Thursday, October 18, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the St Louis Cardinals in Game Four of the National League Championship Series tonight at Busch Stadium in St Louis. Game time is slated for 7 PM local time (8 PM EDT). The Cardinals hold a 2-1 series lead after yesterday's tight 3-1 victory in a game that was interrupted for over three hours by a rain delay.

Matt Cain, who took the loss yesterday, essentially pitched the same game as had Ryan Vogelsong the previous night. It was certainly enough to win, and the reason he lost instead is simple: the Giants left eleven men on base against St Louis starter Kyle Lohse, and thus Cain was reintroduced to the bad old days of his early career when he got less run support than any pitcher in O.B.

As had Vogelsong, Cain made one major mistake; this one resulted in a two-run homer by Matt Carpenter, who had just entered the game in place of injured Carlos Beltran. The loss of their best NLCS hitter clearly made no difference to the Cards. His replacement's third-inning shot capped a two-out nobody-on rally begun by Jon Jay, and as it turned out it would have been enough to hold up all by itself. Cain held St Louis in check over the next four as the Giants squandered eight baserunners over the same period; as rain began to fall in the seventh Cain allowed one more run, on a potential double-play bouncer that instead became a simple throw to first after Marco Scutaro, perhaps concerned about the slippery ball, opted against a force-out attempt at home. Apres lui, le deluge, and a long, long, wait, followed by two perfect innings of relief from Cardinals closer Jason Motte for the series' first save.

The Giants got one man on base in the first, and over the next six they had at least two men on base in every inning. There's no reason they couldn't have scored seven runs again. They had Angel Pagan and Marco (.462) Scutaro at second and third with nobody out in the third, and scored their only run on Pablo Sandoval's infield groundout. Lohse then intentionally walked Buster Posey and Hunter Pence obligingly grounded into an inning-ending double play. With Gregor Blanco at third and Brandon Crawford at first with one out in the fourth, Bruce Bochy had a classic squeeze opportunity with Cain up and the speedy Blanco 90 feet away. Instead, Cain routinely sacrificed and Pagan was unable to deliver a two-out RBI. Two untimely grounders wiped out two baserunners in the fifth, and a two-out rally in the sixth again went for naught as Mike Matheny brought in the 100-MPH reliever, Trevor Rosenthal, to get Pagan on a ground ball. Then came the seventh, as Pence and Brandon Belt struck out back-to-back after Sandoval and Posey had set a most inviting table.

Bochy has used the same lineup in every game of this series so far, and to be fair, this is the same lineup that rallied to win three straight in Cincinnati last week. Eyeballin' the numbers, we see Pence left five men on base all by himself last night, and Pagan left 4. However, Pence is 1-for-11 in the NLCS while Pagan has four hits and three runs scored. It might make sense for Aubrey Huff to take a turn at first, with Belt shifting to left and Blanco to right, for one night. Another possibility would be Hector Sanchez catching Tim Lincecum tonight, with Posey moving to first, Belt to left and Blanco to right. Joaquin Arias, who can play many positions, might be a candidate, too. In any case, it says here this is the time to shake things up, 'cause tomorrow may be too late.

Yes, it will be Lincecum going against Adam Wainwright and his surgically-repaired right arm tonight. Just a year ago, these guys were their respective staff aces, annual Cy Young candidates, and among the best pitchers in the game. Lincecum's regular-season struggles, and Wainwright's shelling at the hands of the Washington Nationals last week, likely don't mean a thing now. Expect another tight one, and hope the Giants make use of the opportunities they create, because this series needs to go back to San Francisco.

The Yankees-Tigers ALCS game last night fell victim to the same rainstorm, and never even started. They'll play Game Four tonight at Comerica Park... Those of us who count ourselves true San Francisco sports fans face sensory overload tonight. The 49ers take on the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park right about the same time the Giants and Cards get underway in St Louis. Folks, make sure your picture-in-picture mode is functional. Personally, those things give us motion sickness, so it's clicker time, back and forth, all night long. Hide the women and kids... Bochy plans to start Barry Zito in Game Five tomorrow night, with Madison Bumgarner in the bullpen, at least for now. Should the series return to the 'Bell, it'll be up to Vogelsong and Cain to finish it out. 

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