First, the numbers.
The Reds are a bare two games over .500, a half-game behind the Atlanta Braves, two games behind the San Francisco Giants, and 2.5 behind the WC2 Pittsburgh Pirates. So they'll need to leap over a team they play thrice more (at home), a team they don't play, and a cussed rival in order to get into the stupid one-game thing.
The Reds will have to also beat out the Cardinals (currently a half-game over the Pirates) and the Brewers (who are five games ahead of the Reds) for the division. That will be very hard, though no doubt worth it.
So what does it mean, being the best fourth-place team in baseball? Baseball Prospectus gives Cinti a 5.8% chance at the division and a 19.1% shot at the Wild Card. That's good for a 24.9% chance at postseason baseball, or one out of every four universes parallel to ours has the Reds with a new patch on the jersey.
But Beyond the Numbers
These numbers are, you know, complicated enough. But they also don't take into account a whole kaleidoscope of possibilities; injuries, recoveries from injuries, waiver-wire deals, Devin Mesoraco eating the entire city of Pittsburgh, taking three strides west, then taking a dump and christening the nightsoil "St. Louis"...you know. kaleidoscopic possibilities.
The betting odds are against the Reds, but let's take a look on what they have going for them and what they don't.
The obvious is that Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in particular could be the most fearful September roster additions in the game. Despite Kristo Negron's passable Brandon Phillips impersonation (a .241/.281/.444 line and well-regarded defense), it would be nice to get the real McCoy back and have the aged rookie in a backup role. Negron is sporting a .250 BABIP, his HR/FB% of 21.4 is orders of magnitude over the league average of 9%. His opposite-field wall-scrapers may start turning into warning-track outs rather soon. There has been absolutely no word out of the Joey Votto camp, but even if he's relegated to a PH/DH role, there's no more terrifying, Grand Guignol, PH/DH out there.
Tony Cingrani may also be able to come back and be another lefty in the September pen, which would be a needed shot in the arm.
And even if none of the above comes back and if the Reds choose not to make any Aug./Sept. deals, they still have a team built to win in the late months. The newly-normal infield of Santigold-Cozart-Negron-Frazier is three shortstops and a gold glove-caliber third baseman. The statistically-worst starting pitcher has allowed nine earned runs total in his last seven starts. Broxton/Chapman can shorten any ballgame, and the rest of the pen has come around. If any two of the Reds' four outfielders can start hitting at their 80%ile expectations, this team will be able to start chewing through those games back. If they can hit and Votto/Phillips comes back, they're a feared team come October.
It's Todd Frazier's team and Todd Frazier's world, we're all just living in it*
*It is not Devin Mesoraco's world. His world is full of mastodons and Kabbalic demons and trees that weep blood. You do not want to live on that world.
If Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips come back, they may just be doing their Donald Lutz and Kris Negron impersonations for a month, splashing around at replacement-level rate stats. Except when Negron hits a double he's loving it out there and it's firing up the whole team. When BP does it, Doc wants to know why it wasn't a triple. There's an off chance that Votto's been taking surl lessons in his off-time and will make the whole experience unpleasant for everyone.
Jay Bruce has had a rough year. Whatever is going on with his knee, nobody is telling. Whoever said "no news is good news" is not a team trainer. As far as Jay goes, the Reds go, and he's really not going more than 10 steps without wincing this year.
If you want to be a millionaire, bet the "under" on every pitcher. Of the Reds' five starters, two have missed at least 10 of their past 30 starts, one has never made 30 (or even 20!) starts, and the others are Mike Leake and Homer Bailey. The bullpen is a shambles connected to a V12 engine.
Leaping 2-4 teams ain't easy. Everyone else wants to get to the postseason too, you know. Atlanta and the Giants can both outhit the Reds, and Cincinnati has done nothing to make one think they can leap two of any three NLC teams. It will be a dogfight, and the Reds are out dogged.
I don't know how dogfights work.