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The Reds have gone from regular season dark horse to postseason dark horse

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Cincinnati started this season as a team that you should’ve kept your eye on. They’ll be entering the playoffs as a self-described “nightmare.”

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Going into this season, the Cincinnati Reds were the en vogue dark horse pick to either make the playoffs coming out of the NL Central or to even win the division itself. Even before the league suddenly decided to expand the postseason for 2020, the Reds were still in that category of being a “sexy” pick to do well this season. A lot of us here at Talking Chop predicted that the Reds would be in the conversation and now here they are: Coming to Atlanta to face the Braves in a best-of-three series for the right to go continue the postseason at a neutral site in Texas.

One of the reasons why the Reds were a popular pick for people who wanted to make bold predictions was due to the fact that they continued to be an active team in the offseason. They were active before the 2019 campaign and the franchise continued to invest money in the team via free agency for the 2020 season. Teams that go out and spend money on guys like Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama are not the type of teams who are trying to kick the can down the road. The Reds were one of those teams that were going for it, but they were doing it in a way that would’ve been considered to be just normal baseball operations in the past. There’s no grand “process” at play here with the Reds —they’ve just slowly-but-surely brought themselves back from being an NL cellar-dweller for a few years to returning to contention.

Things didn’t start out that way for Cincinnati once the season got underway, though. They ended August with a 15-20 record and were five-and-a-half games out of first place at that same time. However, the Reds were only two-and-a-half games out of earning an automatic playoff berth by virtue of finishing in second place and they were two games back for the final Wild Card spot. So despite spending 35 games in the wilderness, the Reds were still in the thick of things and found themselves as buyers at the trade deadline. They picked up Archie Bradley and Brian Goodwin. Even though they made those two acquisitions, they were still stumbling around in the Central and finished September 13 still five games below .500.

However, their 10-5 win over St. Louis on that day ended up being the start of something that was as good as gold for the Reds. Cincinnati then proceeded to go on a six-game win streak, which was absolutely crucial for keeping them alive in the race. If they didn’t go on that streak, then they probably would’ve been on the outside looking in today. Instead, the Reds finished the season 5-3 (11-3 if you include the streak) to finish the season at 31-29 — good enough for not only a playoff spot, but the seventh seed as well. Cincinnati actually had a better September than the Braves — the Reds went 16-9 in the final month, while the Braves cruised to the finish line with a 15-11 record.

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

What fueled the Reds to their strong finish? The easy answer is that Trevor Bauer became the best version of himself (strictly on the baseball diamond — elsewhere, not so much) by throwing three of his best games of the season during his five September starts. In fact, Bauer finished September with an ERA of 1.29 and a FIP of 2.27. He was an absolute terror for opposing batters to deal with and he’ll be heading into the postseason off the heels of a season that’s worthy of Cy Young award consideration. He’ll also be the first pitcher that the Braves will have to face in the playoffs, so that’ll be a “fun” way for Atlanta to kick off their postseason quest.

It doesn’t stop there for Cincinnati, as Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray have both had pretty good seasons as well, and the Reds now have a team that’s seemingly built to win short series in the postseason. They don’t have a particularly strong offense, which could probably end up being their undoing in the future. Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez have been standouts for them, but their lineup isn’t the scariest thing in the world.

Still, with a rotation like that, they just need to push across three-or-four runs a game in order to be with a decent chance and they’re running into a Braves team that has had many, many struggles with starting pitching this season. There’s very good reason a reason why the people over at MLB’s website have deemed the Reds as the most “dangerous dark horse” team going into the postseason. It’s a fitting title for them since they’ve been considered a dark horse for this entire season. Joey Votto’s convinced that they’ve got something special going in Cincinnati.

The Reds basically played this season perfectly for a team of their caliber. It was always going to be tough for them to win the division, but they didn’t need to be the best team in the Central — they needed to be good enough and get hot for a little bit. They did exactly that, and now they’ll be coming to Cobb County with all of the tools to play the role of spoiler for our Braves. If the Braves are finally going to celebrate a postseason series victory, they’ll have their work cut out for them this week.