© 2012 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
10/04/12 10:00 AM ET
Stability of starters sets tone for Giants, Reds
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
This Division Series between the National League Central champion Reds and NL West champion Giants will be a series about Dusty Baker, sure.
After all, this Reds team -- a team that ran away with the NL Central -- gives Baker a tremendous opportunity to end his long, painful quest for a World Series ring. But the search for that ring runs right through his roots in San Francisco, against a Giants team whose 2002 bid with Baker fell one win shy of glory.
This will also be a series with a storyline of survival. The Giants not only survived but thrived without their No. 3 hitter, Melky Cabrera, whose season was unceremoniously cut short by a performance-enhancing drug suspension. And the Reds not only survived but thrived when their No. 3 hitter, Joey Votto, missed 45 games with a left knee injury initially suffered -- coincidentally enough -- in San Francisco.
More than anything, though, this will be a series about starting pitching.
And here, too, the Reds and Giants are inextricably linked.
How many teams in history have had the good fortune of getting 30 starts apiece out of five different starters in a single season? Only seven.
The 2012 Reds and Giants are two of the seven.
It is that laudable level of stability that has helped these two clubs get to this point. But now that they're here, the question is not as much durability as it is dependability in the prominence of the postseason.
Here, of course, the Giants hold a historical edge, for it was their vaunted rotation that led them to glory in 2010.
But beyond Matt Cain, whose next postseason earned run allowed will be his first, the cast has changed considerably. Madison Bumgarner is no longer the rookie rounding out the back end; he's at the forefront. Tim Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, has taken a stunning step backward. Barry Zito, the poster boy for bloated pitcher contracts gone wrong, has taken a step forward. And Ryan Vogelsong emerged into the mix with an incredible comeback campaign in 2011, though he, too, enters October as a bit of a question mark, given some recent outings.
As I write this, Bruce Bochy has not revealed his Division Series rotation beyond Cain. Bumgarner seems the likely choice for Game 2, with Lincecum and Zito to follow.
The Reds counter with Johnny Cueto, a bona fide ace whose ERA (2.78) was almost identical to Cain's 2.79 mark despite pitching his home games in an unquestionably more hitter-friendly environment. He's followed by Bronson Arroyo and then Mat Latos, which might seem an odd order until you note that Arroyo was nearly half a run better on the road than at home this season and Latos was three-quarters of a run better at home than on the road. Finally, it says a lot about the Reds' rotation that the guy who just tossed a no-hitter -- Homer Bailey -- is No. 4 in the postseason pecking order.
Speaking of order, the one factor that might concern the Reds going into this series is the seeding.
Simply put, the second seed in the MLB playoffs, which the Reds have attained, isn't what it used to be and isn't what it will be a year from now. As has been and will continue to be the case, it buys you a Division Series matchup with a fellow division winner. But for this one year only -- a year in which the Wild Card round was shoved into an already set schedule -- it provides Division Series home-field advantage that exists only in quantity, not quality. Three games at home, but only after two on the road.
It will be interesting to see what factor, if any, that distinction plays in this matchup, because AT&T Park doesn't necessarily suit the Reds' homer habits. This could mean absolutely nothing in this setting, but the Reds were more reliant on the long ball than were the Giants this season. The Reds went 27-40 in games in which they don't homer, whereas the Giants were 45-46 in such instances.
Given the atrophy AT&T can cause in an offense, runs could be hard to come by, in general, in the first two games of this series. They've been especially hard to come by for the Reds of late. No team averaged fewer runs per game in September/October than the Reds (2.86). The Giants, meanwhile, averaged 4.97.
When you consider those recent offensive trends, the postseason pedigree of the Giants' starting arms and the actuality of where the home-field "advantage" rests in Games 1 and 2, the Giants might have the upper hand here.
It seems best, though, not to make such assumptions. Because you'd also assume a skipper as successful as Baker would have a ring by now. You'd assume that, given the frequency of pitcher injuries, there's no way two teams would have five guys making 30 starts. And you'd assume that any team that loses its No. 3 hitter for nearly one-third of the season would suffer significantly in the standings.
These Reds and Giants invite you to assume nothing -- except that we might be in for a scintillating series.