To say that the two opening NLDS games between the San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds were "disastrous" wouldn't exactly be the most accurate description of what happened to the Giants at AT&T Park this past weekend. I'm thinking that "catastrophic" presents a more precise picture of what I saw in person and on TV the last two days.
The Giants didn't hit, they didn't pitch and they didn't win.
Reds lead-off man Brandon Phillips and #5 hitter Jay Bruce combined to go 8 for 18 with 7 RBI and 3 runs scored in the two games. Throw in the fact that San Francisco was outscored 14-2 overall and Reds starter Bronson Arroyo and two relievers shut them out Sunday. Now you begin to see why the Giants' performance wasn't good enough to merely be called "disastrous".
The curse of the five game series now looms in that mid-America wonderland known as Ohio. The Cincinnati Reds went 50-31 at home his season; only the New York Yankees won more home games (and they won exactly one more).
The Reds pitching staff knows how to pitch in the fishbowl known as Great American Ball Park (3.51 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) and Cincy hitters will now be unbound by AT&T Park's unfriendly confines.
Not that the Giants' wide-body ball yard on 3rd and King Streets in any way stopped the Reds' hitting attack from posting 5-2 and 9-0 victories.
The hope here is that San Francisco's Tuesday line-up will also stretch its legs and start pinging line drives off (and over) the fences. Giants' starter Ryan Vogelsong just needs to remember that those long fly outs he's used to getting at home end up in row 20 of the bleachers at GABP.
As far as the Giants approach to the NLDS, Bruce Bochy got almost everything right in setting up his starting pitching and batting order. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarger, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito were the obvious choices to start, with Tim Lincecum adding depth to the bullpen.
But the batting order had one glaring mistep: Gregor Blanco starting in left field. On a team with the lowest number of regular season home runs (103) in the Majors, all potential power bats needed to be on deck and in play last weekend. Which should have included Xavier Nady starting both games in left field.
Even though Blanco went 2 for 5 in the first two NLDS games (with a double), that's not good enough. When was the last time an MLB team went into the playoffs with a left fielder who batted .244 with a .344 slugging percentage during the regular season? Blanco also struck out twice this weekend and did not create any runs. Which is what corner outfielders do.
Bochy's adherence to the righty/lefty mantra can at times lose sight of the greater need. Cincy starters Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo are righties and Blanco bats left. So he started. No way Xavier Nady's bat should have been on the bench for any at-bats during those two games.
Having said all that, let's focus on NLDS game 3 on Tuesday. Cincy starter Homer Bailey may have thrown a no hitter in 2012, but his over-all record is a lot more down-to-earth: 13-10. 3.68 ERA, 26 home runs allowed (tied for 5th most among NL starters).
The Giants' Ryan Vogelsong feels he has to continually prove himself to the baseball establishment-- a victory in game 3 would go a long way to solidify his late-career resurgence. The Giants bullpen also needs to get assertive and it may be time to sit Santiago Casilla down for a game or two.
The San Francisco Giants have a large rock to push up an immense mountain down 0-2 to the Reds. This is a team, however, that has overcome an array of franchise and personal issues throughout the 2012 season; they have been repeatedly tested and each time they have come together and won ballgames.
Now the biggest test of the season faces this Giants team over the next three days.