NL Preview: Phillies, Giants
Nothing would please me more than to see Bobby Cox walk off a field for the last time, on his way to a World’s Championship Trophy presentation (well, except maybe watching him get ejected on his way to the presentation, but now I’m just being silly).
I don’t think it’s going to happen. As much as Cox patched together just enough breathing players to manage to hang on to the Wild Card, the tank is pretty empty now. The Braves were barely surviving the loss of Chipper Jones by turning super-sub Omar Infante into a regular, when Martin Prado followed Jones on to the out-for-the-year-list. This reduces the Atlanta infield to Infante, Alex Gonzalez, a Derrek Lee who has been pretty lethargic since coming over from the Cubs, and Brooks Conrad, who has shown a strong bat at the plate, but some evidence that he brings the same bat with him onto the field.
Similarly the Bravos’ rotation is a mess. Jair Jurrjens turned his season around after his first injury, then came back from his second one overweight and ineffective, and then injured himself for a third time. Tim Hudson has been effective all year, but Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson have been up and down, and heaven help Coxy and Roger McDowell if they have to rely on either Mike Minor or Brandon Beachy.
The one wild card for the wild card team is production from the outfield. When you have Jason Heyward plus a combination of any two of Ankiel, Cabrera, Diaz, Hinske, and McLouth, the possibilities that Cox could catch lightning in a bottle for a short series in CF and LF, should not be discounted.
But we haven’t even started trotting out names like Buster Posey or Brian Wilson or Tim Lincecum yet. The Giants, barring a dry-up of biblical proportions, should handle the Braves easily, possibly by sweep. If they don’t, they have some serious explaining to do.
Similarly, as fond as I have been of the Reds’ chances since last March, I cannot see them getting past Philadelphia. The depth of Cincinnati’s rotation – such an advantage during the regular season in the fluid N.L. Central – means that they could get everything or nothing from Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto.
More over – understandably under the radar in a year of chaos, injury, and perseverance in Philadelphia – were remarkable improvements Ryan Howard and Chase Utley made against lefthand pitching. This, you’ll recall, was Philly’s undoing in the World Series last fall (particularly in the case of Howard).
But look at Howard’s splits this year:
VS LHP 12 HR 39 RBI .264 BA .492 SLG
VS LHP at home 6 HR 16 RBI .260 BA .470 SLG
The cohort is not exactly small, either. Howard had 193 at bats versus lefties, 100 of them in Philadelphia. He obviously learned something. And while he went just 2-for-12 against Reds lefties during the season, one of the two was a game-winning two-run blast off Arthur Rhodes to win a game in Philly on July 9th. Howard has not seen Aroldis Chapman, but unless Dusty Baker plans to use Chapman as his specialist against lefty bats and switch Rhodes or some righthander to 8th inning duties, the onus will fall on Rhodes, not Chapman.
Utley actually did better against southpaws this year than righties:
VS LHP 10 HR 27 RBI .294 BA .581 SLG
VS RHP 6 HR 38 RBI .266 BA .381 SLG
Those numbers are even a little more extraordinary than they seem. Utley had 289 ups against righties and only 136 against lefties yet his power came against the southpaws. He has no track record against the Reds this year – 1-for-3 off Cueto in the June 28th game in which he hurt his thumb.
So if the Chapman versus the Phils’ power bats thing may not really be an issue, we’re back to the idea of which trio of starters is more likely to get punished: Volquez, Arroyo, and Cueto, or Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt? It would be a bigger upset than the Braves over the Giants if the answer turns out to be the latter.