In all likelihood, the Reds foreclosed their chances to win the NL Central by going an anemic 2-4 against the Cubs and Brewers. Had they instead gone 4-2, they'd be sitting 1.5 games behind the Cardinals and Pirates.
And wouldn't that be a lot better? Maybe, but probably not as "better" as we'd like to think. They'd still be trailing two teams like they have been for what now feels like several seasons. The Reds have gotten within 1.5 games of first place on 8 non-consecutive occasions this year, but May 25th was the latest they've been better than a half game back.
It's been a very good season, albeit one that's been marked by repeated bouts of sniffing first place and then falling backward -- like a child sticking a finger in a bowl of icing and then being swatted on the wrist. And put in a time-out. By Carlos Gomez.
What can the Reds actually hope to accomplish over their last twelve games? Tonight, they'll play to what I can only guess will be the lowest ratings in a competitive season in history. With the Bengals on Monday Night Football and a start time of 8:10 against the Astros, the Reds can lick their wounds in privacy.
With a few lucky breaks, they can sweep the worst team in baseball. With the Padres throwing two pretty good pitchers against the Pirates (Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross), it's plenty believable that they could split the four-game series. That would have the Reds rolling into Pittsburgh down 2 games.
Taking two of three in PNC Park would separate the Reds and Pirates by just a game heading into the Reds' final six games (and final home stand). It would also likely put the Nationals just a few games shy of elimination.
With the Pirates heading to Chicago, the Reds would, in all likelihood, need to take 2 out of three from the Mets in their penultimate series. Then the Reds would also probably need to take two out of three in Games 160-162 in order to tie.
By my count, the Reds have just three losses to spend if they want to improve their situation:
- The Reds go 9-3 or better. (EXAMPLE: 3 wins against HOU, 4 against PIT, 2 against NYM)
- The Pirates go 6-7 or worse (EXAMPLE: 2 losses against SDP, 4 losses against CIN, one loss against CHC)
Outside the head-to-head, it's highly contingent on the Pirates not completely beating up on Chicago and San Diego - which is plausible, but out of the Reds' control.
I don't think it's reasonable to hope that the Cardinals AND the Pirates both go 6-7 or worse. Maybe the Cards stumble and the Pirates soar (though the Reds won't have any say about the former). If both teams somehow but played below-.500 ball, then it would potentially set up a Cardinals-Reds Wild Card game, a wacky three-way tie or a miraculous 11th hour NL Central Championship.
If we're being real, though, the Reds are playing for Wild Card #1. They can't afford to do much worse than 9-3, but they might also have to end up hoping for the Pirates collapse that hasn't come. No time like the present. No place like Houston.