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October signals end of overlooking the Reds

Runaway NL Central champs set to make serious noise in playoffs @RichardJustice
You View Full Game Coverage 're right, Homer Bailey. Plenty of people have overlooked the Cincinnati Reds. You've got the facts on your side, buddy.

So this one is for you, Homer. For Dusty and Walt. For Joey and Johnny. For all the Reds and their fans, and for a city in which October baseball just feels right.

Baseball is better when the Reds are really good. For some of us, it's a sweet reminder of all those Octobers with the Big Red Machine.

In the wake of his no-hitter, Bailey pointed out that the Reds seemed to be a forgotten team, that other teams -- lesser teams, possibly -- were dominating the coverage.

That's a byproduct of an incredible closing stretch in which a dozen teams were jockeying for playoff spots. As Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "The playoffs began early this year."

For a few weeks, we've scoreboard watched as the Tigers and Angels and Rays and others have played every inning with their seasons hanging in the balance. That's compelling stuff, and exactly what Major League Baseball had in mind when it added those second Wild Card teams.

Meanwhile, the Reds made it look easy. They took sole possession of first place in the National League Central on July 19 and never looked back. Over the next 27 days, they opened up a seven-game lead. Game, set, match.

Cincinnati cleared every hurdle. When Scott Rolen got hurt, rookie Todd Frazier flourished. When Joey Votto went down, Ryan Ludwick got hot.

Jay Bruce had his best season. Brandon Phillips was outstanding as usual. Shortstop Zack Cozart was as good as advertised.

And then there was that pitching staff.

Forget about it.

After 159 games, the Reds have needed a sixth starting pitcher just one time. If Bronson Arroyo goes three innings today, Cincinnati will have four 200-inning starters for the first time since 1943.

It's not that that ride has been completely smooth. A few weeks ago, I asked Dusty Baker if this had been an easy team to manage, and he looked at me like I had six eyes.

It's never easy for teams that are supposed to win. Ask Jim Leyland and Mike Scioscia.

The Reds lost their closer, Ryan Madson, in Spring Training. They lost their best offensive player, Votto, for 49 games. That they went 33-16 without him is a tribute to a lot of people -- to Baker's calm, to general manager Walt Jocketty's offseason work and especially to Phillips, Bruce, etc., for a near-perfect clubhouse environment.

They lost Baker for a portion of the stretch run, and his return today will be a big, big moment for these 2012 Reds.

When Madson went down, Jocketty abandoned his plan to put Aroldis Chapman in the rotation. In a perfect season, even little moves turn out to be big victories.

Chapman became one of baseball's dominant relievers, saving 37 games and routinely throwing 100 mph. As D-backs third baseman Chris Johnson said, "It's not just 100 mph. It's 100 mph with movement."

In the end, this season was a tribute to a great franchise, as well as to Bob Castellini's ownership, to Jocketty's genius and to Baker's array of gifts in dealing with people and keeping his players singularly focused on a common goal.

These playoffs will open with no clear-cut favorite, and a case could be made for any of the 10 teams. The Reds are a complete team. They have one of the game's great hitters in the middle of the lineup in Votto, but they have plenty around him, too. They have starting pitching and a dominant closer. They're a very, very good defensive team. And they have Dusty Baker, who is about as respected as any man who has ever put on a Major League uniform.

Maybe some of us did overlook the Reds during a season when they played well almost from start to finish, when they played hard and simply didn't make a lot of waves.

Storylines change and evolve in October. Maybe, just maybe, the Reds will be the team we're all talking about a few weeks from now.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Cincinnati Reds, Homer Bailey, Joey Votto