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October 7, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game One Recap: Reds 5, Giants 2

by Sam Miller

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From game one to game 162, the Reds rotation stayed perfectly intact. The only time a sixth man started was in August, when Todd Redmond was called up for a day to work the second game of a doubleheader. That durability turned a rotation that was merely pretty good into a huge asset.

In the first inning of the postseason, however, that run of good health ended. Johnny Cueto struck out Angel Pagan, got two quick strikes on Marco Scutaro, established what seemed to be a pretty swell partnership with the home plate umpire, and then… that was it. He left with back spasms, and everything you might have read about this series became stupid and outdated.

Or did it? It’s hard to know, particularly after the Reds won 5-2 in the first game of a five-game set. Let’s iron out what this injury means. In the short term, the Reds smartly dipped into their deep bullpen while giving Mat Latos, replacement “starter”, plenty of time to warm up on his own schedule. Latos wasn’t completely sharp—a combination of good defense and at ‘em balls helped—but for this staff, the starters are really just a bridge to the bullpen. Latos, pitching on three-days rest, was due to start Game Three. He won’t start Game Three now.

The Reds are “hopeful” that Cueto will be back for Game Three. If he can’t go, Mike Leake would pitch. Over the course of six innings, Leake is about a run-and-a-quarter worse than Cueto. If Leake is needed as a replacement, Cueto wouldn’t be eligible to pitch in the NLCS either; it’s unlikely, but conceivable, that the Reds could opt instead to go with an all-bullpen game to avoid that problem. It always seems impossible that 11 pitchers won’t be enough to get a team through a five-game series (with an off-day!), but I suppose this is why so many teams carry their fifth starter on the roster, just in case.

Latos, then, would pitch Game Five. Per six innings this year, Latos has been about a half-run worse than Cueto. So if Cueto is able to pitch again, the Reds will lose perhaps a half a run in the shuffling. If not, then they give up two or two and a half.

****

We can’t know without the Reds telling us how likely it is that Cueto is able to return. Back spasms can go in a lot of directions. Josh Beckett missed a start earlier this year with them. Erik Bedard left a game in the first inning with back spasms and the Pirates shuffled the rotation to give him a little extra rest. On the extreme end, Aaron Harang missed two months with back spasms in 2010. If this were the regular season, you’d probably expect Cueto to miss a start or get a few extra days rest at a minimum.

****

Besides Latos, the Reds used four relievers. The combined ERAs of the three relievers not used: 2.65. You wonder how much the Reds' bullpen contributed to Bruce Bochy's decision to pinch-hit Aubrey Huff for Matt Cain leading off the bottom of the fifth. He might have considered the fifth and sixth the Giants' last realistic chance to string together a rally.

Cain had thrown 75 pitches, so there's the slim possibility, too, that Bochy will consider him a short-rest possibility for Game Four if the Giants get there and are desperate. That would avoid the Zito start everybody is dreading and set up a possible all-hands-on-deck Game Five. 

****

Why, look, it’s the worst pitch ever thrown!

****

There are, unfortunately, times when it doesn’t matter how many times you watch the GIF; you’ll never see the amazing hippie beard that the guy just off-screen is wearing. Still, a nifty catch by Brandon Belt:

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Matt Cain,  Mat Latos,  Johnny Cueto,  Brandon Phillips

3 comments have been left for this article.

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