To avoid a series sweep, much less a series loss, the Giants must perform obvious tasks: score more and pitch better. Yet it's how the Giants meet these objectives that matter most, because nothing they've done so far has worked, turning a series that pundits previewed as evenly matched into a lopsided affair.
Here are five steps the Giants can take toward reviving their series hopes:
The Giants excelled at grabbing the initial advantage during the regular season, posting a 67-21 record when they opened the scoring. They grew particularly adept at this once Marco Scutaro entrenched himself as the No. 2 hitter. He either drove in Pagan or advanced him into scoring position with a hit or groundout for Pablo Sandoval or Posey.
This hardly means that Pagan and Scutaro, 1-for-9 and 0-for-8 against Cincinnati, respectively, are the series' goats. Nobody's hitting for the Giants, who are 9-for-63 (.143). But they don't have to look far to find the most direct path to improvement. Sandoval has batted twice with a runner on base; neither was in scoring position. Posey has three plate appearances with at least one man aboard. Batting in each game in the ninth inning with runners in scoring position, he walked in Game 2 and struck out in Game 1 with Giants runners on second and third. The latter occurred against Aroldis Chapman and his 100-mph fastball, which was hardly fair.
And how do the Giants improve? Continue to "grind out" those at-bats, as they like to say. They don't need to change much. They've made plenty of authoritative contact, particularly in Game 1. Usually it took the form of a snappy two-hopper to second baseman Brandon Phillips or a line drive to first baseman Joey Votto. "That's the way baseball is," Scutaro said. "I have eight ABs and at least three or four hard-hit balls that are all outs. When things aren't going your way, that's the way it is."
Over the course of a season, those things even out and the base hits fall safely or scoot past the infield. But the Giants don't have time for the law of averages to start favoring them. They have to maintain a sound hitting approach and hope that good things happen when the ball leaves the bat. That may sound overly simple. But, as Scutaro said, that's baseball.
Make your own breaks:
This follows the same principle as Point 2. Don't try to strike out the side or hit five-run homers. Continue to play the game right, as manager Bruce Bochy emphasizes, and rewards will follow. Anticipate properly on defense, and a Reds line drive will turn into a double play. Put the ball in play and hustle to first base; the ball might take a bad hop, or a fielder will rush himself into a miscue.
Sandoval provided an example to follow in Sunday's ninth inning. With Cincinnati having finished scoring and the game already lost for the Giants, the third baseman rushed into foul territory to pursue Jay Bruce's foul popup. That's how winners play.
"We need to play aggressively," Scutaro said. "Just try to change the momentum and keep fighting. You never know what's going to happen. ... In a short series, it can change really quick."
Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants' starter for Tuesday's Game 3 at Great American Ball Park, is a fitting choice to pitch an elimination game. He seemingly has been down to his last chance in his career on multiple occasions. His status as a NL All-Star last year and as a 14-game winner this season demonstrates his refusal to yield. His pitching style also reflects that trait. He frequently runs deep counts out of his abhorrence for throwing pitches that a hitter might find remotely enticing.
The Giants need to channel Vogelsong's stubborn, almost desperate intensity. His presence on the mound doesn't guarantee victory, but it assures that if the Giants go down, they'll do so scratching and clawing.
"If you talk about being down, 2-0, in the series, you can't really say it's just another game," he said on Monday.
Win the intangibles:
Credit the Reds for not giving the Giants a remote chance to seize upon a weakness. In 2010, the Giants benefited from an abundance of luck: Brooks Conrad's escapades in the NLDS; Carlos Ruiz's line-drive double play that ended a Phillies rally in the eighth inning of Game 6 in the NLCS; and Ian Kinsler's drive that struck the top of the center-field wall and bounced back into play in Game 2 of the World Series. By comparison, the action in this series has been fairly straightforward. What the Giants need are a few twists and turns.