The National League Wild Card play-in game takes place exactly two weeks from today. With the triumphal and apparently healthy return of Johnny Cueto, we now have more information from which to base our speculation on the starting pitching assignments through the start of the postseason. Pitchers have been announced for the two remaining games in Houston:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 17 – Mike Leake
  • Wednesday, Sept. 18 – Greg Reynolds

The Reds have the following Thursday off, then play three games in Pittsburgh. Inserting Reynolds into the rotation for the finale against the Astros allows the Reds to frontload the starters against the division-rival Pirates.

  • Friday, Sept. 20 – Mat Latos
  • Saturday, Sept. 21 – Homer Bailey
  • Sunday, Sept. 22 – Bronson Arroyo

It’s possible, given the off day on Thursday, that Johnny Cueto could pitch Sunday on regular rest. But given Cueto’s fragile health, an extra day off for him, if possible, would be attractive. Another wild card for the Pirates series is Tony Cingrani, who apparently will accompany the Reds to Pittsburgh. Given the unreliability with his back, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be scheduled to start a game in such a crucial series. A bullpen appearance wouldn’t be a surprise, though.

That completes the road trip. The Reds then return to GABP for a three-game series against the New York Mets. If the Reds rotation stays in turn, the assignments would be:

  • Monday, Sept. 23 – Johnny Cueto
  • Tuesday, Sept. 24 – Mike Leake
  • Wednesday, Sept. 25 – Mat Latos

The Cueto and Leake starts seem obvious. While Reynolds and Cingrani would be available Wednesday, bet on Latos making that start. The reason will become apparent in a couple paragraphs.

After the Mets’ series, the Reds enjoy another Thursday off, followed by the dramatic, final regular-season series against the Pirates. If the rotation follows form:

  • Friday, Sept. 27 – Homer Bailey
  • Saturday, Sept. 28 – Bronson Arroyo
  • Sunday, Sept. 29 – Johnny Cueto 

The Cueto assignment on Sunday would mean skipping Mike Leake. Cueto would still be on regular rest because of the off day on Thursday. Leake would be available in a “all hands on deck” approach if the final regular season game meant something.

It then appears likely the Reds will participate in the Wild Card play-in. That game takes place on Tuesday, October 1. And Mat Latos would be available to start it on regular rest. That’s why Latos goes ahead and pitches the final game of the Mets’ series. No pitcher who starts in the final Pirates series will be available *on regular rest* for the play-in game.

Those are the starting rotation assignments that I expect, assuming everyone stays healthy.

HOWEVER … just for giggles … imagine the next seven games go really well (6-1) for the Reds. They win the final two games against the Astros, win two of three from the Pirates and win the first two games against the Mets. Suppose at the same time, the Pirates go 2-1 in their three games left with the Padres and split the first two in Chicago with the Cubs. And assume the Cardinals go 3-5. That entails them losing one out of three remaining with the Rockies, losing two of three on the road in Milwaukee, and losing the first two games against the streaking Washington Nationals. Summary: Reds go 6-1, Pirates go 4-4, Cardinals go 3-5.

If that scenario plays out, your Cincinnati Reds would wake up on the morning of Wednesday, September 25 tied for first place in the NL Central with the Pirates and one game ahead of the Cardinals.

Would it be smart in that case for the Reds to call a last-second audible and push Latos back for the Pirates series, gambling that by winning the Pirates series, the Reds can avoid the play-in game altogether?