Can Surging Mat Latos Carry Cincinnati Reds To NL Central Crown?

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Forget just the second Wild Card spot — if Mat Latos has anything to say about it, the Cincinnati Reds are going right for the NL Central crown.

Of course, given that he’s only going to have a few opportunities left to really affect the team’s chances towards that goal, whether he’ll be able to all on his own is likely improbable. Still, as the team saw on Sunday, this is a pitcher who is more than ready to try and carry the team on his shoulders in each and every turn down the stretch.

In short, he’s making his opportunities count … and then some.

Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals, who saw the Reds righty exact a dose of revenge for a August 27 loss with nine full innings of dominant two-run ball. Latos allowed just four hits and a walk, and even though he only struck out a couple of batters, he was essentially never in trouble outside of the third.

And it might not have been that way earlier in the season, but this is a different Latos that the Reds are seeing these days.

After allowing two leadoff doubles (the second of which scored on a sacrifice fly), the 25-year-old buckled down and recorded the next 10 batters he faced. His 8.41 K/9 swing-and-miss stuff wasn’t working on this day, but he showed an ability to adjust, posting a 14-6 GO-FO ratio en route to the 100-pitch performance.

Though Latos won’t really be in the NL Cy Young conversation this year, he did out-duel a candidate for the honors in Adam Wainwright, holding the fort while the Reds put six runs on the board against the Cardinals ace.

If the award was swayed towards late-season performances, however …

See, at 1.5 fWAR over the last 30 days, there is simply no more valuable starter in the game than Latos over the last six starts. He has thrown at least seven innings in five out of his last six turns, and his 1.79/0.90 ERA/WHIP ranks among the very best in the game — yes, even better than Clayton Kershaw‘s numbers.

And with his effort on Monday against a key divisional opponent moving the Reds back to 3.5 games behind the division-leading Pittsburgh Pirates, it was one of those cases where fWAR was fully explained in plain sight — you only had to watch see the full value of what Latos brings to Cincinnati.

Yes, he might just make five more starts or so, but even that might mean the difference between a one-game playoff and a chance for him to lead the team much deeper.

Thom is an MLB writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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