The Washington Nationals clinched the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs with their victory Wednesday in the regular-season finale versus Philadelphia. But it's No. 2 seed Cincinnati that is the Bovada favorite to win the NL pennant.
Back in the spring, Cincinnati was the NL Central favorite, which it won handily. But the Reds were only the co-fourth favorites to win the pennant at 9/1. Ahead of them were Philadelphia (9/4), San Francisco (7/1) and Miami (8/1). The Phillies and Marlins vastly underachieved in 2012 and missed the playoffs, while the Giants will face the Reds in the NL Division Series.
Cincinnati is now 2/1 to win the pennant and has set up its rotation for the first three games of the Giants series. Reds ace Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78) will start Saturday's opener, followed by Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74) in Sunday's Game 2 and Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48) in Tuesday's Game 3.
The Reds have home-field advantage in this series, but the first two games of the best-of-five will be in San Francisco. The higher-seeded teams will host the first two games in all of this year's Division Series only because of the late addition this spring of the second wild-card, which necessitated removing a travel day in the Division Series round. That will be rectified in 2013.
Cueto hasn't been quite as dominant in the second half of the season, posting 3.48 ERA compared to 2.39 before the All-Star break. He faced the Giants once, allowing three runs and six hits in six innings of a 5-0 loss on June 28 at AT&T Park. Cueto's away ERA (2.77) was slightly better than his home number (2.79) in 2012.
San Francisco (13/4 to win the pennant) has announced its starters for the first two games: Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79) and then lefty Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37). Cain, who threw a perfect game earlier this season, set career-bests in wins and ERA. He has faced Cincinnati twice in 2012, going 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA and 16 hits allowed in 13 innings.
The Reds won four of seven meetings vs. the Giants with all the games coming before the All-Star Break.
Washington was 15/1 to win the pennant back in the spring, but is now 9/4. The Nationals won't know who they face or where to go for Game 1 of their Division Series on Sunday until the result of Friday's one-game wild-card playoff between the Braves and Cardinals in Atlanta.
It's sweet justice for the Braves to be back in the postseason after they choked away the NL's wild-card spot last year to St. Louis. It's a terrific pitching matchup as Atlanta starts Kris Medlen against the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse.
The Braves will be significant home favorites as they have won a major-league record 23 straight times Medlen has started dating to late May 2010. Medlen (10-1, 1.57) started this year in the bullpen and moved to the rotation on July 31. Since then, he is 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts but hasn't faced St. Louis in that stretch. Atlanta is now 13/2 to win the pennant.
St. Louis, the defending World Series champion, is the 7/1 NL pennant long shot. The Cards' Lohse (16-3, 2.86) led all MLB starters in winning percentage this season. He allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings in his lone start vs. Atlanta.
The Nationals will visit the winning city Sunday and Monday for the first two games of the NLDS and will start ace lefty and Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89) in Game 1. Washington was 10-8 vs. Atlanta this season and 4-3 vs. St. Louis.