Is this the greatest time of year in Major League Baseball?
It largely depends on where your rooting interest lies, but for fans of the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
As the two division champions prepare to go head-to-head and move one step closer to the ultimate goal of playing in the World Series,
We'll take a look at each team's projected starting lineup, who they'll be sending to the mound, and when you should be planted firmly in front of your television—or better yet, in front of your computer with your browser pointed to B/R for the latest analysis of the action as it unfolds.
So let's borrow a page from the immortal Tom Petty's playbook, it's "Breakdown" time.
Cincinnati Reds Lineup
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Zack Cozart
1B Joey Votto
LF Ryan Ludwick
RF Jay Bruce
3B Scott Rolen
C Ryan Hanigan
CF Drew Stubbs
P Johnny Cueto
For as ballyhooed as the Reds lineup is, here's a stat that will surprise you: of the 10 playoff teams in MLB this season, only the Reds failed to score at least 700 runs during the regular season, checking in with 669.
Part of that can be attributed to the fact that they lost perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto for nearly two months of the season with a knee injury, but Votto is back, healthy and getting on base at a ridiculous rate once again, settling into the middle of a lineup that is as dangerous as any in the league.
Cincinnati Reds Rotation
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Mat Latos
Conspicuous by his absence is Homer Bailey, the Reds' 26-year-old right-hander who threw a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates last week.
Reds skipper Dusty Baker hasn't come out and said that Bailey wouldn't start a Game 4 should one arise, but from his comments to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Bailey looks like he's going to be skipped in the opening round:
Generally speaking, you only use three starters in the first round. We won’t try to guess who’s not [in] but that’s a pretty good ace in the hole if you’ve got a guy getting hammered. You usually don’t let guys stick around to get hammered. It’s not like a regular season game.
San Francisco Giants Lineup
CF Angel Pagan
2B Marco Scutaro
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Buster Posey
RF Hunter Pence
1B Brandon Belt
LF Gregor Blanco
SS Brandon Crawford
P Matt Cain
The Giants lineup isn't a powerful one, evidenced by their 103 home runs as a team on the season., though that's not to say that they are completely devoid of power. The heart of their lineup—Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence—are all capable of going deep at any given time.
Power simply isn't the name of the game in San Francisco, where the Giants' bread-and-butter in 2012 has been the ability to play small ball and manufacture runs.
San Francisco Giants Rotation
RHP Matt Cain
LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Tim Lincecum
Giants manager Bruce Bochy was quick to tell reporters who he'd be throwing in the first two games of the series against the Reds, but was non-committal when it came to the third starter in the rotation: (h/t kolotv.com)
You look at the years that Matt and Madison have had, that's why they're going Game 1 and Game 2, We feel like these two have earned these starts and that's why they're out there.
More than anything it's really vital for us to have all hands on deck here the first two games. If we want to use some guys in the rotation early here, then we'll do that. We wanted to keep our options open.
Bochy might be playing things close to the vest, but according to Comcast Sports' Andrew Baggarly, the decision has already been made:
Lincecum told he'll be in Giants' playoff rotation: Tim Lincecum said the Giants have informed him that he will ... bit.ly/W5m1KN
— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) October 1, 2012
That leaves veteran Barry Zito as the odd man out, though to his credit it's something he's fine with:
I've (come) out of the bullpen many times as a starter here. A lot of the other guys have done that, too. You change your routine going into it. You can't be stupid about it. Other than that, if you're on the mound you're on the mound.
The Giants and Reds met seven times this season with the Reds holding a slim one-game lead in the series, 4-3.
Three of the games were decided by four runs or more while three of the remaining four were one-run contests, with the fourth being a two-run victory for the Reds.
The Reds took two-of-three when they met in Cincinnati and split a four-game set at PNC Park in San Francisco.
Both rotations are excellent, but the Reds have a slightly better offense and the Giants simply don't have an answer for flame-throwing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.
It will take them four games, but the Reds will advance to the National League Championship Series.
NLDS Schedule (via MLB.com)
Game 1: at San Francisco, Saturday, Oct. 6, 9:30 p.m. ET
Game 2: at San Francisco, Sunday, Oct.7, time TBA
Game 3: at Cincinnati, Tuesday, Oct. 9, time TBA
Game 4 (if needed): at Cincinnati, Wednesday, Oct. 10, time TBA
Game 5 (if needed): at Cincinnati, Thursday, Oct. 11, time TBA