WORLD SERIES #SFGiants #NLCS

It is going to take something really, really special to replace the Barry Zito redemption story on my list of favorite Giants’ stories of all time.

But, Travis Ishikawa.

Before he came up I tweeted this:

It is written…

Because, of course. It’s the perfect story: guy almost quits…guy gets picked up by old team…guy plays well…guy finally makes mistake…everyone remembers he shouldn’t be here…guy comes up with a chance to redeem himself and send his team to the World Series…and then guy hits home run.

I mean all he needed was a base hit. He also could have walked. We’ve appreciated the Ishi walk before.

Nope. Home run. Let’s go home.

It was written.

———-

Think about all your favorite Giants: Bonds, Kent, Aurillia, Snow, Thompson, Davis, Leonard, Clark, Williams, Burks, Alou. Go way back: Mays, Cepeda, McCovey.

None of those guys hit a walk off home run to send the Giants to the World Series.

———-

The Fox team went on and on (and on and on) about how awesome Wainwright was. And he was good. He had the curveball going and he used some trickery to keep guys off-balance.

But Bumgarner was good too. He retired the last 13 batters he faced. He bent but never broke. 15 1/3 innings, 3 runs.

And he’s the MVP.

———

You just knew Michael Morse was going to do something awesome, and he did.

My dad’s friend nearly caught the ball too.

Love that weird dude so much.

(Also, love that it was the left fielders, after so many years with THE left fielder, hitting home runs to win this game.)

———

Happy for Tim Hudson. 16 years, first World Series.

———-

Loved seeing Sabean in tears immediately after the game.

Loved Bochy quoting Harbaugh: “Nobody’s got it better than us.”

Loved the fact that these guys are celebrating like this has never happened before.

Act like you’ve been there before during the games, celebrate like it may never happen again afterwards.

———-

Bochy with the Giants: 8 postseason series wins, 0 loses.

———-

Joe Panik broke the home run drought. Of course he did. Another Giants’ second baseman doing something amazing in the postseason.

You just knew they needed homers.

———-

Brandon Crawford and Jeremy Affeldt saved the season. Talk about Morse, talk about Ishikawa, give the MVP to Bumgarner. They all deserve it.

But, that ball that deflected off Panda’s glove right to Crawford could have been a disaster. But, Mr. Smooth, Brandon Crawford, calmly caught it and winged a perfect throw to Joe Panik. HUGE out, huge play.

And then, Casilla had no idea where the ball was going, and it got really bad against Cruz. Bochy pulled him. Affeldt came in and immediately restored order.

One of the greatest Giants of all time: Jeremy Affeldt.

The door was slammed, and the stage was set.

———

Grant wrote earlier this week (after Game 2) that the Giants have lacked walk-off awesomeness in their postseason history. They proceeded to then do it twice.

I like walk off wins.

I like baseball.

That was awesome.

-SB

3 Question for Game 5 #sfgiants #cardinals #NLCS

Questions/Keys to the Game:

1. Can Madison Bumgarner get through the first inning unscathed? MadBum has not brought his first inning woes with him into the postseason, his only blemish being that weird 7th inning against Washington. But, during the regular season he was most vulnerable coming out of the gate, sporting a 5.73 ERA in the first, but under 3 the rest of the game.

If Bumgarner can keep a clean sheet through 1 then Giants’ fans can sit back, take a deep breath, and watch with just a bit less stress.

2. Can the Giants wear out Adam Wainwright? We will probably never know how badly “injured” Adam Wainwright is right now, but having to throw 50 pitches in the first two innings of Game 1 certainly didn’t help anything. If Wainwright can get through the early innings with minimal pitches and establish a rhythm he will give a great gift to his team. And to himself, because quick innings will keep the elbow from barking.

On the other hand, if the Giants can make Wainwright work hard from the get go, foul off tough pitches, get some baserunners, and prolong counts, it will be a short night for the Cardinals ace and the Giants can then get into the tired bullpen (and into Matheny’s head).

3. Who will hit a home run? Several sites reported today that the Giants could be the first time to win a LCS without hitting a home run since the 1990 A’s (weird). The only time it happened before that? 1919. This is a rare occurence. Part of me hopes they do it, because they are the Giants. Deal with it world.

On the other hand, a home run would be so, so nice. My guess is it will come from Buster Posey, who is locked in, but has no extra base hits. That seems destined to change. On the other hand, Hunter Pence has only hit one postseason home run in his career. Seems like that number needs to go up.

It would be great if the Giants won tonight. Go Giants!

-SB

3 Thoughts on Game 4 #nlcs #sfgiants #cardinals

Sweet goodness that was an awesome game. Seriously, that’s the kind of game baseball has to learn how to market better because it was INTENSE from beginning to end. Who says baseball is boring!

1. The Common Thread. Name the 6 Giants who have made significant contributions to each postseason run since 2010?

  • Of course, there is the manager: Bruce Bochy (another gem of out-managing the opposing manager)
  • And there’s Buster Posey, baseball immortal at the age of 27.
  • And you might guess Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Pablo Sandoval and you would technically be correct. But Panda rode the bench in 2010, Lincecum is doing the same this time around, and Matt Cain is recovering from elbow surgery.
  • The other 4: Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Santiago Casilla
  • CORRECTION: Madison Bumgarner has been a MAJOR contributor to all three teams. MY BAD!

That is truly unbelievable continuity at the game’s most volatile position: relief pitcher. In the last five years here are some other guys the Giants have used out of the bullpen (think about what they are contributing at this point in their careers):

  • Brian Wilson
  • Guillermo Mota
  • Brandon Medders
  • Waldis Joaquin
  • Ramon Ramirez
  • Dan Runzler
  • Chris Ray
  • Clay Hensley
  • George Kontos
  • Jose Mijares
  • Shane Loux
  • Chad Gaudin
  • Jean Machi
  • Sandy Rosario
  • Jake Dunning
  • Heath Hembree
  • Guillermo Moscoso
  • David Huff
  • Juan Gutierrez
  • Hunter Strickland
  • Barry Zito/Tim Lincecum

All those guys, just planets revolving in the orbit of Casilla/Lopez/Affeldt/Casilla. Lot’s of great stuff in this article, which put into words my thoughts as I watched the game unfold last night: no bullpen core stays this good for this long. No one.

Casilla, right now, is pitching as well as any Giants’ closer I have ever seen. Romo looked vintagely good last night. Lopez came through, as he always does, despite nearly walking the one guy he needed to get out.

And then, bold statement of the day, Jeremy Affeldt may be the most under appreciated great Giant of all time. I just don’t think we recognize enough what he has done over the years and the weapon he represents as a lefty who can get right-handed batters out, and who can get 4, 5, or 6 outs. That is awesome.

And then this: 17 straight postseason appearances for Affeldt without allowing a run.

2. Depth. On the broadcast they kept calling the game a “manager’s game,” and they were right. And once again, Bochy comes out on top. Which leads to another thought. This Giants’ team is deep. Consider the guys who contributed in various ways:

  • All the pitchers of course
  • Joaquin Arias: pinch hit single, run scored
  • Juan Perez: walk, run scored, late game defense
  • Michael Morse: first as a decoy, then as a pinch hitter (he didn’t do anything in that at bat, but his presence changed the game)
  • Matt Duffy: huge, successful sacrifice bunt
  • And all the pitchers of course

Everyone Bochy called on contributed and changed the course of the game in a positive direction for the Giants.

3. Petit. There’s not much left to say about what Petit has done. He’s essentially thrown a two hit shutout this postseason. The difference in this game was that Bochy had Petit and Matheny did not.

(Side note: Bochy’s taken heat from people, and I am chief among them, for letting Peavy stay in Game 2 and pitch to Matt Carpenter in the 4th inning with the bases loaded. It paid off in the moment for Bochy, who then had Javier Lopez available later in the game. In Game 4 Matheny brought in his version of Lopez, Randy Choate, to get an out. It worked for Matheny in the moment, but then he did not have Choate available later in the game and it really backfired in the 6th and 7th when there were multiple times Choate would have come in handy. Another point for Bochy).

To summarize: Petit is a bearded ball of awesome.

Tonight: I appreciate Grant’s thoughts on this…the series is NOT OVER. Tonight will be stressful stress, nothing is certain, and the Giants need to take care of business now and not mess around. WIN TONIGHT!!!! Go Giants!

-SB

3 Thoughts on Game 3 #SFGiants #NLCS

1. The Giants are lucky. We are never going to get away from this narrative. Forget the fact that the Giants scored 4 very legitimate runs in the first inning. Forget that for all the angst about the offense, and for all the home runs the Cardinals are hitting, the Giants have outscored them 12-9 so far. Forget the good start by Tim Hudson, and the strong bullpen pitching by various old friends (Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez, and Romo). Forget the great defense by Pablo and Blanco. Forget the great at bat by Crawford, the redemption of Juan Perez (bunt goat to base hit master), and forget that Blanco laid down a great BUNT, one that he might have beaten out even if the throw was on target.

No, the Giants are lucky.

Ultimately, I agree with Posey: who cares as long we win. But, I just wanted Joe Panik to get the winning hit/sacrifice fly so bad. I want Joe Buck to have to say nice things about the Giants.

But, really, I just want the Giants to win. So, there’s that.

2. Hat tip to Bruce Bochy. I know some people are complaining about leaving Hudson in for the 7th. It was not a bad move though: he was pitching well, got the first out, had a low pitch count, and the ball was not exactly flying out of the yard. If Hudson gets through that inning, that saves the bullpen and sets everything up for the last 6 outs.

More interestingly, when the lineups came out, I said: “Move Ishikawa up one spot? That’s the big jolt the lineup needs to get going?” And then, unbelievably, there’s Ishikawa up with the bases loaded in the first inning. It seemed so perfect. Ishikawa grounds out, leaves them loaded, and the internet explodes with Giants-related rage.

Nope. He nearly goes yard (that’s a grand slam pretty much everywhere else). Bases clearing double.

Travis Ishikawa: postseason hero.

Overall, I thought Bochy did a great job with this game. Game 3’s are so critical, and the Giants got it done.

3. Petit and Lincecum. There is no reason for Bochy to wait around tomorrow night with Ryan Vogelsong. I love Vogey and hope he pitches 7 or 8 epic innings and leads the team to a win. But, the Giants have Petit and Lincecum fresh and ready to go. Somehow, they have a lead in this series without using Petit, maybe the Giants best weapon in the ‘pen. It’s fairly remarkable to get to a Game 4 and still have such a big card to play.

Sub-thought: how good is Santiago Casilla right now?

He’s good.

Go Giants!

-SB

3 Thoughts on NLCS Games 1 and 2 #NLCS #SFGiants #STLCardinals

3 Thoughts:

1. Don’t freak out! Last night’s loss was a bummer, but so far this is working out more or less as we hoped. Plus, there are several reason for optimism:

  • First, Adam Wainwright didn’t look right, and Madison Bumgarner looked like THE ace of the postseason. This match up may not be a coin toss after all.
  • Second, Yadier Molina’s injury could be devastating to the Cardinals. I am not rejoicing in this fact at all, but the reality is he is their most important player, and even though the Cardinals pulled it out last night there were several moments, including the Giants’ tying run that scored in the 9th that demonstrated there is a huge drop off from Molina to Cruz. (Of course, Molina’s injury also increases the likelihood that A.J. Pierzynski plays a role in this series. Objectively, that is great news for the Giants. Subjectively the thought of him having a big, important moment in this series makes my soul hurt.)
  • Third, the Giants pitching staff has given up 0, 2, 1, 4, 2, 0, and 5 runs in each of the 7 games this postseason. (You might as well add another zero there too for the 18 inning game). That’s 2 runs a game. Of those 14 runs, 7 have come on solo home runs. 7 home runs is not good, but this staff is not going to give up that many home runs moving forward, especially with the next three games being played at AT&T. The key is to keep limiting the opportunities and big innings, which they’ve been doing. And stop serving up taters.
  •  Finally, I still hold to my belief that games 3 and 4 are the swing games. The Giants, SHOULD have the advantage here being at home, and, especially, in the starting pitching match ups.

2. It’s finally time to question Bochy. As magical as Bruce has been over the years there were some moves last night that should be questioned:

  1. Leaving Peavy in to face Matt Carpenter with the bases loaded. It totally worked out, but I wanted to punch the TV when this decision was made. Javier Lopez was ready to go and there were two lefties coming up (this was not a one and done situation). Bochy rolled the dice, and it paid off both in the moment and later on in the game when Lopez was available to get Carpenter out again.
  2. Using Jeremy Affeldt for the 5th and 6th. The Giants really missed having Affeldt available later in the game (to face Tavares or Matt Adams). Why not use Petit there? If you burn Petit in Game 2, you (a) have a day off for him to recover, and (b) still have Tim Lincecum for early help if needed in Game 3. There was no reason to run Affeldt out so early.

Bochy should get credit for the way he used the bench in the 9th to get a rally going, but for the first time I can remember he made one questionable move (Peavy), and one bad move (not using Petit) in his managing of the bullpen.

For all of the positive thoughts I mentioned above, last night’s game does raise a major question moving forward: who do you trust late in the game?

  • Hunter Stickland? Only against right-handers at this point. When he came in in Game 1 against the Nationals and blew away Ian Desmond, I immediately thought: “K-Rod.” He’s been money against right-handers, but has now allowed 4 solo home runs to left-handed batters. I love the kid and his confidence, and I don’t think he is going to give up a home run every time he faces a left-handed hitter, but seeing him come into the 8th inning of a close game is going to turn my stomach.
  • Jean Machi? No. That’s all.
  • Sergio Romo? At AT&T the answer is yes. That home run given up to Wong was, again, a total bummer, but I’m not ready to write off Romo yet.
  • Lopez/Affeldt/Cassilla. Yes, yes, yes. I think Bochy has to think of Affeldt as his 8th inning guy moving forward. Of course he doesn’t need to be dogmatic about that, but I think he’s the answer for right now. Use Lopez to get Adams/Carpenter/Wong/Tavares out in big situations, and Casilla should be good to go for 4 or 5 out saves.
  • Petit/Lincecum. If Hudson gets into trouble early in Game 3, Petit has to come in right away. No questions asked. And, I still think Lincecum will have a moment, especially at home, to do something special and redeem his season. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Petit turn into a late inning option either.

3. Crank up the power. Here’s maybe the biggest issue right now. Again, the dingers are a problem, but a staff that allows 2 runs a game in the postseason is all you can ask for and more. In all the clamoring about how the pitching staff was used and failed to come through in Game 2, the reality is that the Giants have left 19 men on base in this series. They’ve had a few chances to blow these games open and/or put the dagger in late, and have failed to do so. There have been some great at bats, they aren’t striking out much, they are putting a lot of pressure on the Cardinals staff, but they have been incredibly inefficient so far. This, in my opinion, is actually the biggest different between this version of the Giants and the last two playoff runs. Consider:

  • In 2010, the Giants started 6 guys who could reasonably hit a home run at any given time (and without looking it up, I’m sure that all 6 of these guys hit home runs): Posey, Huff, Burrell, Ross, Renteria, and Uribe. Plus, Torres put a lot of pressure on the defense with his speed and extra base power, and Freddy Sanchez (remember him) was an on-base/doubles machine. That’s 8 tough at-bats every time through the lineup.
  • In 2012, the Giants started 5 guys who could reasonably hit a home run at any time: Pagan, Posey, Sandoval, Pence, Belt. Crawford and Blanco were just asked to keep the line moving and both had home runs/big extra-base hits that served as gravy to what the rest of the offense was doing. And, of course, there was Marco Scutaro at the height of his high-contact/high-pitch-count awesomeness, who just wore pitchers out with his refusal to make an out. That’s 6 really tough at bats, plus two good ones at the end of the lineup, every time through.
  • This year it’s been a bit different. The Giants are only starting 4 guys who can reasonably hit a home run at any time: Posey, Pence, Sandoval, and Belt. Again, Crawford could be added to this list (and of course we aren’t even talking about this if not for his huge grand slam against the Pirates). But the biggest difference is that Blanco is being asked to lead off (as opposed to 8th), Panik (who is doing a reasonable Scutaro impersonation) is not going to hit for power, and, as much as I hate to say it, the big problem is Travis Ishikawa. I love what Ishi has been able to contribute so far, but they have to give Morse a shot to get 2-3 at bats a game. The potential increase in efficiency is too great to let pass. There just as many tough at bats in a row, and not as much fear of the home run as in previous years.

The Giants are still in a great position to take this series and move on. Go Giants!

-SB

How The Giants Can Win the LCS in 6 #sfgiants #nlcs

Before I break it down, a couple of thoughts:

  • Based on the results it sure looks like the Cardinals are a superior team to the Dodgers. Also, the Giants and Dodgers played each other straight up all year (10-9 in favor of the Dodgers to be fair), so, sure the Giants could have beat them in a seven game series. But man, if it doesn’t feel like the Giants caught a huge break in getting the Cardinals instead. The Giants have always struggled against Clayton Kershaw (apparently the Cardinals have no such issues), and Zach Grienke really had their number this year. Having to face those guys four times in a week was going to be a tall order. Plus there’s the whole rivalry distraction, the Puig/Bumgarner silliness, and the specter of Brian Wilson that no one has to think about now. Somehow, this series feels much more open and winnable.
  • Heading into the 2012 postseason the Giants were platooning X Nady and Gregor Blanco in left field. And then the Giants never faced a left-handed starter in any of their 16 playoff games, which means that Blanco’s glove (and bat) got a lot of time (really all of the time) during the championship run. Imagine if they had to play the Phillies (with Lee and Hammels) or any team with a left-handed starter. Either we’d mention Nady in the pantheon of heroes, or we might not be talking about the potential for a 3rd World Championship right now. I mention that because the Cardinals have nothing but right-handed starters. The Giants have a lefty heavy lineup. Relatively subtle things like this seem to end up playing a large role in the Giants’ success. Blanco (as well as Joe Panik and Brandon Belt) will need to come up big in this series.
  • Along those same lines, it appears that Mike Morse will be available and play in this series. Which raises the question: start him or save him on the bench? Bochy loves to go with what-is-working-right-now in the postseason. Travis Ishikawa hasn’t been setting the world on fire, but it’s worked so far. Morse is unknown at the moment, and having to get your timing back against Adam Wainwright is kind of cruel. BUT, the Giants will need to hit some home runs to win this series. So, do you keep starting Travis because it’s working, he is left-handed, he plays better defense than Morse, and because when Matheny brings in a lefty to mow down the bottom part of the Giants order it would be nice to have Morse around to pinch hit? Or, do you gamble that Morse won’t kill you in the field and can get a hold of one at a key spot? Three run home runs are going to be extremely valuable in this series. Watch carefully how this plays itself out.
  • The only player on the Giants’ roster to not make an appearance in the NLDS was Tim Lincecum. He didn’t even get the call in the 18 inning game. Something tells me, though, that he could play a role in this series. Look for Lincecum to have a Barry Zito moment before this one is done. (UPDATE: Grant thinks it’s a bad idea to have Tim on the roster).
  • Finally, as if you didn’t have enough reason to root wholeheartedly for the Giants, the Cardinals will feature two of Giants’ fans least favorite players: John Lackey and A.J. Pierzynski. Also, Matt Holiday. Good grief.

How the Giants can win in six (by the way, SI and McCovey Chronicles also pick the Giants in six…not sure what that means):

  • Game 1: Wainwright vs. Bumgarner. If I were a fan of some other team, say the Mets, I’d still love to watch this game. There’s been a lot written about “not-the-Cardinals-not-the-Giants-again,” but this kind of pitching matchup is what makes baseball awesome. Watch and enjoy world. As I see it playing out, unless Wainwright really is broken, game 1 and game 5 are coin-flips. It really could go either way, and it will probably be something weird that changes the game. I think the Giants will win game 1 because Bumgarner seems to do better on the road, but lose the rematch at home (see below). I’ll say Giants 3-2.
  • Game 2: Lynn vs. Peavy. My guess is that the Cardinals really wanted Peavy at the trade deadline, but the Giants beat them to it and the Cards had to settle for Lackey. That makes me smile. The Giants have destroyed Lance Lynn in each of the five times he’s pitched against them (including 2 starts in the 2012 NLCS). However, this year’s version of Lance Lynn is better than previous versions. Again, I see this being a coin-flip. This time the Cardinals will prevail to even the series as it heads to the Bay. Cardinals 5-3.
  • Game 3: In the NLDS preview I wrote that the Giants MUST win every Bumgarner start. In this series I actually believe that does not apply. The reason for that comes down to the crucial games 3 and 4 matchups. First, the Giants haven’t announced who is starting yet (well-played Boch). So some of this is a shot in the dark. Second, both teams had surprisingly successful starts in the first round from the likely starters in these games. My tendency is to trust the Giants’ results more than the Cardinals. I think Tim Hudson is more likely to repeat his performance than John Lackey, and Ryan Vogelsong than Shelby Miller. Third, I think Bochy will not start Petit (or Lincecum, ha ha) in these games and have a very short leash with the starters and bring one (or both) of them in if needed. I do think Lincecum could have a moment here, at home, saving the day in a big game. I see Game 3 being Lackey vs. Hudson, with Huddy out pitching the other old dog and the Giants getting a modicum of revenge for the 2002 World Series. Giants 6-3.
  • Game 4: Miller vs. Vogelsong. With the Giants up 2-1 I see Bochy turning to Vogey who certainly earned the right to get another shot with his Game 4 performance in the LDS. Again, though, with a short leash and a call to the ‘pen as soon as trouble starts. I think both starters will be solid the first time through the order, and so who can manage round 2 will be critical. I think Vogelsong will adjust, but Miller will struggle. The bullpens will be called earlier than usual, and the Giants will fight and hang on in a close, tense game. Giants 4-3.
  • Game 5: As I said before, Bumgarner vs. Wainwright, assuming Wainwright is healthy, is a coin-flip. For some reason Bumgarner struggles more at home. Plus, I just don’t see the Cardinals going down in 5. In a very close, low scoring game, the Cardinals prevail and send it back to St. Loius. Cardinals 1-0.
  • Game 6: Lynn vs. Peavy, round 2. Much like the 2010 NLCS, the Giants will miss a chance to clinch at home and have to go on the road to finish it off. Much like 2010, they won’t mess around with a game 7 and they will get it done here. I see Peavy pitching the game of his life, spitting and yelling, and the Giants good mojo against Lance Lynn will once gain prevail. Giants 4-2 (for the 4-2 series win).

One final thought: despite what I just wrote, I see this series being much more fluid than the last round. There will be a million twists and turns. Unlike last time I don’t see any “must-win” matchups for the Giants. I think they have a fairly good chance in every game (no Jordan Zimmerman’s here). Undoubtedly this will be a wild ride, I hope we are happy with the result on the other end!

-SB

LCS Predictions

I did terrible with my LDS predictions, so it is with some hesitation I share what I think will happen in this next round. Here we go:

Royals vs. Orioles

  • Offense: The Orioles have the more traditional offensive weapons, being able to hit home runs and all. That said, if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer keep hitting home runs, maybe we will hear less about all the steals and small ball that the Royals employ. The series will be an interesting contract in styles, but I have to give the edge to the Orioles over all because of their power hitting ways.
  • Starting pitching: The edge goes to the Royals here. I just don’t have very much confidence in the Orioles starters, which is why I picked them to lose. I think James Shields will get stronger the longer the Royals stay alive and the rest of their starting arms are pretty good too.
  • Bullpen: Again, a contrast in styles. The Royals like to get 6 innings from the starter and then go Herrera, Davis, Holland for the last three. The Orioles have several great arms in their pen and no fear of mixing and matching. For pure stuff I give the edge to the Royals, for strong utilization the edge belongs to the Orioles.
  • Manager: Huge edge here to the Orioles. Buck Showalter (who Jeff Passan is in love with) is the closest thing in the American League to Bruce Bochy, and Ned Yost will cost the Royals a game at some point in this series.
  • Pick: based on my simplistic breakdown I should be picking the Orioles, but the Royals are hot and have a little bit of that destiny feel to them. I wanted to pick them so badly last round, so I’m going with the Royals in 7.

Cardinals vs. Giants

  • Offense: Neither of these lineups are world beaters, but both are loaded with good hitters, any of whom could be a hero. THe Cardinals pound fastballs, which is good news for a Giants’ staff that doesn’t rely on the fastball the way other’s do. The only starter who seems vulnerable because of his reliance on the fastball is Ryan Vogelsong, but he’s pitched well against the Cardinals before. The Giants have a lot of left-handed hitters and the Cards will only start righties in this series so that bodes well for an uptick in runs. A couple of “ifs”: if Michael Morse is available and good, that’s a huge boost for the Giants. If the Cardinals power surge against LA is real then they become a much more dangerous opponent. I’m calling this a wash.
  • Starting Pitching: Coming into the postseason neither rotation was looked at as all that menacing. Both teams feature an ace (Bumgarner/Wainwright). After that there’s some mixing and matching. I’d give the Giants an edge with Peavy over Lynn, Hudson over Miller/(injured) Wacha, and Vogelsong over Lackey.
  • Bullpen: Both pens are very good. A slight edge to the Giants perhaps?
  • Manager: Mike Matheny was a rookie manager the last time these teams met in the LCS. His career trajectory suggests the Cards will win it all this year (LCS loss, World Series loss, World Series win), but despite his improvements the edge goes to the Giants and Bochy.
  • Prediction: this postseason is absolutely wide open a this point. There is no reason to be surprised at any of these four teams winning it all. In these kinds of scenarios we’ve seen the Giants take advantage. It’s an even-numbered year, they can do this. Giants in 6.

I will have a breakdown of how I see the NLCS playing out up tomorrow!

-SB

3 Thoughts on Winning the NLDS #sfgiants #nlds #2014playoffs

1. Ryan Vogelsong is magic. I tweeted before the game that I thought Vogelsong had at least one more moment of greatness in him, and then he came through with a really good start. I thought if he could get through the lineup one time it would be huge and he gave even more than that. He has to start again. Petit is too good of a weapon in the bullpen.

Bochy is magic too. I know manager’s don’t have as much influence on the game as fans tend to think, but a large factor in this series was Bochy’s experience (now 8-0 in playoff series with the Giants) versus the inexperience of Matt Williams. You’ve got to wonder how the Nats might have fared under Davey Johnson in this series. Asked after the game why he went with Thornton and Barrett in the 7th instead of Clippard/Strasburg/Stammen, Williams said “all year long they’ve been our 7th inning guys.” The key phrase there was “all year long.” You cannot play the postseason the way you play “all year long”. Bochy adjusted, Williams did not. That’s one way to neutralize a more talented roster.

2. I incorrectly predicted every LDS. And I’m totally fine with that. No Tigers, no LA teams, and the Giants are still in it. Yes, please. Not to make excuses, but coming into the playoffs I honestly had no idea what to do: the Angel’s ace was out, Detroit’s bullpen sucked, the Dodgers seemed vulnerable after their two aces, and the Nationals had to play the Giants. This is one of the most wide open postseasons in an era of wide-openness. Anything can happen.

Subthought: the Giants will need more offense to beat the Cardinals. Some good news: the Cardinals don’t have a rotation like the Nationals. One of the reason the Giants struggled to score runs in this series is because the Nationals starters are really good. Runs should come a little more easily this time around. Also, Michael Morse could return, which could mean dingers or a lot of bad swings at sliders in the dirt.

3. For the fifth year in a row either the Giants or the Cardinals will represent the NL in the World Series. In fact, can you guess the last team represent the NL who was not the Giants/Cardinals/Phillies? It was…wait for it…the Rockies. Whoa.

In the last five years the Cardinals have won 30 playoff games, and the Giants 26. That’s the top 2 teams.

A complete list of NL entrants to the World Series since the new collective bargaining agreement era began in 2002: Giants, Marlins, Cardinals, Astros, Cardinals, Rockies, Phillies, Phillies, GiantsCardinals, Giants, Cardinals, Cardinals/Giants.

The Cardinals have been doing this for 20 year now. Many people think of the Braves and Yankees when they think of long runs of greatness by a baseball team. The Cardinals are in that discussion and, I would argue, at the top of the list for impressiveness. What they have done/are doing is unreal.

No matter how it goes down it is old blood versus new blood in the World Series.

More thoughts on the next round coming soon.

-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

What the Cardinals and Red Sox Can Teach the Giants

It’s been fascinating living in Boston this year, watching people react to the Red Sox. At first, it was apathetic (Napoli who?), than it was resignation (we’re going to suck again), then it was mild interest and excitement (we don’t suck), than it was sentimental (Boston  strong and cute beards), then it got serious (playoffs!), and then it got out of control (the city nearly threw the parade after the game victory).

Now it’s back to worrying about curses, and can a team without stars actually win a world series (um, yes).

Anyway, those are just some thoughts, and now for the real heart of the matter: what this world series teaches our beloved SF Giants.

  • The Red Sox Way:

We’ll begin here because their situation most closely resembles where the Giants are at right now. Last year everything fell apart for the Sox, which led to a major, house cleaning, trade with the Dodgers. In the wake of all that transition the Red Sox did two things: (a) take short term gambles on players who could potentially produce what the needed most (power, defense, and character). (b) they hoped and prayed their starting pitchers who used to be good, got good again.

This is applicable to the Giants because they do not have tons of money to spend on free agents. And there aren’t any big name free agents that really get your blood pumping. And recent history suggests it is very unwise to go all in on name brand free agents anyway (just ask the Angels).

In fact, the Red Sox stole strategy A from the Giants (Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Gregor Blanco, Marco Scutaro, etc). The Giants are going to need to replicate this success somehow this offseason.

And it sure looks like strategy B is where we are headed as well. The resign of Tim Lincecum follows the same kind of logic the Red Sox have employed with John Lackey and Jon Lester. Hope the magic comes back. And it has. I have no idea how, but it has. I’d be shocked if Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t in the rotation to start 2014. Same strategy.

Employing these two strategies together seems foolish (more on this later), but it worked for the Red Sox (and aren’t the Giants the Red Sox to the Dodgers Yankee’s in this crazy new baseball world?).

  • The Cardinals Way:

The Cardinals are in the World Series (and are the best organization in baseball) because they produce their own quality players year in and year out. And there are more on the way. It’s actually quite scary and hard to fathom.

For a while this was the Giants‘ strategy. The core of the two championship teams includes a long list of home grown talent (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford, even Jonathan Sanchez and Nate Schierholz helped with their play and by getting traded for good things).

And there is another wave coming, especially in the pitching department. But, not much help for 2014.

  • And what about Moneyball?

This might seem like a non-sequitur, but hear me out. Let us all remember that Moneyball is not about on-base percentage, it is about market inefficiencies and exploiting resources other teams neglect.

Over the past couple of years, the Giants have (to the surprise of many around baseball) been on the front edge of a couple of trends: (a) run-prevention (i.e. pitching and defense), (b) minor-league free agent gold (like Juan Uribe or Santiago Casilla or Ryan Vogelsong), (c) dramatically undervalued veterans (like Aubrey Huff and Marco Scutaro), and (d) creating a contact heavy, low strikeout lineup.

[a quick aside about D. recent post-season history has borne out the reality that high contact teams are much better suited for playoff success than low contact/high power teams…the last 3 world series bear this out, as does the on-going frustrations of the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, two teams that strikeout way too much. the current world series matchup is, perhaps, the greatest test of this to date: the Cardinals should win this series because they strike out dramatically less than the Red Sox. so far, games 1 and 2 hold true: whoever strikes out the most at the plate loses.]

All of which leads us to the Giants strategy this offseason: last year they pretty much brought everyone back and it didn’t work. So far, the are doubling down on that strategy and paying a steep price for it. Most pundits have been very critical of both contracts, seeing them as overpays and pre-reactions to a yet-to-be-determined market.

Are the Giants crazy, lazy, or are they on to something? 

Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals are testament to the importance of doing hard things. Many, many people in Cardinal nation thought the world was coming to an end when Albert Pujols left. That turned out fairly well.

No one thought there was any way the Red Sox could really get out from underneath the mess they had made with bad contracts and bad hires. They did it (thanks to the Dodgers), and they went deep into the unknown and came out of it with a pennant.

The Giants, though, like to return to what they know. The did it with Barry Bonds, they did it with guys from the 2010 team and with the 2012 team. They are doing it again now.

I’d love to see them be bit less sentimental and more imaginative. However, the Giants have proven to be able to see things that others have not been able to see, and so maybe we’ll never regret paying Hunter Pence so much and maybe Tim Lincecum will pull a John Lackey.

In sum, every pennant winning team is a strange combination of design and great fortune, and if the Giants return to the heights in 2014 this will no doubt be true of them.

In a strange way they reflect both of these “ways” of team building. Here’s to hoping they do know what they are doing.

(-SB)