The Cincinnati Reds are so close to third place in the National League Central they can reach out and touch the St. Louis Cardinals.
Had the Cardinals lost Saturday night in Cleveland, the resurgent Reds would be in third place right now, but the Cardinals beat the Guardians, 2-1, in 10 innings.
While the Reds and Cardinals both are four games out of first place, St. Louis is 24-30, a .444 percentage, to Cincinnati’s 23-29, a .442 percentage.
As it is, the Reds climbed over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday in Wrigley Field with an 8-5 victory, claiming fourth place and knocking the Cubs to last place. The Cubs have lost 10 of their last 13, including the first two games of this series to the Reds.
And there is no doubt that the National League Central is MLB’s weakest division, a division that is there for the taking to any of the five teams, including the Reds, whom most prognosticators predicted to finish last.
Manager David Bell’s recent decision to drop leadoff hitter Jonathan India to third in the order was a judicious move. India cranked two home runs and drove in five runs as part of Cincinnati’s 12-hit attack.
India’s first home run, which he dropped into the basket that protrudes in front of the right field wall, lifted the Reds from a 4-3 deficit to a 5-4 lead that they never relinquished.
His second was a long-distance explosion deep into the left-field bleachers, a two-run rip that pushed the Reds in front, 8-4.
The Cubs hadn’t scored in 17 innings when they scored a run in the first and constructed a 4-1 lead against Reds starter Brandon Williamson after two innings.
But struggling pitcher Jameson Taillon, 0-3 with an 8.10 earned run average, was not up to holding that lead, even though he was 32-2 for his career when his team gave him at least a three-run lead.
After Williamson gave up four runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings, the Reds bullpen of Buck Farmer, Ian Gibaut, Alex Young and Alex Diaz gave up one run and two hits over the final 4 2/3 innings.
The Reds staged their comeback with a high degree of difficulty. Their first six runs came with two outs.
The first run came in the second inning on Tyler Stephenson’s double and Nick Senzel’s two-out single.
The second run came in the third TJ Friedl’s double and India’s two-out single, the first of his five RBIs.
Taillon retired the first two Reds in the fifth and walked Friedl. He stole second and scored on Matt McLain’s single. India then unloaded his first home run and it was 5-4 for the Reds.
And the sixth run came with two outs in the sixth. After walks Spencer Steer and Senzel, catcher Curt Casali, 1 for 24, poked a run-scoring single up the middle.
The Reds top three batters in the order combined for seven hits, six runs scored and six RBIs. Friedl was 2 for 4 with two run, McLain was 2 for 5 with two runs and an RBI and India was 3 for 5 with two runs and five RBI.
The ultra-aggressive Reds made a couple of baserunning blunders that didn’t hurt them. India tried to stretch his run-scoring single in the third to a double and was thrown out at second, ending the inning. Jake Fraley had third base stolen in the seventh but over slid the bag and was tagged out.
Aggressiveness by Friedl in the first inning nearly cost him a dislocated shoulder. He ran full speed, left shoulder first, into the brick wall in left center trying to catch Dansby Swanson’s triple. But he not only stayed in the game, but he also doubled, walked and beat out a bunt for a single.
And Friedl helped slap the faux pas play of the game on the Cubs. With Christopher Morel on first and one out, Patrick Wisdom lifted a fly ball to center. Friedl acted as if he lost the ball in the lights and Morel broke for second. Friedl caught the ball easily and fired to first base to double off Morel.