CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Two teams that had a lot easier times than many in the National League winning their divisions will do battle in the first NLDS, as the Cincinnati Reds will play the San Francisco Giants in a best-of-five divisional series that for the most part on paper looks rather even.
Below is a quick look at the series:
(All times EDT) Game 1, Saturday, at San Francisco (9:37 p.m.); Game 2, Sunday, at San Francisco (TBA); Game 3, Tuesday, at Cincinnati (TBA); x-Game 4, Wednesday, at Cincinnati (TBA); x-Game 5, Thursday, at Cincinnati (TBA). (All games on TBS or MLB Network)
Season Series: Reds won 4-3.
Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips (.281, 18 HRs, 77 RBIs), SS Zack Cozart (.246, 15, 35), 1B Joey Votto (.337, 14, 56), LF Ryan Ludwick (.275, 26, 80), RF Jay Bruce (.252, 34, 99), 3B Scott Rolen (.245, 8, 39), CF Drew Stubbs (.213, 14, 40, team-high 30 steals), C Ryan Hanigan (.274, 2, 24).
Giants: CF Angel Pagan (.288, 8, 56, 29 SBs, 15 3Bs), 2B Marco Scutaro (.306, 7, 74 for Giants and Rockies), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.283, 12, 63), C Buster Posey (.336, 24, 103, 39 2Bs), RF Hunter Pence (.253, 24, 104 for Giants and Phillies), 1B Brandon Belt (.275, 7, 56), LF Gregor Blanco (.244, 5, 34, 26 SBs) or Xavier Nady (.184, 4, 13 for Giants and Nationals), SS Brandon Crawford (.248, 4, 45).
Reds: RH Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 217 IP, 170 Ks, allowed only 15 HRs), RH Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74, 202 IP, 129 Ks), RH Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48, 209 1-3 IP, team-high 185 Ks), RH Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68, 208 IP, 168 Ks, highlighted career-best season with no-hitter at Pittsburgh in late September).
Giants: RH Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79, 193 Ks, 219 1-3 IP, first perfect game in franchise history June 13 vs. Astros), LH Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37, 191 Ks), RH Tim Lincecum (10-15, 5.18, 186 IP, 190 Ks, matched career high with 17 wild pitches), LH Barry Zito (15-8, 4.15, 184 1-3 IP; most wins since joining Giants in ’07, won final 5 starts and 7 straight decisions).
Reds: LH Aroldis Chapman (5-5, 1.51, 38/43 saves), LH Sean Marshall (5-5, 2.51, 9/13 saves), RH Jonathan Broxton (3-3, 2.82, 4/6 saves), RH Sam LeCure (3-3, 3.14), RH Jose Arredondo (6-2, 2.95, 1 save), RH Logan Ondrusek (5-2, 3.46, 2 saves).
Giants: RH Santiago Casilla (7-6, 2.84, 25/31 saves), LH Jeremy Affeldt (1-2, 2.70, 3 saves), LH Javier Lopez (3-0, 2.50, 7 saves, .191 BA vs. LH), RH Sergio Romo (4-2, 1.79, 14/15 saves, .185 BA against), RH Ryan Vogelsong (14-9, 3.37 in 31 starts), RH George Kontos (2-1, 2.47 ERA).
The Reds won two of three from the Giants at Great American Ball Park from April 24-26. The teams split a four-game series in San Francisco from June 28 to July 1. Three of the seven games were decided by one run. The Giants were held to two runs or less in four of the games. … The Reds hold a 20-13 lead in the series over the last five seasons. …. Votto hurt his left knee while sliding into third base in San Francisco on June 29. A cartilage tear wasn’t detected until after the All-Star break, and he needed two operations and missed six weeks. The Reds went 36-12 in his absence, taking control in the NL Central. Votto batted .316 in 25 games after his return, but drove in only seven runs. He hasn’t homered since June 24. … Cain had the toughest time of anyone in the Giants’ rotation against Cincinnati this season, losing both of his starts. He gave up three runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 9-2 loss on April 24 — the most lopsided of the season series — and five runs in five innings of a 5-1 defeat on June 29. … Bruce batted .423 against the Giants this season with a homer and seven RBIs.
Reds: They won the NL Central ahead of schedule in 2010 with a young lineup, but got swept in the playoffs by Philadelphia, including a no-hitter by Roy Halladay. Cincinnati kept the roster virtually intact for 2011 and lost ground as Cueto and Bailey got hurt during spring training and Arroyo came down with mononucleosis that limited him all season. The front office changed strategy last offseason and dealt a package of players to San Diego for Latos, including two former first-round picks and starter Edinson Volquez. They also gave Votto — the 2010 NL MVP — a 10-year contract extension worth $225 million, showing a commitment to winning. All five starters made it through the season without injury, a franchise first, and became the cornerstone of Cincinnati’s second division title in three years. … The back of the bullpen got wiped out during spring training, when setup relievers Bill Bray and Nick Masset got hurt and new closer Ryan Madson blew out his elbow. Dusty Baker did some of his best managing, slowly moving Chapman into the closer’s role for the first time. The hard-throwing Cuban didn’t allow an earned run in his first 24 appearances, a club record, and saved 27 consecutive chances, another franchise mark. He missed a week in mid-September with a tired shoulder, which is a concern heading into the postseason. … Rolen was in and out of the lineup with more shoulder and back problems. Todd Frazier filled in and became a Rookie of the Year candidate with a .273 average, 19 HRs and 67 RBIs. Baker has to decide how much to play the two in the postseason.
Giants: In April, the Giants lost All-Star closer and 2010 major league saves leader Brian Wilson to a season-ending injury. In August, they lost All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera to a 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test. Just as he did two years ago during that World Series championship run, GM Brian Sabean brought in key pieces to fill key needs: Scutaro at second and Pence in right field. They’re not quite the castoffs and misfits of 2010 — Cody Ross, Pat Burrell — but more a team that overcame the absence of switch-hitting Sandoval because of two DL stints and moved forward seemingly unfazed when Cabrera got suspended. … Posey, who missed most of last season after serious leg and ankle injuries from a frightening collision at home plate with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins on May 25, returned every bit the player he was during his 2010 NL Rookie of the Year campaign. … Manager Bruce Bochy was spot-on mixing and matching in the bullpen all year, including in the closer spot after Casilla initially held the gig in place of Wilson. Newcomer Pagan made a huge impact down the stretch, while Posey captured the NL batting title and put himself in the running for MVP honors. … Giants rookie Hector Sanchez might catch, with Posey moving to first base, when Lincecum or Zito starts.
Matt Loede’s Pick and Prediction:
This is a tough one to pick, as the Giants won 94 games, only to be outdone by the Reds, who won 97 games yet it seems that no one is talking about Dusty Baker’s team.
That will change here, as the Reds are about to get a lot of attention as they look to take out the Giants, who boast a solid offense, but were held in check by the Reds pitching staff in the games this season. The Reds held San Fran to two runs or less in four of the games, and in the postseason when the pressure gets tighter, I expect the Reds pitching staff to do it again.
The Giants have to get a lot of their rotation and pen to stay in this series, otherwise the Reds are going to run away with this as their offense is as dangerous as any in baseball of the teams in the postseason.
Posey will have to have a big postseason at the plate for the Giants, and they need to get great outings from both Lincecum and Zito. It’s asking a lot, and that’s why I think the Reds will win this season and continue their solid play into the NLCS.
Cincinnati 3 games to 1
The Associated Press contributed to this piece.