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.

Weird Week, Weird Season, Weird World

I feel like this is all my fault. Which is probably how every fan feels when things start to go a little wrong. Last week I gushed about how fun the 2020 Giants are, and “isn’t this great this little engine that might be?!”

And then this week was not so fun.

Although, it started out pretty fun. (One of the weird features of the year of COVID is that a week feels like a month and a month feels like a year, so it is important to remember some good things happened this week/month…haha).

All the way back on Monday the 7th the Giants’ defeated Zach Gallen (who set a record for most starts NOT allowing more than 3 runs to begin a career) and completed a dominating season series against the Snakes from Arizona.

They backed that up with two spirited wins against the suddenly surging Seattle Mariners, and all we could think about was how good the offense is and potentially being a lock for the 7th seed in the postseason tournament. I will even admit to thinking about second place in the NL West. The Giants were 5.5 games back of San Diego as they head south on Wednesday, but they also had 7 games left against the Padres. Going, say, 5-2 would eliminate half the lead and then if they got some help, it was not out of the realm of possibility.

But then, everything literally went south. The Giants got battered by the Padres, the offense disappeared, and any sort of momentum was completely derailed by the positive-false-positive COVID test that wiped out Friday and Saturday.

Which was a jolting reminder that the world is not right and this season was, and always was going to be, a bit of a mess, and get-a-hold-of-yourself-man, thinking about second place in the NL West!

Furthermore, Kevin Gausman is hurt, and this is really bad news for a pitching staff that was a weakness to begin with.

So, for a week that started off golden and gave birth to grandiose dreams, we are now back to the point of simply hoping for the best/that these guys can just hold on long enough to get a crack at the Dodgers in the first round.

The Giants have some days off this week, which is a blessing, and could help them recuperate a bit. Drew Smyly returned and looked awesome, which would be a huge add if he can throw like that over the final two weeks.

The reality remains, for all the fun and good vibes, the Giants are still, very much, behind the Padres and Dodgers in terms of talent and those are just two teams in their own division.

The rebuild is definitely not over because they have found some offense.

This is a critical week: only 11 games left, 5 this week all on the road (although 3 are in Oakland), against a decent team (Seattle) and a very good team (Oakland). If they want to feel a bit more secure going into the final week of this weird season, they will need to pull out some big wins during this stretch.