No one game on a regular season slate single-handedly determines a team's success or failure. Wins and losses count the same in April as they do in September, and in the end those with the most wins advance into October while the others stay home.
However, there are individual games that define a team's character and resolve. Thursday's contest in Cincinnati just might be that game for the Reds.
Cincinnati heads into a big home series with the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend off a thrilling rally into the winner's circle against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Trailing six-zip heading into the bottom of the sixth, the Reds came back for a 7-6 victory thanks to Brandon Phillips' bat and solid work from four relievers.
The triumph gave Cincinnati a split in the 4-game set with Arizona, and maybe more importantly proved to the Reds that they can deliver on the offensive end without their leading hitter Joey Votto who will miss the next three weeks or so following knee surgery. Now comes the job of building on the momentum from Thursday as the Reds close out a long homestand with three against the Brew Crew.
Milwaukee and Cincinnati get things started Friday night at Great American Ball Park where the Reds are $1.20 favorites after opening in the -140 to -145 range. The Reds were sending Homer Bailey to the mound against Marco Estrada, and the total was listed at 8½-9. The outcome was still pending.
Saturday's second game (7:10 p.m. ET) pits Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers against the Reds' Bronson Arroyo. Early odds priced Cincinnati at -120 with an 8½-run total.
Arroyo had been dormant for 10 days when he climbed the hill in Cincinnati this past Monday, and whether it was the long layoff or simply a case of the Diamondbacks being in an offensive mood, the end result was a loss for the Reds. The veteran right-hander lasted just three innings and 48 pitches, few of which fooled Arizona batters.
The abbreviated outing followed an impressive 3-hit shutout in San Diego just before the all-star break, and ended a string of three consecutive quality starts for Arroyo. He has had success against the Brewers throughout his career, and both assignments vs. Milwaukee this season have resulted in Cincy wins with Arroyo combining for 14-1/3 frames and just four runs allowed.
Most of Gallardo's success vs. the Reds has come in Milwaukee. Pitching in Cincinnati has gone the other way, however, with the Brewers 1-5 in his last six starts at Great American Ball Park. Gallardo's 4.37 ERA isn't real ugly, but his big downfall has been the 18 walks in 35 innings.
He pitched well here in late-June (6 IP, 2 ER), but Milwaukee hitters couldn't overcome a fine performance by the Reds' Mat Latos.
A key to this series, as with most, will be the two bullpens, and Cincinnati has a pronounced edge right now. The Reds relief corps leads the majors with a 2.55 ERA and is anchored by the fire-balling Aroldis Chapman at the back end. Milwaukee relievers rank 28th in the majors with a 4.53 ERA, meanwhile, and a recent switch to Francisco Rodriguez as closer has brought anything but comfort to the Brewers. The former Angels and Mets closer did pick up back-to-back saves vs. the Cardinals earlier this week, but they were adventures to say the least.
The Reds have a 4-2 advantage against the Brewers in this year's series, winning two of three at Milwaukee in early-May and repeating that at home in late-June. The 'under' is also 4-2 (2-1 in each locale) and Cincinnati hasn't lost a season series to the Brew Crew since 2006.