This headline appeared this week on an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story: “Braves get Reds in Round 1: That’s not great news.”
It is a headline that could have appeared in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee or Miami.
It is a rampant notion throughout baseball these days: Fear the Reds.
And the respect is well-earned and hard-earned by the Cincinnati Reds. Every team in the playoffs is wearing T-shirts that say, “Respect Atlanta” or “Respect Los Angeles” or “Respect Chicago.”
The Reds, of course, wear “Respect Cincinnati” and in the case of the Reds it really means something.
Entering the first round best-of-three National League playoffs in Atlanta tomorrow at noon, the Reds are the seventh seed, second lowest.
That, though, is just a number. The Reds finished the regular season one of the hottest teams in baseball. On Sept. 13 they were 20-26, ready to be fitted with a Most Underacieving Team award.
Before the start of the truncated 60-game season, the Reds were the trendy team, a popular pick by the national aficionados.
With the off-season acquisitions of Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama and Wade Miley, the Reds appeared loaded for any high noon showdown.
But they began the season like a new car with two flat tires. They couldn’t hit and the bullpen couldn’t pitch.
But midway through September, the tires were inflated and the car’s engine was humming. The Reds won 11 of their last 14 to sneak in the unlocked back door of the playoffs.
And there they are, in Atlanta and, yes, the Braves fear the Reds.
Never mind that the Reds own a team batting average of .212, 15 points lower than the franchise’s worst-ever batting average ever, .227 by the 1908 Reds.
Never mind that the opposition scored two more runs that the Reds did this season while the Braves outscored their opponents by 60 runs.
This short-term series is a study in contrasts. The Reds don’t hit. The Braves hit and hit and hit. They have six players with higher batting averages than Cincinnati’s best, Jesse Winker at .255.
Travis d’Arnaud, Freddy Freeman and Marcell Ozuna are hitting above .300 and Ozuna has 18 home runs and 57 runs batted in. Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis are above Winker, too.
The flip side, though, is pitching. Historically, pitching prevails in the postseason and the Reds are more than well-armed and dangerous.
The Braves have to feel confident in Game 1 as they send Max Fried to the mound. He is 7-0 with a 2.25 earned-run average and the Braves are 10-1 in his 11 starts. And he is left handed, never a good sight for the Reds.
Yes, the Braves are confident in Fried, until they look on the mound and see Trevor Bauer standing there, staring them down and glaring at them after a strikeout.
Fried is a top-echelon candidate for the Cy Young Award, but Bauer is the favorite to become the Reds first-ever Cy Young winner.
“I should win this year ... and there will be more,” said Bauer, a man who has as much self-confidence as he does talent.
There is only one slight drawback. Bauer does not like pitching in day games and this one starts at mid-morning. But Bauer carries a body full of adrenaline that he pumps at a moment’s notice.
The Braves don’t have much to back up Fried. Game 2 will be started by rookie Ian Anderson, who has started six major league games. His foe will be Reds’ right-hander Luis Castillo.
The Braves are 27th of 30 teams in starting pitchers' earned run average. The Reds are fourth. Atlanta is strong in the bullpen, fourth best to Cincinnati’s 17th.
That, though, is misleading. The Reds were gosh-awful out of the bullpen for the first two months and manager David Bell used a fyffe-and-drum parade of different characters trying to find a usable combination.
He found it in September with some outstanding work by Michael Lorenzen, Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, Miley and Raisel Iglesias.
If Bauer and Castillo pitch to their September numbers, the bullpen won’t be much needed.
Taking everything into consideration, the Reds win their first playoff series since 1995 in two straight.
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