Ryan Vogelsong faces virtual must-win in NLDS game four


The San Francisco Giants stumbled at home in Game 3 of the NLDS, failing to bust out the brooms against the Washington Nationals in front of a what would become a subdued crowd at AT&T Park. Staff ace Madison Bumgarner practically threw the game away, chucking an ill-fated throw down the third-base line to enable the Nationals’ go-ahead three-run rally in the seventh inning. Bumgarner was solid, but his effort wasn’t good enough to propel the Giants to the NLCS on Monday night, forcing the orange and black into a dire situation despite having a two games-to-one series advantage.

Make no mistake: the Giants have zero intentions of packing their bags for the nation’s capital. Even though they remain confident in their ability to win on the road, it’s vital for them to take advantage of home field advantage in Game 4. Ryan Vogelsong will dictate whether the Giants are able to celebrate a series-clinching win in front of their fans, or if this squad is destined for yet another winner-take-all game on Thursday night.

Aug 29, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) throws to the Milwaukee Brewers in the first inning of their MLB baseball game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Vogelsong isn’t renowned as being a prototypical big-game pitcher, but his postseason numbers are stout. The 37-year-old veteran owns a 3-0 record with a 1.09 ERA over 24.2 innings in four October starts. Each of his four postseason turns happened during the Giants’ 2012 title run. He’s nowhere near as efficient now as he was then, though.

Vogelsong has been a hard-knock loser for the Giants for most of the 2014 season. San Francisco lost three of Vogelsong’s six starts in August, despite the right-hander never allowing more than three runs. The wheels then came off in September. Vogelsong pitched past the sixth inning just once after August 29, allowing four runs or more in four of his five starts.

That can’t happen if the Giants expect to enjoy their third champagne shower in less than two weeks.

The Giants’ commanding series lead is gone. Their impressive 10-game winning streak during postseason action is over. It is now, more than before, about taking care of business and advancing to the NLCS. Game 4 is a virtual must-win, even if it doesn’t appear that way on paper.

The Nationals haven’t lost three straight home games all season, which is exactly what they’d be facing if this series were to be stretched to a decisive Game 5. The Giants certainly need a quality start from Vogelsong in order to send the Nats home for the winter, but they also need to take advantage of early scoring chances.

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez has been tough against the Giants in seven career starts, posting a 2-2 record with a 2.59 ERA over 41.2 innings. Four of those starts happened at AT&T Park, in which he allowed just eight earned runs in 26.0 innings. He’s also obliterated the heart of the Giants’ order. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are a combined five-for-28 against Gonzalez.

Sep 25, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) celebrates with team mates after clinching the National League wild card at AT&T Park. The San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 9-8. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants need sizable contributions from the middle of the order if they’re going to finish off the Nats on Tuesday night. That won’t be easy, though, given the success that Gonzalez has sustained against San Francisco. Washington is just 5-8 on the season in road games started by Gonzalez, but his batting average against has been slightly more efficient (.227) on the road in comparison to at home (.233).

The big hit has dogged Gonzalez on the road all season. He’s allowed nine home runs away from Nationals Park, compared to yielding just one four-bagger at home. The Giants chances of winning increase dramatically when they smash home runs. An early round-tripper could be exactly what Vogelsong needs to get into a groove and help carry the Giants to the next round.