Matchup to Watch: Buster Posey vs Aroldis Chapman
Posey put together an amazing offensive season that is likely going to end with the NL MVP trophy on his mantle, but he did most of his damage against left-handed pitching, hitting .433/.470/.793 against southpaws on the year. Conversely, he only hit .292/.382/.440 against right-handed pitching, which is a nice line but not overly spectacular. The Reds pitching staff is heavily right-handed, so Posey’s chances to tee off on a left-hander is only likely to happen if he gets a chance to face the Reds flamethrowing closer. While Chapman was excellent for the Reds this season, 10 of the 12 extra base hits — and all four of the home runs — he allowed were against righties this year. Conventional wisdom will tell Dusty Baker to bring Chapman in to face whoever is coming up in the ninth inning, but if he has a chance to get Posey out with a right-hander before going to Chapman, he should take advantage of it. The Reds don’t have to let Posey face a lefty the entire series, and can mitigate the Giants main offensive weapon if they simply keep throwing right-handers at him, saving Chapman for everyone else in the line-up.
Giants X-Factor: Brandon Belt
Bruce Bochy has talked about having Hector Sanchez catch Tim Lincecum for his comfort level, but doing so would force Buster Posey to first base and Brandon Belt to the bench. With the Reds rotation featuring all right-handed pitching, the Giants can’t afford to sit one of their few quality left-handed bats in favor of their backup catcher. Belt needs to start each game, and if that means Lincecum has to throw to Posey, so be it.
Reds X-Factor: Bronson Arroyo
Arroyo is being given the chance to start in Game 2 of the series, meaning that he’s also going to be lined up to start game 5 if the Reds stay with just a three man rotation. Arroyo had a strong comeback season after a disastrous 2011, but is still prone to giving up home runs, and could put Baker in a tough situation if he gives up a few long balls early. With Mat Latos available, the Reds are taking a risk in lining up Arroyo to get the ball in a potential deciding fifth game, and Arroyo’s going to have to keep the ball in the yard for this decision to not look like a mistake.
Giants Key Reliever: Jose Mijares
The Giants acquired Mijares for the stretch run to help them deal with dangerous left-handers, and the Reds have the most dangerous left-handed hitter in the game in Joey Votto. Mijares held left-handed batters to a .205/.269/.317 line this season, but he’s going to be asked to get Votto out multiple times in this series, a tall task for even the toughest lefty reliever.
Reds Key Reliever: Jonathan Broxton
The Reds bullpen is a bit strange, in that the two best relievers down there are both left-handed and that all the important right-handers were better against left-handed batters than right-handers this season. However, with the Giants mashing lefties this year, the Reds are going to have to maximize their right-on-right match-ups, and that will mean using guys like Broxton to go after Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence. With a strong fastball and a decent slider, Broxton should be better against right-handers than he was this season. He’ll need to be for the Reds to get some big outs late in games in this series.
Giants Key Bench Player: Aubrey Huff
Huff had a lost season and his potential inclusion on the playoff roster is a source of controversy, but the Giants don’t have any other left-handed power on their bench. Perhaps Huff doesn’t possess the kind of thump he used to have either, but Bruce Bochy is going to need someone to pinch-hit against right-handers, and there aren’t any other obvious options behind San Francisco’s regular starters. The team’s lack of pinch-hitting depth is a problem, and they’ll likely look to Huff for a miracle comeback after a miserable 2012 campaign.
Reds Key Bench Player: Xavier Paul
Paul was very effective against right-handed pitching down the stretch, and even spent a little time in center field, where Drew Stubbs has been mostly ineffective this season. If Stubbs comes to bat in a critical situation early in the game, Dusty Baker should not hesitate to use Paul to pinch-hit for Stubbs. The defensive downgrade might hurt later, but Paul can hit right-handed pitching, something that cannot be said for Stubbs.
Most Important Stat: Giants 81.7% contact rate on swings
The Giants offense posted the fourth best contact rate in baseball this year, producing offense through consistently putting the bat on the ball. The Reds bullpen allowed the lowest rate of contact of any relief corps in baseball, limiting hitters to just 73.7% contact on the season. Late in games, it’s going to be strength versus strength, with the Reds relievers trying to throw the ball past Giants hitters who are very good at putting the ball in play. The best way to protect a late lead is to simply strike everyone out, but San Francisco is the toughest playoff team to accomplish that against.
Modest Proposal: Todd Frazier should start at third base for the Reds over Scott Rolen.
Baker favors the veteran for his experience and his defense, but Frazier clearly outperformed Rolen when he was given a chance to play during the regular season. Rolen’s glove still has value, but shouldn’t stand in the way of one of the Reds best hitters getting a chance to drive in runs. Rolen can be used as a late game defensive replacement, giving Baker the advantage of improved defense when protecting leads, but if Cincinnati wants to maximize their chances of advancing past the first round, Frazier should be in the starting line-up.