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

The Braves’ top minor league team to rename itself

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Whereas once it was expected that all sports teams would be named after ferocious animals, notable historic figures or events or something else otherwise inspiring, there has been a trend in the minor leagues over the past few years to give teams somewhat silly names.

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. The Binghamton Rumble Ponies. The New Orleans Baby Cakes. The Down East Wood Ducks. Etc.

I suspect a lot of that is fueled by a desire to sell intentionally uncool merchandise to ironic hipsters. Some of it may simply be a function of branding and creating a team identity that will not, for a moment, cause the local nine to be confused with anyone else. Not that those things are mutually exclusive. Whatever the impulse, the trend will no doubt continue.

The next place we could see it: Gwinnett County Georgia, where the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A team plays:

Gwinnett Braves general manager North Johnson announced a contest to rename the Triple-A team for the 2018 season and beyond.

Fans and members of the Gwinnett community can suggest new team names starting Monday through June 2. After all team name suggestions are submitted, a final round of voting on the top choices will last from June 19-July 3 on the Gwinnett Braves’ website.

Like all but one of its other affiliates, Gwinnett is named the Braves, just like the parent club. Being so close to Atlanta has caused it some identify problems, however, as one suburban Atlantan telling another that he’s “going to the Braves game” tomorrow could be confusing. Especially now that the major league team also plays in suburban Atlanta, about 35 miles apart. It makes sense.

So, go to the website, folks, and suggest a new name. The sillier the better. Basebally McBaseball Face? The Gwinnett Crackers?

 

David Ortiz thinks the Yankees leaked his 2003 drug test results

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David Ortiz was one of the hundred or so ballplayers who tested positive for PEDs during the 2003 survey testing which was designed to determine whether or not baseball’s drug problem was significant enough to warrant full-blown testing the following year.  His and everyone else’s name was supposed to remain confidential — indeed, the test results were supposed to be destroyed — but the government illegally seized them and, eventually, his, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa’s names were leaked.

While most people have long moved on from those survey test results — and while Rob Manfred himself recently said that those results may not, in fact, establish that Ortiz took banned substances  — the story still sticks in Ortiz’s craw. So much so that he’s still out speculating about how his results were made public. His theory? The Yankees did it. From an interview on WEEI:

“What was the reason for them to come out with something like that?” he said. “The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston. This was just something that leaked out of New York, and they had zero explanation about it.”

I’m gonna call B.S. on that.

At the time names were surfacing in connection with those test results, in the summer of 2009, I was given a list of players by an anonymous source. This person claimed it was a list of all 100+ players who tested positive in 2003. Given the nature in which they were provided to me and given that, at the time, there were a lot of people circulating hoax lists, I was dubious to say the least. I had a separate source at the time who knew people who had access to the actual list of players. The source would not tell me who was on the actual list — it was and continues to be confidential — but the knowledgable source did confirm for me that, as I suspected, my list was bunk. I obviously didn’t write anything about it and moved on.

Some added value from that conversation, however, was learning just how few people actually had access to the real list. A small handful of top officials at the union and the league office did, I was told, and obviously the government had it given that they seized it in their idiotic and illegal raid, but that was it. Clubs, I was specifically told, did not have the list.

We’ll never know for sure, but I strongly, strongly suspect that the source of the leak was either IRS/FDA agent Jeff Novitzky, who spearheaded the government’s investigation into PEDs or someone close to him, such as the prosecutors with whom he worked. Novitzky spent close to a decade outing and prosecuting athletes for PED use and, in my view and the view of many others who followed the story at the time, he saw his work as an almost holy crusade. As the above-linked story about the federal court smacking down his seizure of the 2003 test results as illegal, he was often overzealous.

The reporter who broke the story of David Ortiz’s positive test result was Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times. Schmidt almost always had the first stories about players being outed as PED users during that period and his reporting on steroids in baseball in general almost always carried with it a pro-government slant. As I said, we’ll never know for sure, but it seems obvious to me that federal investigators and prosecutors were his sources. I suspect they were his sources for the name-naming articles as well. When Ortiz’s name leaked, Novitzky’s investigation was on the brink of being smacked down hard by a federal court and, I suspect, he leaked Ortiz’s name to the New York Times as a means of putting a face on the story and getting public sentiment on the side of those who would name names.

Like I said, though, that’s all ancient history at this point. At least to most people. It’s not to David Ortiz, which is understandable given that the whole incident affected him personally. But I think he’s wrong on the Yankees being the ones to out him. I don’t think anyone with the Yankees knew who was actually on the list. And even if they did, they had no incentive to get into some sort of P.R. war about PED users given that they already at least one prominent superstar getting killed for PED use and a lot of other ones who could possibly have been on the list as well.

But the feds had the list. And a desire to have the bad guys they were trying to prosecute shamed in the public arena. I’d bet a decent sum of money that they’re the ones who leaked your name, Big Papi. I’d aim your rhetorical guns at them if I were you.