If the starting rotations for this year's National League playoff teams were ranked one through five, it's likely that the Cincinnati Reds would be at the bottom.
The Reds are battling the Washington Nationals for the best record in the NL during the final days of the regular season. One of the reasons Cincinnati has taken a step up into the league's elite is because Bailey is developing into the pitcher envisioned when he was selected No. 7 overall in the 2004 draft.
Going into Friday's game, Bailey had a 12-10 record and 3.92 ERA this season. Those are the most wins he's earned in his six-year major league career, and that is the best ERA he's posted. Bailey has also thrown more innings and racked up more strikeouts this season than he ever has before.
That gives the Reds a solid starting three to throw at the opposition in any series this postseason.
Johnny Cueto has been one of the best starting pitchers in the NL this year, ranking among the league leaders in ERA (currently fifth with a 2.83 mark) and earning consideration as a Cy Young Award candidate until the very end of the season.
Mat Latos has been excellent since the All-Star break, compiling a 2.89 ERA in 15 starts. He's performing like the pitcher the Reds hoped they were getting when they traded Edinson Volquez along with top prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal to the San Diego Padres for him.
Perhaps, Bronson Arroyo is perceived as Cincinnati's No. 3 starter based on experience (13 major league seasons) and tenure (seven years with the Reds). He's had a fine season, going 12-9 with a 3.71 ERA.
But doesn't Dusty Baker have to consider making Bailey his third starter during the postseason? In what could be a pivotal Game 3 in a playoff series, wouldn't he want a pitcher who can shut down the opposition?
Yes, Bailey held the Pittsburgh Pirates without a hit. As a team, the Pirates have one of the lowest run and hit totals in the NL. They're near the bottom in team batting average. This is exactly the sort of team a good pitcher should shut down, and Bailey did exactly that.
(In addition, Bailey has been outstanding at PNC Park, compiling a 4-0 record and 1.75 ERA in five career starts. Maybe throwing a no-hitter in Pittsburgh was inevitable.)
Bailey pitched his no-hitter under rather harrowing circumstances as well. As mentioned, the Reds are trying to beat out the Nationals for the best record in the NL, so every win at this point is crucial. But, Bailey also didn't have any wiggle room on Friday.
A.J. Burnett was pitching almost as well for the Pirates, holding Cincinnati to one run over eight innings. The Reds got their lone run in the first inning, so Burnett held them scoreless—and to five hits—in his seven subsequent frames.
Though pitching in a 1-0 game would seemingly make the task of throwing a no-hitter even more nerve-wracking, perhaps, it also helps to sharpen focus because any mistake could make the difference in the game. It's interesting that of the seven no-hitters thrown this season, three of them had a score of 1-0.
Bailey is pitching his best baseball as the Reds surge into the playoffs. In September, he has a 2.52 ERA, striking out 8.1 batters per nine innings. Both are the best marks he's had during any month this season.
So, does the guy who pitched the no-hitter line up as the third or fourth starter for the Reds in the playoffs?
A postseason rotation of Cueto, Latos, Bailey and Arroyo matches up pretty well against any potential opponent in the NLDS. That foursome should hold its own in any subsequent playoff series as well.
We haven't even mentioned the Reds bullpen. Cincinnati relievers have a collective 2.66 ERA, the best in MLB, led by the spectacular Aroldis Chapman with his 1.55 ERA and rate of 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
(By the way, if you still had any questions as to whether or not pitching matters, five of the top six pitching staffs in the NL are going to be in the playoffs. The sixth team, the Dodgers, is still alive for a wild-card spot, too.)
The tendency is to view the Nationals and San Francisco Giants as the best starting rotations going into the playoffs. Perhaps, the Atlanta Braves are regarded highly too, thanks to the performance of Kris Medlen.
But, the Reds' starting pitchers should not be underestimated. Bailey's no-hitter may have just ensured that they won't be.
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