The San Francisco Giants await the No. 2 seed in the National League playoffs for their first-round divisional series.
Battling for that top seed are the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, who both have a 96-64 record as of Oct. 2. The team that finishes with the best record in the league will play the winner of the one-game wild-card playoff in one NLDS. The runner-up will face the Giants, who are established as the NL's No. 3 seed.
So as the Giants wait to find out who their NLDS opponent will be (while playing their final two games of the regular season), are they secretly hoping for one team over another? Of course, none of the players nor manager Bruce Bochy will say who they prefer to play. They're just happy to be there, taking it one game at a time and all that.
However, we think the Giants want to face the Reds in the NLDS rather than the Nationals. It's not just because San Francisco went 3-4 against the Reds and 1-5 versus the Nats. Cincinnati looks like a better matchup for San Francisco for the following reasons.
All statistics cited here are from Baseball-Reference.
Home Sweet Home
Playing at Great American Ball Park (GABP) should make any opposing pitching staff nervous, especially for fly-ball pitchers like Matt Cain.
But Cain will be pitching in Game 1 at AT&T Park, so that won't be an issue. Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong keep the ball on the ground enough to pitch successfully in the Reds' home ballpark.
Should the Giants be worried if Cain has to pitch Game 5 in Cincinnati? His record at GABP is 2-2 with a 3.44 ERA in five starts, so he should be alright.
This season, the Giants went 1-2 at Cincinnati while splitting four games with the Reds in San Francisco. That doesn't provide much to draw a conclusion from, but the Giants will host the first two games of the NLDS in this year's one-time postseason format. If they can win both of those, only one win is needed in Cincinnati.
The Giants lost all three of their games at Nationals Park this season and went 1-2 against the Nats at AT&T Park.
Lincecum was bombed by the Nationals in D.C. He lasted only 3.1 innings while giving up eight runs (seven earned) and nine hits. Madison Bumgarner also was lit up, allowing seven runs and nine hits in five innings.
Best for the Giants to avoid the nation's capital during the postseason.
Pitching More Pleasant vs. Reds
With sluggers such as Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, the perception might be that the Reds have a more powerful lineup than the Nationals.
Yet Cincinnati is ninth in the NL in team runs scored and eighth in team batting average. The Nationals are fifth in runs scored and fourth in batting average.
Giants pitchers also had more success individually versus the Reds this season.
Bumgarner pitched a complete-game shutout on June 28, holding Cincinnati to one hit while striking out eight batters. In two starts against the Reds, Zito allowed two runs in 12 innings, resulting in a 1.50 ERA.
Vogelsong finished with a 4.50 ERA versus Cincinnati in two starts, allowing four runs in six innings at GABP but only two over seven innings at AT&T Park. Cain also had moderate success facing the Reds, compiling a 5.54 ERA in two starts. Interestingly, he pitched worse in San Francisco than in Cincinnati.
How did Giants pitchers do against the Nationals?
As mentioned above, Bumgarner and Lincecum were bombed in their respective starts at Nationals Park.
However, Bumgarner fared much better at AT&T Park on Aug. 14, where he held the Nats to one run over nine innings. But Lincecum didn't have improved results in his home ballpark, allowing four runs and eight hits in four innings.
Also getting pounded like pizza dough was Vogelsong, who lasted only 2.2 innings on Aug. 13. He allowed eight runs and nine hits, resulting in a 27.00 ERA.
More Valuable MVP
Two of the Giants' best run-producers have had more success against the Nationals.
Pablo Sandoval is batting .444 with a 1.198 OPS in 21 plate appearances versus Washington, but hit .240 with a .785 OPS in 29 PAs against the Reds. Hunter Pence didn't face the Reds this year, but batted .281/.395/.594 with three home runs and six RBI against Washington.
In 23 PAs against the Nats, Buster Posey is batting .167 with a .570 OPS and only one RBI. The likely (at least in this view) NL MVP has been more valuable versus the Reds, batting .333/.429/.542 with a home run and four RBI.
Others to watch out for in a series with the Reds include Brandon Belt. The Giants first baseman has a .400/.429/.550 slash average in 21 plate appearances. Angel Pagan has an .829 OPS against Cincinnati with two homers and six RBI in 29 PAs.
Watch Out for Reds Pitching
Cincinnati isn't a perfect playoff pairing for the Giants, of course. One reason San Francisco might not want to face the Reds is because their starting pitchers have been very effective against the Giants lineup.
In his lone start vs. San Francisco this season, Johnny Cueto allowed two earned runs in six innings. However, he also issued an uncharacteristic four walks.
Homer Bailey also allowed two earned runs when he faced the Giants, pitching 6.1 innings with six strikeouts. Bronson Arroyo pitched against San Francisco twice, allowing just three earned runs over 11 innings despite giving up 16 hits.
But the Reds pitcher who's done the best against the Giants is Mat Latos, dating back to his days with the San Diego Padres. In 11 career starts versus San Francisco, he has a 4-3 record and 2.19 ERA. Latos was especially strong this season, going 2-0 while allowing one run and six hits in 16 innings.
Meanwhile, the Giants were able to rough up Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler on the Nationals staff. Jackson allowed four runs over 5.2 innings in his outing while Detwiler gave up three runs and 11 hits in five innings.
Despite their performance against the Reds' starting pitching, the overall matchups favor the Giants—especially in a five-game series. Though they won't admit it, there is probably some rooting in that clubhouse for the Nationals to finish with the NL's best record.
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