NLDS Game Five Recap: Giants 6, Reds 4

Alternate title: The Giants are going to the NLCS, baby!!!

I dislike Mat Latos. Strongly. Part of it is because he comes off as obnoxious. That’s just his persona. He’s the kind of player that elicits passion from fans, which is a good thing, I suppose. But I hate him. And admittedly, most of my distaste for Latos — give me some credit here for not saying “Latos intolerance” — stems from the fact that he’s really good at his job. Prior to this game, he had made 11 starts against the Giants in his career. In ten of them, he lasted six-plus innings. In ten of them, he allowed three runs or fewer. In eight of them, he allowed two runs or fewer. He’s given the Giants fits over the years, and I hate him I hate him I hate him.

And then there’s Buster Posey. 2012 NL MVP. Symbol of all things great in this world. What can I say about Posey that hasn’t already been said, that isn’t already apparent?

Anyway, let me cut to the chase. This happened, folks:

Buster  Posey's Grand Slam Off Mat  Latos

Buster Posey hit a grand slam off Mat Latos in the final game of a postseason series. And it was glorious. I’ve watched it over and over and over again, and it doesn’t get old. There’s Posey gazing at it — both hands on the bat, then just the right hand, then the casual bat flip. There’s Latos, not even bothering to look at it. Just a quick hop step, then a steady walk away from the mound. And then, perhaps my favorite part: Ryan Hanigan. You can pinpoint the second his heart rips in half. The whole thing is simply beautiful.

You know who’s made it easy to forget about Melky Cabrera? Gregor Blanco. He reached base three times in Game One, scored one of the Giants’ two runs in Game Three, and homered yesterday. Today, he got things started in that six-run fifth inning by leading off with a single. Another year, another outstanding minor-league signing for the Giants.

I’ve praised Bruce Bochy for his bullpen management in this series, but he left Matt Cain in the game too long. It worked out, thanks in large part to Buster Posey — who continues to impress on both sides of the ball. But not without making me a nervous wreck in the process. Results: good, process: meh. But it worked, so I guess there’s not much point in dwelling on it.

Matt Cain, by the way, did his job today. Surprise, surprise.

Remember when George Kontos was a “maybe” for the postseason roster? It’s a good thing that all worked out because he’s played a crucial role in this series. Four appearances, each of ‘em scoreless.

At the top of the list of things I was wrong about this season: Brandon Crawford. His performance today — and all season long, for that matter — speaks for itself.

The tying run reached base for the Reds in the sixth inning. And the seventh. And the eighth. And the ninth (in fact, the winning run reached base there). It had to be that way; I don’t know why, it just had to. The baseball gods care not about my mental health.

With the game on the line — the season on the line, really, the Giants got it done every time.

Tying run at the plate? Oh, here’s a strike-’em-out throw-’em-out double play.

Tying run at the plate? Oh, here’s a spectacular inning-ending catch.

Winning run at the plate? Oh, here’s an eleventy pitch at-bat, culminating in a flyout.

The Giants’ big lead in yesterday’s game enabled Bochy to rest Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Sergio Romo, as I mentioned. Sure came in handy today, eh? Romo threw 35 pitches. He’s only done that once in his career, and that was way back in 2008. He had made eight postseason appearances prior to today, and his previous high in pitches: 15. He exceeded his previous postseason career high by 133%. Yeesh.

I thought the Giants were toast just a few days ago. They were facing elimination, against a 97-win team, with all three remaining games on the road. Now, they’re the first team in baseball history to come back from an 0-2 deficit and win a five-game series by taking three straight road games.

Baseball, man. Baseball, baseball, baseball. This stuff is crazy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. THE GIANTS ARE GOING TO THE NLCS!


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.

Pitching, Defense, Offense Falter in 9-1 Loss to Dodgers

…and that was the low point in the season. So far, that is. Barry Zito, to his credit, did fifth starter things — which is to say, he was good enough. Three runs in six innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearing sub-1.00 territory, but that seems like the least of the Giants’ problems right now.

Brett Pill is not a left fielder. Conor Gillaspie isn’t much of a third baseman, either. With this Giants roster, there are actually quite a few lineup variations that are capable of playing good defense. This was not one of them — not by a longshot.

And the offense. Oh my. Ted Lilly kept them to one run over six innings; the Dodgers’ bullpen kept them silent. Hector Sanchez struck out three times; the 1-2 of Pagan/Theriot put up a collective 0-for-9; and “lefty-masher” Brett Pill failed to reach base. In the first pitch of his first at-bat returning from the DL, Aubrey Huff promptly flied out to center. And yet, the Giants still managed to get enough runners on base to strand ten of ’em. The Giants haven’t hit a home run in 60 innings.

As of now, the Giants have scored 109 runs; they’ve allowed 114 runs. And they still have to get through the next six weeks without Pablo Sandoval. Just an incredibly frustrating loss.

Giants Top Brewers 4-3 in Extras

This is a graph of Tim Lincecums strikeout-to-walk ratio through the years. Ignore that last data point if you want — he’s only thrown thirty innings this season — but the trend is still the same. He peaked in 2009, when he was 25 years old. At this point, I think it’s pretty safe to expect Lincecum to never reach that point again.

Now here’s Matt Cain‘s graph. Again, ignore that last data point if you want, but the general point is clear: even as Cain has gotten older, he’s kept on goin’. He’s now 27 years old, and he’s already passed the point where he should’ve began his decline. Cain’s track record speaks for itself, but one of the main things that stands out to me is that he hasn’t started to drop off yet; in fact, one could argue that he’s improved. After today’s performance, his K/9 is at a career high, his BB/9 is at a career low, and his ERA is at a career low. Small samples be damned, his ability to stand the test of time has been wonderful, and it’s not something to take for granted. While Tim Lincecum’s future (both as a Giant and in general) is up in the air at this point, Cain is here for the long haul. After Madison Bumgarner‘s excellent start yesterday, there was a lot of talk about how Bumgarner had claimed the title of “most reliable Giants starter” or “best Giants starter so far.” Whatever it was, I think Cain stated his case pretty clearly today.

Cain didn’t get the win though, of course. But the offense did just enough to give the Giants the series victory. A couple players in particular stood out to me with their hitting today, and obviously they’re the two guys I can’t shut up about: Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera.

Pagan extended his hitting streak to 20 games, though he’s been getting by with a lot of .250/.250/.250 performances (meaningless 1-for4s). Today wasn’t one of those, as Pagan had two hits — one of them a well-struck double down the first base line — and got the Giants a very important run in the first inning by beating out a double play. Oh yeah, and he stole a base. His OBP is still in sub-.300 territory, but whatever. Fueled by an early power surge, he’s been above-average hitter thus far (105 wRC+). He dug himself a sizable hole at the beginning of the year with that first-week slump, but he’s already worked his way out of it and then some.

As for Melky, he put up a 1-for-5 — but that was only because he was robbed of a double in the tenth inning. Both of his hits — the actual one and the would-be one — were to the opposite field, too. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s pretty good at this opposite-field hitting business: since the start of 2011, he has 61 opposite-field hits.

And unlike Pagan, he’s been excellent with the glove: today’s notable was that 11th inning double play — he robbed Jonathan Lucroy of a bloop single then proceeded to double up Corey Hart at first base.

Pagan, meanwhile, continues to disappoint with his defense. I’m not sure if an average centerfielder catches Travis Ishikawa‘s ninth inning game-tying double. But I’m certain of the fact that Pagan is capable of getting to that ball if he takes a better route, and I also have no doubt that Andres Torres would have made that catch.

Entering the season, I felt the Giants had a top-notch defense; so far, that hasn’t been the case at all. Melky has been better than expected, and Emmanuel Burriss has shown a bit more range than I thought he had. But other than that, they’ve been utterly disappointing. Especially with the easy stuff — the routine plays. Bobbling grounders, failing to communicate in the outfield, et al. That’s exactly why I’m not too worried about this, though. I don’t think the Giants are fundamentally flawed on defense — it’s not as though they’re not getting to the ball in the first place, for example; they’re just making a few (costly) mistakes here and there. In other words, I don’t expect this to be a lingering issue.

Anyway, the Giants came away with the W, and sloppy as they were at times, a win is a win. Considering their next stop is LA, for the 18-10 Dodgers, it’s a good thing they were able to rebound and grab a couple wins to end this homestand.

Behind Madison Bumgarner, Giants Snap Losing Streak

The story today was Madison Bumgarner. Nothing — missed calls, sloppy defense, a lack of run support — was going to get in his way. That’s what it felt like when he worked through that messy fifth inning. And when he rebounded from a leadoff error in the sixth — an inexcusable miscue between Angel Pagan and Brett Pill that put Aramis Ramirez in scoring position — to shut the Brewers down. But the lasting image was when he stepped up to the plate in the fifth inning — following a futile one-pitch at-bat from Conor Gillaspie — and lined a double into left field to tie the game at one.

All in all, he turned in yet another stellar performance on the mound, allowing one run through seven innings of work, as he improved to a 2.31 ERA (3.61 FIP) on the season and carried the Giants to a 5-2 victory. In four of Bumgarner’s six starts this season, he’s gone 7+ innings without allowing more than one run.

Obligatory reminder: he’s 22 years old. His first five starts alone put his 2012 season among the best by a 22-year-old Giants starter. Is there any question he can work his way up to #1 on that list by season’s end?

  • Five runs…feels like it’s been a while, eh? It has. Last time they scored five runs in a game was back in Cincinnati, nine days ago.
  • Hector Sanchez, who entered this game hitting .233/.244/.302, finally got things going with a pair of doubles (one of which nearly went over the centerfield wall for a homer). These were his second and third extra-base hits on the season, respectively, and needless to say, it’s great to see a game like this out of Hector.
  • Melky Cabrera had a quality game as well, with a couple hits (including a triple) and some very good glovework in right field. He’s now put together four consecutive multi-hit games, which has brought him up to a .364 wOBA this season. At this point, it seems pretty clear that I was wrong about Cabrera — something I’m very happy to say.
  • Angel Pagan has now hit safely in 19 consecutive games; however, he’s also now gone 16 consecutive games without a walk. I do wonder if he’s slightly altered his approach, becoming more hacktastic for the sake of preserving his hitting streak. It’s not likely, but it’s worth throwing out there. And while we’re on the subject of walks — the Giants had another walk-less game today, keeping their season total at 65. That’s third-worst in the National League.