After clinch, Reds turn focus to claiming top seed
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CINNATI -- The Reds have settled their status as champs of the National League Central, but don't go booking flights to their NL Division Series opponent's city yet. Just about everything else in their postseason future remains up in the air.
After Saturday's 6-0, division-clinching win over the Dodgers, the Reds (92-60) are neck-and-neck with the Nationals (92-59) for the best record in baseball, sitting just a half-game below the NL East leaders.
It's Cincinnati's second division title in three years and a massive improvement from the 79-83 team that finished in third place last season.
"It does [feel different]," said first baseman Joey Votto, comparing the 2010 run to the 2012 title he just helped the team capture. "A couple years ago, it was a surprise, it was something that kind of crept up on us and we didn't expect it. Whereas this year, I think we just wanted to prove something. We felt like we had a disappointing 2011 and we come back this year and we're at or near the top of baseball's best record. Hopefully we carry that over to the playoffs."
If the season ended today, the Reds would grab the No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs behind the Nationals and would meet the No. 3-seeded Giants. The Reds end the season on Oct. 3 in St. Louis, and they would have two off days before beginning the NLDS on Oct. 6 at San Francisco. Under rules for this year only, it's a 2-3 playoff format for the NLDS, so the Reds would host the final three games at Great American Ball Park in the best-of-five series.
The Reds are 4-3 against the Giants the season. They took two of three from the Giants in Cincinnati in April, and the two clubs split a four-game stint in San Francisco at the end of June.
But 10 games still remain in the season, and a lot could change. Not that the Reds care at this point.
"Not right now," said Todd Frazier, drenched in beer and champagne. "We're just having a blast, baby."
If the Reds end up finishing with the best record, some chaos could really begin because they won't know their NLDS opponent until they learn the winner of the single-game Wild Card series on Oct. 5. Currently, the Braves and Cardinals hold the top two NL Wild Card spots.
The Reds are 5-1 on the year against the Braves, who lead the Wild Card race, and 6-6 vs. the Cardinals, who have a 2 1/2-game advantage over the Brewers for the second Wild Card spot.
As of Saturday, the Reds sat 11 games above the reigning World Series champions and became the first club this season to clinch a division title.
"To be the first team in baseball to clinch their division, you couldn't expect that, especially with the Cardinals being the reigning world champions," pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "We'll take it."
It's not quite the end of the road yet though.
All of Cincinnati's remaining games are against teams that are still mathematically in the hunt for that final Wild Card spot. The Reds finish their three-game stint with the Dodgers before hosting three games against the Brewers and then hitting the road for three games each against the Pirates and the Cardinals.
The Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies are all within striking distance for the second Wild Card spot, with the D-backs and Pirates still chasing.
"You see this all right here," said starter Mat Latos, gesturing to the clubhouse chaos following the clinch. "We're going to get this out of our system. We've got one more game against L.A. before we get Milwaukee to come in here."
Throwing another wrench in the prevention of a postseason plan is the possibility of a tiebreaker coming into play.
The Reds may not know what outcome is in store for them, but there is one thing they guaranteed -- they'll be ready.
"Celebrate, get it in, enjoy it, because this is just the beginning," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "We're still on a mission. We've got things we've got to do and got to prove."
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.