CINCINNATI The Giants are hitting .121 in three games of this NL Division Series and they still havent received an out from a starting pitcher in the sixth inning.Yet somehowThey will attempt to hold onto their improbable playoff lives by putting their faith in a most improbable left-handed pitcher. Yes, Barry Zito is their champion today.Here are some key matchups as we approach Game 4 at Great American Ball Park:--Less than five hours before the first pitch Wednesday, the Reds officially received permission from Major League Baseball to replace injured Game 1 starter Johnny Cueto with right-hander Mike Leake.Leake will start Game 4 and Mat Latos would take the mound if the Giants can force a winner-take-all Game 5 on Thursday.--For a last-minute replacement, the Reds could do worse than Leake to oppose Zito.Leake, 24, was 8-9 with a 4.58 ERA but threw a complete game the last time he faced the Giants June 29 at AT&T Park. Leake allowed nine hits and just one run, when Pablo Sandoval took him deep in the ninth, to beat Matt Cain.Sandoval also doubled in that game and is 7 for 10 with two homers and two doubles in his career against the Arizona State product. Hunter Pence is 8 for 16 (.333) with two doubles and a homer. Ryan Theriot is the only other Giant with more than 10 at-bats against him.Leake is a control pitcher once compared to Greg Maddux, and not just by anyone. Doug Mapson, the current Giants special assistant and former Cubs scout who signed Maddux, said hes compared the future Hall of Famer to one amateur player in all the reports hes written over the years. Yep, it was Leake.Still, the right-hander has allowed 201 hits in 179 innings. So hes far from untouchable. Hes 4-5 with a 5.54 Era, .313 opponents average and whopping 17 home runs allowed in 16 starts at Cincinnati this season. Amazingly, Leake has allowed more homers than walks (15) at Great American Ball Park this season.Leake had a 4.01 ERA prior to the All-Star break and a 5.27 ERA after it. That's why he had been left off the Reds' NLDS roster.--MLB medical officials approved the Reds roster move after reviewing statements from Reds trainers, who maintained that Cuetos strained oblique would limit him to one start, maximum, in the NLCS should Cincinnati advance. Cueto, who exited after eight pitches in Game 1, would be ineligible to return to the Reds active roster until the World Series.--Barry Zito has pitched against the Reds 12 times in his career (11 starts) and his 6.25 ERA is his highest against any NL opponent.But its been a different outcome this season in two starts against them. He had nearly identical outings April 25 on the road and June 30 at home, both times holding Cincinnati to a run in six innings.The Reds were patient while drawing six walks against Zito in his last start against them, but the left-hander wasnt missing by much.--Zito is expected to throw to Buster Posey as Giants manager Bruce Bochy seeks to keep his regulars together and his best defensive alignment on the field.Zito threw to Posey in just seven of his 32 starts and was 2-1 with a 4.86 ERA as the Giants posted a 5-2 record. The left-hander spent most of the season throwing to backup Hector Sanchez, a pairing partly designed in the spring because coaches knew Posey would require regular rest as he recovered from last years horrific leg injury. Zito was 13-7 with a 3.97 ERA in starts with Sanchez as the Giants posted a 16-9 record.--Is there any Giants starter that Brandon Phillips doesnt have numbers against? The Reds second baseman is 8 for 19 (.421) with three doubles, five walks and zero strikeouts in his career against Zito.Center fielder Drew Stubbs is 5 for 13 (.385) and even lefty-hitting right fielder Jay Bruce is 5 for 14 (.357) with a home run. But Joey Votto is just 3 for 18 (.167) with no extra-base hits and just two walks in his career against the finesse lefty. If it were a regular-season game, Votto might be getting a day off.Although Ryan Ludwick has mashed lefties this season, hes just a .231 hitter (6 for 26) with a home run against Zito.Scott Rolen was the only Reds player to homer off Zito in two starts against Cincinnati this season.--If youve forgotten, the Giants are 11-0 in the last 11 games with Zito on the mound. Thats the longest stretch for a Giants starter since Bill Swift in 1992.
SAN FRANCISCO — The first two steps of Pablo Sandoval’s second stint in San Francisco were positive.
Sandoval showed up to AT&T Park on Saturday in decent shape, the kind that will allow him to go straight to the minors instead of spending a few weeks cutting pounds. He also said the right things, apologizing to fans for comments made in the months and year after he left the Giants for supposedly greener pastures.
“I learned my lesson,” Sandoval said a few seconds after sitting down with reporters. “I made a lot of mistakes.”
Sandoval said he also needed to apologize to former teammates, many of whom have not forgotten a Bleacher Report article from Sandoval’s first spring with the Red Sox.
Back then, Sandoval told Scott Miller the decision to leave San Francisco was “not hard at all.” On Saturday, he said there was simply a “miscommunication.”
Back then, Sandoval said, “I knew early in spring training last year I was going to leave.” On Saturday, he claimed that he would have come and said he’s “excited, excited to be back … I’m thankful to the Giants.”
Back then, Sandoval said he didn’t miss his former teammates. "Only Bochy," he told Bleacher Report. "I love Boch. He's like my dad. He's the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys.” On Saturday, Sandoval said, “If I mentioned a lot of people, it was going to be the whole roster … Hunter was like my brother and Bochy was like my dad.”
It will be up to the players and team employees to decide how they really feel three years later. Some, most notably Pence, have been effusive in their praise of the move. Others have been more guarded, and some have grumbled. And make no mistake about it, there are executives at high levels of the organization who do not agree with a reunion. Why do it, then?
“You look at it as a free look at a player who has done some good things in this game and has the talent to hit baseball,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Sometimes a change of scenery can get a player back to the player he was and he was pretty good here. This allows you to take a look and make a call if you think he can help you or not. There’s no guarantee.”
Bochy called it a “win-win” situation and said this was not a marketing move, but it certainly won’t hurt the organization’s affiliates. Sandoval will DH for the San Jose Giants on Saturday and join Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday. He is expected to get at least 40-50 at-bats before the Giants make a decision.
Sandoval said his shoulder, which ended his 2016 season, is healthy, and he has resumed switch-hitting. It has been three years since he has been a productive big leaguer, but he is still just 30 years old.
“I have to prove a lot of things,” Sandoval said. “I hope to be back and doing the best (I can).”
The Giants did not guarantee a return to the big leagues, but the coast is clearing up. Eduardo Nuñez, the incumbent at third, is Bobby Evans’ best trade chip and could be gone by August 1. Christian Arroyo is on the minor league disabled list. Ryder Jones will play all over the field with Sandoval returning to Sacramento. Jae-gyun Hwang was optioned back to Triple-A on Saturday and faces an uncertain future in the organization.
The history of this organization says that if Sandoval shows anything at all, he will be back at AT&T Park before the season is up. At that point, he’ll have to sit down with some teammates and coaches and possibly explain himself. There is more to this than an article written three years ago. It was an open secret that Sandoval was ready to move on, and he had some fun waving goodbye to fans at the 2014 parade. If and when he does return, Sandoval will hope for the best from a fan base that is divided on his return. He did his part to heal some wounds Saturday, signing autographs on his way out of the park.
For now, Sandoval said he’s ready for his second chance.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “I’m happy to be back.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Three years after departing for what he thought would be a better fit, Pablo Sandoval has returned.
The third baseman, a key cog in the dynasty the Giants built earlier this decade, re-signed with the organization on a minor league deal on Saturday morning. Sandoval will join Class-A San Jose immediately and move on to Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday. He was in the AT&T Park clubhouse on Saturday to take a physical.
Sandoval, now 30 years old, spent the first seven years of his career in San Francisco, batting .294 with 106 homers amid battles with his weight and inconsistency. The Giants never quite got on the same page with Sandoval when it came to his conditioning, and he alternated between being a valued power hitter in the middle of their lineup and sitting on the verge of being replaced.
In Boston, there were no such highs. Sandoval played just 161 games over three seasons, batting .237 with 14 homers, and playing poor defense. He posted a negative Wins Above Replacement in all three seasons with the Red Sox and he was designated for assignment last week. Sandoval twice cleared waivers, so the Red Sox are on the hook for the remainder of a five-year, $95 million contract.
The Giants have not yet commented publicly about Sandoval, citing tampering rules. The view from team employees seems to be that there’s little risk in signing a former fan favorite who comes essentially for free. With Christian Arroyo on the disabled list, Sandoval will not be blocking one of the organization’s top prospects, although you can argue that a last-place team would be better served looking at players like Ryder Jones.
Most players were guarded in their comments this week. Hunter Pence, the lone player mentioned in a positive light by Sandoval in a scathing article after his departure, said he is excited for a reunion. Others offered some version of, “If he helps us win, so be it.”
It’s unclear if Sandoval can still do that, and multiple team officials, speaking on background this week, said it’s a coin flip whether Sandoval ever returns to the majors. Still, the Giants are willing to flip that coin, and their history says they don't sign veterans and leave them in the minors.