The only team with a better-than-.600 season winning percentage isn't the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers or Washington Nationals. It's the streaking Cincinnati Reds.
A team whose MVP candidate, Joey Votto, has been out for 2 1/2 weeks — and keeps winning anyway — is 14-3 including 10 wins in a row July 19-29.
A team that won't be shutting down its ace pitcher due to late-season innings concerns — an ace whom whether you know it or not, is in the league's top three in ERA and wins — 'Cy Cueto', as a teammate recently called him.
A team with a closer on a historic streak of dominance that for some reason continues to fly under the radar. The numbers Aroldis Chapman is putting up can only be described as astonishing — think Eric Gagne in his Cy Young season, Dennis Eckersley in his MVP season, without all the acclaim.
And that's the point with the Reds. They put together a 19-7 July, including 17-3 after the All-Star break — the club's best July since the Big Red Machine days of 1976 — to streak to the top of the game's standings. Yet, it will take something like Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman getting his trademark poofy gray mane buzzed to the scalp for charity on Friday — which is what he said he'd do if the Reds won 10 in a row — for the Reds to get some attention.
Not that they seem to care. In fact, they seem to prefer it this way. During a perfect 6-0 road trip through Houston and Denver in the midst of the 10-game winning streak, manager Dusty Baker talked about the mindlessness of it all: "You don't think about how you're doing it. You don't think about how long you've been in it. You don't think about when it's going to stop. You just come out and expect to win every day.''
The Reds definitely are taking that latter idea to heart. Enter their clubhouse after a victory, and it's just another night at the office. A little music — not very loud — no screams of excitement, or how-are-we-doing-this? emotion. Just an expectation that they're heading to the postseason.
"The confidence is there,'' right-hander Mat Latos said. "We have the staff, the bullpen, the defense, the bats to do it. It's just matter of putting it all together.''
Added Ryan Ludwick, who's taken up more than his fair share of slack with six homers and 20 RBI since Votto went on the disabled list: "We believe. Obviously, having Votto out of the lineup for as long as he's been out, and to have the record we have, you've got to believe. We're getting contributions from different players at different times. If you believe in yourselves, it's half the battle.''
When you think back to when the Reds left their Goodyear, Ariz., training camp, they were a trendy first-place pick of many — but hardly an overwhelming favorite in the same division as the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Then the Cardinals jumped off to the majors' best start through mid-May. After they cooled off, the Pittsburgh Pirates began to win and grab national attention as everyone's sentimental favorite, dreadlocked star Andrew McCutchen and all.
But there can be no ignoring the Reds anymore.
The only attention Johnny Cueto had received was for being snubbed for a spot on the NL All-Star team by manager Tony La Russa, who denied the fact it had anything to do with the brawl the Cardinals and Reds got into a few years ago, incited by Cueto.
"If he's not in the Cy Young (Award) talk now, there's something wrong,'' Ludwick said.
Coming out of spring training, Chapman merely was counted on as seventh- or eighth-inning left-hander — part of the setup crew in front of temporary closer Sean Marshall, who had replaced the injured Ryan Madsen.
And lately? There's been no more dominant pitcher in the game. Chapman's full-season numbers are overwhelming enough: 1.39 ERA, 51.2 IP, 23 hits, 14 walks, 96 strikeouts, .128 opponents' batting average, 0.72 WHIP, 23 of 27 save opportunities.
But since a mid-June skid when he allowed eight runs in seven appearances (the only eight earned runs he has allowed all season), here is what Chapman has done: 17 appearances, 16.1 IP, 7 hits, 3 walks, 35 strikeouts. Yes, that's 35 strikeouts in 49 outs recorded.
"He's more than special,'' pitching coach Bryan Price said. "The numbers are off the charts.'' Because all but one of those earned runs were scored against Chapman during interleague play, his ERA against NL clubs is 0.19 — one earned run (Pittsburgh, June 7th) in 46.1 innings pitched.
And one more from the eye-popping numbers file: When Chapman throw a first-pitch strike, 58 of the 96 plate appearances have ended in strikeouts.
Chapman throws his fastball about seven out of every eight pitches, and why not, considering it averages 97.6 mph and regularly tops 100 mph. As Baker puts it: "If I got three digits, I'm gonna use them.''
But it's safe to say Chapman is more of a pitcher than last season, when he walked 41 in 50 innings, and couldn't be counted on in high-leverage situations. The slider is Chapman's other pitch (he's ditched the split-finger pitch he used as a starter in spring training) and throwing the slider more during frequent flat-ground sessions has improved command. Otherwise, Price says there hasn't been much mechanical tinkering.
"Not much at all; just remember to stay taller on his back leg, and keep a consistent arm slot,'' Price said. "He really uses his legs. It's a throwback delivery — he sits on his back leg, and he has a longer stride. It works for him. He's shown he can throw strikes at 100 mph with consistency.''
Chapman has turned games into eight-inning affairs, and the rest of the bullpen in front of him is benefitting from that — as well as having a five-man rotation that has made every start, often going deep into games. And now the Reds have added to that strength with Jonathan Broxton's acquisition from Kansas City in a pre-deadline deal.
Votto has begun baseball-related activities, but there still is pain and swelling in his surgically repaired knee. Best-case scenario, he's back by the middle of this month. And now Brandon Phillips has missed the last two games with a left calf strain, an injury that first cropped up in Colorado last weekend. Bad timing, considering the Pirates will be in Great American Ballpark for a key series this weekend.
But nothing has slowed down the Reds lately.
"You can feel sorry for yourself and say, 'we wish we had Joey','' Baker said. "But we don't have Joey. We knew what we had to do. The guys are responding.''
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
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