Cincinnati Reds (91-71) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
Game 1: Edison Volquez vs. Roy Halladay
Game 2: Bronson Arroyo vs. Roy Oswalt
Game 3: Johnny Cueto vs. Cole Hamels
Game 4*: Edison Volquez vs. Roy Halladay
Game 5*: Bronson Arroyo vs. Roy Oswalt
*Projected and if necessary.
Because the Phillies have so many impact left handed hitters, the idea that the Reds will be hampered by their all-righty rotation has emerged as a popular misconception. Despite the presence of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez in the middle of the lineup, the Phillies still managed to record a higher OPS against southpaws (.767 vs. .736 against righties). Part of the reason for this contradiction is the Phillies’ lefties do not mash righties. In fact, right handed swinging Jayson Werth is the only regular with an OPS above .900 against them. Meanwhile, the Phillies big lefties seem to handle southpaws just fine. In the regular season, Utley had an OPS of over 1.000 against lefties, while Ryan Howard checked in at .826. Their production added to the .900-plus OPS output of guys like Victorino and Ruiz make the Phillies much more formidable when facing pitchers throwing from the port side.
In addition to preferring lefties, the Phillies lineup also seems to enjoy the fastball. According to fangraphs.com, six of the Phillies’ regulars feast on number one. Unfortunately for them, the Reds’ starters are not very big on throwing heat. Both Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez threw around 55% fastballs in 2010, while Arroyo only went with the express 39.5% of the time. Because all three Reds’ pitchers making their living with off speed pitches, it could spell trouble for the fastball hungry Phillies lineup.
Phillies Lineup, by Pitch Value
Reds Rotation, by Pitch Selection and Value
The Phillies aren’t likely to dominate the Reds with their bats, but that’s not really how they played all season. Although the team did experience a significant increase in offense performance over the final month, the Phillies were still a middling offense over the entire regular season. Instead, what fueled the two-time defending NL champions was an outstanding starting rotation. In the NLDS, however, they will be facing the NL’s best offense in terms of runs per game, slugging and OPS+, among other stats. Even more impressive, they have performed well above league average against both righties and lefties. Led by potential MVP Joey Votto, the Reds feature a malleable lineup of veterans and youngsters. The Reds also bring one the strongest and most tested benches into the post season, as five “backup players” have produced around or above league average in at least 180 plate appearances. As a result, Dusty Baker could have the upper hand when it comes to late game substitutions.
Another advantage for the Reds lineup is it features an eclectic group of hitters. Unlike the Phillies who feast on the fastball, the Reds lineup consists of hitters who handle a variety of pitches. Because the Phillies projected three starters also do not rely on the fastball, the Reds’ offensive flexibility could prove to be another important competitive advantage.
Reds Lineup, by Pitch Value
Phillies Rotation, by Pitch Selection and Value
While the Phillies have a decided advantage in terms of overall talent, the matchups seem to favor the Reds more than one would think at first glance. As a result, this series could come down to which bullpen is best able to hold a lead in the late innings. For the Phillies, that means Brad Lidge must maintain his second half resurgence. Since the All Star Break, Lidge has earned 21 saves while holding opposing batters to a .532 OPS. Meanwhile, a secret weapon for the Reds could be Aroldis Chapman. Although the Phillies have had success against lefties and as a group seem to prefer hitting the fastball, they’ve likely never seen a pitcher like Chapman. With his 100-plus mph fastball, Chapman has the potential to become an important part of the Reds’ bullpen, much in the same way Francisco Rodriguez burst on the scene for the Angels in the 2002 post season.
Prediction: Reds in Five Games
Roy Oswalt has pitched excellently since being traded over from the Astros, but while in Houston the right hander surrendered nine runs in 12 innings against the Reds. A mostly fastball and changeup pitcher, Oswalt could be vulnerable to a Reds lineup that has several hitters who perform well against both pitches. As a result, look for the Reds to win both games he is tentatively scheduled to start, meaning Cincinnati will need to either steal one game from Roy Halladay or find a way to beat Cole Hamels. Either task won’t be easy, but with a deep lineup like the Reds, I’ll take my chances for one late game comeback.