3 Thoughts on Game 6 Heading Into Game 7

It all comes down to tonight. Because…of course it does.

1. What Went Wrong?

Plenty of second guessing was taking place on twitter last night about the second inning. Should Bochy have brought Lopez in to face Aoki? Should he have gone to Petit earlier? Why did Posey swing at the first pitch? Why did he swing like that at the first pitch?

In my opinion there isn’t much to second guess. Peavy started this game and he did not pitch well. He got dinked and dunked and had some bad luck, but he also seemed tentative, shook off Posey a lot, and couldn’t stop the bleeding.

This game is not on Bochy, not on Petit, not on the offense, it’s on Peavy.

Which brings up 2 sub-thoughts:

  • This is why Game 4 was so huge. The Giants need to figure out how to beat the Royals with a non-Bumgarner starter and they did it in Game 4. We’d be tipping our caps to the World Champion Royals tonight if not for that big comeback.
  • Game 3 is the game that looms large in my mind (not tonight’s game). If the Giants don’t win this thing tomorrow (and of course I’m sure it depends on how it all goes down) I will look back on the 6th inning of Game 3. That dumb first inning double that Hudson game up and the 6th inning where Posey did not come through but Hosmer did. When the Giants lost that game they lost their chance to end the series early, in San Francisco, and never have to come to KC to play these games.

2. Any Bright Spots?

Yes. The great Jean Machi saved the day in many ways. His innings mean that Petit can pitch Game 7. It means Tim Lincecum is available. It means all the rest of the big guns are rested and ready to go. Plus the Giants have some guy named Bumgarner available as well.

Posey got a break for a couple of innings. This is a good thing.

There’s also something to be said for getting pounded in Game 6. Obviously this is not the result any Giants’ fan wanted, but the last time the Giants lost a Game 6 in the World Series it was a gut punch. There was no coming back from that.

This kind of game you wash off pretty quickly and go get ’em the next day.

3. Looking Ahead.

The Fox guys pointed out the undeniable fact that since 1982 when a team loses Game 6 on the road, they also lose Game 7. It’s happened 8 times. And of course both teams were involved in one of those. The Royals won one, the Giants lost one.

If there was a ever team designed to buck that trend it’s these Giants. (A) They’ve been in big games before. (B) They’ve won big games before. (C) They have the arms to shut down the Royals in Game 7. (D) They have won 7 straight elimination games

The Keys:

  • Get to Jeremy Guthrie early. Got to get to him early. Put the pressure right back on the Royals.
  • Tim Hudson comes up big, gets through the first inning unscathed, and takes the pressure off Bochy and the ‘pen.
  • The big decisions for the managers will be how long to stay with their starters. How quick of a hook with each manager have?
  • Buster Posey MUST deliver. The Giants had Yoradano Ventura on the ropes in the fourth inning. 3 straight walks (including an unreal at bat by Joe Panik) led to Poesy who promptly grounded into a double play. Hard to be too made about that when the game was pretty far out of hand already. But, that moment, when it comes in Game 7 must be taken of advantage of. There is no tomorrow, Posey must come through.

Final Thoughts:

I think the Giants have to start Juan Perez in left tomorrow. The Giants already have more offense with the DH and Michael Morse, so the drop off in batting is not a huge deal. Plus Perez is swinging it pretty good.

I think the Giants got through a blow out without using any significant arms. Ned Yost, however, went to Jason Frasor in the 8th. He’s probably available and ready to go for Game 7, but he’s the guy that Yost leans on to be the bridge to the Big 3 when the starter can’t get it done. He did the Giants a favor letting him go tonight.

Much like the Cardinals series the Giants have been scoring runs, but not with the home run. I think they need some power to win this game. Who will it be? Panda with one last flourish? Morse showing off the cobra power? A Brandon homer?

It’s gotta be Posey.

Go Huddy. Go Bats. Go Giants!

-SB

4 Thoughts Leading Into Game 3 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

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.

Go Giants.

3 Thoughts on The Game 2 Debacle #SFGiants #Royals #WorldSeries

1. Don’t Panik. Or is it panic? I forget now.

There are two ways to look at last night:

  1. THE SKY IS FALLING. EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE.
  2. The Giants won the game they needed to win, got a split in KC, and now have home field advantage in a best of 5 series.

I can tell you right now that the actual players on the San Francisco Giants share the perspective of point 2. There are some clear issues (see below), but if you take out the emotions you were feeling in the 6th inning last night, this is far from the worst case scenario heading back to SF (in fact, we more or less predicted this here).

One of the big keys for me was seeing how the Giants looked against the “Big 3” of the Royals pen. They all came in throwing gas and looking nasty, but the Giants looked far from overwhelmed. They had some especially good at bats against Kelvim Herrera. Greg Holland will blow a save in this series I am convinced of it. Hitting these guys is no easy task, but to quote Krukow: “one to measure, one to rake.” The Giants don’t look completely overmatched here, they can hit these guys.

The Giants walk away from round one impressed but not intimidated.

2. Let’s Freak Out For a Minute. Bochy has done so many great things in managing games and the bullpen over the years that he’s more than earned the right to have a mulligan. But, like Game 2 against St. Louis, I thought he made a critical mistake in how he handled Peavy, and in relying on Machi and Strickland.

Despite Jake’s low pitch count he should have had guys warming up at the start of the inning, and he should have had a “get outs/stay in…give up a baserunner/come out” policy for Peavy for all innings after the 5th. The only issue he’s had since coming over to the Giants come up the 3rd time through the order (astutely pointed out on the broadcast by Tom Verducci…Harold Reyonlds should be muted but listen to Verducci!). I would have liked to see Peavy come out when Cain singled. (Actually, I would have loved to see them start the inning fresh with Petit). Then you bring Lopez in for Hosmer and go from there.

The second mistake was bringing in Jean Machi. He has failed, again and again, down the stretch and in the postseason. He threw 2 balls that weren’t even remotely close to the strike zone and did nothing to set up the batter, and then he threw a fastball right down the middle of the plate that he was fortunate to only give up a single on.

In a moment I’ll share my thoughts on Stickland and Lincecum and all that, but for now, the game was really lost for me in the first 3 batters of the inning.

The real issue, underneath all of this, is that the Giants starters after Bumgarner just don’t have what it takes at this point to get deep into the ballgame. This is where the Giants really, really miss Matt Cain. Bochy should have been thrilled that Peavy recovered and got through 5.

The three guys most responsible for the loss against the Cards were the culprits again (Peavy, Strickland, Machi). Bochy learned his lesson and you never saw those guys again the rest of the way in the NLCS. I think the same applies here.

3. Oh, hello Tim Lincecum. Yesterday I broke down how Bochy used Hunter Stickland in Game 1 and what it revealed about Tim Lincecum. Five batters into Lincecum’s first 2014 postseason appearance I was ready to throw that out. Then Timmy tweaked his back. The word is that it’s probably not serious. He’s dealt with this before.

But, it is serious because can you really trust a guy who is a pitch away from tweaking his back? He was so close to being back in the circle of trust, especially with the next three game in SF. He may be fine and he may pitch again, and pitch well, but whatever air of confidence was building up around Lincecum late in the game last night, seems to have been let out rather quickly by his balky back.

Looking Ahead: The Giants have some serious issues with their bullpen moving forward. I don’t see how Hunter Stickland can be used again in a high leverage moment in this series. He may well be the Giants closer in 2016 (the next time we do go through all of this), but he can’t go out there again with the game on the line.

Neither can Jean Machi.

Which means, and it seems entirely impossible that this can be true, but Yumseiro Petit just got even more valuable. Bochy has to hope he can get 5 to 6 innings from Tim Hudson, use Petit as a bridge, and then go with the trusted 4 (Lopez, Affeldt, Romo, and Casilla) in the late innings. Maybe Lincecum works his way in there too.

But Petit can no longer be a caddy for the starters, he needs to be a primary bullpen weapon.

To reiterate, as ugly as things got last night, pull the camera back and the end result (1-1 tie heading home) is a good result. The Giants are experienced, know how to shake it off, and will play Friday loose and confident. The Royals lose Billy Butler, and loss of a DH allows Ned Yost to meddle, which is a good thing.

No reason to freak out yet, Giants fans. The biggest things to look for now: The Posey/Panda/Pence dingers and can the Giants bridge the middle innings?

Go Giants!

-SB

Trying to Predict the World Series #SFGiants #Royals

Here is the final chapter in this amazing postseason drama. I went 0-4 in DS round, but came back with two correct predictions in the LCS. I also continue to predict longer series than they turn out to be.

Which leads to the challenge in predicting the World Series. These two teams are so evenly matched it seems destined for the Series to go 6 or even 7 games (haven’t had 7 games since 2011, and before that since 2001 and 2002). However, both teams tend to grab a lead and never let go, so it is entirely possible that one team runs away with it in 4 or 5 games (though they would be close games).

I think the Giants should win the World Series. They have some decided advantages: the better manager, the true Ace in Madison Bumgarner, the once-in-a-generation player in Buster Posey (perhaps Eric Hosmer will be this for the Royals but even with his strong postseason he has a way to go to earn that kind of label, despite being drafted ahead of Posey).

They also have some subtle advantages. A lefty heavy lineup, a flexibility to their roster and bullpen that either the Royals don’t have or don’t utilize, and a wealth of postseason experience to pull from.

If the Giants are going to win the World Series I think they need to win it the way they beat the Cardinals: in 5, by staying a step ahead and constantly putting the pressure on the Royals to deviate from their game plan.

Game 1: Shields vs. Bumgarner. I wrote way back when this all started that the Giants must win every Bumgarner start, and then changed my tune for the Cardinals series. I’m back on this tune. James Shields is a very good pitcher, but this is the one match up where the Giants have a clear advantage. They must win when Bumgarner takes the mound.

This is a critical game for the Giants. The Royals haven’t lost. They win Game 1 and they continue to think they will never lose. Immediately put them in the hole, though, and the whole mindset of the Royals, and the complexion of the series, changes.

My guess is the Giants will be able to score some runs, maybe 3, and Bumgarner shuts down the Royals offense. Giants 3-1.

Game 2: Ventura vs. Peavy. Yordano Ventura throws hard and has good stuff, but he’s not as dominant as one might think. He will be at some point in his career, especially if he keeps his velocity, but right now he can be had. Peavy will be coming off a lot of rest and so should be good to go and feeling strong. Much like the Cardinals series, this game will go to the bullpens early and be there for the taking by either team. The Royals will pull it out, and pull even. Royals 4-3.

Game 3: Hudson vs. TBD. This will likely be Tim Hudson going against another wiley vet in Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie is the kind of guy who would be a good starter in the NL West. He doesn’t strike out very many guys, has twice led the league in loses (on bad Orioles teams), has allowed the most hits in the AL once, and is the very definition of slighty above average pitcher (think Zito in his best years with the Giants). In other words, he’s exactly the kind of guy who would give the Giants fits if he played for San Diego.

A couple of other factors to consider in this game. First, the Royals will be without Bully Butler. There is no room in the field for their portly DH so he goes to the bench. Even thought Hudson is not a great hitter, the Giants gain an advantage with the Royals subtracting a DH and adding the pitcher to the lineup. Second, this will be Hudson’s first World Series start. He’s going to treat it like it might be the last time he ever pitches. I think he will pitch well enough and the Giants will have one of their better offensive games of the series: Giants 5-3.

Game 4: Vogelsong vs. TBD. Once again we don’t know who will start, but in all likelihood the Giants are looking at facing off against Jason Vargas. And, just like the Cardinals series, I see this being a boon for the offense and early exits for the starters. Game 4 is Yumeiro Petit time. Once again, the advantage goes to the Giants here, with Petit bailing the team out for the third time. This could also be a walkoff game, so we’ll say Giants 4-3 walking off in the bottom of the 9th.

Game 5: Repeat Game 1 starters. The story of Game 5 will be Madison Bumgarner putting the finishing touches on a remarkable postseason run. He will put his home field issues behind him and drive the nail into the Royals coffin. In the end, the story will be that Bumgarner was too good, and the Giants never allowed the Royals to settle into their preferred rhythym of playing ahead and relying on the bullpen. Giants 3-0.

Having said all that, there is very little that could happen in this series that would be shocking. The Royals could sweep. The Giants could sweep. It could go the full 7. I don’t know! About the only thing that would surprise me is one team completely falling apart: bad starting pitching, no help from the pen, no hitting. I expect every game to be competitive, to be close and tense, and to add some more gray hairs to my head.

About the only constant this postseason has been the completely unexpected, so buckle up and get ready for a wild ride! I’m going with the Giants in 5 but look forward to all the twists and turns this series will undoubtedly take.

One Final Thought: Who is the key player in this series for the Giants? In many ways it is Madison Bumgarner because he’s the ace, and the one significant advantage either team has at its disposable. In many other ways it is Buster Posey because he’s the Giants leader, he plays such an important position and, again, is the one, true once-in-a-generation talent in this series.

But in a very practical sense I think the most important player for the Giants is Brandon Belt. The Royals are extremely dependent on their right-handed power pitching out of the bullpen. If Belt (or any of the lefty swinging Giants) can get hot and establish themselves as a dangerous presence, it will force Ned Yost to think about mixing and matching, rather than sticking to the script. And once you see Yost mixing and matching, then you know the Giants are in his head. Watch for that.

Go Giants!!!

-SB

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

3 Thoughts on Game 3 and a Game 4 #sfgiants #NLDS

Well, shoot. This is not how it was supposed to go at all. The only way I could envision the Giants beating the Nationals involved absolutely NOT losing the Madison Bumgarner game.

But this is the 2014 postseason, where it looks like all of my predictions are incorrect. Where the Giants beat the Nationals 2, maybe even 3 times, at home, then lose the Madison Bumgarner game and STILL have a chance to win this in 4 games. 3 thoughts:

1. This team continues to remind me of 2010. They play so much better when they get an early lead. And they make it close and tortuous, but still get it done. Remember in 2010 the Giants won game 1 in each series, allowed the opposing team an opportunity to hope (game 2 vs the Braves, game 5 vs the Phillies, and Game 3 vs the Rangers), and then finished it off before it got too stressful. 2012 was all about back-to-the-wall, never-say-die heroics. You tell me which you prefer.

2. Bochy will play this like an elimination game. Again, this totally feels like game 6 against the Phillies in 2010. The Giants had a 3-1 series lead, could finish it off at home, and they didn’t get it done. With fear and trembling the series went back to Philadelphia, Jonathan Sanchez started, but was not long for the game, and Bochy mixed and matched his way to a 3-2 victory. The silver lining from yesterday is that the Giants didn’t really use too many bullpen bullets. Affeldt, Lopez, Romo, Strickland, and Casilla should all be fresh and ready to go. The big question is Petit. Could he give anything so soon after his Game 2 heroics? Will we get an inning of magic from Lincecum today? Can Vogelsong make it twice through the Nationals lineup? That seems to be the key to me. Get Vogey through 5 (hopefully 6) innings and let the bullpen do the rest.

3. The Giants need to score many runs. No doubt the Bumgarner/Posey mistake to throw the ball to third was the pivotal moment in that game yesterday. It never should have happened. Even, though, with a smart throw to first, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals not scoring at least 1 run there. Obviously, 1 is better than 4, but the way the Giants have been swinging it, 1 seemed like a lot to overcome. They’ve gone from 3, to 2, to 1 run. In some ways, this game could be the most challenging for them to score with lefty Gio Gonzalez on the mound. Of course, the way things are going for my prognostications they probably score 6 runs in the first inning. However they do it, the Giants need to wake up the bats today! My guess is that if Bochy makes any changes at all he goes with Perez in left over Ishikawa. But I’d suggest going a bit more radical:

  • Pence RF
  • Panik 2B
  • Posey 1B
  • Sandoval 3B
  • Belt LF
  • Susac C
  • Crawford SS
  • Blanco CF

Probably not going to happen, but something like that, to give a little more right-handed presence, could be helpful.

Go Giants!

-SB

3 Thoughts on 18 Innings, Sweeps, and Young Players #SFGiants #NLDS

1. There’s nothing that I could say about Game 2 that hasn’t already been said. Also, I think I mentioned before that Brandon Belt hitting home runs would be important:

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.

And it is a million times better. However, as I was watching the final innings unfold, I thought to myself: the Nationals need this more than the Giants. It’s not that I didn’t want the Giants to win or that losing would have been ok, but in terms of crushing loses this hurts the Nationals more than the Giants. Winning Game 1 and hanging around for so long in Game 2 (even without the win) means that the Giants are way in the brains of the Nats.

Plus, I think I also mentioned something about Matt Williams:

Matt Williams is a rookie manager, and only 4 times has a rookie manager won a World Series. The last one to do it, of course, was another ex-Giant, Bob Brenly, whose team won in spite of him, not because of him. Loved Matt Williams as a third baseball in the black and orange, but he might be a liability.

This is the other part of the mind game: Matt Williams has to overcome his mistake, and may try too hard to do that, thus making another mistake.

2. I stand by what I wrote earlier: all Madison Bumgarner starts are MUST wins for the Giants. I know they have three chances to pull this off, but a win today means series over, for one, and the opportunity to rest and line things up for the next series. It also means no Ryan Vogelsong, no more bullpen stress, no more innings for Posey to catch, and no more chances for something dumb and weird to happen. This is a must win game.

3. I’ve been wanting to write the article Alex Pavlovic wrote yesterday for some time. It bothers me that the Giants are always so low in the prospect rankings. The reality is, they are low because their prospects are making an impact in the major leagues. If the Giants continue on in these playoffs it will be because of Peavy, Pence, Hudson, Affeldt, Petit, Casilla, etc. But, it will primarily be because of the contributions of Panik, Posey, Sandoval, Crawford, Belt, Romo, Strickland, Susac, and Bumgarner, among others, who are home-grown players making an impact now (not at some point in the future). There is this perception that continues to linger from the Bonds’ era that the Giants suck at drafting and always go with old guys. They have some of those old guys (more on this later), but 14 of their 25 players currently are from their farm system. Which is beautiful, and bodes well for the future.

-SB

Giants vs Nationals #2014postseason #SFGiants #NLDS

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.

GO GIANTS!

-SB

Thoughts and Predictions for the DS #MLBplayoffs

1. Tigers vs. Orioles. These teams are mirrors of each other. Baltimore hits home runs, plays great defense, and has a stellar bullpen. Detroit has the THE STAR and the starters. This is going to be the ultimate test of postseason theories: do you need strong starting, defense, bullpen, or home runs to win?

  • Prediction: Tigers in 4. The Tigers will not win the world series with that bullpen (we’ve heard this story before), but they have more than enough to get past an Orioles team that lacks dominant starting pitchers.

2. Angels vs. Royals. The Angels have the best record and offense in baseball. The Royals bunt and steal all the time and have the best bullpen in the postseason. Will this be bedlam in KC or Mike Trout’s national coming-out-party?

  • Prediction: I want to pick the Royals so badly. I really, really do. Oh, I want to pick them. In fact, a couple of months ago when I was sketching things out, I thought they might have the best path to the World Series in the American League. That, though, was based on them winning the division, which they did not do. Furthermore, that game against the A’s revealed just how clueless Ned Yost can be. Sometimes, and it is rare, a manager can help win a series, usually they are fairly neutral, and there are some times where they are an all-out liability, and I fear that is where Yost is. Yikes. Angels in 4.

3. Dodgers vs. Cardinals. Of course they are playing each other, which means, if the Giants get through they will have to play their long-standing mortal enemies (the Dodgers, just in case you didn’t know), or the team Giants’ fans have learned to hate in recent years (the Cardinals, mostly for being the Cardinals). And even if the Giants don’t make it through it means one of these teams will play the Nationals (who we will then hate) in an absolutely awful NLCS. This is the most detestable of all possible matchups.

  • Prediction: Mattingly is horrible, the bullpen is shaky, and the non-Kershaw/Greinke starters are a major liability. Plus Puig will do something stupid at some point. Otherwise the Dodgers are basically unbeatable. The Cardinals had a surprisingly bad offensive season, some shakiness in the rotation (that seems to have been shored up), and are here mainly because the Brewers faded so badly. And yet, they are the Cardinals, the team, other than the Giants, most likely to play flawlessly in October. I won’t be the least bit surprised if the Cardinals win this series, but I’m going with the Dodgers in 5.

4. Giants vs. Nationals. The Nationals are the best team, in my opinion, top to bottom in this tournament. So, of course, the Giants get them in a short series. Awesome. That being said, the only result here that would be shocking to me is a sweep by either team. Mostly, though I just don’t see the Giants laying down. It’s going to go 5 either way. I’ll have a bigger preview tomorrow morning, but for now a couple of silver linings for the Giants: the Nationals have a lot of right-handed starting pitching. They are really good, so that part stinks, but the right-handedness plays into the hands of a lineup that is heavy lefty right now. Second silver lining: Matt Williams is a rookie manager, and only 4 times has a rookie manager won a World Series. The last one to do it, of course, was another ex-Giant, Bob Brenly, whose team won in spite of him, not because of him. Loved Matt Williams as a third baseball in the black and orange, but he might be a liability.

  • Prediction: The Nationals are too deep to go down to a Giants team lacking Angel Pagan, Michael Morse, and Matt Cain. Nationals in 5.

-SB

Wild Card Wednesday #sfgiants #2014mlbplayoffs

What a way to start. Way to go Royals. That game went nothing like I expected, and that is how baseball goes. So, might as well try to predict what will happen tonight.

If the Giants win today they get to play at least 3 more baseball games, and possibly many more. If they lose, then that’s it for 2014. See you in Scottsdale in March.

Let’s take a look at today’s game.

  1. Evenly matched? The Giants went 88-74 with a +51 run differential. The Pirates went 88-74 with a +51 run differential. Doesn’t get much more even than that. However, the tale of their seasons are very different. The Giants got off to a GREAT start, sucked terribly in the middle, and then did enough to make it to this game (although it wasn’t what anyone would call a strong finish). The Pirates played GREAT baseball over the last 6 weeks and enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams. Momentum of course is one of the most overrated phrases in baseball, but there is no arguing that the Pirates finished the regular season better than the Giants did.
  2. Home field advantage? The Pirates were good at home, going 50-31. Typically if a team wins 50+home games they have a pretty strong advantage in their park. The Giants however were pretty good on the road going 43-38. They’ve also played well in Pittsburg (although not recently…which has a lot to do with the Pirates being good the last 2 years). Madison Bumgarner has also been very good on the road.
  3. Injuries and Intangibles. No doubt, Giants’ fans would feel so much better about this game if Angel Pagan were healthy and starting the game in CF. But that will not be the case. Furthermore, there are no indications that Michael Morse will be available for this game, meaning Travis Ishikawa or Juan Perez will start the game in LF (or the Giants could start Susac at C, put Posey at 1B, and throw Belt into the outfield). Meanwhile, it looks like Russell Martin could miss this game for the Pirates because of a hamstring issue, and this is a huge loss for them both in the lineup and in the run-prevention department. Meanwhile the Giants are catching a break in that the Pirates have chosen to start Edinson Volquez. Volquez has pitched great down the stretch, but he’s not exactly a guy to be feared. The Pirates used Gerrit Cole on Sunday, so he’s out, and are by-passing Francisco Liriano. Liriano is left handed and Giants feature a lot of lefthanded hitters (Blanco, Belt, Crawford, Panik, Ishikawa if he starts, plus Sandoval is better from the left side than the right). All of that to say: Volquez is about as good as you could ask for in this match-up. Thank you Pirates! Both teams have good bullpens with lots of options. The Pirates do have a lot of lefties in the pen which means there are going to be some good chess-match moments between managers. Which leads to the final intangible: Bochy is a superior manager to Clint Hurdle and he will get to show off all his prowess in this game.

So, given that, how will it all go down?

I’m sorry Giants’ fans, but from a purely objective stand point, I have to go with the Pirates. It will be close, I’m sure, but I see a 3-2 type game with the Giants just falling short. That being said, the starting pitching matchup does favor the Giants. If Bumgarner can calm himself, get through the first inning, and if the Giants can jump in front, Bochy will win the bullpen game and the Giants could steal this one.

McCovey Chronicles wrote an interesting point/counterpoint argument about this game. Of course we want the Giants to win! But, since I am predicting a loss, the question becomes how bad will it be?

Will this be a team that goes out with a whimper (kind of like 1998 when they lost in Chicago in a play-in game). Or, will this game join the pantheon of heart-break (like Game 6 of the 2002 world series, or Jose Cruz Jr). No one can know of course. Baseball is cruel like that. My sense is that this will be somewhere in the middle, neither gut wrenching nor something you will turn off in the fourth inning.

Despite my pessimism I’m excited for this game, and I will be sad if/when the Giants lose.

Go Giants.

-SB