Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Playoff Preview: Phillies-Reds

In the NL series beginning today, the Cincinnati Reds will square off against the Philadelphia Phillies. These are two teams with two very different strategies, both of which have been extremely successful this year. The Reds might be the playoff team that got the least love at the beginning of the year, and the Phillies have been many pundits’ pick to win the NL since before opening day. The Reds rely on their big bats to produce runs and simply outscore teams, with their 790 runs putting them at the top of the NL. These big bats are led by first baseman Joey Votto, whose 59.4 batting runs above average is the best number in baseball. However, they’re a pretty average team in terms of run prevention, allowing the 7th least runs of any NL team (and more than every other NL playoff team). Also of note, the Reds’ run prevention numbers are largely due to their defense, which put up 44.8 UZR. They might be the worst pitching team in the playoffs, but their hitting and fielding have so far made up for any deficiencies their staff might have.

The Phillies, on the other hand, rely on their pitching to shut down opponents while their offense does just enough to win. Their 27.9 batting RAA puts them behind every playoff team besides the Giants, and at –6.1 fielding runs above average they’re one of only two teams in the playoffs (Atlanta being the other) with a below-average defense. However, they counteract their lack of offensive and fielding excellence with one of the best rotations in the league. Their starters have collected 144.5 pitching RAA, and that’s with only half a season of Roy Oswalt. 

Just a look at the pitching matchups for this series will give you an idea of why I’m going to end up picking the Phillies. Today, probable NL Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay will get the start in Philly against Edinson Volquez. Game two will feature Bronson Arroyo and his 1.7 WAR (in 215.2 innings) and Roy Oswalt, who’s put up 4.7 WAR between the Astros and Phils this season. That’ll also be in Philly. With such lopsided pitching matchups, I have trouble predicting anything but a Phillies win in both contests. In the first game in Cincy, Cole Hamels (3.8 WAR) will go up against Johnny Cueto, whose 2.8 WAR makes him the most valuable Reds pitcher in 2010. 

The Phillies also probably have the bullpen advantage, if only by a little. Brad Lidge has put up a 2.96 ERA, but the Phillies’ closer has been somewhat fortunate, with a 3.87 FIP. I’d still take him and his 10.25 K rate over Francisco Cordero, who’s only managed a 3.92 FIP and 7.31 K/9, his worst strikeout rate for a full season in a decade. The only reason I say “probably” is because Dusty Baker has at his disposal the hardest-throwing pitcher I’ve ever seen. Aroldis Chapman, who really needs a good nickname (my vote is for “The Cuban Cannon”), throws ridiculously hard. On September 24, he became the first pitcher ever timed at 105 MPH during a major league game. In 13.1 MLB innings, Chapman has struck out 19 batters. His control isn’t great, so he tends to walk a lot of hitters, but he’s a secret weapon for the Reds. Nick Masset’s been a strong setup man, with a 3.38 FIP, but he’s also prone to command problems (3.87 BB/9). Arthur Rhodes started the season strong, but he’s been pretty mediocre since the All-Star break. His 5.84 FIP in July and 3.58 in August are the only months this season in which he’s been over 3, although his 2.55 September/October FIP represents somewhat of a bounceback. For the Phillies, Ryan Madson will be looking to bridge the gap between the strong starters and Lidge. Madson’s been spectacular this season, putting up a 2.55 ERA and a 2.61 FIP that suggests his big step forward has been anything but a fluke. Past that, the Phillies don’t have many strong relief options, but with starters like theirs, it’s unlikely that that will be a huge factor.

I’m going to take the Phillies to sweep this series. Halladay and Oswalt will take care of business in Philly, and from there it’ll be a question of Cole Hamels closing out the series. While the Reds might be able to stave off elimination for one game, I doubt they get the series back to Philly for game 5. To win this series they’d have to beat Halladay, Oswalt, or both, in Philly. I don’t see that happening.

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