NLDS Preview: Reds vs. Phillies

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Here at HardballTalk we pride ourselves on writing dozens of posts a
day obsessing on every single little thing possible. We’re told,
however, that some of you have lives and thus not all of you are able to
read dozens of posts a day obsessing on every single little thing
possible.  That’s a shame, but for that reason, we’ve put together a few
previews covering the broad strokes of each of the four Division Series
matchups, which will pop up between now and first pitch on Wednesday
afternoon. Let’s begin, shall we?

The Matchup: Cincinnati Reds (91-71) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)

How’ve they been doing?
The Phillies were phenomenal in the season’s last month, winning 23 of their last 30.  The Reds were below .500 over that time, losing a lot more games to not-so-great teams than they should have.

Haven’t I seen you before?
The Phillies won the season series 5-2. The Reds beat the Phillies 3-0 in the 1976 NLCS. With the exception of Jamie Moyer, however, the rosters have turned over so that shouldn’t have much bearing here.

Who’s pitching?
The Phillies are — surprise surprise — going to trot out fellas by the name of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels. The Reds counter with Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.  You’d think that Travis Wood — a lefty who took a perfecto into the ninth inning against the Phillies back in July — would get a look-see, but I guess not. To be fair, though, that was a very different Phillies team back in July than the one playing now, and Wood has had really only one spiffy start in the past couple of months.

The storyline which doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things
but which TBS will nonetheless beat to death

I won’t say it doesn’t matter, because it does, but the “Phillies are vulnerable to lefties” thing has less traction this year than in years past. As Ken Rosenthal noted over at FOX, Chase Utley actually did better against lefties this year than he did against righties and Ryan Howard’s splits are less extreme than they have been historically. Granted, Howard’s splits were narrowed due to a bigger dropoff against righties than an improvement against lefties, but he has done better.  I’m still looking forward to seeing Aroldis Chapman brought in to face Utley and Howard, but it won’t necessarily be the same dynamic we’re used to seeing when the Phillies face a lefty late.

Oh, and the storyline we’re going to get absolutely sick of is the “Big Three” or “H20” or whatever it is we’re calling Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt these days. But just because we’re sick of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It’s basically everything in this series, I’m afraid.

The storyline which actually does matter but about which TBS won’t spend a lot of time
talking

Not saying it matters too much, but I would not be at all surprised if there is a big focus on “the battle-hardened Phillies” vs. the “wet-behind-the-ears” Reds.  Such a thing is tempting to beat into the ground, but if TBS does this, they’ll have to ignore the fact that The Reds do have playoff experience. Ramon Hernandez, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Orlando Cabrera, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Gomes and Arthur Rhodes have all played in October. And, oh yeah, Dusty Baker managed a team to within one win of a World Series title himself.  These guys won’t be deer in the headlights. Roy Halladay will be the most important guy on the field in Game 1, and he’s never played in the postseason.

What’s gonna go down?
The phrase “anything can happen in a short series” is true because, yeah, anything can happen in a short series.  And just ask Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz how often being “The Big Three” ended up not mattering in the end.  But really, the Reds are outgunned here, and there’s no way to get around that fact. Sure, I can envision a scenario in which Halladay has a bad start for some reason, Manuel has to go to the bullpen early and everything gets thrown off kilter. But I kinda doubt it. 

I’ll call it the Phillies in 4 simply because it seems rude to predict a sweep, but let’s just say that I will be none too surprised if a sweep goes down.  Too many arms on the Phillies. Too many good bats. Too many of the Reds gaudy team-offensive numbers were compiled against the NL Central.  I don’t think this will be particularly close.

Stephen Strasburg unlikely to pitch in the NLDS

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 07:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals walks off the field after an injury in the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on September 7, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said on Tuesday that starter Stephen Strasburg is unlikely to pitch in the NLDS against the Dodgers, Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic reports. Strasburg hasn’t pitched since September 7 due to a strained flexor mass.

Strasburg was pitching well before a few poor starts prior to being shut down in August. He currently holds a 3.60 ERA with a 183/44 K/BB ratio in 147 2/3 innings.

The Nationals signed Strasburg to a seven-year, $175 million contract extension in May. This was obviously not how they invisioned his 2016 campaign going.

A.J. Cole fined, suspended five games for throwing at Jung Ho Kang

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Home plate umpire Jordan Baker ejects A.J. Cole #22 of the Washington Nationals in the third inning during the game at PNC Park on September 25, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Nationals starter A.J. Cole has been fined an undisclosed amount and suspended five games by Major League Baseball for intentionally throwing at Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang on Sunday, Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post reports. Cole is appealing his suspension.

Kang faked a tag on Bryce Harper, who was coming into third base on a triple. The fake-out caused Harper to slide awkwardly, injuring his left thumb. The Nationals took exception to this and Cole threw a fastball that ended sailing behind Kang’s back during his next at-bat. Cole was ejected and both benches emptied. There was some yelling and some light pushing and shoving, but nothing beyond that.

Cole will remain active until his appeal is heard, which may allow him to make one more start before the end of the regular season. He’s carrying a 5.09 ERA with a 37/14 K/BB ratio in 35 1/3 innings over seven starts this season.