Three keys to Game 5: Giants vs. Reds

Three keys to Game 5: Giants vs. Reds

Three keys to Game 5: Giants vs. Reds
CINCINNATI -- The Reds and Giants will be locked into what could be the makings of a classic National League Division Series Game 5 at Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon.

The first two games at San Francisco were wins for the Reds. The last two games at Cincinnati were claimed by the Giants.

As for Game 5? It's one juicy cliffhanger with a conclusion that remains unknown.

Here are three things the Reds must do to win Game 5:

Reds vs. Giants

Mat Latos must deliver again. If he hadn't already, Latos cemented a season's worth of respect when he delivered four innings of stellar one-run relief in Game 1 after Johnny Cueto's injury. The only glitch was a Buster Posey home run in the sixth inning before the Reds earned a 5-2 win.

In two regular-season starts vs. the Giants, Latos was 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA. He had only six hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts over 16 innings. A former Padre, Latos enjoys sticking it to the Giants and will need to do it once more. One thing he must avoid is getting too amped up on the mound and trying too hard.

"It's another game," Latos said. "It's a team that I'm comfortable with, a team that I've faced before."

Take advantage of chances. The Reds have had big first-inning rallies the last two games limited to one run each time. On Wednesday, they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10. On Tuesday, they were 1-for-4 and stranded seven. With ace Matt Cain pitching for the Giants, Cincinnati could be fortunate to get even that many chances.

The Reds' offense found itself in San Francisco with 14 runs. In Cincinnati, it has scored just four times in two games.

Use the home-field advantage. The Reds did not lose three in a row at home at any point during 2012 and posted a Great American Ball Park-best 50-31 record there this season.

There were 44,501 fans at Game 4, and already lacking volume to begin, the crowd was taken out of the equation two pitches into the game when Angel Pagan slugged a leadoff home run. The Reds need to keep their fans loud and into the game, and taking an early lead would go far in making that happen.

Homers by Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce against Cain in Game 1 helped the Reds strike first. Taking the lead early would only help the Reds keep the pressure on Cain and the Giants.

"So the main thing is just come out fighting," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what it's about. Tomorrow is the final fight."

Here are three things the Giants must do to win Game 5:

Keep on truckin'. The Giants are riding a tidal wave of confidence. They shouldn't change a thing, though third baseman Pablo Sandoval sounded ready to take this to an extreme.

"Every guy has to wear the same clothes tomorrow," he said.

The Giants no longer have reason to dwell on any of the factors that seemingly worked against them -- hitting poorly, losing the series' first two games, playing on the road. They honestly believe that they belong on that short list of teams that have overcome 2-0 Division Series deficits to progress to the LCS. In fact, the Giants are beginning to sound like the guys who won the World Series two years ago.

"It's not about going out there as individuals," right-hander Tim Lincecum said. "It's just going out and doing what we've got to do to win. And the last two games, it's been about leaving it on the field."

Cain must find his game. The Reds treated Cain rudely during the regular season, homering four times off him while beating him twice. Cincinnati already has defeated Cain in this series, scoring three runs in five innings off him in Game 1. Cain must regain a semblance of the form that made him the staff ace this season if the Giants are to have a chance.

Pitching at Great American Ball Park actually might benefit Cain, who was 8-2 with a 3.56 ERA in 17 road starts this year.

"I think I may have been overanxious, going out there with the first game being at home," Cain said, referring to his Game 1 start. "I'll try to think back to other starts and be more calm and relaxed and worried about making good pitches."

With Lincecum working 4 1/3 innings Wednesday, the Giants won't have a long reliever to back Cain. But Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt, who each pitched two scoreless innings in Game 3, didn't pitch Wednesday, so they'll be fresh for Game 5. Nevertheless, the Giants' fondest hope is that Cain will work deep into the game.

Get involved, everybody. Seven of San Francisco's starting eight position players reached base safely in Game 4. The Giants relied on similar teamwork throughout the season's second half to revive their offense. They'll need all the contributions they can summon to offset Latos, who typically dominates San Francisco. Latos reportedly had a bout with the flu but insisted Wednesday that he felt fine, so the Giants probably will have to be at their most efficient to subdue the right-hander.

What does this mean? This means productivity from Pagan and Marco Scutaro at the top of the order and some timely hits from the 3-4-5 core, Sandoval, Posey and Hunter Pence. Posey went 0-for-4 Wednesday, but that might bode well for San Francisco, since he rarely endures two days in a row like that.

The Giants also would welcome a surprise or two from the bottom third of the order. Example: Gregor Blanco's two-run homer Wednesday. Blanco drove in just three runs in his final 33 games and had five homers in 453 plate appearances during the regular season. If he, Brandon Belt or Brandon Crawford can nag Latos, it'll go a long way toward helping San Francisco reach the NLCS.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.