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Monday, October 29, 2012

World Champs!

After having to go the full 5 in the NLDS then 7 in the NLCS, the Giants  weren't about to be turned away on the biggest stage in baseball. Now, Giants fans all over the world gets to bust out the party hats and celebrate their second World Series victory in three seasons.

I must say, I really had no idea what to expect in this World Series coming in. After the Giants fought back in both their previous series' to get to this position, I knew they were going to put up a fight, but I honestly had no idea we'd see this kind of dominance over the team that was clearly the AL's best. The Giants showed they were a team on a mission though, and played really exceptional baseball all-around this whole October. The thing that I really liked about this squad was that they didn't just rely on one or two big hitters in their lineup to support them like Detroit did. Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval were really excellent throughout this postseason, but the Giants won this year because they had multiple guys step up to pick up slack when they had to. Look no further than Game 4 of this series and the defense the team played and how this team got on the board. Brandon Crawford made two plays to rob base hits from Detroit, which if he doesn't make, may have opened the flood gates for the Tigers. Then the other Brandon came up with the huge RBI Triple to knock in Pence for the first run of the game and set the tone for the Giants. I mean, I could go on and on about all the different players who helped make this happen, but I'd have a hard time stopping.

When trying to compare this team to the one that won the 2010 Series, I certainly see some similarities, but there is also some major differences. The thing about this years team that was so darn impressive was that they overcame the loss of their closer in the first week of the season and still put up one of the best bullpens in baseball. Then they lose the league's leading hitter right when they're getting ready to enter the stretch drive and instead of weighing them down, it propelled them to their best run of the season. Although the whole roster has to be credited for staying focused, the man at the top, Bruce Bochy, had as big a hand in this championship as anyone. Talk about pushing all the right buttons! Sticking with Blanco in left even when he wasn't hitting down the stretch played out huge in the playoffs. His defense was highlighted throughout the month. Then there's the way he handled the bullpen after losing Wilson. Boch knew exactly the kind of team he had and knew the right recipe to garner success out of everyone. Again, there is so much I could talk about, but we'll have the whole offseason to further examine this one and the direction the Giants will head for 2013 as they try and take this run into Dynasty Mode!

I just want to give a big congrats to all the diehards out there who stuck by the team since day one, when Wilson went down and things looked a little uncertain. When Lincecum was struggling and people where begging for his removal from the rotation. After all the struggles Barry Zito has went through in his career in the orange and black. For the incredible road Ryan Vogelsong has taken to get to where he is. I mean, the stories can go on forever. This one felt good, and let's all go rock the city for the parade on Wednesday!
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Series: Giants Off to Detroit, Up 2-0

In their first two series' of this postseason, the Giants were slow out of the gate, getting down 2-0 to Cinci in the NLDS then 3-1 to St. Louis in the NLCS. Their start in this World Series has been drastically different.

After getting a historic day out of Pablo Sandoval in game 1 Wednesday, the Giants took the commanding 2 game lead Thursday behind a rebound effort out of Madison Bumgarner. They flexed their muscles and racked up 8 runs against arguably the best pitcher in baseball, thanks to an all-around great effort out of the top four hitters in the lineup (including Sandoval's 4-4 day with 3 big fly's), but they didn't need the offensive out poor in game 2. After struggling through his first two starts of the 2012 Postseason, Madison Bumgarner finally looked like the young lefty that was so dominant the last time the Giants were in the playoffs, shutting down a potent Tigers lineup, allowing just four base-runners over 7 innings. Unlike his first couple of starts this October, MadBum had life on his heater and was hitting his spots. He struck out 8 Tiger hitters in his 7 innings of work before giving way to Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, who slammed the door closed on Detroit. The Giants showed the Tigers they could beat them in a variety of ways the last couple of games and must have Detroit scratching their heads as they take flight back home, wondering what they can do to get back into this series. So far, the Giants have done exactly what's gotten them to this point, and if they keep it up, I doubt this series makes it back to San Francisco for games 6 and 7.

I know Pablo had that epic day Wednesday, and the Giants offense really put on a show, but it's been that starting pitching which has once again set the tone for San Francisco. In 2010, they had the best staff in the big leagues, and while they've struggled at times this October, they all seemed to have gotten their feet back under them. I know MadBum's 7 shutout innings on Thursday will gain most of the headlines, but the fact that Zito out-pitched Verlander in game one really gave the Giants momentum. In a game that nearly everyone outside of Northern California was writing off to Detroit, Zito stepped up and kept that Tiger lineup at bay, which had to be a blow to the Tigers' confidence. At the same time, the Giants knocked around Verlander about as badly as he's been hit this year, regular season included. Then came Doug Fister, who may have had the best stuff of any starter the Giants have seen this October, and they managed to work him out of the game and then get to the Tigers vulnerable bullpen. Nobody had an especially big day at the plate Thursday, but the Giants beat Detroit with good old fashion National League style baseball. The perfect bunt by Blanco helped plate the first run of the game, then the outstanding at-bat from Hunter Pence off Octavio Dotel helped get the Giants that insurance run in the 8th.

Once again, the Giants couldn't have scripted this series to start out any better than it has, but there is still a lot of work to be done. They no head to Detroit, where I'm sure Tiger fans will be anxiously awaiting their chance to try and support their team back into this thing. The Giants did face the Tigers best two arms in San Francisco, but Annibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer (Detroit's game 3 and 4 starters) are still extremely tough assignments. The thing I'll be curious to see heading into game 3 is what Bochy does with the DH spot. My guess is Pablo Sandoval slides into that spot with Joaquin Arias moving out to third base, but Boch could also decide to keep rolling with his same 8 position players he's used all October. Either way, I expect Arias to be in the lineup in Detroit.
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

World Series: Giants Ready for Verlander, Tigers

Well, if you watched the NLDS and saw the Giants comeback from the unthinkable with three straight wins on the road to get to the NLCS, you might of saw this comeback vs. St. Louis coming.

After Zito won that crucial game five to get the series back to San Francisco, I just had a really good feeling about things. The starting pitching locked things up and fed off Zito like I was hoping they would, and Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain turned in a few of the most clutch pitching performances I've seen in a while. The trio of Giants starters held the potent Cardinals lineup to just 1 run over those final three games, and reminded all of us that they're still the incredible pitching staff we've grown to know here in San Francisco. What really stuck out for me in games 6 and 7 was the Giants finally woke up the offense at home in AT&T Park. We saw them tap into it in game two, but for the most part, the Giants had been struggling to score on their home field. They had no such trouble in those last two games with the Cardinals though, as it seemed like just about everybody contributed something. The defense also tightened up when it had to, that catch Crawford made early in game seven saved a run and it played a huge role in keeping Cards down. If you would have told me the Giants would have won this series with Buster Posey hitting around .100, I would have called you crazy, but NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro more than made up for Posey's down time with his crisp .500 average.

Just about everything went right for the Giants at home, for the first time in a while, and with Detroit rolling into town for games 1 and 2 of the World Series, they're going to have to keep it up. Bochy will likely announce Tuesday that Barry Zito, the hero of game 5, will take the ball in game one and the Giants will be looking for their 14th straight win behind Zito. I'm not expecting Zito to go out and shut down Detroit like he just did St. Louis, but he's obviously throwing the ball with confidence right now and I have no problem whatsoever with Boch's decision. The real key for the Giants in game one will be getting some runs on the board for the lefty, as they'll face up against the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander. One thing the Giants haven't really had  to face this postseason, with Johnny Cueto going down early in game 1 of the NLDS, and the Cardinals not really having one, is a true ace. Verlander is as true as they come and if this postseason has been any indication, he'll be on point Wednesday. The Giants just need to keep doing what they've been doing though. Playing smart situational ball, moving the runners over, catching the baseball and most importantly, driving in that runner from third with less than 2 outs. They've shown that when they stay on their fundamentals, the other things just fall into place for them. After all, they're a team that takes advantage of other teams mistakes like no other I've seen.

Obviously, it would be nice to get some more production out of Pence and Posey in this series as well. The Tigers offense is no joke, with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, among others, so the Giants will have to put some runs on the board in order to beat this team. We saw Pence starting to heat up towards the end of the NLCS and it will be interesting to see if he can carry that over. As for Buster, even if he's struggling, he's just a swing away from breaking open a game, and the last thing he can do at this point is start to press. With the way the team has played behind him though, he shouldn't feel the need to... I know one thing for sure, if they do face another elimination situation, I think we all know by now they won't lay down!
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Zito Lifts Giants in Game 5

In a win or go home situation, the Giants got their best starting effort from their most unlikely source and will return to AT&T Park for another do or die game on Sunday.

With the ramifications coupled with the way he threw, it was easily Barry Zito's best start of his Giants career, and he even admitted after the game it was probably his biggest start of his whole career. With a tough right-handed heavy lineup to face the Giants soft-tossing lefty, everybody was giving the Giants a slim-to-none chance of walking out of St. Louis with their season still riding, but Zito showed up Friday night ready to go. He went 7 2/3 scoreless, striking out 6 and walking just one, an intentional pass to get to Lance Lynn during a crucial spot in the 2nd. Zito did dance out of some trouble early on in the game, but what really impressed me was how he kept getting stronger later into the game. Typically with Zito, he hits a wall around the 5th or 6th inning or 90 pitch mark, but you could see the determination on his face tonight. It wasn't just his brilliant start that helped pace the Giants, he came up with a big 2-out hit on a bunt single to drive in the Giants 3rd run during that big 4th inning. It took a perfectly executed bunt, and Zito made a great decision as David Freese was playing a deep third base. I don't know if this start erases the bad years Zito's had in the Orange and Black, but what a step in the right direction!

Now, as relieved as the Giants have to be to actually be getting this series back to AT&T Park, they still have a lot of work left to do. They got a game-changing gift from the Cardinals Friday on that grounder from Pence that could have been two and instead went into center field, and that really opened the flood gates for them, but I'd like to see them start hitting with more authority. The two guys that have been really quiet this series have been Posey and Pence, granted Pence did hit that solo shot in Thursday's game, they need those two to hit with runners on base. Pablo has started to come around a bit, homering for a 2nd straight game for the Giants' fifth run, but Posey has been oblivious in this NLCS. I'm not sure if he's just tired or if he wasn't seeing the ball well in St. Louis but he looked late on a lot of balls and missed on pitches he normally drives. If the Giants can get those 4-5 guys jump started at home this weekend, their chances to win this series dramatically increase. I'm expecting a solid effort out of Vogelsong Sunday, and if they can extend it to 7, I expect to see Cainer throw everything he's got out there Monday night. Both of these bullpens have been rock solid, so in the end, it's going to come down to starting pitching, and hitting with runners on base.

They've done it once already this postseason, pulling off 3 victories in a row to beat out the Reds, but if they're going to do that to St. Louis, they need to regain that home mojo. For some odd reason, the Giants have struggled at home recently, dating back to the end of the regular season, but they did play one of their better games of this postseason in game two before departing to St. Louis. They really have to carry that over into Game 6 and come out of the gate firing.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Back to STL, Series Even

Although the Giants didn't leave town with a 2-0 lead like we were all hoping for, you have to like what you saw out of the team in the second half of game one, and game two of the NLCS.

First of all, we didn't do a recap post after game one, and I wanted to touch on a few things there before I get to the Scutaro injury and what happens going forward. Yes, the Giants won the NLDS, and yes, they responded beautifully in game two after a slow start in game one, but their starting pitching has me a bit worried. Before Vogelsong's valiant effort in Monday night's game, Giants starters have been averaging about five innings per start and the two guys they were counting on the most coming in, have not been crisp. Madison Bumgarner got lit up in game one, and his recent struggles go back to the end of the regular season. Also, Matt Cain wasn't bad in his two starts in the NLDS, but he had nowhere near the ace-like performances the Giants were hoping after the career year he just had. Cain will get the ball in the pivotal game three in St. Louis, and he has to feed off Vogey's great outing. Finally, there's no way Barry Zito should get a start vs. the right-handed heavy Cardinals' lineup, especially in St. Louis. Tim Lincecum has looked dominant in relief so far this postseason, but it's time he regains his normal role in the rotation, and it would be a mistake if Bochy isn't starting him in game 4.

Now, while the starting pitching, for the most part, has been a bit of a letdown, the Giants offense has responded well after putting up just 4 runs in the first 3 games of the NLDS. They didn't come back to win game one of this series, but it had to boost their confidence knowing they'll be able to score some runs off St. Louis should they get down early again (just hopefully no more 6-run deficits). Monday's game was a huge one in my mind though. Not only because they won, but the way they did it. It was the best I've seen the team play all postseason, and it's come in game two of the NLCS. They finally used the typical Giants winning formula we saw so often in the regular season; jumping out to an early lead, Pagan and Scutaro each contributing, and really terrific pitching efforts all the way around. If they stick to that formula, they'll be next to impossible to beat. The big concern heading into game three though is obviously the health of Scutaro. After Matt Holliday barreled into him on that double play attempt, he had to leave the game, but not before coming up with the biggest hit for the Giants. If he can't go Wednesday though, it'll be a huge blow to San Francisco. All we can do at this point is cross our fingers and hope he wakes up tomorrow ready to go.

As far as the slide itself, it was obviously unnecessarily late, but I don't think Holliday went in there hoping he'd knock Scutaro out of the game. What kind of got me was the barrel role over Scutaro though, that was too much. Whenever you slide over the base and are clearly making an attempt to take out a defender, you better be ready for the consequences. There's no question that the play did light a fire under the Giants, and I absolutely expect to see someone wear one for the Cards at some point down the line in this series. If Scutaro is forced to miss any time, I would hope Joaquin Arias gets the nod at second over Theriot.
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Giants Headed to NLCS

After getting shut down in game two by Bronson Arroyo, things didn't look good for the Orange and Black heading into Cincinnati. But once again, this team showed why they're one of the best road teams in baseball, and completed the unthinkable comeback over a very good Reds team.

The Giants squeaked out the win in game 3, then they finally got their offense going in game four, and kept it going through game five. First I wanted to talk a bit about game four, cause we don't even have that deciding match Thursday without the gutsy performance by the Giants bullpen. One of the keys to Wednesday's game was Barry Zito's command, and he just didn't have it, but George Kontos and Tim Lincecum each picked him up. Lincecum had a dominant, vintage like performance coming in during the fourth inning, and shutting the Reds down through the 8th. The guy who wasn't included in the NLDS rotation certainly made his case for returning for the NLCS after throwing 6 1/3 shut out innings in relief this series. He was as important as any arm on that staff vs. Cinci, a series in which the Giants didn't get their typical dominant starting pitching. The most important thing for the Giants Wednesday though, was they finally put up some runs off Reds' pitching. Angel Pagan finally broke out of his slump reaching base four times, and Pablo Sandoval came up with the knockout blow. Luckily for the Giants, they had more left over for the deciding game 5.

Matt Cain got off to a strong start in game 5, needing just over 50 pitches to get through four innings, but in the fifth, he kind of hit a wall. Once again though, the Giants were able to get on the board first, and they did so in tremendous fashion. I know most people will remember the Buster Posey 2-strike grand slam to push the game to 6-0, but the guy who got it all started, and a guy who won't get a bunch of publicity but was key throughout this five game set was Gregor Blanco. The left-fielder came up with that big 2-run homer in game four that gave the Giants a 3-0 lead, then came ended up starting the Giants 6-run fifth with a solid single off Mat Latos which broke his rhythm. He then came around to score on Brandon Crawford's triple to right, and Crawford is another guy who really stepped up with the bat and glove in game 5. Although many people were expecting Joaquin Arias to get the nod at short after his multi-hit game Wednesday, Boch stuck with the unit that's got them this far, and it certainly paid off Thursday. So the top and bottom of the order each picked it up like they had to, and we saw the middle guys respond accordingly.

I know there aren't Divisional Series MVP's, but if there were, this would be a tough one to give out, just because so many players contributed in the 3-game comeback. You'd probably have to go Posey, just because he came up with the biggest swing of the bat in the biggest game of the series, but Lincecum, Pagan and Sandoval all would be in the mix as well. The Giants now get a few days to regroup and rest up, and then it's off to the NLCS for the 2nd time in 3 seasons. They'll either be heading home to take on St. Louis, or they'll be off to Washington to face the Nationals. Either way, this team is ready, and after the comeback they just pulled, their confidence has to be sky high at this point!
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Monday, October 08, 2012

Giants Have Backs to the Wall

With the first two games of the best-of-five series at home in AT&T Park, everybody was expecting a better showing than the Giants gave in games one and two.

In game one, the Giants came up just short, as their line drives seemed to all find Reds' fielders and Matt Cain wasn't quite himself. However, in game two, things got downright ugly. The Reds used the formula the Giants have been using most of the regular season to get to San Francisco in the first two match-ups, getting out to an early lead and then letting terrific pitching take them the rest of the way. I had a bad feeling right off the bat when Johnny Cueto went down in game one, and the Giants failed to muster anything up against LeCure and then Mat Latos. Normally you see the Giants take advantage of the opportunities they get, but they failed to do that in the opening game and it cost them. Then came game two, when the Giants got to face perhaps the Reds most beatable arm in Bronson Arroyo, and all he proceeded to do was hold them hit-less until the fifth inning, and look like Greg Maddux in the process. It really didn't matter that Madison Bumgarner wasn't on his game, cause the Giants didn't get anything going off Cinci arms in game two. That bullpen is no joke, we all knew that, but I was expecting the Giants to at least get a few rallys going off their starters.

Now the Giants backs are firmly to the wall as they travel to Cincinnati, exactly the position they didn't want to be in. Under the new playoff format, it all but required the Giants to win at least one of their home games but since they didn't, the only way they'll be seeing the NLCS this year is if they roll into Cinci and sweep the
Pagan, Scutaro Key for Game 3
upcoming 3 games. Not saying it's impossible, as they will have a shot vs. Homer Bailey Tuesday, but it's that dominant bullpen that really scares you. Now, in the Giants favor, they have been a much more offensive team on the road, and they'll be looking for anything to jump-start that lineup after the Reds dominated them 14-2 throughout the two games at AT&T. I think it's got to again start at the top. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro were basically non-existent in games one and two after setting the tone for the Giants offense over much of the second half. In order for that middle of the order to be effective, they need those rabbits to be on base and creating havoc at the top. It's been so bad that the Giants have only gotten a few at-bats with runners in scoring position, and they aren't going to win any games with that formula.

Finally, they're going to need Ryan Vogelsong be the Vogey we saw the last few starts of the season, not the guy who had an ERA up near 10 throughout much of August and September. If Vogey is able to fend off the Reds potent attack Tuesday, and the Giants are able to get something going offensively, I would expect Cain to get the call in game four, but Lincecum may also now be in the mix. He threw a couple innings Sunday night in relief and looked impressive. Right now though, they need to take it one game at a time, and remember that they're one of the best road teams in all of baseball. Down 2-0, they're not completely out of it, but they'll need to be near perfect for 3 straight in Cinci to walk out of their victorious.
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Friday, October 05, 2012

Giants' NLDS Roster

Bruce Bochy hasn't made anything official regarding the Giants roster for the upcoming NLDS vs. Cincinnati besides the starters for games one and two.

That said, we're going to take an educated guess on which 25 guys will fill out their active roster, as well as the expected playoff rotation, and this is who we expect to get the nod:

Catchers: Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez
Cain Preps for Gm. 1

Infielders: 1B Brandon Belt, 2B Marco Scutaro, SS Brandon Crawford, 3B Pablo Sandoval, IF Joaquin Arias, IF Ryan Theriot, 1B Aubrey Huff

Outfielders: RF Hunter Pence, CF Angel Pagan,  LF Xavier Nady, OF Gregor Blanco

Starting Rotation: 1. RHP Matt Cain 2. LHP Madison Bumgarner 3. RHP Tim Lincecum 4. RHP Ryan Vogelsong

Bullpen: RHP Sergio Romo, LHP Javier Lopez, RHP Santiago Casilla, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, RHP Guillermo Mota, LHP Jose Mijares, RHP George Kontos, LHP Barry Zito

The only two real question marks here, to me at least, is whether the Giants will roll with Francisco Peguero as the 5th outfielder and who will get the ball after Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum. I think Peguero should get the call because of his versatility and speed. The Giants don't really have an everyday left fielder right now, and have been mixing and matching with Nady and Blanco for the most part. If Peguero makes the roster, he'll give Boch another capable glove that can play any outfield position and it would also allow Boch to use Blanco more freely as a pinch runner. Also, Nady has been having problems with his hamstring off and on since coming up to the Giants, and Francisco would give the team insurance in case that hammy acts up on him again. They could also go with Aubrey Huff to have his bat off the bench.

Other than that, the toughest decision Bochy is facing is which four starters will fill out his starting rotation. Based on the fact Vogelsong has a 6.75 ERA over his last 10 starts, and the Giants just don't seem to lose when Barry Zito takes the hill, I think it's very realistic that the man left of the 2010 Postseason roster, could get a start in the NLDS. Another thing besides recent success in Zito's favor is the Reds two best hitters bat from the left side, and Bochy may want to get that 2nd lefty in their to try and neutralize Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. Vogey has returned to form in has last 3 starts though, and Zito is more of a fly ball pitcher, which could hurt him vs. a team like the Reds. There's really a strong case to be made for both, and wouldn't be surprised to see Bochy hold off on an announcement on it until after game one or two... Also, if your looking for a spot to do some last minute wagering on the series, click here!

We'll update our list above when the rosters become official, and we'll be back tomorrow after game one to do our recap, so stay posted here for Giants coverage throughout the playoffs!

MATT CAIN PERFECT GAME DVD GIVEAWAY

Also, in celebration of the Giants winning the West, we here at The Giants Baseball Blog will be giving away a few of A&E Sports Baseball's Greatest Games DVD's, The Matt Cain Perfect Game Edition. For your chance to win the first round, e-mail us (contact info on site) with your pick for team MVP for 2012 (excluding Buster Posey), and a brief reason why. Please put "Cain DVD" in subject line and we'll post the winning e-mails here at The Giants Baseball Blog at the conclusion of the promotion!
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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Buster the Batting Champ

Wednesday marks the last day of the regular season all across baseball, and it's a big day for the Giants in particular.

Not only did San Francisco find out their NLDS opponent Wednesday, but they also have a player of their own trying to lock down a pretty big accomplishment. Unless there's a miracle for Andrew McCutchen in this final day of the season, it looks like a Giant will be walking away with the NL Batting Crown this year after all. Melky Cabrera was in optimal position to run away with the award before he went down with his infamous suspension, but thanks to Buster Posey's epic second half, the award will be coming home with a Giant. Buster is in the lineup for Wednesday's game, though he'll likely only see a couple at-bats before Bochy removes the starters and he has a comfortable 10-point lead over the Pirates' star outfielder, so although it won't be official until after play Wednesday, it's a lock. What also could be a lock is Buster's campaign for the NL MVP Award. With him taking the batting crown, and with the way he's handled this pitching staff taking on 148 games after his gruesome injury that ended his 2011, he's got plenty of factors in his favor. What does it for me ultimately, is his .388 average, 1.110 OPS, 14 HR and 59 RBI since the All-Star break and how he carried this team on his shoulders since Cabrera's departure.

Besides Buster putting the final touches on a potential MVP season, the Giants round one opponent for the upcoming NLDS became official Wednesday. As many suspected, it'll be the Cincinnati Reds rolling into AT&T Park this weekend to kick off the best of 5 series with the Orange and Black. Both teams' game one starters have already been announced and neither comes as a surprise. Matt Cain will take the hill for the Giants, and Johnny Cueto will toe the rubber for Cinci, but after that things are still uncertain on the Giants part. As I said about a week back, my guess is Boch will roll out Cain-Bumgarner-Lincecum-Vogelsong in that order, but Bochy hasn't hinted at much beyond game one. The Giants also still have to determine which 25 players they'll take into the NLDS. I think the position players are pretty much set already, but Bochy is still deciding on exactly which relievers he's going to want to roll with. I think the only surprise we'll see is the rookie Francisco Peguero getting the call as sort of the 25th man. Boch likely won't feel comfortable with just Xavier Nady as the backup to all 3 outfielders, and could use the strong defending Peguero as insurance and as a pinch runner.
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