Are the Giants Lucky or Good? #SFGiants #2014postseason

Read national media accounts of the Giants win over the Nationals and you will discover a seething frustration with how this (apparently terrible) team continues to win postseason series. I’ve seen everything from luck to dark magic posited as explanations. I would like to address the question of lucky or good.

The facts: The Giants have won 8 straight postseason series (including the 1-game wild card playoff this year). During that time they have won 26 games and lost 10. That is a .722 winning percentage., which is obviously higher than one could expect over the course of a regular season. There is no doubt that in order to win that often you must catch your share of breaks. And the Giants have. Kinsler’s ball that hit the top of the wall and came back. Cody Ross getting hot at the right time. Barry Zito. That Pagan ball that hit the third base bag in the 2012 World Series. Certainly there are numerous other examples.

There are also a number of breaks that went against the Giants that could have spelled doom. When they lost game 2 to the Braves back in 2010, it was a classic Giants postseason meltdown. Blowing a lead, leaving runners on, a rally that died on the vine. They nearly blew a 6-0 lead in game 5 against the Reds in 2012. Bumgarner threw a ball down the left field line on Monday afternoon. Posey got thrown out at the plate (twice) by mere inches in this latest series.

The point here is to say that weirdness happens in the postseason and it affects both teams in any given series. The Giants aren’t any more lucky or unlucky than anyone else.

Some will then point out the unbelievable nature of individual performances. Again, Cody Ross in 2010. Zito and Scutaro in 2012. Pablo’s three home runs in the 2012 World Series. Petit in 2014. Let me address a few of these.

The fact that Cody Ross got hot in 2010 is fortunate, there is no doubt about that. But, Cody Ross is/was a really good player, one talented enough to pull off such a feat. This is one of the main themes of the Giants success. The timing of the performance is what is remarkable, not the performance itself. He’s hit over 20 home runs in three seasons, and often hits them in remarkable bunches. Eli Whiteside hitting several postseason home runs would have been lucky. Cody Ross, though, is a good player going off at the right time.

Same conversation for Marco Scutaro, only this time the player is even more skilled. Scutaro was designed by God to be a good postseason hitter. Everything about his approach: the swing, the patience, the ability to make contact, and his relaxed demeanor are ideally suited for playoff baseball. It just happened to be that he was on the Giants in 2012.

Barry Zito providing two quality starts in 2012 was improbable, but not lucky. This is a guy who won a college world series, who won a CY Young award, and who tended to pitch better later in the season than earlier during his Giants tenure. Did anyone see it coming? No. But lucky is Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes pitching well in the 2006 World Series (shots fired Cardinals). Zito rediscovering his old form one last time is unlikely, but not lucky.

Finally, the two that really get me are Pablo and Petit. Were the Giants fortunate to have Pablo hit 3 home run in Game One of a World Series? Absolutely. But, Pablo is a very skilled hitter, with incredible power, who quite honestly should have more games like that. When a hitter like Pablo has a game like that, that’s a reflection of his great skill. Yes, the timing was fortuitous, but luck would have been Brandon Crawford or Scutaro hitting 3 home runs, not Pablo.

And then, Petit. All this guy has done is nearly pitch a perfect game (last September), and then set the record for most consecutively retired batters. And that record isn’t two amazing starts in a week where he was really feeling it. That record came by pitching over several weeks, in a variety of settings, on different mounds, and against all sorts of batters. It is really one of the most remarkable records in baseball if you think of it. Are the Giants lucky to have such a great weapon on their staff. Maybe. But, I think it is more about shrewd roster construction, and a battle tested pitcher coming through in a big moment to help the team win the longest game in postseason history.

To sum it all up, the Giants are a team that is more than its parts. It doesn’t have the names and the numbers of other squads. But, that does not mean it is a team devoid of talent. There are some highly skilled players on this roster. Those skilled players are deployed by a smart manager (one of the best?) in such way that allows them to be successful.

They are constructed to succeed in these settings. They are load with great arms who can strike out batters and keep the ball in the park. They play mistake free (for the most part) defense, and they have some of the best range in the game (meaning over the course of the season they will make errors, but at any moment can get to a lot of balls). They are strong up the middle (Posey, Crawford, Panik, and Blanco). They make a lot of contact, and when you make contact weird/good things can happen. And they have a manager who is active and willing to mix it up and do what it takes to win a particular game.

In other words, they are not designed to win 99 games (like the Angels), but they are designed to be able to win any given game. And that is really important to understand. Take the 2001 Yankees for example. That World Series was full of dramatic moments, and of course everyone remembers the game 7 walk off moments. But, the game before that, which the Yankees could have won to secure the title, the Diamondbacks blew out the Yankees 15-4. The Giants have never had a game like that in these 3 postseason runs. I can only think of one game where they were truly out of it in the last third (the Lincecum, Game 4, start against the Cardinals). In a short series, the ability to stay close in every game dramatically helps your chance of survival.

Finally, three more things. First, timing (or context) is everything: the Giants have constructed the right roster for this era of baseball. It is a much more wide open game than 15 years ago. You don’t need the firepower or star power that was once needed to take down the Yankees. The Giants somewhat flawed teams can succeed in this era of parity.

Second, don’t discount the importance of a presence like Buster Posey. I know the stats people won’t like this, but I do think there are winning players and losing players. No disrespect to Adrian Gonzalez, but I think he is a losing player. Again and again, his teams fade and falter at the end of seasons. Posey’s seem to get better. Pay attention to that.

Third, I don’t believe in Karma as a life philosophy, but I do see some sort of symmetry (or coming back aroundness) in the Giants history. For example, the 2010 team was the perfect counter point to the 2002 team that blew the World Series. The 2002 team had a great lineup, the 2010 squad had great starting pitching. 2002 choked it away, 2010 slammed the door on any weird comebacks.

2012 served as the counterpoint to 2003. Both were incredibly steady teams that did everything fairly well. In 2003 the Giants dropped a fly ball and crumbled. In 2012, with their backs up against the wall they just won.

If this 2014 version goes on to win it all, it will, in a small way, make up for 1993. I would give just about anything for a glimpse at the alternate reality where the 1993 Giants get to play in the postseason, but short of that I’ll take this team winning it all as the baseball gods making things right.

Previews and thoughts on the NLCS forthcoming.

-SB

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Pre-World Series Thoughts

Here we go. It all begins tonight. Here are my thoughts on the series:

1) It’s going to be another long series. With the exception of the Tiger’s sweep of the Yanks, every post-season series (so, 5 of the 6) has gone to the max number of games. This series will end, one way or the other, in San Francisco.

2) Justin Verlander could be Cliff Lee. Verlander is by almost any measure a better pitcher than Cliff Lee. But remember back to 2010. Cliff Lee was absolutely untouchable. He was coming off an incredible 2009 run with the Phillies where he earned a reputation for post-season dominance and nearly helped the Phils repeat all by himself. He backed that up with great performances in the first two rounds of the 2010 post-season.

The Giants were at home. They were starting 2-time Cy Young Award winner, and staff ace, Tim Lincecum. And yet, the Rangers were overwhelming favorites to win game 1. But the Giants wnet out and put a hurting on Cliff Lee in the fifth inning. He left before the inning was over having allowed 7 runs (6 earned).

I’m not saying the same thing is going to happen, but again, if the Giants were going to be Cliff Lee it had to be 1-0 affair with a fluke run, not a drubbing. I think the Giants can get to Verlander in game 1. It’s on the road (for Justin). It’s seven days since he last pitched. He can be had.

3) I fully expect Madison Bumgarner to be a factor. He gets the game 2 nod and something tells me he pitches well.

4) Buster Posey needs to make an impact in this series.

5) The Tigers are doing the Giants a favor by holding Anibal Sanchez back to game 3. I’d have pitched him second if I were the Tigers.

6) These are both flawed teams. The Tigers are using the tried and true method of dominant starting pitching and power hitting. That always plays well in the post-season. But their bullpen and defense are huge weaknesses. The Giants have holes in the lineup. They have a patchwork rotation that can get the job done, but seems a far cry from two years ago. But, they have been opportunistic, relentless, and their bullpen has covered a multitude of sins. Something has to give.

7) On the topic of starting pitching: the Giants have had three strong starts in a row and had 5 strong starts in the Cardinals’ series. Going back to game 2 of the NLCS, it seems Vogelsong  started the one-upmanship that has come to define the Giants pitchers when they get on a roll. Overall the picture might not be that impressive, but they just might be in the middle of one of those runs where each guy is out to do just a little bit better than the last guy.

8) I am already worried about Andy Dirks and Omar Infante…those guys can be their Scutaro/Ross types in this series.

9) I wholeheartedly agree with Tim Lincecum being used out of the bullpen. He is a tremendous, series changing weapon in that role. If Zito and Madbum can hold their own, allowing Bochy to keep Timmy in the ‘pen then the Giants have everything they need to shut the Tiger offense down.

10) It will be a long series: Giants in 7.

(-SB)

Thoughts on Game 7, the Post-Season, and 2010 vs. 2012

Wow. Just wow.

First, a couple of thoughts about this series.

A lot of people will talk/write about the breaks the Giants got, and they got a lot. (Note that the Cardinals got their fair share in the first half of the series). But, it is ALWAYS about pitching, and if you only allow 1 run over the course of three games you have a great chance of winning.

Marco Scutaro gets a well deserved MVP award. One of the amazing things about what he did (14 hits) is that he beat Will Clarks record of 13 in 1989. Clark did it in 5 games. Will Clark was pretty good.

Marco overshadows the work of Pablo Sandoval. The Panda had an RBI in each of the last 5 games of the series. That’s huge.

There was some argument between Scutaro and Vogelsong for MVP, but the guy who quietly has impressed me the most this post-season is Jeremy Affeldt. 8 straight scoreless appearances (more on this below).

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All post-season long I’ve been mulling over the differences between 2010 and 2012. 2010 will always be special because pre-2010 everything related to the Giants ended in pain and suffering. And in 2010 we stood on the brink of pain and suffering so many times. I spent three weeks simply waiting for the shoe to drop and everything to fall apart. Never happened. It’s been a new baseball reality for me ever since.

So, a couple of thoughts on the two teams/experiences

1) I was way more stressed in 2010 than this time around. Seems weird to say: the 2010 team never faced elimination once. 6 times we’ve gone into a game this year thinking: “this could be it.” And yet, it hasn’t been that stressful. Game 5 against the Reds was the closest thing to “torture” so far.

2) 2010 will always be special because it was the first time I’ve experienced a Giants World Series win. But, this team is special too, mostly for all the things they’ve overcome. So proud of their spirit.

3) Which team is better? It’s too early to say, you can’t really argue until there’s a trophy. But let’s do it anyway. The 2010 had the dominant starting pitching and a strong bullpen. Wilson and Lopez in particular were amazing. 2010 also had home run hitters in the 3-8 spots. It was home runs, close games, starting pitching, and Wilson at the end.

2012 has been opportunistic offense, and just enough good pitching to win the right amount of games in each series. The big difference to me has been the bullpens. No one would argue that the 2010 ‘pen wasn’t good. But the 2012 version is more impressive to me. Having Tim Lincecum in the ‘pen is a huge weapon. And I would argue that the addition of Jose Mijares has allowed Bochy to really use Affeldt to his full potential. In 2010 the Giants faced lineups with really great lefties (Utley, Howard, Hamilton) and Bochy used his two lefties very effectively to neutralize those guys. But Affeldt is an incredible weapon: a left-handed reliever who get right-handers out and pitch multiple innings.

So, in many ways Bochy has had even more options and weapons in the ‘pen this time around which has helped cover for the less dominant starting pitching.

Again, which team is better? Hard to say…I’ll always put my money with strong starting pitching, so 2010 still has an edge, but I’ll get back to you on this after this WS is done.

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The Giants outscored the Cardinals 20-1 over the last three games. Send that back to June when Pablo was out, second, short, and first were black holes, and Melky Cabrera was the best hitter on this team.

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Should have more to say about the Series tomorrow. I  don’t think Tigers present any more of a challenge than the Reds or Cards, BUT neither of those teams have a Justin Verlander type ace. But then again, we’ve seen the Giants take down some unbeatable pitchers before.

Final thought: Buster Posey looked exhausted at the end of game 5 against the Reds and he has continued to look tired during the NLCS. But, the finish line is now firmly in sight and I have a feeling we will see an energized Buster in the World Series. Look for him to have some big moments on the grandest stage.

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Some Links:

Tom Verducci with some interesting thoughts especially about Bochy (see point #5)

What a Game 1 WS start would mean to Barry Zito

The Giants Win the Pennant by Grant Bisbee

Jeff Passan on the Cardinals collapse

A bunch of great tidbits from the Merc’s Alex Pavlovic

(-SB)