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

1 Thought Before Game 3 (Will It Be The Last?) #sfgiants #nlds

Ready for some hard hitting baseball analysis?

The Giants need more joy.
They need to have fun playing baseball on Monday night.

There’s plenty of time to dissect Games 1 and 2, and an elimination moment (should that happen). We can talk about the talented Cubs and the flawed Giants. We can second guess the choice to start Samardzija (I don’t, really…your guys either get it done or they don’t). We will do all that in time.

But right now, the Giants need to find their joy.

This article came out before the postseason started,
and it isn’t from the most reputable site,
and it’s not deep SABR analysis,
but it kind of nails the point.

The Giants get a lot of credit for their calmness.
This isn’t a team that panics and freaks out.

But watching them over the past 2 months all I keep thinking is:
they are not having fun.

I’ve been there.
Sports can be so much fun,
especially baseball.

The joy of a perfect pitch,
of barreling up a fastball,
of turning a double play.
It’s fun!

But there does come a point when the game becomes a grind,
and the joy disappears.

The Giants have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.
There’s nothing else left at this point.
No more strategy sessions, no more tweaks.
So, loosen up, and have some fun.
This might be the last time they play for a while.

Enjoy.

How to Beat the Cubs in 4 games #sfgiants #nlds

Here you have the immovable object vs the unstoppable force:

  • The SF Giants, owners of one of the worst second-half’s in baseball (history)…the worst team left in the tournament…a team with a variety of questions almost everywhere outside of the starting rotation.
  • The Cubs roll in with the best record, best season, most momentum…a team that has almost no holes and small, nearly imperceptible weaknesses.
  • On the other hand, the Giants don’t lose in the playoffs, have this weird even-year voodoo going on, and are facing the “cursed” Cubbies.
  • The Giants, to my knowledge, have never been favored to win a postseason series during this run. They were never supposed to beat the 2010 Phillies, they couldn’t beat Cliff Lee and the Rangers; the 2012 Cardinals and Tigers were too talented to go down to Barry Zito and Co., and in 2014, the Royals were a runaway trail until they got Bumgarnered in the World Series. In many ways this would be the ultimate crowning achievement of the perpetual underdog Giants: taking down the Cubs.
  • Have you noticed how good the Cubs are?

Here’s a good summary of the two teams and their path to this moment.

One thing I would add to this: I admire the heck out of Joe Maddon. He’s a leader and his baseball strategies are inspired. But he’s never won anything. And he can get cute. Bochy has made some interesting moves over the years (including game 1’s lineup), but his moves always seem more informed by hunches and trying to win, as opposed to impressing himself. Joe Maddon is both a strength and potential weakness.

So how do the Giants do this? How do they get by a team that has great starting pitching, a stacked, versatile lineup, a very flexible bench, amazing defense, and strong bullpen headed by the best closer in baseball?

A couple of general thoughts:

  • The Cub’s pitching is good, but it is not as good as everyone thinks. Or at least, this is my opinion. Outside of Jake Arrieta, this is not a rotation that throws all that hard, or is particularly nasty. They kind of remind me of the 1993 Giants. They throw strikes and are confident in their great defense and that the lineup will score runs. Nothing against that strategy, but in the post-season, in a short series, against a lineup that is good at putting the ball in play, they’ll wish they could put more guys away via the strikeout.
  • The Giants played the Cubs extremely well. Early in the season the Giants took 2 of 3 in San Francisco, including a game where they knocked John Lester (games 1 starter) around a bit. Then, we all remember the 4 games of horror in Chicago before Labor Day. All 4 games were 1-run games, and if the bullpen handles itself, the Giants take 3 of those 4 games. Head to head these teams are actually closely matched.
  • The Giants have more holes and more question marks, no one is arguing that, but they have a manager who is a genius at masking his team’s weaknesses in short series. Again, I like Joe Maddon, but Bochy gives the Giants a huge edge.
  • Finally, some will argue that the Giants need to get the lead and avoid facing Aroldis Chapman. I would also recommend this course of action. However, the Giants are due a ninth inning comeback. The fact that they had exactly zero during the regular season screams that its’ going to happen at some point in this series. Further, the Giants saw Chapman as a Yankee and a Cub this year, and are familiar with him from his time in Cincinnati. They came very close to scoring off him each time they faced him this season. I know close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades but it feels like they will get to him in this series.

A couple specific thoughts:

  • Game 1 is always important, but I think in this series and in this context it is EXTREMELY imperative the Giants win tonight. A dominant performance by Johnny Cueto, a couple big hits by the lineup, and a save for Sergio Romo accomplishes three things: first, the all important win (duh); second, it further establishes confidence in the minds of the Giants…given their second half wobbles, it will serve them well to get back to back wins to start off the post-season; and third, it will introduce doubt into the Cubs, making game 2 a must win situation already (don’t want to be down 2-0 facing Bum).
  • Game 2 will be a house money situation for the G-men. My sense is the Cubs will figure out how to get this done, and even things up heading back to the West Coast.
  • Game 3 features the respective Aces of these teams. The Giants won this matchup a little over a month ago, and I think the same happens here, probably a 2-1 Giants win.
  • Game 4 then become a must win for both teams. If the Cubs pull it out and go back to Chicago, I can see them emerging victorious. The Giants need to avoid that plane ride at all costs. I’ve noticed several national writers dismiss Matt Moore as a league average starter, and sure, his numbers support that diagnoses, but Matt Moore represents a much different “league average” than say, Kirk Reuter. His overall numbers are there, but this is a guy who has nasty stuff and who can be nearly perfect when he’s on. My sense here is the Giants offense busts out a bit against John Lackey, and Matt Moore settles in to get the job done. Giants in 4.

I wrote before that all I wanted was for this team to have an opportunity in a series, and they get it. Can the rotation carry this team to an incredible, unexpected victory? My sense is yes, but as the old cliché goes: This is why they play the games.

Final Thoughts:

  • Key Hitters: there are a lot as it looks like Bochy is going to rely on platoons at 3B, 2B, and CF. One of those 6 guys needs to contribute significantly. I like Gorkys Hernandez to be the guy who gets a huge hit at some point. I also think it’s Brandon Belt time. He’ll face 3 right handers (another overall Giant’s advantage) after Lester tonight, and if he can get hot, especially homer hot, life will be good for us all.
  • Key Bullpen arm: Romo is obviously hugely important, but the other guy who will need to be big is Will Smith. I was a little surprised Steven Okert got left of the roster for this series, leaving the Giants with 2 lefties to get Anthony Rizzo/Jayson Heyward out. Smith will have to dominate those guys and get a few righties out as well.
  • Key stat: The stat I am watching in this series is innings pitched by the Giants starters. There’s a very good chance the Giants could head into game 2 without having yet dipped into the bullpen. Bochy is never afraid to use his ‘pen in the postseason, but I think this year will look more like the 2005 White Sox in that the Giants recipe for success may be 7-8 innings from the starters and then 3-5 outs from Smith and Romo. If the Giants get 30 innings from their starters in games 1-4, they will win this thing in SF.

Here we go!

Bring on the Cubs #sfgiants

I’m at a conference and exhausted and doubly exhausted by that baseball game, so I’ll have more to say before Friday’s game, but for now I want to highlight three guys:

  1. The forgotten hero: Joe Panik. The at-bat Panik had right before the home run was amazing. He somehow fouled off a pitch he never should have swung at, stayed alive, and drew a walk. A walk that created an opportunity for…
  2. The former Giant, turned current Giant hero: Conor Gillaspie. Let’s not forget that the opening day 3B for the Giants was Matt Duffy. Beloved Matt Duffy. Matt Duffy who became the key piece in the Matt Moore trade. Matt Duffy who became expendable when the Giants traded for Eduardo Nunez. Let’s not forget that Nunez got off to a rough start after all the trades, but quickly became the most reliable presence in the Giants lineup. Let’s not forget that many of us thought the season was finally, officially doomed when Nunez pulled his hamstring a week ago. And yet, let’s not forget that Conor Gillaspie had a great week, very quietly, during the final week of the season. Let’s not forget that the Giants broadcast team has been raving about Conor all season. Let’s not forget Gillaspie was drafted with Posey, came up before Posey, disappeared and then came back this season mainly because of injuries. He was never supposed to be here, but like Travis Ishikawa and Ryan Vogelsong before him, here he was and he was amazing exactly when the Giants needed him to be.
  3. And then, Madison Freakin’ Bumgarner. There’s nothing else to say:

I’m just grateful to be alive.

And I get my wish…we’ll get to see this rotation go up against the best team in baseball. We got a series. Bring on the Cubbies.

Even Years #amiright #weekinreview

Confession #1: I gave up on this team.
All throughout the month of September I was in favor of a mercy killing.
Just tank.
Just end it.
Put us out of our misery.

But they hung in there.
They were never “out of the playoffs.”
They kept it interesting, and then in the last week of the season they played some of their best ball of the year.

The naysayer would point out the Rockies and Dodgers had nothing to play for, but I would argue that the Giants have done extremely poorly against bad teams/out of the race teams all second half.

They should not have been swept twice by the  Padres.
They should not have struggled against the Reds and Braves and Phillies and Rockies.

They were so good, and then they were so bad,
and it made me want to quit and go home.

And yet, here we are, another even year post-season appearance.

Confession #2: Even thought I quit and I just wanted it to end, I also desperately want this team to play the Cubs. “Just get into a series” is the thought I’ve been having for weeks now. Just get there and let’s see what happens.

Why? Why did I want this so badly?

There’s normal reasons:

  • Even year magic #duh
  • Posey and Bochy
  • It’s fun

But here’s the real reason:

  • The Giants have the best starting rotation of any team in the 2016 postseason

Their overall numbers may not bear this out, and I haven’t had the time to dive deeply into analysis, but just look at the teams, and look at the names, and is there any team that has 4 guys like the Giants have?

No.

And here’s the thing: I don’t know that the Giants have had a 4 man group this good.

With all the hand wringing about the bullpen and the lineup (for good reason), we’ve lost sight of this rotation and that the great debate for Giants is who would you take:

  • Peak Lincecum, Peak Cain, Rookie Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez…or…
  • Peak Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, and Moore

Right now, I’d take the 2010 4 because they got it done, but it’s close.

  • Let’s not forget that 2010 Lincecum was the swing season, it was his last great season but some signs were showing (notably his All-Star Game start) that the shine was starting to fade. 2016 Bumgarner has already established himself as one of the best post-season performers of all time. Bum struggled a bit down the stretch this year, but if you were constructing a roster, who would you take? Edge: Bumgarner/2016.
  • 2010 Matt Cain could have been a lot of teams #1 and all he did in the 2010 postseason was give up 0 runs. 2016 Johnny Cueto also comes in with a track record, fresh off a World Championship of his own, and inspires as much confidence as anyone in the orange and black right now. Plus the Giants score runs when he pitches =). Edge: Cain/2010.
  • 2010 Jonathan Sanchez made the bold prediction that the Giants would overtake and defeat the Padres for the division title and his performance backed it up. Sanchez is actually a great comp with 2016 Matt Moore. In terms of pure stuff they may have the best, but the inconsistency and command issues are also eerily similar. Sanchez had a great start in the “Brooks Conrad” game, but then struggled the rest of the post-season and nearly had a series damaging breakdown against the Phillies. 2016 Matt Moore also comes in with postseason experience, and is older and more emotionally centered than Sanchez. Edge: Moore/2016.
  • This final comp is where it gets really hard for me. It is hard to remember/rightly evaluate 2010 Bumgarner. He was so young and everything he did felt like gravy. We had no idea what would come, but now that we do know it’s hard to go back in time and not see it. 2016 Jeff Samardzija is much older, more experienced, has had an up, down, and up again season. However, this final up, his last 10 starts have been so good, it’s what really caused Confession 2 to grow: If Samardzija is really good, what could this team accomplish? Samardzija’s success actually gives me visions of the 2005 White Sox, a team that rode it’s starting pitching and one relief pitcher to a World Series. These starters are better than those starters. Edge: Toss.

Who would you take?

The real answer is: I would take these 4 guys over any of the other 9 team’s 4 guys.

Please, please, please beat the Mets so we have a chance to see it.


One final Confession: I was fully convinced that all Sergio Romo could do anymore was strike out an isolated right-handed hitter. I never thought he could take back the 9th inning. It’s hard to say if he really has, but I think he’s done well enough to win Bochy’s favor, and today’s 9th inning was as much about seeing him go back to back days as it was about anything.

If they’re going ride Serge, I don’t know that there’s a 2016 story line I like better than the redemption of Romo.

#BEATTHEMETS

Are you ready for torture?

The Only Solution to the Giants Bullpen Question

Ha ha, there is no answer to this question fool.

Possible answers, though, include:

  • This is the perfect even year destruction, created by the baseball gods for all the even year shenanigans the Giants have enjoyed.
  • This is all Taylor Swift’s fault for not releasing an album this year.
  • This is the biggest SF Giants troll of all time, and we’ll really be laughing about this at the end of October while watching another parade.

Jokes aside, there is no rational explanation for the 9th inning curse, and therefore no rational solution. These are 9th inning meltdowns turned into performance art. A theater of the absurd.

Last night, no one on the Dodgers did anything that amazing. Cory Seager had a good at bat against Javy Lopez, but hit a double play ball to no man’s land. Most of the meltdown is a strange combination of unfortunate luck and timing.

And yet, no one recorded an out in the 9th inning of last evening’s ball game. Which is to say: there was bad pitching involved.

But don’t try to understand it, don’t try to figure it out. Doing so will only send you to the brink.

Since there’s nothing rational about any of this, there’s only one possible solution and that solution is Joe Nathan.

Rationally, he would be my 5th or 6th choice to close games for this Giants team, but desperate times, man, desperate times.

Joe Nathan will forever represent one of the worst decision in Giants history. Joe Nathan’s absence (and subsequent ascent to top-5 closer) coincided with the last dark moment in Giants’ closer history. There’s a symmetry involved here.

Joe Nathan is the perfect reclamation story, taking the mantle up from Ryan Vogelsong and Travis Ishikawa.

Joe Nathan is the perfect, no-one-saw-that-coming, answer to the question that has no answer.

It’s poetic and beautiful and makes no sense, and therefore is the only thing makes sense.

Joe Nathan for closer, 2016.*

 

 

 

 

*or maybe Matt Cain.**

 

 

 

 

 

**or maybe…

Week [23] In Review (9/5-9/11) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Welcome back to the pennant race Giants.

The Giants got kicked in the gut big time twice in the last 7 days (Sunday, the 4th in Chicago, and then again on Wednesday night in Colorado), and after the second meltdown I thought it might be over.

It may yet be over, but it doesn’t feel like it today.

It feels like maybe, just maybe, they’ve unlocked something, and good baseball will start to flow once again.

What I want to do now is look at the remainder of the season and make a bit of a forecast (starting today where the Giants sit 77-65, 3 games behind the Dodgers):

  • 3 games at home against the Padres (It seems like perfect symmetry/baseball justice, for the Giants to sweep the Pads this week. After all it was the Padres series to start the second half and that launched the Giants into their funk. I hate predicting sweeps, but that’s kind of what needs to happen so…80-65. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way to New York to face the Yankees, they’ll drop 2 of 3, 82-63.)
  • 4 games at home against the Cardinals (This is a huge series in terms of the Wild Card race. The Giants could potentially put the Cardinals out of the race by the time this series is over…that’s being extremely optimistic, and on the other hand, the Cardinals could very much assert themselves here to the Giants demise. These are two proud teams, and with the Giants missing Madison Bumgarner in this series, I see a split coming: 82-67. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way back to the West Coast and play four in Arizona, where they too will split the series: 84-65.)
  • The Giants head back out on the road for the last time, starting with three games in LA. They should have Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore lined up to go for these big three games. Again, I hate predicting sweeps, but I want to stay positive: 2 of 3, 84-68. the Dodgers, obviously would drop 2 of 3, being a little tired after the travel of the week: 85-67).
  • The final road series takes the Giants to San Diego. Remember: the Giants were 9-0 against the Pads until the post-all-star fiasco. If they can continue the dominance they could potentially sweep this series. Weird things happen in San Diego and this is the end of a road trip and the end of a stretch of over two weeks without a day off. I’ll go conservative here and predict a spilt: 86-70. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finish their home season with four against the Rockies. This is the one place in the schedule where it seems the Dodgers are set up to make up ground. I’ll say they take 3 of 4: 88-68.)
  • The Giants close the season with six home games, and isn’t interesting that I stated the importance of asserting themselves at home as a significant theme for the year. They will need to go 5-1 to capture the division back, and I believe they’ll get off to a good start with a sweep of the Rockies. Meanwhile, the Dodgers will get ambushed by the Padres, losing 2 of 3. Both teams will sit at 89-70 to start the series. A series the Giants will win by taking two of three to finish 91-71.)

Let’s summarize: 20 games left, a 14-6 close to the season (17-6 if you include the sweep of the D-Backs this weekend). Why is this possible?

  • First, he offense is finally starting to get going. This may be too much to ask, but everyone contributed this weekend in Arizona: Span and Pagan homered, Posey had some great at-bats, Belt came up with a couple huge hits, Panik and Crawford continued to produce as normal rates, Nunez looks like he’s in the middle of hot streak, and there are no ends to the superlatives one could heap on Hunter Pence for the series he had. It’s been amazing that the Giants have gone such a long time essentially rotating one hot hitter at a time. The law of averages seems to say they are due for a stretch where multiple guys hit at the same time. Now is the time!
  • Second, the starting pitching continues to deliver, and Matt Moore, in particular, seems to have figured something out. The rotation has four more turns to keep this going. Meanwhile, the bullpen, sans Santiago Casilla, has actually been pretty good. Derek Law should return this week, setting up a nice little debate: who do you want closing games down the stretch, the guy who has been great all year (Law), or the guy who seems to have the hot hand right now (Strickland). Honestly, Strickland scares me a bit because he can give up a home run with the best of them, but his last couple turns have been dynamic, so let it ride I guess.
  • It’s a simple formula, but the Giants have been so good at losing games (bad pitching when they hit, and no hitting when they pitch, some bullpen implosions for good measure) that I believe it will continue to turn around, and translate back into winning games.

Hitter of the Week: No brainer here…hello Hunter Pence! 12 hits, 4 walks, a home run, and 8 runs scored! It’s the walks that are the most encouraging sign…when Pence is right, as he was several years ago back at the beginning of the season (that’s an intentional sentence) his eye was exceptional. He is locked in and playing with passion, and that’s the kind of thing that can propel this team in a positive direction (as we’ve seen several times over the past 4 years).

Pitcher of the Week: Matt Moore had an incredible game on Sunday, but that has to be balanced with his tough start on Monday. It was a Coors start, and he was undermined by Brandon Crawford missing a ball he catches 99% of the time, but he also walked the 8th and 9th place hitters (one of them was trying to bunt too), and so painted himself into a corner. It seems the only thing holding him back, though, is this occasional spell of wildness. I’m going to give the POW to Jeff Samardzija who continues to pitch incredible well down the stretch, something that seems to be under the radar. His last 5 starts he gone 31 innings, striking out 30, with a 2.90 ERA, and only one home run allowed.

This is going to be a great final three weeks. Buckle up. Who needs football?!