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Commentary: playoffs offer fresh start for the Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds' Jay Bruce hit s a home run during the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri, Wednesday, August 28, 2013. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Cincinnati Reds’ Jay Bruce hits a home run during the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri Aug. 28, 2013.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

The Cincinnati Reds’ road to the 2013 World Series became a bit tougher after losing five consecutive games to end the season, including a three-game sweep at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the sweep, the Reds dropped from first place in the National League wild card to second, surrendering the top spot to the Pirates.

With that, the Reds now must travel to PNC Park in Pittsburgh for a one-game playoff with the Pirates to decide which team will play the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

All of that might come off as bad news for Reds fans, and it definitely isn’t good news, but here is the beauty of the playoffs — none of that matters anymore. It is win or go home. The past is the past.

The Reds should be fully healthy in Tuesday night’s game, something the team struggled with for most of the year. Starting second baseman Brandon Phillips’ recent MRI on his ankle came back negative and first-year outfielder Shin-Soo Choo returned from a thumb injury earlier in the week. Both players should be ready to play Tuesday.

Also, critical players who missed large portions of the regular season, starting pitcher Johnny Cueto and outfielder Ryan Ludwick, are back and have had some time to wipe the rust off.
Cueto has only pitched in 12 innings after missing most of the season with nagging shoulder injuries. However, he has allowed just one run in that span — a home run — and he has racked up 10 strikeouts. I’m not going to go yelling, “He’s back!” but he’s throwing like he is, and he is scheduled to start Tuesday.

Cincinnati is also entering the game with another recent addition in not-so-secret weapon outfielder Billy Hamilton, who is just barely 23 years old. Reds beat writer John Fay said Monday night that Hamilton has not yet been named to the team’s postseason roster, but I think he should be. In just 13 games this season for the Reds, the youngster has stolen 13 bases in 14 attempts. In other words, he is essentially averaging one stolen base per game. Granted, this is a small sample size, but he did set a record last year with 155 stolen bases in 132 games for Cincinnati’s Triple-A team, the Louisville Bats.

Tuesday’s game will be tough, and I’m expecting the Pirates to bring all they have. Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen will more than likely get a hit or two off Cueto. I’m expecting Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano to strike out Choo, Phillips or Joey Votto — maybe even all three.

But, I’m also expecting the Reds to walk out of Pittsburgh with a win. I’m expecting outfielder Jay Bruce to hit a home run. I’m expecting Votto to be walked. I’m expecting Aroldis Chapman to throw a 100 mph strikeout in the ninth inning. I’m expecting the team to make a postseason run and to win the NLDS over the Cardinals.

Call me a homer, but this is what Cincinnati has been preparing for. After last year’s debacle to eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, the team brought in new pieces to ensure things wouldn’t be the same this year. Expectations were raised this season, and it is now time for them to be met.

The game is set to take place Tuesday at 8:07 p.m.

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