The National League Division Series matchups are set, and it’s time for Redleg Nation to begin our series of previews of what is sure to be a fun series against the Philadelphia Phillies. We’ll start with the pitchers.
Game One matchup: Roy Halladay vs. Edinson Volquez
What can you say about Roy Halladay? He’s the best starter in the league, and should be a unanimous choice for the Cy Young Award. For the season, Halladay posted outstanding numbers across the board: 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 165 ERA+, 7.9 K/9 (his highest in nine years), 7th All-Star Game appearance).
Are you scared yet?
In two starts vs. the Reds in 2010, Halladay was 0-1 with a 2.12 ERA. Back on June 30, Halladay took the loss in a 4-3 Reds win, going 8 innings and giving up all four runs on thirteen hits. Just when the Reds thought he might be human, however, Halladay tossed nine shutout innings against Cincinnati in that remarkable game where Travis Wood almost spun a perfect game.
Regardless of the opponent, Halladay is the favorite. Dusty Baker has chosen Edinson Volquez for that task. It was a surprising choice, to say the least. Sure, Volquez won 17 games a couple of seasons ago, and when he is on his game, Volquez’s stuff is as electric as anyone you’ll every see.
However, Volquez has been a mixed bag since returning from Tommy John surgery in mid-season, posting a 4-3 record with a 4.31 ERA. There is no question that Volquez has gotten increasingly better as he has gotten a few starts under his belt, and you have to believe that is why Dusty is entrusting him in this key spot. In his last four starts (since returning from a brief stint in A-ball), Volquez posted an ERA of 1.95 and held opponents to an OPS of 441. His control in that time has been markedly better, as well; hopefully that’s a result of Cincinnati fixing some perceived mechanical flaw, as they claimed.
Certainly, Volquez will have to have good command if he hopes to compete with Roy Halladay. If the Reds can just get six good innings from Edinson, I’ll be very, very happy.
Game Two matchup: Roy Oswalt vs. Bronson Arroyo
Since coming to Philadelphia in a mid-season trade, Roy Oswalt has been nothing short of brilliant. In thirteen starts, Oswalt is 7-1 with an ERA of 1.74 and an ERA+ of (an almost unbelievable) 232. As if those numbers weren’t absurd enough, Oswalt has been a Reds-killer for years; in his career, he’s 23-3 against Cincinnati with a 2.81 ERA. Ouch.
Want a silver lining? Well, 2010 was the year that the Reds finally broke the Oswalt jinx. In two starts, Oswalt went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. Of course, while this version of the Reds finally showed an ability to hit Oswalt, let’s not discount the fact that Oswalt has never faced the Reds with Philly’s mighty lineup behind him.
The Reds will send Bronson Arroyo to the mound to face Oswalt. Many of us assumed that Arroyo would be the Game One starter, mostly because of his veteranniness (and Dusty loves that veteranny goodness). He’ll go in Game Two, and he’s certainly the Reds’ most interesting starter. Arroyo went 17-10 this year with a 3.88 ERA, posting his sixth straight season of 200+ innings pitched. It’s a good season, and one that will likely earn Arroyo another year in Cincinnati (I expect the Reds to pick up his contract option for 2011). Arroyo didn’t face Philly this season, and for his career, he is 1-5 with a 5.54 ERA over 8 games (7 starts).
What should we expect from Arroyo? I never know what to expect. Over the last two seasons, Arroyo’s K/9 ratio has dropped precipitously, yet his ERA’s have gotten better and he’s been just as effective as ever. I have no idea whatsoever how he keeps on doing it. I just know that it’s fun to watch.
Arroyo shouldn’t be fazed by the bright lights of October, since he’s the only Reds starter who has been there before (and he has the World Series ring to show for it). I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pitch a gem on Friday evening.
Advantage: Philadelphia (but it’s closer than you’d think for reasons I can’t explain)
Game Three matchup: Cole Hamels vs. Johnny Cueto
After a disappointing 2009, Hamels bounced back nicely to post a 12-11 record with a 3.06 ERA and an ERA+ of 132. He’s as tough a third starter as you’ll find, and he has had success in the playoffs as well. Hamels is the only lefty starter that either team is likely to send to the mound in this series.
He’s only pitched once against the Reds in 2010, back in July during that awful pre-All-Star Break series in Philadelphia. On July 11, Hamels went 8 innings to get the victory in a 1-0 game, giving up no runs (obviously) on six hits over 7.2 innings.
In his career against Cincinnati, Hamels has started seven games, going 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA. (Gulp.)
Johnny Cueto has been the best starter for the Reds this year, going 12-7 with a 3.64 ERA, and an ERA+ of 110. Cueto took a huge step forward this year (remember, he’s still only 24 years old), and he’s going to be fun to watch for years to come.
In two starts vs. Philly this year, Cueto posted a 1-0 record with a 1.20 ERA. Back on June 28, Cueto got the win, going 8 innings and giving up just one run on six hits. On July 8, Cueto got a no-decision against Philadelphia, but he pitched seven strong innings, giving up just four hits and one run.
One interesting note: Cueto has been a substantially better pitcher at Great American Ballpark this year, and his Game Three start will be at home. This season, Cueto is 6-3 over 15 starts at home, with an ERA of 3.20. On the road, Cueto is 6-4 with a 4.10 ERA in sixteen starts. Most surprising: Cueto has given up more than twice as many homers on the road as he has given up at homer-happy GAB (13 on the road, 6 at home).
Advantage: PUSH (yes, perhaps that’s a bit optimistic)
So there you have it. When it comes to the starting pitchers, even a charitable assessment would state that the Phillies have the stronger group. Later, we’ll break down the rosters further to see how the teams compare.