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October 10, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Four Preview: Giants at Reds

by Daniel Rathman

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The Giants had just one hit in seven innings off of Reds starter Homer Bailey but hung around thanks to an admirable outing from Ryan Vogelsong and stellar work from their bullpen. Then, a spate of defensive miscues in the top of the 10th handed San Francisco a decisive 2-1 lead, enabling Bruce Bochy’s team to stave off elimination for at least one more day. Will the Giants survive Game Four? Here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for this afternoon’s contest:

Giants (Barry Zito) vs. Reds (Mat Latos or Mike Leake) – 4:00 p.m. ET

PECOTA Odds of Winning:

  • If Reds start Latos: Reds 57.5 percent, Giants 42.5 percent
  • If Reds start Leake: Giants 51.7 percent, Reds 48.3 percent

Projected Starting Lineups:

Giants vs. Latos/Leake (R)

Reds vs. Zito (L)

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)

Barry Zito (L)

Mat Latos/Mike Leake (R)

Cincinnati’s Game Four starter remains up in the air, with Johnny Cueto off the roster because of a strained oblique and Latos suffering from flu-like symptoms; PECOTA believes that Latos’ availability will decide this afternoon’s contest. If Latos is healthy enough to pitch on three days’ rest—something he hadn’t done in a big-league game before Game One—he’ll give the home team a significant advantage over the visitors, who are foregoing the option of using Matt Cain on short rest and pinning their hopes on Zito. If Dusty Baker is forced to roll with Leake, who replaced Cueto on the postseason squad last night, the Reds will go from modest favorites to slight underdogs, and a series that 24 hours ago seemed destined to end in a sweep could instead go the distance.  

The talent gap between Latos and Leake is vast, and the unforgiving dimensions of Great American Ball Park only serve to amplify it. While Latos’ power arsenal helped him to overcome the tough dimensions and post a 3.18 ERA in 19 home starts, Leake’s contact-driven approach resulted in 17 gopher balls in 87 2/3 innings, which in turn produced a 5.54 ERA. Both of those marks ranked dead last among National League starters with at least 80 innings pitched at their home yard.

On the other hand, Leake delivered one of his best efforts of the season when he faced the Giants on June 29, though that outing came at AT&T Park, where Bochy’s offense managed only 31 home runs all year. Sandoval’s ninth-inning solo shot produced the Giants’ only run in Leake’s first career complete game—a nine-hitter that included 16 groundball outs and was made possible by the 24-year-old’s aggressive approach; he threw 111 pitches, 76 of which went for strikes.

Latos’ résumé against the Giants is well documented, and he enhanced it by tossing four innings of one-run ball in the series opener on Saturday. The former Padre owns a 2.19 ERA in 11 career starts versus San Francisco, and he has held the Giants to just 54 hits in 74 innings. The top four hitters in Bochy’s projected lineup—Pagan, Scutaro, Sandoval, and Posey—are a combined 13-for-63 in their past meetings with Latos. Meanwhile, Sandoval alone has seven hits in 10 career at-bats versus Leake.

Baker’s decision could become irrelevant if the Reds offense shells Zito this afternoon, but the soft-tossing lefty was surprisingly solid in September, recording a 23-to-8 K:BB over five starts. The 34-year-old proved effectively wild in a duel with Latos on June 30, when he worked around six walks in as many innings to limit the Reds to one run, matching his effort at Great American Ball Park on April 24. And believe it or not, the Giants have emerged victorious in each of Zito’s last 11 starts.   

That brings us to the Matchup of the Game: Phillips versus Zito. Cincinnati’s leadoff man is 6-for-15 with two doubles and a home run in the series, and he is 8-for-19 lifetime with three doubles, five walks, and no strikeouts—good for a .421/.520/.579 triple-slash—against Zito, who has coughed up a .281/.355/.411 line to right-handed batters this year.

But that’s only half the story. The other half is told by Zito’s early-game woes, evidenced by a 33-to-33 K:BB within his first 30 pitches of an outing, compared to an 81-to-37 mark thereafter. If the Reds fall flat in the early innings, allowing Zito to settle in, Game Four is likely to be another nailbiter. Conversely, if Phillips reaches to start the game and catalyzes a first-inning rally, Cincinnati could open the floodgates and cruise into the NLCS.

One thing to watch: Zito has started all five of his 2012 face-offs with Phillips with an off-speed pitch, but the second baseman hit cleanup in both of those games. A reason for that approach might be that all eight of Phillips’ career hits off of Zito have come on fastballs or sinkers—but with Phillips now atop Baker’s order, the strategy may change. Don't be surprised to see a first-pitch swing if Zito grooves a fastball to start the bottom of the opening frame.

Update (11:30 a.m. ET): The Reds have announced that Mike Leake will start Game Four

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

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Giants,  Reds

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