How Cincinnati Reds Match Up Against Every Potential NL Playoff Opponent
The Reds went a combined 6-1 at home against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both teams currently sit atop their respective divisions, and the Dodgers have been baseball's best team for a while now. The lone loss came in 16 innings against the Cardinals.
Going into September, it looked like the Reds would be a Wild Card team and might have trouble getting out of the one-game playoff. Now it looks like the team has turned the corner and become a legitimate World Series threat.
Pitching wins championships, and the NL is loaded with great arms. Four of the top five earned run averages in baseball are NL teams.
The Reds are 82-63 and 2 games back in the NL Central. They have clinched a winning season, but they are focusing on winning the division.
Cincinnati got healthy in August, which explains why the team is on such a tear. Manager Dusty Baker has gotten great pitching and timely hitting, so keep an eye on the Reds.
Let's check out how the team stacks up against its potential playoff opponents.
*All statistics are courtesy of MLB.com entering play on 9/9/2013
2013 record against Atlanta: 3-4
The Braves have been the National League's most consistent team this season. They got off to a 12-1 start, and they haven't looked back. In fact, they won 14 straight at the end of July and into August.
Atlanta is a team that is tough to come back on, so Cincinnati would have to jump on the Braves early. Atlanta's 2.35 bullpen ERA is easily the best in baseball.
Closer Craig Kimbrel has only three blown saves, including one at Great American Ball Park, and has an ERA of 0.94 this season. He allowed two home runs to the Reds back in May but has been great ever since. The right-hander has allowed only three homers all year, with all of them coming in a span of three appearances, but none since he left Cincinnati. He has also converted 34 straight saves.
The Braves lead the NL in homers with 164, so this would be a dangerous team at Great American Ball Park. However, they also lead the league in strikeouts, which is an area that Cincinnati pitching leads the league in.
Here is how the Reds' starting pitchers have done against the Braves this season:
|Tony Cingrani||1||4||0||0||4||2 (1 ER)||0||5||3|
The stats don't look great, but these two teams haven't met since the first week of May. The Reds' pitchers have pitched much better as of late. Mike Leake's line was worse than he pitched as he allowed only two runs going into the eighth inning of his lone start.
Cincinnati has played Atlanta tough in recent seasons. The Reds went 5-1 against the Braves last season, 3-3 in 2011 and 2-3 in 2010.
Pitching is the strength for both teams, and it would be interesting to see how the series played out. The Reds' rotation has a 3.36 ERA, which ranks second in all of baseball. Atlanta uses a dominant bullpen to close out games.
Atlanta has had a huge lead in the NL East for a long time, so they haven't played a meaningful game in a while. It will be interesting to see if they can flip the switch to match other teams' intensity in October.
It would be a great series, and it could be a potential NLDS matchup if the Reds win the Wild Card game.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 record against Los Angeles: 4-3
There may not have been a more even season series in baseball. The Reds and the Dodgers battled for seven games, and Cincinnati came out on top by the slimmest of margins.
Five games, including the last four, were decided by one run, and three games have featured walk-off hits. The other two games were both decided by three runs.
The Reds didn't get to face the Dodgers when they were struggling to start the year, but Los Angeles couldn't beat Cincinnati even though they have been baseball's hottest team.
Here are how Cincinnati's pitchers have done against the Dodgers this season:
|Mat Latos||2||14.2||1||0||17||5 (4 ER)||1||7||2|
Homer Bailey may not have won either of his starts, but he was arguably the team's best pitcher in this series. He went head-to-head with Clayton Kershaw twice this season. Both times he went seven innings and allowed only two runs, and he outdueled Kershaw on Sunday night. He struck out seven of the first 11 batters he faced, with game recap courtesy of MLB.com.
The starting pitchers have dominated the Dodgers' stacked lineup, especially Yasiel Puig. The 22-year-old was 7-for-26 against the Reds this season, and he struck out 10 times and hit only one homer off the starters.
Los Angeles leads the majors with a 3.08 ERA from its rotation, and the Reds rank second. There's a reason the teams have combined to score only 4.7 total runs per game.
The Dodgers have an incredible lineup, but it has been neutralized by great pitching. This would be the worst matchup for the Reds, even though they won the season series.
Los Angeles has two former Cy Young winner, including the man who will win this year's award. With two tough southpaws in the rotation, the Dodgers would be able to exploit the Reds' weakness. Cincinnati has yet to hand Kershaw, Zack Greinke or Hyun-Jin Ryu a loss this season.
Cincinnati has managed to score against the Dodgers' bullpen, which has a 3.55 ERA. Unfortunately Kershaw and Greinke have the ability to go deep into games and limit the use of their bullpen.
The Dodgers have a firm control of the NL West, so this could be a matchup in October.
2013 record against Pittsburgh: 6-7 (six games remaining)
Out of all of the contenders, the Reds are best suited to play against the Pirates. The series could easily be 9-4 in favor of Cincinnati. A pair of Sunday collapses by the bullpen in the first two months of the season cost the Reds two wins, and an injury to Johnny Cueto forced him to leave a start before the end of the fifth inning in a game the bullpen would lose.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are currently tied for second place, but they aren't done playing each other this season. The two teams will meet six times in the final nine games, and they could meet a couple of days later in the Wild Card game.
These two teams have been in intense games this year. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have each beaned the other 11 times in 13 games this season.
The Pirates have baseball's third-best bullpen, and their rotation ranks fifth in MLB.
Pitching has been their strength, but the offense has been a glaring weakness. The Pirates rank 22nd in runs scored and 24th in average. Postseason baseball requires good pitching, but the hitting has to come around.
Cincinnati has not faced Pittsburgh since the Pirates acquired Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau.
|Mat Latos||4||22.2||1||1||18||11 (9 ER)||4||27||10|
The Reds' starting pitchers have owned the Pirates. In his career, Homer Bailey is 8-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 14 starts against the Pirates. Mat Latos is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA against the Pirates in 10 career starts.
Playing against the Pirates in the Wild Card game would give the Reds an interesting decision to make. Would they start their ace, Latos, or would they start Bailey, who has dominated the Pirates throughout his entire career, and save Latos for a potential Game 1 start in the NLDS? An argument could be made for Bailey, but Baker will undoubtedly give Latos the nod.
Jonathan Broxton was a key part in both of the Reds' early collapses, but he is out for the season. The bullpen could look a lot different in October, which will only improve the unit.
The final six meetings could end up determining who ends up with home-field advantage in the Wild Card game, and the Reds will have to win at least four of the games to win the season series.
Although it's the best potential matchup, the Reds are hoping they don't have to face the Pirates until later in the postseason. They'd prefer to win the division and be guaranteed at least three games rather than one game against a division rival.
St. Louis Cardinals
2013 record against St. Louis: 7-11
After starting the season 3-10 against the Cardinals, the Reds have won four of the last five meetings.
St. Louis was getting great starting pitching early in the season, but its rotation has fallen back to the pack lately. However, there shouldn't be many Reds fans that would welcome a one-game playoff against the Cardinals.
Adam Wainwright has allowed at least six runs in each of his last two starts against the Reds, but he is 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA in 32.2 career postseason innings.
The Cardinals rank first in the NL and third in MLB with 688 runs. The Reds are second in the NL with 626 runs, so there's a huge gap between the two. St. Louis is hitting .328 with runners in scoring position, which would be the highest average ever, and it is hitting .298 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
If Allen Craig is unable to play again this season, the powerful Matt Adams will be able to take his place at first base. Craig is the leader of the offense, but the Cardinals are extremely deep.
Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina are all capable of having huge games. It's tough for any pitcher to go through that lineup.
Check out the numbers that the Reds' rotation has put up against the Cardinals:
|Mat Latos||5||34||3||1||30||12 (9 ER)||0||20||5|
|Bronson Arroyo||5||29.2||0||3||32||18 (17 ER)||3||15||4|
Notice any trend in those numbers? Well, there is an interesting note that hasn't been brought up. Look at the numbers that the hard-throwers have put up against the numbers that Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake have posted.
Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani are a combined 7-3 against the Cardinals, and their record should be even better. Latos was a tough-luck loser in August, and Bailey was blooped out of a game in May. Bailey's first start against the Cardinals was ugly, but he hasn't allowed a run in 14.1 innings against St. Louis.
Meanwhile Arroyo and Leake have combined to go 0-5 in eight total starts. Neither pitcher has an ERA below 5.00 against St. Louis this season as the Cardinals have been able to hit their slower pitches.
Those are extreme opposites, but they go in the Reds' favor. It indicates that the Reds would be better suited playing a one-game playoff rather than a five- or seven-game series.
The Reds dominated the Cardinals in Cincinnati last week, but the Cardinals are in first place. They have also made it to the NLCS in back-to-back seasons, so they have experience on their side.
Recent success against their division rival has given the Reds a boost in confidence. They now know that they can compete with the best, and they have been able to use their hard-throwers to shut down the Cardinals' offense. If the two meet in the playoffs, look for Latos and Bailey to be at the front of the rotation and see if Cingrani gets a look after he dominated St. Louis this season.