The 2010 Reds reached the postseason largely on the might of the best offense in the National League -- and that offense was promptly no-hit by Roy Halladay in Game 1 of a short and otherwise uninteresting NL Division Series against the Phillies.
It seems reasonable to assert that this installment of the Reds, with the NL Central title in hand and the league's top seed in sight, is better positioned for October than that 2010 team was, but frankly, none of us really knows.
All we can do is speculate, postulate and estimate that Cincinnati has a very good chance to win the World Series. No, this is not a guarantee or even a harmless, nonbinding prediction. This is, admittedly, a mere statement of conjecture. But it's one made with six months of evidence serving as a backbone to the belief.
Allow me to give you five reasons why you can believe in the 2012 Reds.
1. The bullpen.
It has to begin here, because this is the area in which these Reds are, clearly, the best in baseball. Lucky for them, as this is one heck of an area to have on your side in October. Just ask the 2011 Cardinals, who got more innings out of their bullpen in last year's NL Championship Series than they did out of their starters. And for that matter, ask the 1990 Reds, who rode the Nasty Boys in the late innings to complete their wire-to-wire championship season.
Now, the trouble with Cincinnati is that its star closer, Aroldis Chapman, experienced weakness in his shoulder that has limited his activity this month. But the Reds had the luxury of being able to rest Chapman without having to worry much about the postseason chase, given the cushy comfort they had afforded themselves in first place in the Central. And the rest seemed to serve Chapman well, as he returned over the weekend and had his velocity back.
But the bullpen goes beyond Chapman. Yes, the left-hander's 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings are the primary reason Cincinnati's bullpen leads the Majors in that department, but lefty Sean Marshall (11.3), and right-handers Sam LeCure (9.5), Jose Arredondo (9.1) and Alfredo Simon (7.8) have also shown satisfying strikeout stuff. The Reds present matchup problems because of the two lefties in the late innings and Arredondo's strong splits against southpaws. It's an inordinately deep unit that was made all the deeper by the in-season addition of Jonathan Broxton (2.37 ERA in 19 innings with Cincinnati).
2. The defense.
This is another area that can make or break a postseason squad, and it should not be an area of concern for these Reds. According to calculations made by Baseball Info Solutions, the Reds have saved more runs on defense than any NL team other than the Braves. The key is being strong up the middle, which Cincinnati is, with Brandon Phillips at second, Zack Cozart at short and Drew Stubbs in center.
Of course, I must point out that the 2010 Reds were also highly regarded defensively and nonetheless made four errors in Game 2 of the NL Division Series. So, again, the regular season means nothing. But most managers and pitching staffs would feel pretty comfortable going into October with Cincinnati's defensive alignment.
3. The one-two punch.
Unlike those 2010 Reds, who turned to Edinson Volquez to start Game 1 of a postseason series just two and a half months after he'd returned from Tommy John surgery, this club has a bona fide ace in Johnny Cueto, who is among the Major League leaders in ERA (2.84) and leads the NL in ballpark adjusted ERA+ (149).
Now, Cueto has had a rough September, and this is not ideal. But he was much better his last time out, silencing the Cubs over six innings, and I'd say he's given Reds fans many more reasons for optimism than concern.
Early this year, Mat Latos was an obvious concern, but he's become the top-end-type arm Cincinnati envisioned when it traded for him. In his last 17 starts, dating back to June 25, he is 8-2 with a 2.52 ERA.
If these two guys are at the top of their game when it matters most, the Reds will be in prime position to take early control of their postseason series.
4. They're deep.
How deep? Deep enough to be without their $200 million man and MVP, Joey Votto, for 48 games and average more runs without him (4.61) than they had previously with him (4.20).
Votto has returned (though he's still searching for his power), and his return is a good thing, as it's allowed Phillips to return to a leadoff spot that needed a boost. And it's also a good thing to know the entire offense doesn't rest on Votto's shoulders. Ryan Ludwick has re-established himself as a capable cleanup hitter, and Bruce has had a strong showing the last six weeks, going deep 13 times since Aug. 12. Todd Frazier has made a strong argument for NL Rookie of the Year amid the Votto and Scott Rolen injury woes.
"Offensively, there's some speed involved, there's power, there's hittability," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "They're not as left-handed as they might like, but they don't need to be. They've got right-handers who can hit right-handers. Their lineup sets up well. They're solid, and their bench is strong."
5. Dusty Baker.
If there's ever a conversation about the most successful managers to never win a World Series, Baker is a big part of it. This is his 19th season, and he's compiled a .525 winning percentage. No matter how much people complain about his lineup construction or his so-called aversion to on-base percentage, the guy is a winner. But a ring has eluded him, in often heartbreaking fashion. The Giants' World Series Game 6 collapse in 2002. The Steve Bartman game. The Halladay no-hitter.
Maybe this is bound to be Baker's legacy. Or maybe, just maybe, a guy generally and genuinely regarded as a strong leader who gets the most out of his players will have his day in the sun. It was a shame that Baker, laid up with an irregular heartbeat, was in the hospital the day the Reds clinched the division. But this team gives him a very good chance of a more meaningful celebration next month.