Of all the teams now leading their division, the Cincinnati Reds have the largest lead over the team in second place. After Tuesday’s games, the Reds lead the National League Central, with the St. Louis Cardinals 10 1/2 games back. Barring a catastrophic collapse by the Reds, and a 2011-like run by the Cardinals, the Reds will win the Central and head into the postseason.
But the Reds don’t have the best overall record in the National League. That honor, for now, belongs to the Washington Nationals. Why does that matter? Because the team with the best overall record will play the Wild Card winner in the League Division Series. The Wild Card winner comes out of a one-game playoff between the two teams with the best records that didn’t win their division. And if there is a tie for one of two spots to even get in the Wild Card game, then those teams will play a tiebreaker just to get to the Wild Card game. So there’s a big advantage to having the best overall record in the league.
In the last week, the Reds have benefited from stellar performances by relief pitchers but been burned by a young prospect-y type player. Together, they are the Impact Index Players of the Week.
First, the young prospect-y type player. Matt Dominguez was drafted by the Marlins in the 12th round of the 2007 draft. He posted his best minor-league numbers in 2008, with Single-A Greensboro of the South Atlantic League. In 88 games, he batted .296/.354/.499 with 18 home runs. Three years later, he moved up to Triple-A New Orleans but hit only .258/.312/.421 with 12 home runs. The Marlins called him up to the majors last September when rosters expanded. In his second big-league game, Dominguez got his first major-league hit, off Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
The Marlins traded Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen to the Astros on July 4, in exchange for Carlos Lee. Dominguez played a few games with the Astros, then returned to Triple-A, this time Oklahoma City. He re-joined the Astros in late August and has been Houston’s starting third baseman ever since.
Last Friday, the Reds hosted the Astros in the first game of three-game series at Great American Ballpark. Heading into the series, the Reds had the best home record in the National League; the Astros had the worst road record. But none of that mattered when Matt Dominguez stepped in to face Reds closer Aroldis Chapman in the top of the 9th. The Astros had runners on the corners with one out. Strike one. And then, boom:
The fourth home run Chapman’s given up this season. To prospect-y player Matt Dominguez. The Astros held the lead and beat the Reds 5-3.
It was different scene on Monday night in Cincinnati with the Reds hosting the Pirates. Mat Latos was on the hill for the Reds; Wandy Rodriguez for the Pirates. Pittsburgh built a 3-0 lead off Latos and headed into the 7th leading 3-1. But the Pirates bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. Rodriguez gave up two singles, putting runners on first and second. Out went Rodriguez. In came Jared Hughes. Veteran back-up catcher Dioner Navarro stepped in against Hughes and tied the game on a double to deep right field.
The game remained tied into the 10th. Reds manager Dusty Baker summoned Chapman from the bullpen. Walk. Walk. Strikeout. Lineout. Walk. Bases loaded, two outs. Out went Chapman and in came right-handed reliever Sam LeClure to face Michael McKendry. Ground out. Inning over. LeClure was back on the mound for the top of the 11th with the game still tied at 3. Strikeout. Strikeout. Strikeout. Four batters faced. Nineteen pitches. Four outs.
On to the 12th. LeClure was done, and yielded to fellow right-hander J.J. Hoover. Fly ball out. Fly ball out. Strikeout. And then the 13th. Ground out. Fly ball out. Walk. Strikeout. Two innings. Seven batters faced. Twenty-eight pitches. Six outs.
The Reds rallied in the bottom of the 14th to win the game 4-3. Alfredo Simon pitched the top of the 14th, giving up a double, a walk, and a single to the first three batters but, miraculously, no runs. He then retired the next three batters, keeping the score tied, making him the winning pitcher when the Reds scored in the bottom of the inning.
But the real pitching heroes for the Reds on Monday night were Sam LeClure and J.J. Hoover. LeClure recorded a .313 Win Probability Added for 1.1 innings of work, the 57th highest WPA for a pitcher this season. Hoover had a .279 WPA for his work, the 98th highest WPA of the season.
Matt Dominguez, Sam LeClure, and J.J. Hoover: our Impact Index Players of the Week.