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Reds sweep Halos to move into third NL Wild Card position

ANAHEIM — August 23, 2023 – (content by Mark Sheldon,

At a fifth-inning pitching change on Wednesday evening, Shohei Ohtani was on second base after hitting a double. Reds rookie Elly De La Cruz took the moment to playfully poke at the Angels superstar, almost as if to see if he was real before the two shared some laughs.

Ohtani was, indeed, real. You know what else is about to get big-time real? The Reds’ upcoming schedule.

Cincinnati had already taken care of business by claiming the three-game series with a 9-4 victory in Game 1 of the doubleheader. Game 2 was the gravy as the Reds earned a 7-3 win over the Angels for the sweep.

With this series out of the way, the Reds must turn their attention to a critical 11-game stretch, all against teams they are battling for a National League Wild Card berth: the D-backs, Giants and Cubs. It’s also the last time they will face each of these teams in the 2023 regular season.

“Two wins this time of year are huge, but to win them both on the same day is great. It’s huge momentum,” said catcher Tyler Stephenson, who hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning to break a 1-1 tie. “We’ve got a long road trip, obviously, still ahead and these are some really important games coming up with Arizona and San Francisco.”

The Reds (67-61) sit a half-game ahead of both Arizona and San Francisco for the third NL Wild Card spot and percentage points behind the Cubs for both the second Wild Card and second place in the NL Central division. The Phillies hold the top Wild Card spot with a three-game lead.

“Just focusing on what we do well and what we’ve been doing well to get to this point. I feel our players are just doing a great job,” Reds manager David Bell said. “We’re just focusing on taking that to another level and letting everything else work out. I think [it’s] easier said than done sometimes. In this series, we absolutely did that.”

Making these upcoming games even more important is that head-to-head records determine tiebreakers in the standings. That edge is up for grabs in all three series.

The Reds swept Arizona in three games July 21-23. They next play four games at Chase Field and would get the tiebreaker edge with just one more win. They split a four-game series with the Giants July 17-20 and would need to take at least two of three at Oracle Park next week.

After that, there are four games at Great American Ball Park vs. the Cubs, including a Sept. 1 doubleheader. The Reds are 5-4 vs. Chicago in the season series.

The Reds also can’t forget about the Marlins, who are two games back. They finished 3-3 in the season series with Miami, so the tiebreaker moves on to division records. Cincinnati is 16-23 against the NL Central while the Marlins are 14-19 vs. the NL East.

While their odds are certainly longer, the Reds do remain in the NL Central race, where they are 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers. However, they are only 3-10 against Milwaukee for the season and will not face that club again.

Throughout the Angels series, the Reds once again tapped into their speed — including four steals in the finale. In the top of the third while trailing, 1-0, De La Cruz’s speed helped him beat out a potential double play grounder to the shortstop that would have ended the inning.

De La Cruz stole second base, which enabled him to score a tying run on Spencer Steer’s RBI single.

“All speed right there,” Bell said. “That’s a great example of how you can help your team win even if you’re not getting hits every single time you come to the plate. There’s other ways to do it.

“There’s something to be said there about just the momentum after they had scored and getting on the board like that.”

Three add-on runs came in the top of the eighth inning, including Matt McLain’s two-run homer to left field. McLain, who scored four times in Game 1, notched two homers in the series.

“Every game is important at this part of the season with the position that we’re in,” McLain said. “It was good to get two wins today against a good Angels team.”

They will now need several more wins over some even better teams. It could make or break what has often been a charmed season.

“We just have to go out there and play hard,” McLain said.

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