CINCINNATI - The Reds clinched home-field advantage in the National League Division Series in the 2012 MLB postseason over the weekend, so now the question is, what team would they rather play?
It's down to three likely teams: The San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each matchup:
San Francisco Giants
If the standings remain as they are as of Monday morning, the Reds would play the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the playoffs.
With the new MLB playoffs format this year, this means the Reds would travel to San Francisco for two games beginning on Saturday, Oct. 6. The series then comes back to Cincinnati Tuesday, Oct. 9 for as many games as are necessary in the best of 5 format.
An argument can be made that having to travel to the west coast could mess up routines and put added stress on an already long season, but fortunately for the Reds, following the regular season's conclusion on Wednesday, they'll have plenty of time to gather their things and head out west in a timely fashion, so as to not have to rush.
Same goes for when the series comes back to Cincinnati. Both teams will have to make the trip, but they'll have an off day to do it, so travel doesn't appear to be an issue in this matchup.
Historically, the Reds haven't faired very well in San Francisco, partially because of the need to travel, but this year the team went 4-3 against the Giants in the regular season, and the Redlegs' pitching showed it can contain bats like Buster Posey's and Pablo Sandoval's, allowing only six Giants runs in their four wins.
Another advantage for the Reds is Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera's suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. The Giants have made the decision that they won't be bringing back Cabrera for the postseason, who played well against the Reds when he was in this season, and is one less big bat to deal with in the Giants lineup.
Where the question mark lies is in the pitching. Much like the Reds, the Giants have five starters that can all go deep into ball games while throwing strikes and getting outs, and a decent bullpen to fall back on. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner 1-hit the Reds in the first half of the season, which could be cause for concern with the Reds slumping offense in September, but as long as the Redlegs pitching can match, which it did during the regular season, their overall team ERA is better (Reds: 3.37 vs. Giants 3.68) and they have an advantage in the reliever department.
Where the Reds are at a bit of a disadvantage is the Giants' bats are streaking into the postseason. The team scored less than five runs only 10 times in the month of September. This is where the Reds will need to be smart with their pitching matchup selections. Mat Latos, who has historically had success at AT&T Park in San Francisco, should be on Dusty Baker's radar for the first two games out west. He gave up only one run in his two starts against the Giants this year, including a complete game in San Fran. Same goes for Homer Bailey, and his uncanny ability to win games on the road this year, not to mention how well he's pitched in the latter part of the regular season.
Putting Johnny Cueto on the mound to start the series back in Cincinnati should get the crowd riled up, plus set him up to start Game 1 of the NLCS should the Reds advance. Then postseason vet Bronson Arroyo can take the hill, but the Reds can keep Mike Leake in mind, who only gave up 1 run against San Francisco in a complete game in June.
At any rate, be prepared for several one-run games in the range of 2-1 or 3-2 that the Reds are in position to come out on top of. This would be a solid matchup for the Reds to get wins.
If the Reds end up with the best record in the National League, they will play the winner of the Wild Card play-in game, which could mean the Atlanta Braves. The first game of this series would take place Sunday, Oct. 7 in Atlanta if the Braves win that play-in game on Friday, Oct. 5.
The long term advantage is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Braves are probably one of the worst matchups for the NLDS considering how hot they have been the past month, going 19-8 in the month of September.
And it's been the pitching that has driven that hot streak for the Braves, which is scary considering their staff is decent on paper, but is performing at a very high level headed into October (overall team ERA at 3.43). Reds bats will have to come alive throughout each game to match this pitching staff's ability to keep balls inside the park, rather than the Reds traditional home run hitting plans.
Back in May, the Reds swept a four-game series against the Braves in Cincinnati and went 5-1 against the team overall this year, but all of those games came well before Atlanta melded and mended from early season injuries, which makes that success hard to compare.
The Reds do have an advantage in that Atlanta will have to waste one of their
starters in the play-in game, and the Reds will hope that starter is Kris Medlen because the Braves have won 23 straight games when Medlen starts, a record in modern-era MLB history.
Travel is not an issue here, but planning can be, considering the Reds will have to prepare for both the Braves and the Cardinals, and only have one full day of definite scouting to do on hitter tendencies, which is much more difficult to do with Atlanta as opposed to the divisional rival Cardinals that the Reds know so well.
But the Braves bats can threaten at any turn and they match up well with the Reds lineup thanks to a good mix of power and average in all parts of their lineup. The Reds do have an advantage defensively, so if they can keep Atlanta from going yard, every game will be within their reach, but the Bravse starting pitching is intimidating.
St. Louis Cardinals
The most familiar of any potential opponents, the Cardinals would be the other option of the Wild Card play-in game should the Reds claim the best record in the NL.
This matchup is a good one, especially considering the Reds finish the regular season with a three-game series against the Cards that will be a good sign of things to come, or a good measurement of things that need to change. The Reds would likely stay in St. Louis if they finish the season on top of the NL to wait and see what the Wild Card game holds on Friday, thus cutting down on travel.
The Reds held a 6-6 matchup split with the Cards going into their three-game series to finish the regular season, but it's been night and day in those wins and losses. When the Reds beat the Cards this year, they held them to 3 runs or less. When they lost, they've lost big, allowing 7 runs once, 8 runs twice and 11 runs once.
That in mind, whether or not the Reds want to see the Cards in a postseason situation with the bats they have is a toss up.
The Cards pack the biggest punch at the plate of any of the potential Reds opponents, the catch being that they string those hits together. Reds pitching tends to give it up in bunches, so if they can contain the Cardinals' bats to just a run or two at a time, they'll have a shot, but if any inning sees four runs in it, chances are slim that the Reds come away with a victory.
Like the Braves, the Cards will have to give up a starting pitcher to the Wild Card game, but an active arm like Kyle Lohse or Adam Wainwright could easily pitch on four days rest if needed, and the Cards have a decent bullpen that could pick up the game in the 5th or 6th when needed. Also, with Chris Carpenter back from injury, the Cardinals just picked up a six-man rotation that they could carry into the NLDS, nullifying that play-in game starter disadvantage.
The Reds offensive production in September is of concern for a matchup against such a potent offensive lineup, and with the Cards' pitching depth at the best its been all season, this may not be the matchup for Cincinnati.
Hope for the Giants. While it doesn't set them up for success in the NLCS because they lose home-field advantage throughout, the Reds road record is astounding this year. At 46-32 away from GABP, it's better than most of MLB team's home records, and they give themselves a shot with good pitching on the road no matter where they are.
Who do you think the best matchup for the Reds is? Leave a comment in the section below.
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