CINCINNATI - The Reds clinched home-field advantage in the National League Division Series in the 2012 MLB postseason over the weekend, so now the question is, what team would they rather play?
It's down to three likely teams: The San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each matchup:
San Francisco Giants
If the standings remain as they are as of Monday morning, the Reds would play the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the playoffs.
With the new MLB playoffs format this year, this means the Reds would travel to San Francisco for two games beginning on Saturday, Oct. 6. The series then comes back to Cincinnati Tuesday, Oct. 9 for as many games as are necessary in the best of 5 format.
An argument can be made that having to travel to the west coast could mess up routines and put added stress on an already long season, but fortunately for the Reds, following the regular season's conclusion on Wednesday, they'll have plenty of time to gather their things and head out west in a timely fashion, so as to not have to rush.
Same goes for when the series comes back to Cincinnati. Both teams will have to make the trip, but they'll have an off day to do it, so travel doesn't appear to be an issue in this matchup.
Historically, the Reds haven't faired very well in San Francisco, partially because of the need to travel, but this year the team went 4-3 against the Giants in the regular season, and the Redlegs' pitching showed it can contain bats like Buster Posey's and Pablo Sandoval's, allowing only six Giants runs in their four wins.
Another advantage for the Reds is Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera's suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. The Giants have made the decision that they won't be bringing back Cabrera for the postseason, who played well against the Reds when he was in this season, and is one less big bat to deal with in the Giants lineup.
Where the question mark lies is in the pitching. Much like the Reds, the Giants have five starters that can all go deep into ball games while throwing strikes and getting outs, and a decent bullpen to fall back on. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner 1-hit the Reds in the first half of the season, which could be cause for concern with the Reds slumping offense in September, but as long as the Redlegs pitching can match, which it did during the regular season, their overall team ERA is better (Reds: 3.37 vs. Giants 3.68) and they have an advantage in the reliever department.
Where the Reds are at a bit of a disadvantage is the Giants' bats are streaking into the postseason. The team scored less than five runs only 10 times in the month of September. This is where the Reds will need to be smart with their pitching matchup selections. Mat Latos, who has historically had success at AT&T Park in San Francisco, should be on Dusty Baker's radar for the first two games out west. He gave up only one run in his two starts against the Giants this year, including a complete game in San Fran. Same goes for Homer Bailey, and his uncanny ability to win games on the road this year, not to mention how well he's pitched in the latter part of the regular season.
Putting Johnny Cueto on the mound to start the series back in Cincinnati should get the crowd riled up, plus set him up to start Game 1 of the NLCS should the Reds advance. Then postseason vet Bronson Arroyo can take the hill, but the Reds can keep Mike Leake in mind, who only gave up 1 run against San Francisco in a complete game in June.
At any rate, be prepared for several one-run games in the range of 2-1 or 3-2 that the Reds are in position to come out on top of. This would be a solid matchup for the Reds to get wins.
If the Reds end up with the best record in the National League, they will play the winner of the Wild Card play-in game, which could mean the Atlanta Braves. The first game of this series would take place Sunday, Oct. 7 in Atlanta if the Braves win that play-in game on Friday, Oct. 5.
The long term advantage is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Braves are probably one of the worst matchups for the NLDS considering how hot they have been the past month, going 19-8 in the month of September.
And it's been the pitching that has driven that hot streak for the Braves, which is scary considering their staff is decent on paper, but is performing at a very high level headed into October (overall team ERA at 3.43). Reds bats will have to come alive throughout each game to match this pitching staff's ability to keep balls inside the park, rather than the Reds traditional home run hitting plans.
Back in May, the Reds swept a four-game series against the Braves in Cincinnati and went 5-1 against the team overall this year, but all of those games came well before Atlanta melded and mended from early season injuries, which makes that success hard to compare.
The Reds do have an advantage in that Atlanta will have to waste