Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

2010 NL Playoff Preview

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Reds vs. Phillies

Cincinnati Rotation: Volquez, Arroyo, Cueto, TBA*, TBA*

Philadelphia Rotation: Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, Halladay*, Oswalt*

The Reds can hit.  They led the National League in runs and it starts with soon-to-be National League MVP Joey Votto, but he didn’t do all by himself.  Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips provide a lot of punch and together they make up one of the best infields in baseball.  The outfield has more question marks but is solid enough.  Jay Bruce had a big-time season, displaying both power and patience, and Drew Stubbs played well as a rookie, providing value defensively in centerfield and displaying a power-speed combination at the plate.  The Reds rotation flat out scares me; it’s perfectly fine for the long haul of the regular season.  For the playoffs though, there’s not a single guy I trust to not totally blow up, even though they have several guys capable of shutting down the opposition.  The uncertainty with the Reds rotation could lead to an upset or two or a quick exit.  Johnny Cueto and Travis Wood have been their best pitchers for the last couple months of the season, and Wood isn’t even scheduled to start in the series.  Bronson Arroyo doesn’t scare anyone, and Edinson Volquez has been up-and-down since coming back from Tommy John surgery, although he did pitch very well in September.  Dusty Baker also has Aroldis Chapman as a weapon in the bullpen, but the rest of the bullpen is as shaky as the rotation.  The Reds are almost certainly going to have to score some runs off the Phillies’ Big 3, because they’re going to give up some runs in this series.

There are no holes in the Phillie lineup; almost every other National League team has outs at the bottom of the lineup, but not Philadelphia.  Chase Utley finished September strongly after coming back from his wrist injury and Jayson Werth had a big finish to the year.  Ryan Howard had another good (not great) year, and Jimmy Rollins was average after dealing with some leg injuries.  The weakest hitter is Carlos Ruiz, who hit 0.302 this year.  The Phillies were (and still are) banged up for a lot of the year, the biggest chink in the armor for the National League’s best lineup.  In the rotation, they have three number one starters in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.  Based on the way the schedule sets up, they’ll be able to pitch 17 of the 19 postseason games.  Joe Blanton would only have to start Game 4 of the LCS and World Series, and he’s no slouch.  The bullpen is fairly good at the end with Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, but both can be inconsistent with control and command.  The Phillies are in as good of a position as any team to win the whole thing, given that they are better than the three teams they would have to beat to get to the World Series; they can also match up in terms of lineup-punch with all of their prospective World Series opponents.

There’s one more point about this series that I had been thinking about for awhile but no one else brought up, which made me think I was crazy.  Then Rob Neyer proposed the same thought in his blog on Sunday:

But I’m not sure the math on this thing is quite as dramatic as you might think. Sure, nobody wants to face the Phillies and their Big 3 pitchers, whether in the first round or any other. I’m wondering, though: If you have to play the Phillies, don’t you want to play them in as short a series as possible? The more games you play, the more the odds favor the better team. And the Phillies are obviously the better team.

PICK: Phillies in 3, so obviously I don’t think it matters when the Reds get the Phillies.

Braves vs. Giants

Atlanta Rotation: Lowe, Hanson, Hudson, Beachy*, Lowe*

San Francisco Rotation: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner*, Lincecum*

And now for what I think is the most interesting battle between two very similar teams.  The Braves have two good hitters with Chipper Jones out of the lineup: their All-Star catcher and their 20-year-old right fielder.  The infield is a combination of has-beens and never-weres.  Alex Gonzalez and Omar Infante have been super-flukes, and Derrek Lee’s best days are behind him.  The outfield has been a disaster for most of the year, as Nate McLouth’s struggles started in the spring and lasted through the summer, and they’ve cycled through leftfielders without finding a real answer.  Luckily for the Braves, their pitching staff has been terrific throughout the entire season.  Tim Hudson has enjoyed a career year, supported partially by an unsustainably low BABIP, but he’s been a groundball machine throughout the season.  Derek Lowe is having a Derek Lowe-season, and Tommy Hanson harnessed his stuff and found the strike zone more with all of his pitches.  The bullpen has been terrific also, paced by Billy Wagner, but overuse of some of the middle relievers has had an effect on their performance in September and could carry over to October.  The Braves are going to need to prevent runs to win any series; luckily for them, they are playing an opponent that doesn’t exactly boast a stacked offense.

Can I copy and paste the previous paragraph for the Giants?  Believe it or not, the Giants have five of the best seven offensive players in the series, most of whom no other team would have wanted before the season.  Aubrey Huff was had for a one-year, three million dollar contract.  Pat Burrell was released by the Rays and had for free.  Andres Torres wasn’t even a starter in April; he turned out to be their most valuable player.  And their best hitter, 23-year-old Buster Posey, spent the better part of the first two months in Triple-A.  Posey didn’t spend that much time in the minor leagues, even with the time spent there this year, and it would be hard to say that he would have played like he did after he got to the big leagues without that time in Triple-A.  The biggest disappointment is Pablo Sandoval, their best hitter in 2009, who produced at near replacement levels in 2010.  Even with the unexpected offense, the Giant pitching staff did more than their share.  I think I’ve written enough words about Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in this space that everyone knows what I think of them; as far as I’m concerned, they are both aces and the best two pitchers in this series.  Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner have both been very good down the stretch for the Giants, and both have the potential to shut down the opponent on any given night.  The bullpen, paced by Brian Wilson, have five or six shutdown arms and should be a major strength for them in the postseason.  The Giants, unlike a lot of the other playoff teams, are built for the postseason and absolutely have the talent to win the World Series.

PICK: Giants in 5.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

October 6, 2010 at 11:14 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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