The Reds have been in third place in the National League Central since June 21 and so it's deceptively easy to assume that's where they'll wind up.

But to harp on the standings is to ignore that the Reds posted the best record of the three Central contenders in August. And a couple of noteworthy developments in recent days might encourage you to give the Reds currently three back of the Pirates and 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals a good hard look as -- dare I say -- the favorite to win this division.

1. They just took three of four from a second-place Cardinals club that is already reeling offensively and is going to be without its most productive hitter for at least a few days possibly longer.

2. Sports Illustrated just put potential NL Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen on its cover inviting the cruel and unusual threat of a jinx to a long-suffering Buccos fan base that simply doesn't deserve it.

All right sure that latter point hardly qualifies as actual analysis and I don't expect McCutchen to break his leg or the Pirates to plummet.

I do however think it's fair to wonder what the next few weeks will be like for a Bucs team unaccustomed to the increasing weight of a September pennant chase. They've got great leadership improved depth brought about by the wonders of the waiver wire and a fan base that is going to come out full throttle for their remaining 11 home games. But none of that is necessarily a precursor to the steady pulse that will be required of them as the month evolves.

More to the point they've still got six head-to-heads with the Reds so Cincinnati's four-game deficit in the loss column doesn't loom quite as large as it normally would at this point on the calendar.

"Usually my teams finish stronger than most teams" Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We've been resting some guys along the way and try to play everybody. Hopefully down the stretch here it will lead to some wins."

The Cards we know well from recent years have the heartbeat for this division battle. But the Allen Craig injury affects their offensive formula considerably and it compounds the concern over their rotation's second-half regression.