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

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.