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Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: October 19, 11:02 AM ET
Giants lineup shuffle coming?

By Michael Knisley
ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- The lesson today is co-authored by Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence, with a special contribution from Angel Pagan.

Its title: "Stranded."

The subtitle: "Mastering the Art of How Not to Score."

We present it now as a teaching tool to help explain San Francisco's 3-1 loss to the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS, a game in which the Giants collected nine hits and drew five walks and yet pushed across just that one trifling run while leaving 11 of those baserunners … well, we've already given you the title of the lesson, haven't we?

Mitchell Boggs
Brandon Belt (strikeout) made the Cards' Mitchell Boggs a very happy reliever in the seventh inning.

We're going to let the authors themselves take over here for a while, 'cause they're the ones who mastered the art on Wednesday night. We'll start with Belt, the Giants first baseman who had a chance to make a big difference in the top of the seventh inning as he stepped into the batter's box to face the Cardinals' Mitchell Boggs with Pablo Sandoval on second and Buster Posey on first and San Francisco down a run, 2-1.

Here, then, is Mr. Belt on how to strike out on four pitches with men on base:

"We need a base hit to get back in the game. It's a huge at-bat for me. I go up there looking to get my pitch. You know, you don't want to be too selective, but you want to make sure you get a pitch that you can put in play and get a hit. I didn't see it -- the first pitch. That's why I let that one go. The second pitch, he came back in on the inside corner, and that's tough. I mean, he can command both sides of the plate. Maybe you can get a little off the plate on the outside, but then that pitch on the inside corner is a little tougher to hit.

"And then with two strikes, I try to do what I've always done: Just battle my butt off. He threw me a slider down in the dirt and I let it go. The next pitch, he threw me another slider. I saw it pretty good out of his hand. I wasn't really fooled by it. I thought it was low and maybe even away, too, so I let it go. You know, sometimes you have differences of opinion with umpires, and that's fine. They have their own strike zone, and you've got to learn it sometimes. Sometimes, you learn it the hard way. Nobody's perfect. And I'm not, either. I told him I thought it was low and outside. He told me he thought it got the knees.

"In my opinion, I did what I could right there. I tried to battle with two strikes. It just didn't work out for me."

The umpire with whom Belt discussed the location of the pitch, for the record, was Bill Miller.

Now a more abbreviated rendition from Pence, who worked in tandem with Belt in that seventh inning to strand Sandoval and Posey, the 10th and 11th San Francisco baserunners left to their own devices for lack of support in Game 3. He preceded Belt to the plate to face Boggs, and thus set the template.

Here, then, is Mr. Pence on how to strike out on five pitches with men on base:

"He threw me a lot of sliders. Some tough ones. He throws pretty hard. I was trying to be ready early, and chased some balls out of the zone."

And finally, the floor belongs to Pagan, whose workaday fly ball to center with two outs in the fourth inning kept runners on second and third and whose unremarkable ground ball to shortstop ended the sixth inning with Brandon Crawford languishing on second and Matt Cain on first.

That latter at-bat came against Cardinals rookie Trevor Rosenthal, who threw six pitches to Pagan at the following speeds: 97 mph, 97, 82, 99, 100 and 98. That, of course, has something to do with how Pagan's part of the lesson.

So, from Mr. Pagan, on how to leave runners in scoring position against Rosenthal:

"He throws hard. He's got a great fastball, and a pretty good curveball. He threw me one [the 82 mph offering] that was down in the zone that maybe some other time I might swing at. He's got good stuff. I think he's, what, 22 years old? He's got a lot of potential to be good on that team."

Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence, batting .161 (5-31) this postseason, was 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position in Game 3, grounding into a 6-4-3 DP and striking out.

Together, the Giants, "led" by Pence, Belt and Pagan, managed not a single hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position in this 3-hour, 28-minute rain-delayed game, a failure rate that is sounding alarms in the manager's office. San Francisco put a lineup on the field on Wednesday that didn't include a hitter with a 2012 postseason batting average higher than .286 (Gregor Blanco), and those stats won't look much better on Thursday for Game 4.

The middle of the Giants' order, from where the runs are supposed to come, has been particularly adept at not producing. In three NLCS games, Sandoval, Posey, Pence and Belt -- the 3-through-6-hole hitters -- are a combined 9-for-45 (.200) with no home runs and two RBIs.

They've been so good at being so bad that manager Bruce Bochy is toying with tinkering with the order. That probably starts with Pence, the five-hole hitter who will take a "robust" .091 NLCS batting average and .167 on-base percentage into Thursday's game. In addition to his strikeout against Boggs in the seventh inning in Game 3, he hit into a double play with two on in the third.

"He's got to put this behind him, like us, and be set tomorrow," Bochy said. "This is a frustrating game for the fellows. They did a really good job. We just couldn't get the line moving and get a run in."

The Cardinals see what Pence is -- or, more to the point, isn't -- doing. Twice on Wednesday, they walked Posey ahead of him. In the third, he hit into the double play. His grounder to short ended the fifth with Posey on first.

Then, of course, came his final fateful at-bat against Boggs in the seventh, the one that puts his name on the title page of today's lesson.

"I'm the goat today," he said. "I didn't get the job done in big opportunities. I'm going to go home and learn from what happened, and come back and be hungry. We've got a big game tomorrow."