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The Strike Zone

NLDS Game 5 preview: Giants at Reds

Matt Cain Matt Cain and the Giants are looking to do something that no team has ever accomplished. (AP)

Giants at Reds

Series: NLDS Game 5, series tied 2-2

Time: 1:00 p.m. EST

TV: TBS

Starters: Matt Cain (0-1, 5.40 ERA) vs. Mat Latos (0-0, 2.25 ERA)

With their win in Game 4 on Wednesday, the Giants became just the fourth team in major league history to force a Game 5 after losing the first two games of a best-of-five series at home. Only one of the previous three, the 1981 Brewers, played Game 5 on the road, and they lost that fifth game to the eventual American League champion Yankees. Thus no major league team has ever done what the Giants are trying to do, come back to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two at home by winning the final three on the road.

In fact, there has only been one best-of-five series in baseball history in which the road team has won every game. That was the 2010 ALDS between the Rays and Rangers, but that was under the 2/2/1 home field format. The Rays had home field advantage and the Rangers won Games 1,2 and 5 on the road.

This is the fourth best-of-five series in baseball history to see the road team win each of the first four games (adding the 2001 ALDS between the Yankees and A’s to the two already mentioned), but what’s striking about this series between the Reds and Giants isn’t just that the road team has won all four games, but that three of the four games have been blow-outs and no home team has scored more than three runs in any of the four games. Through four games, the road teams in this series have out-scored the home teams 24-6.

With Matt Cain starting for the Giants in Game 5, it might initially seem like that trend is destined to continue, but the Reds have had a surprising amount of success against Cain this season, including in Game 1 of this series. Cain has faced the Reds three times this year, including Game 1 of this series, in which he lasted just five innings and took the loss. In those three starts, all Giants losses, Cain has given up 11 runs in 18 innings for a whopping 5.50 ERA against the Reds this year. Of those 11 runs, eight have scored on the six home runs (two in each game) Cain has allowed to the Reds. Brandon Phillips, who hit a two-run shot off Cain in the third inning of Game 1, has hit two of those six home runs, and both Phillips and Ryan Ludwick, who went deep off Barry Zito in Game 4, have three career homers off Cain in 33 and 29 plate appearances, respectively. Meanwhile, Jay Bruce, who hit a solo shot off Cain in Game 1, is 8-for-15 (.533) with that home run, three doubles -- one of which also came in Game 1 -- and four walks against Cain in his career.

If Cain does struggle early, Bruce Bochy won’t have Tim Lincecum to bail him out, having used the two-time Cy Young winner for 4 1/3 innings and 55 pitches to pick up the win in Game 4. Bochy also might have to tread carefully with Santiago Casilla, who pitched each of the last two days and threw a total of 44 pitches. However, Casilla is the only pitcher in either bullpen to have worked each of the last two games and Lincecum is the only reliever to have exceeded 25 pitches on Wednesday.

In stark contrast to Cain’s performance against the Reds, Mat Latos has excelled in his three outings against the Giants this year, all of them Reds wins. Latos allowed just one run 16 innings in two regular season starts against San Francisco, one of them a complete game victory in which he struck out seven and walked none. He was originally slated to start Game 2 of this series but was pressed into relief duty in Game 1 after Johnny Cueto was forced out of the game due to an oblique strain, and responded by allowing just one run in four innings despite not expecting to pitch that day and having never made a relief appearance before in his major league career. Altogether, that’s a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings against the Giants this season, though it’s worth noting that 13 of those innings came at pitching-friendly AT&T Park.

The Giants’ bats busted out in a big way in Game 4, collecting 11 hits, eight of them for extra bases, and three of those for home runs, after scraping together just 12 hits, three for extra bags and just one home run, in the first three games of the series. It will be interesting to see if any of that carries over against a pitcher who typically has their number. Even after Game 4, the Giants are still hitting just .180/.267/.328 in this series. Pablo Sandoval, Angel Pagan and backup infielder Joaquin Arias had seven of those 11 hits on Wednesday, six of those going for extra bases. On the other hand, Sandoval has hit just .226/.273/.323 in 33 career plate appearances against Latos, Pagan is just 3-for-17 (.176) without a walk or extra-base hit, and Arias, who may not even start despite Brandon Crawford going 0-for-7 thus far in the series (with, it should be noted, three walks), has never faced Latos before.

-- By Cliff Corcoran

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