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Whatever happened to the Cincinnati Reds

Wow. Was that the same Cincinnati Reds team on television last night that St. Louis Cardinals fans have feared all season?

It couldn't be. Could it?

That Reds club had two or three most valuable player candidates, killer pitching and an offense that didn't quit. The team on television Wednesday night looked like a bunch of tired guys who were simply waiting for the inevitable to just get over with as soon as possible so they could go home and take a nap.

Joey Votto, reputed to be one of the best hitters in all of baseball, looked not only like he didn't have a plan in the wild card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He looked like he didn't care. Twice he struck out and walked back to his dugout with no hint of expression on his face.

I began to watch the game Wednesday with no feelings either way about which team I'd prefer to see win. The Cardinals had a better record against the Reds than the Pirates. But Cincinnati has been to the playoffs in recent years. It has a better top end of the rotation -- at least on paper -- than Pittsburgh and it's offense seems far superior.

That didn't seem to be the case Wednesday night. Francisco Lirano, a pitcher with a 69-62 record and a 4.18 completely owned the Reds batsmen. Meanwhile Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto was peppered with long hits and made an early exit from the game.

Pittsburgh ended up winning six games in a row as it dispatched Cincinnati, four of them head-to-head against the Reds. The Pirates are hot, for sure. But that doesn't mean they're too hot for the Redbirds to handle.

Despite the disastrous five-game series in Pittsburgh in which the Cardinals dropped four games, the Birds were 9-10 against the Bucs in 2013. Throw out that series, when the Cardinals were in the depths of their worst stretch of baseball for the season, and they were 8-6 against the Pittsburghers.

The Cardinals had a winning home record against the Pirates, which is handy since three of the five potential games would be played in St. Louis, including a three-game sweep of the Bucs in the team's most recent meeting Sept. 6-8. In that series the Cardinals out-scored Pittsburgh 26-10.

While the long layoffs that come with winning the division as opposed to playing in the wildcard games can have the effect of cooling off hot clubs, the break could pay off in a major way for the Cardinals.

First, it allows St. Louis the advantage of resetting it's starting rotation to allow ace Adam Wainwright to pitch twice in the division series. Second, the Cardinals have some veterans who could use a breather -- Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday -- so those guys ought to be fresh and ready to push hard in a short series.

And the bottom line is that the Cardinals don't get to pick who they play. And to get the big trophy they have to win against whichever team is placed in front of them. So it doesn't make much sense to spend time worrying about who they oppose. They just have to play like they can and take care of business.