Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Early this evening, the Philadelphia Phillies open defense of their two-year reign as National League Champions in Game 1 of the NLDS against the upstart Cincinnati Reds. Although the two teams have some similarities, they also provide a stark contrast to each other.
The Reds surprised the baseball world (not to mention the St. Louis Cardinals) by seizing control of the NL Central Division in mid-August and not letting go. For their efforts, they gained the organization's first playoff berth since 1995.
In contrast, the Phillies have become veterans of postseason play over the past four years. Today will begin their eighth postseason series over that period.
Despite their deficit in experience on baseball's big stage, the Reds head into today's game with a great deal of confidence in their abilities. They combine a handful of key veterans with a substantial array of young talent, led by soon to be NL MVP Joey Votto.
Perhaps the Reds organization borrowed the Phillies formula. In many ways, the 2010 Reds resemble the 2007 Phillies. The club's young nucleus is built on power and defense with solid enough pitching to give them a shot.
Here is how this Red October series breaks down:
On the surface, the Phillies appear to have a very large advantage. No team in baseball can match up with "The Big Three" of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. All three have been rock solid down the stretch, and Halladay appears poised to collect his second Cy Young Award.
On the flip side, the Reds offer up two solid starters and a little bit of a roll of the dice. Manager Dusty Baker has tapped young Edison Volquez, who is returning from Tommy John surgery. Baker is hoping that Volquez can translate his electric stuff into a dominating performance. Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto get the other starting assignments.
Reds closer Francisco Cordero racked up 40 saves in 2010, but the team's advantage seems to lie in their two hard throwing lefties. Forty year old veteran Arthur Rhodes enjoyed an excellent season, posting a 2.29 ERA. On the other end of the spectrum, 22-year old Aroldis Chapman made a big splash by joining the big club replete with his 100 mph-plus fastball. The two will be key weapons in neutralizing the Phillies left-handed power.
Brad Lidge finished strong as the Phils' closer after a bumpy season. Somewhat counter intuitively, his success went up when his velocity went down. The key is improved command and the ability to consistently get his slider over the plate. Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, and JC Romero will be asked to provide key supporting roles.
The Reds supplanted the Phillies as this season's highest scoring team in the National League. They also led the league in batting average, home runs, and slugging percentage. Votto challenged for the triple crown, hitting .324 with 37 HRs and 113 RBI. Former Phil Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, and three young out fielders also supply a lot of pop.
Although the Reds surpassed them in 2010, the Phillies got their offensive legs late in the season as regulars returned to health. They averaged 5.57 runs per game while going 23-7 in September and October, which compares very favorably to the Reds 4.88 runs per game that led the league. Expect the Phillies offense to carry its weight in the postseason.
Both clubs play strong defense. The Reds tied for first in the NL in fewest errors and placed second in fielding percentage. Despite an ever-changing lineup, the Phillies placed fourth in both of those categories.
The Reds hope to put some runs on the board early and get enough from their starting pitchers to keep them in the game to get to their bullpen. Conversely, the Phillies hope to grab a lead and have their starters go deep into games. The Phillies overall postseason experience and the talents of the "The Big Three" should prove to be too much for the Reds. Expect the Reds to steal Game 2 or 3 with the long ball, but for the Phillies to prevail in four games.