI -- No doubt that headline writers and T-shirt makers are trying to warm up some Reds playoff slogans. "The Hunt for Reds October" would be an obvious nod to the Tom Clancy book and 1990 Sean Connery movie.
The National League Central leaders for the last 30 days held a seven-game lead over the second-place Cardinals on Tuesday morning. And they have compiled quite an impressive resume: The Reds lead the NL in hitting, runs, hitting with runners in scoring position and fielding percentage. They've committed the fewest errors in the league.
But assuming the club reaches the postseason, Cincinnati will need to make some course corrections against the other elite teams of the NL. Otherwise those T-shirts may as well say "The Quick and the Dead."
The Reds take care of business against the teams they're supposed to beat and within their division, which has often been the same thing this season. They are 53-23 vs. teams below .500 and 42-25 vs. NL Central rivals. Compare that with the Cardinals, who are likely will stay home in October despite a 26-19 record vs. winning teams, due in large part to their 48-49 record against teams with losing records.
Reds' record vs. contenders
1-2 (play at PETCO Park on Sept. 24-26)
The Reds, however, have not matched the Cardinals' success against winning teams, going 29-39 against those clubs and 10-19 against teams it could see in October: the Braves (2-3), Rockies (2-5), Phillies (2-5), Padres (1-2) and Giants (3-4).
"We definitely have some work to do. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't case," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "I don't think it's in the back of our minds. I genuinely don't think this team worries about teams. But we have some winning to do, especially against those tougher teams, those division-leading teams."
Although the Reds defend their hitters' haven of Great American Ball Park well at 44-28 and are a winning team on the road at 38-34, they are a mere 1-12 on the road vs. the contenders -- without having played at San Diego yet this season. Last week, Colorado swept four games from the Reds at Coors Field.
Many of those road losses were close games that could have gone either way. For example, while being swept at Philadelphia just before the All-Star break, all four games were decided by one run. Three of those games were decided in extra innings. Both games at Atlanta in May were one-run losses, with one spectacular ninth-inning meltdown while blowing an eight-run lead.
Nevertheless, it will be important for the Reds to clinch not just the division, but also home-field advantage for the Division Series. They currently are a half-game better than San Diego, one game ahead of San Francisco and three ahead of Colorado. Both Philadelphia and Atlanta have better records, but as long as the Reds finish with the second-best record of the NL division winners, they'll be assured of home-field advantage in the first round, either against the Wild Card winner or the third-best division winner.
"We've definitely not fared as well against the Grade A pitchers in the game like the Carpenters, Halladays, Wainwrights," Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "Those guys have definitely kept us to a minimum. And if we did win those games, we didn't put five or six runs on the board. At the end of the day, you'll need a good performance from a lot of us to get it done."
Somehow, some way, the Reds will have to find some of those elusive runs to win close playoff games.
"This team doesn't have that worry mode or panic button at all," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "We play hard. If we get beat, we figure out a way turn it around and don't let the swings last too long."
One of the reasons the Reds will likely get to enjoy their first playoff berth since 1995 is that they've been consistent overall. The Reds, Padres and Yankees are the only Major League teams with winning records in each of the first five months of the season. Cincinnati's 29 series wins are tied with New York and Minnesota for most in the Majors. The club is 24-23 in one-run games.
The Reds have also been resilient in many ways and aren't likely to let playoff deficits intimidate them. They rank third in the Majors with 42 come-from-behind wins and are second with 21 wins in their last at-bat.
"Winning ballgames when there's only three or four to be won can take the other people out of their element as well," said Arroyo, who won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2004. "We've all seen teams close to .500 win the World Series more than once."
While key players like Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto will be new to the postseason, the Reds have playoff-tested veterans like Arroyo, Scott Rolen, Orlando Cabrera and Arthur Rhodes on the roster. That experience has served them well all season.
"Anything can happen in the playoffs," Arroyo said. "Once you get in, your optimism is at its highest, and you probably don't think about that a whole lot. The games are so different in the playoffs. Every out means so much."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.