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Back on top! Reds reclaim NL Central crown

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

The Cincinnati Reds entered 2012 feeling like they had something to prove after their disappointing third place finish last season.

I think they can put that let down behind them now and consider their point proven after clinching the National League Central division for the second time in three seasons with a 6-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday afternoon.

There was never really much of a doubt either, as the Reds ran away with the division crown in the second half of the season. They're also the first team to clinch their division this season after officially eliminating the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals from the race with ten games still to play.

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That's pretty impressive, and it's also significant because it allows them a little time to gather themselves, rest a few regulars if they so choose, and line up their starting rotation as they see fit. But perhaps most importantly, it allows manager Dusty Baker some time to rest and get back to full strength for the October run.

Baker was forced to miss Saturday's celebration because he's still receiving treatment for an irregular heartbeat in a Chicago hospital, but he was obviously on the mind of all those in the Reds clubhouse.

''He is here everywhere,'' owner Bob Castellini said, looking around the dripping clubhouse. ''He is here in spirit, and everybody knows he's here. We hope to see him tomorrow.''

On the plus side, the Reds did get closer Aroldis Chapman back on the mound after a two week physical and mental break. He fittingly recorded the final three outs to wrap it all up. Starter Mat Latos pitched the first eight innings, allowing only six hits while striking out seven. He figures to follow Johnny Cueto in the Reds postseasons rotation, giving them a pretty solid 1-2 punch.

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Also fitting was Jay Bruce launching a solo home run in the fourth inning to open the game's scoring. If you'll recall, Bruce hit a walk-off homer in the Reds clincher back in 2010, and actually had a chance to do so again in the ninth inning of Friday's loss, but struck out against Ronald Belisario. Still, I'm sure there was some feeling of deja vu as the team and fans celebrated Saturday's clincher.

Speaking of which, here are a few shots of that 'subdued' celebration:

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Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen share a moment. (AP)

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Team photo. (AP)

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Lord Stanley's Cup was unavailable apparently. (AP)

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