For Reds, finishing strong is main goal

For Reds, finishing strong is main goal

For Reds, finishing strong is main goal
MIAMI -- Staring at a 13-game deficit in the standings this late into a season has a way of providing a cold splash of reality.

With the Brewers running away and seeking to claim the National League Central flag that belonged to them last season, the third-place Reds have been forced to re-evaluate and adjust their desires toward a variety of consolation prizes.

"Your first goal is to go to the playoffs," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "When that starts being faint and distant, you have to have another goal, and then another goal after that. Like I tell my guys, there is always something to play for if you find it."

With 32 games remaining in 2011 after Thursday's unexpected off-day, there are two new goals that are easy to see right now. The owners of a 63-65 record, getting back to a .500 record is very attainable. They haven't been .500 since having a 44-44 record on July 6.

And just three games ahead of them in second place, entering Thursday, are the slumping Cardinals. However, the stakes would obviously not be as high as last season, when the two clubs often had a nasty battle for the top of the division. By this time last year, the Reds were already in first place for good.

"Second place is better than third," Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "Those guys have given us such a tough time over the years. It'd be nice to battle them and finish ahead of them before the end of the season.

"As you can tell, with the lineups Dusty is running out there, we haven't packed it in or anything. We're just trying to win as many ballgames as we can."

While the Cardinals have dropped seven of their last nine games, the Reds have won four of their last six games, and five of eight. There have been some belated signs of the late-inning fight they were known for last season. Three of the last four wins on the road trip came via ninth-inning rallies while defeating the opponent's closer.

"We still want to finish [by] making a statement to the league," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "I think it's important. I don't think we're happy with the year we've had ... but there are still some positive things we can take away from the way we've played lately. Hopefully, in the series to come, we can get back to Reds baseball, in terms of winning series and playing well."

Whether the Reds are able to overtake the Cardinals or not, going for a winning record is the goal of the entire organization. Coming off 91 wins a year ago, the team has not had back-to-back winning seasons since 1999-2000.

To finish 82-80, the Reds would have to go 18-14 in their remaining games. In case you're wondering, if Milwaukee plays .500 baseball the rest of the way, the Reds would have to finish 30-2 down the stretch to catch the currently 78-54 Brewers.

"We're always looking at the standings and trying to see how much ground we can make up," Hanigan said. "The Brewers being [24] games over .500 is a lot of ground to make up. We know that. This is not the type of team that will cave or fold. We still have a lot of pride, in terms of trying to finish as strong as we can and to carry momentum into next year."

Starting Sept. 1 when rosters expand, the Reds will get some additional help from Triple-A Louisville. Catcher Devin Mesoraco, third baseman Juan Francisco and others will likely be up to fortify the bench. For these players and current rookies like Yonder Alonso and Dave Sappelt, it will be an important chance to be evaluated while the club still tries to win.

There are also individual achievements that are possible. Starting pitcher Johnny Cueto has a shot to win the ERA title. Cueto currently leads the Majors with a 2.03 ERA. The last Reds pitcher to lead the NL in ERA was Ed Heusser (2.38) in 1944.

Offensively, 2010 NL Most Valuable Player Joey Votto has a chance at winning the batting title, if injured Mets shortstop Jose Reyes doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify. Reyes currently leads the league in batting at .336. Votto, who is 16-for-32 with six home runs during his current 10-game hitting streak, has raised his average to .328, the third-best mark in the league.

There are more modest goals being sought. After finally snapping his nine-start winless streak in Wednesday's Game 2 victory, Bronson Arroyo is trying to get 10 wins in a down year. Jay Bruce is only three away from 30 home runs, while Votto is six away.

"I was always told round your numbers off," Baker said. "Don't land on 99 RBIs, like I did one year. I will never forget that. You want to round up. If you're a pitcher, 10-10 sounds better than 9-11. It's not much to most people, but you have to have some sense of accomplishment to build on."

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.