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Among Reds' assets is Baker's optimism

MILWAUKEE -- The glass definitely appeared to be half full for the Reds on Sunday.

They split a four-game series with the Brewers -- which, by itself, is not a particularly glorious achievement this season -- but they lost two of the first three games of the series, so this split beat the other available option. Plus, Sunday's victory was of the resounding sort, 9-1. Homer Bailey was superb. The Reds had clutch at-bats and scored runs in large bunches. Life was good.

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And after a three-game sweep in Chicago, the Reds completed the road trip at 5-2. That isn't bad, although manager Dusty Baker had typically been looking for more.

"That's not how I kind of had it planned," Baker said of the 5-2 outcome. "How I had it planned and how it happens are two different things sometimes. I was hoping for the perfect road trip, 7-0. I'm always looking for the perfect road trip."

The Reds return home for a four-game series against the D-backs, their closest pursuers in the National League Wild Card race. When Baker was reminded of this, he made it clear that the Reds' focus should be on the three-way race in the NL Central.

"We ain't looking back, we're looking forward," he said. "We're closer to the top than we are to [the D-backs]. Like I've said before, the wide receiver that can run, he doesn't look back. The guy who looks back is the guy who can't run. He's angling toward the corner of the end zone looking back and zigzagging. But that guy who can run, he just runs.

"We want to be the guy who just runs. Plus, Satchel Paige said, 'Don't look back; somebody might be gaining on you.' That's what he said. And it's true."

Looking ahead, rather than looking back, the Reds are third, but a close third, behind the Pirates and Cardinals in the NL Central, 2 1/2 games behind first-place Pittsburgh. This is baseball's best, most competitive, most crowded division race at this point. As it stands today, both the Cardinals and the Reds would be the NL Wild Card teams.

"Every game is important at this point in the season, especially with the way the Central is looking," Bailey said. "It's nice to have a good road trip like this."

Baker has maintained that this team has its best baseball still to come. Catcher Ryan Hanigan, who had two hits, two runs scored and three RBIs on Sunday, saw it the same way.

"I feel like we were starting to get on a roll when we took three in a row from the Cubs," Hanigan said. "It kind of hurt us blowing that save [on Friday night], and then [on Saturday night], we didn't get any runs.

"But for the most part, we've been playing better baseball. We've been scoring some runs, doing our jobs. I don't think top to bottom we've clicked. But we're all making a push here. I feel like hopefully we'll be peaking at the right time."

In any case, playing anything other than their best baseball would not be a viable alternative for the Reds.

"We are running out of time now," Bailey said. "If we're not playing our best baseball, then we're going to be home watching everybody else."

Whatever happens, the Reds will not lack for optimism from their manager. This is not a pose from Baker, nor is it an empty promise. His 1,651 victories place him 16th in Major League history and second among active managers.

"Maybe I inherited it from my parents," Baker said of his optimistic nature. "And being an African-American, you've had to be optimistic on a lot of things when you could have been pessimistic. Also, for a person whose parent made him go to church, that's what Christianity is all about -- having faith in something.

"I kind of feel sorry for the people who are inherently negative. What would that be like? I can't imagine it, know what I mean?"

The thing about the Reds' optimism is that it appears to be well founded. The NL Central competition is fierce, but the Reds have a built-in fallback position with the Wild Card. Even more than that, good pitching and sound defense lead to the genuine belief that good things are going to happen.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Cincinnati Reds