Should the Giants be the favorites to win the World Series?
It's not that the Reds shouldn't have been expected to win at least one game at AT&T Park. They had the second-best road record in the NL this season. They finished with the league's second-best record overall.
But the Reds rocked the Giants in the series' opening two games. San Francisco was trounced by a combined score of 14-2. This looked to be an overwhelming three-game sweep for Cincinnati. All the team had to do was win one game at home, and it had three chances to do so.
However, the Giants had no use for that narrative and dismissed all diminished expectations of them. Now that San Francisco has won this series and will advance to the NLCS, any projections for its postseason fate have to be reset.
The Giants are rolling now. They have the momentum that you want to see from a team through the playoffs. And that should make them the favorite against whomever they face during the rest of the MLB postseason.
The Giants tied for the third-best road record in the NL during the regular season at 46-35. It figures that a playoff team and division champion would play well away from home. Winning 94 games would be difficult without winning on the road.
But San Francisco achieved something historic away from AT&T Park during this series. No team had ever won three games on the road after losing their first two at home in an NLDS.
That probably has to be qualified, however. After all, this is the first postseason with the division series being played in a 2-3 format in which the team with home-field advantage hosted the final three games.
Consequently, the Reds are the first team to lose three straight home games in an NLDS after winning the first two on the road. Interesting how that all worked out for both teams in this series, isn't it?
Snark aside, winning three consecutive elimination games on the road is a tremendous achievement for this Giants team. San Francisco looked all but finished after getting beaten so soundly in the first two games of this series.
The Giants were expected to go to Cincinnati and win one game at best. How could they come back after getting pounded? The team had to be shell-shocked, right?
But San Francisco showed impressive resolve. After grinding out a tough Game 3 win in which they only managed one hit in the first nine innings, the Giants had to feel anything was possible. If they got one win, why couldn't they get two more?
All the pressure was on the Reds to close out the series at their home ballpark, and they crumbled under the burden.
Consider that the Reds tied for the best home record in the NL this season. They hadn't lost three consecutive games at Great American Ball Park all year.
So much can change during the postseason.
Win the Battle, Win the War
A five-game playoff series doesn't turn on one at-bat. But you could argue that Game 5—and therefore, this NLDS—was ultimately decided by the epic battle between Giants reliever Sergio Romo and Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.
Bruce represented the tying run in the ninth inning. Cincinnati had runners on first and second, while Romo had just given up an RBI single to cut the Giants' lead to 6-4.
With 34 home runs during the regular season, Bruce finished third in the NL. A walk-off homer was a distinct possibility and the partisan crowd in attendance was excitedly rooting for such an outcome.
A double play was an ideal outcome for the Giants, but Romo had the highest strikeout rate (10.2 per nine innings) of San Francisco's regular relievers. Bruce had 155 strikeouts during the regular season, so Romo punching him out was a distinct possibility.
But Romo couldn't put Bruce away. He kept throwing four-seam fastballs, sinkers and sliders, trying to get a swing-and-miss or the ball in play.
Bruce kept fouling off those pitches, however. He fouled off two of the first three pitches he saw from Romo. Then Bruce fouled off the next five pitches—three four-seamers and two sinkers.
Romo followed up by trying to get Bruce to chase balls out of the strike zone, but the Reds' right fielder showed a good batting eye and some steel nerves to take those pitches.
Finally, on the 12th pitch of the at-bat, Romo got Bruce to put the ball in play, popping out to shallow left field. It was an utterly deflating result for the Reds and their home fans. Though Romo still had to get one more out in the inning, he won the game by winning his battle with Bruce. Striking out Scott Rolen to end the ballgame was almost a formality.
The confrontation between Romo and Bruce was a microcosm of the series. Everything was set up for the Reds to win. They had runners on base and their top slugger at the plate. But San Francisco had its best reliever on the mound and pitching—the reason many people picked the Giants to win the NL pennant, if not the World Series—ultimately won out.
This Giants team does not do things the easy way. They fell behind 0-2 in the series. And in the decisive Game 5—even after taking a 6-0 lead—the Reds made the game a competitive one. Cincinnati brought the tying run to the plate in each of the final four innings. Yet San Francisco doused the rally every time.
That continued resilience is what will carry the Giants to the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals or Washington Nationals. Their toughness can't be underestimated against an American League opponent, either.
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