Win or Go Home

My how quickly things can change. Instead of closing out a sweep at home against the Giants the Reds are now looking to avoid elimination themselves in a decisive Game Five. Mike Leake was activated to replace injured Johnny Cueto and he was lifted in the fifth inning after allowing five runs in the 8-3 Giants' Game Four win.

The decision Reds fans feared was made yesterday and Johnny Cueto was put on the disabled list for the remainder of the NL playoffs. Starter Mike Leake had begun preparation for action after Cueto came out of the first game with back spasms. He was ready to go and the Redleg Nation was hopeful he would slam the door on the Giants who avoided a sweep with an extra-inning win in Game Three. Those hopes did not materialize as San Francisco took Game Four at Great American Ball Park by a score of 8-3.

Things could not have started out worse for the number five starter when leadoff hitter Angel Pagan slammed a no-doubt homer into the right field seats on the second pitch of the game. The Reds came back in the bottom of the first with a two-out rally started by a single from Joey Votto and tied the score with a bases- loaded walk to Todd Frazier, however Giants starter Barry Zito got out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Dioner Navarro.

The tie did not last long because the second batter in the next inning, Gregor Blanco, hit a two-run homer to give the Giants a lead they would not relinquish. The Reds did cut the margin to one when Ryan Ludwick led off the bottom of the third with his second home run of the series. While facing elimination San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy used a quick hook and lifted Zito after a walk to Navarro later that inning.

Cincinnati threatened in the fourth with singles by Leake and Zach Cozart and again Bochy was quick to act by bringing in lefty specialist Jose Mijares who struck out Votto before former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum ended the inning by striking Ludwick. He then threw four more innings allowing only one run.

Pagan struck again with an RBI double in the fifth. Leake was lifted after he was bunted to third before Pablo Sandoval plated him with a sac fly off of Sam LeCure.

The Reds hung up another run in the sixth after Drew Stubbs led off with a double and scored on Brandon Phillips's sacrifice fly, but that would be the last time they would cross the plate in the game. The Giants blew it open in the top of the next inning from an RBI double from Marco Scutaro followed by a two-run homer by Sandoval.

After the decisive victory the Giants are now looking to become the first team in NLDS history to advance after falling behind 2-0. It also means that the visiting team has won all four games thus far in the series. The Reds will have the home field advantage, or perhaps "disadvantage", in a deciding Game Five that is scheduled to start at 1:00 on Thursday. Bochy has made moves with his back up against a wall for two games and now Reds manager Dusty Baker will join him in that situation. The Giants will attempt to become only the second team to ever win three road games in a divisional series, a feat previously done in 2010 by Texas at Tampa Bay.

The alternative to activating Leake was to hand the ball to Mat Latos on short rest. Now the big right-hander will take the mound five days after tossing four innings of emergency relief in Game One. Previous to that he'd had great success against the Giants in the regular season, winning both starts while allowing only one run in sixteen innings.

A sweep would have indeed been nice and could have preserved Cueto's eligibility for the next round. Now the most important thing is to just advance and the Reds have one more shot at doing that. They will need to defend their home field where they never lost three in a row this season. Latos is 13-2 with a 3.09 ERA since the end of April. His team will certainly be hoping that train continues rolling into the NDLS. Standing in his way is ace Matt Cain who went 16-5/2.79 on the season. However, two of those losses came at the hands of the Reds and including Game One of this series he's 0-3 against them while allowing eleven runs in eighteen innings over three starts.

Fans at the game will likely see Bochy return with his quick hook that has called to the bullpen fourteen times in the first four games. They've answered that call with a sub-one WHIP over twenty innings. Their leader in saves, Santiago Casilla has made appearances in all four games. Their other closer, Sergio Romo got the night off Wednesday after tossing the final two innings of Monday's extra-inning contest. Baker used four relievers last night but refrained from calling on his three preferred late-inning options, Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall, and closer Aroldis Chapman.

Of course there are no guarantees in the postseason, but one would figure that Latos pitching with five day's rest would likely be more effective than Latos going on four. If the Cueto injury doomed them to lose Game Four anyway, perhaps it was better that the Giants extended the lead late giving reason for Baker to keep those three arms fresh in the bullpen. The Giants won 94 games this season and they've already shown they're not going to roll over. The eight runs scored by their offense in the last game doubled their combined total over the first three. Instead of a sweep, this series has turned into a winner-take-all matchup between two solid teams and appears it will go down to the wire.

But then again, isn't that what postseason baseball is supposed to be?

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