2012 NLCS: 5 Players Who Must Step Up for the San Francisco Giants in Game 4
The San Francisco Giants lost Game 3 of the NLCS by a score of 3-1. It was a closely fought contest, which was unfortunately interrupted for over three hours by rain in St. Louis. The Cardinals now lead the series two games to one.
Matt Cain pitched very well for the Giants, but made one costly mistake to Matt Carpenter, who deposited a slider over the right field wall for a two-run home run, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. Carpenter was only in the game because Carlos Beltran had to leave because of a knee strain.
The Giants had their chances, but could not get the clutch hit when they needed it. Cardinals' starting pitcher Kyle Lohse allowed seven hits and five walks in only five and two-thirds innings of work. The Giants could only muster one run, as Lohse repeatedly pitched out of trouble.
The Giants left 11 men on base and their only run scored on a Pablo Sandoval ground out. The Cardinal relievers again were strong as they finished the game without allowing a run.
Game 4 is now critical for the Giants. Let's look at who will need to step up for San Francisco to get the win.
5) The No. 6 Place Hitter, Either Brandon Belt or Hector Sanchez
Giants' manager Bruce Bochy has not indicated whether he will start Buster Posey or Hector Sanchez behind the plate in Game 4. Sanchez has caught most of starting pitcher Tim Lincecum's games this year and he also has a good bat.
If he is in there, Bochy will move Posey to first base and Brandon Belt will either play left field or sit out. My instincts tell me that Gregor Blanco will remain in left field and Belt will be on the bench, if Sanchez is the starter.
If Bochy decides to go with Posey catching, then Belt will be back at first base. In the series, Belt is 3-11, for a .273 average, but he has left six men on base and has no RBI.
The Giants need production from the sixth spot in their order and someone to drive in some runs, whether that be Sanchez or Belt.
4) Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval is batting third in the Giants' order and needs to get hot. He is 3-13, for a .231 batting average. He has yet to score a run in the series and only has one RBI.
If Sandoval can get on base, that makes Buster Posey much more dangerous and it becomes harder for the Cardinals to pitch around him.
Sandoval is swinging very hard at the ball, but is not making solid contact on most of his at-bats. The Giants need him to start driving the ball.
3) Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence is not hitting and the Giants' offense is crippled because of it. Pence, who has a reputation as an RBI-man, has not driven in a run in the NLCS.
Pence is 1-11, hitting just .091 in the series and has left eight men on base. His lack of production is also allowing the Cardinals to pitch around Buster Posey.
Pence seems to be over-anxious and is lunging at the ball. He needs to relax, and focus on making solid contact. It appears as though he is trying to hit a home run every time he comes up.
Without Pence's productivity, the Giants will be hard pressed to win this series.
2) Angel Pagan
We all know that Buster Posey is the Giants' best player and should win the MVP award this year. We also see Marco Scutaro's fantastic contribution to the Giants on a daily basis.
However, the player that may be the most important to the Giants' overall success right now may be Angel Pagan. When Pagan gets on base, he makes things happen and is a catalyst for the Giants' offense.
We saw his value in Game 2 when he led off with a home run, which helped to jump start the Giants' offense. He also collected another hit and scored two runs in that game.
When Pagan doesn't hit, the Giants' offense tends to struggle. In their two losses, Pagan is 2-10, with only one run scored and no RBI. As a catalyst to the offense, if he gets things going early, the Giants typically have a good game.
1) Tim Lincecum
San Francisco Giants' manager Bruce Bochy has opted to go with Tim Lincecum as his Game 4 starter. After a very tough regular season, Lincecum seems to have found a bit of a groove in the playoffs.
Lincecum has thrown eight and one-third innings, allowing only one run. He has nine strikeouts and only one walk. His WHIP ratio is an amazing 0.48.
Lincecum is throwing the ball better than he has all season and is pitching with confidence. He is attacking the strike zone and the opposing hitters very effectively.
Bochy and the Giants need Lincecum to be sharp and to shut down the Cardinals' high-powered offense.
The Giants must even the series on Thursday
The San Francisco Giants cannot afford to lose Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals. If they go down to a three-one deficit, it will be extremely unlikely they will be able to win three straight against the Cardinals.
I know they accomplished a three-game sweep against the Reds, but the Cardinals are playing better baseball than Cincinnati. We'll see if Bochy makes any changes to the batting order or if he stands pat.
Bochy will pull out all the stops to win this game because he knows the importance of making this an even series.