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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 2:00 PM

The Cincinnati Reds have been on quite a run recently. And, that surge into first place in the NL Central roughly coincides with when they moved Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman into the closer’s role. If Cincinnati leads late, they’re GOING to win!

Cincy has a 12-5 record their last 17 games after Wednesday Night’s 5-4 victory over Pittsburgh. Normally, you don’t think twice about a win over Pittsburgh…but those are the top two teams in the NL Central with the recent St. Louis slump! They’re now considered by many as the team to beat because:

*Joey Votto is seen as the best hitter in the National League by many.

*Arnoldis Chapman is either seen as a young Mariano Rivera in terms of slamming doors, or a young Bob Gibson in terms of being unhittable (the assumption is Chapman will move to the rotation next year).

If you have those two things in an era of parity (in what might still be the lesser of the two Major leagues), then you have a chance to go the distance. That’s particularly true if Philadelphia’s injury problems hold true (a popular preseason choice to win the NL), and if the bubble has burst on Tim Lincecum’s career over in San Francisco.

If you haven’t been following the Reds closely because you’ve been riding the thrills of the NBA playoffs or limiting your baseball time to ESPN talking about the Yankees and Red Sox…here’s what Chapman has done this year:

29 innings pitched

0 earned runs allowed (only one unearned run has scored all year!)

52 strikeouts (a K-rate of 16.1 per nine innings!)

9 walks (amazing control for a hard thrower!)

7 hits allowed

Imagine a pitcher throwing a complete game 2-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts and 3 walks. Chapman just threw three of those in a row! Except, he did it spread out over 24 appearances in innings that mattered very much to the Reds (as a set-up man at first, then as the closer).

We have to give the market credit, because they’ve been pricing the Reds fairly accurately when they play lesser teams. Oddsmakers see this as the best team in the division…and you’re going to pay a premium when they face disrespected opponents. There still exists the potential for value though when they face other contenders. Does this 12-5 run suggest will play like a champion going forward? The stretch started with a hot run against the Mets and Braves from the superior NL East at affordable prices.

Ergo:

*Consider taking the Reds vs. other contenders, when lines will be most affordable, particularly if Chapman continues to be untouchable in the 9th inning.

*Look for spots in IL action at affordable prices (AL teams are dreading their first looks at Chapman!)

*Be careful about very high prices vs. midlevel opposition and below because Cincy hasn’t yet proven they’re going to dominate with their full lineup and starting rotation. They have to take a lead to Chapman for him to close it out. That made him irrelevant in an 8-4 loss to Pittsburgh back on Tuesday.

The Reds close out their current series with Pittsburgh tonight, then have this on deck:

Friday-Sunday: vs. Detroit

Tuesday-Thursday: vs. Cleveland

Friday-Sunday: at NY Mets

Monday-Wednesday: at Cleveland

Friday-Sunday: vs. Minnesota

There will be an interlude within the IL challenge against the Mets…and the IL challenge may not be particularly grueling this year given the recent form of the Tigers, Indians, and Twins. Let’s see if Cincinnati can take advantage of this upcoming slate.

Pirates-Reds may be a part of the mix for our VSM handicappers this evening. Of course, the big event is Game Six of the Miami-Boston series. Among tonight’s highlights:

*Kelso Sturgeon won his 25-unit play on St. Louis over Houston last night, and is coming back with a 50-unit Power Play you can purchase online for just $15. Tonight’s basketball is rated at 25-units, and can also be purchased for $15. Check the “buy picks” page for your options.

*Jim Feist has a very special “Home Field Game of the Year” tonight in baseball. A week ago you won his Shocker of the Year on Tampa Bay over Boston for a great payoff. This specially priced $19 report also includes Miami-Boston from the NBA.

*Tony Salinas GUARANTEES you’ll go 3-0 in his basketball and baseball Thursday or you’ll get the next two nights absolutely free. The cost is just $20 for these guaranteed knockout plays. If you go 2-1…you win and you still get the guarantee!

The best plays on the board from the biggest names in handicapping are always available for you right here at VegasSportsMasters. Check the home page of this website daily for big play bulletins. That and the listings on the “buy picks” page are your best sources for special announcements from our industry legends. Hot handicappers are waiting to hear from you!

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