If the Reds-Phillies season series in 2010 and the past eight years of games between the two teams are any indication, this will be one wild series. The Phillies won this season's series 5-2, but there were four one-run games, and only one game was decided by more than three runs.
In the four games in Philadelphia from July 8-11, the Phillies had three walk-off wins, including one game that they tied by scoring six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Two of the walk-off wins were by 1-0 scores, the first back-to-back 1-0 wins by the Phillies since 1913.
Reds left-hander Travis Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning but got a no-decision. Reds reliever Arthur Rhodes saw his ERA against the Phillies climb to 27.00 at one point while his ERA against the rest of the major leagues was 0.27. A Reds baserunner scored from second on a strikeout.
The games have been like that for eight years, but a lot has changed since the All-Star break. The Phillies made another charge through September, this time on the strength of sensational starting pitching. This series will be their first step toward trying to return to the World Series for the third year in a row; the last National League team to do that was the 1942 to '44 Cardinals. The Reds are in the way. They're a young, vibrant club that one scout says "grinds it out every day. They're fun to watch."
Indeed they are. But they were 20-33 this season against teams with a winning record.
Here are five questions about the series:
1. How good is the Phillies' rotation?
"I haven't seen three guys throwing this well going into the postseason in a long time," one scout said. "Those three guys never lose."
Indeed. In September, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels were a combined 13-1. Halladay will win the NL Cy Young, Oswalt's career numbers in August and September are as good as those of anyone else in the game and Hamels has been as good as Halladay or Oswalt down the stretch. (Oswalt allowed nine Reds runs in 12 innings this season while pitching for the Astros, but he is 23-3 in his career against them.) All three pitchers have extra incentive. Halladay's 320 career starts are the most among active pitchers without an appearance in the postseason. Oswalt asked out of Houston to play in the postseason again, and now he has his wish. Hamels is trying to make up for a poor 2009 postseason and reclaim the magic that made him the best pitcher in the 2008 playoffs.
2. How good is the Reds' rotation?
The Reds are taking a risk starting Edinson Volquez in Game 1. Volquez has never pitched in the postseason and has started only 21 games in the past two years because he underwent Tommy John surgery. He has the best stuff on the team, however, and he is the guy most capable of matching up with Halladay in the opener. Volquez also is the hottest pitcher on the Reds; he had a 1.95 ERA in September and has had great success against left-handed hitters (see Chase Utley and Ryan Howard): a .229 batting average against and only one home run allowed this season. After Volquez, the Reds will go with Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto. Manager Dusty Baker will have Wood and another good young starter, Homer Bailey, in a deep, versatile bullpen.
3. What lineup will Phillies manager Charlie Manuel use?
Jimmy Rollins missed 15 games in September with a hamstring injury. Manuel went with Shane Victorino in the leadoff spot, and the Phillies were virtually unbeatable. Now Rollins is back. He started the Phillies' last five games of the regular season and seemed to move relatively well but didn't attempt a stolen base. The Phillies are at their best with Rollins at the top of the order, making things happen, stealing bases, etc. But is he 100 percent? Should he hit leadoff?
4. Is Francisco Cordero up for closing games in pressure situations?
Cordero, the Reds' closer, has the most appearances of any active pitcher without throwing in the postseason. He saved 40 games this year, but he blew eight saves, had a 3.84 ERA and allowed 14 hits in 9 1/3 innings in September. There is no chance that Baker will go with rookie Aroldis Chapman in Cordero's place in the ninth inning, but it will be interesting to see how big a role Chapman plays in this series. If there are left-handed batters to get out late, Chapman, not Cordero, might be a better option in certain situations.
5. How will the Phillies pitch to Joey Votto?
Very carefully. Votto will win the NL MVP in part because of what he did in seven games against the Phillies: 11-for-28 with three home runs and six RBIs. Chances are the Phillies will work around Votto and make the rest of the Reds' lineup, including Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce, beat them. There is a danger in that strategy, however, given that the Reds led the league in runs scored this season. Bruce hit four home runs in the last six games he played.
PREDICTION: PHILLIES IN FOUR
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.