Giants Post-Mortem, Part 2 #NLDS #sfgiants

Here are some great dissections of last night’s fiasco: Pavs gives a rundown of the action, highlighting how a few inches here and there may have made all the difference in the world. Baggs responds to some of the questions emerging from the rubble. McCovey Chrons explains how things should have gone (agree with the Will Smith analysis in this article).

Instead of re-treading all that, I’m going to a bigger picture approach. I also want to begin with repeating two things I’ve said earlier: if you are a Giants fan, especially someone who has watched this team for many years, you should have nothing but gratitude in your hearts. The Giants have done more amazing things in the last 6 years than many teams and fans get to enjoy in a life time. We had an awesome week too of sweeping the Dodgers, winning the Wild Card, Conor Gillaspie, More MadBum magic, and two great starts from Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore against the best offense in baseball. Be grateful for what you’ve witnessed from 2009 to now.

Second, while the swiftness of the 9th inning collapse was stunning, nothing about what happened there can be surprising. This was not a 98 win team that suddenly wilted under the pressure. This was not a great bullpen getting Cubsed. This was not the 18-0 Patriots getting upset by the NY Giants. This was the very thing that has been killing this team all year making one final, resounding statement. There was a special messiness to this collapse, and there was of course the greater context of this being the NLDS, but there’s nothing about last night that can be objectively surprising to someone who had watched this team for 6 months.

Which leads to the question I want to try to answer here: who is at fault? More specifically who’s at fault for this not getting sorted out much, much earlier than game 4 of a playoff series?


  1. Jake Lamb: Which is to say Santiago Casilla. It feels terrible to be so hard on a guy who clearly cares a ton, but in some ways that may been the issue that led to all this madness. Early in the season Casilla gave up a game tying home run to Jake Lamb (April 18), a game the Giants would go on to lose (by the way, the Giants had some WEIRD series with the D-Backs this year). When faced with a similar situation on May 12, Bochy came out and pulled Casilla, and Santi did not like it. To me, that was the moment this all started. 2016 was always going to be a transitional year for the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt retired, breaking up the “core four,” who did so many great things for this team. Yusmeiro Petit: gone. A whole bunch of new guys (Josh Osich, Derek Law, Cody Gearrin) were ready to take over. The constant was supposed to be Casilla in the 9th, and the big questions were how would the other guys sort out. But something happened on May 12, and Casilla broke: mentally if not physically. While he was still good enough to get 31 saves, he was never the same. What’s such a huge bummer is that Bochy rightly pointed out several times this season that Casilla, despite his struggles, had a role to play and still had good stuff. The numbers back that up. Casilla had good strikeout ratios all year. The thought I had watching the 9th inning unfold was that no one Boch brought in had the full arsenal that Casilla has when he is on. Romo has the better slider (when it actually slides), Stickland the better fastball (although he doesn’t always know where it’s going), and Will Smith the better curveball, but no one has the full array of pitches and stuff that Casilla has. And so, one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball history (20 straight appearances with out a run allowed) sat in the dugout while one of the greatest postseason bullpen meltdowns occurred right in front of him. The instability caused by Casilla’s ineffectiveness had a ripple effect throughout the bullpen that was never solved.
  2. Which leads us to the next culprit: The Giants brass and Bruce Bochy. Now, the Giants front office realized the issues the bullpen had, and they did try to fix it. They went after Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller (the Yankees, though, said heck no), and they were close on Mark Melancon (even Bobby Evans has questioned this non-move). You can play would have/should have/could have here for years, but we can only hold them accountable for the move they did make: trading for Will Smith. When Smith was acquired you heard things like: “has closer stuff.” And, “can get lefties AND righties out.” When Smith got to the Giants he a couple rough appearances, but as many have pointed out, his final 19 appearances were scoreless. I don’t know what was going on here: maybe the early rough starts left a bad taste in Bochy’s mouth, maybe the adjustment from the going-nowhere-Brewers to the Giants was too much, but for some reason he never even sniffed a save opportunity, even though he was the closest thing to Santiago Casilla the Giants had (minus Casilla himself). Install Smith as the closer in early September and by the time game 4 rolls around he should have settled in and easily been able to convert a 3 run save.
  3.  All the Relievers. This is really a part 2 to point 2, but one of the weirdest parts of the Giants bullpen issues is just how many guys there were in the mix at any given time. This is partly why the 9th inning last night was so beautifully morbid and poetically just: there were just too many damn options. As it has been all season, the kept parading different guys out there and they all kept failing. I was hoping the reduced playoff roster would help with this, but there were too many guys involved, and Bochy kept trying everything at his disposal (not a bad idea per se), but there was so much at his disposal that no one could ever get in rhythm. Theoretically you want to have too many bullpen options, that seems like a good problem, but in this case no one was ever able to settle into “the 7th inning guy” or however you want to organize the bullpen. The flip side of this is that no one stood up and grabbed any particular role either. Derek Law came the closest and then he got hurt. Some guys had a nice week or two, but no one locked anything down.
  4. Which leads us to: Hunter Strickland. I drafted Strickland for my fantasy team as a speculative saves play. I was not being clever either, many fantasy “experts” touted the Giants bullpen as chaotic going into the year, and predicted Strickland would take over sooner than later. I was far from alone in this. But Strickland never pitched well enough to make himself a serious option. And when he did become the option he totally blew it. He remains a great enigma. He throws so hard, but makes way too many location mistakes and he does not have a nasty secondary pitch. His slider is effective in that it changes speeds, but it’s not Brad Lidge-esque or Rob Nenn-esque, AT ALL. It is a poor compliment to such a fine weapon, and he needs to figure that pitch out or add another one if he wants to be effective late in games.
  5. One final thought, back to the brass: Baggs mentions this in his article, but I thought it was weird that Steven Okert was left off the roster for the NLDS. I don’t know who you’d switch out (Kontos I guess), and the Giants had other lefties (Lopez and Smith, plus Ty Blach), but he was pitching so well down the stretch, how do you not go with the hot hand there?
  6. One final thought on Bochy: I understand the second guessing, but I don’t understand the anger being directed towards him. Yes, it’s fine to question his strategy, but there’s not much he could have done differently. He tried to play the cards he was dealt the best way he could, and sometimes you get crappy cards. I don’t have any real issues with how he ran the 9th inning last night. I do question the weird relationship with Casilla, and the inability to get this sorted out in the months leading up to October.

One last thought for now: as many, many writers have pointed out this bullpen was always going to be an issue and if it wasn’t game 4 of the NLDS, it probably would have been game 3 of the NLCS, or game 4 of the World Series.

I know many Giants fans are sick of Javier Baez and the upstarts Cubs, but let’s get real here: would you rather go down like this to the Cubs or:

  • Watch the bullpen implode in LA in Game 6 of an NLCS, where the Dodgers walk off to take the series?
  • Watch Bryce Harper hit a game winning grand slam in game in Game 3 of the NLCS?
  • Watch Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (even more egregious bat-flippers than Baez) pimp back to back home runs to take the World Series?
  • Or (this imaginary, of course), some team like the Cardinals or Red Sox or Yankees or whoever you really don’t like do the same thing as the Cubs.

My point: be grateful it was the Cubs. It could have been much, much worse.

Week [22] In Review (8/28-9/4) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Once again, it is hard for me to come up with something to say about this stretch of the season. I will say this: the Giants are competing. They aren’t laying down. But they are coming up short more often than not.

If there is any encouragement from the last week, they hung with the Cubs. They could have easily swept the series, and they could easily have been swept. That’s the frustration of 1-run games. They’re in it, but right now they are just not doing enough to get wins, even in close games.

So, instead of getting into all that: two significant questions both for the rest of the season and moving forward into 2017.

1. A question about Buster Posey.

No one wants to go there and when the subject is broached it is usually quickly shot down, but this is the third straight year where Buster Posey has worn down as the season has gone on. This is not really a criticism of Posey. He’s a catcher, this is what happens. This is more a statement of reality.

One of the things that will always stand out to me about the 2014 postseason run was that Posey did very little with the bat. We’re seeing a similar thing right now. Again, can’t blame a guy for struggling to hit, and especially for power, when he’s so beat up, but it is a glaring issue.

The argument is that Posey is far more valuable as a catcher than any other position. And it’s true: what Posey brings in terms of defense, pitch framing, working with pitchers, and then being a middle of the order hitter is a rare gem of a quality. It’s what made the Giants lineup successful for the last 6 years.

But one has to wonder how much longer this can go on.

One other significant issue: first base is claimed by Brandon Belt for a while. That extension had as much to do with the Giants confidence in Posey as anything else.

But, now that Matt Duffy is off to Tampa, is there a spot for Posey over at third (he was a shortstop before moving behind the plate)?

2. A Question About the Closer

Obviously, many fans are ticked at Santiago Casilla for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was yesterday’s blown save.

The problem with moving on from Casilla now is that there isn’t a great option. I would have been all in with Derek Law by now if he was healthy, but alas, he is not.

Hunter Stickland was the presumed closer of the future, but the team doesn’t seem confident in him in that role, and neither do I. I like Strickland a lot, but he leaves far too many pitches in the fat part of the zone to inspire the needed confidence. He would also benefit from a nasty secondary pitch.

I have a feeling that if this season ends in tragedy the Giants will spend some money on the bullpen, and the closer slot in particular, something they haven’t done since Armando Benitez.

Looking Ahead: The long road trip from hell continue in Colorado today. Then off to Phoenix. This week scares me and yet these are beatable teams and winnable games. The Giants could really use a 4-2, 5-1 week, so go get ’em!

Week [6] In Review (May 11-May 18) #SFGiants

Well, last week I wrote about the Giants run differential issues and how that left a sense of doom in regards to the future. They must have read my post. The Giants went to work with the bats this week and turned that -23 on its head: they now are dead even in runs scored and allowed for a run differential of ZERO.

Aside from all the good vibes around the Giants bats right now (and a good part of that might have to do with the Reds being bad at pitching), when you look at the bigger picture of the season go back to that fateful early spring training day when Hunter Pence broke his arm. When you heard about that and how long he might be out, I think we all hoped the Giants could just survive and maybe be at .500 when he came back.

Well, lo and behold that’s exactly how this all worked out. A lot has not gone right in 2015, but the Giants managed to keep from drowning, got one of their best players back and now have an opportunity to dig into the Dodgers lead in the division. The news does not get much better than that.

Hitter of the Week:

Statistically, several guys had great weeks. Last Monday I predicted we might start to see some home runs from Brandon Belt and sure enough the power flood gates opened up. Posey had the 9th best average and he hit .321 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs. Brandon Crawford had a huge week, knocking in 10. Matt Duffy hit .462 (couldn’t help myself), and even Gregor Blanco got in on the action. But I have to give the HOW to Hunter Pence for not just getting back in the lineup, but returning with mad style: 4 for 8 with a double, a home run, 2 RBI, and 5 runs scored!

Pitcher of the Week:

Madison Bumgarner had a great start in Cincinnati. Chris Heston had a great start in Houston and a bad start against the Reds. Ryan Vogelsong continues to make me feel back for ever questioning him. But the pitcher of the week goes to Santiago Casilla. First, Santi pulled off an incredible feat, striking out the side on the minimum 9 pitchers (aka the “immaculate inning”). But what is amazing to me is that those were the only 9 pitches he threw all week! Not a bad week.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants are off today and then it gets busy. Three huge games against the Dodgers start off the week. If the Giants could pull off another sweep they could close the gap in the division to 1.5 games. Crazy! Included in this series is yet another Bumgarner vs. Kershaw death match. Amazing to think this is the third time already this year they’ve faced each other. After all that the Giants head to Colorado for a regularly scheduled three game visit, with the added bonus of a make up game on Saturday. Four in Colorado isn’t usually fun, but the Rockies have been terrible lately and this could be a great opportunity to keep the bats cooking. I’m hoping for 2 of 3 against LA, and 3 of 4 in Colorado.

Go Giants!

-SB

Week in Review (5/21-5/27)

Results:

4-3 (25-23, 7.5 GB in NL West)

4-3 W @ MIL; 6-4 W @ MIL; 8-5 L @ MIL; 14-7 W @ MIA; 7-6 L @ MIA; 5-3 L @ MIA; 3-2 W @ MIA

Giants go on a seven game road trip, and a weird one at that (Milwaukee to Miami), right at the end of playing 20 games in 20 days and win a three game series and split a four gamer. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? And yet, there is something unsatisfying about this week. Maybe it was Lincecum giving the game away on Friday or the offense, which was potent most of the week, getting shut down by Mark Buerhle, but is sure felt like this should have/could have been a 5-2, or even a 6-1 trip. Which is kind of how the whole season feels: we’re doing ok, but it really seems like we should be doing better. More on that later this week…

Hitter of the Week:

There are actually a number of great performances to highlight: Posey hit two home runs and had 8 RBI, Pagan hit .348 and drove in 7, Arias hit .345 and smashed his first home run, and, of course, Melky did it all this week batting .452, hitting 2 home runs (plus 3 doubles and 2 triples), driving in 8 runs, stealing 3 bases, and scoring 12 times (with a nice little 1.371 OPS).

But, I am giving hitter of the week to Gregor Blanco for two reasons: one, I’ve talked about Melky enough, and two Gregor’s pretty darn good! It’s like Andres Torres all over again. He gets hits, walks a ton, steals bases, and sees a lot of pitches. That’s what you ask for from your leadoff hitter. He’s made the lineup deeper and stronger by allowing Pagan to hit down in the order. Can’t wait for Pablo to get back because this team might actually have a good offense when all the pieces are together!

Pitcher of the Week:

Matt Cain went 2-0 with a 3.29 ERA this week, and is generally pretty awesome, but check out the bullpen numbers for the week. Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, Edlefson, Loux, and Hensley combined to pitch 20 innings this week. They allowed 21 baserunners (a 1.05 WHIP) and had a collective 0.00 ERA! They struck out 22 batters and walked 9. The only blemish on the bullpen all week were the 4 runs Javier Lopez gave up in the blowout win against Miami (no harm, no foul). He came back strong yesterday, striking out Logan Morrison in a big spot. Hats off to the bullpen for their dominance!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants have three at home against Arizona (Arizona again!) and then, mercifully, have a day off before starting a four game home series against the Cubs. Hopefully they can hang in there against the snakes, and beat on the Cubs…still waiting for that 5-2/6-1 week of dominance.

(-SB)

Week in Review (8/22-8/28)

Results:

3-3 (71-63; 4 GB in NL West)

7-5 L vs. SD; 2-1 W vs. SD; 3-1 L vs. HOU; 2-1 W vs. HOU; 2-1 4-3 L vs. HOU

Every Giants’ season that I can remember ended with the Giants screwing something up. Sometimes they screwed up before the season began (see 1995, 1996, 2008) and so the finale was somewhat anti-climactic. Sometimes they blew it at the end in heart breaking fashion (see 2002, 2003). No matter how it happened, I learned to always expect the worst. At some point, you just realized: this is not going to happen for us this year.

Then 2010 happened. All along, it seemed like the same script would hold. But it never did. Someone always came through, some lucky bounce went our way, disaster was always averted. World Championship. A paradigm shifting moment.

This year, the Giants have kept us firmly ensconced in this new way of looking at the world. One run victories, great pitching, and walk off wins have reinforced that “hey it will all work out” perspective. Overcoming early season injuries, the Vogelsong story, and the fact that the Giants actually “got better” after Posey went down all helped to convince us that in the end the Giants will prevail.

There is still a lot of baseball left, and plenty of opportunity for the Giants to overcome Arizona, but I think yesterday was the first day that I really began to accept the fact that 2011 might be a lot more like 2004 than last year. I’m not throwing in the towel, I’m not losing hope, but I do think the perfect world I’ve been living in has now had a fair shake of reality added to it. Not every season ends like 2010 and it’s foolish to think otherwise.

The Giants are good, and the future is bright, but no one can win them all.

Hitter of the Week:

Statistically this honor should go to Carlos Beltran (.429, 1 HR, 2 RBI, even a SB). I want to give the honor, though, to Mark Derosa. Mark Derosa is a good baseball player and most Giants fans never got a chance to see it. Blame the Giants for signing a broken player to two-year, 12 million dollar deal, but don’t take it out on the dude. He finally got a couple of big moments here recently and that’s good to see. It’s a shame we never got to experience him at his full powers in a San Francisco uniform.

Pitcher of the Week:

I posted about Tim Lincecum earlier this week. I’m happy that Romo is back. Cain and Bumgarner had good turns at the end of the week. Santiago Casilla held it down in the 9th a couple of times to earn this honor. He was the man in the 8th last year in October, if anyone remembers. A lot of that had to do with Bochy playing the hot hand, but this guy had a really important role on a championship team and has been lost in the mix a bit this year. Well done Santiago.

Looking Ahead:

Hopefully the Giants don’t look past the Cubs! Things do line up well for them in this series. Kip Wells and Rodrigo Lopez are completely beatable, even with our anemic offense. Matt Garza has gotten the Matt Cain treatment, going 6-10 but pitching much better than that. Hopefully the trend continues. They NEED 2 of 3 against the Cubs, and then 2 of 3 against Arizona and they could be 2 games back by the end of the week. Of course better is better (nice turn of phrase), but I think this is completely reasonable. A bad week, though, and we might start seeing a lot more of the Grizzlies, if you know what I mean.

BIG Week!

(-SB)