Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 5, 2010
BASEBALL: Phillies vs Reds
For the first of the divisional series - the NLDS matchup between the Phillies and Reds - you can't fight the conventional wisdom that the Phillies have a heavy advantage from their starting three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. A couple thoughts and observations:
-Who ever thought these Phillies would enter a postseason series as the offensive underdogs, but relying on their pitching?
-I'm not gonna do a full analysis here, but Joey Votto has to be MVP, right? This is the textbook MVP season. Votto's team made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Votto plays the same position in the same division as the best player in baseball (Albert Pujols), and Votto's team beat Pujols' team in part because Votto had a better year (not that Pujols had that much of an off-year, leading the league in HR and RBI). You go toe to toe with the king and knock him off to give your team a surprise title, that's an MVP. (And while Votto plays in a good hitters' park, he also batted .349/.452/.641 on the road). That's even before you consider Votto's resume of clutch hitting, which while it may not be a year-to-year predictable talent is certainly a factor in awards for who helped the most in the games actually played this year. Votto hit .390/.486/.695 with a man on first, .369/.491/.638 with runners in scoring position, .370/.453/.685 in the late innings of close games, .375/.438/.806 in the 8th inning, .436/.522/.667 in the 9th inning, and .357/.438/.857 in extra innings.
-Sign of the times: the Reds scored 790 runs in 2010 and led the NL in scoring. In 2000, the average NL team scored 811 runs.
-Related note: only two Phillies topped 20 home runs this year.
-Bad timing: Since 1981, the Reds have finished first 5 times and second 7 times, but this will be just their third playoff appearance in that span; they got nothing from having the best record in the NL West in 1981 and the NL Central in 1994, and lost a 1-game playoff to Al Leiter and the Mets in 1999, the closest they've come to the Wild Card.
-Jay Bruce has defied predictions of imminent superstardom, but don't count him out just yet; he's still just 23 and has slugged .453, .470 and .493 his first three seasons, with this year's .281/.353/.493 line being the first time he's made contact and gotten on base enough to translate that power into being a productive regular. Only 5 of the 58 walks he drew in 573 plate appearances were intentional. Maybe he'll never be Adam Dunn with the bat, but steady growth is all Bruce needs to mature into a star.
-I'm not sure there's a more quietly underappreciated player in the game than Bronson Arroyo. No, he shouldn't be a #1 starter for a playoff team (as he was until the return of Ednison Volquez), but even as a slightly built pitcher, Arroyo's managed at least 32 starts and 200 innings six years running, and has averaged a 13-11 record, a 4.06 ERA (ERA+ of 110, adjusting for unfriendly parks), 210 innings, 33 starts, and 142 strikeouts to 60 walks over a 7-year period. That kind of durability and consistency is hard to replace.
-It seemed almost impossible for Roy Oswalt to avoid his first losing record this season, but a 7-1 mark with a 1.74 ERA with Philly did the trick. Oswalt finished with his best K rate since his rookie year. Talk about a guy who's glad to get back to a competitive team.
-Carlos Ruiz, through age 29: .242/.329/.359 (OPS+: 77). This season, age 31: .302/.400/.447. Ryan Madson, age 25-27: 6.9 K/9 (7.3 as a reliever). Age 28-29: 9.8 K/9. Ruiz is probably a fluke, but historically, that's how teams stay on top - somebody steps up.
-Traditionally, teams built around youth up the middle and at key defensive slots. But the Reds have 35-year-old Orlando Cabrera, well past his prime with the bat, at short and 34-year-old Ramon Hernandez behind the plate; also 35 year old Scott Rolen at third. The Phillies have used 34-year-old Placido Polanco at third, and to fill in at second. Raul Ibanez is the only other player in either lineup over 32.