Reds at Giants
Series: NLDS, Game 1
Time: 9:30 p.m. EST
Starters: Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA) vs. Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA)
This series kicks off in a pitchers’ park with a matchup of two mid-ballot Cy Young candidates in Cueto and Cain. Curiously, the two are a combined 0-3 against their respective Division Series opponents in three combined starts this season. Cueto faced the Giants just once this season, allowing three runs, two earned, in six innings back in late June but also walked four and had the ill-fortune of opposing a Madison Bumgarner one-hitter. Cain had a similar outing in Cincinnati in late April (6 1/3 IP, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K), losing to a strong start by Mat Latos, and was hit hard in the rematch in San Francisco at the end of June (6 2/3 IP, 11 H, 5 R). That makes Cain 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA against the Reds this season, and you can add a quartet of home runs, including one by pitcher Mike Leake, to his demerits in those two outings.
Cain will have to tread carefully through the heart of the Cincinnati order. No. 3 hitter Joey Votto hasn’t homered in 105 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 5 (nor has he in 27 career plate appearances against Matt Cain), but he has reached base in more than half of those 105 plate appearances via 24 hits and 28 walks and has a career .407 OBP against Cain. The man who hits behind Votto, Ryan Ludwick, has hit .364/.444/.818 with three home runs, including one in that April start, in 27 career plate appearances against Cain. Following Ludwick is Jay Bruce, who has gone 6-for-13 (.462) with four walks and just one strikeout in 17 career PA against Cain. Meanwhile, the only Giants to come to the plate 10 or more times against Cueto are Ryan Theriot, who won’t be in the starting lineup, and Hunter Pence, who hasn’t done much damage against Cueto, posting a .645 OPS and striking out 11 times in 30 plate appearances.
Still, Cueto will have to be careful as well, because the Giants’ offense is coming into this series hot. Since the start of August, San Francisco has scored 5.2 runs per game. Likely National League MVP Buster Posey hit .407/.462/.704 with five home runs in his last 23 games of the season. Marco Scutaro, the man who will keep Theriot on the bench, comes into this series with an active 20-game hitting streak during which he has hit .436/.458/.538. Scutaro has hit .362/.385/.473 in 61 games since being acquired at the non-waiver trading deadline from the Rockies, and first-baseman Brandon Belt has hit a fairly consistent .329/.390/.494 over the same span. They’re not murderer’s row, particularly with Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval having cooled off, but the Giants are no longer a weak-hitting team that tries to win every game 3-2 behind a strong pitching performance.
The Reds enter this series still looking for their first playoff win -- that’s game not series -- since sweeping the Dodgers in the Division Series back in 1995. They were swept in each of their next two postseason series, falling to the Braves in the 1995 NLCS and to the Phillies in 2010 (when they were famously no-hit by Roy Halladay in Game 1). In fact, seven of the Reds’ last eight postseason series have ended in sweeps dating back to 1976, when the Big Red Machine went 7-0 en route to its second consecutive World Series title. The lone exception in that run was their 4-games-to-2 victory over the Pirates in the 1990 National League Championship Series, after which they swept the A’s in the World Series.-- By Cliff Corcoran