The Big 162 is a six-month laboratory that identifies the elite teams.  After that, it’s every man for himself.  The playoffs do not care who is best.  The playoffs don’t care that you own a better record than your opponent—or that you’ve won your last 52 games when leading after the 8th inning.  The playoffs care about three things:  Pitching.  Defense.  Luck.  Call it a post-season 3-way.  Hold the mustard.  We’ve already watched this holy trinity of post-season success play out in yesterday’s Wild Card elimination games.  Joe Saunders shut down the vaunted Texas offense and kept his Orioles in the game until they could scratch out a win.  Atlanta’s leaky defense couldn’t prevent St. Louis from running around the bases.  And the Cardinals were a bit lucky yet again, as the NFL replacement refs showed up to umpire their game last night.

But, mostly, it’s about pitching.  Run prevention, ya’ll.

In an article written in 2007 by Nate Silver and Dayn Perry explaining why the Moneyball A’s regular season success wasn’t reflected in the playoffs, the following was noted:

“Since 1972, there have been twenty-seven teams that made the postseason in spite of having below-average offenses. Of these, seven won the World Series: the 1985 Royals, 1987 Twins, 1990 Reds, 1995 Braves, 1996 Yankees, 2000 Yankees, and 2005 White Sox. All of these teams, except the 1987 Twins, had excellent pitching staffs; it’s hard to make the playoffs with a below average offense unless you have an excellent pitching staff.

Conversely, twenty teams have made the postseason with below average run prevention. None of them won the World Series, and only two (the 1982 Brewers and 1993 Phillies) even played for the championship. Sixteen of the twenty lost the first playoff series in which they played.

Does this mean that defense really does win championships after all? The short answer is yes, probably.”

In 2010, the Reds offense was their primary calling card in the playoffs, while the Giants rode spectacular starting pitching and a lockdown closer (Brian Wilson) to a championship.  The script has flipped a bit in 2012.  It’s the Giants who have the better offense (.269, 3rd in NL, 6th in Runs vs. .251, 9th in NL, 9th in Runs for Cincinnati) while the Reds have the better pitching (2nd in NL, a 3.34 ERA, vs. 5th in NL, a 3.68 ERA for SF) and a shutdown closer in Aroldis Chapman.

We know the Reds.  Five Guys haven’t missed a start all season.  In going with a 4-man rotation of Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos & Homer Bailey, the Reds have without a doubt the most underrated group of starters in the NL.  They have flown under the radar all season.  That is about to end.  The bullpen is Baseball’s best.  After the 6th inning, nobody does it better than Cincinnati (2.84 ERA).


SF Manager Bruce Bochy and his staff were briefly considering an 11-man pitching staff, in reaction to an outcome in the 2003 Division Series against the Marlins, when J.T. Snow was thrown out attempting to score from second on a base hit because speedster Eric Young had been left off the roster in favor of an additional arm.  Aubrey Huff, the Giants best pinch hitter, has very limited mobility, which likely meant that Bochy was going to have to choose between Guillermo Mota and George Kontos for the final bullpen spot.  However, yesterday, Bochy decided to carry 12 pitchers, including Barry Zito, who will be available for long relief.  In doing so, Bochy has chosen bullpen flexibility over speed on the base paths.

Key facts.  SF’s rotation is trending downward.  Their September/October ERA was a pedestrian 4.10.  The Giants have committed the 4th most errors in the NL this season.

The Giants pitch great in AT&T Park—their 3.09 team ERA is third best in the NL.  But, the Reds are the BEST team in the NL pitching on the road, with a 3.18 team ERA.  The Reds are likely to find AT&T very much to their liking.  Meanwhile, should the Bay Area Boys find themselves with anything less than a 2-0 game lead, they need to worry.  On the road, the Giants’ ERA jumps to 4.29, 11th in the league.  This is why Bruce Bochy will do everything in his power to win the first two games.  It’s why he hasn’t named a Game 3 starter.  He needs to keep his options wide open.

Cain thinks he would pitch on 3 days rest:  “I’m pretty sure I’d be physically fine,” Cain said. “I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”  Cain has not pitched on three days’ rest in his career, but he does have a lower ERA on four days’ rest (3.15) than on five (3.62).

What you should know about each of the pitchers on San Francisco’s roster:
Jeremy Affeldt (LHP, 2.70 ERA, 1.26 WHIP,  8.10 K/9).  Our old friend pitches much later in the game, due to recent acquisitions that has bolstered middle relief.  With the demise of Santiago Casilla’s career as Closer, Affeldt has become part of a triumvirate that finishes out games in the 8th and 9th.  He has 16 Holds for SF.

Madison Bumgarner (LHP, 3.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.25 K/9).  He will start Game 2.  He one-hit the Reds at GABP on June 28, but hasn’t been pitching particularly well of late.  He’s 2-4 over his last 7 starts and hasn’t made it through the 7th inning in any of those starts.

Matt Cain (RHP, 2.79 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.92 K/9).  Resident ace. Nevertheless, Cain lost both of his starts against the Reds, giving up 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 9-2 beatdown on April 24; and 5 runs in 5 innings in a 5-1 defeat on June 29.

Santiago Casilla (RHP, 2.84 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.82 K/9).  Once the Giant’s closer after Brian Wilson’s season ending elbow injury, Casilla pitched his way out of that role, giving up 13 runs in 13 innings during one disappointing stretch.

George Kontos (RHP, 2.47 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.07 K/9).  The last guy in on the post-season staff.  A rookie obtained at the beginning of the season from the Yankees.

Tim Lincecum (RHP, 5.18 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 9.19 K/9).  The Game 3 starter?  Who knows.  A hugely erratic starter this season, Lincecum, along with Zito and Vogelsong, will be available in the bullpen for Games 1 and 2.  Bochy is keeping his options open so the series doesn’t get away from him before it gets back to the Queen City.

Javier Lopez (LHP, 2.50 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 7.00 K/9).  One of 3 guys who close by committee for Bochy.

Jose Mijares (LHP, 2.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 10.19 K/9).  Dude was picked up on waivers from the Royals in early August.  Middle relief guy.

Guillermo Mota (RHP, 5.23 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 10.45 K/9).  Should have to pee in a cup before taking the hill.  Drew a 100-game suspension in early May for using, um, PEDs.  Not working for him.

Sergio Romo (RHP, 1.79 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 10.25 K/9).  With 3 outs to go, the ball often goes to power pitcher Romo, who has 14 saves, but he can and does set up as well.  Romo has the most Holds on the team, with 23.

Ryan Vogelsong (RHP, 3.37 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.50 K/9).  The end of the season has not been kind to Vogelsong, who faded for much of August and September.  At one point, it looked as if he was battling Zito for the final spot on the playoff roster.

Barry Zito (LHP, 4.15 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 5.57 K/9).  Left off the playoff roster in 2010, Zito looks to be the long relief guy in the pen, playing the role of Mike Leake for the Giants.  Yet, because he’s pitched so strongly down the stretch, winning his last 7 decisions while Vogelsong has faltered, it’s possible he could get a start should the Giants win the first two game in AT&T.

Everything about the first two games of this series screams LOW SCORING.  The cavernous ballpark by the Bay will keep HRs at bay.  The Giants have hit a league-worst 31 there this year.  Cincinnati pitching thrives on the road away from Homer’s little league park on the Ohio.  At the first sign of trouble, Bochy is ready to bring in almost anyone to take both games in SF.  He needs to win two at home.  It would seem to be a big mistake not to pitch Mat Latos in AT&T.  His career numbers against San Francisco scream dominance:  in 74 innings, Mat has a 2.19 ERA, with a .201 BA against, and a WHIP of 0.89.  But, Bronson Arroyo is a cool, keep calm and carry on veteran.  And, if ordinary Joe Saunders can shut down the Ranger bats, who knows?  Anything could happen.

Dusty Baker is betting on it.


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