Monday, October 4, 2010

End of the Regular Season

GIANTS      92-70     ...          GIANTS CLINCH!  
San Diego    90-72     2 GB     Padres miss out on postseason.

Giants defeated San Diego, 3-0, to clinch their seventh National League West division pennant.


Giants have three days off. Their division series against the Atlanta Braves will begin Thursday at 6:37 PM PDT (9:37 EDT) at AT&T Park.

Yesterday's Game
It was about six weeks ago, as we recall, that Jonathan Sanchez boldly predicted the Giants would end up beating the Padres for the NL West pennant, despite what seemed to be solid evidence to the contrary.  Yesterday, Sanchez made good on his boast. He didn't dominate, but he did shut out the Padres for five innings, and he also started a rally which built the Giants a 2-0 lead. That was enough, as it turned out, to bring the title home. Five relievers-- Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and finally Brian Wilson--continued the shutout, allowing but one hit over four innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Buster Posey walloped a home run over the left-field fence, and the sellout crowd went wild with celebration and anticipation. In the ninth, Wilson struck out Will Venable-- son of former Giant Max Venable-- to drive the Golden Spike and, incidentally, tie Rod Beck's team record with his 48th save. Out from the dugout came the Giants in wild melee, converging on the pitcher's mound for the obligatory group-hug-a-thon, and not one of them left the field until he had joined his teammates in circling the perimeter and exchanging high-fives with the fans.

It's all about "pitching, pitching, pitching," we noted when we began this screed five weeks ago, and yesterday's game underscored that truth. Sanchez walked five in five-plus innings, but also stranded five runners in scoring position. On came Bruce Bochy's usual parade of relievers, and while some of us have wondered out loud whether this lefty-righty minuet is really the best way to navigate the late innings, we must acknowledge that out of all its practitioners, Bochy seems to have the best handle on the whole thing. Each reliever did his job this time. The game's biggest play came in the sixth, after Sanchez had walked Ryan Ludwick to put runners on first and second with nobody out. In came Casilla, who got former Giant Yorvit Torrealba to ground one to third. Pablo Sandoval gloved it, stepped on the bag, and fired to second in time to get Ludwick for the rally-killing double play. Then with two on and two out in the seventh, it was Ramirez firing a wicked splitter past dangerous Miguel Tejada for an inning-ending K, ending a nine-pitch at-bat that left the veteran slugger shaking his head in frustration. 

Both Sanchezes-- Jonathan and second baseman Freddy-- figured in the Giants' two-run third-inning outburst against Matt Latos. Pitcher Sanchez drilled the first pitch of the inning into Death Valley in right-center field, legging out a triple. Infielder Sanchez then singled to center for the game's first run, and scored himself on Aubrey Huff's double. It was the Giants' first lead of the entire three-game series, and it held up through the tense moments recounted earlier, until Posey's blast sent the unmistakable message that this team, this day, would not be denied.

The Playoff Picture
Atlanta's win yesterday earned them the wild-card berth once the Giants had won their game. San Diego, six games ahead with a month to play, will watch the postseason on TV. We had presumed the Giants would be facing the Cincinnati Reds in the first round, since the wild-card team generally opposes the division winner with the best regular-season record (in this case, Philadelphia). We forgot, however, that division rivals can only meet in the LCS, not the LDS. So Cincinnati draws the Phillies (gulp), and the Giants get the Braves.  They were 3-4 against Atlanta this season; only one of the seven games was decided by more than three runs.

In the American League, Tampa Bay won the AL East yesterday and the Yankees are the wild-card team. The same intradivisional rules apply, so the Rays will face Texas in the first round while New York opens at Minnesota.

Roll the statistical parade... Wilson led the major leagues in saves, and Lincecum is again the NL strikeout champion. Sanchez was eighth and Cain 16th in K's. Sanchez also led the league in walks, with Barry Zito sixth and Lincecum tenth. Cain, bless his heart, was down to 30th... The Giants' team ERA of 1.78 in September was best since the LA Dodgers of Koufax, Drysdale, & Co. in 1965. That team won the world championship... .That splendid September put the Giants back on top in ERA with a 3.36 mark, the best in baseball... While few Giants are among the league leaders in the big hitting categories, the team as a whole was ninth in runs scored and OBP, seventh in batting average, and sixth in homers. Less attractively, they finished twelfth in strikeouts and thirteenth in walks, which indicates the hitters don't go deep into the count and make the enemy pitcher work. Their K/W ratio also exceeds 2/1...  Individually, Aubrey Huff ranks seventh in the NL with 100 runs scored, sixth with 83 walks, and 18th with 35 doubles... Andres Torres is fourth in doubles (43) and seventh in triples with 8. He also stole 26 bases, tops on the team, while being caught 7 times. That's 79% success... With 18 homers, Pat Burrell is 'way down the list, but he did it in only 289 at-bats, while everyone around him ranges from 386 to 572. Pat's averaging a homer every 16 at-bats, which has to rank near the top... Posey stands at .305/.357/.505. As a catcher, he threw out 23 of 62 base stealers, better than anyone except the magnificent Yadier Molina (33 of 68!) and established catching stars like Miguel Olivo, Russell Martin, and Yorvit. Regarding the Rookie of the Year debate: 'Nuff said!

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