NLDS Game Four Recap: Giants 8, Reds 3

And just like that, the Giants have evened the series at two apiece. Tomorrow’s game — Matt Cain v. Mat Latos — will decide whether the Giants go home or advance to the NLCS. Now, about today’s game…

– The Giants finally broke out on offense today, which was a relief to see. After scoring four runs over the previous three games, the Giants tallied eight runs today. Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, and Pablo Sandoval each homered; Joaquin Arias knocked a couple doubles; Hector Sanchez reached base three times. Giants pitching limited the Reds to three runs on the afternoon, but the eight runs the lineup produced weren’t superfluous — in building a big lead, they enabled Bochy to rest Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo.

– Onto Hector Sanchez. I’d like to clarify a few things: I don’t think the Giants’ best lineup has Hector Sanchez at catcher, and that doesn’t mean that I hate Hector Sanchez. As a matter of fact, I actually really like Hector. And I think he’s a pretty talented player — a catcher capable of posting a 95 OPS+ in the majors at age 22 isn’t exactly easy to come by.

But again, I don’t think the Giants’ best lineup — currently — has Hector in it. Brandon Belt is quite clearly a better defender at first base than Buster Posey, and Buster Posey is quite clearly a better defender at catcher than Sanchez (Sanchez had some pretty cringe-worthy glovework at various times in today’s game, even); and Brandon Belt (118 wRC+) is quite clearly a better hitter than Hector Sanchez (86 wRC+) at this moment in time. In the postseason, I think the modus operandi should be to field the best lineup at all costs. Naturally, I want Posey at catcher and Belt at first base for every one of these games. It doesn’t make or break the Giants — and I’ve never suggested that this is the case; but every little thing makes a difference, and I think the team should capitalize on every possible advantage.

Hector hit a single and drew a couple walks today. That’s awesome. It should go without saying, but I want to see him perform well whenever he’s put in the lineup. I was pleased with his work at the plate today, and the Giants’ performance as a whole. Do today’s four plate appearances (along with shoddy defense, no less) change my opinion on the matter? Nope.

– The best part about today’s game: Tim Lincecum. 4.1 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 0 BB, 2 H. I know the Giants’ offense is better than what they’d done over the first few games in this series. As great as it was to see them finally produce, I’d expected it. Timmy, on the other hand? I don’t really know what to expect out of him at this point. For the first time since Aaron Rowand was still a thing, Lincecum went three-plus innings without walking anybody. His only other walk-less appearance since that game back in June of 2011? His previous relief appearance in this NLDS, when he went two innings with two strikeouts. Put the two outings together, and Lincecum’s overall pitching line for the NLDS: 6.1 IP, 1 ER, 8 K, 0 BB, 3 H. In light of today’s poor showing from Barry Zito (who, in all fairness, didn’t get a whole lot of help from Hector or the home plate umpire), I think there’s no question that Lincecum has to take Zito’s spot in the playoff rotation if the Giants do happen to advance to the next round.

Oh yeah, and Bochy — once again — did an excellent job managing the bullpen today.

– Don’t forget: if Johnny Cueto doesn’t incur that injury in Game One, the Giants are stuck facing Cueto/Latos/Arroyo/Bailey this series, and there’s no Mike Leake. These things aren’t to be taken for granted. Never take Mike Leake for granted.

NLDS Game Four – Giants v. Reds

The lineups:

Giants
1. CF Angel Pagan
2. 2B Marco Scutaro
3. 3B Pablo Sandoval
4. 1B Buster Posey
5. RF Hunter Pence
6. C Hector Sanchez
7. LF Gregor Blanco
8. SS Brandon Crawford
9. SP Barry Zito

Reds
1. 2B Brandon Phillips
2. SS Zack Cozart
3. 1B Joey Votto
4. LF Ryan Ludwick
5. RF Jay Bruce
6. 3B Todd Frazier
7. C Dioner Navarro
8. CF Drew Stubbs
9. SP Mike Leake

That’s right. After back-to-back games of dreadful offense — over which the Giants compiled a grand total of five hits (two of which came only because the Giants were lucky enough to force yesterday’s game into extras), Bruce Bochy is sitting Brandon Belt in favor of Hector Sanchez. With the Giants’ season on the line, Bochy has opted to downgrade both the offense (Sanchez: .280/.295/.390, 86 wRC+; Belt: .275/.360/.421, 118 wRC+) and defense (Posey: #5; Sanchez: #111).

Not to mention that Lincecum, not Zito, should probably be starting this game. Obligatory reminder — Reds’ offense vs. right-handed pitching: 87 wRC+; Reds’ offense vs. left-handed pitching: 104 wRC+. Plus, their biggest left-handed threat — Joey Votto — hasn’t homered since June 24th.

Oh well. I fully expect Barry Zito to toss a shutout and Hector Sanchez to hit for the cycle because this is the postseason, after all — where chaos reigns supreme.

NLDS Game Three Recap: Giants 2, Reds 1

I can’t even begin to pretend to understand what I just watched. But I’ll tell you one thing: I was getting ready to say good-bye to the 2012 Giants — to write an end-of-season post, pointing out that despite the thrashing the Giants received to put an end to their season, we shouldn’t forget that 2012 was a great ride. No need for that. Not today, at least.

For most of the game, the score was tied. Both teams were in it. But it didn’t feel like it. For most of the game, it felt like the Giants were done, waiting for an inevitable end to their season. Like they were just going through the motions. It took them until the sixth inning to get their first hit of the game. Marco Scutaro singled to right to put an end to the no-hitter; Pablo Sandoval then came up, promptly swung at the first pitch — nowhere near the strike zone — and flied out. That’s the kind of game it was.

Through nine innings, the Giants had one hit. Had the game not been forced into extra innings, the Giants would have become the first team ever to collect fewer than three hits in back-to-back postseason games. It took the following tenth inning sequence to bring the Giants a victory: Buster Posey singles to right; Hunter Pence, with a full count, hits a grounder mere inches from Scott Rolen that goes through for a single; Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady each strike out swinging; runners advance on a passed ball from Ryan Hanigan (who had only allowed three passed balls during the regular season); Joaquin Arias hits grounder to Rolen, Rolen bobbles it, his throw to first is late — and Posey scores on the play.

That’s what it took for the Giants to win this game. They struck out 16 times. They drew only one walk. They collected only three hits, none of which drove in a run. And yet they walk away with the victory.

Not to be forgotten in all of this: the outstanding efforts from every Giants pitcher in this game, particularly Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogelsong was able to move past a rough first inning, holding the Reds to one run over five innings of work. Credit Bochy as well, here — he pinch hit for Vogelsong in the sixth inning, something he probably wouldn’t do in normal circumstances; even though Aubrey Huff didn’t get a hit, the Giants went with the bullpen for the rest of the game, and the bullpen shut the Reds down.

And that’s where Sergio Romo comes in: in the ninth inning of a tied game, he set the Reds down in order. Bochy stuck with Romo after the Giants took the lead, even though a) it meant letting Romo hit and b) Romo rarely has long relief appearances. You know how many times Romo pitched two innings this season? Once. But he came out in the tenth, and once again set the Reds down 1-2-3 to seal the win. Kudos to Bochy, again, for sticking with Romo there.

So the Giants live to see another day. It wasn’t pretty. But a win’s a win. And if the Giants can somehow manage to pull off two more of these, they’ll advance to the next round. They’re still hanging by a thread, skating on thin ice — whatever you want to call it. But they’re one step closer to the NLCS. Baseball’s weird.

NLDS Game Three – Giants v. Reds

You might notice I didn’t bother writing about Sunday’s game. What do you expect? It was probably the most miserable game of 2012. Bronson Arroyo, one of the most hittable pitchers in baseball, nearly no-hit the Giants. Madison Bumgarner couldn’t make it through five innings. The Giants, already down 1-0 in the series, took a beating in their own park. Enough about that game. I’d rather just pretend that didn’t happen.

The Giants’ season is now hanging by a thread. In order to avoid elimination, they must a) beat a 97-win team b) three games in a row c) on the road with d) Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito starting two of those three games. Do they have it in ‘em? Probably not. But as baseball great Lenny Kravitz  – er, Yogi Berra — once said, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

The lineups:

Giants
1. CF Angel Pagan
2. 2B Marco Scutaro
3. 3B Pablo Sandoval
4. C Buster Posey
5. RF Hunter Pence
6. 1B Brandon Belt
7. LF Gregor Blanco
8. SS Brandon Crawford
9. SP Ryan Vogelsong

Reds
1. 2B Brandon Phillips
2. SS Zack Cozart
3. 1B Joey Votto
4. LF Ryan Ludwick
5. RF Jay Bruce
6. 3B Scott Rolen
7. C Ryan Hanigan
8. CF Drew Stubbs
9. SP Homer Bailey

NLDS Game Two – Reds v. Giants

Game two — sort of a “must-win.” The lineups are the same as yesterday:

Reds
1. 2B Brandon Phillips
2. SS Zack Cozart
3. 1B Joey Votto
4. LF Ryan Ludwick
5. RF Jay Bruce
6. 3B Scott Rolen
7. C Ryan Hanigan
8. CF Drew Stubbs
9. SP Bronson Arroyo

Giants
1. CF Angel Pagan
2. 2B Marco Scutaro
3. 3B Pablo Sandoval
4. C Buster Posey
5. RF Hunter Pence
6. 1B Brandon Belt
7. LF Gregor Blanco
8. SS Brandon Crawford
9. SP Madison Bumgarner

In other news, the Game Three starter has been named Ryan Vogelsong. Tim Lincecum will be used out of the bullpen, with Barry Zito or Matt Cain (on short rest) starting Game Four. I must say, I’m not too keen on the idea of Zito starting over Lincecum. I’ve brought this up a few times, but the Reds’ offense has fared a lot worse against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching, and the Giants should capitalize on this.

NLDS Game One Recap: Reds 5, Giants 2

The Giants caught an enormous break in this one when, eight pitches into his outing, Johnny Cueto was forced to exit the game with back spasms. With Matt Cain on the mound, it was as though they had been gifted Game One of the series.

Matt Cain did not pitch like Matt Cain, though. In the third inning, he served up a two-run homer to Brandon Phillips on a fat, hanging 1-2 pitch. Following the home run, he hit Zack Cozart and then walked Joey Votto on four pitches. At one point, he’d thrown eight consecutive balls, there was one out in the inning, and Ryan Ludwick was at the plate with Jay Bruce on deck. Were it not for a timely double play, he could have fallen apart at the seams right then and there. He didn’t. The very next inning, Jay Bruce led off with a solo shot, sending a decent pitch (this one was kept down in the zone, and had considerably less hang-time than the pitch to Phillips) over the wall in right-center field for the Reds’ third run.

Things didn’t go much better with the Giants’ offense — they rallied with two outs in the second inning, only to have Matt Cain come up with the bases loaded. He hit one on the screws, but it was right at Bruce. And that kind of stuff seemed to happen throughout the night — Brandon Belt struck the ball well in his only two at-bats, but was twice robbed of hits. Hunter Pence, in his final two at-bats, hit very deep flyballs — but they just weren’t deep enough.

In reflecting upon the game, though, I find myself coming back to one pitch. With two outs and a couple runners on in the eighth inning, Gregor Blanco worked the count full. Jonathan Broxton made a pitch right at the knees, on the outside corner of the strike zone, taken for a called strike three to end the inning. I’m not sure if it was a strike or ball; it was close, though I’m leaning toward “missed call.” Blanco probably should’ve been protecting on such a pitch anyway. I’m not sure what to take away from this — my instinctive reaction is just to shrug. Broxton simply got the better of the exchange. And I can’t help but feel the same about the game as a whole — the Giants made some mistakes, had some tough breaks, and ultimately lost. It sucked, but I’m just left here shrugging. I’m not entirely sure where to direct the frustration.

Not to be forgotten in all of this: George Kontos and his two perfect innings of relief. I don’t know how close the Giants were to leaving him off the NLDS roster, but they were wise to find room for him.

There was a lot more in this game: Brandon Phillips’ standout play on the basepaths, at the plate, and in the field; Santiago Casilla and his less-than-stellar inning of relief; the Giants’ almost-comeback against Aroldis Chapman.

But enough about this game. All that really needs to be said about this game is: “the Giants lost.” And now they’re two games away from elimination, with only one remaining home game in the series. The Giants really, really can’t afford to lose tomorrow.

NLDS Game One – Reds v. Giants

Well, we’re finally here. The Giants’ first postseason game is set to get underway in less than three hours, with Johnny Cueto and Matt Cain — both of whom merit Cy Young consideration — battling it out. Fun fact: since the start of 2011, Johnny Cueto has a 65 ERA-, tied with Clayton Kershaw for the second-best mark in baseball over that span. And Matt Cain, well, he’s Matt Cain. The pitching match-up, to state the obvious, should be a good one. Shocking for that to be the case in the first game of a postseason series, I know.

Here are today’s lineups:

Reds
1. 2B Brandon Phillips
2. SS Zack Cozart
3. 1B Joey Votto
4. LF Ryan Ludwick
5. RF Jay Bruce
6. 3B Scott Rolen
7. C Ryan Hanigan
8. CF Drew Stubbs
9. SP Johnny Cueto

Giants
1. CF Angel Pagan
2. 2B Marco Scutaro
3. 3B Pablo Sandoval
4. C Buster Posey
5. RF Hunter Pence
6. 1B Brandon Belt
7. LF Gregor Blanco
8. SS Brandon Crawford
9. SP Matt Cain

It goes without saying, but these first two games — the only two that will be played in San Francisco during this series — are crucial.

Oh, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should check out Jeff Sullivan’s excellent Reds/Giants preview over at Fangraphs.