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October 6, 2012
NLDS Game One Preview: Reds at Giants
The Braves had won a major-league record 23 consecutive games started by Kris Medlen when the righty took the mound against the Cardinals yesterday afternoon. Orioles starter Joe Saunders was winless in his six career tries at Rangers Ballpark before last night. So, naturally, St. Louis and Baltimore advanced to the Division Series, leaving Atlanta and Texas to wonder what might have been.
We’re but two games into the postseason, and havoc has already been wreaked. Below, you’ll find the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for today’s Game One matchup between the two- and three-seeds in San Francisco.
Projected Starting Lineups
The Division Series between the Reds and Giants figures to be tightly contested, but PECOTA gives the number-three seed a robust 2-in-3 chance of grabbing the early advantage. Cueto and Cain both were among the second-tier hopefuls in a crowded National League Cy Young pool, but Cain’s track record at AT&T Park may be what sets the Giants apart tonight.
Cain produced the best campaign of his career in 2012, proving worthy of the six-year, $127.5 million extension he received this past offseason. Though he was mortal on the road, serving up 14 home runs and posting a 3.56 ERA in 108 2/3 innings of work, Cain halved that gopher-ball total in his 110 2/3 frames at AT&T Park, en route to a 2.03 ERA and a perfect game on June 13. A fly-ball pitcher who is not afraid to work up in the zone, Cain takes advantage of his home park’s generous dimensions, and he did not allow an earned run in 22 1/3 innings during the 2010 postseason, when he made three starts, all of them in San Francisco.
But here’s some good news for the Reds: Cain’s only home dud of the season came with Cincinnati in town on June 29. Dusty Baker’s offense tagged Cain for 11 hits and five runs—both season-high totals for the righty—in 6 2/3 innings, beginning the game with a Cozart homer and never looking back. Ryan Ludwick chased Cain with a solo shot in the seventh inning, which together with Cozart’s blast accounted for two of the seven big flies Cain coughed up at AT&T this season. The PITCHf/x chart from Brooks Baseball below shows how the Reds relentlessly made an erratic Cain pay for his belt-high and middle-of-the-zone mistakes that day:
Cueto, meanwhile, seemed on track to finish among the senior circuit’s elite starters, before a series of setbacks at the beginning of last month. He suffered consecutive losses to the Phillies, Astros, and Marlins, and failed to complete the fifth inning in the latter two, while allowing at least four runs each time out. That lull brought the 26-year-old’s ERA to a season-high 2.92 on Sept. 15, though he returned to form by season’s end.
Back in July, R.J. Anderson detailed Cueto’s development into one of the league’s premier pitchers, noting a physical resemblance to Pedro Martinez and a style reminiscent of Greg Maddux. And while Cueto is light-years from approaching their Hall of Fame echelon, he’s certainly trending in the right direction.
Cueto has been charged with only six combined earned runs in four career starts versus the Giants, good for a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings, his second-lowest mark against any National League foe (Diamondbacks, 1.66). That success has been driven in part by his ability to stymie number-three hitter Pablo Sandoval. The third baseman has gone 1-for-9 in his past meetings with Cueto, and though that sample size is small, elements of it are instructive.
After mixing his pitches in their first two head-to-head matchups (four fastballs, two sinkers, two sliders, and three changeups in the first; four fastballs, two sinkers, a slider, and two changeups in the second), Cueto attacked Sandoval almost exclusively with his changeup on June 28, throwing it on nine of his 16 pitches to the Panda. Sandoval’s only career hit off of Cueto—a sixth-inning RBI double—came on the ninth changeup he saw, and the fifth in a row, with some help from a befuddled Todd Frazier. Making one of his six 2012 starts in left field that night, Frazier committed the cardinal sin of moving in on his first step before watching the line drive sail over his head. In addition to receiving a better effort from his fielders, Cueto will need to establish his full arsenal to keep Sandoval and the rest of the Giants’ hitters off-balance if he is to outduel Cain tonight.