Best Series Ever

Didn’t that all seem a little too easy?

The Giants scored in the first inning of the first game of this series, and never gave up their lead. They were never winning by a significant margin, but the way Madison Bumgarner was pitching, even two runs of support was enough to feel comfortable. Heck, even after Sergio Romo coughed up a solo homer to make it a one-run game, Javier Lopez came in and shut the door immediately. Just like that.

Last night’s game wasn’t entirely a walk in the park. But once again, the Giants got some runs up in the first inning, and never looked back. There was one moment in that game — one brief, isolated moment — that was cause for concern. Tim Lincecum was missing some spots in last night’s outing, so I was slightly worried when he worked himself into that sixth inning jam. Matt Kemp came up, representing the tying run. But in an instant, he smoked the second pitch into right field, and it was caught. And then there were two outs, and Jose Mijares came in to pitch against Andre Ethier — who is essentially Brandon Crawford when it comes to hitting left-handed pitching. Aside from that brief moment of tension with Kemp at the plate, it felt like the Giants were in total control the whole night.

And then the same happened tonight. Except tonight was a walk in the park. The Giants put three runs on the board in the first inning, and then Matt Cain took the mound. Cain retired the first seven hitters he faced, and then five of the next seven hitters he faced. Through five innings, the Dodgers were scoreless. And in the sixth inning, the Giants tacked on another three runs. By the end of the seventh inning, the Giants had a seven-run lead. Even when the Dodgers kept chipping away at that lead in the eighth inning, never did it feel like the Giants were actually in danger of relinquishing it. And Joaquin Arias, of all players, drove in five runs.

Not even a month ago, the Dodgers came to town and ripped the Giants’ collective heart out. The Giants had a three-game lead in the NL West before the series began, and by the time the Dodgers were gone, so was sole possession of first place. It was a gut-wrenching series, the kind that leaves a bad taste in the mouth for weeks. The first game was stolen by the Dodgers in the tenth inning, on a Hanley Ramirez home run off Sergio Romo — sound familiar? And in the subsequent two games, the Giants were shut out. The Dodgers scored 14 runs, and that was 14 more than the Giants. In that series as a whole, in their own home park, the Giants only scored three runs.

This was the polar opposite of that experience. There were runs, leads, wins. There were inconsequential homers hit by Hanley Ramirez off of Sergio Romo. The Giants waltzed into Los Angeles a second-place team, and they’ll exit with a modest first place lead.

Given how that last Giants/Dodgers series had gone, I was very nervous about the prospect of the Giants facing the Dodgers on the road. But it went well, shockingly well, and without much stress at all. It’s truly difficult to overstate how amazing this series was. Man, that felt good.

Matt Cain Dominates Again in Giants’ 1-0 Victory

This was one of those special games in which both pitchers were in total control for the entire night. Through the first nine innings, Matt Cain and Cliff Lee combined to record 54 outs on 179 pitches. Lee went out for the tenth inning, which was another rarity — the last time a starter went past the ninth was Aaron Harang, back in 2007. Eventually, Brandon Belt — pinch hitting in the bottom of the 11th — knocked a single off Antonio Bastardo, and a couple batters later, Melky Cabrera drove him in for the walkoff win: 1-0.

  • Matt Cain was unbelievable during this homestand: 18 innings, zero runs, three hits, 15 strikeouts, one walk. Now keep in mind that he did all of that in under 200 total pitches. Seriously, give it a moment to let that sink in — incredible pitching. He becomes the first San Francisco Giants starter with back-to-back shutouts since Livan Hernandez, back in 2000. The last time any pitcher allowed two or fewer hits in back-to-back complete game outings? 1994.
  • Cliff Lee became the first pitcher to throw 10+ scoreless innings against the Giants since Joe Niekro, back in 1983. (Johnnie LeMaster was the Giants’ leadoff hitter in that game.)
  • I’ve become an Angel Pagan apologist, but there’s little excuse for his failed execution in the ninth inning. And his reaction to the bunt sign (h/t @bubbaprog) was Tejada-esque. That double play (which caused a ~15% drop in win expectancy) was huge. On the other hand, he also happened to demonstrate a few of the reasons why I like him: in the first inning, he led off with a single against Lee, and went from first to third — excellent baserunning — on the Melky Cabrera single that followed. And in the 11th inning, he reached on an error. Nothing special, but he put the ball in play — and the result got Brandon Belt in scoring position. That’s the great thing about a hitter that rarely strikes out (he has two strikeouts in 54 plate appearances thus far), particularly one that never — er, rarely — grounds into a double play. One of the areas in which Pagan consistently adds unnoticed value: reaching base via errors. If Pagan strikes out in that situation, Melky doesn’t hit that walkoff single….By the way, Pagan has collected a hit in all five games since I wrote this (and three of those games were multi-hit games).
  • Javier Lopez‘s strikeout of Jim Thome, beautifully pitched: +.195 WPA. For all the complaints this offseason about how much money the Giants gave to Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, I wouldn’t have felt confident about Dan Runzler coming out to pitch in that critical situation. (For the record, I’m with Lefty Malo and Hanging Sliders on this one — the Lopez contract made sense; the Affeldt one didn’t).
  • That Antonio Bastardo pitch to Melky Cabrera that resulted in the walkoff single wasn’t necessarily a great pitch (it was left over the plate), but it was down in the zone and Melky had a tremendous approach lining it over the second baseman for a hit. It was his third hit on the night, and even though he’d cooled off a little over the past several games, I’m still feeling very good about him this season. He looks like a completely different player than he was pre-2011.
  • Clay Hensley is turning out to be the latest great, cheap bullpen addition. He’s only pitched a few innings so far, but his stuff really seems to translate well to the bullpen. For a non-guaranteed contract with a base salary of $750K? Excellent.
  • The Giants grounded into four double plays in their first 11 games. The Giants grounded into four double plays tonight.
  • Via GN contributor Daniel Rathman: “The starting pitchers combined to record 57 outs tonight. The winning pitcher recorded one.” Yep, wins are stupid.

The offense has reverted to its old ways, but the Giants are rolling anyway: three consecutive series wins, and 6-3 overall since they left Arizona.