Reds-Giants Top 5 subplots
By Melissa Couto, Special to the Sun
|Joey Votto has struggled with the long ball since coming off the DL. Can he regain his power in time? (Reuters)
1. Can Tim Lincecum return to form?
Blue Jays fans know all about mystifying pitching struggles after watching Ricky Romero this season. But Toronto wasn’t the only team to see a drop in effectiveness from one of its top starters.
Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum baffled the San Francisco Giants for much of 2012, going 3-10 with a 6.42 ERA at the all-star break. Though the 28-year improved over his last 15 starts, (7-5 in that stretch), he finished with a 5.18 ERA, the worst among starters in the NL.
Lincecum was stellar in the Giants’ World Series run two years ago, finishing the post-season with four wins and a 2.43 ERA.
If Bruce Bochy decides to use the righty for Game 3 (Matt Cain gets the nod for Game 1 while Madison Bumgarner should start Game 2), he’ll be hoping for a return to form of his 2010 ace.
2. Will Joey Votto rediscover his home run stroke?
After missing eight weeks of the regular season with a knee injury, the Etobicoke-born Reds slugger is nearly back to his old form, hitting .316 with a .505 on-base percentage since returning to the lineup.
The 29-year-old ended the regular season on a high note, racking up 22 hits in his last 25 games.
The only problem for Votto seems to be a lack of power. He hasn’t hit a home run since June 24, and has gone yard only 14 times this year.
For Votto, who is used to hitting 20-plus bombs per season, it’s quite a dip, though he did finish the season with a career-high 44 doubles.
Getting the power swing back won’t be easy in San Francisco’s pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, but in 36 career games against the Giants, Votto is hitting .287 with four home runs and 21 RBIs.
3. Can the Reds stop Buster Posey?
Winning the National League batting title can be tough. Unless you’re Buster Posey and can do it on a freshly healed broken leg. The 25-year-old Giants catcher/first baseman finished 2012 with an NL-best .336 batting average and hit a career-high 24 home runs and 103 RBIs to lead the Giants in both offensive categories.
Making matters worse for the Reds, Posey is entering the post-season on a hot streak, hitting .438 with a .500 on-base percentage in his last five games.
In six career plate appearances against Cincinnati’s Game 1 starter and 19-game winner Johnny Cueto, Posey is batting .750 with three hits and a walk. In five at-bats versus Bronson Arroyo, who should get the start in Game 2, he is hitting .400 with a .500 OBP.
4. Will Hunter Pence take advantage of a familiar foe?
It’s safe to say that the Giants’ right fielder is in familiar territory when facing the Cincinnati Reds. Having played the better part of five seasons with the Houston Astros in the NL Central, the 29-year-old has more experience with the Ohio team than anyone on the Giants roster.
In 71 career games against Cincinnati, Pence is hitting .289 with a .337 on-base percentage. He has also hit 14 home runs against the Reds, more than he has racked up versus any other team in the majors.
Through 30 games against Cueto, Pence is hitting .276. When facing Arroyo, he’s hitting an eye-popping .343, with four doubles and two home runs in 38 games.
5. Which team will win the battle of the bullpens?
When it came to the status of each team’s closers at the start of the regular season, things didn’t look good. The loveably outrageous Brian Wilson underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery after pitching in only two innings in 2012 while Reds closer Ryan Madson, missed the entire season with a torn elbow ligament.
Sharing closing duties for the Giants since Wilson’s injury has been Santiago Casilla, who has 25 saves and 2.84 ERA, and Sergio Romo, who’s held opponents to a 1.79 ERA through 69 games. The star of the show, however, has been Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman, who with 38, has the second most saves in the National League. The 24-year-old struck out 122 batters in just 71 innings this season giving him an incredible K/9 of 15.3. If either team fails to score early, they’re not likely to score at all this series.