The San Francisco Giants beat the Cincinnati Reds three games to two to win their NLDS matchup and head to the NLCS. Here are five observations from watching the five game series.
1. The Reds were awful with runners in scoring position over the last three games.
Cincinnati looked to have this series in the bag heading back home, with a 2-0 lead and three games in their home park where they hadn't lost three straight games all year. Give the Giants credit for hunkering down and beating the Reds when it counted the most, but don't absolve Cincinnati for anything. The Reds went 3/24 with runners in scoring position over the last three games of the series, getting outscored by one run in game three and two runs in game five. Just one hit into the gap could have won them the series. Instead, that .125 average (less than half of the .255 mark posted by all major league teams during the regular season) helped contribute to the end of their season.
2. Tim Lincecum could be an awesome reliever.
The bad news: Lincecum's velocity didn't tick up at all during his two relief stints. He sat at 91 in both games two and four, about half a mile an hour more than he was at in the regular season but way down from 2007-2011. But that doesn't mean Lincecum wasn't effective despite the decreased velocity. In 6 1/3 relief innings, he allowed just one run on three hits, walking none and striking out eight. But after Barry Zito pitched terribly in game four, Lincecum might slide back into the rotation for the NLCS, which could be a mistake given his success in long relief in this series.
3. The Giants offense needs to do better in the NLCS.
Despite the Giants winning the series, they didn't dominate offensively. Overall, the team hit .194 with a .606 OPS, the worst among all NL playoff teams. If they end up playing the Cardinals, with their potent offense and above average pitching, their season could meet a quick end. Hell, the Nationals also had a top ten offense in baseball this season. Putting too much faith in starting pitching can get you burned, especially with how heavily the Giants relied on relievers in this series.
4. The Reds bullpen lived up to the hype.
We had all heard about just how great the Cincinnati relievers were this season, but in the NLDS, we saw just how awesome they really are. In 23 innings (second to just – guess who – the Giants in the playoffs thusfar), the Reds pen had a 1.96 ERA (behind only the Yankees in twice as many innings). And consider this: of the five earned runs the Reds bullpen allowed, three came courtesy of a Jose Arredondo outing in game three when he got just one out. Discounting Arrendondo, Cincinnati's pen had an 0.83 ERA this series. And they LOST THE SERIES.
5. San Francisco's starting pitching didn't live up to the hype.
Despite winning the clinching game five, Matt Cain didn't have a good series. Typically an innings eater, Cain threw just 10 2/3 innings over two starts, allowing a 5.06 ERA and three homers. San Francisco's de facto number two, Madison Bumgarner, also had a terrible series. Bumgarner made just one start (game two), and got killed. He threw only 4 1/3 innings, allowed four runs, and the Reds had him on the ropes all game. Both pitchers need to have better starts in the NLCS, because counting on a fast-slipping Ryan Vogelsong and an awful Barry Zito (if he even will still be in the NLCS rotation) isn't a plan you want to have in a best of seven series.