Appreciating third place

Thearon W. Henderson

Perpetually five games back, perpetually very good.

The Reds have come strong out of the gates in the second half, winning 4 of 6 and scoring 35 runs to just 18 allowed. What does that get you in the New NL Central? A whole lot of treading water, it seems.

The Reds are 5 games back, which is right where they were just before the All Star Break. An All Star Break that started on the heels decisive 8-4 victory over the first-place Braves. We're all going to have to learn to be OK with this. It's weird that the three best teams in the NL are all in the same division, but it's not that weird, is it? The Orioles currently have the same winning percentage as the Reds and they're also having to lump it in third place.

It's not worth getting hung up on run differential (the Reds, at +80, are 4th in the majors and a good 40 runs ahead of the Pirates). It's no good questioning why divisions exist (it used to kind of help the Reds, didn't it?). And don't even think about complaining about the playoff format (I already did).

It's not so much that there isn't some good carping to do or some mathematical unfairness worth pointing out. It's that the complaining will surely obscure your enjoyment of the Most Exciting Division in Baseball. Not too mention the Best Era of Reds Pitching Probably of All Time.

On that note, I decided to put my appreciatin' hip waders on and use some of Baseball Reference's new, souped-up tools. Apparently, tere have been just 20 teams in Reds history with at least four "above-average" starters - "above average," for my purposes, means having an ERA+ greater than 100 (ERA+ standardizes ERA for era and and park). Two of those teams have happened over the last two seasons:

If you relax the requirement that a pitcher must qualify for the ERA title (162 innings or on-pace for it), the 2013 Reds have six starters with ERA+ over 100. Only twelve Reds teams have ever had at least five starters throw 48+ above average innings. And only two others have done what the Reds are doing this season. This is jury-rigged to accomodate Cingrani and Cueto, but still impressive:

I've always said bronze is a fine material to make things out of.

Third place: we try harder.

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