The first two games in San Francisco for the National League Divisional Series were nothing but complete domination from a team evoking memories of the mid-70's Big Red Machine Dynasty. A 5-2 victory over Giants ace Matt Cain in Game One, followed by a Game Two 9-0 drubbing over southpaw Madison Bumgarner set the tone early and seeming as if it was a foregone conclusion that the NLCS would stop in Cincy. Besides, the Reds had the next three games at home, and there was no way they could blow a 2-0 series lead while at home, right? However, in the games that followed, the Reds exhibited specific flaws, flaws that would prove fatal to their season. Game Three provided a differing quality of game in that the pitching that carried each team was on full display. The game was a 1-1 stalemate until a crucial Scott Rolen error in the 10th allowed the game winning run to score. For good measure, the research of Fangraphs Jeff Sullivan showed that the Giants offensive performance that night was the worst ever for a winner in the postseason. Game Four involved a poor showing by Cincinnati emergency starter Mike Leake and its usually strong bullpen that was finalized with a score of 8-3. Lastly, in the deciding Game Five, Reds' starter Mat Latos gave up six runs in the 5th inning, culminating in a grand slam by potential MVP Buster Posey. The Reds were unable to catch the red-hot Giants, as their season ended that day with a 6-4 loss. So how could a team surrender such a major series advantage to a team seemingly devoid of any momentum?
First off, let's look at the major reasons as to why they did not win those games as simply as possible. Game 3 was because of an untimely error and poor hitting, Game 4 was because of poor pitching and poor hitting, and Game 5 was because of poor pitching (which was essentially one bad inning). Now, it seems a theme here is uncharacteristic pitching and inconsistent hitting. Yet, when looking at the overall numbers for the series, the Reds pitching was better (3.13 ERA/32 Hits/1.04 WHIP vs. SF's 4.11/47/1.35) and the Reds offense was better (.261/.327/.389 vs. SF's .194/.266/.339 triple slash). Yet, the key to the Reds collapse was its inability to capitalize with runners on base. In Games 3-5, the Reds batted .125 with 28 runners left on base while the Giants batted .250 with only 14 runners left on base. Just because the Reds had better overall numbers, its failure to drive in runs with players on base was its undoing. Additionally, losing Johnny Cueto in Game 1 due to back issues, ultimately forced the Reds regular season fifth starter, Mike Leake, to throw Game Four. By having Cueto (2.78 ERA, 3.27 FIP) in the game instead of Leake (4.58 ERA, 4.42 FIP) , the Reds lost its best pitcher at arguably the worst possible time. Lastly, key errors by Scott Rolen and rookie Zack Cozart had great impact in the final results of the game. Rolen's Game Three error resulted in a 32% win probability increase for the Giants, the single most influential moment of the game (according to WPA). Cozart's Game Five error only had a 6% WPA for the Giants but allowed a run to score and prevented the Reds from getting a key second out of the inning.
So how can the Reds improve its team for 2013? They are not a whole lot of glaring weaknesses for a team that won 97 games but the most evident flaw is low on base percentage toward the top of the order. Shortstop Zack Cozart and outfielder Drew Stubbs both had sub .301 OBPs, numbers which are unacceptable when potent hitters such as Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Ryan Ludwick are unable to drive in runners since no runners are on base. By implementing a steady source of OBP production, more opportunities to drive in runs should arise, even if the team had a runner in scoring position problem during the postseason. Possible free agent solutions include Giants outfielder Angel Pagan (.338 OBP) and Michael Bourn (.348 OBP). Also, other than perhaps replacing Leake with a more dependable fifth starter, the Reds have little holes again look like a strong team for 2013. However, its often the little things that matter the most in October, something the Reds were unable to do this year.