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October 11, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Five Preview: Giants at Reds

by Daniel Rathman

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The vintage Tim Lincecum was resurrected at Great American Ballpark in Game Four, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Barry Zito to lead the Giants to an 8-3 win that evened the series at 2-2. This afternoon’s contest is for all the marbles. To get you ready for the appetizer of a four-course baseball meal, here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for Game Five:

Giants (Matt Cain) vs. Reds (Mat Latos) – 1:00 p.m. ET
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Giants 53.6 percent, Reds 46.4 percent

Projected Starting Lineups:

Giants vs. Latos (R)

Reds vs. Cain (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)

Matt Cain (R)

Mat Latos (R)

Two days ago, the Giants were on the verge of being swept out of the postseason by a team that lost its ace in the first inning of the first game. Now, PECOTA expects Bruce Bochy’s squad to complete its improbable comeback and to make this only the second series in major-league playoff history (along with the 2010 ALDS between the Rangers and Rays) to have the visitors prevail in every game. 

When Johnny Cueto was forced out of the series opener with what was then termed “back spasms” and now diagnosed as a mildly strained oblique, Game One essentially became a duel between this afternoon’s starters, Cain and Latos. Neither had his best stuff, but Latos—working on three days’ rest—limited his mistakes and gave Dusty Baker four crucial innings of one-run ball after Sam LeCure held San Francisco scoreless for 1 2/3.

Looking at the pitch breakdown above, from Brooks Baseball, it’s evident that Latos took on the unexpected assignment with a subpar arsenal. He drew just three whiffs on 38 fastballs—with a four-seamer that sat nearly two mph below its 2012 average of 93.44 mph—and none on his 19 off-speed offerings, most notably a slider that lacked more than half an inch of its average horizontal break.

The former Padre was considerably sharper in his two regular-season starts against the Giants, allowing just one run over 16 combined innings of work, nine of which came in a two-hitter at AT&T Park on June 30. Posey’s solo shot in Game One marked the first Giants long ball off of Latos in 20 frames this year, and Sandoval is the only other San Francisco batter who can claim to have taken the 24-year-old right-hander deep.

Cain, on the other hand, has struggled to keep the ball in the yard when facing the Reds, serving up two gopher balls in each of his three meetings with Cincinnati in 2012. Phillips and Ludwick did the honors at Great American Ball Park on April 24, Cozart and Mike Leake circled the bags on June 29 at AT&T Park, and Phillips and Bruce supplied the firepower on Saturday. Since the second baseman is the only repeat offender, he gets the nod in the Matchup of the Game for the second straight day.

Phillips, a relatively aggressive leadoff hitter, is 8-for-33 (.246 average) lifetime against Cain with two doubles and three home runs, but he’s also failed to draw a walk and has struck out eight times. As Phillips goes, so go the Reds—he went 5-for-10 with three extra-base hits in Games One and Two but managed only a pair of singles over nine at-bats in Games Three and Four—so the amount of support Latos enjoys on Thursday is likely to be tied to Phillips’ outcomes at the plate.

With 33 head-to-head plate appearances on his résumé, Phillips has seen everything Cain has to offer, and there is a distinct pattern in the results. Phillips’ home run in Game One came on a hanging curveball, while his big fly in April came on a change-up. He is just 1-for-7 with two strikeouts in at-bats ending on a slider, and he has not logged a hit off of Cain’s fastball since his double on June 8, 2010. Cain is a savvy pitcher willing to throw any pitch in any count and figures to attack Phillips with a steady diet of his two highest-velocity offerings. Phillips’ adjustments to that refined approach could prove pivotal in Game Five.

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:  Mat Latos,  Brandon Phillips

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