The 2016 Season Is Over (Grab Bag of Thoughts)

On the Cubs

  • Congrats, first of all! What a game last night, one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen.
  • Many Cubs fans are looking forward to the start of a dynasty, and there’s good reason to think that: this team is loaded with young talent, and the lineup in particular is full of guys who haven’t nearly peaked yet. They are going to be a beast in the NL for several more years.
  • I want to temper the idea of a dynasty just a bit with a couple of thoughts. First, the Cubs were extraordinarily healthy this year. The one significant injury they suffered (Kyle Shwarber) ended up being a blessing in disguise. Outside of that injury they were the most healthy team in the postseason, and once Schwarber returned in the World Series there was no better Cubs roster available. The Indians, on the other hand, made their postseason run without Carlos Carrasco (imagine the Giants without Cueto), Michael Brantley (the Giants without Hunter Pence), and with a limited Danny Salazar (Matt Moore only available out of the bullpen…hey, maybe that would have worked). All that to say, it may not be difficult for the Cubs to repeat as champions, but highly unlikely they stay as healthy next year.
  • Second, the sky is the limit for the Cubs lineup. But, keep an eye on the pitching, especially the rotation. I was not a believer in Kyle Hendricks coming into the postseason, and while he won me over, he still seems primed for a regression in 2017. Jon Lester and John Lackey will be a year older. Jason Hammel had a nice season, but is another regression candidate (and a free agent). And then there’s the curious case of Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had as good a season in 2015 as any pitcher, maybe ever, but some of the luster is wearing off. Are teams figuring him out? Did he get tired? Hurt? He’s still very good, but maybe not the Ace we all thought, especially long term. All of this to say, the Cubs may soon find themselves in a position to have to slug it out more often than not, as soon as next year.
  • Third, what about the bullpen? If you are a Cubs fan, do you want Chapman back for many, many millions of dollars? Do you want Carl Edwards Jr to take over as closer? And what about Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon? Those guys were Maddon’s 8th and 9th inning guys for a while but he barely used them.
  • All of which to say: the Cubs are going to be very, very good but they have questions just like anyone else.

On the New Golden Age of Baseball

  • MLB has enjoyed a decade of great parity. Different teams have it made it to and won the World Series. There hasn’t been a dominant franchise (sorry Cardinals), and many champions have failed to even make the postseason the year after their big wins (Giants’ fans know all about this). No one has repeated since the Yankees won three in a row in 2000. As exciting as the last 10+ years has been for hardcore baseball fans (and as beneficial as it was for the Giants), I think we are entering a new era of baseball excellence. And that is extremely good for baseball. I hated the old Yankees dynasty (and the Braves for that matter, from 1993 on), and I hated the argument that an evil empire was good for the game, but there is a lot of truth to that point. And I think we are going to see that again: the Cubs are going to make everyone better. It’s going to be harder and harder to win with flawed teams. The 2016 Giants are a great example of this. Maybe another year they get through with that bullpen, but not against a deep, talented team like the Cubs. But again, this is good for baseball.
  • In addition to the Cubs burgeoning dynasty, you have the NL West rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers. It felt like this genuinely got nasty this year, and it will get worse I think, moving froward. Good for baseball.
  • The Cardinals are still pretty dang good themselves, don’t forget about them!
  • The NL East is a growing beast. Washington is already good and should continue to be for a while. The Mets are smartly run, have the starting rotation equivalent to the Cubs lineup, and will have more and more financial resources at their disposal. The Phillies and Braves are sleeping powers, probably still a few years away, but the next five years of ball in the NL east is going to be bloody. Good for baseball.
  • Meanwhile, in the AL, the Astros are the Cubs: young, deep, and extremely talented. And several teams: the Red Sox, Yankees, Royals, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Mariners are a few moves, and better health, away from being pennant winners. The best player in baseball is still on the Angels, too.
  • All of this, good for baseball.

Back to the NLDS

  • Now that the Cubs are officially champions, let’s revisit the NLDS one more time. One storyline that didn’t come up much was Jon Lester’s fateful decision to sign with the Cubs over the Giants. The Giants were all in on Lester, and came in second (after winning the 2014 World Series). He wanted to be closer to family, and relished the idea of winning with the Cubs (call this the anti-Durant decision). How would things have been different? We’ll never know, but I would still take the rotation the Giants have now over Lester and spare parts.
  • IF the Giants get out of Game 4 alive, the popular sentiment seems to be that they would have taken Game 5 as well. Again, we’ll never know, but this Cubs team could have folded many times during the postseason and  never did.
  • I would have loved to have seen it though.

On Bullpens

  • 2016 is being called the year of the bullpen, both for the ways the winning managers used their pens, but also for meltdowns and poor decisions (the Orioles not using Zach Britton, the Giants disaster, the Joe Blanton dumpster fire, Francona as genius and then not-genius, and Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman).
  • This new role of “fireman” or using a top reliever in high leverage situations is not actually new, but the proliferation of these guys and managers eager willingness to use them in such ways is newish. It does make me think back to game 6 of 2002 (will we ever really get over this?). Dusty Baker took Russ Ortiz out in the 7th inning, needing only 8 outs from his bullpen to win the World Series. To this day any Giants fan will say: “Dusty should have left Russ in.” Russ was good, but he was not prime Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner good. Plus the Giants pen that year was very good…a strenght of that team. (In other words, at the time it made a lot of sense). It’s interesting to contrast that sentiment with what we watched this postseason. In games 5, 6, and 7 of this World Series, no starter went more than Lester’s 6 in game 5. I thought Maddon would live to regret taking Hendricks out in the 5th (up by 4 in Game 7), but in the end it worked out. It’s interesting how much things have changed in the last 15 years.

 

An Alternative History of the 2016 Post Season

A couple of articles are floating around that re-examane a trade deadline that saw two of the most important players in the World Series (Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) move from the Yankees to this year’s finalists.

In these articles (like this one from Jon Heyman…you have to scroll pretty far down, fyi) it’s mentioned how the Giants never got far on the Andrew Miller front because of a refusal to include Joe Panik in any deal.

Knowing what you know now, should the Giants have entertained the idea?

Here’s how it may have happened:

  1. Joe Panik, along with some combination of Tyler Beede, Christian Arroyo, Phil Bickford, and Adalberto Mejia get sent to the Yankees. Let’s say, for the sake of argument: Panik, Beede, and Mejia.
  2. In all likelihood, the Giants do not also make the trade for Matt Moore, and probably not for Eduardo Nunez either. They may have acquired some sort of utility infielder (ala Gordon Beckham).
  3. The Giants would likely have used Duffy at second and Gillaspie/Beckham at 3rd. They may have called up Arroyo as well.
  4. While the Giants still would have had Matt Duffy, let’s not forget that while he came back and had a nice couple weeks for Tampa Bay he needed surgery (and missed the end of the season to get that surgery). Would he have missed the end of the season for the Giants? Would he have played through the injury? Would he have been diminished? Would he have hurt himself worse?
  5. This also means the Giants would have relied heavily on Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samadzija. But then who else would have started? Cain? Peavy? Ty Blach? That’s a far more uncertain approach (and don’t forget Moore is also around for the next 3 YEARS).

It’s not difficult to imagine the Giants actually winning more games in this scenario and potentially even holding on to the division lead (and subsequently avoiding the Wild Card and the first round date with the Cubs).

But here’s one more reality to swallow. Miller is getting a lot of press for his “fireman” role: coming in whenever needed (including the 5th inning last night). He’s been outstanding in this role, no doubt. Would he have been in this role with the Giants?

My sense is no. Part of what makes Miller, Miller, is that Terry Francona has Bryan Shaw, and more importantly, Cody Allen to fill in behind him. Miller may come in and put out the fire early, but then the Giants would still have had to trust Romo/Lopez/Law/Strickland/Casilla for more outs.

Think about last night’s game (World Series Game 3, a 1-0 Indians win) from the Giants perspective). Samardizija gets the team through 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings in a pivotal game 3 against, say, the Red Sox. Jeff gets into trouble in the 5th and with Big Papi looming, Bochy goes to Miller. Miller gets out of the 5th inning jam, and gets through the 6th as well, but then has to come out for pinch hitter Conor Gillaspie who gets a big pinch hit to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

What then?!?!?!? There’s still 9 more outs! Francona used Shaw and Allen to get those 9 more outs. Is there anyway you could imagine Romo/Lopez/Santiago/et al holding that lead? Maybe. But given what we saw for the last 2+ months of the year that seems unlikely. Which likely means, Miller would never have been used in the scenario by Bochy to begin with.

Obviously this is all hypothetical, and no one can know all the subtle permutation and butterfly effects that may have occurred, but I’ve heard/read many Giants fans lamenting not getting Andrew Miller.

Yes, it would have been nice to have him. The bullpen would have been better.

But it’s not quite that simple. A lot of things would have looked differently in this scenario, and several of those things would have been weaker/worse .

Would you take Miller (and Matt Duffy), but have no Panik, no Moore, no top pitching prospect, and probably no Perez/Smith?

Final thought: when the Giants made the trade for Will Smith he was touted as a “poor man’s Andrew Miller.” We’ll never know what really happened: maybe those first few bad appearances led to a lack of trust on Bochy’s part. Maybe Smith wasn’t up for the challenge. Maybe the transition from Milwaukee was too much. Maybe the Casilla issues and 9th inning instability meant guys like Smith were not able to settle into these kidns of roles. But, Smith never got used as more than a lefty specialist, and I can’t help but wonder how things might have looked different if the Giants really used him as an Andrew Miller type “fireman”.

Early Thoughts on the Off-Season

Here’s a simple preview of your 2017 SF Giants (other previews here):
C (2)
Posey
Brown

INF (6)
Belt
Panik
Crawford
Nunez
Gillapsie
Tomlinson

OF (5)
Williamson
Span
Pence
Hernandez
Parker

SP (5)
Bumgarner
Cueto
Moore
Samardzija
Cain

RP (7)
NEW CLOSER
Law
Strickland
Smith
Okert
Kontos
Suarez


Now, let’s analyze that a bit:

  • The Giants are getting rid of $50 million in payroll, but will see current players take $30 million in raises, so the general operating principle is that they will have approximately $20 million to spend. One way to think about next year is as simple as described above: Add a pricey, shiny new closer and call it good.
  • The top 3 closing targets are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon. Who do you want? It seems like Chapman will not be the target, as the Giants don’t like guys with major character issues. That leaves two elite options. The Dodgers will want to keep Jansen, so are you willing to get into a bidding war with LA? At what point do you walk away from that war? That leaves Melancon, who the Giants seemed to have really wanted at the trade deadline. He would be the cheapest (maybe? likely?). I like this option a lot, but I also lived in Boston when he had the worst year of career, so there’s that. But, after those 3 there’s not much else.
  • If the Giants sign Melancon at say, 4 yrs/$64 million (yeeps), what else do you do? I am most interested in seeing the Giants add veterans (ala Conor Gillaspie) to the bench. I could see them improving the backup catcher and infield position. In other words, a couple of the weak links are: Kelby Tomlinson, Ehrie Adrianza, and Trevor Brown. One example (not saying this is the right guy), would be signing Aaron Hill to take the Tomlinson roster spot. Hill doesn’t need to start, doesn’t need ABs, can passably play a few positions, and has some pop from the right side. These are not sexy moves, but they create organizational depth, which is desperately needed.

Well, that was pretty boring, now for some craziness:

  • Listening to John Smoltz this postseason has made me think: is there a potential starting pitcher out there who could transform into an elite closer? The Giants were rumored to be in the trade market for Andrew Cashner at the deadline, and he certainly has the pure stuff to be interesting? Two other names: James Shields, should he opt out, and Clay Bucholz. In no way, should this be a plan A, but if the Giants can’t get a deal done with one of the “Big 3” then they will have to get creative. All three of those guys would seemingly want to remain a starter, and Shields may not even opt out given he sucked so badly this year, and this is a thin starter market, so they may stand to make good cash as starters, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • It sure sounded in the postseason press conference like the front office is very intrigued by a Mac Williamson/Jarrett Parker platoon, or one of those guys winning the job outright. I am too, especially if it allows the Giants to spend the money to get one of those good closers. But I would also be open to the team bringing in a veteran to at least push them in spring training. Are you ok with this being plan A? If not, a plan B option: Matt Holiday!
  • I would love to see the Giants bring in Jared Saltalamaccia as Posey’s backup.

2017 Starting Lineup:

  1. Nunez 3B
  2. Panik 2B
  3. Posey C
  4. Belt 1B
  5. Pence RF
  6. Crawford SS
  7. Williamson LF
  8. Span CF (or do the flip here with the pitcher)

What I like about this lineup is the balance: Left, right, left, all the way through, and more power potential as well.


Finally, some thoughts on Matt Cain:

  • No matter what, the Giants are paying the man $20 million next year. As with 2016, you have to think they are going to give him every opportunity to take that 5th starter role. I know people are really excited about Ty Blach, and I am too, but I think the Giants will give each 8-10 starts (in the majors for Cain, in AAA for Blach) before deciding what to do. I think the Giants need to set, before the season starts, what the expectations are, what success means for Cain, and then stick to that: don’t jerk these guys around.
  • During Joe Blanton’s meltdown in Game 1 of the NLCS, I tweeted this:
  •  I got a little bit of heat in return. Here’s what I mean: I don’t have any problem with Matt Cain turning into a serviceable big league reliever. Nothing would make me happier than Matt Cain having a long, successful, final chapter to his career as a starter or reliever. Either way: don’t care. But, I don’t think it’s quite as simple for Cain as: become a reliever/become dominant again. Joe Blanton transformed his career by turning his slider into a devastating pitch. He doesn’t throw hard, he doesn’t have another nasty pitch. It’s all about the slider. Matt Cain’s success has been primarily related to his ability to command his fastball at the top of the strike zone. The weak contact he induced from that pitch was his secret sauce, a deep source of angst for many in the SABR community. Other than that fastball he’s never had a pitch that translates to obvious bullpen success. This is not saying he couldn’t figure it out. But Joe Blanton strikes me as a one trick pony. That trick is pretty good, but when it doesn’t work, there’s no where else to go, and it can get ugly as it did in the 8th inning on Saturday night. Maybe if Cain goes to the bullpen and he can get his velocity in the 93-95 mph range, and that fastball life comes back, then I will look pretty silly. However, Cain doesn’t profile to me as the kind of guy who automatically transitions well to the bullpen.

Giants Post-Mortem, Part 2 #NLDS #sfgiants

Here are some great dissections of last night’s fiasco: Pavs gives a rundown of the action, highlighting how a few inches here and there may have made all the difference in the world. Baggs responds to some of the questions emerging from the rubble. McCovey Chrons explains how things should have gone (agree with the Will Smith analysis in this article).

Instead of re-treading all that, I’m going to a bigger picture approach. I also want to begin with repeating two things I’ve said earlier: if you are a Giants fan, especially someone who has watched this team for many years, you should have nothing but gratitude in your hearts. The Giants have done more amazing things in the last 6 years than many teams and fans get to enjoy in a life time. We had an awesome week too of sweeping the Dodgers, winning the Wild Card, Conor Gillaspie, More MadBum magic, and two great starts from Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore against the best offense in baseball. Be grateful for what you’ve witnessed from 2009 to now.

Second, while the swiftness of the 9th inning collapse was stunning, nothing about what happened there can be surprising. This was not a 98 win team that suddenly wilted under the pressure. This was not a great bullpen getting Cubsed. This was not the 18-0 Patriots getting upset by the NY Giants. This was the very thing that has been killing this team all year making one final, resounding statement. There was a special messiness to this collapse, and there was of course the greater context of this being the NLDS, but there’s nothing about last night that can be objectively surprising to someone who had watched this team for 6 months.

Which leads to the question I want to try to answer here: who is at fault? More specifically who’s at fault for this not getting sorted out much, much earlier than game 4 of a playoff series?


  1. Jake Lamb: Which is to say Santiago Casilla. It feels terrible to be so hard on a guy who clearly cares a ton, but in some ways that may been the issue that led to all this madness. Early in the season Casilla gave up a game tying home run to Jake Lamb (April 18), a game the Giants would go on to lose (by the way, the Giants had some WEIRD series with the D-Backs this year). When faced with a similar situation on May 12, Bochy came out and pulled Casilla, and Santi did not like it. To me, that was the moment this all started. 2016 was always going to be a transitional year for the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt retired, breaking up the “core four,” who did so many great things for this team. Yusmeiro Petit: gone. A whole bunch of new guys (Josh Osich, Derek Law, Cody Gearrin) were ready to take over. The constant was supposed to be Casilla in the 9th, and the big questions were how would the other guys sort out. But something happened on May 12, and Casilla broke: mentally if not physically. While he was still good enough to get 31 saves, he was never the same. What’s such a huge bummer is that Bochy rightly pointed out several times this season that Casilla, despite his struggles, had a role to play and still had good stuff. The numbers back that up. Casilla had good strikeout ratios all year. The thought I had watching the 9th inning unfold was that no one Boch brought in had the full arsenal that Casilla has when he is on. Romo has the better slider (when it actually slides), Stickland the better fastball (although he doesn’t always know where it’s going), and Will Smith the better curveball, but no one has the full array of pitches and stuff that Casilla has. And so, one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball history (20 straight appearances with out a run allowed) sat in the dugout while one of the greatest postseason bullpen meltdowns occurred right in front of him. The instability caused by Casilla’s ineffectiveness had a ripple effect throughout the bullpen that was never solved.
  2. Which leads us to the next culprit: The Giants brass and Bruce Bochy. Now, the Giants front office realized the issues the bullpen had, and they did try to fix it. They went after Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller (the Yankees, though, said heck no), and they were close on Mark Melancon (even Bobby Evans has questioned this non-move). You can play would have/should have/could have here for years, but we can only hold them accountable for the move they did make: trading for Will Smith. When Smith was acquired you heard things like: “has closer stuff.” And, “can get lefties AND righties out.” When Smith got to the Giants he a couple rough appearances, but as many have pointed out, his final 19 appearances were scoreless. I don’t know what was going on here: maybe the early rough starts left a bad taste in Bochy’s mouth, maybe the adjustment from the going-nowhere-Brewers to the Giants was too much, but for some reason he never even sniffed a save opportunity, even though he was the closest thing to Santiago Casilla the Giants had (minus Casilla himself). Install Smith as the closer in early September and by the time game 4 rolls around he should have settled in and easily been able to convert a 3 run save.
  3.  All the Relievers. This is really a part 2 to point 2, but one of the weirdest parts of the Giants bullpen issues is just how many guys there were in the mix at any given time. This is partly why the 9th inning last night was so beautifully morbid and poetically just: there were just too many damn options. As it has been all season, the kept parading different guys out there and they all kept failing. I was hoping the reduced playoff roster would help with this, but there were too many guys involved, and Bochy kept trying everything at his disposal (not a bad idea per se), but there was so much at his disposal that no one could ever get in rhythm. Theoretically you want to have too many bullpen options, that seems like a good problem, but in this case no one was ever able to settle into “the 7th inning guy” or however you want to organize the bullpen. The flip side of this is that no one stood up and grabbed any particular role either. Derek Law came the closest and then he got hurt. Some guys had a nice week or two, but no one locked anything down.
  4. Which leads us to: Hunter Strickland. I drafted Strickland for my fantasy team as a speculative saves play. I was not being clever either, many fantasy “experts” touted the Giants bullpen as chaotic going into the year, and predicted Strickland would take over sooner than later. I was far from alone in this. But Strickland never pitched well enough to make himself a serious option. And when he did become the option he totally blew it. He remains a great enigma. He throws so hard, but makes way too many location mistakes and he does not have a nasty secondary pitch. His slider is effective in that it changes speeds, but it’s not Brad Lidge-esque or Rob Nenn-esque, AT ALL. It is a poor compliment to such a fine weapon, and he needs to figure that pitch out or add another one if he wants to be effective late in games.
  5. One final thought, back to the brass: Baggs mentions this in his article, but I thought it was weird that Steven Okert was left off the roster for the NLDS. I don’t know who you’d switch out (Kontos I guess), and the Giants had other lefties (Lopez and Smith, plus Ty Blach), but he was pitching so well down the stretch, how do you not go with the hot hand there?
  6. One final thought on Bochy: I understand the second guessing, but I don’t understand the anger being directed towards him. Yes, it’s fine to question his strategy, but there’s not much he could have done differently. He tried to play the cards he was dealt the best way he could, and sometimes you get crappy cards. I don’t have any real issues with how he ran the 9th inning last night. I do question the weird relationship with Casilla, and the inability to get this sorted out in the months leading up to October.

One last thought for now: as many, many writers have pointed out this bullpen was always going to be an issue and if it wasn’t game 4 of the NLDS, it probably would have been game 3 of the NLCS, or game 4 of the World Series.

I know many Giants fans are sick of Javier Baez and the upstarts Cubs, but let’s get real here: would you rather go down like this to the Cubs or:

  • Watch the bullpen implode in LA in Game 6 of an NLCS, where the Dodgers walk off to take the series?
  • Watch Bryce Harper hit a game winning grand slam in game in Game 3 of the NLCS?
  • Watch Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (even more egregious bat-flippers than Baez) pimp back to back home runs to take the World Series?
  • Or (this imaginary, of course), some team like the Cardinals or Red Sox or Yankees or whoever you really don’t like do the same thing as the Cubs.

My point: be grateful it was the Cubs. It could have been much, much worse.

Giants Post-Mortem, Part 1 #NLDS #sfgiants

Welp.

That sucked.

And yet, it was sort of poetic and just in a way.

If this Giants team beat the Cubs, and somehow wriggled their way to another even year Championship, baseball, as we know it, may have ended.


A bitter loss is the 2015-2016 Warriors not scoring in the final 4 minutes of an NBA game.

A bitter loss is the Seahawks not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the 1 yard line in the Super Bowl.

When the Giants lost Game 6 of the World Series in 2002, and their bullpen melted it hurt for a million reasons, but the primary reason was the bullpen, which had been so good all year let them down at the worst possible time.

When the Giants lost to the Marlins the following season, it also hurt for a million reason, but the primary reason was the defense, which had been so good all season let them down at the worst possible moment.

Those were good teams, betrayed by their strength. And those were bitter losses.

This was not a bitter loss.

This was a good betrayed by its weakness.

Since the middle of July the questions has been: bullpen or lineup, bullpen or line up.

Final answer: bullpen.

Get ready for the Giants to spend an uncomfortable amount (I’m talking baseball-wise) on their bullpen for 2017.


There’s a lot of blame to go around here: one thing I want to highlight…the Giants did not hit a home run in this series. They were one inch away tonight, and they ended up scoring those runs, but no home runs.

The Cubs hit five.


On a positive note: Matt Moore was awesome. Absolutely awesome.

And he will be around for the next 3 years for only 9 mil a year. Just a reminder.


Lot’s of blame being heaped on Bochy for the 9th inning. Easy to do given the results, but let’s remember that this has been going on for months. Really all year, since Casilla started melting down in May.

If you want to blame Bochy, blame him for not committing to a 9th inning guy earlier.

They could not figure it out in September and they brought the unsettledness into October, and, of course, it burned them.


Bochy has been masterful at covering up the Giants’ weakness:

  • In 2010 the Giants had a third base problem. By the Phillies series, Bochy figured it out by reinserted Edgar Renteria into the starting lineup, and sliding Juan Uribe over to third.
  • In 2012 the Giants had a LF and Tim Lincecum problem, and Bochy figured it out with Gregor Blanco (and X Nady!), and put Lincecum in the bullpen.
  • In 2014 the Giants had a LF and Starting Pitcher Not Named Bumgarner problem, and he figured it out.

In each scenario, though, he did not have a bullpen problem.

One of the reasons Bochy is a bullpen whisperer is because he had great bullpens. This was not a great bullpen. The old guard looked old (Romo, Lopez…whose walk tonight was maybe the most egregious of the bullpen sins…Casilla), the young guys did not step up (Law and Strickland sort of did, and Law was derailed by injury, but no one made themselves indispensable), and I wonder if/why Bochy was never able to get over Will Smith’s early struggles.

Bottom line: this bullpen did not perform, and it will get a major overhaul this offseason.


My early prediction: Mark Melancon, 4 years, 70 million.

Jared Parker and Mac Williamson platooning in left to start the season.


Conor Gillaspie: hero.

Joe Panik is back. If nothing else, this postseason was worth it so that Joe could restore his confidence (and the team’s confidence in him).

Buster Posey: still awesome.


Time to start some odd year shenanigans!

Game 3, Game 4, Be Grateful #NLDS

After six a half hours of sleep, a few more thoughts from last nights game.

Let’s start with this. This morning I drove my daughter to school. KNBR just happened to be replaying the 8th inning during the amount of time it took to drive our route. What a great call by John Miller on Gillaspie’s triple, and how fun to share that with my girl.

Which leads me to this point: I have thought, several times, that the strategy of pooping out in the regular season (see 2011, 2013, 2015) was better than postseason agony. I don’t know what happens today. The Giants might get beat 11-0. Would you trade that for the Wild Card game and last night? 

My answer: no way…it’s worth it. This has been an incredible era of baseball, and we are witnesses to it. And I am grateful.

Heroes:

  • Denard Span: the much maligned Span showed up to play last night. He had several good at bats, his triple to led to the first Giants run, and he made a GREAT catch in the 12th to keep things under control.
  • Brandon Belt: many people were on Belt for getting doubled off in the 9th. I don’t blame him for that…you have to take off on that and score if/when the ball drops. It was an aggressive play, it backfired, but it’s that kind of aggression the Giants have been missing. Unfortunately, for too many, that one play takes away from the fact that Brandon Belt had a great night. I thought FOR SURE he would strike out in the 5th, especially when he got to two strikes but he stayed alive and got a big Sac Fly. Then, his opposite field hit in the 8th led to him tying the scoring run. Bottom line: he had several good at bats and that is a wonderful sign.
  • Buster Posey: Buster came to ball last night. He was 3 for 3 with a walk before getting robbed of a walk off double in the 9th. Also, he caught 13 innings spanning over 5 hours. I’d be tempted to play him at first and Belt in left today, but Bochy won’t do that and that’s why I’m not the manager.
  • Conor Gillaspie: The triple will be replayed for years and years, especially if the Giants somehow stay alive beyond today. He’s been incredibly clutch. Two other things need to be said though: he made a couple brilliant plays with the glove, but then nearly choked the game away with an error in the 6th. This led to “The Derek Law Inning” (more in a moment), but he didn’t carry that with him into his big 8th inning at bat. Also, he grounded out up the middle 3 times before the triple. One interpretation of that is “poor at bats.” But if you really watch him, he has such a sound approach at the plate. He is locked in to the middle of the field, and that’s when good things can happen. Yes, you’ll hit some back to the pitcher, but you’ll also get ahold of a few, and we’ve seen what that looks like twice now.
  • Brandon Crawford: my dad and I still don’t know why he didn’t take off on contact in the 8th. My best guess is he was recovering from his elbow bump (which scared the crap out of me, btw). Other than that, he played a great game, coming up with several defensive picks that we should be talking about more if not for the 100 other things, and he also had solid at bats. His hit off Chapman was huge. It would be a totally 2016 Giants thing to leave Gillaspie at third with one out and then lose 5-4.
  • Joe Panik: Continuing the theme…Panik had great at bats all game, and it really paid off for him in the 13th. I haven’t seen him look this good at the plate in a long time. He should probably get moved back up in the lineup, so it will be interesting to see what Bochy does there.
  • Derek Law: As I mentioned last night, Derek Law brought the joy. He also brought nasty stuff. But, let’s not forget how precarious that part of the game really was. The inning opened with the Conor error (not a good feeling). He quickly got Miguel Montero (who didn’t really seem like he wanted to be there last night) to fly out to left. Then he had to battle Jake Arrietta. He left a pitch up to Arrieta that Jake smoked to left field. It was a better pitch than the one he hit out earlier in the game, but this time it was just a line drive right to Blanco, because baseball. He then battled Dexter Fowler, and there were a few pitches in that at bat where it seemed like he had no idea where the ball was going. It felt like an inevitability that Fowler would hit a ball into triples ally or in the Cove. In fact I tweeted this at that moment:
  • but he got the strike out, screamed with joy, and then backed it up with a nice 7th. Looking back it was awesome, but in the moment it was crazy.
  • Hunter Strickland: had a totally boring, dominant 8th inning, and that’s some of the best news from the whole night.
  • Sergio Romo: right before the home run Romo came off the mound gimpy. No idea how that affected the rest of the Bryant at bat, but something happened and then he gave up a home run, so that doesn’t seem good. I was screaming at Bochy to take him out at that point. If Javy Lopez is not there to get Rizzo out in the 9th inning of a tie game, what is he there for? But, Romo remained and then, of course, proceeded to get the next six outs, drama free. Yes, the tying home run was a huge bummer, but that’s a significant recovery.
  • Ty Blach: The rookie just keeps balling. Thought maybe the luck was running out with the way the 13th started, but a double play is a pitcher’s best friend.

About Game 4:

  • It feels like the Cubs offense has been amazing, and I am terrified of over half the lineup, but let’s get real here: they haven’t done much. They’ve scored most of their runs on 4 Stupid Home Runs. Two of those home runs have been hit by pitchers and the other two fell into a silly basket, and bounced off the top of a silly car. Come. On. Meanwhile, the Giants bullpen held the Cubs hitless from the 6th through 12th inning (not including one of those stupid home runs). Anthony Rizzo, MVP candidate, is 0 for the series. The Giants haven’t actually pitched all that poorly, and again, take away those home runs, and the Cubs have only scored 4 times.
  • Meanwhile: the Giants have yet to hit a home run. That needs to change.
  • If you like managerial second guessing, tonight is going to be your night. Both teams used significant bullpen bullets last night. How much can Joe Maddon trust Aroldis Chapman in Game 4? It’s pretty certain Mike Montgomery won’t pitch, eliminating one of Maddon’s lefty weapons. If the Giants can get to John Lackey early, the Cubs will be in a world of hurt.
  • On the Giants side: who closes tonight? One of the good things about last night is the Giants got 4 of their key bullpen guys meaningful game action, which they hadn’t seen in over a week. My real theory of Romo is that he was rusty, and you could see the slider getting better and better the longer he was in there. But, would you run him out there in a 1 run game tonight? Also, do you mess with the lineup? If Pagan is out, I’d be tempted to move Belt to left, and put Buster at first, and leave Blanco for later in the game. I’d also be tempted to move Panik back up. But, my guess is, Bochy won’t mess with anything and we’ll see the same lineup tonight.
  • I’ve been saying this all series, but THE key for the Giants is Matt Moore pitching deep into this game.
  • The other key: get to Lackey early. Put the pressure on the Cubs early, and this series will tilt quickly.

Like I said, the Giants might get shelled tonight, but we should all still be grateful this team is a part of our lives.

#BeatLackey

3 Thoughts on Game 3

Note: I’m tired. More later…

  1. We will never know the answer: lineup or bullpen. It is an endless debate, one that will torment Giants’ fans for eternity. The silver lining of losing 1-0 and 5-2 is that there was no 9th inning walk off win for the Cubs. But, an important story line tonight was that the Giants put together a bunch of great at bats. Some ended with great plays made by the Cubs. Some ended brilliantly. That’s baseball. Also, the bullpen, outside of a leadoff walk and a home run was great. Even Romo, who started off horribly, deserves credit for getting together and retiring the next 6 batters.
  2. Two things I felt strongly about this series (among others): the Giants could/would get to Aroldis Chapman. They did in a big way. The legend of Conor Gillaspie grows. I also felt that at some point Joe Maddon would get too cute. In some ways, you can’t blame him for bringing in Chapman for the last six outs of a potential series clinching game. But that move with the double switch, smacked a bit of cuteness. He’s got plenty of other good bullpen arms. Losing Hayward probably cost the Cubs on Gillaspie’s triple, but then Amlora made an unreal catch on Posey’s ball in the 9th.
  3. I said the Giants need to play with joy. Derek Law brought the joy.

Conor. Joe. Legends.

10 straight elimination games won.

#BeatJohnLacky