3 Thoughts on Game 1 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

1. I’ll Take Bumgarner. I live in Boston and as I drove around yesterday, listening to sports talk radio, desperately hoping they would mention the WORLD SERIES, I finally got my wish during the last 5 minutes of an afternoon show. The guys discussed the “goodness” of the Royals’ story, shared their amazement at the Giants 3rd trip to the Series in 5 years, and wondered aloud about the lack of star power between these two teams.

Which is all fine. There are no Derek Jeter’s, Mike Trout’s, or Bryce Harper’s in this series. There are no Clayton Kershaw’s, or Felix Hernandez’s, or Justin Verlander’s.

One of the guys suggested that Posey is a “rising” star, and that this Madison Bomgardner (how they pronounced his name) was an ok pitcher, not really an Ace, but probably/maybe the best starter between the two teams.

I know that baseball is a regional sport at this point in time, and that guys in Boston may not know much about the Giants, but it is embarrassing that one could talk about sports as a profession and not know a THING about Madison Bumgarner, who is one of the five best pitchers in baseball right now. It’s unthinkable. I hope he gets to start again just so more people can see him pitch.

Of all the things that are amazing about Bumgarner (the scoreless streaks, the postseason wins, etc) this one takes the cake for me: He is STILL younger than Tim Lincecum was when the Giants won it all in 2010. Unreal.

Bumgarner did what he needed to do and more in this game. For the Giants to win this series they need(ed) to win Bumgarner’s starts, get out in front, and take the wind out of the Royals sails. This series could not have started any better for them.

2. Pence and the Law of Averages. One of the reasons I favored the Giants coming into this series is because the Royals have gotten above average play from almost everyone in their lineup. With the exception of Salvador Perez (who promptly homered last night) and Billy Butler, most of the Royals are hitting better than normal (especially in terms of power).

Now, the postseason is short and guys can get on weird power surges (hello Cody Ross), but one could reasonably expect the Royals to come back to earth a bit in this series.

On the other side, the Giants went 8-2 through the first three rounds with exactly zero home runs from the middle of their order. Posey, Panda, and Pence have all had nice enough postseasons, but no extra base hits for Posey and no home runs for any of them. Even though none of those guys is a true power hitter, it is difficult to imagine the Giants playing 14-17 postseason games and not getting a home run from any of those three.

Cue Hunter Pence. While I still fully expect to see some power from both Panda and Posey, Hunter Pence is the kind of player who when he gets hot, he gets ridiculously hot. Pence could carry the offense in a series like this. We’ve yet to see that in two postseasons with Pence, but it is entirely possible.

I’m not saying that is going to happen, but it easily could. And even if it doesn’t I do expect to continue to see these three guys get some big hits in this World Series.

3. Wherefore art Thou, Timmy Lincecum. I texted my dad after Bumgarner came out that we would see Timmy in this game.

We did not.

Which means that we now know, without a shadow of a doubt, why he is on the postseason roster. Lincecum is here because the Giants staff does not trust the 2-4 starters. He’s not here to be a 6th inning bridge. He’s not here to be a late inning strikeout weapon. He is simply an insurance policy.

Some people have criticized the Giants for using him in this way. Why waste a roster spot on a luxury insurance item when it could be used more practically? Why handcuff yourself to a 24-man roster, when you don’t need to?

Here’s a scenario for you, though. Let’s say, win or lose, Peavy pitches well enough to get through 6 innings, and Bochy doesn’t have to use Petit in Game 2. And let’s say that in the second inning of Hudson’s Game 3 start something goes terribly wrong: his hip flares up and he has to come out, or he doesn’t have it and he’s getting hit around the yard. Petit comes in and does his hero act, saving the day (and the bullpen) by pitching 4 strong innings.

That’s all wonderful, but he’s not going to be available the next day when Game 4 rolls around and Ryan Vogelsong’s got nothing left in the tank. Now where do you go? Jean Machi? Hunter Strickland in the 4th? Javy Lopez for a couple of innings? Nope. It’s Tim Lincecum time.

Again, the Giants don’t have enough confidence in their starting pitchers to keep Lincecum off the roster. They obviously hope they never have to use him, but they need him around just in case.

We know this because last night was the perfect time to give a guy a chance (in low pressure World Series situation) to show the team that he can be trusted in a bigger spot later on down the line.

Bochy gave that chance to Hunter Strickland (who handled it extremely well and demonstrated that against this lineup he is a great 6th or 7th inning option).

If you were wondering why Tim Lincecum is still here, now you know.

Looking Ahead: As good as we all feel coming out of Game 1, and we should feel good because that was the best possible outcome, the series changes dramatically today. From here until Game 5, the starting pitching matchups are very even and, especially for the Giants, very difficult to predict.

Will Peavy pitch like he did in Game 1 against the Nationals, or Game 2 against Cardinals? Can these old dogs make it more than two times through the Royals lineup?

The Giants starters are more likely to pitch like Bunmgarner did in Game 1 than any of the Royals’ guys, but they also are more likely to implode. We are dealing with volatile stocks here!

Hoping for good Peavy tonight, and more dingers!

Go Giants!

-SB

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What the Cardinals and Red Sox Can Teach the Giants

It’s been fascinating living in Boston this year, watching people react to the Red Sox. At first, it was apathetic (Napoli who?), than it was resignation (we’re going to suck again), then it was mild interest and excitement (we don’t suck), than it was sentimental (Boston  strong and cute beards), then it got serious (playoffs!), and then it got out of control (the city nearly threw the parade after the game victory).

Now it’s back to worrying about curses, and can a team without stars actually win a world series (um, yes).

Anyway, those are just some thoughts, and now for the real heart of the matter: what this world series teaches our beloved SF Giants.

  • The Red Sox Way:

We’ll begin here because their situation most closely resembles where the Giants are at right now. Last year everything fell apart for the Sox, which led to a major, house cleaning, trade with the Dodgers. In the wake of all that transition the Red Sox did two things: (a) take short term gambles on players who could potentially produce what the needed most (power, defense, and character). (b) they hoped and prayed their starting pitchers who used to be good, got good again.

This is applicable to the Giants because they do not have tons of money to spend on free agents. And there aren’t any big name free agents that really get your blood pumping. And recent history suggests it is very unwise to go all in on name brand free agents anyway (just ask the Angels).

In fact, the Red Sox stole strategy A from the Giants (Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Gregor Blanco, Marco Scutaro, etc). The Giants are going to need to replicate this success somehow this offseason.

And it sure looks like strategy B is where we are headed as well. The resign of Tim Lincecum follows the same kind of logic the Red Sox have employed with John Lackey and Jon Lester. Hope the magic comes back. And it has. I have no idea how, but it has. I’d be shocked if Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t in the rotation to start 2014. Same strategy.

Employing these two strategies together seems foolish (more on this later), but it worked for the Red Sox (and aren’t the Giants the Red Sox to the Dodgers Yankee’s in this crazy new baseball world?).

  • The Cardinals Way:

The Cardinals are in the World Series (and are the best organization in baseball) because they produce their own quality players year in and year out. And there are more on the way. It’s actually quite scary and hard to fathom.

For a while this was the Giants‘ strategy. The core of the two championship teams includes a long list of home grown talent (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford, even Jonathan Sanchez and Nate Schierholz helped with their play and by getting traded for good things).

And there is another wave coming, especially in the pitching department. But, not much help for 2014.

  • And what about Moneyball?

This might seem like a non-sequitur, but hear me out. Let us all remember that Moneyball is not about on-base percentage, it is about market inefficiencies and exploiting resources other teams neglect.

Over the past couple of years, the Giants have (to the surprise of many around baseball) been on the front edge of a couple of trends: (a) run-prevention (i.e. pitching and defense), (b) minor-league free agent gold (like Juan Uribe or Santiago Casilla or Ryan Vogelsong), (c) dramatically undervalued veterans (like Aubrey Huff and Marco Scutaro), and (d) creating a contact heavy, low strikeout lineup.

[a quick aside about D. recent post-season history has borne out the reality that high contact teams are much better suited for playoff success than low contact/high power teams…the last 3 world series bear this out, as does the on-going frustrations of the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, two teams that strikeout way too much. the current world series matchup is, perhaps, the greatest test of this to date: the Cardinals should win this series because they strike out dramatically less than the Red Sox. so far, games 1 and 2 hold true: whoever strikes out the most at the plate loses.]

All of which leads us to the Giants strategy this offseason: last year they pretty much brought everyone back and it didn’t work. So far, the are doubling down on that strategy and paying a steep price for it. Most pundits have been very critical of both contracts, seeing them as overpays and pre-reactions to a yet-to-be-determined market.

Are the Giants crazy, lazy, or are they on to something? 

Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals are testament to the importance of doing hard things. Many, many people in Cardinal nation thought the world was coming to an end when Albert Pujols left. That turned out fairly well.

No one thought there was any way the Red Sox could really get out from underneath the mess they had made with bad contracts and bad hires. They did it (thanks to the Dodgers), and they went deep into the unknown and came out of it with a pennant.

The Giants, though, like to return to what they know. The did it with Barry Bonds, they did it with guys from the 2010 team and with the 2012 team. They are doing it again now.

I’d love to see them be bit less sentimental and more imaginative. However, the Giants have proven to be able to see things that others have not been able to see, and so maybe we’ll never regret paying Hunter Pence so much and maybe Tim Lincecum will pull a John Lackey.

In sum, every pennant winning team is a strange combination of design and great fortune, and if the Giants return to the heights in 2014 this will no doubt be true of them.

In a strange way they reflect both of these “ways” of team building. Here’s to hoping they do know what they are doing.

(-SB)

Pre-World Series Thoughts

Here we go. It all begins tonight. Here are my thoughts on the series:

1) It’s going to be another long series. With the exception of the Tiger’s sweep of the Yanks, every post-season series (so, 5 of the 6) has gone to the max number of games. This series will end, one way or the other, in San Francisco.

2) Justin Verlander could be Cliff Lee. Verlander is by almost any measure a better pitcher than Cliff Lee. But remember back to 2010. Cliff Lee was absolutely untouchable. He was coming off an incredible 2009 run with the Phillies where he earned a reputation for post-season dominance and nearly helped the Phils repeat all by himself. He backed that up with great performances in the first two rounds of the 2010 post-season.

The Giants were at home. They were starting 2-time Cy Young Award winner, and staff ace, Tim Lincecum. And yet, the Rangers were overwhelming favorites to win game 1. But the Giants wnet out and put a hurting on Cliff Lee in the fifth inning. He left before the inning was over having allowed 7 runs (6 earned).

I’m not saying the same thing is going to happen, but again, if the Giants were going to be Cliff Lee it had to be 1-0 affair with a fluke run, not a drubbing. I think the Giants can get to Verlander in game 1. It’s on the road (for Justin). It’s seven days since he last pitched. He can be had.

3) I fully expect Madison Bumgarner to be a factor. He gets the game 2 nod and something tells me he pitches well.

4) Buster Posey needs to make an impact in this series.

5) The Tigers are doing the Giants a favor by holding Anibal Sanchez back to game 3. I’d have pitched him second if I were the Tigers.

6) These are both flawed teams. The Tigers are using the tried and true method of dominant starting pitching and power hitting. That always plays well in the post-season. But their bullpen and defense are huge weaknesses. The Giants have holes in the lineup. They have a patchwork rotation that can get the job done, but seems a far cry from two years ago. But, they have been opportunistic, relentless, and their bullpen has covered a multitude of sins. Something has to give.

7) On the topic of starting pitching: the Giants have had three strong starts in a row and had 5 strong starts in the Cardinals’ series. Going back to game 2 of the NLCS, it seems Vogelsong  started the one-upmanship that has come to define the Giants pitchers when they get on a roll. Overall the picture might not be that impressive, but they just might be in the middle of one of those runs where each guy is out to do just a little bit better than the last guy.

8) I am already worried about Andy Dirks and Omar Infante…those guys can be their Scutaro/Ross types in this series.

9) I wholeheartedly agree with Tim Lincecum being used out of the bullpen. He is a tremendous, series changing weapon in that role. If Zito and Madbum can hold their own, allowing Bochy to keep Timmy in the ‘pen then the Giants have everything they need to shut the Tiger offense down.

10) It will be a long series: Giants in 7.

(-SB)

Steve’s Pick (2012 Predictions)

AL East

Both easts are tough calls, with four legit teams in each division. It seems easy to go with status quo (which I will do in NL, but not here):

  1. Rays
  2. Blue Jays*
  3. Yankees
  4. Red Sox
  5. Orioles

The Rays have it all: pitching, defense, and more than enough offense to win this division. They finally stay healthy and put it all together for a deep run into the playoffs. The Blue Jays are a bit of a reach, but I think they have plenty of talent, and they are able to stay healthier than the Red Sox and Yankees. Age and injuries take down the two beasts of the east this year and for the first time since 1993(?) there is a postseason with no Boston or New York teams.

AL Central

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Twins
  4. White Sox
  5. Indians
This is the easiest division to call. Tigers coast for 2012, and then it gets more interesting next year because the Royals will finish strong, end up at .500, and be ready to go for real in 2013. Enjoy it Tigers because the division is gaining on you! Twins and White Sox continue to retool and struggle, and the Indians are in full-out rebuild mode.
AL West
  1. Angels
  2. Rangers*
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s

The Angels pitching carries the day. They have the deepest and nastiest staff in the AL. The Rangers take the second wild card, but I worry about the toll that the last two post-seasons have taken on the team…look for some injuries to slow them down. The Mariners are not as bad as it might appear, but the A’s are in for a dismal season.

NL East

The east has seen a lot of shifts, but it won’t make a difference in the end this season…the times are a changin’ but not quite yet…

  1. Phillies
  2. Braves*
  3. Nationals
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

As I said earlier there are four legit teams in this division. The Phillies though will prevail one last time before they succumb to age and breakdown. The Braves have too much pitching to not compete and they take the second Wild Card. The Nationals will be good, but they are a year away from the Harper/Strasberg combo taking over the division. The Marlins have made some moves and they will hang around, but I don’t think they have enough of anything to hang with the Phillies. The Mets will be good…in 2015.

NL Central

  1. Cardinals
  2. Reds
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs
  6. Astros

This is the one totally wide open division where anything could happen. The Cards lost Pujols, but we’ve seen teams lose stars again and again and keep on going, if not get better. They made some nice additions (Betlran) and have some rising stars (Freese), but most importantly got one of the best pitchers in the world back (Wainwright). They should be able to make it out of the central. The Reds will make it close, the Brewers are still dangerous even without Prince, and even the Pirates could make some noise if their young pitchers make the jump this year. Cubs and Astros have no shot. Sorry guys.

NL West

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks*
  3. Dodgers
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

I believe that every team in this division improved this offseason, even if only a little bit. Which means it will be competitive. At the end of the day, though, the Giants and the D-Backs have great pitching staffs from top to bottom and that is what wins the day. Given health for both teams, I can’t not pick the Giants staff, so they take the division and D-Backs have to deal with the one and done wild card system. The Dodgers will be better and the Rockies are always a little scary, but they go 3 and 4. The Padres will be tough too, but there’s just not enough there to move them out of the cellar.

Playoffs:

WC: Braves beat the D-Backs; Blue Jays beat the Rangers

DS: Giants beat the Cardinals, Braves beat the Phillies; Rays beat the Tigers, Angels beat the Blue Jays

LCS: Giants beat the Braves; Rays beat the Angels

WS: Giants beat the Rays

(-SB)

 

Nick’s Picks

Just because I was wrong about Mike Fontenot being a lock for the Giants roster doesn’t mean I’m wrong here! Let’s start with my second favorite MLB League, the American league.

AL East

  1. Yankees
  2. Rays
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Red Sox
  5. Orioles

I think the Yankees win but not by much over the Rays. Tampa has better pitching and it’ll be interesting to see if the older Yankees can put enough hitting together to get the division. Ultimately I think the Rays win one of Wild Cards and the Yankees are bounced in the first round again. The Red Sox seem to have some trouble, and I really like what the Blue Jays are doing with some great young pitching. Honestly the Sox will probably finished 3rd and could very well win the WC as well, but I like my home country team so they go 3! O’s suck.

AL Central

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. White Sox
  4. Twins
  5. Royals

I think the Tigers run away with the division, but the rest is tough to predict. The Indians will keep improving, the White Sox will be about the same as last year I think, and the Twins can’t possibly be as bad as they were last season. Any of those 3 teams could switch positions, and all will miss the playoffs. The Royals are slowly getting better, but still a year or two away from contending in this division.

AL West

  1. Rangers
  2. Angels
  3. Mariners
  4. Athletics

The Angels got Pujols and CJ Wilson, but I think the Rangers will win their 3rd straight division title with the Angels winning the 2nd WC. It honestly could go either way, and Albert and Kendry Morales being a huge addition to the Angels team in terms of offense. But this team still has Tori Hunter, Vernon Wells and other not as powerful offensive options. The Rangers have Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz , Ian Kinsler etc.

NL East

  1. Marlins
  2. Phillies
  3. Braves
  4. Nationals
  5. Mets

It’s not that I think the Marlins are really good, although the additions of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle certainly help, it’s that I don’t see Atlanta or Philly that good. Philly has their big 3 pitchers but not much else other than an aging lineup, the Braves can be so inconsistent and have little pitching or hitting depth.

NL Central

  1. Brewers
  2. Reds
  3. Cardinals
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs
  6. Astros

I’m going against the trend and picking the Brewers to win the division with either St. Louis or Cincy to win a WC. The Brew Crew lost Prince, but added Aramis Ramirez (still a good power hitter), and better hitting shortstop and a potential big bat prospect at first in Mat Gamel. Other than that this is the same team as last year, I don’t see them losing the division. St. Louis is going to feel the lack of Big Albert in their lineup, and I don’t see how Berkman puts up the numbers he did last season again, plus no Chris Carpenter and who knows how their closer situation will be?

NL West

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Giants
  3. Rockies
  4. Padres
  5. Dodgers

Dodgers are always last in my book. I’m worried about the Giants offense competing enough to win the title. The D-Backs looked really good last season to me and I don’t see them dropping off. The Giants will be good and win the other WC and make a good, solid run into the post season. I actually think this will be a competitive division that will be a lot of fun to watch.

World Series

  • Brewers vs. Rays…Brewers win.

(-NW)

Closing the Book on 2011

As I wrote earlier, this World Series had the air of 2002 written all over it. Turns out that was more on point than I imagined. Team with a rally animal gains a 2-1 advantage, then falls behind on the road 3-2, but then wins a Game 6 for the ages and defeats its deflated opponent relatively easily in Game 7. I’ve seen this one before.

The Cardinals are frustrating to me for two reasons: (1) I was not so secretly rooting for the Rangers because I felt like their taking home the title would somehow validate the Giants World Series victory of 2010. (2) The Cardinals do not neatly follow my pitching addition/emergence theory that I’ve been harping on all year.

But here’s the interesting thing. In some ways the Cardinals validate the Giants run of a year ago by showing that a hot team that gets in at the last-minute is a dangerous, dangerous foe. In fact, in the system might actually favor this type of team (see paragraph 6).

And, if you break down the season, the Cardinals actually follow the pattern I set out, but they did it in compressed time (over the course of the season instead of the offseason). This happened in part because of the injury to Adam Wainwright. But, over the course of the season the Cardinals witnessed the emergence of a closer (Jason Motte) who posted an ERA+ of 162, career years from Kyle Loshe, a strong sophomore (injury free) season from Jaime Garcia, and the midseason reinforcements of Edwin Jackson (who ensured that Jake Westbrook would not pitch in the post-season), Mark Rzepczynski, and Octavio Dotel (who ensured that Ryan Franklin would not pitch in the post-season).

All of that translated to season-best-production in September/October. They set season best marks in Strikeouts, ERA, K/BB ratio, OBP, SLG, OPS+, WHIP, and K/9.

Of course, and this will always burn me a little, if the Houston Astros played the Cardinals as well as they did the Giants, we’d be writing a very different story right now.

(-SB)

Game 5

Bullets:

  • I was totally prepared to write a post-game article about how Ron Washington is going to lose this series by going to the Alexi Ogando well too many times. Seriously, Wash, you have Mike Adams and several other dudes down there in the pen and Ogando is still pitching, still walking guys, still leaving 95 mph fastballs up in the zone? Maybe I’m biased towards Adams because I saw him get so many Giants out, maybe he’s hurt, but that bullpen has other arms! Use them.
  • Instead we have another LaRussa gem. I know the guy is smart, I know that he’s won a ton of games and been successful for a long time. I know that everyone has bad days and no manager gets it right even most of the time, but I really do wonder if some of the teams he’s managed could have/would have done better under someone else. Those A’s teams (’87-’91)…the ’04/’05 Cards…now this team. Hindsight is always perfect, but I think the question needs to be asked.
  • This point has been made several times already but what were the Angels thinking when they traded Mike Napoli? Obviously, they wanted Vernon Wells. Obviously, they like Jeff Mathis. But their 2011 team needed: (a) Power (b) A first baseman (c) anyone who can hit. Unbelievable. Texas has improved its bullpen over the 2010 version of the team, but Napoli is the real big difference between this year and last year.
  • Game six of the World Series is important. I know this because I like the Giants. I highly recommend that the Rangers end this thing on Wednesday. Still hoping for a game 7 though!
(-SB)