Swept from the NL Division Series by the Phillies two years ago, the Reds know the success of their season will largely be judged by how far they advance. First baseman Joey Votto would like nothing more than to get manager Dusty Baker a World Series ring.
"I like playing for him, and I'm looking forward to being part of that first World Series he needs so he can get in the Hall of Fame, which he is deserving of," Votto said.
Here are the five keys to the Reds achieving the ultimate success in the 2012 postseason:
The offense must wake up: Unlike in 2010, when they ranked near the top of the NL in hitting and run production, the Reds have been in the middle of the pack this year. In September, the lineup was downright anemic and near the bottom of the Majors in both categories. While postseason scoring is generally harder to come by due to tougher pitching, Reds hitters have to show more of a pulse in October than they showed in September. But this issue can be mitigated somewhat if ...
The pitching stays strong: The Reds' rotation boasts four starters with at least 200 innings and 12 wins, and the bullpen has been the best in the Majors. Even if the offense is struggling, the pitching staff's efforts usually keep Cincinnati in games until the end, as evidenced by the 44 come-from-behind wins, the 31-21 record in one-run games and a 23-17 record in games decided in the last at-bat -- all among the league's leaders.
"We want to go as deep in the game as we can and keep it close," starter Mat Latos said of Cincinnati's rotation. "We know with the firepower that we have on the offense, all it takes is for one big inning to click. If the bullpen gets the win, the bullpen gets the win. That's all that matters."
Cueto and Chapman: The pitching staff had to hold its breath somewhat for a portion of September. That's when 19-game winner and ace Johnny Cueto didn't look good in losing his first three starts of the month and closer Aroldis Chapman was shut down for nearly two weeks with left shoulder fatigue. Cueto rebounded and looked good over his last three starts to perhaps get some momentum entering the postseason. The Reds will hope that Chapman has the shutdown stuff that helped him record a franchise-record 27 consecutive saves during the season.
Can Bruce catch fire, again? Right fielder Jay Bruce, who notched career highs in home runs and RBIs this season, slugged 12 homers with 32 RBIs in 44 games while Votto was injured. He also had 10 homers in the Reds' first 28 games of the season. In between, there were some prolonged slumps. More than any other hitter, the streaky Bruce seems to get the Reds hot when he's hitting well.
An adversity-tested club: While much of what happens in the regular season doesn't carry over to the postseason, there is one thing that must: the Reds' ability to pick each other up when things go wrong.
During Spring Training, closer Ryan Madson and setup man Nick Masset endured injuries that cost them their seasons. Yet the Reds responded by putting together the best bullpen in baseball. When their best player, Votto, missed 48 games with a left knee injury, the team rallied and went 32-16 without him with players like Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick rising up and coming through. And when their leader, Baker, missed 11 games after suffering a mild stroke, the team did not stop. These are the kinds of so-called intangibles that could be on the Reds' side when the pressure is on during the postseason.