NLDS Game Four Recap: Giants 8, Reds 3

And just like that, the Giants have evened the series at two apiece. Tomorrow’s game — Matt Cain v. Mat Latos — will decide whether the Giants go home or advance to the NLCS. Now, about today’s game…

– The Giants finally broke out on offense today, which was a relief to see. After scoring four runs over the previous three games, the Giants tallied eight runs today. Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, and Pablo Sandoval each homered; Joaquin Arias knocked a couple doubles; Hector Sanchez reached base three times. Giants pitching limited the Reds to three runs on the afternoon, but the eight runs the lineup produced weren’t superfluous — in building a big lead, they enabled Bochy to rest Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo.

– Onto Hector Sanchez. I’d like to clarify a few things: I don’t think the Giants’ best lineup has Hector Sanchez at catcher, and that doesn’t mean that I hate Hector Sanchez. As a matter of fact, I actually really like Hector. And I think he’s a pretty talented player — a catcher capable of posting a 95 OPS+ in the majors at age 22 isn’t exactly easy to come by.

But again, I don’t think the Giants’ best lineup — currently — has Hector in it. Brandon Belt is quite clearly a better defender at first base than Buster Posey, and Buster Posey is quite clearly a better defender at catcher than Sanchez (Sanchez had some pretty cringe-worthy glovework at various times in today’s game, even); and Brandon Belt (118 wRC+) is quite clearly a better hitter than Hector Sanchez (86 wRC+) at this moment in time. In the postseason, I think the modus operandi should be to field the best lineup at all costs. Naturally, I want Posey at catcher and Belt at first base for every one of these games. It doesn’t make or break the Giants — and I’ve never suggested that this is the case; but every little thing makes a difference, and I think the team should capitalize on every possible advantage.

Hector hit a single and drew a couple walks today. That’s awesome. It should go without saying, but I want to see him perform well whenever he’s put in the lineup. I was pleased with his work at the plate today, and the Giants’ performance as a whole. Do today’s four plate appearances (along with shoddy defense, no less) change my opinion on the matter? Nope.

– The best part about today’s game: Tim Lincecum. 4.1 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 0 BB, 2 H. I know the Giants’ offense is better than what they’d done over the first few games in this series. As great as it was to see them finally produce, I’d expected it. Timmy, on the other hand? I don’t really know what to expect out of him at this point. For the first time since Aaron Rowand was still a thing, Lincecum went three-plus innings without walking anybody. His only other walk-less appearance since that game back in June of 2011? His previous relief appearance in this NLDS, when he went two innings with two strikeouts. Put the two outings together, and Lincecum’s overall pitching line for the NLDS: 6.1 IP, 1 ER, 8 K, 0 BB, 3 H. In light of today’s poor showing from Barry Zito (who, in all fairness, didn’t get a whole lot of help from Hector or the home plate umpire), I think there’s no question that Lincecum has to take Zito’s spot in the playoff rotation if the Giants do happen to advance to the next round.

Oh yeah, and Bochy — once again — did an excellent job managing the bullpen today.

– Don’t forget: if Johnny Cueto doesn’t incur that injury in Game One, the Giants are stuck facing Cueto/Latos/Arroyo/Bailey this series, and there’s no Mike Leake. These things aren’t to be taken for granted. Never take Mike Leake for granted.

NLDS Game Three Recap: Giants 2, Reds 1

I can’t even begin to pretend to understand what I just watched. But I’ll tell you one thing: I was getting ready to say good-bye to the 2012 Giants — to write an end-of-season post, pointing out that despite the thrashing the Giants received to put an end to their season, we shouldn’t forget that 2012 was a great ride. No need for that. Not today, at least.

For most of the game, the score was tied. Both teams were in it. But it didn’t feel like it. For most of the game, it felt like the Giants were done, waiting for an inevitable end to their season. Like they were just going through the motions. It took them until the sixth inning to get their first hit of the game. Marco Scutaro singled to right to put an end to the no-hitter; Pablo Sandoval then came up, promptly swung at the first pitch — nowhere near the strike zone — and flied out. That’s the kind of game it was.

Through nine innings, the Giants had one hit. Had the game not been forced into extra innings, the Giants would have become the first team ever to collect fewer than three hits in back-to-back postseason games. It took the following tenth inning sequence to bring the Giants a victory: Buster Posey singles to right; Hunter Pence, with a full count, hits a grounder mere inches from Scott Rolen that goes through for a single; Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady each strike out swinging; runners advance on a passed ball from Ryan Hanigan (who had only allowed three passed balls during the regular season); Joaquin Arias hits grounder to Rolen, Rolen bobbles it, his throw to first is late — and Posey scores on the play.

That’s what it took for the Giants to win this game. They struck out 16 times. They drew only one walk. They collected only three hits, none of which drove in a run. And yet they walk away with the victory.

Not to be forgotten in all of this: the outstanding efforts from every Giants pitcher in this game, particularly Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogelsong was able to move past a rough first inning, holding the Reds to one run over five innings of work. Credit Bochy as well, here — he pinch hit for Vogelsong in the sixth inning, something he probably wouldn’t do in normal circumstances; even though Aubrey Huff didn’t get a hit, the Giants went with the bullpen for the rest of the game, and the bullpen shut the Reds down.

And that’s where Sergio Romo comes in: in the ninth inning of a tied game, he set the Reds down in order. Bochy stuck with Romo after the Giants took the lead, even though a) it meant letting Romo hit and b) Romo rarely has long relief appearances. You know how many times Romo pitched two innings this season? Once. But he came out in the tenth, and once again set the Reds down 1-2-3 to seal the win. Kudos to Bochy, again, for sticking with Romo there.

So the Giants live to see another day. It wasn’t pretty. But a win’s a win. And if the Giants can somehow manage to pull off two more of these, they’ll advance to the next round. They’re still hanging by a thread, skating on thin ice — whatever you want to call it. But they’re one step closer to the NLCS. Baseball’s weird.

NLDS Game One Recap: Reds 5, Giants 2

The Giants caught an enormous break in this one when, eight pitches into his outing, Johnny Cueto was forced to exit the game with back spasms. With Matt Cain on the mound, it was as though they had been gifted Game One of the series.

Matt Cain did not pitch like Matt Cain, though. In the third inning, he served up a two-run homer to Brandon Phillips on a fat, hanging 1-2 pitch. Following the home run, he hit Zack Cozart and then walked Joey Votto on four pitches. At one point, he’d thrown eight consecutive balls, there was one out in the inning, and Ryan Ludwick was at the plate with Jay Bruce on deck. Were it not for a timely double play, he could have fallen apart at the seams right then and there. He didn’t. The very next inning, Jay Bruce led off with a solo shot, sending a decent pitch (this one was kept down in the zone, and had considerably less hang-time than the pitch to Phillips) over the wall in right-center field for the Reds’ third run.

Things didn’t go much better with the Giants’ offense — they rallied with two outs in the second inning, only to have Matt Cain come up with the bases loaded. He hit one on the screws, but it was right at Bruce. And that kind of stuff seemed to happen throughout the night — Brandon Belt struck the ball well in his only two at-bats, but was twice robbed of hits. Hunter Pence, in his final two at-bats, hit very deep flyballs — but they just weren’t deep enough.

In reflecting upon the game, though, I find myself coming back to one pitch. With two outs and a couple runners on in the eighth inning, Gregor Blanco worked the count full. Jonathan Broxton made a pitch right at the knees, on the outside corner of the strike zone, taken for a called strike three to end the inning. I’m not sure if it was a strike or ball; it was close, though I’m leaning toward “missed call.” Blanco probably should’ve been protecting on such a pitch anyway. I’m not sure what to take away from this — my instinctive reaction is just to shrug. Broxton simply got the better of the exchange. And I can’t help but feel the same about the game as a whole — the Giants made some mistakes, had some tough breaks, and ultimately lost. It sucked, but I’m just left here shrugging. I’m not entirely sure where to direct the frustration.

Not to be forgotten in all of this: George Kontos and his two perfect innings of relief. I don’t know how close the Giants were to leaving him off the NLDS roster, but they were wise to find room for him.

There was a lot more in this game: Brandon Phillips’ standout play on the basepaths, at the plate, and in the field; Santiago Casilla and his less-than-stellar inning of relief; the Giants’ almost-comeback against Aroldis Chapman.

But enough about this game. All that really needs to be said about this game is: “the Giants lost.” And now they’re two games away from elimination, with only one remaining home game in the series. The Giants really, really can’t afford to lose tomorrow.

The NLDS Roster

The Giants’ NLDS roster has been announced, and it’s devoid of any surprises. In fact, it’s identical to the playoff roster predictions I posted a week and a half ago. The Giants will go with 12 pitchers, which is a good thing: two of Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, and Barry Zito — presumably the former two, but we still don’t know for sure — will be starting games in this series. Given the uncertainty in the back of the Giants’ rotation right now, and Bruce Bochy’s tendency to deploy relievers for short appearances, the Giants are wise to go with some extra bullpen depth. The downside is that they are now without a good designated pinch-running option for Aubrey Huff, but that shouldn’t be a big deal. As Alex Pavlovic notes, Ryan Theriot could assume that role.

Anyway, here’s the list:

Pitchers (12)
41 Jeremy Affeldt LHP
40 Madison Bumgarner LHP
18 Matt Cain RHP
46 Santiago Casilla RHP
70 George Kontos RHP
55 Tim Lincecum RHP
49 Javier Lopez LHP
50 Jose Mijares LHP
59 Guillermo Mota RHP
54 Sergio Romo RHP
32 Ryan Vogelsong RHP
75 Barry Zito LHP

Catchers (2)
28 Buster Posey C
29 Hector Sanchez C

Infielders (7)
13 Joaquin Arias IF
9 Brandon Belt IF
35 Brandon Crawford IF
17 Aubrey Huff IF
48 Pablo Sandoval IF
19 Marco Scutaro IF
5 Ryan Theriot IF

Outfielders (4)
7 Gregor Blanco OF
12 Xavier Nady OF
16 Angel Pagan OF
8 Hunter Pence OF

Buster Posey’s Case for NL MVP

Others have begun to discuss Buster Posey and his case for the 2012 National League MVP award, and as should surprise nobody (especially since I’ve mentioned this before), I’m also on the “Posey for MVP” bandwagon. The competition for NL MVP is rather tight, with several players standing out as strong candidates. The contenders can reasonably be cut down to the following seven players: Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, David Wright, Jason Heyward and Chase Headley. You could actually make a serious case for a few others (Aaron Hill, even?), but those are probably the big seven.

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93 Wins, Tim Lincecum, and the Postseason Roster

Greetings from the Petco Park press box, where hahahahahahaha I can’t believe the Giants actually won that game. Okay, sorry, I’ll pull myself together — I just watched the Giants wrap up their 159th game of the season. They pulled off a pretty spectacular comeback win, but Tim Lincecum pitched poorly (more on that later); and this was my last chance to see the 2012 Giants in action, as I won’t be able to make it to any postseason games. So, ultimately, it was a bittersweet day.

This game was, in a word, eventful. Let’s start with Lincecum, the latest concern as the Giants look ahead to the playoffs. He’s sort of pitched better in the second half, with 3.93 runs allowed per nine innings since the all-star break — compared to a first-half RA/9 figure of 6.70. Except, he sort of hasn’t. (And, really, how hard was it to improve upon those dreadful first-half numbers anyway?)

Lincecum got off to a promising start today, with a 1-2-3 first inning. He followed that up with a scoreless second inning. Okay, so now we’re rolling. In the third, he walked Everth Cabrera, who proceeded to steal second and third. And then the Padres started to do their damage: Logan Forsythe homered on the eighth pitch of his at-bat to put two runs on the board. It wasn’t a good pitch, but it wasn’t exactly a meatball. It was on the innermost part of the top of the strike zone, and really, it was pretty impressive that Forsythe was able to get around on it.

But Lincecum wasn’t done there. In the fourth, he served up a leadoff homer to Yasmani Grandal, on a pitch placed squarely over the middle of the plate. In the fifth, he walked Everth Cabrera, who again proceeded to steal second and third, only this time he came around to score on an overthrow to third from Hector Sanchez. And in the sixth, once again, Lincecum served up a leadoff homer on a pitch right down the middle.

Lincecum finished his day with the following line: six innings, four hits, four strikeouts, two walks, and a whopping three homers allowed (at Petco Park, no less!). I guess those two walks were somewhat of a silver lining, and hey, he drew a couple walks himself. But it’s pretty hard to feel confident about Lincecum starting a postseason game at this point. According to Andrew Baggarly, it would have taken a “truly bad” showing from Lincecum for him to forfeit his spot in the playoff rotation. I’m guessing that today’s outing, bad as it was, didn’t do the job. And, like it or not, the Giants have no better options. The Reds have mashed against left-handed pitching to the tune of a 106 wRC+, the third-best mark in the majors. Suffice it to say, a Barry Zito start against that lineup would probably not end well. (And while we’re on the topic, I’m not sure what value Zito is going to have as a reliever.)

Given the uncertainty surrounding the Giants’ starters, and Bruce Bochy’s own managerial tendencies, it’s odd to see that the Giants are leaning toward putting 11 pitchers (instead of 12) on the postseason roster. Bochy loves to mix and match with his bullpen, and unsurprisingly, Giants relievers have the lowest average innings pitched per appearance of any ‘pen in the majors. In fact, no team is particularly close. Coming into today, that mark stood at 0.86, with the next lowest being the Mets bullpen’s mark of 0.91. Given his style, I’m guessing he’d have more use for an extra arm than a designated pinch runner. Plus, as @SFBleacherGirl points out on Twitter, the Giants could play as many as three games in Cincinnati’s homer-happy home park; in other words, pitching will come at a premium.

Anyway, back to today’s game. The Giants got thrown out at home twice in the same inning. Hector Sanchez, as noted earlier, threw the ball over Joaquin Arias’ head in an attempt to gun down Everth Cabrera, which allowed him to score. Gregor Blanco struck out with the bases loaded. Ryan Theriot was caught stealing second to end the third inning. There was just a lot of sloppy baseball played by the Giants in general.

Yet they entered the ninth inning with just a one-run deficit, and against one of the toughest closers in the majors, they miraculously mounted a comeback. The sequence: Xavier Nady solo homer, Francisco Peguero single, Hunter Pence two-run homer. Sergio Romo came in, closed the door, and that was that — a 7-5 Giants win, salvaged rather miraculously. The Giants have now won 93 games, their most since 2003.

Playoff Roster Predictions

The Giants have clinched the NL West, and now some important decisions lie ahead with the playoffs looming. Specifically: who is going to be on the postseason roster? A lot of it is fairly obvious, and we can get those names out of the way immediately, with a little help from MLB Depth Charts:

Those are the position player names that strike me as very safe bets to make the postseason roster.

Now, let’s move on to the pitching. We know at this point that the Giants are going to put all five starters on the postseason roster:

…and the really obvious choices from the bullpen are:

The Giants will carry either 11 or 12 pitchers, so I’d have to guess George Kontos and Jose Mijares will nab two of the remaining spots. In fact, I’ll go as far as to guess that the Giants will carry 12 pitchers, because Bochy sure loves him some bullpen flexibility. Guillermo Mota or Clay Hensley would presumably be vying for that final spot, and I’d imagine Mota is the preferred choice. Hensley was worthless in August before being placed on the DL with a groin injury, and hasn’t done anything impressive in a few appearances since returning. Plus, for what it’s worth, Mota has been used in more than his fair share of important situations over the past month. So let’s tack those names on in bullet-point form…

  • George Kontos
  • Jose Mijares
  • Guillermo Mota

For those of you keeping score at home, we’re at 24 spots so far. That leaves — carry the four, multiply by the square root of π …one remaining spot, which will be handed to a position player. That will go to… Eli Whiteside? I can’t see the Giants going with three catchers. Emmanuel Burriss? If he could do anything other than run, I’d buy it, but…he can’t. I just don’t see why they’d find a place for a guy who’s slugging .222. Brett Pill? Maybe. But I’m going to guess Ryan Theriot, even though he has been used sparingly of late. Just a hunch, but I’m guessing he has the upper edge over Pill, if only because he can play second base. So, here, have a bullet point, Mr. Theriot:

  • Ryan Theriot

You might notice Melky Cabrera is absent from this list. Even if the Giants do decide to use him in the playoffs, it would be on the NLCS roster, rather than the NLDS roster (because the suspension, of course, continues through the first five games of the postseason). Perhaps they’ll go that route. That’s what I’d like to see, personally. I’d rather the Giants have Melky on the roster than…say, Ryan Theriot. But that’s probably not going to happen:

The club is not commenting on Cabrera’s situation, but all indications are that upper management has zero interest in the All-Star Game MVP playing another game in orange and black.

And then there’s this:

Based on our conversation with Bruce Bochy…without a decision being made…it definitely sounds like Cabrera will not be on playoff roster

So there you have it, my official NLDS roster prediction. And, assuming the Giants make it to the NLCS, I’m guessing they’ll leave off Melky and continue to stick with this group of guys. After all, they have played quite well in the post-Melky era.