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October 9, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Three Preview: Giants at Reds

by Daniel Rathman

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Faced with a virtual must-win on Sunday night, the Giants instead suffered the worst post-season shutout loss in franchise history. Now, the Reds can apply the brooms and move on to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1995. Here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for Game Three:

Giants (Ryan Vogelsong) at Reds (Homer Bailey) – 5:30 p.m. ET
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Reds 52.1 percent, Giants 47.9 percent

Projected Starting Lineups:

Giants vs. Cueto (R)

Reds vs. Vogelsong (R)

Angel Pagan (S)

Brandon Phillips (R)

Marco Scutaro (R)

Zack Cozart (R)

Pablo Sandoval (S)

Joey Votto (L)

Buster Posey (R)

Ryan Ludwick (R)

Hunter Pence (R)

Jay Bruce (L)

Brandon Belt (L)

Scott Rolen (R)

Gregor Blanco (L)

Ryan Hanigan (R)

Brandon Crawford (L)

Drew Stubbs (R)

Ryan Vogelsong (R)

Homer Bailey (R)

If you factor out home-field advantage, PECOTA essentially views this afternoon’s contest as a coin flip. But since it will be played at Great American Ball Park, the model gives a slight edge to the Reds, forecasting Dusty Baker’s team to complete what would be a rather resounding sweep.

Tuesday’s pitching battle may be the most intriguing of any Division Series—mostly because, as recently as a week ago, neither Vogelsong nor Bailey was expected to get the nod. After days of back-and-forth debates about whether Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito was more reliable and deserving of the assignment, Bruce Bochy threw fans for a loop by selecting Vogelsong, who bounced back from a rough summer to hold opponents to exactly one run in each of his last three starts. Meanwhile, Bailey, initially in line for Game Four, was pushed up when Johnny Cueto went down with back spasms just one out into the opener, forcing Baker’s intended Game Three starter, Mat Latos, to eat four innings in relief.

Vogelsong’s 2012 was a tale of three seasons. He was a model of consistency from April through early August, working at least six innings every time out, and almost invariably giving the Giants a chance to win. But after lasting a season-low 2 2/3 innings in a rout at the hands of the Nationals on Aug. 13, Vogelsong went into a tailspin, failing to record even one out in the sixth in four of his next six starts. Then, suddenly, on Sept. 21, the pitcher who led the senior circuit in ERA through Aug. 8 returned, logging a 15-to-3 K:BB ratio and allowing only two earned runs in 15 innings of work against the Padres and Dodgers.

R.J Anderson chronicled Vogelsong’s roller-coaster campaign, with this article on Aug. 13—the day his demise began—and this follow-up a month later, three days before the 35-year-old returned to form. Which Vogelsong will show up in Cincinnati this afternoon? As R.J. wrote, the answer depends on the righty’s “command, feel, and confidence.”

Of course, if the Giants’ offense remains as dormant as it was in Games One and Two, Vogelsong could morph into the second coming of Juan Marichal and still find himself on the wrong end of a hard-fought duel. Pagan and Scutaro, despite making solid contact on several occasions, combined for just one hit in 17 at-bats in the AT&T Park leg of the series, and the home team as a whole went a dismal 9-for-63. Posey’s home run on Saturday night was one of only three extra-base hits for the Giants, who were held to two knocks, Belt’s fifth-inning single and Sandoval’s garbage-time double, in Game Two.

Though a rebound from the table setters, Pagan and Scutaro, is crucial to San Francisco’s Game Three hopes, the Matchup of the Game is Bailey versus Posey. A favorite in the National League MVP race, Posey is the likeliest Giant to deliver a multi-run blow that could stem the tide and restore some momentum to an enervated clubhouse. But Bailey, who is coming off a career-best 2.5 WARP regular season, has prevailed in most of his past meetings with Posey, limiting him to an 0-for-5 line with a walk.

A third of those six plate appearances resulted in strikeouts—and on both occasions, 20 months apart, the recipe was the same: Slider, slider, fastball; good morning, good afternoon, and good night. Posey surely is aware of Bailey’s tendency to pitch backward, but the right-hander has kept him honest by mixing up his first offerings, throwing three fastballs and three sliders to start their six showdowns. If Bailey can stay one step ahead of the Giants’ cleanup hitter again this afternoon, the Reds are likely to find themselves four wins away from the organization’s first pennant since 1990. 

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

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