NLDS Preview: Giants vs. Reds

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Giants and Reds have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

San Francisco Giants (94-68) vs. Cincinnati Reds (97-65)

The Matchups

Game 1 Saturday in San Francisco: Johnny Cueto vs. Matt Cain
Game 2 Sunday in San Francisco: Bronson Arroyo vs. Madison Bumgarner
Game 3 Tuesday in Cincinnati: Undecided vs. Mat Latos
Game 4 (if necessary) Wednesday in Cincinnati
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Cincinnati

Analysis: You have to like the Giants’ chances in Game 1, as Cain has a 2.62 ERA at home dating back to 2009. Only eight pitchers have been better during the same timespan. I’m not crazy about Arroyo going in Game 2, but Bumgarner allowed four earned runs or more in five out of his final seven starts. And that would worry me a bit if I was a Giants fan.

We know who the Reds will put out there for the first three games, but Bruce Bochy hasn’t announced who will start Game 3 because he has left open the possibility that Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong will pitch in relief at some point during the first two games of the series. It’s likely that Homer Bailey will start Game 4 for the Reds and while he was excellent down the stretch (including a no-hitter against the Pirates on September 28), he had a 5.16 ERA in 17 starts at home this year. Meanwhile, his 2.32 ERA on the road was the best among qualified starters. But enough of my second-guessing.

The Storylines

  • The Reds took the season series 4-3 while outscoring the Giants 28-21.
  • It’s critical for the Giants to get at least one, maybe both, of the games at AT&T Park, as the Reds finished tied with the Cardinals and Nationals for the best home record (50-31) in the National League.
  • This might surprise you, but the Giants actually outscored the Reds (718-669) during the regular season. Of course, Dusty Baker relied on Drew Stubbs (.277 on-base percentage) and Zack Cozart (.288 on-base percentage) out of the top two spots in the order for the majority of the season. Oh, and the Reds only got 111 games out of Joey Votto. To be fair, Brandon Phillips has batted primarily out of the leadoff spot since Votto returned from the disabled list. He’s no on-base machine, but that’s still a pretty significant improvement for the top of the order.
  • When Melky Cabrera was suspended for testing positive for synthetic testosterone, there were plenty of folks who were ready to write the Giants off as a potential playoff team. But they went 30-15 over their final 45 games. Buster Posey has led the charge in his first season back from a devastating ankle injury, winning his first career batting crown* while emerging as one of the favorites for National League MVP, but Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan have also been pretty good. Hunter Pence somehow managed 45 RBI in 59 games after coming over from the Phillies, despite batting just .219/.287/.384 with a .671 OPS. Pablo Sandoval finally showed some pop down the stretch, so perhaps he’s finally back on track from hamate bone surgery. Still, relying on Gregor Blanco and Xavier Nady in left field has to catch up with the Giants at some point, doesn’t it?
  • What are we going to get from Lincecum? He finished the season with a 5.18 ERA, the fourth-highest among qualified starters. And while he had better results during the second half (3.83 ERA), he walked 40 batters in 89 1/3 innings, including 22 in 35 innings in September. He had a 6.43 ERA on the road this season while allowing 16 homers in 84 innings, so a start at Great American Ballpark could be good news for the Reds.
  • Joey Votto doesn’t have a home run since June 24, but he batted .316/.505/.421 with eight doubles and a 20/28 K/BB ratio over 105 plate appearances after returning from knee surgery. While the Reds would sure love for him to provide some power alongside the likes of Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick, he’s still one of the toughest outs in the game. It says something when you lead the league in walks despite missing two months.
  • The Giants were fourth in the National League this season with 118 stolen bases (that number includes 13 from Melky Cabrera) while the Reds were 14th with 87 swipes. It’s fair to expect the Giants to be a bit more active on the basepaths, but remember that Ryan Hanigan threw out attempted basestealers at a major-league best rate of 48 percent this season.
  • Buoyed by strong performances by Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton, Reds relievers finished first in the majors this season with a 2.65 ERA. And that’s despite losing closer Ryan Madson to Tommy John surgery during spring training. Meanwhile, the Giants were eighth in the National League with a 3.56 bullpen ERA. Bruce Bochy has relied on multiple relievers out of the closer role since Brian Wilson had Tommy John surgery, including Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. I don’t think this matchup is as stark as the numbers would have you believe, but I would rather be on the side with Chapman assuming he’s over his recent shoulder fatigue.

Prediction

Boy, this is a tough one. I really think this has the chance to be the most competitive division series matchup. If the Reds can get one of the two games in San Francisco, they should have the advantage coming home. And I think they’ll pull it off. The Reds might be the best all-around team in the entire playoffs.

REDS WIN THE SERIES 3-2

Jered Weaver announces his retirement

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Jered Weaver, a 12-year big league veteran and a three-time All-Star, has announced his retirement.

Weaver was struggling mightily with the Padres this year, going 0-5 in nine starts and posting a 7.44 ERA,, a 2.6 BB/9 and 4.9 K/9 ratio over 42.1 innings. He hadn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2014 and his velocity had, quite famously, sunk into the low 80s and even high 70s at times in recent seasons. A spate of physical setbacks contributed to that, with a hip inflammation ailing him this season and nerve issues in his neck and back afflicting him for the past few years.

But even if his recent seasons have been less-than-memorable, it’s worth remembering that he was, for a time, one of baseball’s best pitchers. He posted a record of 131-69 with a 3.28 ERA in his first 9 seasons, leading the American League in strikeouts in 2010 and leading the circuit in wins in 2012 and 2014. He likewise led the league in WHIP and hits allowed per nine innings in 2012.

He finishes his career with a record of 150-98, an ERA of 3.63 (ERA+ of 111) and a K/BB ratio of 1,621/551 in 2,067.1 innings. He pitched in four American League Division Series and the 2009 ALCS, posting a 2.67 ERA in seven playoff games pitched.

Happy trails, Jered. A first-ballot induction into the Hall of He Was Really Dang Good, Even if We Forgot About It For A While is in your future.

The Jose Fernandez statue may be in jeopardy

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Last November it was reported that the Marlins planned to build a memorial for Jose Fernandez, likely including a statue. The effort was said to be a pet project of the Marlins owner, Jeff Loria, who was close with Fernandez.

Today the Miami Herald reports, however, that those plans are in limbo due to the sale of the team:

The planned statue to honor Jose Fernandez, which was departing owner Jeffrey Loria’s idea, is now very much in question because it will not be erected before Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter take over, and it will ultimately be the new owners’ call. That matter has not yet been discussed, with the sale agreed to only in the past few days.

There’s nothing in the report suggesting that they’re opposed to the statue — it’s possible this was placed in the Herald by people close to the new group in order to test the waters — but there always was the sense that the idea was something of a priority for Loria personally. One wonders how much momentum it will have once he’s gone.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that Fernandez was eventually found to have been under the influence of alcohol and cocaine and was behind the wheel of the boat at the time of the accident that claimed his life and the life of two others, making any memorial to him suspect in the eyes of some people.

Thankfully we don’t spend a lot of time and energy discussing the ethics of statues in this country, so I’m sure it’ll have no bearing on the matter.