Game 3, Game 4, Be Grateful #NLDS

After six a half hours of sleep, a few more thoughts from last nights game.

Let’s start with this. This morning I drove my daughter to school. KNBR just happened to be replaying the 8th inning during the amount of time it took to drive our route. What a great call by John Miller on Gillaspie’s triple, and how fun to share that with my girl.

Which leads me to this point: I have thought, several times, that the strategy of pooping out in the regular season (see 2011, 2013, 2015) was better than postseason agony. I don’t know what happens today. The Giants might get beat 11-0. Would you trade that for the Wild Card game and last night? 

My answer: no way…it’s worth it. This has been an incredible era of baseball, and we are witnesses to it. And I am grateful.

Heroes:

  • Denard Span: the much maligned Span showed up to play last night. He had several good at bats, his triple to led to the first Giants run, and he made a GREAT catch in the 12th to keep things under control.
  • Brandon Belt: many people were on Belt for getting doubled off in the 9th. I don’t blame him for that…you have to take off on that and score if/when the ball drops. It was an aggressive play, it backfired, but it’s that kind of aggression the Giants have been missing. Unfortunately, for too many, that one play takes away from the fact that Brandon Belt had a great night. I thought FOR SURE he would strike out in the 5th, especially when he got to two strikes but he stayed alive and got a big Sac Fly. Then, his opposite field hit in the 8th led to him tying the scoring run. Bottom line: he had several good at bats and that is a wonderful sign.
  • Buster Posey: Buster came to ball last night. He was 3 for 3 with a walk before getting robbed of a walk off double in the 9th. Also, he caught 13 innings spanning over 5 hours. I’d be tempted to play him at first and Belt in left today, but Bochy won’t do that and that’s why I’m not the manager.
  • Conor Gillaspie: The triple will be replayed for years and years, especially if the Giants somehow stay alive beyond today. He’s been incredibly clutch. Two other things need to be said though: he made a couple brilliant plays with the glove, but then nearly choked the game away with an error in the 6th. This led to “The Derek Law Inning” (more in a moment), but he didn’t carry that with him into his big 8th inning at bat. Also, he grounded out up the middle 3 times before the triple. One interpretation of that is “poor at bats.” But if you really watch him, he has such a sound approach at the plate. He is locked in to the middle of the field, and that’s when good things can happen. Yes, you’ll hit some back to the pitcher, but you’ll also get ahold of a few, and we’ve seen what that looks like twice now.
  • Brandon Crawford: my dad and I still don’t know why he didn’t take off on contact in the 8th. My best guess is he was recovering from his elbow bump (which scared the crap out of me, btw). Other than that, he played a great game, coming up with several defensive picks that we should be talking about more if not for the 100 other things, and he also had solid at bats. His hit off Chapman was huge. It would be a totally 2016 Giants thing to leave Gillaspie at third with one out and then lose 5-4.
  • Joe Panik: Continuing the theme…Panik had great at bats all game, and it really paid off for him in the 13th. I haven’t seen him look this good at the plate in a long time. He should probably get moved back up in the lineup, so it will be interesting to see what Bochy does there.
  • Derek Law: As I mentioned last night, Derek Law brought the joy. He also brought nasty stuff. But, let’s not forget how precarious that part of the game really was. The inning opened with the Conor error (not a good feeling). He quickly got Miguel Montero (who didn’t really seem like he wanted to be there last night) to fly out to left. Then he had to battle Jake Arrietta. He left a pitch up to Arrieta that Jake smoked to left field. It was a better pitch than the one he hit out earlier in the game, but this time it was just a line drive right to Blanco, because baseball. He then battled Dexter Fowler, and there were a few pitches in that at bat where it seemed like he had no idea where the ball was going. It felt like an inevitability that Fowler would hit a ball into triples ally or in the Cove. In fact I tweeted this at that moment:
  • but he got the strike out, screamed with joy, and then backed it up with a nice 7th. Looking back it was awesome, but in the moment it was crazy.
  • Hunter Strickland: had a totally boring, dominant 8th inning, and that’s some of the best news from the whole night.
  • Sergio Romo: right before the home run Romo came off the mound gimpy. No idea how that affected the rest of the Bryant at bat, but something happened and then he gave up a home run, so that doesn’t seem good. I was screaming at Bochy to take him out at that point. If Javy Lopez is not there to get Rizzo out in the 9th inning of a tie game, what is he there for? But, Romo remained and then, of course, proceeded to get the next six outs, drama free. Yes, the tying home run was a huge bummer, but that’s a significant recovery.
  • Ty Blach: The rookie just keeps balling. Thought maybe the luck was running out with the way the 13th started, but a double play is a pitcher’s best friend.

About Game 4:

  • It feels like the Cubs offense has been amazing, and I am terrified of over half the lineup, but let’s get real here: they haven’t done much. They’ve scored most of their runs on 4 Stupid Home Runs. Two of those home runs have been hit by pitchers and the other two fell into a silly basket, and bounced off the top of a silly car. Come. On. Meanwhile, the Giants bullpen held the Cubs hitless from the 6th through 12th inning (not including one of those stupid home runs). Anthony Rizzo, MVP candidate, is 0 for the series. The Giants haven’t actually pitched all that poorly, and again, take away those home runs, and the Cubs have only scored 4 times.
  • Meanwhile: the Giants have yet to hit a home run. That needs to change.
  • If you like managerial second guessing, tonight is going to be your night. Both teams used significant bullpen bullets last night. How much can Joe Maddon trust Aroldis Chapman in Game 4? It’s pretty certain Mike Montgomery won’t pitch, eliminating one of Maddon’s lefty weapons. If the Giants can get to John Lackey early, the Cubs will be in a world of hurt.
  • On the Giants side: who closes tonight? One of the good things about last night is the Giants got 4 of their key bullpen guys meaningful game action, which they hadn’t seen in over a week. My real theory of Romo is that he was rusty, and you could see the slider getting better and better the longer he was in there. But, would you run him out there in a 1 run game tonight? Also, do you mess with the lineup? If Pagan is out, I’d be tempted to move Belt to left, and put Buster at first, and leave Blanco for later in the game. I’d also be tempted to move Panik back up. But, my guess is, Bochy won’t mess with anything and we’ll see the same lineup tonight.
  • I’ve been saying this all series, but THE key for the Giants is Matt Moore pitching deep into this game.
  • The other key: get to Lackey early. Put the pressure on the Cubs early, and this series will tilt quickly.

Like I said, the Giants might get shelled tonight, but we should all still be grateful this team is a part of our lives.

#BeatLackey

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Giants vs Nationals #2014postseason #SFGiants #NLDS

So far my prediction’s for the ALDS look terrible. But it’s only been one game. I mention this because yesterday I picked the Giants to lose to the Nationals…as did everyone at Yahoo! Sports and Sports Illustrated. Literally, everyone. Wow.

This might actually be a good thing. Of the 7 playoff series the Giants have played in the last 5 years, I can’t think of one they were widely favored to win. And yet they won all of them. So, let’s let the “experts” keep picking against them, and they can just go right on winning.

I’ve read a couple of comparisons between this matchup and when the Giants faced the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS. A couple of similarities: Both the Phillies and Nationals had the air of invincibility going in. That sense that “this is the best team, by far, and this is their year.” And both teams were well-rounded: good starting pitching (remember the “big three” of Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt), good bullpen, and great lineup.

Some differences: This Nationals team has better overall starting pitching. They don’t have Halladay at his prime, but they do go 4 deep (there’s no Joe Blanton here). I also think the 2010 Phillies had a better lineup than this Nationals team, so maybe that balances out somehow.

The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that the 2010 Giants had Tim Lincecum at the height of his powers, a healthy and GREAT Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and then Madison Bumgarner was the 4th starter. Things are a bit different now. This Giants rotation could be up to the task. Certainly Bumgarner is as good right now as Timmy was back then. Jake Peavy has pitched like a healthy Matt Cain since he came over from the Red Sox. Tim Hudson could revert back to early season form (plus he has the nationals number apparently). And Ryan Vogelsong/Yusmero Petit/Tim Lincecum could combine for some magic. But, it sure seems like a bit of a stretch.

Nonetheless, here’s how the Giants could pull this off:

Game 1 is vital, in my opinion. Strasburg and the home crowd are going to be amped up at the start of this game. If the Giants can score early they could rattle Stephen and quiet the crowd. Plus I think Peavy is more comfortable front-running as well. The question of Game 1 is who will be Cody Ross. I think Brandon Belt is a huge key in this series. If he can hit a couple of home runs, life will be a million times better for the Giants. Again, early runs, get Peavy through 6, give the lead to the bullpen, lock it down, steal game 1. Giants win 4-3.

Game 2 is playing with house money at that point. I see the Nationals storming back behind Jordan Zimmerman who is their true ace in my opinion. Huddy battles but in the end his hip or whatever his issues are bite him in the butt. Giants lose 5-1.

Game 3 is vital no matter how all of this goes down. If the Giants are up 2-0, then here’s the opportunity to end it. If they are down 2-0, they can stay alive. If it is tied, like I think it will be, then they can take control here and make sure this thing never goes back to the east coast. Madison Bumgarner starts and in this current iteration, the Giants MUST win all of his starts. Doug Fister will go for the Nats and he is also really good, but can be had. This will be a close, tense game. Belt or Crawford, or maybe Morse in a surprise moment, will have a big hit that makes all the difference. Giants win 2-1.

Being up 2-1 allows Game 4 to become Bochy time. The Giants will start Vogelsong, and let him get all fired up and flare his nostrils, but they will play this like an elimination game, reminiscent of Game 6 in the 2010 NLCS against the Phillies. Petit and the rest of the bullpen will be called on in an instant. My guess is that Vogelsong’s adrenaline will get him through the lineup one time unscathed but he’ll run into trouble in the 4th. Then it will be mix and match from there. This could be the hardest game for the Giants to score runs, as Gio Gonzales is the only lefty starter for the Nats. This means the Giants lefty-heavy lineup will be at a disadvantage. The Giants will need to find a way to win 3-2. I’m thinking a  walk-off moment could be in the works.

If the Giants can’t get the win in Game 4 and the series goes back to Washington, they are in trouble. They will have used all their bullets at that point, and starting Peavy again (with Bumgarner waiting in the wings, probably) on the road does not bring me much confidence. They need to split the first 2 and then win both in San Francisco to get to the next round.

I will be out-of-town this weekend, so I hope to have some thoughts on where we are at up by Sunday night.

GO GIANTS!

-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

Oh Glory! (or the Immortality of Buster Posey)

I’ll be honest: after the Giants were bamboozled by Bronson Arroyo in Game 2 I figured it was over. Nice season Giants, thanks for the ride, loved it, but not every year is like 2010.

Not that many would have predicted the Giants could come back on the Reds, BUT this team has been overcoming adversity all year:

  • Their best player was coming off a career threatening injury. No one knew what exactly to expect from Buster this season.
  • They get swept in the first series of the season by the team everyone picked to win the division.
  • They lose their closer two weeks into the season, leaving huge bullpen questions to be answered.
  • Their ace has an awful first half and the worst season of his career.
  • They lose their All-Star left fielder (and first half MVP) to a season ending drug suspension.
  • They had offensive black holes at second base, shortstop, and first base for most of the season.
  • There were questions about Bumgarner and Vogelsong and the closer-by-committee approach and shouldn’t Hunter Pence be better and can they really win with a Blanco/Nady platoon in left field and on and on I could go.
  • The were the Dodgers making huge moves that were supposed to bury the Giants.
  • And then those first two games of this series…

Of course, they come back and win this thing. I agree with Joe Lemire…through it all Posey and Bochy stood tall and calmly led this team. I know the Hunter Pence pre-game speeches are getting a lot of press, but it is the calm hand of those two dudes that define the character of this team.

So, we move on…and they move on with confidence.

Some other thoughts:

  • It isn’t often that a player of Posey’s caliber gets a moment to do the kind of damage he did in game five. There are too many ways to mitigate a stars influence in baseball (see Bonds, Barry) and even if the moment presents itself this is still a game where a 30% success rate is awesome. But Buster came through. Someone, a while back, said the guy Buster is most like is Joe Montana. I only believe that more.
  • Remember when I wrote that the demise of this team would be the shortstop position. Well, Arias and Crawford are huge reasons the Giants live on. Crawford’s game 5 was particularly impressive given the pressure on Bochy to play Arias. Huge defensive plays, an RBI triple, and that at-bat against Chapman. That’s big-boy stuff.
  • Angel Pagan, I’m a believer.
  • Who would have thought the Giants could win a five game series in which Lincecum made no starts and no starter last through six innings. Both of those things need to change in the next round.
  • The key to the NLCS, in my opinion, is Madison Bumgarner. He needs to step up and dominate.

(-SB)