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 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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One More Month

On to September! The Giants are more or less out of the Wild Card Race, and this final month will be about evaluating some guys for the future and saying goodbye to some all-time greats (I’m not crying, you’re crying).

Quick interlude: an amazing 3 paragraphs from that Pablo article:

But it might have gone unappreciated just how perfect the Kung Fu Panda was for the Giants in this particular time and, especially, for this particular place. For all the bitching, kvetching, whining and gnashing over the utter unfairness of the hitting dimensions of this 20-year-old ballpark, there are only two hitters who truly have mastered the art of hitting here.

One was Barry Bonds. The other is Pablo Sandoval.

Sandoval is a .305/.355/.484 career hitter here at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. Those are all far better marks than his .261/.314/.422 career slash line on the road. His batting average here is one point better than Jeff Kent’s. His 582 hits in this ballpark are second only to Buster Posey, with 643.

Now, let’s go back and review the trade deadline for a moment.

For the most part it is hard to argue with the approach. The Giants:

  1. Some how unloaded Mark Melancon’s contract. While they still have a good deal of money tied up in a handful of players, take a look at the Cot’s page and it no longer appears as daunting. It cannot be underestimated how important this move was!
  2. Acquired two players who could be important to future winning teams in Mauricio Dubon (who is with the big-league team now) and Jaylin Davis (who will likely be there soon).
  3. Did not trade Madison Bumgarner which feels really good and definitely keeps open the possibility he is around next year and beyond.
  4. Did part with Joe Panik, a move that has been hotly debated by Giants’ twitter for the past month.
  5. Did not trade Will Smith, arguably their most valuable asset.

What are my thoughts about this? Well, Farhan accomplished what we thought he would try to accomplish: creating more salary flexibility, acquiring players who would help future teams, but not trading everyone thereby throwing in the towel on the 2019 season.

Some fans are mad because the bullpen breakup has weakened the team, but this is a team that has over achieved all year long, they were likely to regress anyway.

If anything, I’m a little disappointed the Giants did not trade Will Smith. For a while the hot rumor was that it was going to take Smith to get Dubon from the Brewers. Instead, Farhan got him for Drew Pomeranz, which is like walking into a Tesla dealership and walking out only 10 grand lighter. Borderline robbery.

I’m not sure what else they could have gotten for Smith, maybe no one was willing to pay the price the Giants were asking, but it feels like a miss to me.

Nonetheless, this has turned out to be a very fun season, even if it is going to end up as a text book mediocre team.

Here are the top three positive developments (followed by a couple of concerns for the future):

  1. The Giants are interesting. They might not be good yet, but I’ll take interesting over the last 2 years any day.
  2. The Giants have promising young players: Logan Webb, Mauricio Dubon, Mike Yastrzemski, and many others are bringing a hope that we haven’t had for a few years.
  3. The Giants have a 20 home run hitter (congrats Kevin Pillar), and could have as many as 4! While that might not seem that impressive, the sign of a good team in 2019-2020 is a team that has several 20 home run players.

Concerns:

  1. The team still has a core of expensive players who have not been very good. In particular Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey, while all useful in their own ways (mainly defense) are no longer worth the money they are being paid. I’m not say these guys are washed up, need to be traded, etc, but it’s an issue. Belt might crack the 20 hr barrier and that’s nice, but he is simply not hitting like a $15 million first basemen. I love Buster Posey with a passion, but he will likely miss double digit home runs for the second straight season, an alarming trend. This is not to mention the money owed to Cueto and Samardzija and Longoria and a possible Bumgarner extension. None of this spells doom, but some of these guys will need to have a career renaissance or be moved on from before things really turn around.
  2. While I appreciate all the moves Farhan has made there is still no Cody Bellinger/Christian Yellich type player in sight. Obviously these guy don’t grow on trees, but for the Giants to truly compete in the present game, they are going to need an impressive middle of the order hitter. Maybe this is Heliot Ramos or Joey Bart, but until the Giants find that guy they are going to be a step behind everyone else.
  3. Which leads us to the final concern. I really hope Logan Webb will be good, but the Giants have yet to find the starting pitchers who will help lead the team into the future. The resurgence of Samardzija is great, the return of Cueto will help, and I’ll be the first in line for a Bumgarner extension. But the team needs to find some cheap, young guys who can help.