Jorge L. Oritz, USA TODAY Sports
SAN FRANCISCO - The San Francisco Giants parlayed Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro's table-setting skills, Buster Posey's torrid second half and Hunter Pence's clutch hits into the second most prolific attack in the National League after the All-Star break.
During the NL Championship Series, though, their most effective offensive weapon has been hitting the ball to the pitcher and letting him throw it away.
Two errors by St. Louis Cardinals pitchers facilitated four-run rallies in each of the two games the Giants have won in the NLCS, which resumed Sunday with San Francisco trailing 3-2.
Relying on more such miscues is risky strategy, so Giants hitters are hoping their bats come alive against Cardinals starters Chris Carpenter and, if there's a Game 7, Kyle Lohse. And the sooner the better.
"To beat that team we have to score early and knock out the starter early, because that bullpen of theirs is tough,'' Scutaro said. "You have to play almost perfectly to beat them. If you give them an inch, they take a mile.''
In this case it has been the Giants who have taken advantage of a couple of opportunities presented to them by St. Louis, which needs one more win to get a chance to defend its World Series title.
San Francisco stayed alive in the series with a 5-0 Game 5 victory highlighted by Barry Zito's brilliant start, and from the Cardinals' perspective lowlighted by a throwing error by right-hander Lance Lynn that opened the door for the Giants' four-run fourth.
In Game 2, Carpenter threw away a Brandon Crawford dribbler and later outfielder Matt Holliday mishandled a Scutaro single as San Francisco put up a four-spot in the fourth on the way to winning 7-1.
Except for those aided rallies, the Giants scored a total of 12 runs in the first five games, and their collective batting average in the series was .237.
"This has been like a showdown between cowboys,'' Pagan said. "The pitchers on both sides have thrown very well, so the key is to have good at-bats and try to score as early as possible.''
That would minimize the impact of a Cardinals bullpen that has been nothing short of sensational. With rookie Trevor Rosenthal throwing 100-mph heat and bullpen mates Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte averaging better than 95 mph with their fastballs, the St. Louis relievers have allowed just five earned runs in 20 innings for a 2.25 ERA.
They pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings to preserve a 6-4 win in Game 1, and 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Lohse in a 3-1 win in Game 3.
In the last three games, two of them St. Louis victories, the only San Francisco runs off the Cardinals bullpen have come on Pablo Sandoval home runs in the late innings.
"They all throw hard. But when things go your way, they go your way,'' Sandoval said. "They could throw 100,000 (mph), and if we can take advantage of the little things, we can win.''
Sandoval's resurgence has been one of the few positive signs from the Giants offense, which left 11 runners stranded in Game 3 and is batting .224 with runners in scoring position in the postseason.
Sandoval said he shortened his swing after noticing it had gotten too long in the games at San Francisco. However, his teammates in the middle of the lineup, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, have yet to find a groove.
Posey, the front-runner for NL MVP honors, delivered the game-breaking grand slam that propelled the Giants to a Division Series-clinching victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
He hasn't been much of a factor in the NLCS, though, as the Cardinals have made a point to pitch around him and go after Pence, who is hitting .154 with one RBI in the postseason.
Posey has a .189 playoff average, including .167 (3-for-18) in this series, and acknowledges deviating from his usual disciplined approach at the plate.
"I don't think I'm swinging the bat great right now, but the beauty of the game is we get to play again,'' Posey said after Friday's win in St. Louis. "I feel like I'm chasing. I need to slow down and make sure I swing at strikes.''
For San Francisco to have a legitimate shot at repeating its Division Series feat of winning three elimination games in a row, it likely will need more contributions from its power sources. Excluding a Game 4 appearance by backup catcher Hector Sanchez, the 4-5-6 hitters - Posey, Pence and Brandon Belt - have combined for eight hits in 51 at-bats (.157) with two RBI in the NLCS.
"We can't put this all on Buster,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's a lot to carry or a lot to ask of him when they're really not giving him a lot to hit. It's going to be up to all the lineup to do something to contribute.''
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