The Cincinnati Reds clinched the National League Central on Saturday afternoon, and the San Francisco Giants weren’t much farther behind, clinching the West just a few hours later.
The current standings indicate that the Reds and Giants would meet in the first round of the playoffs. And barring a collapse, the Reds are in line to get the benefit of home field advantage. So the first two games would be in San Francisco, and the final three would be in Cincinnati.
While the Reds might be the favorites in this matchup, the Giants have three specific advantages that might earn them a chance to play for the N.L pennant.
A More Proven Starting Rotation
The Reds surprisingly good starting rotation deserves a lot of credit for the job they’ve done this year. The main corps, Johnny Cuteo, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey, have stabilized a Reds’ rotation that hasn’t been dominant in recent years. In fact, their 2011 starters ERA of 4.47 checked in as the fourth worst mark in the N.L. Much has changed over the past year though. Now, they boast the sixth best starters ERA (3.74), an 18 spot jump. Frankly, their improved starting pitching is quite an accomplishment given their favorable hitters park coupled with the lack of proven starting pitchers,
That leads us to my next point.
Proven starters. Either you have them or you don’t. The Reds have a pair of pitchers that fit that description in Cueto and Latos, but just two generally isn’t enough in the postseason. The likes of Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake have all put together respectable numbers this year, but their respective track records can’t prove the same point.
Bailey owns a career 4.57 ERA, Arroyo has a 4.23 career ERA, and Leake rounds out the group with a career 4.28 ERA. The best way to describe those numbers is mediocre, at best.
The Giants’ starting staff however, is known for its consistency. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and even Tim Lincecum have all been consistent forces over the course of their respective careers. The struggling Ryan Vogelsong could also be thrown into that group as well, but his 8.83 ERA over his last eight starts is deferring.
Consistency and experience make the difference is short series. While the Reds’ starting staff has certainly been more of a surprise than the Giants’ staff, they still take the backseat in the starting pitching department.
AT&T Park’s spacious dimensions permit many fly balls from carrying over the fences. The Reds know this fact very well. In a four game series against the Giants in early July, their offense as a whole hit just three home runs. Granted, good Giants’ pitching is certainly a part of that, but the Reds are known for hitting the long ball. Since 2010, they have hit the second most home runs in the N.L with 540. In Cincinnati’s defense, the Giants’ entire pitching staff has yielded opponents to just 363 homers since 2010, the best mark in baseball.
Seeing that the Reds’ dangerous offense often relies on the long ball to put runs on the board, AT&T Park could cause some problems in that area. Per Baseball-Reference, AT&T Park has a park factor of 88 for hitters. To put that into perspective, anything over 100 favors the hitters. So you can see how the stadium alone would dampen their impressive power numbers.
Will this bury them against San Francisco?
Considering that the Reds will presumably have home field advantage, the first two games of the five game series will be played in San Francisco, with the final three scheduled to be played in Cincinnati where the Reds are 49-31. However, if the Giants’ pitching and spacious park allows them to take the first two games, winning one at Great American Park won’t be much of a challenge.
The Giants Can Hit On The Road
If things don’t go as planned in San Francisco, it’s not like the Giants have absolutely no chance heading back to Cincinnati. In fact, they stand more than just a slim chance thanks to a sturdy offense.
While runs come are a premium at home, it’s quite the opposite on the road. Very opposite for that matter, as they have scored the most runs on the road in the National League. Again, that number proves that AT&T Park is definitely a factor in their home woes on the offensive side of the ball.
Offense will be key at Great American Ballpark because their pitching has struggled outside of the friendly confines of AT&T Park. Fly balls that are suppressed in AT&T Park travel several rows deep into the bleachers are several other parks. This basically sums up why they’ve surrendered 80 road home runs, the fourth most in the N.L. It also explains why they own a 4.35 away ERA.
Simply, offense may be the X-Factor in Cincinnati.