NL Division Series preview: Reds vs Giants

With all of the weirdness and excitement that's surrounded the end of the regular season and the new wild card play-in game, seeing the Reds and Giants play in the National League Division Series is something that would've surprised pretty much no baseball fan anywhere back in March. That being said, this matchup isn't quite what we all might've suspected in March. In fact, things are kind of turned on their ear. Let's break this series down. 

Starting Pitching
The common perception of these two teams is that the Giants are the one with the deep pitching staff, but it's the Reds' pitching staff that allowed the fewest earned runs in the National League this year. That's thanks in large part to a rotation that featured four starters with an ERA+ of better than 110. Johnny Cueto lead that charge with his Cy Young-worthy season; he won 19 games, he had a 2.78 ERA, a 27.8% groundball rate, and a 3.47 K/BB ratio. Homer Bailey was lights out down the stretch with a 1.85 ERA in his last five starts, one of which was a no-hitter. Mat Latos was also very good with his 3.48 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 2012. When the Reds' acquired Latos they hoped that he'd help round out a good playoff rotation and it certainly seems like that's what they've got in 2012. Bronson Arroyo also had a nice bounceback season in 2012 and will probably make a start at some point in this series. 

On the flip side, the Giants' rotation has struggled for consistency this year once you get past Matt Cain. Cain's their only starter with an ERA+ of over 120 and behind him, only Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum were over 100. Tim Lincecum was maddeningly inconsistent this year, though his 3.83 ERA post-All Star Break was a huge improvement on his terrible first half. The good news for the Giants is that the talent is still here; Cain was excellent all season, the sky is the limit for Bumgarner, and if the good Lincecum suddenly shows up it could be 2010 all over again for San Francisco. 

The choice here, I suppose, is between recent results and pedigree. What I'll say is this: the Reds play in a good hitter's park and their pitchers lead the NL in runs allowed. This is not a rotation I'd want to face in October. 

The Giants' bullpen is pretty good, but the Reds' bullpen was so good in 2012 that it's not even remotely fair. Everyone knows all about Aroldis Chapman, who struck out 122 hitters in 71 2/3 innings this year, but behind him is Sean Marshall (4.63 K/BB, held lefties to a .410 OPS against) and Sam LeCure, who both strike out more than a batter an inning. Jonathan Broxton was excellent after the Reds acquired him at the trade deadline and I haven't even mentioned Alfredo Simon or Jose Arredondo, both of whom will likely make the NLDS roster. The bottom line: you don't want to be behind this team even by a run late in the game. 

The Giants lost closer Brian Wilson early in the 2012 season, but they still managed to put together a fairly strong bullpen without him. Santiago Casilla was capable as his replacement in the closer role, Sergio Romo was his usual self against righties and Javier Lopez was his typical self against lefties, Jeremy Affeldt and George Kontos were pretty good against everyone. The depth of the Reds' bullpen isn't quite there, but it's a strong bullpen nonetheless. An interesting wild card here is Lincecum; it's possible that the Giants will use him out of the bullpen in this series and if that allows him to find his lost velocity, there's a chance he could be an awfully effective reliever, which would change the complexion of the Giants' pen considerably.

We continue the Bizzaro Giants/Reds matchup here, when we realize that the Giants outscored the Reds 718 to 669 this year. Because of the differences in ballparks, which is striking, the difference is even bigger than that. The Giants' OPS+ is 107, the Reds' is 90. 

The Giants are lead by Buster Posey, who's the NL MVP favorite right now after his .336/.408/.549 season. He had 39 doubles and 24 homers and was one of the best hitters, position independent, in the National League this season. With Melky Cabrera in steroid limbo and exiled from the Giants for the entire post-season, his main supporting cast for the playoffs will be Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Angel Pagan. Belt's finally settling into a regular role for the Giants, hitting .275/.360/.421 this year. Sandoval battled some injuries and wasn't quite as good as he was last year, but he still had a strong season at .283/.342/.447 with 12 homers and 25 doubles in his 108 games. Pagan had an impressive 38 doubles and 15 triples in his first season with the Giants. Of the Giants' two trade deadline additions, Marco Scutaro has suddenly revitalized his career and added some depth in the infield (ie, kept Ryan Theriot from playing regularly), but Hunter Pence has struggled quite a bit with the Giants. He only hit .219 with seven homers in his 59 games. 

The Reds are, of course, lead by Joey Votto and his typically excellent 2012 campaign. He hit .337/.474/.567 with 24 homers and if he didn't miss a sizable chunk of the middle of the year with knee problems, he'd be in the running for NL MVP again. The thing is, only two of the Reds' other starters (three, if you count Todd Frazier) had an OPS+ of over 100 this year. Those two would be Ryan Ludwick, who revitalized his career with 26 homers and a .531 slugging percentage, and Jay Bruce, who hit 31 bombs in the middle of the lineup. With Drew Stubbs struggling and rookies like Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco never adapting at the plate and Brandon Philips getting older and Scott Rolen suddenly getting a lot older, there are a lot of holes in this Reds' lineup. 

The Xaviers! The Giants have Xavier Nady on their bench and the Reds have Xavier Paul, which is weird given the number of Xaviers in baseball history. Nady rebounded a bit with the Giants after being released by the Washington Nationals, though in very limited action. There's not much more depth for the Giants; the Aubrey Huffs and Ryan Theriots that will probably populate their playoff bench are guys that have lost their jobs to other players because they played poorly during the season. For Cincinnati, Frazier is an interesting player to talk about, though he'll probably start almost as much as he comes off the bench. He was a huge part of the Reds keeping pace while Votto was injured, but tailed off quite a bit towards the end of the season. The Reds will need his bat in these playoffs, given all of the other potential pittfalls in their lineup. The other Xavier, Xavier Paul, had a great 55 games with the Reds in which he put up an .844 OPS.

These are two really good baseball teams, but I've got to give the edge to the Reds here. As much as this Giants lineup is improved over Giants lineups of the past, I think that pretty much everyone is going to be hard pressed to make much headway against this Reds' pitching staff. That said, the Giants' pitching is good enough to hold their own if the Reds' lineup isn't giving Votto much help. Really, you could make a strong case for either team in this series, especially since it's just a best of five. I think that the Reds are the better team and they're who I'd go with if you forced me to make a prediction, but there are plenty of ways that it's easy to envision things breaking the other way.

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.