2012 NLDS: 5 Players Most Crucial to the Giants Pulling Off a Huge Comeback
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
The San Francisco Giants scraped out a tough 2-1 victory in 10 innings to stay alive in the NLDS. Starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong did not have his best stuff, but battled his way through six very challenging innings, allowing only one run.
The Giants scored a run in the third inning without the benefit of a hit, as Gregor Blanco was hit by a pitch and Brandon Crawford followed with a walk. A sacrifice bunt by Vogelsong moved the runners up and Angel Pagan delivered a sacrifice fly to knot the game at one run apiece.
The Giants scored in the 10th inning and were the beneficiaries of a passed ball and an error by Scott Rolen. The error allowed Buster Posey to score the go-ahead run and Sergio Romo set the Reds down in order during his second inning of work.
The Giants now trail the series 2-1, but the Reds have to be looking at this game as an opportunity missed. In baseball, momentum can switch quickly, and if the Giants can get off to a good start in Game 4, the Reds may start feeling the pressure.
The Giants will continue to battle and there are several players who must step up if they hope to make this improbable comeback a reality. Let's take a look at the five most important players that must come through for the Giants.
5) Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence has struggled with cramping in his right calf.
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Hunter Pence has not hit for average since he joined the Giants at the trade deadline. However, he's done a great job driving in runs, as he had 45 RBI in 59 games to close out the regular season.
Pence has looked awkward and off-balance at the plate in the NLDS. In three games against the Reds, he is 1-12 with no RBI. A major part of Pence's lack of production is also because he has come up with nobody on base in the majority of his at-bats.
If the Giants can get runners on base and Pence can start driving the ball with authority, the moribund offense will start producing.
4) Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval has not hit the ball with authority.
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The most frustrating at-bats I have witnessed in the NLDS are those of Pablo Sandoval. He has fallen back into his over-aggressive mode and is swinging into easy outs.
Sandoval is 2-of-13 for the series and the Reds pitchers are using his over aggressive approach against him. The more concerning issue is that Sandoval is repeatedly late on the fastball.
His bat speed appears slow and he is not getting around on the fastball. When he is hitting it, he is weakly popping the ball foul to the opposite field or hitting a "can-of-corn" fly ball the opposite way.
The Giants desperately need the Sandoval to start hitting. In addition, he needs to get serious about his career and get into better shape this offseason. He also must become more selective at the plate, or pitchers will never throw him strikes.
3) Angel Pagan
Angel Pagan had a big sacrifice fly in Game 3.
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Angel Pagan has been the epitome of a streak hitter this season. He had a very strong period from mid-August to mid-September, then tailed off in the last week of the season.
Pagan has not gotten his bat going and is 1-12 in the NLDS. His failure to get on base has put the shackles on the Giants' offense.
If the Giants hope to win the next two games, they will need Pagan to ignite the offense by getting on base. Pagan did collect a big RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. Hopefully, this will get him on track and rolling.
When Pagan reaches base, Marco Scutaro becomes much more dangerous. His bat control makes him an ideal hit-and-run man. In addition, Scutaro has the confidence to take a strike in order to allow Pagan to steal a base.
The Giants have scored only four runs in 28 innings of play and some of those runs were largely the result of a hit batsman, passed ball, sacrifice fly or error.
Pagan is a catalyst for the Giants' offense. If he can start getting on base with regularity, it will help to spark this offense.
2) Buster Posey
Buster Posey leads the Giants with three hits in the NLDS.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Buster Posey has led off eight times in the three games against the Reds. Not only does this mean the hitters in front of him are not getting on base, but it also limits the Giants' most dangerous hitter.
The Reds have pitched Posey well. He is 3-for-11 with two walk, one home run, one RBI and two runs. Posey has struck out four times already in the series.
The National League's regular-season batting champion has not come to the plate in enough situations where the opposing pitcher is under duress. This allows the Reds' pitchers to go right after Posey because nobody is on base.
Although Hector Sanchez has been Barry Zito's personal catcher this season, Posey will be back behind the dish when Zito starts Game 4. Posey and Zito were in a good groove when the two worked together against the Dodgers in Zito's final start of the regular season.
If the Giants can get men on in front of Posey, look for him to do some real damage offensively. Without his production, the Giants will struggle to score runs.
1) Barry Zito
Barry Zito won 15 games for the Giants this season.
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If the Giants are going to make the huge comeback a reality, Barry Zito needs to step up and throw a great game on Wednesday. Zito had his best season with the Giants, winning 15 games with an ERA of 4.15 and a WHIP of 1.389.
Zito has also pitched well of late and deserves the start in Game 4. The Giants have won the last 11 games that Zito has started.
Against the Reds this year, Zito has started two prior games. He threw a total of 12 innings in those two starts, allowing only two earned runs, 10 hits and eight walks. He did strike out seven in those two appearances.
With Zito, you usually know right away if he has his command. The key to Zito's success is his ability to throw quality strikes. His velocity is low, so he must keep the Reds' hitters off balance and get them to hit his pitch.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy will undoubtedly have a very short leash on Zito and if he struggles early, look for Tim Lincecum to step in. Bochy would prefer to avoid this, however, because if he needs to replace Zito early, the Giants will most likely be trailing by multiple runs.
If There Is a Game 5, Matt Cain Will Be Back on the Hill
Matt Cain gave up three runs in the first game of the NLDS.
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The San Francisco Giants have some very positive momentum heading into Game 4 of the NLDS. In addition to edging the Reds 2-1 in 10 innings, the Giants have their starting rotation set for the next two games of the series.
The Reds' ace Johnny Cueto looks like he may be unable to pitch for the remainder of the series due to an injury he suffered in Game 1. The Reds' Game 4 starter could be Mat Latos, who threw four innings on Saturday.
If the Reds choose to go with Latos, he will be pitching on short rest, and he has also been ill over the past day or two. I'm sure Latos will be gung-ho to take the ball, but his strength and energy level may be down.
The Reds' other option would be to replace Cueto on the roster with Mike Leake, who is their fifth starter. If the Reds opted to go with this approach, Cueto would be ruled out of the next series if they make it to the NLCS.
No matter who pitches for the Reds, the Giants need to get their offense going. In 28 innings, the Giants have only 12 hits and four runs.
For the Giants and manager Bruce Bochy, the rotation is set. It will be Zito in Game 4 and if there's a need for a deciding fifth game, Matt Cain will take the ball.
Even if the Giants get to a Game 5, there is no guarantee they will win it. Cain has had trouble with the Reds and is 0-3 against them this year.
In his three starts against the Cincinnati this season, Cain has thrown 18 innings and allowed 21 hits, 11 earned runs, four walks and 18 strikeouts. He has allowed six home runs to the Reds hitters and if he gets the chance, Cain must be a lot better in a series deciding, Game 5.
We have seen the Giants overcome every obstacle put in front of them throughout the year. First, they lost Brian Wilson after he threw only two innings, and Freddy Sanchez sat out for the entire year.
Aubrey Huff was hurt and battled personal demons. Pablo Sandoval spent two stints on the DL. Tim Lincecum was terrible for much of the year. They also had to overcome the loss of Melky Cabrera, who was their first-half MVP and led the league in hitting before testing positive for elevated testosterone.
The Giants have the character and resilience to make this improbable comeback a reality. Their collective backs are against the wall. Let's see if they can make it happen.