Five Keys: Reds vs. Phillies
The Reds are making their first postseason appearance since 1995 on the strength of their first winning season since 2000. That sudden turn-around is one of the best stories of the season, but the Phillies look ready to ruin the ending. Having won the last two National League pennants, the Phillies are heavily favored to win their third straight NL flag, and given the top three in their rotation and the way their offense is clicking right now, they have to be considered the favorites to win the World Series as well. The Reds may very well be the second-best team in the NL field, but beating the Phillies would be a sizable upset.
This series -- quite possibly this entire postseason -- will be about the Phillies' three aces:
Oswalt and Hamels enter this series with dominant postseasons under their belts. In 2005, Oswalt went 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in the first two rounds of the playoffs and was NLCS MVP. Three years later, Hamels was the key performer in the Phillies' world championship run, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts while winning NLCS and World Series MVP honors. Halladay, who has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball over the last three seasons (leading qualified starters in innings, ERA, ERA+, wins, shutouts, complete games, WHIP, K/BB, and BB/9 over that span), will make his postseason debut in Wednesday's Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park.
Halladay enters that start having likely just won his second Cy Young award by going 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and a staggering 7.30 K/BB ratio. Oswalt, who will start Game Two, was acquired from the Astros at the non-waiver trading deadline. He began his Phillies career with a dud, then went 7-0 with a 1.31 ERA over his final 11 regular season starts for his new club. Game 3 starter Hamels was similarly dominant in his final seven regular season starts, going 5-1 with a 1.48 ERA.
The Reds ranked third and the Phillies fourth in the NL in defensive efficiency, the rate at which a defense turns balls in play (not counting home runs, which are hit out of play) into outs. To consider the impact defense can have on a pitcher, consider the Game 2 starters, Oswalt for the Phillies and
Oswalt shaved more than a run and a half off his ERA after joining the Phillies, and while he did make some improvements as a Phillie -- he allowed fewer line drives and induced more ground balls, which not only are easier outs but enabled a dramatic improvement in his double-play rate -- his strikeout-to-walk ratio was actually a tick better with the Astros. The most dramatic change in Oswalt's performance was that his opponents' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) dropped nearly 50 points after he joined the Phillies. Those ground balls certainly helped, but a large part of that drop can be attributed to luck and the Phillies' defense.
The only Phillie who isn't a superlative defender at his position is left fielder
These are the Senior Circuit's two highest-scoring offenses, but the Phillies' offensive output is even more impressive considering that two-thirds of their lineup hit the disabled list at one point this season.
While the Phillies offense was finally finding its stride, the Reds bats, which led the league with 790 runs, had pushed across 5.02 runs per game during the season's first five months, started to doze off, scoring just 4.23 over the season's final 30 games. The Reds, not coincidentally, went 14-16 over that stretch. The Reds bats now have to wake up against Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels.
The key players to watch in the Reds lineup are
Chapman, the 22-year-old Cuban defector signed by the Reds back in January, was called up on August 31 and immediately captured headlines with a dominant debut and a 105-mile-per-hour fastball. Though he has proven human since, he gives the Reds a dominant full-inning set-up man to complement fellow lefty
The postseason hasn't been kind to