10/05/12 7:05 PM ET
Giants-Reds NLDS position breakdown
By Cash Kruth / MLB.com
Buster Posey won the National League batting title by hitting .336 and, with 24 home runs and 103 RBIs, is a leading NL Most Valuable Player candidate. He's also a much better defender than for which he's given credit. Ryan Hanigan is no slouch either, as he led the Majors in catcher's ERA by a wide margin. Hanigan also hit a respectable .274 this season, but Posey has been the heart and soul of the Giants throughout his short career.
Brandon Belt closed his sophomore campaign impressively for San Francisco, posting a .329/.390/.494 slash line in the season's final two months. The youngster's in-season improvement still leaves him behind 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto. Votto's power has been nonexistent since returning from a left knee injury -- slugging only .421 with zero home runs -- but he's still one of the game's elite hitters (.316 average) and one of its most consistent defenders.
Going by the name test, Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips gets the edge. But thinking this position is that clear-cut is a mistake. Those not out West might have missed that Marco Scutaro hit .362 since joining the Giants at the Trade Deadline, a stretch that concluded with a season-ending 20-game hitting streak. Scutaro's OPS was more than 100 points higher (.859 to .750) than the Reds second baseman's, but Phillips certainly has the edge on defense.
Cincinnati's Zack Cozart and San Francisco's Brandon Crawford are each defense-first shortstops, with Crawford providing more flash and consistency in that department. Fairly equal offensively, Cozart has more pop -- 15 homers to four -- but also more pressure. While Crawford hits near the bottom of the Giants order, Cozart's production atop Cincinnati's is key for the Reds, who need to get Cozart and Phillips on for Jay Bruce and Votto.
One big difference between this year's Giants squad and the 2010 World Series champions is at third base, where Pablo Sandoval has returned to All-Star form. He's still overweight, but his bat is dangerous. Veteran Scott Rolen will start over rookie Todd Frazier for Cincinnati, making Frazier a utility player. Rolen doesn't provide as much power as Sandoval, but he is still one of the game's best defensively at the hot corner.
With Melky Cabrera manning left field for the Giants earlier this season, San Francisco would have easily gotten the edge here. And although Xavier Nady and Gregor Blanco have filled in well, Cincinnati's Ryan Ludwick is the better option. Ludwick's had a bounce-back season, with 26 home runs and a .275 batting average. Nady likely will get most of the starts for the Giants, with manager Bruce Bochy preferring to have Blanco's speed available off the bench.
Posey might be the team's MVP, but San Francisco's offense is predicated on what Angel Pagan does atop the lineup. He posted a .342/.415/.588 slash line in August, which shows his impact. Drew Stubbs has struggled all year, hitting only .213 and getting on-base at a .277 clip. He's still a power (14 homers) and speed (30 stolen bases) threat, but Pagan's much more consistent. The Giants center fielder also covers more ground in the outfield.
Bruce is one of the best young hitters in the game and proved it once again this season, posting career highs in home runs (34), RBIs (99) and slugging percentage (.514). Hunter Pence has struggled since coming to San Francisco -- hitting only .219 with seven home runs in 59 games -- and likely will get chances to make amends for his subpar showing in the playoffs if the Reds pitch around Posey.
Frazier is the biggest impact bat off the bench on either team, and the rookie certainly has the power to come through in a big moment. The Reds also have Chris Heisey, another right-handed batter. The Giants have speed with Blanco and Joaquin Arias, as well as veterans in Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot.
San Francisco's Matt Cain hasn't allowed an earned run in 21 1/3 career postseason innings, while Johnny Cueto is a Cy Young Award candidate. Reds righty Bronson Arroyo is a wily veteran, while Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner thrived in the postseason as a rookie in 2010. Tim Lincecum still isn't himself -- even with his second-half improvement (6.42 ERA to 3.83) -- while Mat Latos is a Giants killer (2.19 ERA in 11 starts). Yeah, this will be fun.
The Reds' 2.65 bullpen ERA is the best in baseball, better than San Francisco's by nearly a run (3.56), and Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall, Jose Arredondo and others do a great job of bridging the gap to the ninth inning. But the Giants bullpen is impressive, as well. With Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, San Francisco has a pitcher for every situation, and Bochy has proven brilliant in managing it.
Both squads lost their closers this season -- in the Reds' case, Spring Training -- but both Plan B's have worked out splendidly. Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman is a must-see attraction because of his velocity and, when he's on, is one of the best pitchers in baseball. San Francisco's closer by committee hasn't been an issue. Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez all have proven capable of thriving in the ninth inning.