Rumors of the Reds playoff demise have been greatly exaggerated. It turns out, they haven't even played a game yet. Who knew?
Let's be honest though, the road through Philly is tough one. The Phillies didn't end up with the best record in baseball for nothing. It would be foolish to deny that they are a very good team, even if many of their fans don't hold the same respect for the Reds. That doesn't mean that the Reds can't or won't win this series. Here are some of the things that need to happen for the Reds to topple the Phils.
1. Get men on base for Joey Votto.
It goes without saying that Joey Votto is the most important player on the Reds. The team can battle through if he struggles, but if he's not getting hits, the mountain they are climbing gets much bigger. Votto's job will get easier if Brandon Phillips and Orlando Cabrera can get on base consistently for him. If the Reds put men on for Votto, this forces the Phillies pitchers to challenge him rather than just pitching around him. Then again, if Brandon Phillips gets on in the first inning and Dusty Baker has Cabrera bunt him over to second, I'm going to flip my lid. The last thing we want is for the Reds to be intentionally opening first base with Votto at the plate. Please don't do that. It's not a sound strategy.
2. Play good defense.
The Reds have done it all year. Now it is more important than ever. The Reds starting pitching doesn't match up to the Phillies, but if the Reds play good defense behind their pitchers, they can narrow the gap. And in a tight game, things like cutting down a ball in the gap or hitting cutting man can make all the difference. Doing that will keep the game close and give the offense a shot at squeaking out a win.
3. Keep the ball in the park.
Then again, the best defense in the world doesn't matter if the pitchers are giving up long balls all day. This series will be played in two homer friendly parks, so it's probably too much to ask for zero home runs from the competition, but keeping those dingers to a minimum will give the Reds a shot to play good defense and make a difference that way. Of course, if the Reds pitchers are giving up bombs regularly, this will be a short series and a long winter.
4. Stay aggressive on the bases.
When you are an underdog, the game is all about making and taking advantage of opportunities. When the Reds were going great this year, they were very opportunistic. In much the same way that the defense can keep them in games by shutting down aggressiveness from the opposition, taking the extra base while on offense both puts pressure on the defense and put the Reds in better position to capitalize.
Of course, they sure as heck better not be running into outs all day. Aggressiveness is great. Stupidity? Not so much.
5. Dusty needs to have a quick hook.
During the season, Dusty plays a lot of loyalty games. He likes to let his guys work through issues and reach milestones. That's great during the regular season. At this point, all that matters is winning. If a pitcher looks like he's slipping even the slightest, go to the bullpen. There are plenty of good, reliable pitchers out in the bullpen, and you have lots of off days. Use them.
This also applies on defense. If the Reds are winning in the 7th inning or later and Jonny Gomes is still in left field, I'm going to be very annoyed. The fact is, there isn't a lot of offensive drop-off from Gomes to Laynce Nix or Chris Heisey, but their defense is clearly superior. Use them. And you know what, it might be a good idea to put Paul Janish in the game in those situations too. Pull out all of the stops, Dusty!
As Reds fans, we're playing with house money at this point. It's been an amazing season so far, but I don't believe for a second that winning doesn't matter. You take the opportunities when they are presented to you. Success next year isn't guaranteed. I want to see the Reds win this thing. Who knows when we'll get another shot?