After pounding out 22 hits in the first two games of this series, the Reds lineup only managed four hits and one run in Game 3 against Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants' four best relievers. Obviously, San Francisco's pitching—which has always been its strength—deserves credit for shutting down Cincinnati's batters, but the Reds have to be surprised at how ineffective their bats were.
After looking all but beaten when Cincinnati steamrolled them in the first two games of the NLDS, the Giants have some life again. Even the Reds likely didn't expect to build a 2-0 series lead so decisively when they had to play two games on the road.
But now we have a playoff series. And though the Reds still hold a 2-1 lead in this NLDS, they've seen how formidable the Giants pitching can be. With Cincinnati's Game 4 starting pitcher uncertain, the team can't feel as confident about this series as it did before Game 3. That's created an opportunity for the Giants, one that could allow them to steal the next two games and a NLDS victory.
Reds Know They Blew One
Cincinnati won't get better better pitching than it received in Game 3. Homer Bailey didn't allow a hit in his first five innings. In seven innings overall, he only gave up one hit.
Sean Marshall and Aroldis Chapman each followed up with a hitless inning, meaning that the Giants only got one hit in nine innings.
That is the number that should have the Reds kicking themselves as they go home to digest this loss. Their pitchers allowed one hit in nine innings, and three hits in 10 innings, yet didn't win the ballgame.
Cincinnati has gotten excellent pitching performances in two of the first three games of this series between Bailey's outing on Tuesday and Bronson Arroyo allowing one run over seven innings. Bailey won't pitch again in the NLDS, but Arroyo will start Game 5 if the series gets to that point. But the Reds have to be hoping they can close this out in Game 4.
Pitching in Giants' Favor
Johnny Cueto's injury was bound to wreak havoc on the Reds' starting rotation—unless Cincinnati was able to complete a three-game sweep.
With the Giants' victory, however, the Reds need a starter for Game 4 and they don't know who it will be.
Cincinnati hopes Cueto will be able to start, but his injury is worse than originally feared. Back spasms can be alleviated in a few days with proper rest and treatment. Cueto, however, was found to have a mild oblique strain, which takes more time to heal.
Mat Latos, who pitched as a reliever in Game 1, has come down with what was initially reported as a flu bug. But Latos insists it's "just some congestion," according to the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay, and presumably thinks he can pitch.
The other option is to activate Mike Leake for the start. But if the Reds have to put Cueto on the disabled list to make room for Leake, he would be unavailable if Cincinnati advances to the NLCS.
Meanwhile, the Giants have a pitcher ready to go for Game 4 in Barry Zito. While that may draw some snickers because of how poorly he's pitched in his previous five seasons for San Francisco, Zito pitched well this year.
He compiled a 15-8 record and 4.15 ERA, his best season in a Giants uniform. Zito has also reduced his fly ball rate over the past couple of seasons, which should help him while pitching at Great American Ball Park.
The Giants also have Tim Lincecum available to pitch in long relief if Zito is ineffective. Lincecum might have to be used anyway after Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo each had to pitch two innings in Game 3. But there was a reason manager Bruce Bochy didn't put him in the postseason starting rotation. Lincecum didn't finish the season very strong, giving up 11 runs in his past two starts.
Feeling the Pressure
It might seem silly to say that the Reds are now feeling pressure when the Giants have to win Game 4 to stay alive in the NLDS.
But the Reds do face some urgency. The Reds may not face elimination, but losing Game 4 would boost the Giants' confidence even further. And it's not difficult to imagine that Cincinnati would be feeling some doubts as to whether it can win the series after blowing a 2-0 series lead and letting the NLDS go to what amounts to a one-game playoff.
It was easy to write the Giants off after losing the first two games of the series, putting them in the position of having to win three straight games at Cincinnati. But San Francisco couldn't win those three games if it didn't get the victory in Game 3.
Now the task is a bit easier. The Giants only have to win two straight games. And the Reds don't want this series to become tied and go to a do-or-die game.
Follow @iancass on Twitter