Reds prepare for final exams

The play of unlikely contributors like rookie Chris Heisey has been a major part of the Reds' success. Kyle Terada/US Presswire

When the Reds host the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in the opener of a three-game showdown between the top two teams in the National League Central, it will be the biggest baseball game played in Cincinnati in this millennium.

The Reds haven't had a winning season since 2000 and haven't contended for a postseason berth since 1999, when they lost a one-game playoff to the New York Mets for the NL wild card. However, the Reds have won nine of 11 to move 16 games over .500 and take a two-game lead over the Cardinals with a chance to extend that margin this week.

It would be easy to write the Reds off as a fluke, especially after a decade of losing. However, there is nothing fluky about a team that leads the NL in runs scored (4.89 a game), is third in defensive efficiency (converting 70.9 percent of balls in play into outs) and sixth in runs allowed (4.14) this deep in the season.