I know I recently did a post about how the defense has been helping out the pitching staff of late, but I was browsing around the numbers when I came across this cool fact: The Reds are 2nd in the NL in getting an out on the first batter of the inning.
Yeah, I know it's not like it's a mind-blowing experience, but if you consider that getting an out on the first batter of an inning takes a team's run expectancy down from about a half-run to about a quarter-run, you can see the significance of getting that out. It doesn't guarantee a safe inning, but it sure makes it a whole lot easier.
As you might expect, the Reds pitchers are actually getting it done in large part because of some help from their defense. The chart below shows the percentage of first batters of the inning to make outs and the percentage of balls that they put into play:
Despite having one of the highest percentages of balls put in play by the first batter of the inning, the Reds have turned more of those batters into outs than any team in the NL besides the Padres. This is just another indication of how much having a good defense behind your pitching staff can change your fortunes. In 2009, the Reds were 12th in the NL in Out% on the first batter. In 2008, they were 15th. This improvement is likely a major factor in why only 4 teams have had more shutout innings than the Reds this season.
Pitching and defense may not be all it takes to win a championship, but put solid pitching in front of good defense and it's a winning combination.