2012 Playoff Preview: (2) Cincinnati Reds vs. (3) San Francisco Giants

The Reds are the model of consistency. The Giants are the picture of streakiness. In a five-game series, getting hot at the right time makes all the difference between a sweep one way or the other. Photo: AP Photo

WASHINGTON, October 6, 2012 — To have Tim Lincecum be the fourth or fifth-best member of your pitching staff would be a dream come true for most managers. That’s a true statement even coming off a season where Lincecum’s walk rate ballooned to 4.4 BB/9, causing an ERA jump from 2.74 to a career-high 5.18 mark, and a career-worst record of 10-15.  One simply doesn’t write off two-time Cy Young recipients in a postseason format where luck is everything. Then one looks at the roster for the Cincinnati Reds and sees the Queen City’s version of Tim Lincecum four years ago in the form of ace Johnny Cueto.

But this series between the Giants and Reds, starting tonight, October 6, is not as simple as that similarity might make it sound. Cincinnati’s offense is far from the dominant Big Red Machine offenses of yore. The Giants finally managed to create a potent lineup, only to lose Melky Cabrera, a key part of that renaissance, to a deserved 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Flame-throwing Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman didn’t give up a run until June 7 but took time off in September for arm fatigue, prompting doubts about his endurance. San Francisco has an MVP-caliber catcher in Buster Posey. And the list goes on.

The Giants, for once, have a talented lineup to go with a top-notch pitching staff. For sure, they definitely have way more weapons as opposed to their 2010 lineup, which basically consisted solely of some timely hitting and magic from waiver-wire pickup Cody Ross, yet still managed to get World Series rings. Catcher Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval are the most note-worthy starters for the Giants, with the former leading the team in homeruns (24), RBI’s (103), on-base percentage (.408), slugging percentage (.549), and doubles (39). (He also led in batting average, hitting .336, if the suspended Cabrera is ignored.) Sandoval had an all-around consistent season, hitting .283/.342/.447 while battling injuries. The hidden gem on this year’s Giants, a la Andres Torres, is probably veteran center fielder Angel Pagan, who, despite a league-average on-base percentage, provided a spark from the top of the order with 38 doubles, 15 triples, and 29 stolen bases.

Unfortunately for the Giants, the Reds’ lineup remains powerful in more ways then one, especially if first baseman Joey Votto can rediscover his power stroke in the postseason after putting up a .567 slugging percentage with only 14 homeruns. Corner outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce provide the bulk of the power on a team that finished third in the league in homeruns. But outside of those three, production is lacking from the rest of the lineup, and the pressure will be on Votto, coming off a remarkable stretch of 25 games in which he had a .505 on-base percentage, but failed to go yard.

When it  comes to pitching, the Giants boast, in addition to Lincecum, a top three of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong. Cain and Bumgarner finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in the NL in strikeouts this season, a fact that will play well with the swing-happy top of the Reds’ lineup formed by Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips. Reliever Sergio Romo took the closer job from Santiago Casilla in mid-August, and though he isn’t Brian Wilson, he’s one of few pitchers who can match Chapman strikeout for strikeout, albeit with a much lower walk rate.

Behind Cueto, the Reds have an exceptionally balanced rotation, the kind that steadily works its way through the long regular season without much thought, but falls to streaky rotations that get hot at the right times when it comes to the playoffs. That means that Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo will truly need to be at their best to counter an exceptional San Francisco rotation that has already proven itself in the playoffs.

The Reds are the proven regular-season commodity. The Giants are the proven October commodity. Even without their second-best position player, the Giants are ready to rumble, and this time around, they have enough of a supporting cast to scrape by the Reds.


San Francisco in 4.


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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

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