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Reds still have eyes on division title as season winds down

Mat Latos complained to whoever was listening Tuesday in the clubhouse that it was either as hot as heck when he pitched or ugly and raining — nothing in between.

Sure enough, a day after he threw a complete game against the Cardinals on a sweltering afternoon at Great American Ball Park, the Reds enjoyed a delightful evening at the stadium. By the end of the game, temperatures were expected to fall into the 60s. You could almost describe the conditions as fall-like, and that’s where the Reds season is headed.

Only a couple of blocks remain on the long walk to October. The shift is so subtle and gradual, the teams barely notice, though with one look to his left at his desk, Reds manager Dusty Baker can see a schedule posted on the wall. The number of red squares and white squares, signifying home and away games, is rapidly decreasing.

After Tuesday’s game, the 139th of the year for the Reds, the regular season is 85.8 percent complete.

“It doesn’t really feel different,” Baker said. “You know the end is near, and the finish line is just around the corner. Every end is different. Some years, at this time, you’re out in front. Some years, you’re trying to catch the opposing teams.

“Some years, you have no chance, which makes it really hard to go out there every day. This makes it easy to go out there every day when you know you have a chance to do something at the end. That’s what we play for, and that’s why we’re here.”

After beating the Cardinals 7-2 on Monday, the Reds were 77-61, the fifth-best record in the National League and the third best in the Central Division. Counting Tuesday’s game, the Reds had 24 games to catch the Pirates (80-57) or Cardinals (79-58).

You can be sure the players aren’t analyzing the wild-card possibilities and wondering if Latos or Homer Bailey would start in the Oct. 1 National League Wild Card Game. They’re still focused on overcoming a 3½-game deficit and repeating as division champs.

Of course, it’s worth noting that since the National League was divided into three divisions, the team leading the division on Sept. 1 has won it 17 of 19 times. The last three times the Reds won the division, in 1995, 2010 and 2012, they led at the start of September by nine, seven and 9½ games respectively.

“We want to win the division,” shortstop Zack Cozart said. “That’s all we care about. We’re within striking distance as inconsistent as we’ve played. You see it every year, a team gets hot at the end and carries that momentum through the playoffs, and that’s what we want to do.”

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