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Reds: Not a team contenders want to play

CINCINNATI — As the Miami Marlins discovered, much to their chagrin, dismay and grief, now is not a good time for contending baseball teams to play the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds took three of four from the Marlins and put a big rip in the fabric of the Marlins wild card desires. And now it is the Los Angeles Dodgers, leading the National League West over the San Francisco Giants by a half-game. The Dodgers are staring down the suddenly double-barreled offensive/defensive shotgun aimed their way for the next four games in Great American Ball Park by The Resurgent Reds.

The Reds are 19-12 since the All-Star break and have won eight of the ten series they’ve played in that span.

AND THAT’S WHY THE Reds are now a danger zone for contending teams. The Reds have nothing to lose. They have some veterans like Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart and Homer Bailey who carry a lot of pride. They have a clubhouse full of young hands just waiting for a chance to prove themselves.

The first half, of course, was a mess — a bad bullpen, bad starting pitching, untimely hitting if there was any hitting at all, some debilitating injuries, some lengthy losing streaks and some very bad beats.

That isn’t happening any more. The bullpen is performing at a much higher level, the starting pitching has stabilized, timely hitting has surfaced and the team is close in nearly every game. In their last two win over the Marlins they held on to one-run leads and won, 3-2 and 5-4.

FOR YEARS THE REDS have dragged their spikes when it came to hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). They might as well have removed the ’S’ from RISP and just made it RIP — rest in peace.

The Reds rank third in the National League with a .269 batting average with runners in scoring position, a head-scratcher that nobody can explain. And manager Bryan Price wasn’t one to try, although he loves the sudden surge in RISP.

“I wish I had an answer,” he said. “If I had, I would say, ‘This is what we’re going to do all the time.’ Maybe it’s more focused at bats. The guys are listening to what (batting coach) Don Long is saying. If it was as easy as having a philosophy, we would have been doing it for the past 150 years.”

ASKED IF HE HAD A sense that contending teams now fear the Reds instead of treating a trip to Cincinnati as a vacation excursion to enjoy some Skyline chili, some Graeter’s ice cream and a meal or two at the Montgomery Inn, Price said he didn’t. But. . .

“I know from experience that when you are playing a team that has a fresh start in the second half and is playing well, you understand that it is exciting for that team to come to the ballpark knowing it has a good chance to win the game,” said Price.

“There are no easy games (in the majors),” he added. “You might play a team that has lost six or seven of its last eight games and you think, ‘OK, they are ripe for the pickings.’ But it doesn’t work that way. We saw that when the Padres came in and took three out of four from us and they hadn’t been playing very well coming into that series.

“It’s a funny game, but with our second half record and the way that we’re playing we are not a team that the other team says, ‘We can’t wait to get to the Red so we can beat up on them,’” said Price. “That’s not the case any more.”

IT WASN’T LONG AGO that the last place Reds were five and six games behind the next-to-last Milwaukee Brewers. Now, heading into the weekend, they are only one game out of climbing from the sour wine cellar, where they’ve resided so long they almost have squatter’s rights.

Is it an incentive, a goal, for the Reds to at least avoid last place? They do have six games remaining with the Brewers, three in Milwaukee and three in Cincinnati.

“It should be, it definitely should be,” Price said quickly. “From a selfish point, people might say, ‘Well, Price doesn’t want another last-place team on his record.’ But all of us take pride in what we do. We don’t want to be at the bottom of all the statistical categories as we were at one point in time during the year.

“We don’t want to be at the bottom of the division,” he added. “There is an overiding feeling on this team, from the beginning of year, that we are a pretty good team. We just couldn’t get our pitching straightened out the first half.”

THAT’S BECAUSE THE BEFORE THE FIRST pitch on Opening Day was thrown, starting pitchers Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Michael Lorenzen were on the disabled list and Raisel Iglesias wasn’t far behind. And the President could have declared the bullpen a natural disaster area.

“Once we got healthy and got the right personnel in here, I think now we are the team that everybody felt we were when we were losing all those games the first 2 1/2 to three months of the season,” said Price. “We all felt we were just a couple of pieces away from being able to compete with everybody else. We are now at that point and the second half is what we envisioned. We are playing better baseball, not having the long losing streaks and not losing in ugly style.”

ADAM DUVALL, out of the lineup most of this week after fouling a ball of his left instep, could have started Friday’s game, but Price is being cautious.

“One more day could make a big differene as to how he feels when he is out there for nine innings,” said Price.

Before Friday’s game, Duvall said he did baseball stuff on the field, did some running, and was available.

“I had never before missed an inning for a foul ball off my foot, but I’ve never had one like this,” said Duvall. “It was pretty painful the first day or two.

“Throughout my career I’ve fouled plenty of balls off my foot, but not for a while,” he said. “This one, though, the first night I didn’t get any sleep. I stayed up all night because it was throbbing.”

Duvall learned a painful lesson. When he returns to the lineup he will wear a protective shield on the instep.

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