The season is over, the postseason matchups are set and after the weird wild card play-in game between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals the National League Division Series will commence. Saturday evening at a miserably late hour for Reds fans, the 2012 postseason we have been dreaming of will begin. The question is, “Are these Reds ready for the media onslaught they will soon face and will they be able to deliver on the tantalizing promise this season has provided Reds fans?”
They are playoff tested but you can say, when you examine this fact a little closer, it is not an encouraging amount of experience. The players who faced Philadelphia two years ago learned one important fact. Losing in the playoffs is hideous. How did that team fare offensively you ask? Brandon Phillips had 4 hits, including a home run, making him the offensive leader. Jay Bruce had two hits also including the Reds only other home run. Joey Votto and the entire remaining members of the roster combined for 5 singles. The team batting average was an anemic .124 batting average. Forget Phillips and Bruce and that number drops to .072 on the strength of a soul crushing 5-69 performance.
The pitching was better and if you remove Game 1 starter Edinson Volquez and reliever Nick Masset from this equation the Reds had outstanding pitching allowing just 2 runs in 21.1 IP for an ERA of 1.19. Aroldis Chapman and Johnny Cueto each earned losses though Chapman’s was the result of an unearned run. Volquez had the third loss and is the only pitcher to truly melt down during the series.
Two members of the Reds team have savored the thrill of victory in the World Series, Scott Rolen in 2006 with St. Louis and, with Rolen on the field for the Cardinals, Bronson Arroyo savored the ultimate prize with the Boston Red Sox in their historic 2004 run. Willie Harris, gone and not lamented, also has a World Series Ring in his collection winning with the Chicago White Sox in 2005. While he finished his WS appearance with a perfect 1.000 batting average, he only had two at bats and happened to make the best of them.
The Giants have a team with a bit more playoff experience. Winning the World Series in 2010 with many of the players currently on the roster offers them a depth of experience far beyond the Reds challenges with Philadelphia. Or does it? Actually the only position players to log significant time in 2010 for the Giants, are then Rookie of the Year Buster Posey and journeyman Aubrey Huff. Ryan Theriot also got to enjoy the thrill of victory with the Cardinals last season and Pablo Sandoval was on the team in 2010 but only recorded 3 at bats in the World Series after a lackluster playoff run. Nate Schierholtz also appeared in a limited role.
The Giants pitching rotation offers a more sobering image. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum have a combined postseason record of 8 wins and 1 loss. Add in Barry Zito and his career postseason record of 4-3 and you realize these guys have been there and done that. But as Matt Gahris shared in his latest article the SF bullpen can be defeated, you just have to be patient at the plate and get too them. Sergio Romo and Brad Penny have postseason experience and Sergio Casilla and Javier Lopez have finished decent seasons, this is a point of vulnerability the Reds can and must exploit.
For me the 5 keys to a Cincinnati Reds trip to the National League Championship Series are:
- On Base Percentage. You have to have runners on base to drive them home.
- Pitch Count. Cincinnati batters must be patient and have solid at bats in order to wear down the Giants formidable pitching rotation.
- One rookie, either Zack Cozart or Todd Frazier, to make a splash.
- Solid production from 2 and preferably 3 of the 4 players who seem to set the tempo for this team: Ryan Ludwick (yes Ludwick), Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, and most importantly, Joey Votto. We may never know how hurt Votto has been the past month, but I am certain he is not close to 100%. If power returns to his legs there may be no limit to what this Reds team can accomplish, otherwise…
- Continued excellent pitching by both the rotation and the relief corps and not allow the playoff atmosphere to change the way this staff has approached the now completed 2012 season.
In closing I want to offer one last point. The Reds need to win this series by playing within themselves. They need to have a chip on their shoulder and realize each team has its back against the wall. They need to channel their game as they did when Joey Votto went down. They are a championship caliber baseball team…when they show up.
Follow me on Twitter throughout the playoffs @JohnHeitz and hopefully we can keep each other awake!