Jul 19, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips (4) hits a double during the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Great American Ball Park. The Reds defeated the Diamondbacks 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
Last season, the Reds were nagged by losses in close games. They were involved in 62 of them (compared to the Cardinals at 49) and ended up 4 games under .500, with more blown leads than comebacks and more walk-offs allowed than walk-off wins.
The Reds have flipped that script this season, which tends to happen both naturally across seasons and also when your team is more talented. The Reds have a full 8 more comeback wins than blown leads, more walk-offs than game-ending heartbreaks and a winning record in one-run games.
The Reds rank in the Top 5 or 10 in most clutch or win probability indicators, where they were mediocre-to-poor last season. Some of this is the grand center-seeking forces of statistics. Some of it is vastly better starting pitching, going later in games and dovetailing with very good relief pitching. Some of it is what usually gets the most attention: timely hitting.
In "late and close" situations - defined by BBRef as "Plate Appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck" - the Reds are slashing a smart .275/.354/.476 in 2012. Last year, they did .247/.339/.376. You could probably further break this down into an examination of poor relief pitching in the NL Central, batted ball profiles and statistical noise. But it's a lot more satisfying to think team just has a whole lotta moxie.
The opening chapter of the Reds' current 10-game romp was a monumental comeback against the Diamondbacks on July 19 at GABP. The Reds trailed 6-0 at the start of the 6th inning, which gave them a less than 2% chance of winning the game. They went on to score 7 unanswered runs to invent a victory from nothing.
Beyond being an unlikely win, that game allowed the Reds to tell themselves they could play even with contending teams without their best and most timely performer (who incidentally still leads the majors in WPA). In a sport with very few Big Games, it was as close as you can get to some sort of STATEMENT victory.
Maybe it was a coincidence that the Reds have won 9 straight games after that. But allowing a little human interest into my darkened control room, I think that it probably gave the Reds a vote confidence they needed in the wake of losing Joey Votto. That might be the conventional narrative, but it also might be a true one.
The rigorous thing to do, of course, is to look at the strength of the Reds' schedule after that game in mid July. And to know what random chance can create 10 game win streaks for pretty much any major league team.
Sometimes, though, I like to remind myself that the more romantic, letter-boxed point-of-view - to which the movie Moneyball bended when they dealt with the A's 20-game streak - is what got me fired up about baseball in the first place. Knowing that it's partly fictional doesn't have to take away its appeal. It just tells me I'm not a kid any more. And then your favorite team winning ten straight games reminds you that you're not wholly adult.