Reds keep responding to pressure

When the St. Louis Cardinals showed up in Cincinnati earlier this month with the NL Central lead on the line, they proceeded to dismantle the challenging Reds and left the River City sitting atop the division.

Big deal?

Well, 10 days later, it is apparent that whatever message the Cardinals may have felt they sent the Reds was lost in the translation.

Think the Reds were devastated by being swept in the division showdown with the Cardinals?

Think again.

The Reds responded by running off a seven-game winning streak that included their first victory at Dodger Stadium in five years and finished up a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the weekend by taking two out of three to give them eight victories in nine games since they bid the Cardinals adieu.

When they arrive at AT&T Park Monday night to open a three-game series against the postseason hopeful San Francisco Giants, the Reds will find themselves not only with eight wins in their last nine games, but also with a 3 1/2-game lead over St. Louis in the NL Central.

The Reds may be short on recent history in a pennant race, much less the postseason, but they have responded well to the guidance of manager Dusty Baker and an influx of postseason proven veterans that general manager Walt Jocketty has added in the past 13 months.

"You try to keep the game simple,’’ said Baker, who spent a decade (1993-2002) filling out the Giants lineup card. "No need to put any extra pressure on yourself because of the magnitude of the situation. There’s enough pressure as it is.

"This is something we discussed since spring training, about getting to this point. You see things starting to formulate and then come to fruition. We’re all goal-oriented. You have to keep that goal in mind all the time. This is what you’ve been working toward your whole life.’’

And Baker now has a six-pack of disciples who have helped preach the pennant race gospel.

When Scott Rolen was acquired by the Reds from Toronto on July 31 last season, he joined Bronson Arroyo as the only member of the Reds roster who had been to the playoffs. During the offseason, Jocketty added catcher Ramon Hernandez, utility infielder Miguel Cairo and shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and he recently picked up outfielder Jim Edmonds from the Milwaukee Brewers.

They have helped keep the Reds focused on what they have to do to earn their first postseason appearance in 15 years — a time frame in which St. Louis has made eight October appearances, including winning a World Series. The Reds haven’t even been in a pennant race since 1999, when they lost the wild-card playoff game to the New York Mets.

The Reds haven’t had a winning record in nearly a decade. They open the series against the Giants with a 72-52 record. They failed to win more than 72 games in three of the past nine years — 2007 (72), 2003 (69) and 2001 (66).

The argument will be made the Reds haven’t shown they can handle a true contender.

They are, after all, 12-22 against the five other prime NL postseason contenders, including 5-10 against the Cardinals.

The Reds, however, have offset those struggles with their domination of the lesser teams (60-30). They have shown an ability to not only win in their hitter-friendly Great America Park, where they are 36-26, but also have found a home on the road, where they are 36-26 as well.

What’s more, they don’t have many games left against the NL elite. The Reds enjoy what is the least challenging schedule of any NL team in the final weeks of the regular season.

Ten of their next 16 games are against teams with winning records — the three this week in San Francisco and then three at St. Louis Sept. 3-5, and four at Colorado Sept. 6-9.

In their final 19 games, however, the only time they face a team with a postseason ambition is when they visit San Diego Sept. 24-26.

WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION

Ready or not, here comes 23-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova, whose big-league resume consists of three scoreless innings of relief back in May, but who was not only called up by the Yankees when Alex Rodriguez was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, but also was given the start in the series opener against the power-hitting Toronto Blue Jays on Monday.

Nova is a bright star in the Yankees system, having gone 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and an arm that Arizona wanted if it had dealt Dan Haren to the Yankees. But the fact the Yankees called him up and inserted him into the rotation, without any starter being placed on the disabled list and the fact they are off on Thursday says volumes about concern the Yankees have with their current rotation.

If Andy Pettitte can’t get healthy, the Yankees right now couldn’t say for sure who would start in the postseason, other than CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. For now, even with the day off coming up, the word among the Yankees is Nova is needed to provide a breather for the rest of the rotation.

Translation is the Yankees aren’t sure when Pettitte is coming back and have been able to get by with journeyman Dustin Moseley, who starts Tuesday, filling in for the lefty so far, but with the recent demise of Javier Vazquez, they realize help is needed. Vazquez has an 8.10 ERA his past four starts, and could well move to the bullpen if Nova handles himself well against the Jays.

WHAT’S ON TAP

In addition to the Reds’ three-game visit to San Francisco that begins on Monday, the week features:

• NL wild-card-leading Philadelphia, after a four-game tuneup against Houston, makes a weekend visit to NL West-leading San Diego.

• NL East-leading Atlanta visits Colorado for three games beginning Monday and returns home for a weekend visit by Florida.

• AL West-leading Texas hosts AL Central-leading Minnesota for four games beginning Monday.

• AL East-leading New York can add to the frustrations of AL Central hopeful Chicago with three weekend games in the Windy City.

• AL East-hopeful Tampa Bay gets back-to-back looks at two teams that have seen their preseason hopes fade into gray — visiting the Angels for four games beginning Monday and hosting Boston in three games next weekend.

• St. Louis has a chance to pad its record with a week on the road with three games in Pittsburgh and four in Washington.

ROSTER WATCH

• Philadelphia received a double dose of good news with Chase Utley activated on Tuesday and Ryan Howard on Saturday. Those moves come in the aftermath of the Aug. 12 return of Shane Victorino, which puts the lineup back in order.

• San Francisco has been pleased with the play of Andres Torres as a leadoff hitter and center fielder. So why did it claim Cody Ross on waivers from Florida? To keep him from going to San Diego, which is looking for help after losing Tony Gwynn Jr. for the rest of the season with a broken hand. The Giants are six games back of the Padres.

• Minnesota has inquired about lefty Randy Flores, designated for assignment by Colorado last week. The Twins’ two left-handed relievers, Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares, are on the disabled list, and their Triple-A Rochester bullpen offers no help. Jose Lugo is 0-5 with a 6.18 ERA, and the other Rochester lefty, Ryan Mullins, is 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA. Dodger lefty George Sherrill and Brian Tallet of Toronto have both cleared waivers.

• With the acquisition of 1B Derrek Lee, Atlanta placed Troy Glaus on the disabled list to rest his left knee, but also so he can go on a rehab assignment to play third base, where he will fit in the Braves’ plans during September and the postseason in light of the loss of Chipper Jones.

MEDICAL REPORT

• Texas OF Nelson Cruz went on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Rangers RHP Rich Harden will be activated and start in Monday’s series opener against Minnesota.

• San Diego activated 2B David Eckstein from the disabled list during the weekend and sent shortstop Everth Cabrera to Triple-A Portland. Cabrera’s playing time had dwindled since the addition of Miguel Tejada. Cabrera had started three times in two weeks.

• St. Louis CF Colby Rasmus, out for a week with a right leg cramp, is expected back in the lineup during this week’s visit to Pittsburgh.

ADDING THEM UP

• 24 consecutive starts for Cardinals C Yadier Molina, which is a challenging work load considering the muggy weather of August.

• 21 times on base for the 1-2 hitters in Colorado’s lineup, Eric Young Jr. and Dexter Fowler, during the Rockies’ six-game trip to Los Angeles and Arizona. They only scored four times, which is a good explanation of why the Rockies went 2-4.

• 20 consecutive starts for Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia at Yankee Stadium without a loss. He is 15-0 with a 2.17 ERA in that stretch. The Yankees are 3-2 in the five no-decisions. Sabathia’s last loss at Yankee Stadium was 8-5 against Seattle on July 2 last season. He allowed six runs in 5 2/3 innings.

FINAL WORD

"Having to hear about losing kind of puts you in a negative environment. That’s not what you want. You want a little more positive energy going on. But you know that when you come here. That’s one of the enticing things coming here. Everybody wants to be on the team that breaks the so-called curse," 1B Derrek Lee, dealt to Atlanta, on his four years with the Chicago Cubs.