CINCINNATI - Wipe the slate. Three brilliant pitching performances, two road playoff wins, but just one game to decide whether the Cincinnati Reds or the San Francisco Giants advance to the National League Championship Series.
The Reds started this NLDS looking sharp. They did in Game 1 what they've been doing all season: Adjusting. When Cueto went down, they took it pitch-by-pitch, keeping the Giants at bay enough to let their offense do some work and take home a road victory.
In Game 2, a brilliant starting pitching performance by Bronson Arroyo all but guaranteed a Reds win, and their offense went wild anyway to score nine runs, putting an exclamation point on an unexpectedly dominant road trip.
All signs pointed to Reds for this NLDS as the team came back to Great American Ball Park.
In Game 3, a fluke ground ball error by eight-time Gold Glove winner Scott Rolen decided their fate, but the lack of hitting was the catalyst for failure, as they received another near-perfect pitching performance that should have been ridden to a clinch, this time in the form of a 1-hitter from Homer Bailey.
While stats were seemingly on the Reds' side, momentum swayed and carried into Game 4 for San Francisco, and the Giants' offense showed up for the first time this postseason, negating any of the star performances of the past three games.
So what now? The Reds will do what they've done all year: Adjust.
Mat Latos adjusted in Game 1, to pitch four solid innings and keep his team in it. Latos will adjust again for Game 5, on four days rest this time, and do his best to quiet the Giants' loud bats.
The Reds' offense put up nine hits and stranded 10 runners in Game 4, to combine for a total of 17 stranded baserunners in two games at home. Thursday during Game 5, the Reds offense will need to adjust, calling for more hit-and-runs, sacrifice bunts and base-stealing attempts to get things going, and rely less on the long ball and extra base hits.
The Good News About Game 5
1. Mat Latos has one more day of rest than he did when he went four innings and allowed just 1 run in Game 1, meaning he'll be able to stretch a start in Game 5 out longer. Latos' ERA against the Giants in 2012 is below 1.00 and in the three years before that (2009-2011) it's at 2.19. If anyone else had to take the mound outside of Cueto to decide Game 5, it's Latos.
2. The Reds' bullpen has now allowed four earned runs in the postseason over the span of 14.1 innings pitched, which puts their ERA at 2.51, right around where their season average is, so don't expect any of the Reds' relievers to give up more than 1 or 2 runs in Game 5, just by the law of averages.
3. Matt Cain, the Giants' Game 5 starter, still hasn't beat the Reds this year, and has struggled each time out against them in 2012. The Reds already saw him recently in Game 1, and will likely be able to get a jump on him early on.
4. Tim Lincecum went 4.1 innings to help shut down the Redlegs in Game 4, and he would live up to his nickname "The Freak" if he's able to replicate any similar type of performance in Game 5 after that much work. That means it's back to the rest of the Giants' bullpen, who the Reds have had success against at times this series.
5. The Giants normally don't hit many homers, fewest in the majors this season with only 103, and they hit three of them in Game 5. Don't expect to see that kind of power again in Game 5.
The Bad News
1. The Reds can't buy an RBI hit. In the last two games, the Reds have only 2 RBIs that were in play. The other runs they've scored came on a sac fly and a walk, and they've left 17 men on base in the last two games as a result. They need to start coming up with the big hits when they matter to keep the line moving, which they executed in Games 1 and 2.
2. The Giants' bats showed up. Collectively a .297 average in the last month before the postseason, they finally started hitting like it in Game 4 (.333 team average). If that offense carries into Game 5, the Reds will have a hard time keeping up.
3. Where is Joey Votto with runners in scoring position? Votto struck out and flew out when he was at the plate with a runner at second in Game 4, and he has a career average of .350 with RISP. Votto has been on base a lot, and scored three runs off batting over .300 in this NLDS, but he hasn't picked up a single RBI or extra base hit, both of which have been his M.O. during his career. He needs to show up big in Game 5 to keep this postseason run going.
4. Much like the Giants' bats, the Giants' bullpen showed up too. This is mostly thanks to the way Giants skipper Bruce Bochy has been managing them, particularly notable in Game 4, but the Reds didn't get a single run off of any normal Giants relievers in Games 3 or 4, so even if Lincecum can't go in Game 5, there are a lot of obstacles for the Reds to hit around.
5. The Reds haven't won a home playoff game in 17 years, and haven't won a playoff elimination game since the 1975 World Series in the game following the famous Carlton Fisk home run.
The Really Good News
No team in Major League Baseball history has come back from down 0-2 when losing the first two games at home, and the Reds haven't dropped three straight at home all season. That means both history and recency are on the Reds' side, and with the way this team has adjusted and adapted all year long, things are looking good for the Redlegs, even though they have made it interesting.
The Really Bad News
Game 5 happens smack dab in the middle of your workday. Feeling sick? First find out when you should tell your boss. First pitch on Thursday will be at 1:07 p.m.
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