Philadelphia is ready to enjoy yet another year of post-season baseball. I believe it was the great philosopher
Sun Tzu Zack de la Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine, who once said “Know your enemy”. What better way to know the enemy than to speak directly to him? That’s what I did with Chad Dotson of Redleg Nation, a fellow member of the ESPN Sweetspot blog network. Below are Chad’s answers to some questions I tossed his way via e-mail. If you click over to his blog, you can see my answers to his questions as well.
(Language in the clip may be NSFW)
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1. Scott Rolen seemed to be on fire in the first half, but he cooled off in August and September. Are the Reds concerned? Is the lack of production due to declining health?
There is certainly reason for concern, as there is a stark difference between Rolen’s first-half and second-half numbers. Some of that diminished production is likely due to age, as Rolen has gotten a bit worn down (only once in the last six seasons has Rolen played as many games as he’s played this year). Rolen’s diminished performance since the All-Star break, however, is partially a problem of perception. In other words, Rolen hasn’t really been that bad in the second half; his OPS+ after the break is 15. The problem is that you are comparing those numbers to a fluke first half, when Rolen unexpectedly hit 17 homers on his way to posting an OPS+ of 145.
Meanwhile, his defense has been very good. Yes, there is reason for concern, but the Scott Rolen of the second half has been a pretty good player in his own right.
2. Can the Reds still win the series if the Phillies neutralize Joey Votto?
Sure, but it makes things more difficult. One of the best things about this team is that someone different has stepped up to be the hero when needed. There are lots of guys who are comfortable in the tense moments.
That said, I’m not particularly concerned about the Phillies neutralizing Votto. No one has been able to neutralize Votto all season. Since April, Votto has put up an OPS over 1000 in each month, and he has been the steadiest, most professional player I’ve ever seen. Every single day, every single at-bat, every single pitch, Joey Votto is locked in. That’s why he has been the Most Valuable Player in the National League, even though Charlie Manuel didn’t think he was an All-Star.
3. The starting pitching match-ups don’t favor the Reds, to say the least. Will Dusty Baker have a quick trigger to take out a struggling starter and go to the bullpen?
Yes, and the Reds are particularly well-suited to weather that storm. The Reds don’t have a brilliant top of the rotation like the Phils, but they have a much deeper group of starting arms to call upon than most teams. Dusty Baker is going to go with a three-man rotation in this series: Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto. That means that Travis Wood and Homer Bailey will be pitching out of the bullpen. You remember Wood; he almost spun a perfect game against your guys back in June. Both he and Bailey are capable of coming in at a moment’s notice to take the ball if a starter falters.
4. If there is one thing that the Reds and Phillies have in common, it’s that both teams have watched their closers struggle at various points throughout the season. Do you trust the bullpen to hold down a one-run lead in the eighth and ninth innings?
No…and yes. I love the guy, but I just don’t trust Francisco Cordero in those tight spots right now; as good as CoCo has been the last few years, he’s been scary this season. I do, however, trust the other guys out there: Nick Masset, Arthur Rhodes, and a guy the Phillies should be dreading — Aroldis Chapman.
Chapman should have the ball in his hands in every crucial spot, because there’s no one like him in the world. A big lefty who throws up to 105 MPH and has the most unhittable slider I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see Ryan Howard flail at one of those sliders.
Dusty Baker has made clear that CoCo is his guy, but he has also hinted that he won’t hesitate to go elsewhere if Cordero isn’t getting the job done. I’m going to go the wishful thinking route, and hope that Dusty give Cordero a very short leash in October.
5. The Reds are neither aggressive (90 SB; NL avg. 89) nor efficient (68% success rate) in terms of stealing bases. Do you expect the Reds to be more aggressive on the base paths in the NLDS, or will they be content to play station-to-station baseball?
While the Reds haven’t been an aggressive team when it comes to stolen bases, I think you’ll find that the Reds are the most aggressive team in the league when it comes to baserunning. Cincinnati leads the league in going first-to-third, taking an extra base almost every single time there is an opportunity.
Given Dusty Baker’s small-ball tendencies, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more base-stealing in the NLDS. One run could be very important against the type of pitching of which the Phillies can boast. Drew Stubbs, in particular, is a speed-burner, and I can see Dusty giving him the green light more often than usual. On the whole, however, the Reds are already pretty aggressive on the basepaths. I don’t expect that to change.
6. Let’s say the Reds get through the Phillies and advance to the NLCS. Who would you rather face, the San Francisco Giants or Atlanta Braves?
Who cares, as long as we’re there? A more serious answer: probably Atlanta. I feel like the Reds match up better with the Braves, especially given all the important injuries Atlanta has suffered. San Francisco has some good pitching that would scare me a bit.
If Cincinnati can beat the Phillies, however, I’ll be on cloud nine and probably won’t care who the next opponent is.
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Thanks to Chad for taking the time to provide his insight into the NLDS. Be sure to click over to Redleg Nation to check out my replies to his queries.
There’s nothing quite like post-season baseball, and for the first time perhaps ever, the Phillies are prohibitive favorites to win it all. It starts today and who better to get the ball rolling than Roy Halladay?