The rest of the Post-Season

Well, I hope you are all recovering from that Game 5 loss. It sucks, but there is a lot to look forward as we are about to fully enter into the Giants future and the full-blown Farhan Zaidi era (more on this coming soon).

Meanwhile, a quick thought on the rest of the post-season. I think the Astros will prevail against the Red Sox, and I fully expect the Dodgers to take down the Braves in 5. I feel bad writing that because the Braves are legitimately good, but I think the Dodgers hit the gas now, and win the whole thing in the relatively easy fashion.

This, of course, means an Astros-Dodgers World Series rematch. A lot has changed since then, but you know Dodger Stadium is going to be a crazy hostile environment, and as much as we all love Dusty Baker, his team does not have anywhere near the pitching to hold off that team. The Dodgers will get their revenge, and a winter of darkness will descend upon us all.

3 Thoughts on NLDS Game 5

109 wins. 109 wins and a game that came down to the final out, the final at bat, there was no other for this season to go. The ending was certainly unfortunate (more on that in moment), but it doesn’t change the fact that this was a special season and a special team. And this was an all-time great, epic series. We’ll do some bigger picture thoughts later on, but for now, a couple things about game 5.

(1) The Brutal Ending

I do not think the Giants lost because of a bad call by the umpire on that check swing by Wilmer Flores. And yes, it was clearly a check swing. But, Flores was 0-17 against Scherzer in his career. There’s a tiny chance he hits a walk off home run if given another pitch. There a slightly better chance he might prolong the inning. But the Giants were down to their final strike and had a ways to go to even get the game to extra innings, so let’s not go crazy here.

I felt like the game was lost in the first two innings (more on this later). 

That being said, the umpiring was a significant subplot all series. (And the Giants were concerned heading into the series). I think it was bad, but it was bad for both teams. It’s just a huge shame that MLB would assign some of its worst umpires to such a massive series. For the players to so dramatically outshine the umpires was not a good look, and that’s putting it politely.

(2) The Bullpen

The real reason the Giants lost this series is due to the bullpen. I do not necessarily mean this in a critical sense. I don’t think Kapler mismanaged things, I don’t blame any of the players per se, the Dodgers bullpen is just way better than Giants, and a five game series is all about exposing any particular weaknesses a team has.

Turns out the Dodgers lineup is particularly susceptible to being shut down by pitchers who can keep the ball on the ground (Webb, obviously, but Gausman and Wood also threw 10+ quality innings, giving up just 2 runs). 

The Giants simply did not have enough high end talent in the bullpen.

Camillo Doval is a revelation and will be a good player for a while in this league, but for all his nasty stuff, he’s had control issues (this is why he went to and from Sacaramento 4 times over the course of the season). He couldn’t control his fastball last night, hit Justin Turner (a particularly egregious mistake since Turner did nothing with the bat the entire series), which forced him into throwing too many sliders and that approach got exposed.

This is what the Dodgers do to you, which leads to thought #3, but only after one more sub thought. One way to take pressure off the bullpen…score more runs. The Giants scored 4 runs and hit three home runs in game 1. The rest of the series they scored 6 runs and hit two home runs. If they could have broken out in any of these games it could have changed everything. 

Which is why I felt like the Giants really lost this game earlier in the early innings. Darin Ruf nearly homered in the first. Posey nearly homered in the first as well and settled for a double. But Brandon Crawford could not make the opener Knebel pay, and stranded Posey at second. That was a big moment. 

Right away in the second inning Bryant got a hit. Flores followed with another single soon after and Evan Longoria had a chance to be a hero with one out. He could not take advantage. That was a big moment.

In the fourth inning, Crawford led off with a hit. Kris Bryant was then thrown 5 balls, but two of them were called strikes. If there is an umpiring moment to be bitter about it’s probably this one. A walk there would put the Giants in a 1st and 2nd situation with NO outs, a situation I don’t know that they ever had, once, in the entire series! 

1st and 2nd, no out, situations produce 1-1.4 runs per inning (depending on which modeling system you use). In other words, those bad strike zone calls probably cost the Giants a run, if not more. (2 outs with 1 runner on only produced 0.19 runs, so you can see why this is more costly than the check swing call).

Umpiring aside, the Giants lack of runs was a huge bummer and put way too much pressure on an already outmatched bullpen.

(3) Mookie Betts is Great

This final thought is really an opportunity to complain about how lame the Red Sox and Nations are. Yes, the Dodgers are supremely talented. Yes, they draft and develop and scout talent as well as anyone. They also acquired Betts, Scherzer, and Trea Turner in trades that DID NOT HAVE TO HAPPEN. 

Now, the Red Sox are still alive and might play the Dodgers in the World Series. Some of the pieces they got in the trade have helped them, and the financial flexibility has helped too, but how do you trade Mookie Betts (Imagine the Giants trading Buster Posey after the 2012 MVP/Championship season). It is incredibly annoying that three guys that would go in the first round of most Fantasy Baseball drafts ended up on the 2021 Dodgers.

If I’m bitter about anything, it’s that haha! Partially because I love Mookie Betts and I hate that I can never root for him again because he’s on the dang Dodgers!

That’s it for now. My general perspective is that this was an amazing series and will go down as an all time great. We should have seen these teams in the NLCS not DS, but baseball has weird rules, so instead enjoy the 88 win Atlanta Braves America!

I’ll be back soon with some thoughts on the season as a whole, and the offseason that lies ahead, which is infinitely interesting! 

3 Thoughts on NLDS Game 4

We all knew this is how it was going to go down: Game 5, winner take all. Was there any other way? Yes, actually, the Giants could have won Game 4 and got on with it, but, again, it probably had to be this way.

What I can’t get over is 109 vs. 109. Both teams have now won 109 games. But the 110th is the biggest one. It’s nuts. On to my 3 thoughts from last night’s debacle in LA.

(1) There Is a Talent Gap Between the Giants and the Dodgers

Giants’ fans have been notoriously sensitive about this all year. But, the fact remains that the Dodgers are the more talented team than the Giants. This doesn’t mean LA is destined to win the series. Many times the ”less” talented team has gone on to win a series. Talent isn’t everything, especially at this level of the game where all these teams are very good, especially these two particular teams.

One way of measuring the gap (and credit to the TBS team for hinting at this the other night) is in hall of fame candidates. The Dodgers have two no-doubt, first ballot, hall of famers in Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw (granted, Kershaw is hurt and not performing in this series). The Dodgers have another player who will assuredly get in unless he gets catastrophically hurt or retires in Mookie Betts. They have a few other guys who could be on their way as well: Trea Turner, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, Cory Seager. There is a lot of story to be written for those players, but that’s seven potential HOF candidates. This doesn’t even account for Kenley Jansen/Justin Turner/etc.

The Giants have one HOF candidate in Buster Posey (I think he’s a lock), and a fringy candidate (Brandon Crawford). But there is a very good chance that my grandkids are scanning wikipedia, or whatever this sort of thing will look like in 40 years, and going ”Good Lord, there were a lot of REALLY good players on that 2021 Dodgers team.”

Having said all of that, the big gap in talent is in the pitching, and in particular in the bullpen. The Giants pitching has been a great story all year, and the organization has done some incredible work to transform the bullpen into something that is more of an asset than a liability, but it does not come close to what the Dodgers can roll out of their pen. This is probably how, say, Trailblazer fans felt about playing the Durant/Curry Warriors. “We’re good, but come on man, there’s no way we match up!”

It was a minor miracle that the Giants didn’t lose last night 15-2, and I can’t remember a team feeling so overmatched the way the Giants bullpen is currently overmatched by the Dodgers lineup. And then, to make matter worse, the Dodgers counter with 4 guys who could easily be closers on 25 other teams. The gap is real, friends.

(2) The Circle of Trust

Having said all of that, all hope is not lost. Not at all. One bit of silver lining, before we talk about game 5, was Zack Littell who may have pitched his way back into the circle of trust. He was throwing 96 mph and his slider looked nasty (4 strikeouts in 2 innings. He did give up two hits, but both were kind of fluky). He was much more in command than he was in game 2 and you could see the Dodgers hitters finally put back on their heels for the first time all night.

That was a revelation, and much needed because the list of unusable pitchers only grew longer last night.

(3) How to Win Game 5

Just don’t let the Dodgers score…hahahaha! This is a joke, but then again, the two wins in this series have both been shutouts.

First, let me give the bad news. (A) Logan Webb has been a godsend and so good all year, especially in the second half. But, the Dodgers are relentless and masters of exploiting any weakness, and I fear just a bit of Webb overexposure. He and Posey will need to make adjustments to the adjustments, that might be the whole series right there. (B) The starting pitcher I feared the most coming into this series was/is Julio Urias. I know Scherzer is an all-time great. I know Walker Buehler might win the CY Young award this year. The guy I don’t want to see Urias. And that’s who we get to see. So, there’s that.

Now, the good news. Logan Webb is good! The Giants are good (hello 109 wins), and they are back in San Francisco and Oracle will be loud.

It goes without saying, but for the Giants to win, Webb needs to be great again. He cannot get knocked out this game early. He DOESN’T, though, need to be as good as was last time! If he can even give the Giants 15 outs (five innings) that could be enough (although more is better). Kapler has Doval, Rogers, McGee, and also, now, Littell, Alex Wood, and Kevin Gausman to cover the rest.

The bigger deal, in my opinion, will be getting to Urias early, getting a lead, and not having to play behind against the Dodgers bullpen. The best way to neutralize that massive talent gap is to make it not matter. When the Giants have shut out the Dodgers, they’ve won. But also, when the Giants scored first (and hit a home run) they won. A minor story line is that the Giants have scored: 4, 2, 1, and 2 runs in the four games. The bats need to show up too!

My proposed line up to get to Urias early (and ideally, often):

  • Austin Slater RF
  • Buster Posey C
  • Kris Bryant CF
  • Darin Ruf LF
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Wilmer Flores 1B
  • Donovan Solano 2B
  • Webb P

Then Kapler can go to Wade Jr, Yaz, etc for defense or lineup balance later in the game. No matter what, they can’t play this one from behind. Can’t wait to see what happens! GO GIANTS…

3 Thoughts on NLDS Game 3

WHAT A GAME! A wild, windy, tense affair in which the Giants prevailed by baseball afficanado’s favorite score: 1-0. Three thoughts…

(1) This Game ”Totally” Went According to Plan

By plan I mean: Get Alex Wood through the first part of the game, and then turn the game over to the three bullpen arms that are trustworthy (McGee, Rogers, Doval). Only, in my plan Wood goes 6 innings, and then Kapler could use his three musketeers in whatever order he needed to get those final 9 outs.

So, I (along with everyone else) was pretty shocked when Tyler Rogers came trotting out of the bullpen in THE FIFTH INNING. Now, I do believe that was the time to take Wood out. He was outstanding and he was always the right choice for Game 3. But, he was losing command of the strike zone and that is troublesome, even on a windy night.

Rogers came in to get Mookie Betts (who had looked like the one guy who could really hurt Wood throughout the early part of the game…more on Betts later), and he proceeded to get him and then 4 more outs to boot. He ended up pitching in three different innings! Then McGee came in and got one of the most dominant looking strikeouts we’ve seen from a Giants relief pitcher in a long time.

But then it was Betts again. Two men on, two out, Mookie Betts who had been swinging great all night, absolutely roped one off McGee and this happened:

Brandon Crawford is a baseball wizard. He’s also 34. He’s been doing this since 2011. What were you doing in 2011? Brandon Crawford was doing this kind of stuff, and he is still doing it.

That got the Giants through the 7th, but they still needed 6 more outs. Enter Camillo Doval. He ended up getting the results, which is the main point, but I was most impressed how he handled the situation. It could have been an August evening in Arizona for all he cared. So calm, so smooth. 101 mph, no problem. Five up and five down, and then this happened:

In game 2 Kapler made some moves that were correct, but questionable, and they did not work out. Last night, he made some moves that were correct, but questionable, and they did work out. That’s how it goes.

(2) This Game Felt Like a Vintage ”Torture” Game From the Previous Era.

It was a weird night with the crazy ”diablo” winds at Dodger stadium. It was a tense, close game. It was a game that felt like whoever scored first would win, but you wouldn’t really know right until the very end. It was a game that involved unlikely heroes (hello Evan Longoria hitting a mammoth home run right into the teeth of the wind). It involved oh so many great defensive plays. It involved just the right lineup combination (hello Steven Dugger getting the call to play centerfield). It involved pacing and yelling at the TV and wondering ”why do I even like baseball?” And in the end, it involved the Giants winning a game the should have lost ”on paper.” Max Scherzer scares no one, haha!

(3) But, Now What?

As awesome as last night was, tonight looms, and there are a lot of question marks. Anthony Desclafani will start. The rest of the bullpen will be on high alert. Kapler has said he could use all of his ”big 3” again, although there’s no way you can imagine them being as effective or being able to get as many outs.

So, the Giants will need another bullpen hero to step up. Kerwin Castro has not appeared yet in this series and I get the sense he is important to tonight’s game. But, who knows!

The Dodgers will throw the kitchen sink at the Giants which means, probably, more opportunities to score, but also a lot of managerial decisions.

Bottom line: it would be cool to watch this team celebrate in Dodger Stadium. Can’t wait!

3 Thoughts on NLDS Game 2

Last night’s 9-2 drubbing at the hands of the Dodgers was NOT as much as fun as Game 1. Here are three thoughts…

(1) You need to be very close to perfect to beat the Dodgers.

In the immortal words of Chris Martin: ”Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard.” Of course we were silly to dream of a sweep and a quick move-on to the next round. But, last night’s game was a reminder that the Dodgers are very talented, have a very clear organizational philosophy, and snapped right back to it in Game 2.

Against a team this deep, this talented, this multi-faceted, you cannot make mistakes. Not with pitch selection, or location, not on defense, not on the bases, no giving away at bats, no mistakes. (Of course the Giants made mistakes in Game 1, but that only further illustrated how brilliant Logan Webb and Buster Posey really were ).

Last night the Giants made a variety of mistakes and it cost them.

On a related note, the prevailing attitude (at least on Twitter) among Giants’ fans is that this is the hard series. “If they can just get through the Dodgers, it will be smooth sailing.” I do think the Dodgers are the best team and facing them in a 5 game series is a particularly daunting, unforgiving, task, but look: The Braves, Brewers, Rays, and Astros are VERY good. And the Sox (white and red varietals) are no slouch either. If this is going to be a deep run, we are just at the beginning of a hard journey. Get used to it!

(2) The Bullpen Might Be a Problem

I recognizing that comparing eras is totally unfair to the 2021 version of the Giants, but bear with me a moment. The key moment of game 2, in my opinion, came in the 6th inning when Kevin Gausman walked Will Smith (which, also imo, was not a bad move, per se. He scares me. Will Smith that is.) At this point Gabe Kapler decided to replace Gausman (not a bad decision, but more on this in a moment). Dominic Leone came in and immediately walked Chris Taylor and gave up back to back doubles to Cody Bellinger (oof) and AJ Pollack.

The bullpen has been a good story this season. It took a while to figure it out, but they did figure it out, and the ’pen has been quite effective for months. But they don’t have that GUY who can come into a 6th inning mess and get out of it.

In 2010, 2012, and 2014 the Giants had Jeremy Affeldt (full disclosure, I LOVE Jeremy Affeldt, the pitcher, as much as I love anyone from those teams). This kind of thing happened many times. Affeldt would have entered the game, still walked Christ Taylor (while throwing a couple “scuds” that Posey would miraculously save from being wild pitches), but then he’d strike out Bellinger on 4 pitches and get Pollack to weakly ground out to second base. We’d all age 5 years, but the game would still be 2-1, the Giants would tie it in the bottom of the inning, and boom: you have a three inning game.

Moral of the story: DON’T EVER FORGET HOW AWESOME JEREMY AFFELDT WAS!!! The other moral: who is this guy for the 2021 Giants? I don’t know that they have him. He was supposed to be Matt Wisler. Remember him? He was one of the ”big” free agent signing this offseason, and he did not work out (to put it nicely). Of course, he is now pitching for the Rays and could be in the World Series against his old Giants teammates. Time will tell. But that was the idea of Matt Wisler: a guy with a nasty pitch who could get right and left handed batters out equally well. A vintage Matt Wisler would have been awesome last night (or a vintage Jeremy Affeldt…even better!).

One good thing to come out of the game was that Jake McGee pitched, and pitched well. At the risk of oversimplifying things, it does feel like if the Giants can get their starter through 18 outs (i.e. 6 innings), they have enough to get 9 more (McGee, Rogers, and Doval). The rest feels a bit up in the air right now. It also could simply be that Leone and Littel had bad nights and we are all overreacting. They got it out of their system and everything will be fine. But, I’m concerned.

(3) Gabe Kapler finally Gave Us Something To Talk About

But not in a good way! I’m 100% of the opinion that this game was lost by the players, not the manager, but Kapler made a few decisions that are worthy of scrutiny. One of them was bringing in Leone. Now, to be fair, I’m not sure who else he should have brought in there, and if Leone gets a call from the umpire he strikes out Taylor and probably pitches Bellinger better as a result (I mean he literally threw a 95 mph fastball in the only spot Bellinger can actually hit a baseball right now). That happens and we have a whole different game to talk about. That is not what happened.

The other big question of the night came half an inning earlier, while the Giants were batting. Kapler let Gausman hit for himself. Donovan Solano, hitting eighth, led off and while he was batting Mike Yastrzemski came out on-deck. After Solana made the first out, Gausman hit, striking out on 4 pitches. Darin Ruf immediately popped out to end the inning. There was some consternation about letting Gausman hit there. Did Kapler waste an out on a pitcher who would only get one more out himself?

My take is that it made sense to let Gausman hit. If Solano doubles to start the inning, then yeah, let Yaz hit. That’s not what happened, and Gausman had just retired 10 in a row and looked to be really in a groove.

I also think, based on what we saw, that Kapler too understands that some of his middle relievers may not be good fits in this particular series. Strike throwers like Leone and Littel just might not be able to get it done against LA.

I think it was the right move, and Gausman’s at bat certainly didn’t cost them the game, but it is worthy of debate and something to keep an eye on as the series rolls on to Monday night.

Looking ahead: It’s Alex Wood vs. Max Scherzer in LA. So far, everyone sees last night’s result as a big shift in momentum back towards the Dodgers. This series though, as dumb as it may sound, really is a series, in the sense that every game is going to be different. These teams are too deep, have too many options, and too many counters for one game to have too much impact on the next. I don’t buy the moment thing at all.

Also, maybe I’m a dummy, but Max Scherzer doesn’t scare me. Julio Urias is far more terrifying from my perspective. I also think Alex Wood is the right choice for Game 3. No one on this Giants team knows more about pitching in LA and the Dodgers than Wood.

What do I know? The Dodgers may blow us out again in Game 3, but I think it’s actually pretty close.

3 Thoughts on NLDS Game 1

Last night’s 4-0 domination of the Dodgers was a great start! Here are three thoughts from the game…

(1) The moment was not too big for Logan Webb and Camilo Doval

When I saw that Webb was the game 1 starter and Kevin Gausman would get game 2, it made total sense from a performance stand point. Gausman was outstanding in the first half of the season, Webb dominated the second (while Gausman faded a bit). But, I was mildly concerned about how Webb would respond to the spotlight and pressure of the NLDS. Yes, the Giants had to hold off the Dodgers until the very last day, but it never felt like a pressure cooker of a pennant race. That all changed last night.

Webb, though, pitched brilliantly, his stuff was nasty, but even more than that he acted as if he’d been there before. Many times. Completely undaunted and unfazed.

In a similar vein while many Giants fans were pushing for Camilo Doval to be the closer (his 101 mph fastballs are something to behold) over the Jake McGee experience, McGee is a veteran who has been here before (namely last year with these very Dodgers). It makes all the sense in the world to go with the old hand, but Kapler went straight to Doval for the 9th inning. Granted it was not a “save” opportunity, but 4 runs is striking distance for these Dodgers and if this got messy, even in a win, it would be a step back for the team. It also seemed like a good low-stakes opportunity to get McGee back into game action.

Dovall was so good, you might have actually missed his appearance. Like many of the Dodger’s at bats, it was over quickly and with low drama.

Both young pitchers were completely up for the challenge of Game 1 and it was beautiful to see.

(2) The Giants defense was outstanding

Another mild concern entering the series was the defense. Overall the Giants had a very good defensive year, but with matchups, injuries (primarily Brandon Belt), and, again, the pressure cooker of the playoffs, I had questions. Will second base be a liability? Will Wilmer Flores, et al, be able to handle fist base? Will Kris Bryant step up after a lackluster 2 months for the Giants? Will Kapler need to sacrifice offense for defense in the outfield (playing Steven Dugger more than, say, LaMonte Wade Jr)?

The Giants did make 2 “errors” both of which involved Logan Webb, and neither of which hurt them at all. Otherwise Flores made a couple nice plays, Bryant was totally fine, and La Stella made one of the plays of the year on an awesome double play. The defense passed the first test.

(3) Buster Posey was the story of the game

Yes, he hit a HUGE home run in the first inning that absolutely helped set the tone for the night (and proved to be the winning run). But I thought the story of the night was the way he handled and controlled the game from behind the plate. It was a master class in catching and calling a game.

This is not to take anything away from Logan Webb. The dude was awesome and he had to execute the game plan. But, Posey immediately noticed the Dodgers were aggressive early in the count, looking for fastballs, and wanting to avoid the slider, so they adjusted and Webb threw 38 change ups, a season high. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

(Extra) Don’t sleep on Kris Bryant going 3-3 with that home run that extended the lead to 3-0. He did all that damage against Walker Buehler and if he gets hot, this lineup gets REALLY dangerous.

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2021 Post-Season. Here We Go. #BeatLA

Oh…hello! I’m still here. It’s been quite a year, and, as you can tell, writing for the blog has not been a top priority. Or any sort of priority.

But then back in July I said to myself: “Self. If the Giants somehow get into the playoffs, that will be the sign to bring the Monk back.” And then about two weeks later it became obvious that this was going to happen. It just was a matter of Division Champs or Wild Card, and somehow, someway, this club just kept winning (107 freaking times) and hung on long enough to beat the Dodgers by a game.

The reward: a brutal 5 game series against…oh…the Dodgers. Great.

More on that in a moment. I do not have the time for a full season recap, but I want to point out this line from one of the last posts I wrote at the end of 2020: the mission is clear: get some pitchers and pray for Buster’s return!

What a brilliant, prophetic line (winky-face emoji)!

Obviously, this season has been about so many awesome things, but funny, isn’t it, how Buster came back, the Giants took some gambles on pitchers that REALLY paid off, and here we are: 107 wins, easy peasy.

And, like I said, the reward for the greatest season in Franchise history (and I mean franchise: NY and SF) is a brutal 5 game series against the Dodgers.

It doesn’t seem fair, and it also seems perfect. Destined even.

This has been brewing for a while. These teams have been very good for over a decade and ever since the league introduced the wild card in 1995, this scenario has been looming. A crushing postseason disappointment of epic proportions, never felt by any of us before, or a euphoric fandom experience the likes of which few get to experience. That’s what we face in the coming week. This is what a rivalry is all about. Ask Red Sox fans. They’ve been on either side of this, and it’s nuts.

My quick take: I fully expect this to go all five games. The key to me is the Giants need to get 3 good starts. 3 good turns by starting pitchers and no big Kapler blunders, and we’re good.

Post-Season Predictions:

Because this has never happened before, and because I don’t know how to handle it, I’m not picking the Dodgers or Giants, I’m just going to go ahead and pick Tampa to win the whole thing and leave it there. Watch out for the Rays, and good luck everyone: be kind to your hearts for the next week, we are in uncharted territory!