Good-bye

Chris Quick, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Bay City Ball, has invited me to write for his site and I’ve accepted. Needless to say, I’m very excited about the opportunity to start writing over there. My first post, on the Angel Pagan signing, is already up.

Anyway, this also means the end of Giants Nirvana. I’m not good with good-byes — and besides, this isn’t entirely good-bye, as I’ll still be writing elsewhere — so I’ll be brief…

To anyone that’s ever stopped by here to read anything of mine: Thank you. It’s been a fun ride.

Champions

The Giants have won the World Series.

Every year, 30 teams play toward this end goal, and every year, only one of them actually achieves it. The odds are depressingly low.

And yet, the Giants have now won two championships in the last three years.

There were so many things that could have done the Giants in this year. They were fortunate enough to avoid another barrage of injuries. They faced an uphill battle down the stretch after losing all-star Melky Cabrera (especially in light of the strong additions the Dodgers had made).

The Giants played six potential elimination games in the playoffs, and won every single one of them.

And when they got to the final stage, they wasted no time in winning a championship. Carried by the same dominant pitching that brought them a title two years ago, the Giants played four games against the Detroit Tigers, and they won them all.

The front office did a masterful job building a contending team, acquiring the likes of Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, and George Kontos in the offseason, reinforcing the bullpen by bringing back Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, and adding guys like Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence, and Jose Mijares along the way. (Not to mention Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias, who were both signed to minor-league contracts, and ended up playing important roles with the team.) I wasn’t ecstatic about all of these moves, but most of the front office’s decisions panned out very well, and of course, it’s because of them that the Giants are champions.

The Giants won the World Series. Savor it. Bask in it. Seize the moment. These don’t come too often.

It’s been an amazing, unpredictable, thoroughly enjoyable ride. What a season.

Madison Bumgarner Carries Giants to 2-0 Series Lead

Last night, Madison Bumgarner finally found a groove, tossing seven scoreless innings en route to a 2-0 Giants victory. You’ll hear a lot — or, scratch that, have probably already heard a lot — about how Bumgarner didn’t have his best stuff last night, and I think that’s pretty fair to say. Despite the mechanical adjustments he made prior to the outing, his fastball didn’t gain any zip, and his slider was certainly not at its best. When Bumgarner is at his best, he’s touching 93 with the fastball, and he’s throwing the slider with considerably more velocity and movement.

But Bumgarner had no trouble shutting the Tigers down yesterday, as he limited them to two hits in total while also racking up eight strikeouts. His last time out, he’d struggled to get the Cardinals to swing and miss at his stuff. In total, he only managed five swinging strikes. Last night, though, Bumgarner more than doubled that, yielding 12 swinging strikes in all. This might, as Jeff Sullivan suggested, have something to do with increased differentiation between his fastball and slider. The charts on Brooks Baseball (10/14, 10/25) make this pretty noticeable. For example, check out the horizontal movement of Bumgarner’s pitches plotted against the velocity. In his NLCS start, the pitches were somewhat clustered together, whereas there was a clear distinction in last night’s start. I tend to avoid jumping to conclusions based on pitch f/x numbers because it’s very easy to get misled, and I’m no expert on this stuff, but I’d have to think this is a pretty good sign.

Maybe Bumgarner’s stuff was “bad” last night, but if that’s the case, it’s a testament to how damn good he is. A pitcher can’t luck his way into eight strikeouts over seven innings of two-hit ball against one of the better offenses in baseball. Nope. That’s not to say that Bumgarner didn’t encounter some luck last night — he got away with some mistake pitches, and had some help from the defense — but there was definitely more to it than that. Something was working for Bumgarner, and while it remains to be seen whether he can recapture that magic if he does happen to make another start in this series, Bumgarner was dominant last night.

Bumgarner in the World Series, career: 15 innings, 14 strikeouts, five hits, four walks, 0.00 ERA.

The Giants are two victories away from a championship, by the way.

One Down, Three to Go

Yesterday’s game was all sorts of crazy, and I think that’s best illustrated by the fact that the following sentence is a perfectly valid, accurate arrangement of words: Barry Zito singled off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in Game One of the World Series. Let’s see here…

  • Barry Zito started Game One of the World Series for the Giants.
  • Barry Zito outpitched Justin Verlander, Best Pitcher On The Planet™.
  • Barry Zito got a hit off Justin Verlander.

With some assistance from the defense, Zito kept the Tigers at bay for 5.2 innings. Zito’s last two starts have been crucial, and he’s delivered. It’s not a matter of whether Zito has earned his $126M with these performances, though these last two starts have definitely brought that question to light, and it’s one worth pondering. I mean, if he ends up having played an integral role in bringing the Giants another championship, does that make up for the years of mediocrity?

For me, though, these last two starts have had sort of an opposite effect, in that I’ve been able to forget about the Zito of the last six years — you know, the one that was left off the postseason roster in 2010 — and everything he’s come to represent. His last two outings have brought pure, unequivocal joy. I’ll say, I came into both outings with the lowest of expectations. I anticipated that we’d all see the Zito that showed up in the NLDS. We didn’t. Baseball. Wonderful, wonderful baseball.

And then there’s Pablo Sandoval. Between July 13 and September 18, a span of 43 games and 180 plate appearances, Sandoval did not homer once. For two months, when Sandoval was on the field and healthy, the Giants got a .331 slugging percentage. They saw Ryan Theriot-esque production out of third base for most of the second half up until the final two weeks of the season; but Sandoval turned it on at the end of the year, and he’s really come alive in the postseason.

Last night, Sandoval took the toughest pitcher in baseball deep on an 0-2 count. Then he took him deep again in the fourth inning. And in the fifth, he took Al Alburquerque deep. Three homers, two of ‘em off the reigning AL MVP, each of them in a different part of the strike zone, and this happened at AT&T Park — where there hadn’t been a three-homer game in more than a decade. (Oh, and by the way, Sandoval singled in his fourth and final at-bat).

Only three other players, throughout history, have homered three times in a World Series game. Babe Ruth did it twice. Reggie Jackson did it. And Albert Pujols did it last year. That’s three Hall of Famers right there. And Pablo Sandoval.

Oh yeah, and two of the homers landed in center field. Sandoval only had two such homers during the regular season. The other homer was opposite field. Sandoval had no such homers during the regular season. His timing at the plate looks perfect, and that means he’s a force to be reckoned with.

What a performance.

Hunter Pence struck out three times last night. He swung and missed seven times, which is the equivalent of a month for Marco Scutaro. He’s struggling mightily, and after 300 plate appearances with the Giants, it’s fair to be concerned. We can save this talk for after the World Series, but Pence is going to make a good chunk of money next season, and there’s been a frightening resemblance to Aaron Rowand in a lot of the at-bats he takes. Color me worried.

Can we have a moratorium on the Melky Cabrera talk for the next week?

The Giants are three victories away from winning the World Series. Three to go. That’s it. And then they’re champions. Heh.

National League Champions

I had a defibrillator on standby for this game, you know. That sure turned out to be unnecessary. The Giants made it easy. An early lead, a boatload of insurance by the third inning, and an eventual nine-to-nothing final score. The Cardinals took a beating today — and I’m okay with that because it was them or me.

Some brief thoughts, as we all still digest this…

– THE GIANTS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!!!!!!!

– No, seriously, National League Champions. Has a nice ring to it, eh? Awesome, awesome, awesome.

– The Giants won this game in the third inning, the big blow coming off the bat of Hunter Pence. He cleared the bases with a double to bring the Giants’ lead up to 5-0. The hit was…weird. Pence’s bat snapped mid-swing, and he ended up making contact with the ball three times. Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma misjudged the ball, which potentially made the difference between “three-run double” and “double play.” I’m not sure if he should get the blame for that; I’m not certain, for instance, that Brandon Crawford would have made that play. The fact that Pence hit the ball three times might have had something to do with Kozma’s bad first step.

Whatever the case, it worked out for the Giants. That’s all that really matters in the end, right?

– NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro played in all seven games, collecting a hit in each of ‘em; he had multiple hits in six of ‘em — a new LCS record. Overall, he had 28 at-bats in this series. He collected a hit in half of them. Dude’s a hit machine. Not to mention the fact that his defense has been superb.

Obligatory reminder: Charlie Culberson — who had a .283 OBP in the PCL at the time — was all it took for the Giants to acquire Scutaro. I think I’ve mentioned that a good seventeen times by now, but I mean, wow.

– You can add Jeremy Affeldt to the list of things I was wrong about; it’s sort of a long list. Affeldt was the Giants’ second best reliever this season, and he’s been outstanding in the playoffs. Through eight appearances, he still has yet to allow a run this postseason. I’d say he’s earned that $5M.

Buster Posey had a pretty disappointing NLCS, and his timing at the plate sure seems off. He’s rolling over pitches, and even the hit he had tonight — a chopper up the middle — wasn’t impressive. You know what? I’m not the least bit worried. He’s Buster Posey. He’ll figure it out.

Matt Cain was not great. He was missing spots, leaving pitches up, and running up his pitch count. He was good, though. In spite of the high pitch count and the occasional mistakes, he gave the Giants 5.2 innings’ worth of shutout ball.

But more importantly, he didn’t need to be great, or even good for that matter. The offense — and defense, too — carried the team. And the team won. And now they’re going to the World Series.

– Did I mention that the Giants are going to the World Series? Because the Giants are going to the World Series.

One Win Away From The World Series

The Giants have forced a Game Seven, thanks to phenomenal starts from Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong.

Zito, up against one of the best offenses the National League has seen in recent years, a lineup that’s been especially tough on left-handed pitching, more than held his own. For nearly eight innings, with everything on the line, he silenced the Cardinals on their own territory. Considering the match-up and what was at stake, it was probably the outing of his career.

And you could say the same about Ryan Vogelsong, who’s transformed into a postseason force to be reckoned with. Through four and two-thirds innings, he had a no-hitter going. He went on to allow one run in seven innings of work, just as he had done in the second game of this series. His nine strikeouts were a career high, and to top it all off, he only allowed one walk. I’m certain I’ve never seen Vogelsong dominate quite like he did last night.

Oh yeah, and for good measure, Zito and Vogelsong each drove in a run in their starts.

I can’t get over the craziness of all of this. Facing elimination, the Giants sent out Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, both of whom delivered with spectacular pitching to keep the team’s World Series hopes alive. You know how weird that would’ve sounded a year and a half ago? Zito had been left off the postseason roster entirely in 2010, and Vogelsong a) hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, and b) was coming off a season in which he’d allowed nearly two baserunners an inning…in Triple-A.

This Giants team is doing some absolutely amazing things. With their backs against the wall in the NLDS, they fought back, nabbed three consecutive games, and advanced to the next round. And they’re on the brink of doing it again. This is unprecedented stuff.

Now, it’s World Series or bust. Whatever happens tonight, it’s been one hell of a ride. Here’s hoping it’s not over just yet. And with the Giants at home, sending Matt Cain to the mound, I have to say — I like them odds.