Are the Giants Lucky or Good? #SFGiants #2014postseason

Read national media accounts of the Giants win over the Nationals and you will discover a seething frustration with how this (apparently terrible) team continues to win postseason series. I’ve seen everything from luck to dark magic posited as explanations. I would like to address the question of lucky or good.

The facts: The Giants have won 8 straight postseason series (including the 1-game wild card playoff this year). During that time they have won 26 games and lost 10. That is a .722 winning percentage., which is obviously higher than one could expect over the course of a regular season. There is no doubt that in order to win that often you must catch your share of breaks. And the Giants have. Kinsler’s ball that hit the top of the wall and came back. Cody Ross getting hot at the right time. Barry Zito. That Pagan ball that hit the third base bag in the 2012 World Series. Certainly there are numerous other examples.

There are also a number of breaks that went against the Giants that could have spelled doom. When they lost game 2 to the Braves back in 2010, it was a classic Giants postseason meltdown. Blowing a lead, leaving runners on, a rally that died on the vine. They nearly blew a 6-0 lead in game 5 against the Reds in 2012. Bumgarner threw a ball down the left field line on Monday afternoon. Posey got thrown out at the plate (twice) by mere inches in this latest series.

The point here is to say that weirdness happens in the postseason and it affects both teams in any given series. The Giants aren’t any more lucky or unlucky than anyone else.

Some will then point out the unbelievable nature of individual performances. Again, Cody Ross in 2010. Zito and Scutaro in 2012. Pablo’s three home runs in the 2012 World Series. Petit in 2014. Let me address a few of these.

The fact that Cody Ross got hot in 2010 is fortunate, there is no doubt about that. But, Cody Ross is/was a really good player, one talented enough to pull off such a feat. This is one of the main themes of the Giants success. The timing of the performance is what is remarkable, not the performance itself. He’s hit over 20 home runs in three seasons, and often hits them in remarkable bunches. Eli Whiteside hitting several postseason home runs would have been lucky. Cody Ross, though, is a good player going off at the right time.

Same conversation for Marco Scutaro, only this time the player is even more skilled. Scutaro was designed by God to be a good postseason hitter. Everything about his approach: the swing, the patience, the ability to make contact, and his relaxed demeanor are ideally suited for playoff baseball. It just happened to be that he was on the Giants in 2012.

Barry Zito providing two quality starts in 2012 was improbable, but not lucky. This is a guy who won a college world series, who won a CY Young award, and who tended to pitch better later in the season than earlier during his Giants tenure. Did anyone see it coming? No. But lucky is Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes pitching well in the 2006 World Series (shots fired Cardinals). Zito rediscovering his old form one last time is unlikely, but not lucky.

Finally, the two that really get me are Pablo and Petit. Were the Giants fortunate to have Pablo hit 3 home run in Game One of a World Series? Absolutely. But, Pablo is a very skilled hitter, with incredible power, who quite honestly should have more games like that. When a hitter like Pablo has a game like that, that’s a reflection of his great skill. Yes, the timing was fortuitous, but luck would have been Brandon Crawford or Scutaro hitting 3 home runs, not Pablo.

And then, Petit. All this guy has done is nearly pitch a perfect game (last September), and then set the record for most consecutively retired batters. And that record isn’t two amazing starts in a week where he was really feeling it. That record came by pitching over several weeks, in a variety of settings, on different mounds, and against all sorts of batters. It is really one of the most remarkable records in baseball if you think of it. Are the Giants lucky to have such a great weapon on their staff. Maybe. But, I think it is more about shrewd roster construction, and a battle tested pitcher coming through in a big moment to help the team win the longest game in postseason history.

To sum it all up, the Giants are a team that is more than its parts. It doesn’t have the names and the numbers of other squads. But, that does not mean it is a team devoid of talent. There are some highly skilled players on this roster. Those skilled players are deployed by a smart manager (one of the best?) in such way that allows them to be successful.

They are constructed to succeed in these settings. They are load with great arms who can strike out batters and keep the ball in the park. They play mistake free (for the most part) defense, and they have some of the best range in the game (meaning over the course of the season they will make errors, but at any moment can get to a lot of balls). They are strong up the middle (Posey, Crawford, Panik, and Blanco). They make a lot of contact, and when you make contact weird/good things can happen. And they have a manager who is active and willing to mix it up and do what it takes to win a particular game.

In other words, they are not designed to win 99 games (like the Angels), but they are designed to be able to win any given game. And that is really important to understand. Take the 2001 Yankees for example. That World Series was full of dramatic moments, and of course everyone remembers the game 7 walk off moments. But, the game before that, which the Yankees could have won to secure the title, the Diamondbacks blew out the Yankees 15-4. The Giants have never had a game like that in these 3 postseason runs. I can only think of one game where they were truly out of it in the last third (the Lincecum, Game 4, start against the Cardinals). In a short series, the ability to stay close in every game dramatically helps your chance of survival.

Finally, three more things. First, timing (or context) is everything: the Giants have constructed the right roster for this era of baseball. It is a much more wide open game than 15 years ago. You don’t need the firepower or star power that was once needed to take down the Yankees. The Giants somewhat flawed teams can succeed in this era of parity.

Second, don’t discount the importance of a presence like Buster Posey. I know the stats people won’t like this, but I do think there are winning players and losing players. No disrespect to Adrian Gonzalez, but I think he is a losing player. Again and again, his teams fade and falter at the end of seasons. Posey’s seem to get better. Pay attention to that.

Third, I don’t believe in Karma as a life philosophy, but I do see some sort of symmetry (or coming back aroundness) in the Giants history. For example, the 2010 team was the perfect counter point to the 2002 team that blew the World Series. The 2002 team had a great lineup, the 2010 squad had great starting pitching. 2002 choked it away, 2010 slammed the door on any weird comebacks.

2012 served as the counterpoint to 2003. Both were incredibly steady teams that did everything fairly well. In 2003 the Giants dropped a fly ball and crumbled. In 2012, with their backs up against the wall they just won.

If this 2014 version goes on to win it all, it will, in a small way, make up for 1993. I would give just about anything for a glimpse at the alternate reality where the 1993 Giants get to play in the postseason, but short of that I’ll take this team winning it all as the baseball gods making things right.

Previews and thoughts on the NLCS forthcoming.

-SB

3 Thoughts on Today’s Wild Card Game #royals #athletics #mlbplayoffs2014

Maybe it’s because the Giants are in the Wild Card Game this year, maybe it’s because I know a lot of A’s and Royals fans, maybe it’s because I’m having a hard time getting into the football season, but whatever the reason I am pumped for two ridiculous baseball games here over the next two days.

Knowing as many A’s and Royal’s fans as I do I’m bound to tick off someone here, but I’d like to offer 3 thoughts on tonight’s game:

1. Big trades led to this moment. The A’s made several big trades this year, but the controversial move of sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester will only be able to be fully appreciated and evaluated in light of tonight. If Lester pitches the A’s through this game, and if the A’s go on to make some noise, perhaps even get to the World Series, no one will moan and complain about this trade anymore. They shouldn’t complain about it anyway. The irony of the A’s moves this year was that they actually built a roster that could succeed in the playoffs (as opposed to strong regular season teams that weren’t designed well for short playoff series). Now, it’s time.

The Royals traded Wil Meyers to the Rays for James Shields. There were other players involved, but this was the heart of the trade. Big Game James gets an opportunity to live up to his name and bring joy to Kansas City that hasn’t been felt there in a long time. Many people thought it was a bad trade, but it made sense for one reason: this moment. No one will question the trade if the Royals win tonight and go on to make some noise in the remainder of the playoffs.

2. Someone will be very sad. All season the Royals fans expected the “other shoe” to drop and the bottom to fall out. You can still sense their reluctance to give their heart to this team. One thing, though, about not making the playoffs for 25 years (as depressing as that is) is they haven’t faced the sadness that A’s fans have faced since 2000. The A’s have lost in every conceivable way in the postseason over the last 14 years, and losing this Wild Card Game would only bring a new level of misery to the east bay.

3. And the winner is…I wan to pick the A’s so badly, I really do. I can see a world where they win this game, and go on to exact their revenge against the Angels and Tigers. It would be so, so sweet. But, all year long I have loved this Royals team. They remind me in many ways of the 2010 Giants. Strong starting pitching, unbelievable bullpen, just enough offense at just the right times. I think the Royals get an early lead and their nasty bullpen makes it stand up.

3-2 Royals.

-SB

3 Thoughts on 88 Wins #sfgiants #2014season

Well, we know now that the Giants will fly to Pittsburg to face the Pirates and Edinson Volquez (really Pirates?), but more on that later. (By the way, the Pirates went all in on Sunday and started Garret Cole who was nasty: 7 IP, 12Ks, and so we won’t get the dream match-up described in the last post).

We’ll break down the big game tomorrow, or Tuesday, but for now a couple of thoughts on the 2014 season.

1. The Giants “only” won 88 games. Some people are disappointed in this. I understand. There was a point where this team was on pace to win 107 games. They had a huge division lead several months ago. But, they have a chance to do something special. If they lose on Wednesday it will hurt and we will complain about the stupidness of a 1-game playoff in baseball. But, they wouldn’t get to play anymore games if not for that 1-game playoff. Also, I once gave my heart and soul to a Giants team that won 103 games that didn’t get to play anymore games because they “finished in the second place.” Justice. (sort of).

2. Overall, this was an enjoyable season. Every successful season carries with it a good deal of surprise. Consider:

  • If you had of told me before the 2010 season that the Giants would win the World Series I would have laughed. Then, after calming down and thinking about it, I could have seen how maybe, just maybe, if the team called up Posey, got some career years from different guys, and kept up the ridiculous pitching from the season before perhaps something magical could happen. Under no circumstances would I have believed you if you told me they will win, BUT Pablo Sandoval will be an afterthought. No way. Never going to happen. And then it did.
  • If you had told me before the 2012 season that the Giants would win the World Series I would have laughed. Then, after calming down and thinking about it, I could have seen how maybe, just maybe, if Buster Posey played like an MVP, a couple of young guys emerged, and the pitching kept going like it had the past 3 seasons perhaps something magical could happen. Under no circumstances would I have believed you if you told me they will win, BUT Tim Lincecum will be so bad that he gets replaced in the post-season rotation by Barry Zito. NO way. Never going to happen. And then it did.
  • Now, if you had told me before the 2014 season that the Giants would win the World Series I would have paused, thought about it, and then said something to the effect, of “ok, but please don’t take Matt Cain this time.” Well, Matt Cain was taken. And a whole lot of other things happened. We loved Tim Hudson and Mike Morse in the first half. We loved Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan while we had them. We loved Brandon Hicks, but we love Joe Panik more. We love Madison Bumgarner. We love Tim Lincecum when he pitches against the Padres. And now we hope we get to keep loving them for a few more weeks.

3. No season can be fully evaluated until it is actually over. But, I would have taken this result back in March. 88 wins, wild card, do-or-die game. Done. This is a flawed team. This is not the best Giants team of the last 5 years.

But, this team still has a chance for magic.

-SB

All Hail The Wild Card Game #sfgiants #postseason #mlbplayoffs2014

Since the Giants are back in the postseason (maybe? kinda? sorta?), at least for one game, it is time to resurrect the blog.

I hope to share a couple of thoughts on the season, the future, and if the Giants have any kind of chance to make it three titles in five years. Plus I will write about all the games (could be one! could be 20!) the Giants play this postseason.

But for now I want to say this: Could there possibly be a better one-game playoff matchup for MLB than the Giants and the Pirates?

At first glance, you might think, “well, yeah, there are several: Giants vs. Dodgers, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Cardinals vs. Cubs (chuckles).”

Ok, sure, those are natural rivalries and MLB would love those games.

But hang with me here.

1. Both the Giants and Pirates have cornerstone, face-of-the-franchise type players who are great and going to be on their respective teams for a while. Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey are as important to their teams as any other players in the game.

And, for two franchises whose most recent “face” was Barry Bonds, this is a good thing for the teams and for baseball. They may not be the biggest stars in the game, or even the best players, but in terms of franchise anchors you cannot get a better pairing than those two.

2. Both the Giants and Pirates play in beautiful parks. Whenever I see an article on “best ballpark” PNC and AT&T are always at the top of the list. I’ve never been to PNC but it does look great on TV. Whoever ends up hosting this game (I’m fully assuming the Cardinals will take care of business this weekend and win the Central), it is guaranteed that the game will look great on TV.

3. Both the Giants and Pirates will (probably) start terrific young aces. The Giants have all but said Madison Bumgarner is going to start this game (pretty much a no-brainer), and I would be shocked if the Pirates went with anyone other than Gerrit Cole. (Like MadBum he’s lined up to pitch the last game of the season. I suppose that if the Pirates could win the division on the last day they’d go with Cole there, but again, the Cards will take care of business.)

This is maybe the best part of the whole thing: barring catastrophic, heart breaking injury these two guys are going to be among the best pitchers in National League (any league) for the next 5-10 years. Bumgarner has already pitched in two world series (and done fairly well), and is only 25. Cole is 23 and he’s is/going to be a beast. This could be a moment baseball fans look back on in 20 years and say: “Remember that wild card game in 2014. Bumgarner. Cole. Epic.”

Of course, the Pirates could go with Francisco Liriano just because this is baseball. At least the Giants would have one last chance to exorcise the demons of the AJ Pierzynski trade.

As much as I hate the second wild card and the idea that a 162 game season comes down to 1 stupid baseball game, the reality is that without it the Giants would be hoping against hope this weekend to even make the postseason. And, the potential of this game, more than that of the other 5 play-in games to date, has the potential to be truly special, something we talk about for years.

All the elements are there.

Go Giants!

-SB

A Couple of Classics

Friday night brought the drama, and it also brought the pitching. I complained yesterday about the lack of dominance by pitchers in the post-season in what was supposed to have been the year of the pitcher. (Side note: someone is probably going to write an idiotic article about how Roy Halladay is great, but not super great, because he can’t win in the post-season…it will be ludicrous but it’s going to happen). Last night however provided everything we love about baseball: suspense, great pitching, unlikely heroes, and surprising results.

Saturday Morning Thoughts:

  • Great job Cardinals. You continue to mess with my pitching model of success (although they really turned it on in the 2nd half…their season stats are not super impressive, but their second half stats are Giant-esque: 7.8 k/9, sub 3.30 ERA. Should have paid more attention to that), and you constantly annoy me with the terrible way you build your team, and yet you just keep on winning. I don’t get it and it frustrates me, but credit where credit is due. You just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in MLB history. Well done!
  • I’m all in with the Brewers now. Might even go buy a hat. Probably not, but if 2011 turns out to be a repeat of 2006, I’ll be upset. Just saying.
  • Sticking with the Rangers in the AL and I’m going to say Brewers in 7 in the NLCS.
(-SB)

 

Playoff Thoughts…

So, that squirrel thing was kind of funny. Other than that, despite the three game 5’s, I am not finding these playoffs to be super enjoyable thus far. Last October was so awesome, such an experience, and this year just can’t match that.

Some thoughts:

  • While there is a lot of evidence that pitching was better overall in 2011 than 2010 the post-season is not supporting that. Verducci writes about it here, but that would have been my top observation anyway. Again, it highlights the tragedy of Posey: I really think the Giants could have run this table if they had made it back.
  • Not surprised to see the Yankees go down to Detroit in a short series. I don’t think Detroit has enough to get past the Rangers, but in 5 games with Verlander and Cabrera and company, Detroit had plenty of weapons to deal with a Yankees team that had a nice regular season, but was always way too thin to inspire tons of confidence.
  • For a second there I believed that Tampa might be on the verge of something magical, but that was quickly erased by three nice, efficient games from the Rangers. There’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind seeing them win it all. Feels vindicating in some way for Giants’ fans. My ALCS prediction: Rangers over the Tigers in 6.
  • Tonight’s games: Still think the Phillies pull this out. They’ve been exposed by the Cardinals a lot more than I expected, but they should get out of this and on to the next round (and the World Series for that matter). Phillies over Cards 4-2. The other series continues to be a total coin flip in my opinion. I guess I’ll go with the Brewers since they are at home and that seems to really matter in this matchup. Brewers over D-Backs 5-4.
(-SB)