By Vince Cestone
Pitching has dominated the first three games of the series, but it did not all come from the San Francisco Giants.
The slugging Cincinnati Reds added another dimension to their recipe for success in 2012. Their pitching has drastically improved, as they are fourth in the National League in ERA at 3.47.
Cincinnati's bullpen, anchored by the flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, has become automatic. Reds' relievers have a 2.67 ERA this season, good for first in the National League.
This is why the Reds are in first place in the NL Central by one game over the Pittsburgh Pirates (Pirates are 42-35 if you can believe it).
The Reds are also second in the league in fewest errors, committing just 40. Strong pitching and defense has been a 2012 theme in Cincinnati.
Pitching, defense, and just enough hitting (Reds are eighth in the league in runs scored) is a great recipe for success, especially in the National League.
In this series, the Reds have beaten the Giants at their own game.
Game 1 featured a masterful pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner. In his effort, Bumgarner threw his first career complete-game shutout against the Reds, a team he has struggled against throughout his career (0-2, 8.56 versus Reds coming into the game).
In Game 2, the Reds showed why they were a first-place team. Mike Leake threw a complete-game of his own, but not a shutout thanks to Pablo Sandoval's ninth-inning solo homerun.
Leake beat Matt Cain, who has seemed more hittable after his perfect game. In his 18 and 2/3 innings pitched after the perfect game, Cain has given up 9 earned runs.
Giants' nemesis Mat Latos shut down San Francisco in Game 3 of the series. In his nine-inning effort, Latos struck out seven Giants and allowed just one earned run on two hits.
In three consecutive games, a Giants or Reds pitcher threw a complete game. Also, for the second straight game, the Giants scored a lone ninth-inning run to break up a complete-game shutout (courtesy of a Brandon Belt triple, followed by a run-scoring groundout).
Barry Zito pitched well in Game 3 but suffered the loss. Zito's only earned run in six innings pitched came on a bases-loaded walk to catcher Ryan Hanigan.
Zito's walk proved costly as the Reds edged the Giants 2-1.
The Giants figure to like their chances in Game 4 of the series. Ryan Vogelsong, who has been their best pitcher, is 7-3 with a 2.23 ERA.
Vogelsong will be opposed by the struggling Bronson Arroyo who is just 3-5 with a 4.13 ERA. The Giants look to have the upper hand but only if they score runs.
The Giants' bats have gone suddenly cold after Game 1. The Giants scored just two ninth-inning runs in the last two games, but have not taken advantage of the few chances they had.
In Game 2, Cain's inability to get a sacrifice bunt down dashed any hopes of the Giants getting back into the game. With the Giants trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Cain struck out on a foul bunt with Brandon Crawford at second base.
The next two batters grounded out, and the Giants did not score. The Giants lost the game 5-0, but if they had gotten that run in the fifth inning, the Giants would have been down only 3-1, giving the Giants some momentum throughout the game.
Who knows what could have happened then? Good teams make good use of the few chances they have, even if the opposing pitcher is dominating.
The Giants are a scratch-and-claw offense, so they must produce a run on almost every runner at second base and nobody out situation if they hope to make the playoffs--or beyond.
Here are some interesting stats and notes heading into the series finale.
- Bronson Arroyo, today's Reds' starter, has never won a game at AT&T Park. He is 0-4 in San Francisco, with a 4.34 ERA.
- Ryan Vogelsong has pitched 11 straight quality starts and holds a 1.28 ERA in eight home starts this season.
- Reds' slugger Joey Votto may not play in the series finale due to inflammation in his left knee. Votto is hitting .350, with 33 doubles, 14 home runs, and 47 RBIs.
- The Giants are currently in a 13-game stretch against teams in either first or second place. They are 4-2 in those games.
- The Giants have not lost three in a row since early May.
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Information from ESPN.com contributed to this article.
Check out my NBCBayArea.com article on the San Jose Giants' Joe Panik.