You never want a series to turn on the health of a team’s ace, but here we are: The Cincinnati Reds, up 2 games to 0 and going home for three games, will need a Game 5 victory to advance to the NLCS.
With Johnny Cueto unavailable after his first-inning injury in Game 1, the Reds activated fifth starter Mike Leake to start on Wednesday. Leake was ineffective, Tim Lincecum delivered a huge performance in relief for the Giants, the Reds missed some early scoring opportunities, the Cincy bullpen was unable to hold the score close and we get one more game of baseball as the Giants won 8-3.
Barry Zito started for the Giants, in part, according to Bochy, because the Giants had won the past 11 games he started. Zito’s ERA over those 11 games was 3.92, not much better than his season ERA of 4.15. He was better over his final five starts: 5-0, 2.35 ERA, 30.2 IP, 32 H, 9 BB, 23 SO, 1 HR. Zito had also allowed two just runs over two starts against the Reds, although he survived one of those despite six walks. That said, there were clear reasons why starting Zito over Lincecum was risky: The Reds hit left-handers much better and Zito had a huge platoon split this year: .823 OPS against right-handers (.281 average), .559 against left-handers (.209 average). Zito’s .468 slugging percentage allowed against right-handers was sixth-worst in the majors among pitchers with at least 100 innings. Anyway, when Zito predictably struggled, Brucy Bochy didn’t hesitate to go to the pen. When Dioner Navarro walked with two outs in the third, Bochy brought in George Kontos to face No. 8 hitter Drew Stubbs. Zito had only allowed two runs, but four hits and four walks, so he didn’t have anything working. Stubbs actually hit lefties OK but can’t hit righties at all, so good move to bring in Kontos, who got Stubbs to foul out. Keep in mind that Mike Leake is one of the best-hitting pitchers in the game, so it wouldn’t have made to walk Stubbs and have Zito face the pitcher.
More kudos to Bochy in the fourth inning when Kontos ran into trouble when Leake singled and Zack Cozart singled with one out. He brought in lefty Jose Mijares to face Joey Votto, who struck out, then brought in Lincecum. That move included a double-switch. When’s the last time we saw a LOOGY and a double-switch in the fourth inning? Lincecum faced Ryan Ludwick, fell behind 2-0, got a foul ball off a fastball, and then threw two vintage, nasty Lincecum changeups to strike him out.
Yes, Lincecum didn’t have a good year, but he came through when the Giants most needed him, pitching 4.1 innings, allowing one run with six strikeouts and no walks. When the Giants scored three in the top of the seventh, it gave Bochy an easy decision to extend Lincecum through the eighth and not be forced to burn through his entire bullpen.
Dusty Baker’s lineup choices ended up hurting him in this game. First, Ryan Hanigan should have started behind the plate. Hanigan had a .455 OBP against left-handers this season, and owns a career .405 OBP against lefties. How can he not be in this lineup? Sure enough, in the first inning, Navarro struck out with the bases loaded to end the threat after Zito had walked the bases full.
Angel Pagan had great at-bats all day for the Giants. He led the game off with a line shot home run on an 0-1 cutter. He walked in the second (although was caught stealing). He doubled in a run in the fifth. He lined out to deep right-center in the seventh, to move Joaquin Arias from second to third. One of the best trades of the offseason ended up being the Giants stealing Pagan from the Mets for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez.
Questions for Game 5: Will Brandon Belt be back at first base for the Giants? Considering Stubbs hit .186 against righties, with Matt Cain starting, does Baker play Chris Heisey in center field? Heisey hit .262 against righties, although much power or walks. Stubbs probably has a little better chance of accidentally running into a fastball. Presumably, Hanigan and Scott Rolen will be back for the Reds. Will Baker extend Aroldis Chapman past three outs? How aggressively will Bochy use his left-handers in the bullpen to face Votto and Jay Bruce? Mat Latos is a good pitcher, so it should be a low-scoring game. Managerial moves and bullpen usage will likely play a key role in this game. I can’t wait.
There is no momentum in baseball.