SAN FRANCISCO Matt Cain lost only five starts all season,and two of them came against the Cincinnati Reds.
Angel Pagan had one of his finest moments against the Reds,hitting a game-winning home run in the ninth inning at Great American Ball Parkin April.
None of it matters now.
Its the playoffs. Everything changes, said Pagan, whenasked his thoughts about facing the Reds in an NL Division Series that beginsSaturday night at AT&T Park.
Whatever happened in the season is in the past. We start fromzero. But the way were playing, I like the way were keeping the intensity up.I think were ready ready to go and win this thing.
In what ways do the Reds pose a challenge?
Good bullpen, good starting rotation and good hitting,Pagan said. Theyre a good team. Thats why they won the Central. But webelieve were good too, so they should be asking the same questions about us.
The Giants knew theyd be getting a quality opponentregardless of whether it ended up being the Reds or Washington Nationals. TheReds entered their final regular-season game already at 97 victories theirmost in the regular season since the tail end of the Big Red Machine days in1976.
They have left-handed power in Jay Bruce, right-handed powerin Ryan Ludwick and threats on the bases in almost everyone else.
They do some other things right too, said Cain, who willthrow the first pitch at 6:37 p.m. PDT. Theyve got guys who can run.(Brandon) Phillips can run. (Zack) Cozart can run. (Drew) Stubbs can run. (Joey)Votto will run if you dont pay attention to him. Its not just that theyll godeep. They take the extra base when they can.
Cain will face right-hander and 19-game winner Johnny Cuetoin Game 1. The Reds plan to throw right-hander Bronson Arroyo in Game 2 onSunday. Giants manager Bruce Bochy knows his Game 2 choice, but wont announceit until after Thursdays workout. It would be a shock if its not MadisonBumgarner, who threw a one-hit shutout June 28 to beat Cueto at AT&T Park.
Thats just one game, said Bumgarner, who threw off amound Tuesday and plans for one more side session. It can help yourconfidence, but you dont hold back just because you did good against them onetime. Its the same mentality. You cant give in to one of the best teams inbaseball.
The Reds plan to send right-hander Mat Latos to the moundwhen the series shifts to Cincinnati for Game 3 and might turn to Cueto onshort rest in Game 4. That tells you how well theyve been pitching; they arewilling to bypass right-hander Homer Bailey, who threw a no-hitter last week.
The Giants havent mapped out their rotation yet, but thecurrent leaning is toward Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong in some combinationfor Games 3-4.
Although Barry Zito wouldve been a lock for the rotation ina series against the Washington Nationals, the Reds are seen as a lessappealing matchup for the finesse lefty. As for Lincecum, there is a thoughtthat he might benefit from pitching on the road, where he has won five of hislast six outings. Plus he might gather more focus and fuel from a hostile roadcrowd than pitching at home, where the stands at AT&T Park are laden withexpectations.
It all begins with Cain, who is 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA thisseason but 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA in two starts against the Reds. Cain allowedthree runs in a 9-2 loss April 24 at Cincinnati and got knocked around a littleharder for five runs on 11 hits in a 5-1 loss June 29 at AT&T Park. Hepitched into the seventh inning both times, though.
The first time in Cincinnati I threw the ball well, I justmade a couple of really big mistakes, said Cain, who gave up a two-run homerun to Brandon Phillips in the first inning of that start. The game at home, Iremember I felt fine. I missed over the plate a little more than I wanted, andthey did a good job. They put some good swings on pitches.
You cant worry about that. Its totally different from theseason to the playoffs. Youre just worried about getting each out, and I feelwere a lot better than last time (they faced the Reds). I feel were doingmore things right on offense, on the basepaths and defensively.
The Giants need to do those things early. They don't want to be tasked with coming back against the Reds, whose 2.66 bullpen ERA is the best in the major leagues. Closer Aroldis Chapman throws a 102 mph fastball and has struck out a cartoonish 122 in 71 23 innings.
The Reds officially became the No.2 seed -- and the Giants' opponent -- when Washington wonWednesday afternoon to clinch the NLs top spot.
Its hard to believe it came down to the last game, Bochysaid. Theyre pitching very well. Theyve got good starters and a goodbullpen. A very good defensive ballclub. Theyre solid. Thats why they had theseason they had.
Theyre just well balanced. They execute well. Theyre nota team thats going to beat themselves.
Thats the mark of a good manager, and theres your othermajor subplot of this series: Dusty Baker will return to San Francisco stillseeking the first World Series title of his managerial career. He was releasedfrom the hospital Sept. 24 after spending four days under observation afterbeing diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and a mild stroke.
Im glad to see him back in the dugout, said Bochy, whoonly trails Baker and Detroits Jim Leyland in victories by an active manager. Wevebeen thinking about him. Its great to se him back on the field doing what heloves to do.