10 Things the Cincinnati Reds Need to Do to Top Nationals for NL Home Field

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2012

10 Things the Cincinnati Reds Need to Do to Top Nationals for NL Home Field

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    Home-field advantage is important in the Major League Baseball postseason, and the Cincinnati Reds are looking to claim the top spot in the National League over the Washington Nationals.

    With a record of 79-52, the Reds are percentage points ahead of the Nationals for the best record in baseball. The team's 79 wins are the most in the majors.

    This year's top seed will travel to the Wild Card team's ballpark for the first two games, but the final three games will be played in the No. 1 seed's stadium. Home-field advantage will allow the top seed to potentially close out the series at home. 

    Cincinnati's 42 wins at home are the most in the National League. While the Reds have a winning road record, the team plays much better at home.

    The fans in Cincinnati are finally coming out to support the team, and Great American Ball Park has been an electric place to play this season. 

    Home-field advantage can be the difference between advancing deeper into October or going home early. The Reds need to go all out and finish with the best record in the NL to be in position to make a run in the postseason.


    *Stats are from MLB.com 

Get Joey Votto Hitting

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    Since July 16, the Reds have been without Joey Votto. He is close to returning, so the team is in perfect position to continue to win games.

    The team has gone 28-14 without its first baseman. Now that he is about to rejoin the team, the offense will see more consistent hitting from the middle of the lineup.

    Votto was in the MVP discussion before he went down with a knee injury. He was hitting .342 with a .465 on-base percentage. He was getting on base at a crazy rate, and the team will benefit from his presence in the lineup.

    Fans will hold their breath the first time he slides, but his bat will be crucial to the team's postseason run. When he is healthy, he can hit to all fields. He has the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, which makes it hard to put a shift on him.

    The Reds have found a way to win without their All-Star first baseman. Votto will now need to prove he can pick up where he left off and be a force in the middle of the lineup.

    The Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay tweeted on Monday that Votto will be activated on September 1.

    Baker told Marty on the pregame show that Votto will activated Saturday. Basically means they can add him without cutting someone. #reds

    — John Fay (@johnfayman) August 28, 2012

    Votto's return, along with September call-ups, gives the Reds the depth they have lacked recently. Injuries have kept the team from having a healthy lineup, but the first baseman's return will be something to keep an eye on.

Change the Lineup

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    The lineup constantly changes, but there has not been a major move since early in the season. 

    Brandon Phillips started the season in the leadoff spot, but he was moved to the cleanup spot after an early injury. He has succeeded in the role, and he is thriving in Votto's absence. He is hitting .295 in August while hitting third. 

    When Votto returns, will Phillips return to the top spot?

    It is no secret that the Reds have struggled at the top of the lineup. According to MLB.com, the team's .208 average out of the leadoff position is dead last in the majors.

    Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs have split time in the top spot, but neither player has been very effective. Phillips is a logical choice to move to the top because supporting players are starting to heat up.

    Cincinnati lacked a legitimate cleanup hitter early in the season. The team now has several candidates to fill the void should Phillips be removed from the role. 

    Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier have been two of the best players in the league since the All-Star break. Ludwick is hitting .327 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI since the break. His power numbers rank among the league's best for the past six weeks. While replacing Votto, Frazier is hitting above .300 with nine home runs and 33 RBI.

    All-Star right fielder Jay Bruce is heating up again, and he is hitting around .300 for the month of August. He leads the team with 27 home runs and 81 RBI, so he is a candidate to fill the spot.

    Phillips can move to the top of the order, Ludwick will replace him in the cleanup spot and Stubbs will be moved down in the order. His strikeouts are tough to handle in the No. 2 spot, but he is a valuable member to this team.

    The lineup has been good enough to win games so far, but a change may be needed for October. 

Call Up Billy Hamilton

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    Although it would use one of his options next season, Billy Hamilton should be called up in September.

    Hamilton has 154 stolen bases in the minors this season. He broke Vince Coleman's 1983 record of 145 steals, and he is not done yet. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos (the Reds' Double-A team) still have five games remaining this season. 

    Calling him up in September will require the Reds to option him to the minors next season. The team needs to decide if it is financially worth it to bring him to the majors. 

    Cincinnati would call him up mainly to run late in games. His speed has the potential to help the team win games, and every game will matter as the team fights for home-field advantage. 

    On Wednesday, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweeted that Hamilton is not in Cincinnati's plans this season.

    Jocketty is going to Pensacola this weekend to see Hamilton. "Probably" won't be called up in Sept. He will go to Ariz. Fall League. #reds

    — John Fay (@johnfayman) August 29, 2012

    Even though he will not be brought to the majors, there is no denying he would help the team down the stretch. His speed could be the deciding factor for home-field advantage.

Find a Spot for Todd Frazier

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    Todd Frazier has put himself in the lead for National League Rookie of the Year with his hitting since the All-Star break.

    Early in the season, Frazier replaced the injured Scott Rolen at third base. As he continued to hit, he found himself playing some left field. He then took over at first base when Joey Votto went down with a knee injury.

    The Reds face a difficult decision when Votto returns. Frazier and Rolen will be fighting for time at third base, but it is unclear who will be in the lineup the majority of the time.

    Frazier has come through with timely hits all season, so manager Dusty Baker needs to continue to put him in the lineup. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty examines the situation and provides a key stat (with an updated record):

    The Reds record when Frazier starts a game: 58-32. The Reds record when he doesn’t: 21-20.

    It is hard to argue with the results when he has been in the lineup. In past years, the Reds had similar trends with Rolen in the lineup. 

    Frazier is a key piece to this team, and he is able to play multiple positions to keep his bat in the lineup.

    When Votto returns, the Reds need to give their first baseman at least one day off per week. Frazier can continue to play first when Votto rests, and it will help keep the All-Star first baseman healthy. 

    With Rolen dealing with back injuries, Frazier should also split time at third base to keep the veteran healthy for October.

    With time at first and third, he should be playing at least four times per week. His bat off the bench also improves Cincinnati's bench, so he can be a valuable weapons late in games.

    Frazier's versatility can help keep veterans fresh for the postseason, and the rookie will continue to hit the ball.

Keep Players Fresh

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    The previous slide mentioned Todd Frazier needs to keep Votto and Rolen healthy. Both veterans have dealt with injuries this season, so it will be crucial to give them days off in September.

    Coming off of the knee surgeries, the team should be cautious with Votto. He rarely gets any days off when healthy, which should now change. After playing 161 games last season, he continued to play nearly every day this season.

    Rolen has dealt with back and shoulder problems for years, and he is finally starting to hit again. Giving him days off in September will help keep his swing going as the season comes to an end. 

    Frazier can replace either player and not miss a beat. Although he is not a great defensive player at this point in his young career, he is certainly a force at the plate.

    Outfielder Chris Heisey should get more playing time in the final month, and it will help keep his teammates fresh. Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce tend to go in slumps but do not get many days off. Heisey is an above-average defender and is no slouch at the plate. He is hitting .275 on the season; he is more than capable of holding his own on offense.

    Expanding the rosters in September gives the team needed depth. While resting star players may not seem like it would help win home-field advantage, the team needs healthy veterans to lead the way the rest of the season. Giving players an occasional day off will keep players from tiring and lead to more productive games.

    As the team as shown to this point, it can survive without key players in the lineup.

Get Homer Bailey Back to Normal

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    For most of the first half of the season, Homer Bailey was arguably the team's No. 2 pitcher. He has struggled in recent starts, and he will be a key down the stretch. 

    Bailey is one of four pitchers on the team with at least 10 wins, but he only has one win in his past seven starts. He has been the victim of blown saves all season but still managed to set a career high in wins.

    After going 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA in July, he has struggled to pitch well in August. The right-hander pitched at least 6.2 innings in five of six starts in July, but he has failed to pitch that deep into a game so far in August.

    The 26-year-old began the month of August with an ERA under 4.00, but it has gone up to 4.24 after his past five starts.

    He is now in his sixth season in the big leagues, and he is starting to approach new career highs. He has already set a career high in wins, innings pitched (in the majors) and starts. The right-hander is also on pace to finish with his lowest ERA of his career.

    Bailey has also struggled at home. His 5.58 ERA at Great American Ball Park is much higher than his 2.91 ERA on the road. If Bailey pitches the majority of his final games away from Cincinnati in September, he should return to being one of the staff's best pitchers.

Fix the Bullpen

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    Yes, the Cincinnati Reds have the best bullpen in baseball. MLB.com shows Cincinnati relievers have compiled the best ERA in the league. However, the bullpen has been shaky lately.

    Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton both have earned run averages above 5.00 in August. Both pitchers are used when the team is winning; the team needs them to pitch better the rest of the way.

    Alfredo Simon has given up a run in each of his last three outings. The 31-year-old has been reliable for most of the season, but he is not pitching his best right now.

    After having an earned run average under 2.00 for most of the season, Jose Arredondo continues to allow hitters to reach base. His 5.79 ERA in July was the beginning of things to come, and he has followed it up with an ERA of nearly 3.00 in August.

    Logan Ondrusek was sent down earlier this month after allowing runs in four of his seven appearances in August.

    Broxton and Sam LeCure are both dealing with arm injuries, but neither appears to be headed to the disabled list. 

    Do not forget about Aroldis Chapman. He allowed an earned run this month after allowing earned runs in only one other month. He has also failed to strike out a batter in three of his 12 appearances in August (after only doing that once through July). 

    Alright, maybe Chapman's not struggling. His numbers are down in August, but he did set a franchise record with 25 consecutive saves (and counting). 

    Outside of the Cuban Missile, the Reds are dealing with inconsistent relievers lately. 

Beat the Weaker Teams

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    The NL Central is weaker than it has been in past years, and the Reds need to take advantage of playing inside the division.

    In 2012, the team is 35-23 against division rivals. Cincinnati still has plenty of games remaining against the bottom of the division. The team still plays the Houston Astros six times and the Chicago Cubs three times. With a 7-2 record against the Astros and a 9-4 mark against the Cubs, the Reds need to take advantage of the upcoming schedule.

    The Miami Marlins, who are in last in the NL East, will host the Reds in September. Miami is nearing the end of a disappointing season and lost two of three to Cincinnati in the opening series of the season (although they faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of the year).

    In the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates are fading. The Pirates will face the Reds six more times this season, and the Reds need to take advantage of the two series. Cincinnati is playing great baseball right now, but Pittsburgh is battling to stay in contention.

    Joey Votto is expected to return against the Astros, and Cincinnati will be ready to get on a roll in September. 

    Only six of the 30 remaining games are against teams with winning records. The schedule favors the Reds because the Nationals have 13 games against teams above the .500 mark.

Take Advantage of Days off

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    Cincinnati is playing with very little rest as of late, but that is about to change.

    After Wednesday afternoon's game, the Reds will have played 34 games in 34 days. The team had two days off in that stretch, but it also had a doubleheader in August. Since the All-Star break, Cincinnati has played 47 games in 48 days. The team has had three days off in six weeks.

    With 30 games remaining, the Reds will have a day off in each of the remaining five weeks. The days off will be much needed as the team recovers from playing so many games in a short time period.

    Cincinnati has won its past three games after a day off, all of which have come after the All-Star break.

    The days off will give Scott Rolen and Joey Votto a chance to rest. A soft schedule and frequent days off will help the team continue to play well.

    Meanwhile, the Nationals only have two more off days compared to five for the Reds. Washington has lost five straight games and just started a stretch of 16 games without a break. The Nationals also play the final 16 games of the season without a day off.

    As September goes on, the Reds will be more rested than the Nationals. The days off will keep the team fresh and allow them to play good baseball down the stretch.

Hope Stephen Strasburg's Absence Helps

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    While the Reds need to take care of business, the team can hope the Nationals will struggle without Stephen Strasburg.

    The 24-year-old is 15-6 with an ERA just above 3.00, but he is nearing an innings limit. He is not expected to go above 180 innings this season, and he is already at 150.1 through August. 

    Strasburg will be shut down for the final two or three starts of the season, according to ESPN. His final three starts are scheduled to be against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.

    Washington has one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, but the loss of Strasburg will be tough to overcome. 

    The Nationals are starting to struggle right now, and it is unclear who will replace Strasburg when the time comes. It will be interesting to see when Washington decides to shut down its star pitcher.

    Cincinnati is in great shape to make some noise in September, and the loss of Strasburg will help the Reds take the top spot in the National League for home-field advantage.