I started composing a hopeful post looking ahead to Game 3, and then I read this and this and they both make points I was mulling over. Credit where credit is due, head on over there for more on these 4 thoughts:
1. Homefield Advantage. The Giants are 4-0 at AT&T in the World Series during this window of success and 6-1 if you go back to 2002. I don’t think we think about AT&T being a huge home field advantage because the Giants have won so many big postseason games on the road, but it has been a boon in the World Series since it opened. The Giants are also 4-1 there this postseason and so all of that bodes well.
One way to view the Giants success at home is to look at the starting pitchers in those games: the Giants have started vintage 2010 Lincecum and Cain, and then 2012 lefty heroes Barry Zito and Bumgarner. So, essentially that’s the big 3 making 75% of the starts at home. Of course they are 4-0.
But consider their opponents. In 2010, the Giants were up against Cliff Lee and whatever reputation Bumgarner has right now it pales in comparison to Lee at that moment in history. He was considered to be unbeatable, and even with Lincecum starting when he was really, really good the Giants were not favored to win that game.
Cain pitched against CJ Wilson which was an advantage for the Giants, but still a lot of pundits felt the Rangers would roar back in Game 2. They did not.
In 2012, Zito faced off against Justin Verlander, the greatest mismatch of all time. And the Giants won that game. In Game 2 Bumgarner who was broken and busted went 7 shutout innings. He beat Doug Fister, one of the only starters to dominate the Giants this postseason.
All that to say: these were extremely difficult matchups, in which the Giants were only favored to win 1 (Cain), and they won them all. Thank you, home cooking.
The pitching matchups, at least in Games 3 and 4, are not nearly as intimidating for either side, which in some ways makes it even more important that they take place in San Francisco.
Finally, with the games being held in the NL park, the Royals will have to make decisions about pitchers and pinch hitters in ways they have not had to so far this postseason. So, not only do they lose the bat of Billy Butler, but they also have to decide whether to let, say, Herrrera hit for himself or not in certain situations.
Ned Yost, despite his flaws, has done a great job all postseason, and deserves credit for what the team has done. But he’s been doing algebra and now has to do calculus. He may be up to the task, but he’ll have to earn it and prove it over the weekend.
2. Clarity. One way to look at last night is to say, “wow, the Giants essentially lost 3 of their 8 bullpen options, all in the matter a few innings.” That’s certainly the glass-half-empty view.
If you prefer the glass to be half-full, you can look at this way: Bochy knows now who he can trust, and there is clear path and pattern to use from here on out. He more or less did this against the Cardinals after the NLCS Game 2. With Strickland and Machi reduced to emergency only roles, and with Lincecum being iffy due to his back, Bochy now has a big five: Petit as a two inning bridge, Lopez and Romo to get out of big matchup moments (Romo for righties like Cain and Perez, Lopez for lefties like Hosmer), Affeldt for the 8th, and Casilla for the 9th. What’s beautiful about that clarity is Bochy has some guys there who can do different things: Petit can get anywhere from 3-9 outs and still be available the next day. Affeldt and Casilla can both be used for 4-5 outs, and Romo can do an inning by himself if the matchups look right.
In some ways Game 2 might turn out to be a gift, just like it was in the NLCS, where now Bochy has a better idea of who to go to and how to use them. Again, Grant’s article hits the nail on the head: this is his greatest challenge yet.
3. Old Guys Rule. The Giants have, for years, been mocked for their reliance on old guys. No where are they doing that more than on their pitching staff. It’s not just the starters, 3 of the big 4 bullpen guys are in their mid-30’s as well.
Glass-half-full: my gut tells me that Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong are going to rise to the occasion and pitch well. Probably not dominant but well. These guys are at the end of the road, but have demonstrated they can still bring it (especially against the Nationals). They are well-rested, and sensing that this might be their last opportunity on this stage, I think they will come through.
Glass-half-empty. As Tom Verducci pointed out, this series really does remind me of the Angels and Giants in 2002. Different eras of course, but the fact that they are both wild card teams, and the lack of dominant starting pitching and reliance on the bullpens is eerily similar.
This is where I get deeply concerned for the Giants. If this series goes long it is not the starting pitching old guys, but the bullpen old guys I get worried about. 2002 ended Rob Nenn’s career. The story of that series, in so many ways, is that the Giants bullpen which had been so great all season, just ran out of gas. Dusty Baker went to the well one too many times and paid the price.
As much as I hate to say it, a long series does not favor the Giants and their potentially tired pen, especially if it has to be a 5 man pen. This is partly why I predicted the Giants in 5, if they are going win this thing they need to do it in San Francisco.
(Of course, the big difference between the 2002 Giants and the 2014 Giants is Madison Bumgarner.Can they get it back to him with a chance to win it all? That’s the question of Friday and Saturday.)
4. Posey. The longer this postseason goes the more noticeable Buster Posey’s lack of home runs becomes. If the Giants are to win, they need him to contribute a big dinger at some point in the next 3 games. Get it Buster.