SAN DIEGO -- The Weekend Buzz while you were sorting out Stephen Colbert's testimony before Congress on behalf of migrant farm workers.
1. Reds alert: Cincinnati knew it could not clinch the NL Central early Sunday. By the sixth inning of the Reds' 12-2 blowout win over the Padres, St. Louis had beaten the Cubs, signaling that it would be at least Monday until the Reds can clinch.
Though their first NL Central title since 1995 has been a foregone conclusion for a week or more, it seems like the Reds are taking forever to lock it down. One of only three teams in the majors to post winning records in each of the season's first five months -- the Yankees and the Padres are the others -- the Reds in September have dipped to 10-14 and signals are mixed.
By far the best thing that's happened to the Reds in quite some time came in the sixth inning when Brandon Phillips drove a Clayton Richard pitch off of the right-field foul pole, the All-Star's first homer in 97 plate appearances since suffering a badly bruised right hand when he was drilled with a pitch in San Francisco.
"I think I'm going to get another X-ray after the season," Phillips said. "It still hurts real bad. I really think something may be cracked in there."
|The Reds are battered and bruised heading into October. (AP)|
Manager Dusty Baker and his Reds were buoyed "big time" by Phillips' two-run homer, which also doubled his RBI total since he was hit back on Aug. 25.
"He had been hitting the ball hard, that's what's been frustrating," said Baker, who also noted he's closer to moving Phillips back into the leadoff slot.
The Reds are not exactly steaming toward the finish line. There's Phillips' hand. MVP candidate Joey Votto missed four starts in the last week with a sinus infection (then belted two homers here this weekend).
Outfielder Jay Bruce was kept out of the lineup Sunday with more pain in his right side -- an affliction that caused him to miss 12 games from Aug. 31-Sept. 12. And shortstop Orlando Cabrera was removed in the fourth inning with pain in his left side, a worrisome development being that Cabrera was sidelined for 27 games while recovering from a left oblique strain.
"It's barking today," said Cabrera, who had the bad reaction after making a long throw on Saturday. "It was bad."
Cabrera says he'll be fine, and maybe he will be. Gauging September stretch-runs -- or, in this case, stretch-walks -- is tricky. Just because a team is hit-and-miss in September does not mean it can't regain its mojo in October. Sometimes poor Septembers are simply tied to injuries that need to heal. Sometimes it's a matter of holding guys with nagging injuries out of the lineup when, were it October, they'd be playing. Sometimes slumps just happen at inopportune times.
The 2006 Cardinals limped to a 12-17 September mark, losing seven consecutive games in the process, then won the World Series. The 2000 Yankees went 13-18 in September, lost 13 of their final 15 games, then won it all.
|More on Reds at Padres|
Even the last Reds' world championship team didn't exactly enter the NLCS on a roll: Lou Piniella's 1990 club went 16-16 that September.
"In '06, we were playing as poorly as anybody in the game," said Reds third baseman Scott Rolen of that '06 St. Louis club. "And we won the whole thing.
"We're just going to try and get there first."
With their magic number down to one -- one more win, or one more St. Louis loss -- there's nothing not to like about the Reds' chances of doing that.
But here's something else that gives pause: Against the current five other contenders -- Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco and Colorado -- on the road the Reds are a combined 2-14. Or, if you prefer to remove the Rockies from the equation, make it 2-10.
The flip side? The Reds rank third in the majors with 43 come-from-behind wins. And if they can flip things around this month and finish with a winning September -- they conclude their schedule this week with six home games against Houston and Milwaukee -- they will become the first Reds team since the 1976 Big Red Machine to produce a winning record each month of the season.
"You can't go by how we've played the last couple of games," Phillips says. "Clinching is on everybody's mind. We're not focused. We're trying to hurry up and get it over with."
Rolen isn't worried, either.
"We've got to get there first," Scott Rolen said. "Then we're going to throw out gloves out on the field and we're going to play.
2. Texas toasts: Of five clubs that were in position to clinch playoff spots over the weekend, only one did. Texas. And while the Rangers have waited 11 years since their last playoff appearance, the coolest part of the champagne splashing was that Michael Young was standing under part of the shower.
Young's has played in 1,502 regular season games without ever enjoying a postseason game, the second-longest such drought in the majors. Only St. Louis' Randy Winn (1,713) has played in more regular-season games without ever reaching October.
"The best feeling in the world, and it's not even close," Young told long-time Rangers beat man T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.
Manager Ron Washington on Sunday named his playoff rotation, and you might have heard of his Game 1 starter: Cliff Lee. The ace lefty will be followed by C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, with Lee coming back on three days' rest in Game 4.
Most interesting part? Lee has never in his life pitched on three days' rest. The Phillies declined to even consider it during last fall's World Series. The Rangers are either crazy ... or crazy like a fox. Look, we've already got our first solid intriguing storyline.
3. NL West jumble: With the Giants back in first with Sunday's Colorado-killing win and the Padres slipping to second, the two clubs have produced seven lead changes in the past 12 days after San Diego sat either in first or tied for first from June 18-Sept. 16. Gonna be a fun week, and this weekend's season-ending Padres at Giants series could be classic.
4. Colorado's humidor: Major League baseball felt so badly about the controversy, it allowed San Francisco to store Matt Cain in the humidor overnight Saturday, which led to his near-miss of a no-hitter Sunday.
OK, so maybe that's a wee bit of an exaggeration. This isn't: The Giants were so up in arms believing that the Rockies were unethically mixing and matching humidor and non-humidor balls that there were conversations with baseball officials that resulted in a change of protocol in time for Saturday's game: The baseballs would remain in sight of the umpires at all times.
Fine, but that was nowhere near as entertaining as Tim Lincecum on Friday night, who, in rubbing up a ball in the sixth inning, finally became so angry that tossed it back to the umpire and asked for a new one, muttering, "F------ juiced balls. It's bulls---." I'm not the world's greatest lip reader, but what he's saying is crystal clear on this wildly entertaining clip.
5. Commissioner Bud Selig to consider expanding playoffs: He said he'll study it this winter, maybe adding one more wild-card slot in each league. Makes sense. I mean, the Red Sox look like they're going to get shut out this year. And the Yankees failed to make the playoffs two years ago.
6. Phillies smokin' hot: We're not hearing those "What's Wrong With Philadelphia" questions so much anymore, are we? The Phillies won 11 straight games through Saturday, they've won 17 of their past 19 series and they're a major-league best 19-5 in September. With Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt lined up for the playoffs kill, if Philadelphia isn't playing in its third consecutive World Series, it'll be the biggest upset since ... well, look, it's Philadelphia, so fill in the blank. But no Rocky analogies, please.
7. Yankees slug six homers, lose: Friday night to Boston, 10-8. Then manager Joe Girardi, in a panic move that came with the obligatory "We're not panicking" comments, pulled Dustin Moseley from his Sunday night start in favor of Phil Hughes. Heading into the playoffs with a rotation that pretty much is CC and Oh No, Andy Pettitte is the whole key to October. Boston lit him up in the 10-8 game for seven runs, and Pettitte served up as many hits as outs: 10 of each. If Pettitte is ineffective in October, the Yankees cannot win with CC Sabathia alone.
8. Braves struggle: The Nationals presented retiring Atlanta manager Bobby Cox with an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol building earlier this month, but they didn't present him with what he really needed: An Atlanta win. Consequently, the Braves remain half-a-game behind the Padres in the wild-card chase. Though the polite Cox did say of the flag, "I never expected anything like that. Probably don't deserve it, but I'm honored they did it."
9. Aroldis Chapman fastball hits 105 mph Friday night: It's officially the fastest pitch that baseball's Pitch F/X tracking system has ever recorded. "That's crazy," said Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., who saw the pitch -- barely -- and wound up striking out.
"Electric fastball," Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez said. But, Gonzalez pointed out, once opposing hitters see Chapman a few times, they'll feel more comfortable. In an interesting comparison, Gonzalez said that Dodgers' lefty Hong-Chih Kuo, whose fastball averages 95, might be more difficult to hit.
"If you faced each guy 30 times, Kuo would be harder," Gonzalez said. "Because he hides the ball so well. With Chapman, you see it. I think if you faced him more times, you'd get more comfortable."
Lefties this season are hitting just .102 (6 for 64) against Kuo.
10. Mazeroski game found in Bing Crosby's wine cellar: Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, the entire thing preserved in a film canister, in great shape. Very cool. But I don't want to know what else is in there. If it turns out he wrote Bob Hope's jokes, people would be crushed.