Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
With two weeks left in the regular season, the Reds magic number is five. Their lead over the Cardinals is a robust 11 games, and most playoff prognostication internet gizmos set their odds of making it between "start hiring temps to handle the influx of web orders at the team store" and "dig out your playoff boots".
So while the games from here on out are mostly lacking that tense drama of a tight pennant chase, the Reds still have some decisions to make. They are currently 1½ games behind the Nationals for the best record in the Majors and the top seed in the NL. The #1 seed has the luxury of home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which may be only a small advantage, but still one worth mentioning. But should the Reds run full-gallop for the last two weeks in hopes of getting that #1 seed, or should they ease up on the reins a bit in order to be fully healthy and well-rested for when the games really matter?
It's an enviable position in which to be (see full projected playoff picture here). They hold a comfortable, nearly insurmountable lead in the Central, and are 4½ games ahead of the Giants for the #2 seed. So they are in no real danger of falling out of the playoff picture entirely, and are unlikely to yield to the Giants either (of course, flipping the #2 and #3 seeds with the Giants would not change much, as they would still end up playing each other. Home field advantage would flip, but with the absurd 2-3 format this season that advantage isn't as strong as it normally would be). So they have a good bit of room in which to tinker and a number of different options to do such tinkering.
Earning the top seed would be a nice little peach. Aside from the home field advantage and the boast of the best record in baseball, the top seed enjoys the added advantage of playing the winner of the Wild Card play-in game. The Wild Card winner will be at a distinct disadvantage (by design, of course), as they will have played the day before in a different city and presumably burned up one of their top starting pitchers in the process. But while this is how it's supposed to work in theory, the Wild Card team could very well be a tougher opponent than the #3 seed Division winner.
Would you rather face the winner of Braves/Cardinals or the Giants in the NLDS? I dunno. That ain't so easy to figure. And it is likely not something the Reds could have much control over.
The best approach is probably the diplomatic one, being conservative with nagging injuries like they have been with Zack Cozart, Scott Rolen and Aroldis Chapman, but also not going overboard with getaway day lineups in the middle of the week and spot-starts for rookies like Tony Cingrani. There probably is no wrong way to go about it, honestly. They've come this far, so I'm pretty comfortable deferring to their judgement with this kind of minutia.
And it really is just minutia. It's pretty cool, yeah? The middle of September feels like the end of Spring Training, just going through the motions and sharpening everyone up before the real games begin. And I am so cool with that.