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Winning with Chapman on the fritz

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

There's something about this team that's wired to win when its best players go down:

Combined record during Aroldis Chapman's two hiatuses and without Joey Votto (June 20-23, June 27-July 1, July 16-Sept 7, Sept 11-Sept 21): 41-24

And then there's the fact that that they've looked like an unstoppable juggernaut ever since Cueto went down in the first inning of Game 1. Maybe it's like a mother whose strength multiplies when her child is in danger.

So it would seem plenty believable that they could weather a less-than-effective Chapman over the remainder of the post-season.

With Chapman, the problem right now isn't injury - or even a decline in velocity. He averaged close to 98 on his fastball Saturday night. The problem is control - he only threw 57% strikes (vs. 64% on the season). It's also pitch mix, partly as a response to less control.

Chapman wanted strikes and leaned a little heavier on his fastball to get back in the zone. He threw just one slider Saturday in 28 pitches, after working sliders (and a few splitters) in over the second half of the season to wind up with a season fastball rate of 88%.

I think Chapman needs to be somewhere above 60% strikes and mixing in his slider just a little bit more to be "effectively wild" and prevent hitters from sitting on a dead-red fastball, ahead in the count.

But Chapman is pretty close to where he needs to be. If he does get himself in trouble, the main worry is that Marshall and Broxton have already been used in the 7th and 8th. Given how uniformly good the Reds' 'pen has been, this isn't a huge worry. Dusty just need to hook him if he doesn't have it.

For Chapman, not "having it" doesn't mean walking the world so much as not getting ahead and not finding his spots. He's had just five games this season in which he's given up multiple walks - and in none of these has he given up earned runs. In fact, in only 2 of the seven outings where Chapman gave up earned runs did he even issue a free pass.

For Chapman, it boils down to hittability. When he's going well - as he did over the last four appearances of the season - Chapman can scatter the walks. He held opponents to a .091 average in those four games. But when he senses something wrong, he starts to work slower and guide the ball, reducing the movement on his fastball and getting him closer barrels of bats.

If Chapman starts pitching to contact, it's time to get someone up.