The Pirates took the regular season series 11-8, however, the bulk of the games between the two were decided by three runs or fewer, leading one to believe that this could be a close contest. Should the Reds advance, they'll find themselves in a best of five series against another divisional foe in the St. Louis Cardinals.
After that, the Reds could encounter the Braves or Dodgers, and a multitude of AL opponents should they advance to the World Series. In order to get a shot at their first championship since 1990, the Reds will have to answer several questions regarding players on the postseason roster.
In this article, we'll examine four of these questions, which could be the biggest factors in the Cincinnati Reds playoff experience.
Let's dive in.
Will Brandon Phillips be effective?
Brandon Phillips is expected to be available to start in Tuesday's play-in game against the Pirates, via MLB.com. The 32-year-old second baseman took a foul ball off the shin in the team's Sept. 28 contest against the Pirates, and his status heading into game day was very much up in the air, prior to a C. Trent Rosecrans tweet, confirming Phillips' status for the game.
Phillips may very well be ready to take on the Pirates, but how effective he'll be after the injury is a definite question mark for the team moving forward.
If the injury wasn't enough of a concern, Phillips' play lagged severely in the month of September. Over 24 games played, Phillips managed a paltry slash line of .211/.276/.263 with one home run, two doubles, four RBI and a 19:8 K/BB ratio.
Phillips' performance will be crucial to the Reds not only in in their game against the Pirates, but the playoffs as a whole, should they find themselves advancing beyond the play-in round.
Is Johnny Cueto ready to go?
Johnny Cueto is slated to start for the Reds in their one-game playoff with the Pirates.
When Cueto is healthy, he's one of the best pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. Over the past three seasons—including 2013—Cueto owns a 2.61 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, while averaging 6.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 2.85 K/BB and 7.8 H/9.
Unfortunately for both Cueto and the Reds, the 27-year-old ace spent some significant time on the shelf throughout the 2013 season. Between two stints on the DL, Cueto missed roughly 21 starts with his most recent stay on the DL, encompassing all of July, August and half of September.
Cueto returned to make two starts for the Reds, coming against the Astros and Mets respectively. In said two starts, Cueto allowed one earned run over 12 innings pitched, with a WHIP of 1.00 and ratios of 7.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 2.50 K/BB and 6.0 H/9.
The key for Cueto, and the thing everyone will surely be focusing on, is Cueto's velocity. Cueto hasn't been a particularly hard thrower, and he relies heavily on quirky mechanics to keep hitters off balance.
According to B/R's lead MLB writer, Zach Rymer, any difference between Cueto's pre- and post-DL fastball velocities is minor at most. This will be a huge factor moving forward, because if Cueto's velocity dips below its 93 mph resting point, he'll become more and more hittable.
Will Mat Latos be effective, or even available?
Mat Latos stepped up in a big way in 2013. The 25-year-old took another step toward ace status after filling in for the oft-injured Cueto as the Reds No. 1 starter.
Over 32 starts, Latos allowed a 3.16 ERA with a WHIP of 1.21. The young righty also chipped in per-nine ratios of 8.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 3.22 K/BB and 8.4 H/9. In addition to all of these wonderful numbers, Latos tied a career high in wins with near-career bests in all the stats mentioned above.
Now, with the good news out of the way, here's the really bad news: As Reds beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans reported via-Twitter, Latos is dealing with bone spurs in his elbow, an issue that could prove worrisome in the postseason.
Latos will have a couple of days off with Cueto slated to start the one-game playoff against the Pirates. Should the Reds advance, he'll be needed in an NLDS matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals. If Latos' elbow injury proves too much for him to start, the team will have to rely on either Mike Leake or Tony Cingrani, neither of whom are as close to a sure thing as Latos.
Even if he does start, there's no guarantee that Latos' elbow will hold up, and the Reds could find themselves in a situation similar to the one they were in last postseason when Johnny Cueto went down with a season-ending oblique injury.
Which Ryan Ludwick will show up?
Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier have both experienced their fair share of disappointment in 2013. Last season, Ludwick worked to a .275/.346/.531 slash line with 26 home runs, 28 doubles, 80 RBI and 53 runs scored.
However, in Ludwick's defense, this season hardly went as he had planned. The 35-year-old missed significant time this season—115 games to be exact—and has yet to find his stride since returning on Aug. 12. In 37 games played since his return, Ludwick owns a .240/.283/.326 slash line with two home runs, 12 RBI and a startlingly high 29:8 K/BB ratio.
The stats most telling of Ludwick's struggles, though, are those that come with runners in scoring position. In 43 at-bats with runners in scoring position, the right fielder owns a .209/.271/.256 slash line with two doubles and 10 RBI.
On top of the lack of production, Ludwick has turned to criticizing fans in his spare time. Although he went on to amend his comments, Ludwick called Reds fans out for poor attendance over the 2013 season, via cincinnati.com.
Whether it's just Ludwick's frustration getting the best of him, or a legitimate gripe, it seems as though his attention is divided heading into October.
Ludwick has yet to show any signs of being the player he was last season. While the opportunity for him to turn things around in October remains, Ludwick's poor performance down the stretch makes for a giant question mark leading up to the postseason.
All stats come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com—unless otherwise noted—and are current through Oct. 1, 2013.
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