Giants vs. Reds NLDS: 5 Burning Questions in Pivotal Game 5

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NLDS Giants vs. Reds: 5 Burning Questions in Pivotal Game 5

Giants
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The San Francisco Giants were sitting on cruise control after notching an early lead in their 8-3 route against the Cincinnati Reds in game 4 of the NLDS.

For the first time this series, the Giants got a huge lift from their offense. The team compiled 11 hits on the day, three of which sailed over the wall to cushion a shaky Barry Zito start. They were helped by an efficient and productive Tim Lincecum, who anchored the bullpen through four innings, only allowing one run and retiring seven in a row at one point.

Now, the Giants and Reds are knotted up at two games apiece with a pivotal game 5 matchup waiting in the balance. The Reds have the obvious advantage of playing at home, but the Giants will send out Matt Cain to the mound, who has put up exceptional numbers this year as the Giants No. 2 starter. Countering him will be Cincinnati’s No. 3 starter Mat Latos, who performed some much-needed patchwork in Game 1 after seeing Johnny Cueto leave the game with a mild strain in his side.

After Wednesday’s win, the Giants sure have the momentum and the right guy on the mound to help their chances of surviving an 0-2 deficit in the NLDS, but the Reds just might have the right combination of power and relief pitching to hold off their visiting foes.

Either way, there’ s a number of different question marks in a win-or-go-home game. We break it down into five.

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5. Will Reds Big Sluggers Show Up?

giants
Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

With Johnny Cueto ruled out for the rest of the series, Cincinnati’s winning ways will fall to their big sluggers -- Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce. The four have combined for an exceptional series, collectively hitting above .300. But let’s run through the specifics.

Phillips, the Reds leadoff man, has been the heart and sole of the Reds offense thus far. He’s gone 6-for-15 (.333) in four games with a .400 on-base percentage and a frightful .667 slugging percentage with one home run and four RBIs. Against Cain, he’s only hit .242 with three homers in 33 plate appearances.

Ludwick’s story has even more of a promising feel to it. He’s put together a solid postseason series against the Giants, batting .333 with a .500 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage. He’s also smashed one home run and walked three times. If you match him up with Cain, he’s tallied an impressive .333/.414/.750 slash line with three homers in 29 at-bats, favorable numbers for Cincinnati to say the least.

Bruce has also been a huge factor for the Reds this series. He’s garnered a .333 average with an improving .400 on-base percentage and .625 slugging percentage. He’s also tallied one homer (off of Cain) and a team-best four RBIs. More impressively, he’s gotten the best of Cain, accumulating a .533/.632/.933 stat line with three doubles in 19 plate appearances.

It looks like it could be a long day for Cain and the Giants as the the Reds try and overcome what would be a historic 2-0 NLDS collapse.

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4. Will Homers Continue to Fly for Giants?

giants
Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Game 1‘s scoring tally started with a leadoff home run by Angel Pagan -- the first postseason leadoff home run in Giants franchise history. Later, Gregor Blanco notched a two-run homer over the right field fence to extend the Giants lead to 3-1. Finally, the Giants ended their slugfest with a monster two-run shot from Pablo Sandoval to put Game 4 out of reach for the Reds in a 8-3 thumping.

However, the Giants have only registered one more home run in the series, which coincidentally came off of Mat Latos at the hands of Buster Posey in Game 1.

Still, Latos has had a magnificent year against the Giants. In two starts, he went 2-0 with a godly 0.56 ERA and 0.50 WHIP in 16 innings of work. In his sole home game against San Francisco, he registered a complete game (and a win), only allowing one run in the matchup. Currently, Giants batters are a meager .208/.251/.301 line with the eight hitters they have in the lineup. If numbers don’t lie, it seems like the Giants high fly balls will be kept to a minimum in Thursday’s do-or-die showdown.

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3. Which Lineup Will Bruce Bochy Stick With?

giants
Jose Mijares-US PRESSWIRE

Giants manager Bruce Bochy made a decisive call to put Buster Posey at first and slot in Hector Sanchez at the catcher position. He followed it up by pulling shortstop Brandon Crawford in favor of Joaquin Arias in the fifth inning in a double switch. The moves proved to be pivotal in the Giants 8-3 romp of the Reds on Wednesday afternoon.

Sanchez ended up on base three out of his four at-bats, tallying one hit, two walks and one run scored. He even called a great game for Lincecum coming in out of the bullpen.

As for Arias, the unproven shortstop sure proved his worth during Wednesday’s matchup. The 28-year-old Santo Domingo product tallied two doubles and two runs in the game after Crawford went 0-for-2. Of course, in retrospect we can say it was one of the best moves by a manager during this year’s postseason. But to have the fortitude to slot in non-starters in a win-or-go-home game is more than just admirable.

Look for Arias and Sanchez to start in the pivotal game 5.

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2. Does Home Field Advantage Matter?

Giants
Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

This question elicits an interesting twist to an already exciting matchup, where the final game will take place in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. In their four NLDS games, the home team has lost in every contest. This comes in light of MLB’s new playoff format, where teams with the better post-season ranking must play two games on the road before defending their home turf in a three-game set (if it comes to that).

Many skeptics of the playoff format expressed that it pits the higher ranking team at a disadvantage. Though, Jared Diamond, writer for the Wall Street Journal, disagrees.

“While the 2-3 format may not be ideal, it historically has virtually no effect on the likelihood of the “home” team winning the series,” Diamond explained. “Baseball used the 2-3 playoff format from 1969-84 and then again from 1995-98. The team with home-field advantage went 27-25 in those series (.519). Meanwhile, the team with home-field advantage in the 2-2-1 format went 26-26 (.500)”

I think that should put to rest any concerns the “home” team might have on the new playoff format. And fortunately for the Reds, the team with home field advantage has the slight edge (.519 winning percentage) in series decided in a 2-3 playoff format.

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1. Which Matt Cain Will Show Up?

giants
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Cain, the sole workhorse for the Giants, has been the biggest factor in San Francisco’s bid to reclaim their World Series since 2010. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate at the most opportune time in the Giants’ 5-2 loss to the Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS.

The 28-year-old All-Star crept into unfamiliar teritory during Saturday night’s game 1, conceding his first earned run in his postseason career: an early two-run home run to Brandon Phillips. Jay Bruce soon followed it up with a solo shot to put Cain in a deep hole, one that the Giants were unable to overcome.

It marked only the second time in the past two seasons Cain conceded two home runs in a home game, the last of which came against this very team on June 29. He ended up allowing three runs on five hits and one walk.

“I think I may have been overanxious going out there with the first game being at home,” Cain said before game 4. “I think I will try to think back to other starts and be more calm and relaxed. I’ll be worried about making good pitches.”

In his past playoff appearances, Cain has provided 21.1 scoreless innings of work -- fifth longest in postseason history. During that stretch, he issued five games (against Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas) where the Giants never trailed in their route to becoming World Series Champions -- the first title in franchise history since they moved out west.

So which Cain will show up Thursday?

Cain has struggled against the Reds all year long. During the regular season, he tallied an ugly 5.54 ERA in 13 innings pitched. He’s also notched a gaudy .296 average against their NLDS foes, the worst out of any other team he’s faced this year. To put it lightly, I don’t think we’ll see Cain struggle this much in a pivotal game 5, something he’s endured quite well in his career. But his matchup against the Reds has me scratching my head.

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