October 6, 2012
Giants-Reds Division Series Preview
It can be hard to see change, sometimes. If these two teams had met two years ago, it would have been a battle between the best offense in the National League and the best pitching-and-defense in the National League. Now, though, the teams have almost completely flipped: the Reds have the league’s best pitching, the Giants have the league’s second-best offense, and each team is pretty lopsided that way. Nonetheless, don’t be surprised if the mainstream narrative focuses on the Giants’ homegrown aces and the Reds’ powerful middle of the order. A better narrative would focus on the showdown between perhaps the two best hitters in the National League; or the ticking clock that the Giants face each game as the Reds’ bullpen anticipates the final three or four innings; or the unexpected second-act brilliance of Brian Sabean’s career.
The Giants’ lineup produced the second-best TAv in the National League this year, though they did give up 20 points of OPS against right-handers, which won’t help them against the Reds’ all-righty rotation. Marco Scutaro’s outburst has been unusual, as the infielder walked just 13 times in a half-season after walking 90 in a year not long ago. Buster Posey finished with the second-highest OPS+ ever for a backstop, and if momentum means anything, then his .385/.454/.646 second half means the Giants might have this postseason’s best hitter.
Or the Reds might. Like the Giants, they have a top-heavy lineup by virtue of having one of the league’s best hitters. Joey Votto missed two months and still tied for the league lead in walks, giving him the highest non-Bonds OBP of the past decade. The Giants might not be able to get him out, but they can be hopeful that the damage will be limited to one base at a time; after returning in early September from his knee injury, Votto didn’t homer in 25 games and slugged just .421. Ludwick and Bruce provide plenty of power behind him and make for a match-up nightmare in the late innings. Drew Stubbs might be replaced at home, but Dusty Baker will tolerate his collapsible bat to have his range in San Francisco’s spacious outfield meadows. The Reds crushed lefties and struggled against righties, so the complexion of the lineup changes a bit if Bruce Bochy ultimately decides to start Ryan Vogelsong instead of Barry Zito.