Series: NLDS, Game 3, Reds lead 2-0
Time: 5:30 p.m. EST
When Johnny Cueto pulled up lame eight pitches into Game 1, Cincinnati's hopes of winning this series seemed to wither on the spot. However, his manager and coaches didn’t panic, and his teammates picked him up to pull out an unlikely win. The Reds cruised in Game 2 and now, heading into Game 3, it’s the Giants whose hopes of advancing have all but vanished, while Cincinnati could move on to the National League Championship Series without having to ask Cueto to throw another pitch, or to compensate for his inability to do so.
The history the Giants are up against is daunting. Under the current 2-3 homefield format (which was in place in the League Championship Series from 1969 to 1984 and the Division Series in 1981 and 1995 to 1997), 14 teams have lost the first two games at home and not one of them came back to win the series. To make it to the NLCS, the Giants have to be the first to turn that trick. Specifically, they have to win three straight games on the road against a team that won 97 games during the regular season and has outscored them 14-2 in the first two games of this series.
There is some small hope for the Giants, however. If they can pull off a win in Game 3, the Reds starting pitching options for Game 4 will be Cueto, whose back may not be fully recovered, or Mat Latos on three days of rest. Granted, Latos threw just 57 pitches across four innings of relief in Game 1, but pitching on three days of rest after a relatively short outing is still very different from pitching on normal or extended rest. If the Giants can win Game 4 and take advantage of the Reds’ rotation shuffle in Game 4, that sets up a decisive Game 5 in which anything can happen.
First, however, the Giants have to avoid the sweep. For that, they turn to 35-year-old righty Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong had a rough patch of seven starts from mid-August to mid-September in which he went 2-4 with a 10.31 ERA, but he was 10-5 with a 2.27 mark coming into that skid and went 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA in his final three starts of the season. His only start against the Reds this year came at home in early July; he held Cincinnati to two runs on three hits and a walk over seven innings.
The Reds counter with 26-year-old Homer Bailey. Bailey was the seventh-overall pick in the 2004 draft and one of the top prospects in all of baseball a few years later, but didn’t fully establish himself as a solid major league pitcher until this year, his first full major league season. Bailey went 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA in September, no-hitting the Pirates in his penultimate start of the regular season, and followed that performance with four scoreless, walk-less innings against the Cardinals in his intentionally abbreviated season finale. As a result, Bailey hasn’t allowed a run since September 23 and over his last two starts struck out 16 men in 13 innings while allowing just five baserunners on a walk, four singles and a double. His only start against the Giants this year came way back in late April. He turned in a quality start in that game but took a no decision after Sean Marshall blew the save in the ninth.
Brandon Phillips has been the hitting star of this series thus far, going 5-for-10 with two doubles and a home run, but the Reds have spread the wealth around. Their eight starters as a group have hit .333/.373/.571 through the first two games. Meanwhile, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, four of the top five men in the Giants’ lineup, have combined to go 3-for-34 (.088) with one extra-base hit (Sandoval’s ninth-inning double in Game 2) and one walk (by Scutaro). Those four will have all offseason to work on their swings if they don’t perk up tonight.