There is the Dust Bowl. This is the Dusty Bowl, only it won't be one game -- it likely will go five. Dusty Baker was the manager of the San Francisco Giants when they went to the 2002 World Series, and now he's back in San Francisco in the postseason as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Only this trip, he will be coming back from a ministroke that landed him in the hospital for a week; Chris Speier, an ex-Giant, managed the Reds in his absence. Baker's health will add another level of intrigue to what should be a fascinating series between hot teams.
Here are five key questions.
Cueto entered September as perhaps the leading candidate to win the NL Cy Young, but in his first three starts of the month, he gave up 14 runs in 15 1/3 innings. He fixed whatever was wrong in his last three starts, allowing three runs in 20 innings. He might be the biggest key for the Reds given he is starting Game 1, and might have to start twice against Giants ace Matt Cain, who has thrown 21 1/3 innings his postseason career and allowed one run, and it was unearned.
Chapman was also a candidate for the Cy Young entering September, but he missed 12 days with a fatigued left shoulder. He has done well since he came back, but for the Reds to win this series, and the World Series, Chapman is going to have to be at his best. His best is unhittable, as he was for the first five months of the season.
2. Who would you rather have at second base, Rogers Hornsby or Marco Scutaro?
Scutaro has batted .361 with 38 RBIs since being acquired from the Rockies on July 27. He became the first Giant since second baseman George Hausmann in 1945 to hit in 18 consecutive games in September; Scutaro made it 20 in a row to end the season. During that stretch, he hit .436 with five homers and 17 RBIs. His unexpected surge at the plate has helped make up for the loss of Melky Cabrera for 50 games due to a suspension for PED use. In fact, since Cabrera's last game Aug. 14, the Giants have averaged 4.9 runs per game compared to 4.2 with him.
3. What should we expect from Joey Votto?
He missed 48 games after knee surgery, but the Reds went 32-16 without him and extended their lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central from one game to 8 ½ games. Votto hit .316 in 76 at-bats after returning to the lineup in early September, but he did not hit a home run and drove in only seven runs. He and Buster Posey (.385 the second half of the season) are the two best hitters in the league. Don't be surprised if Votto gets hot when his team needs him the most. The guy who replaced Votto during part of his time on the DL, Todd Frazier, is expected to come off the bench for the Reds. He is a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
4. What is the status of the Giants' bullpen?
The Giants are on their third closer of the season, from Brian Wilson, who was lost to injury after two appearances, to Santiago Casilla to now, Sergio Romo, who has 14 saves, a 1.79 ERA and a WHIP of 0.85. Giants manager Bruce Bochy runs a bullpen as well as anyone in the National League. He has three left-handers in the pen, and either Javier Lopez or Jeremy Affeldt will be used to close a game if the matchup calls for it. Having three left-handers means a lot of left-handers late in the game for Votto and Jay Bruce. Meanwhile, the Reds had the best bullpen ERA (2.65) in the NL this season.
5. How deep is the Cincinnati rotation?
Very. Cueto will start Game 1, followed by Bronson Arroyo. Mat Latos will start Game 3, who has allowed two runs over his last 20 innings, with just two walks and 14 K's. In two starts this season against the Giants, Latos went 2-0 and allowed six hits and one run in 16 innings. The Reds also have Homer Bailey, who threw a no-hitter in his second-to-last start of the season. Of course, the Reds' rotation had better be good going up against the 1-2 punch of Cain and Madison Bumgarner. After that, Bochy says he isn't sure how he is going to use Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito: one will start Game 3, the others will work out of the bullpen. Don't look for a lot of runs to be scored, especially at AT&T Park.
Prediction: Giants in five