Which is the best team in the National League Central as MLB takes its four-day All-Star break?
The standings say it is the Milwaukee Brewers, occupant of first place with a 53-39 record and a four-game lead.
Recent results, though, say otherwise. Recent results point in the direction of the Cincinnati Reds.
Well, Nick Castellanos for one reason. Castellanos, a giant in the clutch, ripped a two-out, two-run ninth inning single up the middle Sunday afternoon off Milwaukee closer Josh Hader.
That broke a tie and gave the Reds a 3-1 victory and a 3-1 series victory.
Why might the Reds be the better team? They have won six of the last seven games against the Brewers. And the Reds are on the uptick with nine wins in their last 11 games. The Brewers are in full retreat. losers in six of their last eight.
The Reds chopped two games off Milwaukee’s lead headed into the All-Star break.
Castellanos and Winker departed immediately after the game for Denver and the All-Star game, so Castellanos was not available for a celebratory post-game interviews.
Manager David Bell spoke for him and about him.
“We want him up at the plate right there,” said Bell. “And he wants to be at the plate, which is the most important point.”
After losing the first game of the series to fall seven games behind, the Reds won the next three as the visiting team in a play-off like atmosphere.
“It is our players stepping up in every way,” said Bell. “They’re having fun, enjoying themselves, believing in themselves and having confidence that we can do it.
“It has been a pleasure just being around these guys, watching them go about this way,” he added. “You couldn’t ask for anymore. It made it tougher losing the first game, but that says a lot coming back to win the next three.”
The Reds scored first against All-Star pitcher Brandon Woodruff. Winker singled to left, Nick doubled off the left field wall and Joey Votto singled for a 1-0 lead.
With a chance to add more runs, Tyler Stephenson bounced into an inning-ending double play.
From there the Reds kept accumulating hits, nine over six innings, the most off Woodruff. But they didn’t score.
Meanwhile, Reds starter Luis Castillo held the Brewers scoreless while he was in the game, despite six walks, tying his career high.
When he walked Jace Peterson with one out in the sixth, Bell replaced Castillo with Amir Garrett.
Peterson stole second base and with two outs Jackie Bradley Jr., came to bat, lugging a .164 batting average and a 0 for 16 slump. And it was left-hander Garrett against left-hander Bradley, the No. 8 hitter.
Bradley pushed a run-scoring single to right to tie it, 1-1.
Amazingly, when the ninth inning rolled around, the same scenario unfolded as unfolded Saturday night. Ninth inning. Tie game. Closer Josh Hader on the mound. Eugenio Suarez leading off.
On Saturday, Suarez crushed an opposite-field home run into the upper deck, providing the Reds with a 4-3 victory.
This time Hader buried a 98 mph fastball off Suarez’ elbow on the first pitch. Pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer hit one off the right field wall, but it was only a single because Suarez had to hold up to make certain the ball wasn’t caught.
With two on and no outs, pinch-hitter Alejo Lopez struck out and Jonathan India walked on a full count to fill the bases. Winker struck out and then Castellanos ripped his two-run single to center for a 3-1 Reds lead, a hit that knocked All-Star closer out of the game and sent the Brewers reeling into the All-Star break and the Reds strutting into the break of the highest of high notes.
Castillo watched the ninth inning unfold and said of Castellanos, “When you have a hot hitter like Castellanos, anything can happen. That’s what I was thinking, especially after Saturday night when we took it away from the Brewers. And I said, ‘You know what, we’re going to take it away again.’
Josh Osich pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to finish it and said Bell, “I had no idea that was his first career save. He has been so good for us. I didn’t know that.”