The NLDS teams: Beware recent performance

Yesterday, I threw out some quick numbers looking at the divisional winners with the best records compared to their Wild Card brethren in the postseason. The results came out nearly even. Some more numbers might mean less than people think:

Leading up to the final days of the regular season, many bloggers and baseball analysts have pointed to the Phillies’ 23-6 record during September or how the Twins and Yankees have found wins increasingly rare the past few weeks as a possible predictor of postseason success.

Instead of going on about the fallacies of momentum leading up to the postseason, I’ll defer to Dave Studeman, who looked at this very topic in 2005. (Spoiler alert: late regular season momentum has not been analogous to postseason success information since 1969, when baseball introduced a playoff series to precede the World Series).

For the remainder of this article, I will take a look at each NL playoff team and attempt to chime in on what needs to be done in a short series.

Philadelphia Phillies

Charlie Manuel will take a page out of the 2009 Yankees Cookbook and go with a three-man rotation of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. The armchair GM/amateur sabermetrician in me immediately objects to this. (I also objected to this last year when the Yankees, in renegade fashion, declared this as their strategy, causing me to cite history and a blog post by Keith Olbermann as proof I was right. It turned out I was wrong.) But since we’re focusing only on a short Division Series which begins on Wednesday, normal rest will be observed in all five games.

If I had to find any flaw in this rotation, I would be slightly concerned about Halladay’s and Oswalt’s ERA-FIP differential, especially over the past 30 days. During that span Oswalt has recorded an ERA of 1.12 but his FIP comes in at 3.19 and Halladay is posting a 3.44–4.40 differential,. Who knows if this will factor into anything?

Things to look for:

* Watch Placido Polanco’s health. He still seems bothered by residual pain in his left elbow. He received a cortisone shot and is expected to be ready for the NLDS.
* Over the past month, the walk rates have been creeping up throughout their bullpen: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin have averaged a BB/9 of 4.87 in 34 collective innings.

Cincinnati Reds

Against the Phillies in the NLDS, placing Travis Wood at the top of their rotation seemed imperative. However, this was unceremoniously shot down when Dusty Baker unveiled his series. The Reds will go with Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.

I’m not one to speculate on the success of hitters in a playoff series, since 17-21 at-bats doesn’t really tell us much, but historically the Phillies do have trouble facing left-handed pitching. Wood is still a bit of an unknown quantity, since he has only 96 major league innings this season, but he did pitch well against Philadelphia in one career start—nine innings, one hit, no walks, eight strikeouts. That’s an extremely small sample, I know, but consider the alternatives.

Edison Volquez: Since his return he has posted a high number of walks but his groundball rate of 53.9 percent has kept him out of any serious trouble. In his brief career, he has started against the Phillies twice and in 12 innings he has recorded 16 Ks while allowing four walks. Volquez is also effective against lefties, who have managed to hit .256/.352/.371 in 835 PAs.

Bronson Arroyo: He has struggled in seven career starts vs. the Phillies (.296/.356/.506 against in 39 innings). In his one career start in Citizens Bank Park he allowed three homers in only 4.1 IP.

Johnny Cueto: He did get a win against the Phillies in his sole start against them this season on June 28 (taking into account his “effective” line of eight innings, six hits, one earned run, one walk, no strikeouts) but overall the Phillies have hit .268/.330/.500 against him in his career.

Things to look for:

* With the Reds facing the Phillies in the NLDS, it won’t take me to say that including their bullpen lefties (Arthur Rhodes, Aroldis Chapman, Bill Bray and Wood) will be all the more vital. That’s a lot of left-handed mixing and matching and the more the merrier.
* The Reds will be bringing out one of the better NL defenses to this postseason. However, watch for the health of shortstop Orlando Cabrera (nursing a sore oblique) who says he will be ready. If not, starting Paul Janish could make things dicey.
* I went over most of the Reds pitching staff and never once did I mention Aaron Harang? Amazing how far the big man has fallen, I guess a BB rate of 8.44 since the start of September will do that to you.

San Francisco Giants

As an overall unit, the Giants currently enjoy the deepest rotation in baseball, but the key will how to effectively manage this rotation in a short series. As it stands, both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have been pitching like certified aces. Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito will be mentioned as possible No. 3s, but if it was up to me I would go with Madison Bumgarner there and mix/match Sanchez and Zito as shadows or possible long relievers.

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Over the past 30 days, Bumgarner has erased any doubts about his ability to strike out batters and his control has been elite (1.13 BB/9 in 32 IP). Lincecum has been lights out against all possible NL postseason opponents and Cain has been spectacular down the stretch (although the Phillies have been a bit troublesome in his career .262/.342/.561, just saying). Things to watch for:

* To those who preach the holy gospel of “run prevention” as an indicator of postseason success, the Giants should go awfully far this postseason. However, these same preachers have also retired this formula late last month since… uh, luck seems to be too strong of a measure to predict with any success. In terms of defense, they ranked third in the majors in UZR/150 along with a solid bullpen and a proposed rotation with a K rate average of 8.35.
* How the mainstream media and Zito react to his possible demotion as long-relief during this postseason. Looking at his brief success against the Braves (.184/.290/.386 in 133 plate appearances against) he may have a legitimate gripe but, on the bright side, he should make a wonderful shadow/emergency starter in case Bumgarner or Sanchez gets into trouble.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves do have a solid bullpen but question marks among their starters. Bobby Cox will start Derek Lowe in Game One, followed by Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson. Lowe did recently audition on short rest successfully. This is Cox’s last postseason and I fully expect a do or die attitude.

Looking over Mike Minor’s numbers, he is obviously deserving of a postseason start since he doesn’t run the risk of any high innings count. In terms of match-ups, however, Minor is an unknown quantity. Getting past his high ERA of 6.18, Minor has an FIP of 3.82, which reflects the usual suspects (high BABIP, low strand rate and an elite K/BB ratio of 4.10). However, his homer run problems should keep him off the mound against either Philly or Cincinnati but should be factored in at home or at San Francisco.

Things to watch for:

* Takashi Saito’s return from a right shoulder injury. Recent reports have him ready to go for the postseason. His presence will be important for depth to help spot Kyle Farnsworth in the late innings depth chart.
* The Braves were in the bottom five in terms of defense this season, according to UZR/150 scores. This could be important or a bunch of hooey, depending on what transpires in the next three to five.

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In re Cain, he did get lit up by the Padres in his last start of the season.  It might have been a solitary bad start due to leaving pitches in the zone, but there could be more to it.  hmmm


“If not, starting Paul Janish could make things dicey.”  Ummmm, what?  Defensively, Janish is one of the best in the game.  And the plate, does it really take much of anything to replace Orlando Cabrera?

Jacob Rothberg
Jacob Rothberg

Yeah. Better worry about that ERA-FIP differential on Halladay.