Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's kind of hard to say a team that won 97 games in the regular season, has a former MVP in its lineup and is fronted by a starting pitcher who won 19 games is flying under the radar, but that's exactly what the Cincinnati Reds have been doing.
Cincinnati, though, could very well be the first team to advance to a league championship series, as it takes a commanding 2-0 divisional series lead over San Francisco back home to Great American Ball Park after dominating the first two games in their best-of-five set.
"You're not comfortable at all until it's over," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We've been there before. It's hard to take the last breath out of anything, and that is their last breath and they're trying to get a hole, win Game 3, then Game 4, and it's back to even so we're trying to stop it from getting back to even, you know, any kind of momentum."
Widely ignored by the national media for most of the season, the Reds finished one game back of the Washington Nationals for the best record in all of baseball. Yet the list of people who had the Reds winning this series, let alone representing the National League at the World Series, were few and far between.
But all Baker's team does is win, and this weekend they sent a giant message to the NL, that they just might be the team to beat this October.
After Brandon Phillips' home run set the tone in their Game 1 win over the Giants, the Reds got a terrific pitching performance from Bronson Arroyo on Sunday in a 9-0 rout.
Arroyo spun seven innings of one-hit ball, struck out four and walked just one to earn his first career postseason victory and put the Reds on the cusp of their first NLCS since 1995.
"It's amazing to go out there deep in the ballgame, get an opportunity to kind of do what you do in your craft and have it work out the way it did," Arroyo said.
Heading into this series with San Francisco, the Reds, amazingly, were looked at as underdogs, based in part due to the Giants' postseason experience from their 2010 run to a World Series title. People may have forgotten the Reds also were in the postseason that year, and although their stay was short-lived, many of the players on that team are still on the team now.
"Back then when we got swept by the Phillies, we were playing one of the best teams we'd ever seen in modern baseball from pitching staffs to speed to hitting, to everything," Baker said. "There are a couple of things that happened in those games where we lost the ball in the lights, a couple of other plays and that's all they needed to get ... to sweep us. We're just older -- we're all older, younger -- some of 'em are younger, but experience helps."
That 2010 San Francisco run also created the myth that the Giants still possess some of the best starting pitching in baseball. In reality, though, the Reds staff was statistically better this season and had maybe the best pitcher in the NL this season in Johnny Cueto.
Cueto, who was 19-9 in the regular season with a 2.78 ERA, started Game 1 of this series on Saturday, but had to exit with a back injury after recording just one out.
"When I was throwing, long toss, nothing happened, everything was feeling well," Cueto said. "As I went to the bullpen, I was warming up and everything went perfect. It was only on the last two throws when I felt a sharp pain on my right side. Then I was getting ready to go back to the dugout, I just went and talked to the head trainer and told him about ... he put some heat on it and we communicated to Bryan (Price) what happened."
Cueto flew ahead to Cincinnati ahead of the team on Sunday and there was some speculation that he could start Game 3. Baker, though, seemed pretty adamant that Homer Bailey would still get that assignment, but has yet to name a Game 4 starter.
"You can't take a chance with Johnny, and we have to see exactly ... we can't have him go out there again and have something else happen to him and come up short again," Baker said. "When he goes back out there, we will make sure to the best of your knowledge that he's OK."
Regardless of who may or may not have picked them to be in this position, the Reds find themselves in pretty good shape.
Since Division Series play began in 1995, the team going up 2-0 has advanced 38 of 42 times, or 90 percent of the time. Only four teams have come back from that deficit, the most recent being the 2003 Boston Red Sox vs. the Oakland A's. The others are the 2001 New York Yankees vs. Oakland, the 1999 Red Sox vs. Cleveland and the 1995 Seattle Mariners vs. the Yankees.
None of them, though, had to win three consecutive road games to do it. And it has never happened in the NL.