With Saturday afternoon's 6-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds wrapped up their second National League Central Division championship in the last three years.
For all of us diehard Reds fans the 2010 appearance was anything but spectacular as Cincy was no-hit in its first playoff game in 15 years by Philadelphia's Roy Halliday as they were eliminated in three games by the Phillies.
While this year's Reds' team appears in much better position to make a good run in the playoffs, there are still several questions that need to be answered in the final 10 days or so of the regular season.
1. Will Joey Votto return to the form that had him a front runner for the National League MVP before his knee injury in July? The 2010 National League MVP is batting .314 since his return from the disabled list in early September but has yet to homer and has driven in just four runs.
2. Which Jay Bruce will show up in October? The streaky right fielder is quite capable of exploding for a month at a time and carrying the team on his back, but is just as capable of going for a month without providing much production at all.
3. Will Drew Stubbs ever regain his stroke at the plate? Manager Dusty Baker has enraged many Reds fans by continuing to find a spot for the speedy center fielder in his line up despite Stubbs hitting just .183 since August with five runs batted in and 60 strikeouts in 153 at bats. Baker may opt to go with Chris Heisey and use Stubbs as a late inning defensive replacement.
4. Can Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier rediscover the magic that they found in August when Votto was injured? Both Ludwick (.327, 7HR, 19RBI) and Frazier (.330-6-25) carried the Reds in August, but both have slacked up in September with the duo combining for just 11 RBI's. The Reds desperately need one or both to be productive in the middle of the line up in the playoffs.
5. Will often injured third baseman Scott Rolen be healthy and productive in the post season? With his contract up at the end of the year, this could very well be the last hurrah for Rolen who is plagued by chronic back and shoulder issues. When healthy his defense is still excellent and the Reds could sure use his veteran presence in the playoffs.
6. Will the arms of Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman find new life for the playoffs? Cueto has surpassed his career high (185) in innings by 18 and Chapman has been rested lately due to arm fatigue and the Reds brass has to hope that a little rest down the stretch will be the remedy for the ace and the closer of the pitching staff. Both were front runners for the National League Cy Young award prior to Chapman's tired arm and Cueto's less than spectacular September record of 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA. Chapman was nothing short of electric for the better part of the season and along with lefty Sean Marshall and right Jonathon Broxton could well make up the 2012 version of the "Nasty Boys" in October.
7. Can Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos continue their excellent recent stretch of pitching to form a formidable playoff rotation? Baker has moved Arroyo in between hard throwers Cueto and Latos in the rotation in hopes of keeping the opposition off balance.
8. Who will win the final few spots on the 25-man playoff roster? Will Baker elect to go with three catchers to take advantage of the left handed bat of Dionner Navarro on a lefty-short bench or will he elect to keep the likes of veterans Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo despite their sub Mendoza like batting averages?
9. Will the Reds skipper be able to return to the bench after experiencing some irregular heart beats while the team was in Chicago last week? The veteran manager has his share of critics, but the players seem to love to play for him and the hope is that he will be ready to go for the playoffs.
10. How will the young Red's react to playing the first two playoff games on the road? With the rule in affect this year that will find the higher seeded Reds on the road for the first two games it will make it imperative that they get at least one win on the road before returning to Great American Ballpark for the final three games of the five game series.
One thing that there should be no question about at all is the Reds ability to play defense especially up the middle with catcher Ryan Hanigan, who leads the National League in earned run average by a catcher as well as the double play combination of Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart.
Only time will tell if this year's Reds squad will be able to match the feats of the legendary 1975-76 back-to-back winners or those of the 1990 wire-to-wire winners, but one thing is for certain. It sure would be nice to see the Big Red Machine still playing in late October.
Mike Morrison is a part-time Marietta Times sports writer.