SAN FRANCISCO -- Two years ago, the Cincinnati Reds completed their very brief postseason run with an appreciative shrug of the shoulders, unsatisfied with the outcome but still happy that they got that far. But like the veteran actress who is passed over for an Oscar again and again and again, the "It was an honor just to be nominated" card only goes so far. At some point, you want more. And that's how it is for the Reds this time around. In 2010, they were just happy to be there. Now, they're in it to win it. Thirteen of the 25 players currently on the Reds roster were on the 2010 playoff team. Many were first-timers back then. Their inexperience was apparent during a swift sweep by the Phillies, who rolled to the next round behind their rotation strength, including a no-hitter by Roy Halladay.
After their 9-0 win over the Giants on Sunday secured a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series, Reds players who had also endured the 2010 playoffs shortcomings acknowledged things are a lot different now. They feel overmatched by no one. The expectations are not based on what the other team may be able to do to them, but rather, what they believe they can, and will do before it's all over.
"It's experience just as players as much as experience in the postseason," Jay Bruce said. "Everything happened so fast [in 2010]. I think everyone is able to slow it down mentally now."This isn't just surface talk. The Reds are more prepared for a postseason run this time around, for two reasons. Experience is one factor. But also, they're just simply a better team. The pitching that carried them to the NL Central title has come up just as large in the first two games of the NLDS, and their defense has been flawless. Sure, the nine runs they poured on in Game 2 makes for a nice scoreboard screenshot. But they didn't need all of them. One would have been enough. They head to Cincinnati needing only one win in three tries to move on to the NL Championship Series. No longer are the Reds the ones looking to stave off elimination. They're looking to finish this off. What a difference two years makes. "Once you've been there and then you know what it's like," manager Dusty Baker said. "You can say, 'When I get there I'm going to be like this or that,' but you really don't know until you get there. Back then, when we got swept by the Phillies, we were playing one of the best teams we'd ever seen in modern baseball from pitching staffs, to speed to hitting, to everything." Bronson Arroyo, winner of Game 2 and one of the elder statesmen on this still young Reds team, remembered feeling somewhat helpless in '10 in terms of preparing his inexperienced Reds teammates for what was to come in the playoffs. Having gone through it with the Red Sox many years earlier, he was one of the few players on that team who had a frame of reference to fall back on. It didn't help much. "Back in 2010, everybody would ask me, you know, 'How are you going to try to invoke your experience in playoffs past on this ballclub?'" he said. "I say it all the time, it's impossible to tell somebody what it's like to stand on the free-throw line with no time left on the clock and you've got to hit both to tie, and that's what it feels like in the playoffs." If anything, Arroyo feels the shortcomings of 2010 are helping now. "Our faults in Philly and the no-hitter that Halladay threw against us in Game 1, all of those things battle-tested these guys and gave them a preview of what it feels like to play under a microscope," Arroyo said. "And because of that, it made everybody on the ballclub better and it gives you an opportunity to play a little more relaxed and not to feel like you're pressing so much." If the Reds have at all been jittery, they're hiding it well. They very much look like a team ready to move on to the next round, something a Cincinnati club hasn't done in the postseason since its pennant-clinching 2-1 win over the Pirates in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in 1990. And history is on their side. Since Division Series play began, four teams have rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win the series: the 1995 Mariners, '99 Red Sox, '01 Yankees and '03 Red Sox -- all American League teams. Clubs are 21-0 after being up 2-0 in the NLDS. The Reds aren't talking as if they've won anything yet. But they do admit they have a clear picture of what needs to be done. For Bruce, he's drawing from all kinds of past experiences -- the playoffs in '10, the inability to get back there in '11, and now, what they've done in the early stages of the Division Series. "You're successful one year and you come out and you kind of almost expect to just throw your glove on the field, and it happens," he said. "It doesn't happen that way. I think the combination of '10 and '11 has really set up for understanding what we're capable of but at the same time slapping ourselves in the face a little. We know now what it takes to be successful. It's just a matter of doing it."