Cincinnati Reds celebrate after they clinched the NL Central title.
The Cincinnati Reds have clinched the NL Central and are now battling it out for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs—who would have thought this is where they would find themselves after losing Joey Votto for most of the second half of the season? Not many, I can assure you.
Now October draws near, and it's time to begin thinking about October play. With so many possibilities still ahead, let's take a look at the potential playoff opponents Cincinnati could find themselves facing. While we are at it, let's also check out how the Reds match up against each possible opponent.
Chipper Jones is out for one last hurrah.
Chipper Jones and the rest of the Atlanta Braves just secured a playoff spot and are coming on strong as the season nears an end. It's a season that has Chipper looking to go out with a bang. These may not be the Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s, but they do seem to resemble those great teams.
One thing the Braves lack is offensive prowess. When you look at their lineup individually it doesn't look so bad, but as a cohesive whole it has many holes. They actually rank seventh in the NL in runs scored with 672 but only maintain a team batting average of .249.
They struggle to do the little things well and rank near the bottom in sacrifices. They do, however, manage to work the count well, as their league-leading 537 bases on balls can attest.
Despite losing starter Brandon Beachy and his 2.00 ERA early in the season, the Braves rank fourth in the NL in team ERA at 3.52. Their staff as a whole is very solid all the way through and is anchored at the end by the best closer in the game (with all due respect to Aroldis Chapman), Craig Kimbrel.
Their biggest downfall is that their starting staff just does not mach up well against Cincinnati's starting staff.
Reds' 2012 Season Record vs. Braves: 5-1
The Reds all but dominated the Braves this season. The Cincinnati lineup matches up very well against Braves starters, and they have proved that through game play this season.
The offenses may look similar on paper, but it is the Reds offense that can dominate in a matchup between these two teams. Reds pitchers have the ability to shut down the Braves' attack, which again has been very evident during matchups between the two teams this season.
The San Francisco Giants celebrate after clinching the NL West title.
The San Francisco Giants have wrapped up the NL West title and currently seem poised to be the Reds' most likely first-round matchup. Led by young catching stud and NL MVP favorite Buster Posey, the Giants pulled away from the Dodgers to establish themselves as a top team in the NL pennant hunt.
The Giants have lost a bit offensively with the loss of Melky Cabrera but still maintain a very solid offense. They rank sixth in the NL in runs scored with 683 and rank third in the NL in batting average at .270.
The true strength of this club lies with their pitching. Their 3.69 team ERA ranks fifth in the league but is anchored by some very powerful arms at the top of the rotation with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. Did you notice the absence of two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum?
"The Freak" hasn't had a freak-like season but is still averaging 9.36 strikeouts per nine innings—not bad for a fourth starter.
Regardless, the Reds have matched up very well against the Giants this season. The Reds have dealt Matt Cain two of his five losses on the season.
Reds' 2012 Record vs. Giants: 4-3
The Reds seem as though they can handle the Giants' strong pitching. Their two victories over Matt Cain were done so in convincing fashion. This is one of those series that could go either way. If the Reds can get San Francisco starters out of the game within six innings, then they will most likely find themselves coming out on top.
Ryan Braun's Brewers are a long shot to make the postseason. But they are still in the hunt for the second Wild Card and final available spot. They have come on hot of late, going 25-8 in their last 33 games to put themselves in contention.
The Brew Crew's offense can flat out light it up. They lead the NL in runs scored with 735 and boost four players with 20 or more home runs: Ryan Braun (40), Corey Hart (28), Aramis Ramirez (25) and Rickie Weeks (20).
The Brewers' pitching staff has been their downfall. They maintain a team ERA of 4.22—fourth worst in the league. The bullpen has been horrible, though showing signs of life lately, while the starters have been average at best.
Reds' Record vs. Brewers: 8-5
Reds pitchers match up very well against the Brewers offense and have the ability to consistently keep them quiet. Milwaukee's offense may outperform the Reds' as a whole, but the Reds have the better offense when matched against each other's opposing pitching staffs.
The St. Louis Cardinals will most likely lock up the final playoff spot, giving them a chance to repeat last year's remarkable title run. This team has been so up and down all season that they are truly hard to read.
They are built to take a one-game playoff, and if they get in and are matched up against the Braves, St. Louis will come out the victor.
The offense has the potential to explode at any moment during any game. They have the ability to place five players with batting averages of .297 or greater and with over 400 at-bats in the batting order at the same time. They also boost five players with 20 or more home runs.
The funny thing about them, though, is that they can go as cold as a winter's day in the Arctic Circle against the right pitcher.
It is the Cardinals' pitching staff that has been the team's biggest concern this year. The Cardinals have maintained a great offense for years, but they also backed it up with pitching that ranked in the top three. This year's club maintains a 3.78 ERA, sixth in the NL. Not bad by any means, but this leaves room for inconsistency.
Other than Kyle Lohse, the rest of the starting staff can't figure out if they are 3.50 ERA pitchers or 4.50 ERA pitchers and all hover at the 4.00 mark. The bullpen can go either direction as well.
Reds' Record vs. St. Louis: 6-6
These two teams are very evenly matched overall, and I only slightly give the Reds the overall edge. During the playoffs, it is pitching and power pitching that seems to dominate. The Reds have the advantage by far in this aspect.
If the Reds get the chance to play the Cards in the postseason, don't be surprised if the series goes five games with Cincy nailing down Game 5.
The Washington Nationals locked up the NL East and are poised to make a deep postseason run.
Rookie Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season. They got off to a hot start and have played consistently well throughout the entire season. This consistent play led them to the NL East crown and placed them in a fight with Cincinnati for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Nationals offense is not going to scare anyone, though they have produced the fifth most runs in the NL with 692. What they do well are the small things.
They are able to move runners and are good at capitalizing on scoring opportunities. Their biggest clutch hitter has been Adam LaRoche, who is poised for a breakout postseason—he will be the key to their offensive success, not Bryce Harper.
What can you say about the Nationals' pitching staff? The team removes Stephen Strasburg from the rotation, sitting down one of the top five pitchers in the league, and they don't skip a beat. They maintain a 3.26 team ERA and are far and away the best staff in all of baseball.
This staff is loaded with power arms and is nearly flawless from top to bottom.
Reds' Record vs. Nationals: 2-5
The Nationals are one team that the Reds do not match up well against on paper, and they have the advantage during games played this season. One positive for Reds fans, though, is that all of those games came early in the season when Cincy was still struggling to get the offense rolling.
The Nationals are only a plus four in run differential during seven matchups with the Reds. These matchups saw three one-run loses by the Reds and three extra-inning games between the two teams.