With their epic collapse Sunday, the Cardinals threw the staggering Cincinnati Reds a lifeline.
The Reds grabbed it with both hands and pulled themselves into the thick of the National League playoff race.
They swept the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates 3-1 and 9-4 in their Monday doubleheader. With 11 games to play, the Reds can see a clear path to postseason play and an opportunity to live up to their optimistic preseason projections.
The exclamation point Monday came on Mike Moustakas’ three-run homer in Game 2.
“It was as excited as I've seen our team,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I think our team understands, clearly understands what we're playing for right now. The dugout was -- we felt it. We felt that we had an opportunity to win another game and we understand how important and big every one is right now.”
The Reds have won three straight games and four of their last five. They have moved past the Milwaukee Brewers into third place in the NL Central, just 1½ games back of the Cardinals in the battle for the division’s second playoff berth.
“The momentum is real,” Bell said.
“It’s obviously huge to get some momentum going into this last little stretch,” Moustakas said. “Obviously, every game counts. Every game counted in the beginning of the season, but we’re here now. We have to keep going out and finding ways to win each night and keep finding ways to score runs.”
Even Joey Votto was fired up. He has looked like a bored veteran going through the motions for the past few years, but he perked up Monday and hit a homer in each game.
“I haven’t been excited for baseball going down the stretch in a long time, and that’s not a good thing,” Votto said. “It feels so good to be playing meaningful games, because if anybody were to throw a uniform on and play any sport, be competitive in anything, it feels so much better to feel like you have a shot, to feel like the games are meaningful, to feel like you’re playing in front of people that care. It feels great.”
Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:
AJ Casavell, MLB.com: “No matter who wins the division, the Dodgers and Padres are postseason-bound. They own the NL's two best records, but because they hail from the same division, they’d slot into the first and fourth seeds. Both teams would host a first-round NL Wild Card Series, and if they win, they'd advance to face each other in a five-game NL Division Series. The two NL West foes have never faced each other in the postseason.”
Alden Gonzalez, ESPN.com: “The Padres made their intentions clear last year, when they allocated $300 million for Manny Machado and placed Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack on their Opening Day roster, eschewing modern baseball's abuses of service-time manipulation. After a 70-92 finish by a team that was clearly on its way up, Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler declared that ‘heads will roll’ if the Padres didn't find themselves in contention in 2020. The statement was a bit heavy-handed and perhaps even a little misguided. The Padres were seemingly at least another year away. But then they began the 2020 season with 18 wins in 30 games, and their general manager, A.J. Preller, acquired at least six difference-making players in less than 48 hours without mortgaging a loaded farm system, and it all started to feel real.”
Jay Jaffe, FanGraphs: “Until the Phillies lost a pair to the Marlins on Sunday — the two teams’ second doubleheader in three days as part of their gargantuan seven-game series — the Braves had the smallest division lead of any NL team. Even now, their situation is a little more precarious than meets the eye. Note that they split their season series with the Phillies, who right now have a slightly better intradivision record (the gap was wider when I started writing this on Saturday, when Philadelphia was running second). If those two teams were to wind up tied with that remaining the case, Philadelphia would win the division. The Braves have also split with the back-in-second-place Marlins but still have four games against those upstarts, all at home from September 21-24; at this point, that’s nothing less than a must-win series.”
R.J. Anderson, CBSSports.com: “You have to tune in whenever Zac Gallen is on the bump. He's completed a meteoric rise over the past year-plus, ascending from a back-of-the-rotation prospect to a genuine Cy Young Award candidate. (League insiders credit an altered fastball spin axis for his improvement.) Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen gambled on Gallen's breakout being real after seven big-league starts, and that bet has paid off. Dating back to the start of 2019, Gallen has the third-highest ERA+ among starters, behind Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander.”
Buster Olney, ESPN.com: “The list of star players performing well below the numbers on the backs of their baseball cards is long and distinguished. Entering Sunday, Shohei Ohtani was batting .189, with an OPS 213 points lower than last season. Former MVP Christian Yelich was batting .203, the Dodgers' Max Muncy .194, 2019 MVP candidate Marcus Semien .221, free agent-to-be George Springer .239. Among pitchers, Jose Berrios has a 4.40 ERA, the talented Chris Paddack is at 4.74, Patrick Corbin is at 4.10 ... the list goes on and on. Would those ugly numbers correct themselves if the season had another 100 games? Are there players who desperately miss the fans? Are some players simply less invested than others? It's really impossible to know, which is why some teams may be more interested in the underlying numbers -- spin rate for pitchers, exit velocity for hitters -- than the numbers that might normally steer them.”
Tom Verducci, SI.com: “It helps to avoid strikeouts on offense, but it’s not as important as you may have been led to believe. Of the past eight pennant winners, half of them did not rank in the top four in their league in fewest strikeouts. What is much more important is getting strikeouts from your pitching staff. All eight of those past eight pennant winners ranked in the top four in their league in strikeouts by pitching staffs. That’s good news for teams such as the Padres (tied for fourth in strikeout rate) and Twins (third), who haven’t won a pennant in at least 22 years.”
“Moments like that, swings like that are the reason why we signed him. He’s done that for the Royals, obviously, and he seemed to have gotten even better with the Brewers. We hope for the trend to continue here.”
• Reds first baseman Joey Votto, on Mike Moustakas’ timely Game 2 homer.
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