One-two punch of Bauer, Castillo would give Reds chance in playoffs

Castillo has found consistency in his last three starts

If the Cincinnati Reds can get to the playoffs — and their odds have improved dramatically this week — they will have a chance against anyone when Trevor Bauer is on the mound. That’s how good he has been in this 60-game season.

There’s another starter, too, who would give the Reds a chance to advance, especially in the best-of-three wild-card series. In his last three starts, Luis Castillo has allowed three earned runs on 12 hits in 22 innings, while striking out 24 batters.

Even considering Castillo faced baseball’s worst team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, in two of those starts, his performance is a reason for optimism. After allowing one earned run in a complete-game victory last week against the Cardinals, Castillo pitched seven scoreless innings Wednesday as the Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 for their season-best fifth straight victory.

“He backed up the last start, and it couldn’t get much better than that,” Reds manager David Bell said. “To come back out and pitch seven shutout innings, it’s not easy to do. It took a lot of effort and energy on his part against the Cardinals. To back that up in a big game, that was huge for us tonight. It’s fun to watch him pitch. He enjoys so much what he does.”

Castillo (3-5, 3.03 ERA) ranks seventh in the National League with 76 strikeouts. Bauer, one of the top Cy Young candidates, leads the league with 83.

If the season had ended after Wednesday’s games, the Reds (25-26) would have been the sixth seed in the National League playoff picture. They had a slight edge in winning percentage (.490 to .489) over the Cardinals in the race of the Central Division’s second playoff bid.

“The clubhouse is very excited,” Castillo said. “We’re all very happy. We hope to continue on this run and continue with this momentum.”

Since Saturday, the Reds have improved their chances of earning a postseason berth from 17.1 to 51.7, according to A tough road remains with six games against two of the best teams in the American League: the Chicago White Sox (32-17) and Minnesota Twins (31-20).

However, if the Reds can end their seven-year playoff drought, they’ll have a chance with Bauer and an improved Castillo, even if Sonny Gray, the team’s other top starter, remains sidelined with a back injury.

Castillo was inconsistent throughout July and August, never lasting more than six innings. Catcher Curt Casali said Castillo had a small mechanical issue that has been corrected, and he’s also doing a good job of trusting his catchers to call the right pitches.

“He’s got unbelievable stuff,” Casali said. “Pitching is hard enough as it is, and thinking through an at-bat is hard. I’m not saying he can’t do it. He’s perfectly capable of it. But when he can just focus on executing every single pitch that he throws, he’s a different guy.”

Casali said he’s particularly proud of Castillo because he doesn’t shake the catchers off and ask to throw the changeup as often as he used to. That’s helped him pitch deeper into games.

“His changeup is still elite,” Casal said. “It’s still probably one of the top two or three changeups in all of baseball, and he still gets a lot of strikeouts that way. Last week in St. Louis, he got the taste of a complete game. That tastes pretty good. I think he wants to go deep into ballgames and realizes he’s one of our best pitchers. For him to go deep, he needs to keep his pitch count down. When he keeps his pitch count down, it’s early swings, and they end up striking out anyway.”

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