The last four seasons, the Cincinnati Reds have faced an average deficit of 15 games in the National League Central Division at the All-Star break. They have been as many as 25 games under .500 and as few as eight.
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The Reds will again have a losing record when the break arrives next week, but it will be their best record since 2014, the last time they contended for a playoff spot into July. More importantly, no one in the division has ran away from the Reds. They improved to 41-44 with a 1-0 victory Thursday over the Milwaukee Brewers, staying in last place but moving within 3½ games of first place in the most competitive division in baseball.
“That’s the stat that counts in the standings,” manager David Bell said. “We do watch. That’s the whole point of what we do. You do follow it. At the same time, you have to do a good job as a team to stay in the moment. You can’t get ahead of yourself. Every day takes everything you have. If we continue to take that approach, that will take care of itself. We have a long way to go. We really like the way our team is playing together and competing. It’s fun.”
In the first seven games of a nine-game homestand, which continues Saturday and Sunday against the Cleveland Indians, the Reds took two of three games from the Chicago Cubs, who were in first place at the time, and then three of four from the Brewers, who fell into a tie for first Thursday at 46-42 with their third straight loss at Great American Ball Park.
What’s gone right for the Reds to keep them in contention?
1. Pitching success: The Reds held the Brewers scoreless for the last 23 innings of the series. Their team ERA stands at 3.65, the second-best mark in the National League.
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Luis Castillo (8-3, 2.29 ERA) threw a season-high 7 2/3 innings Thursday. For the second time this season, he allowed one hit through seven innings. He ranks second in the National League in ERA and sixth in strikeouts (124).
“I don’t know what to say about our pitching,” Bell said. “They’re doing everything they possibly can to give us a chance to win. (Against) this Brewers team, which we know is a good team with a very good lineup, to limit the scoring like they did in the series, especially in the last three games, it shows so much about all the hard work and their preparation and how they continue to develop as a staff. That was clearly the story today.”
2. Slumping opponents: The Reds remain in last place despite their recent run of success only because the Pittsburgh Pirates have won six of their last 10. The Pirates lead the Reds by a half game.
The top teams in the division have faded in recent weeks. The Brewers were 11 games over .500 on June 11 and are now four games over. The Cubs were 10 games over on June 9 and now have the same record as the Brewers. The Cardinals were 10 games over on May 1, slipped to .500 on May 22 and now sit 1½ games back of first place at 43-42.
3. Hot Puig: Reds right fielder Yasiel Puig drove in the only run of the game Thursday. He ranks second on the team with 49 RBIs. He has raised his average from .210 to .249 in the last month.
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