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.

Giants Claim Jose Mijares Off Waivers

Earlier today, the Giants acquired left-handed reliever Jose Mijares from the Kansas City Royals via waivers. The Giants simply claimed him off waivers and didn’t have to give up anything in return, so they basically got him for free. Mijares, 27, doesn’t hit free agency until 2015, and he’s actually having a very good season: he’s tossed 38.2 innings across 51 appearances, posting a 163 ERA+ with fairly strong peripherals (8.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9). His FIP currently sits at a solid 3.50. And he is, of course, especially tough on left-handed hitters. For his career, he’s held lefties to a .606 OPS, which is right in line with what he’s done this season (.601 OPS).

He’s a flyball-heavy pitcher, having induced one groundball for every two flyballs over his career. But he’s consistently managed to keep his home run rate in check, which — at least in part — appears to be a sustainable skill. It’s worth noting that 20% of his career flyballs have been infield flies, which is very good relative to the league average rate over that span (13%).

For reasons beyond my knowledge, more than 20 teams passed on the opportunity to grab Mijares. It’s peculiar, and I’m not the only one that thinks so. In any event, it worked out perfectly for the Giants, and you have to hand it to them for this acquisition. They just bolstered their bullpen at zero cost, and they’ll now have a cheap lefty specialist for the foreseeable future. Mijares is essentially insurance against future overspending on LOOGYs.

Now comes a pretty important question: who goes? The Giants will have to make room for Mijares in the bullpen, and there’s some sentiment that George Kontos (given his minor-league options) could be sent back down to Fresno. Kontos (2.42 ERA/2.99 FIP/3.28 xFIP) has been outstanding thus far, so needless to say, that would be foolish. Alex Pavlovic writes that Brad Penny and Shane Loux, not Kontos, are the most likely candidates to go — and hopefully that’s the case.