Reds present tough puzzle for Cain, Giants

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Reds present tough puzzle for Cain, Giants

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.

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

SAN FRANCISCO — Over in Cleveland earlier Friday, Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer for the visiting team and five other players chipped in a pair of hits. The Royals had six runs, which meant that when Jim Johnson closed the Giants out a few hours later, what has seemed true all season became officially true. The Giants have the lowest-scoring lineup in the majors.

At 3.32 runs per game, they have dipped below the equally-disappointing Royals (3.38). They are capable at the moment of making any pitching staff look dominant. A 2-0 shutout was the first of the year for the Braves, who previously had just two games this season where they allowed fewer than two runs. 

“Six runs in (the last) four games … I thought we would come home and get some rips in tonight, but it didn’t happen,” Bruce Bochy said. 

The manager’s frustration showed late in this one. After the only rally of the game — a two-run single by opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia — Bochy took his cap off and rubbed his forehead. He dipped his head and briefly stood as if he was going to fall asleep on the rail. The bats were equally still. 

The Giants had just four hits, all of them singles against Garcia, who is a nice pitcher but hardly one of the league’s best. One was an infield single by Eduardo Nuñez, another a single through Garcia’s five-hole, and a third a generous ruling by the official scorekeeper. 

“It comes down to, you’ve got to get some hits and create opportunities, and we’re not doing it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of guys getting somewhat hot. We did, we had some success, and we won some games. The thing you like to see is some good cuts and I didn’t think we got enough of those tonight.”

That run, which spanned the last homestand and small parts of two road trips, has come to a screeching halt. The Giants have lost five of six. It seems silly to scoreboard-watch in May, especially when a team is playing like this, but it’s worth noting that the teams the Giants eventually need to catch keep winning. They fell 12 games back of the Rockies and 11 back of the streaking Diamondbacks. They are 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers, who might be the best team in the whole league. 

Matt Cain did his part to allow the Giants to keep pace. He got beat just once in seven sharp innings. The Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, who bounced a single into left. Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw was short and hit the runner. A second run scored. 

“That’s tough,” Cain said. “(Garcia) was throwing the ball really good and that’s what it comes down to, you’re looking for that one hit and he did it. He’s a good hitter. We’ve seen it in St. Louis. But it definitely is tough when the pitcher does that … it just stinks on my part to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.”

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The return to AT&T Park was a huge boost to Matt Cain, who has wild home-road splits this season, but it did predictable things to an already-limp Giants offense. 

The Giants entered the night as the lowest-scoring team in the National League and they got blanked 2-0 by Jaime Garcia and the Braves. Garcia out-dueled Cain and provided the only offense of the night, as well. The Giants have dropped five of six.

Here are five things to know from AT&T Park, where they keep having Star Wars Night but they’ve never once celebrated Super Troopers … 

--- Cain entered the seventh with a 0.94 ERA at home this season, but the opposing pitcher busted him. With one on and two outs, the Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, a career .145 hitter. He bounced a single into shallow left and it looked like Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw home hit the runner. That allowed Swanson to race home for a 2-0 lead. 

--- Cain’s final line: seven innings, one earned run, one walk, three strikeouts. Yep, that’s a Caining.

--- Justin Ruggiano is here for the opportunity he was given in the sixth. Ruggiano has always crushed lefties, and Bruce Bochy put him behind Buster Posey on Friday night. The Braves intentionally walked Posey to load the bases for Ruggiano, who grounded out to third. Even the platoon splits are failing the Giants. 

--- If you need a little perspective on Christian Arroyo’s struggles, look across the field. Swanson, the former No. 1 overall pick, is batting .198. The shortstop slashed .302/.361/.442 as a rookie but his numbers are way down across the board, and he’s nearly two years older than Arroyo. These things take time. Having said that, Arroyo’s hole is pretty deep. He’s hitless in his last 21 at-bats after an 0 for 3.

--- There were three no-pitch intentional walks. I hope you used the extra ninety seconds wisely.