Series: NLDS, Game 2, Reds lead 1-0
Time: 9:30 p.m. EST
The Reds dodged a bullet by winning Game 1 despite their ace’s inability to throw more than eight pitches due to back spasms. Credit Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price for handling the situation perfectly, using reliever Sam LeCure for an inning and two-thirds to give starter Mat Latos extra time to get ready, thus giving Latos, who had never appeared in relief before in the major leagues, a greater chance of success. However, if Johnny Cueto is unable return the favor and take Latos’s start in Game 3, the Reds could well be back to square one. That changes the outlook for Game 2. Before the Cueto injury, the Reds would have been happy with a split on the road. In the wake of the Cueto injury, the importance of winning Game 2 has greatly increased for Cincinnati.
Conversely, failing to win one of their only two home games in a best-of-five series despite having their ace on the mound and an early injury exit from the opposing starter may have been a crushing loss for the Giants but they can swing the momentum back to their side with a win in Game 2 given the Reds’ uncertainty about Game 3. Unfortunately for San Francisco, its Game 2 starter, Madison Bumgarner, struggled down the stretch, turning in a quality start in just one of his final seven starts, going 2-4 with a 5.89 ERA over that stretch. Opponents hit .304/.377/.507 against him over those last seven starts, numbers buoyed by a .354 batting average on balls in play, but also by an uncharacteristic 4.2 walks per nine innings. Bumgarner one-hit the Reds in San Francisco in his only start against them this season, but given the way he finished the season, that might as well have been a different pitcher.
In part due to that lousy finish, Bronson Arroyo actually had a higher ERA+ than Bumgarner this season, 113 to 103. Arroyo, who posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career this season thanks to a general refusal to issue walks (he walked three men in a game just once in 32 starts), was actually better down the stretch, going 5-3 with a 3.12 ERA in his last 10 starts. The biggest problem with Arroyo’s season was that the Reds didn’t score for him very often. Arroyo received just 3.60 runs of support per 27 outs and in his final four starts, the Reds scored a total of just four runs and lost all four games, including one in which Arroyo allowed just one run over eight innings against the Dodgers.
The Reds had no trouble scoring Saturday night, however, pushing five runs across, three on a pair of home runs off Matt Cain by Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, and plated two more against Santiago Casilla in the ninth. Casilla and Reds closer Aroldis Chapman both threw 28 pitches in Game 1, while LeCure and the Giants' George Kontos, who worked two perfect innings, both threw about 25. There’s an off-day on Monday, so Baker and San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy are unlikely to try to avoid using any of those men, but they likely won’t want to use them for more than an inning, and it will be interesting to see how effective Casilla and Chapman are after both struggled in Game 1. Casilla threw 28 or more pitches in a game just once all season, that coming way back in May, and has now allowed runs in five of his last 10 appearances, posting a 5.40 ERA over that stretch. Chapman, meanwhile, hasn’t pitched on consecutive days since August and was given 11 days off in mid-September due to shoulder fatigue.-- By Cliff Corcoran