So far my prediction’s for the ALDS look terrible. But it’s only been one game. I mention this because yesterday I picked the Giants to lose to the Nationals…as did everyone at Yahoo! Sports and Sports Illustrated. Literally, everyone. Wow.
This might actually be a good thing. Of the 7 playoff series the Giants have played in the last 5 years, I can’t think of one they were widely favored to win. And yet they won all of them. So, let’s let the “experts” keep picking against them, and they can just go right on winning.
I’ve read a couple of comparisons between this matchup and when the Giants faced the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS. A couple of similarities: Both the Phillies and Nationals had the air of invincibility going in. That sense that “this is the best team, by far, and this is their year.” And both teams were well-rounded: good starting pitching (remember the “big three” of Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt), good bullpen, and great lineup.
Some differences: This Nationals team has better overall starting pitching. They don’t have Halladay at his prime, but they do go 4 deep (there’s no Joe Blanton here). I also think the 2010 Phillies had a better lineup than this Nationals team, so maybe that balances out somehow.
The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that the 2010 Giants had Tim Lincecum at the height of his powers, a healthy and GREAT Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and then Madison Bumgarner was the 4th starter. Things are a bit different now. This Giants rotation could be up to the task. Certainly Bumgarner is as good right now as Timmy was back then. Jake Peavy has pitched like a healthy Matt Cain since he came over from the Red Sox. Tim Hudson could revert back to early season form (plus he has the nationals number apparently). And Ryan Vogelsong/Yusmero Petit/Tim Lincecum could combine for some magic. But, it sure seems like a bit of a stretch.
Nonetheless, here’s how the Giants could pull this off:
Game 1 is vital, in my opinion. Strasburg and the home crowd are going to be amped up at the start of this game. If the Giants can score early they could rattle Stephen and quiet the crowd. Plus I think Peavy is more comfortable front-running as well. The question of Game 1 is who will be Cody Ross. I think Brandon Belt is a huge key in this series. If he can hit a couple of home runs, life will be a million times better for the Giants. Again, early runs, get Peavy through 6, give the lead to the bullpen, lock it down, steal game 1. Giants win 4-3.
Game 2 is playing with house money at that point. I see the Nationals storming back behind Jordan Zimmerman who is their true ace in my opinion. Huddy battles but in the end his hip or whatever his issues are bite him in the butt. Giants lose 5-1.
Game 3 is vital no matter how all of this goes down. If the Giants are up 2-0, then here’s the opportunity to end it. If they are down 2-0, they can stay alive. If it is tied, like I think it will be, then they can take control here and make sure this thing never goes back to the east coast. Madison Bumgarner starts and in this current iteration, the Giants MUST win all of his starts. Doug Fister will go for the Nats and he is also really good, but can be had. This will be a close, tense game. Belt or Crawford, or maybe Morse in a surprise moment, will have a big hit that makes all the difference. Giants win 2-1.
Being up 2-1 allows Game 4 to become Bochy time. The Giants will start Vogelsong, and let him get all fired up and flare his nostrils, but they will play this like an elimination game, reminiscent of Game 6 in the 2010 NLCS against the Phillies. Petit and the rest of the bullpen will be called on in an instant. My guess is that Vogelsong’s adrenaline will get him through the lineup one time unscathed but he’ll run into trouble in the 4th. Then it will be mix and match from there. This could be the hardest game for the Giants to score runs, as Gio Gonzales is the only lefty starter for the Nats. This means the Giants lefty-heavy lineup will be at a disadvantage. The Giants will need to find a way to win 3-2. I’m thinking a walk-off moment could be in the works.
If the Giants can’t get the win in Game 4 and the series goes back to Washington, they are in trouble. They will have used all their bullets at that point, and starting Peavy again (with Bumgarner waiting in the wings, probably) on the road does not bring me much confidence. They need to split the first 2 and then win both in San Francisco to get to the next round.
I will be out-of-town this weekend, so I hope to have some thoughts on where we are at up by Sunday night.