The Reds handed San Francisco starter Matt Cain another loss Saturday night, but this one was much more significant than the two previous defeats. Cincinnati, bolstered by a three-hit, three-RBI performance from Brandon Phillips, beat Cain to take game one of the 2012 National League Division Series. Phillips' two-run homer in the third inning proved to be the difference in the 5-2 victory.
Besides Phillips, Cincinnati got production from one of its other stars. Outfielder Jay Bruce had two hits, including a home run that accounted for the Reds' other RBI. (The fifth run scored on a passed ball).
In spite of the victory, the game showed serious concerns for the Reds. Starter Johnny Cueto had to be removed because of back problems after retiring just one batter. Fortunately, Mat Latos was able to pitch four innings in relief of winner Sam Lecure. That relief appearance leaves the Reds without a game four starter, assuming Homer Bailey is bumped up to pitch game three in place of Latos.
The bullpen, which had been an asset for the Reds all season is also now a cause for concern. Set-up man Jonathan Broxton, even though he gave up no earned runs, showed signs of ineffectiveness. He faced five batters, giving up a single and a walk. Another hitter, Hunter Pence, came just a few feet short of tying the game on a deep fly ball on the warning track in right. In isolation, Broxton's inning of work is no reason for alarm, except that he is coming off an outing in which he yielded a game-winning home run to Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutcheon.
Closer Aroldis Chapman looked even worse than Broxton. Chapman allowed the first two batters to reach in the ninth, a single to Joaquin Arias and a walk to Xavier Nady. Chapman continued to struggle with his control, walking Marco Scutaro one out later. He then threw his second wild pitch of the inning, allowing Arias to score.
Even though the club scored five runs, the Reds' offense revealed the same weaknesses that have kept them in the bottom half of the league. They went 1-6 with runners in scoring position, left six runners on base, and struck out nine times.
Another concern on offense involves the middle of the order. Joey Votto went 0-3 with a strikeout, apparently not fully recovered from the knee surgery that sidelined him after the All-Star break. Ryan Ludwick and Scott Rolen both went hitless in four trips, two of the veteran bats the Reds are counting on to compensate for Votto's lack of power.
These concerns are going to make it more difficult for the Reds to advance to the World Series. In order to win game one, they had to get three RBI from their leadoff hitter, a feat unlikely to be repeated. They got insurance runs on a broken bat pinch-hit single and a passed ball, coincidences unlikely to occur again in the post-season.
In addition to the bullpen concerns, the Reds also may need to find a fourth starter to replace ace Johnny Cueto. If he cannot return, Cincinnati could opt to go with a three-man rotation.
In spite of these negatives, fans have to like the club's chances of getting to the N.L. championship series. After all, this the same club that lost its best hitter in July, and promptly went on to win its division by eleven games.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, three customers who have made him a lifelong fan of the Reds.
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- Brandon Phillips
- Jonathan Broxton
- Johnny Cueto