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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

NLDS Breakdown: Phillies vs. Votto

The Phillies have once again qualified for the NLDS, which means it is time to evaluate their chances against their opponent: this time, the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds scored 790 runs this year, good for first in the NL. The Phils were second with 772. Cincy owned a +105 run differential, fourth-best in the NL and 27 runs behind the NL-best Phils.

However, except for Joey Votto and Scott Rolen, Cincinnati's offense is nothing to fear. The Reds will face a right-handed starter in 4 of the 5 possible games this series, and only two Cincinnati regulars have a career OBP over .335 against RHP (the Phillies have seven). Their names, of course, are Joey Votto and Scott Rolen. By contrast, the Reds have four players who own at least a .350 OBP against LHP. For this reason, I agree with Charlie Manuel's decision to pitch Roy Oswalt in Game 2, allowing him to pitch twice if needed.

Brandon Phillips (2B), Jonny Gomes (LF), and Orlando Cabrera (SS), are all well-below average against righties. If either Oswalt or Halladay have trouble with these batters, the Phils could seriously struggle.

Now that the Reds' analysis is out of the way, it's onto my wildly unfounded predictions. Since this blog started, I've managed an 18-11 record for Phillies playoff games. Let's see if I can do better than last year's sub-.500 effort.

GAME 1

Game 1 sees Roy Halladay face Edinson Volquez. Both are right-handed ground-ball pitchers. The Phils lineup versus Volquez, obviously, is a much better lineup than the Reds' lineup versus Halladay. However, this game will be closer than expected if the Phils lineup isn't careful. Here's why: Volquez is better against LHB than RHB due to his changeup, and the Phils lineup will feature five lefties and only three righties.

Volquez (career): .351 OBP/.414 SLG vs. RHB; .352/.371 vs. LHB

That .371 SLG against lefties is lower than any Phillies' pitcher's split, except Roy Halladay's .370 vs. RHB. As a result, I would not expect a starter to give up a home run in this game, especially since the weather is unfavorable.

Notice something about Volquez's splits? I'm not going to look it up, but I am pretty certain no other Game 1 pitcher has .350+ OBPs against both sides of the plate. That is remarkably poor for an "ace." The reason for these inflated OBPs is Volquez's lack of control; for his career he allows 4.7 BBs per 9 IP. That's JC Romero territory. He offsets his wildness by averaging a strikeout every inning -- Roy Halladay territory.

The plate approach for the Phillies MUST be patience. There is no other option. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino should never swing at a Volquez pitch with no strikes on them, unless Rollins is batting 8th in a 1- or 2-out RBI situation. If the Phils come out swinging, those .350 OBPs will be neutralized into .320s, or worse. I trust Werth, Ruiz, and Utley, but who the hell knows what the other five guys will do.

Also, due to the rain and Volquez's low SLGs, the Phils should look to steal a few bases in this game.

Still, Roy Halladay versus a 4.7 BB/9 should be a victory. Pray for the rain to not stop the game. Phils win, 3-1.

GAME 2

Game two is similar to game one. The Phillies send out a righty ground-ball ace, and the Reds send out a RHP with one clear flaw. While Volquez's weakness is control, Bronson Arroyo's weakness is left-handed batters.

Arroyo (career): .298/.389 vs. RHB; .347/.472 vs. LHB

That's a huge difference, both in OBP and SLG. Yes, he has been better this year than his career numbers. But, his home run rate has not changed, his walk-rate is unchanged, and his strikeout rate is actually less than his career average. All this leads me to believe that he's been getting lucky this year. *Looking up BABIP now*. Yes, I was right. Arroyo's BABIP this year is .241, which is very very low. His career BABIP, including this year, is .286. Bronson Arroyo has been better this year, but his career numbers are much more predictive than his inflated 2010 numbers.

He will be facing 5 lefties, and if Greg Dobbs had any idea what he was doing at the plate or in the field, it would even be 6. Arroyo should not be able to cruise through this lineup. I think Oswalt will do fine and the Phils will enjoy seeing a pitcher like Arroyo after dealing with Volquez.

Phils go up 2-0 with a 5-2 victory.

GAME 3

Cole Hamels faces RHP Johnny Cueto. Even though Arroyo struggles against lefties, I think the Phils match up with Cueto better than any other Cincy starter (including Travis Wood, who should probably pitch instead of Cueto -- thanks Dusty). At least Arroyo is dominant against RHB; Cueto dominates no specific type of batter.

Cueto (career): .332/.439 vs. RHB; .333/.435

Those numbers aren't underwhelming. They're just average. His strikeout rate this year is not up from his career numbers -- but his walks are down. Most importantly for Cueto, however, is his 0.9 HR/9 rate, which is down 25% from his career numbers. As a result, this game may be closer than I originally thought when I glanced at the numbers. Also, he pitches much better in Cincy than he does on the road.

Cole Hamels, however, is simply a better pitcher. Although the Reds are better against lefties than righties, Hamels is not a typical lefty due to his great changeup.

This matchup is the toughest to predict so far, but I'm not going to pick against Hamels just for the sake of avoiding a sweep. Phils win, 3-2, after a Brad Lidge scare.


One more reason why I think the Phillies can sweep: The Reds play in the worst division in baseball, by far. The Reds are 20-33 against teams with winning records, and they got the Cubs, Astros, Brewers, and Pirates 5 times each this year. They are a good team, and one bad pitch by Halladay can kill the series, but I like the Phils in 3.

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