Three keys for Giants to extend NLCS

Three keys for Giants to extend NLCS

Three keys for Giants to extend NLCS
ST. LOUIS -- The Giants won at least three games in a row 15 times during the regular season. They did so again last week at Cincinnati to become the first National League team to overcome a 2-0 deficit and win the best-of-five Division Series.

But the Giants aren't thinking about winning another three consecutive games. Facing a 3-1 deficit against St. Louis in the NL Championship Series, the Giants will settle for merely bringing the showdown back to San Francisco. That will require a victory in Friday's Game 5 at Busch Stadium behind left-hander Barry Zito.

"It is tough," right-hander Tim Lincecum said of the task confronting the Giants. "But I feel like if there's any team that can do it, we're able to. We were three games away at Cincinnati. Why not do it here? Get the one win tomorrow and look forward to the home games."

NLCS

Here are three things the Giants must do to extend their season into the weekend:

1. Don't stop believin': The Giants shouldn't be intimidated by Lance Lynn, St. Louis' starter Friday. Lynn no-hit them for three innings in Game 1 before they strung together four consecutive two-out hits to score four runs and drive him from the game in the fourth inning.

Nor should the Giants be overwhelmed by their predicament. Their aforementioned Division Series triumph remains a source of confidence. If they can bring the NLCS back to San Francisco, they'll be able to oppose St. Louis in Games 6 and 7 with the starters who are currently their two best: Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain, respectively.

"These guys, they're fighters," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "This club has so much character. We've had our ups and downs. But I've said so many times how tough they are and how resilient they are."

2. Get ahead and stay ahead: The Giants don't have to score first, but they had better score early. St. Louis' bullpen has established its dominance over San Francisco's hitters.

"They're hittable. Anybody's hittable," shortstop Brandon Crawford said bravely.

That's true enough, but right now, the likes of Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica, Trevor Rosenthal, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte appear guaranteed to put up zeros.

Thus, the Giants must accomplish what they did in the Division Series, when they robbed Reds closer Aroldis Chapman of his potential impact by not allowing Cincinnati to maneuver itself into a save situation. If the Cardinals have to play from behind -- and as long as Zito and the Giants' relievers do their part -- St. Louis' bullpen won't have anything to do but collect innings.

3. Keep your promise, Barry: Zito averaged 3.4 walks per nine innings during the regular season. That may not sound impressive, but it was his best ratio since 2004. So what if Zito's highest velocity is still below the hitting speed? Hitters get themselves out at a stunning rate. As Zito said Thursday, he knows that he must avoid "nitpicking on the corners too much." He added, "I'm going to go out there and be aggressive and let my defense work for me."

Zito might feel tempted to "nitpick" his way through St. Louis' gauntlet of right-handed batters that includes Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and David Freese. He needs to remember that Holliday owns a .227 (7-for-31) career average against him and that Craig is batting .083 (1-for-12) in the series -- though he's 4-for-10 lifetime off Zito. Yes, Molina (.375 against Zito, .313 in the NLCS) will be a challenge, and Freese, despite his .267 average in the NLCS, has proven to be a superb October performer. But trying to sidestep the Cardinals hitters will only get Zito in trouble. He might as well just throw strikes.

"The way I look at it is Zito's been tremendous for us," right fielder Hunter Pence said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.