Reds comfortable in first place

CINCINNATI — Some of the Cincinnati Reds, including manager Bryan Price, are wearing black t-shirts with white lettering that reads, “Return from the Dead.”

The message is clear. The Reds are tired of dressing in a room full of tombstones instead of chairs.

While in the early stages of a rebuild and acknowledging that they don’t expect to contend, the Reds are doing what nobody expected they could do.

They are winning. And right now they are winning enough to claim first place in the National League Central.

THEY CLIMBED TO THE top last week by beating up on two last place teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants.

Now it gets real. For the next two nights they play the first place New York Yankees in Great American Ball Park. Then they head to San Francisco for four more with the Giants before traveling to Chicago to see if they can match-up favorably with the defending World Series champions.

WHEN THE SEASON BEGAN most thought the Reds offense would be above average, the defense would be above average (it’s the best in the National League right now) and the bullpen would be vastly improved.

The questions surrounded the starting rotation, especially with the loss of Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani before the season began and the loss of Brandon Finnegan early in the season.

And while the Reds rotation has the highest earned run average in the National League, things are on the uptick with rookie Amir Garrett, the fact that 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo gets better each start and journeyman Scott Feldman threw a complete-game shutout Sunday against the Giants.

There are those who believe that team chemistry is important and clubhouse atmosphere is important. And other say neither means anything because chemistry and atmosphere goes hand-in-hand with winning and losing. Winning teams have it because they are winning, losing teams don’t have it because they are losing.

For example, the Giants have the worst record in the majors and a walk through their clubhouse over the weekend while they were losing three straight to the Reds was like walking through an Amish church.

THE REDS, THOUGH, HAVE it — team chemistry, clubhouse atmosphere. Everybody is happy and confident and enjoying life atop the standings when the world predicted they would be sucking for air by now.

“You have some runs like this where everybody in the lineup is swinging the bats pretty well,” said Price. “We’ve had that for a few games now. When we left spring training I felt confident with this group because we have a nice lineup.”

The Reds scored 31 runs in three games against the Giants and gave up only five with everybody in the lineup exploding.

“A lot of times you have three or four guys in the lineup who are hot and three or four who are scuffling,” said Price. “Right now most of the guys in the lineup, including the bench players, are swinging the bat and that makes a difference.”

LEFT FIELDER ADAM DUVALL loves what he is seeing from the Reds so far.

“We are collectively, as a group, putting together some good at bats,” he said “It makes it tough on the other pitchers, that’s for sure. If we continue to do this we’ll have some success. We’re hitting well with runners in scoring position right now and that’s absolutely the big key for scoring runs.”

Duvall, like most of the Reds, is level-headed enough to not read too much into the fact his team occupies first place in early May.

“It doesn’t mean anything to us,” he said. “We’re just wanting to go out every day and play good baseball. We know there is a lot of season left. We just have to continue to do the small things right to come out with a win.”

PRICE, THOUGH, LOVES what he sees from his suddenly potent team. With the Cubs struggling, they lost three straight over the weekend to the Yankees, and the Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates up-and-down, up-and-down, Price was asked if the division might be tight the entire way.

“It could be,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with health. The Cardinals are banged up, we’re missing some starting pitching, other teams have internal issues. You just have to stay healthy.

“If you take a huge blow by losing a key player, a starter or a closer or a clean-up hitter, it can affect the temperament and quality of your ballclub.

“However, one of the things we’ve had to learn here over the years is the resiliency factor. We’re doing it without Finnegan and Bailey and DeSclafani,” he added. “But we’re playing, having fun and the guys are excited about what is going on. I don’t think anybody in our division thinks any other team is going to stop them. And we’re one of those teams.”

Quote of the Day

“I have to two cars and one has a license plate that says, ‘Yer Out’ and the other that says ‘UR Out.’ — Former National League umpire and Northern Kentucky resident Randy Marsh, now a major league umpire supervisor.

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