NLDS Game One Preview: Cincinnati

Game One of the Phillies-Reds series kicks off tomorrow, and Cincinnati gets the unenviable task of trying to beat the best pitcher in baseball to kick things off. With Roy Halladay on the mound for Philadelphia, the Reds will have to keep the Phillies from scoring runs, and attempt to get Halladay out of the game as early as possible. The latter will be difficult, so Dusty Baker’s game plan for tomorrow’s contest should be to do whatever it takes to keep the Phillies off the board.

He’s already made the right call by going with Edinson Volquez as his starting pitcher. Despite his inconsistencies while returning from surgery, Volquez is the Reds best starter, and he was among the best in the league in September. His final month performance (2.60 BB/9, 10.08 K/9, 54.1% GB%, 2.69 xFIP) was nothing short of dominating, and while it was just a handful of starts, he showed enough of his 2008 form to get the nod in the series opener.

While no one questions Volquez’s stuff, his command is always a concern. His career BB/9 is 4.68, and only 40 percent of his pitches were in the strike zone this year. He’s the definition of effectively wild, as his ability to get both groundballs and strikeouts allow him to get out of jams that he creates through walks, but he will find himself pitching in a lot of high stress situations.

The solution – tell him he’s only going to bat once (unless the Reds rally and his spot comes up in the first or second inning, which seems unlikely), and that he’ll only be responsible for four to five innings tomorrow. Tell him to throw max effort on every pitch, and if it tires him out after 75 pitches, so be it.

Because of the way the series schedule is setup, they can – and should – be very liberal with their bullpen usage. The series is set to be played on Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, so only one game will be played without an off day before it. Not only does this allow both teams to just use three starting pitchers, but it also gives the teams a chance to get a lot of innings from their bullpens without overworking individual relievers.

The Reds will likely want to hold back LHP Arthur Rhodes (3.24 FIP) and RHP Nick Masset (3.38 FIP) for 7th and 8th innings of close games, but they should still be able to bridge the 4th-5th-6th gap if they need to pull Volquez early tomorrow. With both Homer Bailey and Travis Wood available out of the pen, they’ll have a guy capable of going multiple innings and pitching well, and Aroldis Chapman looms for any high leverage situation where Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez will be coming to the plate.

If I’m Dusty Baker, my innings plan for tomorrow goes something like this:

1st – 4th: Volquez
5th – 6th: Wood/Bailey
7th – 8th: Chapman/Massett/Rhodes
9th: Cordero

If handled correctly, the Reds can probably get by only having to let their pitcher hit once, and can ensure that they have a platoon advantage in nearly every high leverage situation they might face. Rather than looking for Volquez to match Halladay by pitching deep into the game, the Reds need to take advantage of their bullpen depth and the copious amount of off-days. Remember, relievers outperform starting pitchers almost across the board because they don’t have to pace themselves, so getting more innings from your relievers is a good idea if you can do it without wearing them out.

Dusty Baker should have the quickest hook of any manager in the playoffs. This schedule gives them a chance to reduce the amount of work that has to be carried by the weak link on this roster – the starting pitching – and they should take full advantage of it.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Greg Maddux
13 years ago

Nice article Dave. I’ve read about 10 different previews of this series and while everyone mentions how big the extra day is for Philly’s starters, no one brings up the point you make about how it is equally beneficial for Cincy’s relievers.

13 years ago
Reply to  Greg Maddux

It also keeps Madson fresh for the Phillies…and he’s likely the best reliever on either side in this series.

13 years ago
Reply to  NEPP

Perhaps, but the Phils gain a smaller comparative advantage by keeping Madson fresh, because they will have less need to go to their bullpen in any event.

Chris G
13 years ago
Reply to  NEPP

You can have Madson. I’ll take Chapman.