Zito must keep Cardinals bats off balance

(Game 5 of the NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants can be heard Friday on ESPN Radio at 7 ET.)

Down 3-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, the San Francisco Giants will send Barry Zito to the mound to keep their season alive.

In his only other start this postseason, Zito lasted just 2⅔ innings against the Cincinnati Reds. One key for the Reds was their ability to hit Zito’s curveball, which was his best pitch over the past two months. Three of the four hits Zito allowed were on curveballs, including a home run by Ryan Ludwick.

But there are reasons Zito will need to stay with his big hook in Game 5. In an August start against the Cardinals that he won, Zito allowed two earned runs (both solo HR) in 6⅔ innings. In that game, St. Louis went 2-for-8 with three strikeouts in at-bats that ended with a Zito curveball. The two hits, both singles, were by Matt Holliday and David Freese. They are the only players in the Cardinals' current lineup who have a hit off Zito's curveball.

Barry Zito Pitch Selection
Since Aug. 1

Speaking of Freese, he has 37 hits in 99 career postseason at-bats. Freese has already tied the major league record for most hits by a player in his first 100 postseason at-bats, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 1978, both Thurman Munson and Steve Garvey reached 37 hits in their first 100 postseason at-bats.

Zito will be opposed by Lance Lynn, who is 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA in two career starts against the Giants. It’s Lynn’s highest ERA (by more than 2.5 runs) among teams he’s made at least two starts against in his career.

The Giants have had success hitting pitches that Lynn has thrown on the outer third of the plate. Current Giants players are 5-for-12 with two home runs against Lynn in at-bats that end on a pitch away. Perhaps Lynn will throw inside more -- current Giants players are 1-for-7 with four strikeouts in at-bats that end with a pitch inside.

The Giants won three straight elimination games in the NLDS, and will have to repeat that feat if they want to get back to the World Series. However, the Cardinals have not blown a 3-1 series lead since the 1996 NLCS, when they were outscored 32-1 by the Atlanta Braves in Games 5, 6 and 7.