Reds vs. Giants Game 4: 4 Keys to the S.F. Giants Forcing a Do-or-Die Game 5
Ryan Vogelsong didn't have his best stuff, but he threw five gutty innings of one-run ball to keep the Giants close.
Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo each threw two scoreless innings out of the bullpen, and Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez combined for a fifth shutout inning form the pen. To get to Game 5, the Giants are going to need another stellar performance from the pitching staff.
That will start with Game 4 starter Barry Zito. The Giants need him to keep the Reds at bay because they haven't gotten anything going offensively in this series.
They've only managed to score four total runs and have scraped together all of five hits in the last three games.
The Giants need Zito to deliver, and they also desperately need to get somebody on base in front of Buster Posey. Here are the four keys to forcing a do-or-die Game 5.
Barry Zito Delivering a Quality Start
Yes, the Giants need to swing the bats better.
However, in the postseason, that's easier said than done—particularly given how well the Reds starters and relievers are throwing, and how good their defense has been with the exception of Scott Rolen's killer error in Game 3.
That means a lot is riding on the left arm of Barry Zito.
He threw the ball well against the Reds this season, holding them to two runs in 12 innings of work. However, he walked eight against while putting 18 men on base in those 12 innings—suggesting good luck may have been a factor.
The Reds start six right-handed batters and only two lefties in their lineup. As a team, they hit .266/.327/.443 against lefties, good for the seventh best OPS in the game. Zito struggled with right-handed batters all season, yielding a .281/.355/.468 batting line.
Zito's ability to handle righties Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwick, Zack Cosart, Scott Rolen, Ryan Hanigan and Drew Stubs will be a huge factor in his performance tomorrow night.
A quality start from Zito would go a long way to helping the Giants live to fight for one more day.
Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval Getting on Base
Angel Pagan has been on base only one time this series, while Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval have each reached twice.
Buster Posey has had a good series—going 3-for-11 with two walks. However, if he has no one to drive in, his performance will go for naught.
The Giants desperately need Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval to get on base in Game 4 in front of Posey.
As of this writing, the Reds have yet to announce a Game 4 starer, with the injured Johnny Cueto's status still in question. Whether Cueto is ready, or if the Reds go with Mat Latos or Mike Leake in his place, the Giants have to start having more competitive at-bats, particularly at the top of the lineup.
Bronson Arroyo mixed speeds well in Game 2, and Homer Bailey was dominant in Game 3. However, beating quality pitching is the nature of the beast in the postseason.
The Giants looked particularly unprepared for Bailey, as they were continually late on his fastball all night. Bailey was throwing hard, but it wasn't a good sign that the Giants continued to foul off his pitches the second and third time through the lineup, especially since he was only throwing a fastball and slider all game.
Better preparation and adjustments are desperately needed from the offense.
Tim Lincecum & the Bullpen
In Game 2, Giants manager Bruce Bochy stayed with Madison Bumgarner too long. Bumgarner faded badly during September, and the extra rest between the end of the season and Game 2 did not bring his velocity or command back.
The Giants' bats had been quiet, and getting down by more than two runs seemed like it was going to be too much to overcome. Ultimately, it didn't matter because the Giants never managed to get anything going at all offensively.
With the season on the line in Game 4, Bochy has to have a quick hook ready if Zito doesn't have his best stuff.
Zito was arguably the Giants' best starter down the stretch as the team won his last 11 starts, and he went 5-0 with an ERA around 3.00 in his final six starts. However, with elimination staring the Giants in the eye and all those right-handed hitters facing Zito, the bullpen has to be ready.
If Zito doesn't have it, Bochy should immediately turn to Tim Lincecum, who threw the ball very well out of the bullpen in Game 2. It seemed that throwing Lincecum into the fire without time to think, much less warm up, did him some good. He was throwing free and easy for perhaps the first time all season.
I believe that Lincecum could have a great second act to his career as a multi-inning reliever with his rubber arm. The Giants are paying him $22 million next year, so that will only happen in a Giants uniform during this postseason.
Lincecum and the Giants bullpen will be the key in Game 4, especially if the Giants offense can build a lead. The bullpen delivered five shutout innings in Game 3, and more of that medicine could be needed.
Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt
Just like the top of the lineup in front of Posey, the middle of the lineup behind Posey has not done any damage in this series.
Hunter Pence, who was battling a leg cramp in the 10th inning, has hit into some loud outs in the series, but has gone just 1-for-12.
Belt struck out three times in Game 3, and two of those punch-outs came looking. Even though those were questionable calls, Belt has to do a better job of protecting the plate and grinding out his at-bats. He's just 1-for-9 with two walks overall in the series.
The No. 7 hitter, Gregor Blanco, is the only Giant besides Posey to do anything offensively thus far. He's 2-for-6 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch, good for a .500 on-base percentage. If Posey and Blanco remain the only Giants to do anything offensively, a Game 5 isn't likely.
With the Reds' starting rotation in flux due to Cueto's injury, momentum appears to be on the Giants' side right now after their torturous victory in Game 3. However, momentum only goes as far as the next day's starting pitcher.
Zito has thrown well down the stretch and against the Reds this season, but the right-handed dominance of their lineup poses a serious threat. Bochy will have to closely monitor Zito and have the bullpen ready early, just as he did with Jonathan Sanchez in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS.
If the Giants can pull off a win in Game 4, ace starter Matt Cain is waiting in the wings for a potential Game 5 on normal rest.
A do-or-die Game 5 with Cain on the hill would give the Giants a good chance to get back to the NLCS. However, getting that far might be the hardest part.