Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Phillies vs. Reds: NLDS breakdown

Finally, October is here and the Phillies can resume their chase for a second World Series title in the last three years. Before they can get back to the World Series, though, they have to face a Reds team that has their sights set on an upset. Do they Phillies have what it takes to knock them off? Here is my breakdown of the two teams, position-by-position:

Starting Pitching:
Phillies: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels
Reds: Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto

The Phillies rotation is by far the biggest advantage they will have over the Reds. Since the Phillies finished with the best record in the National League, they have a schedule that allows them to use just their three ace pitchers, Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels. No matter how the Reds lined up their rotation, there was no way they could have an advantage in any game; they simply don't have the horses to compete. Of course, there is always the chance that one of the Phillies aces has a bad game while Volquez or Arroyo finds a way to shut down the Phils lineup for a game, but that doesn't seem likely to happen more than once. Given that this is Halladay's first postseason, expect him to be ready to prove to the rest of baseball that he is the best pitcher in the game. Edge: Phillies

Phillies: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin
Reds: Francisco Cordero, Arthur Rhodes, Aroldis Chapman, Nick Masset

The Phillies biggest weakness, and really the only thing that fans are worried about, has to be their bullpen, where there are simply more questions than answers. Will Brad Lidge continue to pitch as he did in the second half of the season or will he pitch more like he did for the year and a half prior? Will the Phillies two lefties, J.C. Romero, who's injured, and Antonio Bastardo, who's unproven, be able to handle Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the later innings? Will Ryan Madson continue to be reliable or will he wear down from the workload he has had to handle this season? Luckily for the Phillies, they have three starting pitchers who will go deep into the games and they shouldn't need the bullpen to do much heavy lifting. As for the Reds, they actually have some decent pieces, from the shockingly still effective Arthur Rhodes to fireballer Aroldis Chapman. Where things start to fall apart for the Reds is in the 9th inning, where they turn the game over to Francisco Cordero, who has blown 8 saves this year. Lefties Rhodes and Chapman could turn out to be the perfect foil for the Phillies lefty-heavy lineup. Edge: Reds

Phillies: Carlos Ruiz
Reds: Ramon Hernandez, Ryan Hanigan

As Phillies fans know, October is Choochtober, which means Ruiz can be the most dangerous number 8 hitter in the league. Given his .302 average and .400 on base percentage and solid work behind the plate, a case can be made that Ruiz is one of the most valuable Phillies. As for the Reds, they rotate two pretty good hitting catchers, as both Hernandez and Hanigan are hitting at or above .300, though neither have much power. While Ruiz always seems to have some postseason magic in his bat, on paper, these two teams are pretty close at catcher. Edge: Even

Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco
Reds: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Orlando Cabrera, Scott Rolen

Once thought to be far and away the best infield in the National League, the Phillies infield will actually get a run for their money from the Reds infield. An argument can be made that the right side of the infield is even between these two teams, with probable league MVP Votto getting a slight edge over Howard and Utley getting a slight edge over Phillips. The left side of the infield is fairly even as well, as a hobbled Rollins makes things closer than they should be with Cabrera and Rolen being a better all-around player than Polanco. Defensively, the Phillies are probably a little better, as anyone who has seen Utley and Rollins turn a double play can tell you. A lot of how things play out at these spots depend on the health of the Phillies infield, where every member has been banged up at one time or another this season. Slight Edge: Phillies

Phillies: Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth
Reds: Jonny Gomes, Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce

The Phillies return their entire outfield from their last playoff run and have to be given the edge over the young Reds trio. Sure, Bruce will be a tough out for the Phillies pitchers, but he hasn't been as consistently solid as fellow right fielder Jayson Werth has been for the last three seasons. While some Phillies fans have complained about Werth's perceived lack of hustle, the guy led the NL in doubles and hit .296 with a career-high .532 slugging percentage. As for the other two outfield spots, Stubbs and Victorino are pretty even and with the way Ibanez hit in the second half, he has to be given the edge over Gomes. Defensively, the two teams are basically even. Edge: Phillies

Phillies: Ross Gload, Ben Francisco, Wilson Valdez
Reds: Chris Heisey, Laynce Nix, Miguel Cairo

Yeah, take a look at the Reds bench and try to find someone who will contribute in this series. I double-checked their roster a few times thinking there had to be someone I was missing, but besides Jim Edmonds, who might not even be healthy enough to play, the Reds have nothing. Contrast that with the Phillies, who have a few guys that can be counted on to come through with a solid pinch hit at-bat, and you have a clear winner here. Edge: Phillies

Phillies: Charlie Manuel
Reds: Dusty Baker

Baker has done a great job with the Reds this season, but Charlie Manuel is the king of the National League managers. Say what you will about his in-game decision making, but Manuel frequently pushes the right buttons and makes more good calls than bad calls in the long run. Besides, which one of these two managers has a World Series ring? Edge: Phillies

My prediction:
The only place where the Reds have a real advantage is in the bullpen, but unfortunately for them, the Phillies starting rotation may not only take their own bullpen out of the picture, but they may allow the Phils to build leads early on and never have to face the Reds 'pen while trailing by anything more than a run or two. Because of their huge advantage with the three aces, I'm going with the Phillies in 4, with the Phils winning the first game, losing the second and then winning the last two in Cincinnati. While the Reds are no pushover, the Phillies are clearly the best team in the National League and they aren't going to stumble right out of the gate.

Strap in, folks, we could be in store for another deep run by the Phillies. The road looks pretty smooth in the National League for the Phils, making a third straight trip to the World Series a very real possibility. Of course, just like the players, we all know to take it a game at a time and not take anything for granted. GO PHILLIES!

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