Giants fully capable of locking up NL pennant
San Francisco needs persistence, power, precision to win
PHILADELPHIA -- Though the Giants do nothing easily, it wouldn't hurt to try the alternative.They lead the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series, 3-2. But the advantage appears tenuous, since Saturday's Game 6 and, if necessary, Sunday's deciding Game 7 will be played at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. The Giants were a creditable 43-38 on the road this year and won the NLCS opener here, besides the final two games of the Division Series at Atlanta. But the Phillies' status as two-time defending league champs, combined with the Giants' image as upstart underdogs, create the perception that San Francisco faces a considerable disadvantage. But perceptions don't always match reality. What's real in baseball happens between the foul lines. The Giants have responded admirably to challenges all year. They've defeated a host of top pitchers, including Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez, not to mention Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, both in the regular season and NLCS. They outlasted San Diego and Colorado to win the West. For the Giants, winning one game shouldn't be a Herculean task.
That fourth NLCS victory, which eluded the Giants in Thursday night's Game 5, will be easier to secure if they can master most or all of the following five elements.
Punch and patience: Disappointing as the Game 5 loss was for the Giants, they had to be encouraged by the production they received from the top of the order. Leadoff batter Andres Torres went 2-for-3 with a walk and No. 2 hitter Freddy Sanchez made solid contact in each of his at-bats while going 2-for-4. The Giants didn't fully capitalize on their success, but if they can come close to duplicating Thursday's effort, persistence tends to be rewarded.The Giants never have been known for their patience at the plate, but walks played a role in four of the last five runs they scored dating to Game 4. If they're not hitting proficiently, they'll have to exercise solid judgment at the plate. Working deep counts could be a wise strategy against Game 6 starter Roy Oswalt, who struggled in relief in Game 4. Start slugging: Cody Ross has all three of the Giants' NLCS home runs. That largely explains the Giants' paltry .323 slugging percentage through five games. Granted, the Giants' relative inability to manufacture runs was considered a flaw during the regular season. But they compensated by hitting more home runs, capped by 36 in September/October. Postseason pitching is always tougher, which explains the Giants' current power shutdown. Still, they would welcome a big play or two from the likes of Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell or Buster Posey. Catch it and throw it: This is almost ridiculously obvious, but it bears repeating. The Giants' three postseason defeats were marred by significant defensive misplays. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval played his way onto the bench with a throwing error in Game 2 of the Division Series; his replacement, Mike Fontenot, also made a poor throw that generated an unearned run in Game 2 of the NLCS; and Sandoval and first baseman Huff committed mistakes that fueled Philadelphia's three-run third inning in Game 5. Ready to relieve: Except for Guillermo Mota, who hasn't appeared in the postseason, each of the Giants relievers has appeared at least twice in the NLCS. Inactivity shouldn't be an issue for any of the relievers except Mota, so manager Bruce Bochy should feel comfortable when he has to phone the bullpen. Despite their 4.22 postseason ERA, San Francisco's relievers have proven capable of shutting down batters by recording 17 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. Intangibles: Known until recently for his erratic performances, Jonathan Sanchez has avoided poor outings for so long that his steadiness can be regarded as a given -- almost. Sanchez, the Giants' Game 6 starter, won't shake the "inconsistent" tag until he begins a season as he ended this one and sustains that excellence through the year. Sanchez has thrived since September (4-1, 1.01 ERA in his last six regular-season starts), but the Giants need another dominant effort from him against the Phillies. If the Giants lose Game 6, they absolutely must avoid panic. They'll need to remind themselves that they won Game 1 on the road, beat Hamels in Game 3 and thus can prevail again in Game 7. It would be a shame -- and a shock -- to see the Giants wilt under pressure after having handled it all year. "You have to remind yourself that it's the same game," Bochy said."You play the game the same. ... You have to forget the bigness of it."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.