So then, does anybody feel like arguing that the first two games of the National League Division Series could have gone worse for the San Francisco Giants?
[Pauses. Hears crickets. Nods understandingly.]
Yeah, I didn't think so. Optimism and postseason losses do not go hand in hand, particularly when we're talking about the kind of demoralizing defeats that the Giants suffered in Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds.
Game 1 was a missed opportunity for the Giants, as they failed to collect what could have been an easy victory after 19-game winner Johnny Cueto lasted only eight pitches due to back spasms. The Reds got to Matt Cain, and Giants nemesis Mat Latos and several other relievers kept the Giants offense at bay. The end result was a 5-2 victory for the Reds.
For the Giants, Game 2 was even more frustrating. Veteran righty Bronson Arroyo was perfect through 4.2 innings, and Madison Bumgarner was only able to give the Giants 4.1 innings, period. He left with one out in the fifth inning after giving up seven hits and four earned runs.
In the end, the Giants collected only two hits and scored zero runs. The Reds collected 13 hits on their way to a breezy 9-0 victory. They now hold a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, and they could put an end to the whole bloody affair in Cincinnati on Tuesday.
In fact, I feel confident enough to go ahead and call this series for the Reds. The Giants may be able to salvage some dignity by avoiding a sweep, but they're not winning this series. They're in too deep of a hole, and the format of this year's postseason only makes it deeper.
Comebacks from 0-2 deficits in the Division Series round are rare enough. You can count how many there have been on one hand, and only one such comeback has seen a team win three straight after dropping the first two games at home. The New York Yankees did that against the Oakland A's back in 2001.
That's a feat the Giants are out to duplicate, but they're not dealing with the same circumstances. The Yankees knew back in 2001 that the series would shift back to New York for Game 5 if they were able to stay alive that long, whereas the Giants are going to have to win three straight on the road in Cincinnati.
And good luck with that. The Reds went 50-31 at Great American Ball Park this season, a home record bettered only by the Yankees. Losing games at home is not their style.
Worse, they have the right guys lined up to finish off the Giants.
Dusty Baker decided on Sunday (via CBSSports.com) that he would start Homer Bailey in Game 3 on Tuesday. While Bailey did have an ERA over 5.00 in Cincinnati this season, the Giants can't bank on him struggling in Game 3. Bailey went 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA and an opponents' OPS of .463 in his final seven starts of the regular season, one of which was a no-hitter at PNC Park.
Bailey may actually be the best pitcher the Reds have right now, and that's saying something.
If Bailey can't get the job done in Game 3, then Latos may be able to get the job done in Game 4 on Wednesday. He said on Sunday he could pitch on Wednesday if need be, and that's not welcome news for the Giants. Latos shut them down in four innings of relief in Game 1, and that was par for the course for him against the Giants. Not including his performance on Saturday, Latos holds a 2.19 ERA in his career against the Giants.
For their part, the Giants are going to counter with Ryan Vogelsong in Game 3 and, well, who knows in Games 4 and 5 if the series happens to last that long? If Vogelsong extends the series, the Giants could find themselves in the hands of Matt Cain on only three days' rest in Game 4, or in the hands of Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum.
Regardless of who Bruce Bochy picks, the Giants won't have any sort of pitching advantage with Latos and Cueto potentially wrapping up the series in Games 4 and 5 for the Reds. If Cueto can't go, then the Giants will surely see Arroyo again, and they don't want that.
But amazingly, pitching matchups probably aren't the Giants' primary concern right now. Their primary concern may be their offense. Or their lack of an offense, to be more to the point.
In the two games the Giants have played against the Reds, they've scored a total of two runs on a total of nine hits. Leadoff man Angel Pagan has a single hit to his name. Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford are all hitless. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval have four hits and one RBI between them.
The RBI belongs to Posey, for the record. For that matter, it's the only RBI the Giants have in this series, as their other run scored courtesy of a wild pitch from Aroldis Chapman. That's a tell-tale sign of how in charge Cincinnati's pitchers have been in this series.
"In charge" is as good a phrase as any to describe the Reds as a whole. At this point, sealing the deal is a mere formality.
It's not so much that the Giants are that bad (though the point is debatable). It's that the Reds are that good.
I would say that none of us should be surprised, but, well, I'll be honest and go ahead and admit that I'm a little surprised. I sympathized with Bailey when he ranted and raved (see USA Today) after his no-hitter that the Reds weren't getting enough love on the national landscape, but I didn't have the Reds pegged as a truly dominant team that would be able to bully the Giants the way they have. Not after watching the Giants go 38-21 after the first of August, anyway.
It's abundantly apparent now that the Reds really are that strong. It's still early, but no team in the playoffs has been as impressive as they have been. They've pitched, they've hit, they've fielded the ball, and the hell of it is that they've made it all look really easy.
What's scary is that the Reds' best baseball may be still yet to come. They haven't yet gotten to show off at Great American Ball Park, where the Reds posted a collective .761 OPS this season with 103 home runs during the regular season. Their bats are alive and well, but we may seem them explode within the confines of Great American Ball Park.
It's hard to argue that we know the Reds can pitch better, but also not entirely impossible seeing as how Bailey hasn't pitched yet and Cueto and Latos haven't been used in their usual capacities. If Cueto's back spasms clear up, we're going to see both him and Latos go back to starting games before these playoffs are over.
Yes, games. As in, more than one. The Reds are going to stick around for a while.
I see no reason why they won't be sticking around for a while. The Giants don't look up to the task of standing in their way, and neither the St. Louis Cardinals nor the Washington Nationals looked all that interested in playing dominant baseball when they hooked up on Sunday.
The question is no longer who the Reds can beat. It's who can beat them.
You don't have to believe any of this if you don't want to. You're free to believe that the Giants still have a shot, and I won't stop you from believing that the Cardinals or Nationals will take the Reds down if the Giants can't.
Believe whatever you like, my friend, just so long as you admit one thing:
The Reds have your full attention.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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