The Weirdness Continues #sfgiants #weekinreview

Let’s get right to it.

The Good:

  • The Giants go 5-2 this week, they have now won 3 series in a row (I think I wrote something about this importance of this), and sit at .500 after, essentially, one month of baseball.
  • The Giants have already hit 30 home runs, just 4 behind league leading Colorado, a welcomed development.
  • Several surprising pitchers have shown signs of being significant contributors (Stratton, Blach, Moronta, Johnson, and Hunter Strickland)
  • Johnny Cueto has been great. Tony Watson has been great.
  • Brandon Belt is great (happy face emoji)
  • Evan Longoria is settling in quite nicely
  • Mac Williamson might be legit
  • And, we got treated to the magnificent sight of Pablo Sandoval on the mound!

The Weird:

  • Overall, the Giants offense is still in the bottom third in the league in most categories. We are still waiting for a few guys to show up.
  • The Giants did win 5 games this week, but both times they lost they gave up 15 runs! Those games were weird for a variety of reasons, but the blowouts really mess with the run differential numbers. The Giants are 14-14 but they sit at a -19 run differential. We are enough games in at this point for that to mean something (but not everything). The Rockies, who sit half a game ahead of them in the NL West standings are -24, and the A’s who also happen to be 14-14 are +3, so obviously it doesn’t mean that much. However, it would be much easier to be confident about the future if that number were positive.
  • The Giants also hit their first big rash of injuries this week. Hunter Pence went down with a sprained thumb, but that was good news as it allowed Mac Williamson to join the show. But then Mac hit his head and is in the concussion protocol. He should be back soon. Joe Panik, however, will not be back soon. He has a ligament tear in his hand, which means we may not see Joe again until July (sad face emoji).
  • All of this means, the Giants have had a parade of guys coming over from Sacramento. Things should settle down in a few days, and there is a looming decision about Hunter Pence and Mac Williamson, but chaos reigns for the time being.
  • Will Smith returns to getting jiggy with it, and so the Giants staff is at about as full strength as it will be until Bumgarner (and Melancon?) are back. Which leads to:

Confidence Power Rankings After One Month. Let’s start with the Starters:

  1. Johnny Cueto (no brainer here, Cueto’s been brilliant)
  2. Chris Stratton (we’ll give him a Mulligan for Saturday. I’m sympathetic to what we’ll call “new dad syndrome”)
  3. Ty Blach (he’s not going to dominate or go deep into games, but he competes and he beats the Dodgers all the time)
  4. Jeff Samardzija (the home run problems are still there, but something about him pitching every fifth day is mildly comforting)
  5. Derek Holland (has shown flashes, but he is quickly moving into long man territory as he can’t even get through a line up twice, let alone three times)

Relievers:

  1. Tony Watson (dude’s magical)
  2. Hunter Strickland (has had his moments but overall he’s been extremely effective)
  3. Reyes Moronta (had a bad outing on Sunday, but has been refreshing solid all season)
  4. Sam Dyson (seemed destined to get cut, but has turned it around. The sinker is sinking and he is getting big double plays)
  5. Pierce Johnson (very unremarkable and yet surprisingly effective. He’s the Ty Blach of the bullpen)
  6. Will Smith (not even active yet, but he beats out the rest of the list)
  7. Cody Gearren (feels like he should be so much better, but I have zero confidence in him in almost any situation right now)
  8. Other (Derek Law makes me sad. Roberto Gomez in intriguing. DJ Snelton is fun to watch. This is a revolving door, so not much to say, since these guys will all be gone by Wednesday).

Hitters:

  1. Brandon Belt (that’s right haters)
  2. Evan Longoria (he’s hot right now, sorry Buster)
  3. Buster Posey (hard to imagine him not being in the top 2 at any point this season, but the guys above him are hot)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (this is where it gets interesting…McCutchen probably doesn’t deserve to be in the top 5, but some of the other guys are not producing or are hurt, so I’d still rather watch Cutch bat than just about anyone else on the team right now)
  5. Alen Hanson/Austin Slater (again, this has nothing to do with how good they are, it’s just given the rest of the team they are the most interesting at bats to watch).

Looking Ahead. I’ve written quite a bit about the difficulty of the early schedule. Things do get a easier this month, however, the “easy teams” are also on the east coast, which makes them slightly less easy. May will also involve the Astros and the Cubs, and only 9 home games overall (18 road games), and a stretch of 17 games in 17 days.

So, the goal for May is to stay at .500 and hope that Arizona falls back, and then Bumgarner returns in June and the team gets rolling. The Giants will still need to get 5-8 starts out of Derek Holland and whoever else (and that assumes no gets hurt).

In the immediate future, root for another series win. The Padres have been annoying, so a minimum of 2 out of 3 would be a great way to start. They get a day off then head to Atlanta for three this weekend. Don’t sleep on the Braves, lots of talent there! I’m hoping for a 3-3 week and continued consistency throughout the roster.

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The 5 Most Important Players on the 2018 Giants

It’s still a little early for this type of post: we’ll need to see if there are any more moves and who comes out of nowhere during Spring Training. But for now, I am pretty cool with this 25 man roster:

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF
  9. Pence LF
  10. Duggar CF
  11. Jackson OF
  12. McCutchen RF
  13. Parker OF
  14. Bumgarner SP
  15. Cueto SP
  16. Samardzija SP
  17. Stratton SP
  18. Suarez SP
  19. Melancon CL
  20. Smith LRP
  21. Dyson RRP
  22. Strickland RRP
  23. Gearin RRP
  24. Blach LRP
  25. Law/Okert/Fernandez

I know the Giants have a stable of utility infielders coming in this spring, but I don’t know that they can do much better than Kelby Tomlinson. I like Tomlinson’s speed and familiarity (and glasses), and couple him with some left-handed power from Pablo and Jarrett Parker and that could be a nice bench. Let Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, and others lend depth from the farm system.

In terms of pitchers, I would love for Andrew Suarez to get the 5th starter nod, and I also would love to see Derek Law return to form. But, the most interesting pitching situation might be Julian Fernandez. The Giants rule 5 draft pick, he has to pitch for the big league team or he goes back to Colorado. The dude throws over 100 mph and seems pretty nasty, but has control issues and hasn’t pitched in the higher minors yet. He is a total gamble, but maybe an interesting one!

Ok, so assuming that is the team, let’s name the five most important Giants in 2018.


The most important Giant in 2018 is Johnny Cueto. I am assuming that Madison Bumgarner is going to have a huge year. He will be highly motivated to put the dirt bike incident of 2017 behind him, and prove he is healthy, strong, and ready to GET PAID. I am also assuming that Jeff Samardzija does exactly what he did last year but now with a better defense behind him. All Chris Stratton has to do is be better than Matt Moore (not a high bar at all). If Stratton is league average, the Giants are in good shape.

If those three things happen, then the two big question marks for 2018 in the Giants rotation are Cueto and the 5th starter. Every team (except, I guess, the Astros) has a question at 5th starter, so this does not make the Giants unique at all. One of the quiet story lines of this offseason is that for the first time since 2008 (2007?) the Giants have more concerns about their starting pitching than they do about their lineup. The formula, for the better part of a decade, has been excellent starting pitching, a solid and versatile bullpen, and then hope the offense can score at least 4 runs. But this 2018 team, all of a sudden, has flipped that formula, and the Giants have a lot of questions about the pitching.

Which is why Johnny Cueto is the most important player for the upcoming season. In 2016 Johnny Cueto had 144 ERA+, started the All-Star Game, garnered Cy Young and MVP votes, and I would sacrifice a baby goat to spend a day in the alternative universe where the Giants close out game 4 in the NLDS and Cueto gets a shot at the Cubs in game 5.

2017, Cueto came to camp late because he was caring for his ailing dad. He was out of shape, dealt with blisters and injuries, and saw his ERA+ plus drop 50 points down to 92, all of which “froced” him to pick up his option and now serve the next 4 years with the Giants.

I don’t believe Cueto needs to be as good as he was in 2016, but he needs to be way closer to that than what he produced last year. A very good Johnny Cueto makes everything about the 2018 Giants more stable and competitive. He takes pressure off the bullpen, off the back end of the rotation, and once again gives the Giants a 1-2 punch in their rotation to go up against anyone else’s best.


The second most important player on the 2018 Giants is Buster Posey. It’s unfair to single Posey out for anything that went wrong in 2017. He was easily the Giants’ best player.

But much like Cueto, great Posey (vs. good Posey) is what will move this Giants’ lineup from good to really good.

The magic number, for me, for Buster is 20 home runs and an OPS+ of 140. I have him (finally) hitting third in this lineup, and if Posey is hitting the ball with authority all over the field, everything opens up for everyone else.

Plus, there’s the symbolic nature of: this is Posey’s team. He needs to play that way.


The third most important player for the Giants this year is Mark Melancon. It’s generally not a good sign for a closer to appear to so high on a list like this, but so it goes for the Giants.

Melancon is critical because as we all know far too well, the primary issue with the Giants’ bullpen the last two seasons has been rampant instability. When Melancon has been healthy he has been the physical embodiment of a stability. From 2011 to 2016 he pitched in over 70 games 5 of 6 seasons. His ERAs from 2013 through 2016: 1.39, 1.90, 2.23, 1.64.

Giants fans have no idea how good this guy really is. Melancon’s strength has never been that he was the nastiest guy in the 9th inning. There’s always been someone who threw harder or had a better slider or whatever. But, for calm, clean 9th innings, Mark Melancon is your guy.

If he comes anywhere close to his 2013-2016 form the Giants bullpen gets better by leaps and bounds.


Which leads us to MIP #4: Will Smith. Melancon is one notch higher because his stabilizing impact has farther reaching impact, but the Giants will need one more guy in their bullpen to really step up. Smith’s injury early in the spring last year was the first bad omen of 2017.

(I also believe that if Bochy had of taken the training wheels off him in 2016 we’d have made it to that mythical game 5. But then, maybe the reason Bochy wasn’t feeling so good about Smith is that his elbow was barking.)

Smith will be ready for Spring Training, and will likely to be ready to go full-bore by May 1st. If Smith can establish himself as a versatile bullpen weapon (ala Jeremy Affeldt) by June 1, the Giants will really be on to something. A steady Melancon and a weaponized Smith takes so much pressure off Bochy and the rest of the bullpen amrs in ways that are difficult to quantify.

Let’s put it this way, if the Giants are going to have to lean on Hunter Strickland and Sam Dyson in the late innings in 2018, things are not looking good.


I’ve struggled with this 5th spot. At this point you can almost throw a dart at the rest of the roster and make a pretty good argument for whoever you hit.

I’d like to say Brandon Belt because if he has a good year, suddenly the Giants lineup gets longer and deeper and much more dangerous. Plus there are some long-term benefits to a big Belt season (see my post on Bryce Harper).

I’d also like to say Steven Duggar, because his emergence at the big league level as a solid contributor will go a long way towards allowing several guys (namely Austin Jackson) to settle into their ideal roles.

Don’t forget about Brandon Crawford who needs to be healthy for the Giants defense to be at its peak.

Finally, a good argument can be made for Andrew McCutchen because he probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the lineup. If he recaptures his MVP level performance the Giants will have pulled another one over on the Pirates.

But, I think, at the end of the day, Evan Longoria gets this final spot.

For one, Longoria is here for a while. There’s a very good chance that McCutchen is a one and done player. If McCutchen flames out, oh-well-moving-on. If Longoria flames out, gulp!

Two, Longoria will most likely serve as the “protection” in this lineup. He’ll hit behind Posey and Belt and those guys have never had someone like Evan Longoria hit behind them. At least not vintage Evan Longoria. His presence should make life so much easier on them.

Finally, one of the selling points of Longoria was his glove (gold glove last year) and his durability. If all the Giants get from Longoria is that (glove and an everyday presence) they will make up significant ground from last year.

But, if he can approximate even 2016 production levels the Giants will have their best third basemen since Matt Williams.


So there you have it. The 5 most important players for 2018. What would your top five look like?

An Alternative History of the 2016 Post Season

A couple of articles are floating around that re-examane a trade deadline that saw two of the most important players in the World Series (Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) move from the Yankees to this year’s finalists.

In these articles (like this one from Jon Heyman…you have to scroll pretty far down, fyi) it’s mentioned how the Giants never got far on the Andrew Miller front because of a refusal to include Joe Panik in any deal.

Knowing what you know now, should the Giants have entertained the idea?

Here’s how it may have happened:

  1. Joe Panik, along with some combination of Tyler Beede, Christian Arroyo, Phil Bickford, and Adalberto Mejia get sent to the Yankees. Let’s say, for the sake of argument: Panik, Beede, and Mejia.
  2. In all likelihood, the Giants do not also make the trade for Matt Moore, and probably not for Eduardo Nunez either. They may have acquired some sort of utility infielder (ala Gordon Beckham).
  3. The Giants would likely have used Duffy at second and Gillaspie/Beckham at 3rd. They may have called up Arroyo as well.
  4. While the Giants still would have had Matt Duffy, let’s not forget that while he came back and had a nice couple weeks for Tampa Bay he needed surgery (and missed the end of the season to get that surgery). Would he have missed the end of the season for the Giants? Would he have played through the injury? Would he have been diminished? Would he have hurt himself worse?
  5. This also means the Giants would have relied heavily on Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samadzija. But then who else would have started? Cain? Peavy? Ty Blach? That’s a far more uncertain approach (and don’t forget Moore is also around for the next 3 YEARS).

It’s not difficult to imagine the Giants actually winning more games in this scenario and potentially even holding on to the division lead (and subsequently avoiding the Wild Card and the first round date with the Cubs).

But here’s one more reality to swallow. Miller is getting a lot of press for his “fireman” role: coming in whenever needed (including the 5th inning last night). He’s been outstanding in this role, no doubt. Would he have been in this role with the Giants?

My sense is no. Part of what makes Miller, Miller, is that Terry Francona has Bryan Shaw, and more importantly, Cody Allen to fill in behind him. Miller may come in and put out the fire early, but then the Giants would still have had to trust Romo/Lopez/Law/Strickland/Casilla for more outs.

Think about last night’s game (World Series Game 3, a 1-0 Indians win) from the Giants perspective). Samardizija gets the team through 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings in a pivotal game 3 against, say, the Red Sox. Jeff gets into trouble in the 5th and with Big Papi looming, Bochy goes to Miller. Miller gets out of the 5th inning jam, and gets through the 6th as well, but then has to come out for pinch hitter Conor Gillaspie who gets a big pinch hit to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

What then?!?!?!? There’s still 9 more outs! Francona used Shaw and Allen to get those 9 more outs. Is there anyway you could imagine Romo/Lopez/Santiago/et al holding that lead? Maybe. But given what we saw for the last 2+ months of the year that seems unlikely. Which likely means, Miller would never have been used in the scenario by Bochy to begin with.

Obviously this is all hypothetical, and no one can know all the subtle permutation and butterfly effects that may have occurred, but I’ve heard/read many Giants fans lamenting not getting Andrew Miller.

Yes, it would have been nice to have him. The bullpen would have been better.

But it’s not quite that simple. A lot of things would have looked differently in this scenario, and several of those things would have been weaker/worse .

Would you take Miller (and Matt Duffy), but have no Panik, no Moore, no top pitching prospect, and probably no Perez/Smith?

Final thought: when the Giants made the trade for Will Smith he was touted as a “poor man’s Andrew Miller.” We’ll never know what really happened: maybe those first few bad appearances led to a lack of trust on Bochy’s part. Maybe Smith wasn’t up for the challenge. Maybe the transition from Milwaukee was too much. Maybe the Casilla issues and 9th inning instability meant guys like Smith were not able to settle into these kidns of roles. But, Smith never got used as more than a lefty specialist, and I can’t help but wonder how things might have looked different if the Giants really used him as an Andrew Miller type “fireman”.

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.

How to Beat the Cubs in 4 games #sfgiants #nlds

Here you have the immovable object vs the unstoppable force:

  • The SF Giants, owners of one of the worst second-half’s in baseball (history)…the worst team left in the tournament…a team with a variety of questions almost everywhere outside of the starting rotation.
  • The Cubs roll in with the best record, best season, most momentum…a team that has almost no holes and small, nearly imperceptible weaknesses.
  • On the other hand, the Giants don’t lose in the playoffs, have this weird even-year voodoo going on, and are facing the “cursed” Cubbies.
  • The Giants, to my knowledge, have never been favored to win a postseason series during this run. They were never supposed to beat the 2010 Phillies, they couldn’t beat Cliff Lee and the Rangers; the 2012 Cardinals and Tigers were too talented to go down to Barry Zito and Co., and in 2014, the Royals were a runaway trail until they got Bumgarnered in the World Series. In many ways this would be the ultimate crowning achievement of the perpetual underdog Giants: taking down the Cubs.
  • Have you noticed how good the Cubs are?

Here’s a good summary of the two teams and their path to this moment.

One thing I would add to this: I admire the heck out of Joe Maddon. He’s a leader and his baseball strategies are inspired. But he’s never won anything. And he can get cute. Bochy has made some interesting moves over the years (including game 1’s lineup), but his moves always seem more informed by hunches and trying to win, as opposed to impressing himself. Joe Maddon is both a strength and potential weakness.

So how do the Giants do this? How do they get by a team that has great starting pitching, a stacked, versatile lineup, a very flexible bench, amazing defense, and strong bullpen headed by the best closer in baseball?

A couple of general thoughts:

  • The Cub’s pitching is good, but it is not as good as everyone thinks. Or at least, this is my opinion. Outside of Jake Arrieta, this is not a rotation that throws all that hard, or is particularly nasty. They kind of remind me of the 1993 Giants. They throw strikes and are confident in their great defense and that the lineup will score runs. Nothing against that strategy, but in the post-season, in a short series, against a lineup that is good at putting the ball in play, they’ll wish they could put more guys away via the strikeout.
  • The Giants played the Cubs extremely well. Early in the season the Giants took 2 of 3 in San Francisco, including a game where they knocked John Lester (games 1 starter) around a bit. Then, we all remember the 4 games of horror in Chicago before Labor Day. All 4 games were 1-run games, and if the bullpen handles itself, the Giants take 3 of those 4 games. Head to head these teams are actually closely matched.
  • The Giants have more holes and more question marks, no one is arguing that, but they have a manager who is a genius at masking his team’s weaknesses in short series. Again, I like Joe Maddon, but Bochy gives the Giants a huge edge.
  • Finally, some will argue that the Giants need to get the lead and avoid facing Aroldis Chapman. I would also recommend this course of action. However, the Giants are due a ninth inning comeback. The fact that they had exactly zero during the regular season screams that its’ going to happen at some point in this series. Further, the Giants saw Chapman as a Yankee and a Cub this year, and are familiar with him from his time in Cincinnati. They came very close to scoring off him each time they faced him this season. I know close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades but it feels like they will get to him in this series.

A couple specific thoughts:

  • Game 1 is always important, but I think in this series and in this context it is EXTREMELY imperative the Giants win tonight. A dominant performance by Johnny Cueto, a couple big hits by the lineup, and a save for Sergio Romo accomplishes three things: first, the all important win (duh); second, it further establishes confidence in the minds of the Giants…given their second half wobbles, it will serve them well to get back to back wins to start off the post-season; and third, it will introduce doubt into the Cubs, making game 2 a must win situation already (don’t want to be down 2-0 facing Bum).
  • Game 2 will be a house money situation for the G-men. My sense is the Cubs will figure out how to get this done, and even things up heading back to the West Coast.
  • Game 3 features the respective Aces of these teams. The Giants won this matchup a little over a month ago, and I think the same happens here, probably a 2-1 Giants win.
  • Game 4 then become a must win for both teams. If the Cubs pull it out and go back to Chicago, I can see them emerging victorious. The Giants need to avoid that plane ride at all costs. I’ve noticed several national writers dismiss Matt Moore as a league average starter, and sure, his numbers support that diagnoses, but Matt Moore represents a much different “league average” than say, Kirk Reuter. His overall numbers are there, but this is a guy who has nasty stuff and who can be nearly perfect when he’s on. My sense here is the Giants offense busts out a bit against John Lackey, and Matt Moore settles in to get the job done. Giants in 4.

I wrote before that all I wanted was for this team to have an opportunity in a series, and they get it. Can the rotation carry this team to an incredible, unexpected victory? My sense is yes, but as the old cliché goes: This is why they play the games.

Final Thoughts:

  • Key Hitters: there are a lot as it looks like Bochy is going to rely on platoons at 3B, 2B, and CF. One of those 6 guys needs to contribute significantly. I like Gorkys Hernandez to be the guy who gets a huge hit at some point. I also think it’s Brandon Belt time. He’ll face 3 right handers (another overall Giant’s advantage) after Lester tonight, and if he can get hot, especially homer hot, life will be good for us all.
  • Key Bullpen arm: Romo is obviously hugely important, but the other guy who will need to be big is Will Smith. I was a little surprised Steven Okert got left of the roster for this series, leaving the Giants with 2 lefties to get Anthony Rizzo/Jayson Heyward out. Smith will have to dominate those guys and get a few righties out as well.
  • Key stat: The stat I am watching in this series is innings pitched by the Giants starters. There’s a very good chance the Giants could head into game 2 without having yet dipped into the bullpen. Bochy is never afraid to use his ‘pen in the postseason, but I think this year will look more like the 2005 White Sox in that the Giants recipe for success may be 7-8 innings from the starters and then 3-5 outs from Smith and Romo. If the Giants get 30 innings from their starters in games 1-4, they will win this thing in SF.

Here we go!