CINCINNATI -- While it hasn't been needed as much recently, the Reds' bullpen has quietly become arguably the club's strongest facet.
Reds starters have stolen the headlines of late, and rightfully so. After an 11-game road trip that featured 10 quality starts and three complete games, the group leads the Major Leagues with seven complete games and ranked fourth in the National League with a 3.63 staff ERA, entering Sunday.
But when called upon, the Cincinnati bullpen has consistently gotten the job done.
As of Sunday, Reds relievers led the Major Leagues with 18 relief victories, and topped the NL with a 2.71 bullpen ERA and .215 opponents' batting average.
"Hopefully, our starters keep going six, seven, eight innings, but we need to be ready too to come in and execute in those situations," said Reds reliever Sam LeCure, who earned his third win of the season Friday night. "That's something we all want to do, to go out there and keep the other team at bay and give our offense a chance to come back and score a couple runs the next inning."
With the exception of lefty Bill Bray, who missed nearly two months of action nursing groin and back injuries, six of the seven Reds relievers have made appearances in at least 20 games this season.
In some instances, like Friday night's contest, the Reds needed five different arms from the bullpen to secure a win, consistently saving each other after pitching into jams.
"I'm a little more proud of games where I go out and pick up my teammates than just going out and doing well regularly," Bray said. "I have absolute confidence in our bullpen. We've been together for a while. Collectively as a 'pen, it's been a great year."
Through 87 games, the Reds are one of two ballclubs to have used just five starting pitchers all year -- a modern franchise record.
As the season progresses and the starters' arms fatigue, Cincinnati may slowly start seeing more and more from the bullpen.
"We understand we're going to be needed down the stretch. We've really got to be on top of our game. We really look forward to taking the ball, though."