Monday, November 7, 2016

The latest Washington whitewash reminds us of the 1920 "acquittal" of eight Chicago White Sox baseball players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. "Someone" had stolen the grand jury testimony, which proved the players' guilt, from the courtroom, thereby removing all evidence. Sound familiar?

After the "trial," the jurors took the eight defendants out to dinner, and a fine time was had by all. Sound familiar?

And legally, those "eight men out" are still "not guilty" to this day. Sound familiar?

Fortunately baseball had Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who saw through the fixed trial, as he had seen through the fixed Series, and he banned the eight conspirators from baseball for life.

We don't have a Judge Landis. But we do have one hundred million-plus potential Judge Landises.

It's up to you. Do the right thing. Ban these criminals from political power for life.

Vote Trump. Destroy the Clinton cartel once and for all.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The San Francisco Giants lost their National League division series to the Chicago Cubs, three games to one.  With a sad, but mercilessly appropriate, ninth-inning bullpen meltdown, the Giants blew Game Four, a game they had in hand, surrendering four runs in the ninth inning of an eventual 6-5 loss.

And so the San Francisco Giants' quest for a fourth world championship in seven years comes to an untimely end. The Cubs, baseball's best team during the regular season, move on to play either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Washington Nationals, depending on which team wins tonight's fifth game of their series, in the National League Championsip Series starting this Friday at Wrigley Field.

Yes, they're the best team, but for eight innings the Giants had them soundly beaten and back on their heels, anticipating a Game Five that few thought possible just two days ago. Matt Moore earned his Giant stripes last night with a dominant, eight-inning performance worthy of Madison Bumgarner at his best. Moore allowed two hits and two runs (one unearned) while striking out ten and walking only two. He got stronger as he went along; he ended the eighth with a flourish, fanning both David Ross and Dexter Fowler, freezing the latter almost comically at the plate with a called strike three as Moore and Buster Posey nonchalantly turned and started toward the dugout. He had thrown 120 pitches to get there, and it was Matt Moore's moment, a moment of victory-- and victory indeed was his, and the Giants'. 

But the dark clouds that shrouded this team over the summer returned in force, one last time, reminding us just how thin margins of victory, an defeat, can be in this game-- and also, just how catastrophic the wrong management decisions can be.  

"(Whitey) Herzog used five pitchers in the inning... I remember one other time when he used five pitchers in an inning, in the sixth inning of the third game of the A.L. playoffs in 1976. In 1977 he used six pitchers in the last two innings of the fifth and deciding game, trying unsuccessfully to protect a lead.

"Most managers won't use five pitchers in an inning because they believe that the more pitchers you use, the more chances you have to find one who doesn't have his stuff on that particular day. Herzog will because he doesn't put much stock in what you have on a given day; he believes that it's the manager's job to get the best possible matchup of pitcher's abilities against hitter's abilities. I admire him for that, because I agree with him and because he is willing to take criticism and do what he thinks is right.

"But I thought this day what I thought the other two times. Whitey, it sure looks bad when it doesn't work." 
-- Bill James, on the 1985 World Series, in the 1986 Baseball Abstract 

The Giants have, as has been stated many times, blown 30 late-inning leads this year, more than any other team in baseball.  Much of that was due to Santiago Casilla losing his ability to close out games in the ninth inning. Not all of it was, though.

As anyone who spends any time on this site will quickly realize, we yield to no one in our respect for Bill James, for his writing and his observations as well as his pioneering work in the field of baseball research and analysis. But we believe he was wrong here, and that Whitey Herzog was wrong there, and that last night, in the ninth inning, Bruce Bochy was wrong. Way wrong.

Could Moore have started the ninth, after 120 pitches? Of course he could have; he was smokin' 'em in the eighth. On a "normal" team, though, this would not be an issue. A three-run lead in the ninth inning would belong to the closer, to Aroldis Chapman for the Cubs, Kanley Jensen for the Dodgers, Jeurys Familia for the Mets, and so on. But the Giants are not a "normal" team, as even Bochy would readily admit. Madison Bumgarner pitched the ninth against the Mets last week, as he had in critical elimination-type games in the past. He did this because he is Madison Bumgarner, and also because there is no reliever on the Giants staff with his pedigree and his proven ability. Matt Moore may not be Madison Bumgarner, but last night Matt Moore was the best pitcher on Earth. He absolutely could have started the ninth, and most likely would have dispatched it in a few minutes.

But it was closer time, and the Giants not having a proven closer did not perturb Bochy. Had he really believed in Sergio Romo as that closer, we would have seen Romo start the ninth, as he did in Game Three. Yes, Romo's home-run-hitting nemesis, Kris Bryant, was leading off-- but so what? A solo homer makes it 5-3, and Romo still has a run to give in pursuit of three outs. In Game Three, Romo was left in after giving up that game-tying homer to get his three outs, which he did, and then he was sent out to complete the tenth, which he also did. That was an elimination game, too. There was confidence, then.

There was no confidence in the ninth inning last night. None! Derek Law started the inning, a mild surprise, perhaps, to most people, and Bryant squeezed a single past Brandon Crawford at short. And the carousel began to whirl. A ground-ball double play from Anthony Rizzo would have snuffed out any thought of a Cubs rally, but Law never got his chance. Out he came. In came Javier Lopez, the once-dominating lefty specialist who this year walked 15 men in 26 innings. He was plenty good for one more, a six-pitch walk to Rizzo that put the tying run at the plate and marshaled the forces of doom hovering over the ballpark. Out went Lopez. In came Romo, too late as it turned out. 

"Like the exposed Wizard  of Oz frantically pulling his levers, manager Felipe Alou used no less than four relief pitchers in one inning-- and couldn't get one man out."
-- Review of the penultimate game of the Giants' 2004 season

Facing Ben Zobrist, Romo missed with three sliders, landed a 3-0 strike, then saw Zobrist rip a line drive inside the chalk in right as Bryant scored and Rizzo took third. Joe Maddon tapped Chris Coughlan to hit for the slumping Addison Russell, and Bochy obligingly brought in pitcher number four, Will Smith, for a lefty-lefty matchup. Maddon switched to right-handed Willson Contreras, who singled up the middle on a 1-1 pitch for a tie ballgame. Smith stayed in to face Justin Heyward, who grounded into a double play-- almost. Brandon Crawford, who'd uncorked an wild throw in the fifth that led to an unearned run, fired another errant one past Brandon Belt, and Heyward wound up at second with one out. Smith's reward for getting the DP ball and the inning's first out was to be yanked in favor of Hunter Strickland. Javier Baez, the Cubs' Mr Everything in this series, drilled a clean single up the middle to score Heyward with the winning run. The wheels having come off and the wagon overturned in the ditch, Aroldis Chapman came in and blew through the frozen Giants in the bottom of the ninth like a cold wind through an open boxcar. It was done.

We'll hear again and again how the 87-win Giants really didn't measure up to the 103-win Cubs, but the cognscenti had to be singin' a different tune during the first eight innings last night. The Giants greeted veteran campaigner John Lackey with abrupt rudeness from the start. Denard Span opened with a double down the right-field line, Brandon Belt sailed one of his endless supply of warning-track fly balls to center, Span taking third, and Buster Posey's long drive to deep right, caught by Heyward, brought in the run. Ross belted a solo homer off Moore in the third to tie it, but the man for whom Matt Duffy was traded shook it off and didn't allow another earned run. 

Meanwhile, the Giants hammered away at Lackey in earnest in the fourth. Conor Gillaspie, who burnished his postseason legend (and likely his career) with a 4-for-4 night, singled with one out and Joe Panik followed with a drive to right, Gillaspie taking third. Lackey pitched around Gregor Blanco, loading the bases with a walk and bringing up Moore and his .097 career average.  Two quick strikes, and Moore then grounded one neatly past the diving Rizzo at first for an RBI single as Barry Zito, watching somewhere we hope, grinned from ear to ear. Span brought a second run in when he beat the relay to first on an 3-6-1 infield grounder, Lackey hustling over to take the throw and sprawling in the dirt trying to make the play. Clearly disgusted with pitching, baseball, and life at this point, Lackey got Belt to smack one right at Fowler in center to end it. 

Albert Almora pinch-hit for Lackey with two out in the fifth. Baez had taken third on a spectacularly bad throw from Crawford past Belt, the ball ricocheting all the way up to the visitors' bullpen along the right-field line. Ross then got his second RBI bringing him home on a sacrifice fly, but Almora flailed wildly at strike three and it stayed a one-run game.  

Colorful baserunning and Hunter Pence provided much of the entertainment over the next two frames. After singling to center with one out in the Giants' fifth, Pence held up rounding second as Crawford launched a mighty blast off Cubs reliever Jason Grimm. It hit the very top of the wall, and though it bounced back into play, it sure looked like a home run. Pence ambled back to make sure he touched second, then suddenly had to sprint for third as the umpires ruled it a live ball and Crawford came steaming into second at the same moment. Bochy demanded a review, but the call on the field stood, and TV replays proved it correct. Not to worry. The Glimmer Twins, Gillaspie and Panik, ignored the lefty-lefty protocol after Travis Wood replaced Grimm, and brought in both runners, with a hit from Gillaspie and a sac fly from Panik. 

It was 5-2, Giants, and Moore was rolling. He had, however, sat for 22 minutes as six men batted and the replay videos were reviewed, and he opened the Cubs sixth by walking Fowler on four pitches. "Ball five, ball six, ball seven" greeted Bryant before he took a strike, and swinging on 3-1 he dumped a blooper in front of the hard-charging Pence, who'd been playing deep. Pence gloved the ball on the run and fired a strike to second, forcing the stunned Fowler, who'd held up briefly to see if the ball would be caught. It was instant deflation of the Chicago offense, instant inflation of Moore's confidence, and he dispatched the next eight batters quickly, quietly, and efficiently through the seventh and the eighth.   

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been'.”
― John Greenleaf Whittier

Giants fans of a certain age are all too familiar with this morning's emotions and regrets. Those who came aboard during the late championship run may be wondering how this could possibly happen. We can only say, welcome to the other side of winning. This is, after all, where all teams, and all fans, eventually land. The balm of three-- three!-- World Series championships, when we'd resigned ourselves to a lifetime without even one, will provide surcease as autumn gives way to winter and hope springs eternal come February. For now, though, it's a pool of tears and a hollow feeling of regret. We'll have more to say a few days from now.   

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Chicago Cubs, 6-5, at AT&T Park last night, staving off elimination in their National League division series and cutting the Cubs' series lead to 2-1. It was the Giants' tenth consecutive win in a do-or-die elimination game, which is a record, or oughta be.

It was a thirteen-inning, five-hour, thirteen-pitcher exhaust-o-rama, with more twists and turns and ups and downs and reversals than the Nurburgring. It was also one of the most exciting postseason games in recent memory, as almost none of the 43,571 in attendance left before the finish despite the lateness of the hour. And it ended with a bang, as Joe Panik's towering drive to the deepest part of the ballpark caromed off the wall and Brandon Crawford came sprinting home with the winning run. This only after the Giants had been knocked around, gotten up, pulled off a rally for the ages, and then been knocked down again, before squandering several opportunities that blossomed and died as the innings advanced. The last man was off the bench for the Giants, and there was a catcher in left field for the Cubs. It was that kind of night.

And so there will be a Game Four, at 5:30 PM local time (8:30 PM EDT) this evening at the 'Bell. Matt Moore will make his postseason debut against seasoned veteran John Lackey as the Giants try to square up this series and send it back to Chicago for the finale.

Asked to play Superman one more time, Madison Bumgarner proved merely mortal. Without the razor-sharp command he'd shown in New York, Bum labored like a draft horse over five innings as the patient Cubs fouled off pitch after pitch and worked deep into counts. "Bum" threw 37 pitches just in the second inning, which for a time looked as if it would be the Giants' undoing. Eight pitches to Addison Russell, and the Cubs' shortstop took one off his bicep. Seven pitches to the ubiquitous Javier Baez, and the Cubs' second baseman lined one down the third-base line that Conor Gallaspie knocked down for a single. One out later, Bumgarner hung one in front of his opposite number, Jake Arrieta, and the big righthander, like "Bum" a legitimate hitter, turned on it and belted it into the left-field seats. Three runs came in as the Cubs' bench and the large Chicago contingent in the stands went absolutely crazy, and given the way this series had gone, it was hard not to see this latest blow as a message from above. It made six RBI by Cubs pitchers in the three games; everyone else on both sides had totaled only 5.

The notion that Bumgarner, rather than dominating into the late innings, might actually have to be pulled had to be a huge stressor on Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti. But the big guy manfully finished the inning, struggled before stranding two runners in the third, and then "pitched like Bum" for his final two frames. He left for a pinch-hitter in the fifth after 101 pitches, with a most un-"Bum"-like game score of 43. And thus the game, the series, and the season was placed into the hands of the Giants' much-maligned bullpen, where it remained for the next eight innings.

It was a 3-1 game by that point, thanks to Denard Span, who had doubled in the third and scored on Buster (3-for-5) Posey's single. And it was Span who made it a one-run game in the fifth with a triple into the deepest part of right field, coming in to score on a sacrifice fly by Brandon Belt. Those little one-run rallies didn't look like much in the wake of that three-run homer, but thanks to some good old-fashioned relief pitching, the game tightened up considerably through the sixth and the seventh and into the eighth. "Boch" and "Rags" know by now who's getting it done and who isn't, and it showed. Derek Law worked two scoreless innings, followed by Hunter Strickland with two strikeouts in the eighth. On the other side, Joe Maddon had lifted Arrieta after six in favor of Pedro Strop and Travis Wood. The Giants had a possibe rally snuffed out on a bad call (and the mistake grotesquely confirmed by replay) in the sixth, but overall it had quieted down on both sides, and as the eighth approached the Cubs had to be counting the outs standing between them and the NLCS. The Giants likewise, though theirs was pointing toward oblivion.

Belt singled off the lefthander Wood, and Maddon called on righty Hector Rondon. Posey, 3-for-3 at the time, earned a critical base on balls as he checked his swing in a manner reminiscent of Gorkys Hernandez in Game One. He went to first with the tying run, and Maddon pulled the trigger on Aroldis Chapman, asking the ace lefty with the 100-MPH stuff to deliver a two-inning save. Gillaspie, standing in against Chapman for the first time, looked at strike one, then hammered a 101-MPH screamer over the leaping, diving Albert Almora in right-center. The 'Bell erupted in a Richter Scale-worthy frenzy as Belt and Posey came around to score and the Giants took their first lead of the series. Brandon Crawford followed with a clean single up the middle for a 5-3 lead, and after Panik walked and Crawford stole third, Maddon dragged himself out to the mound and removed Chapman, tacitly acknowledging he needed to save the big guy for a likely Game Four, and perhaps for his own good as well.  Justin Grimm came in to face Gregor Blanco, and catcher Willson Contreras nearly brought Crawford home with a wild attempted-pickoff throw to third. It glanced off "Craw's" left elbow and was corralled by Kris Bryant, and after several anxious moments, Crawford dismissed the Giants trainers and stayed in. Blanco then topped a slow grounder toward first, Grimm covering-- but inexplicably, from our perspective, Crawford held third on the difficult play. Pinch-hitter Hernandez, the eighth man to bat in the inning, made the third out and the 5-3 lead held.

Now it was the Giants' closer, venerable Sergio Romo, three outs away from victory. Dexter Fowler, who had set the tone for the Cubs early by fouling off multiple pitches and working Bumgarner deep into the count, did the same to Romo and drew a walk. Bryant had other ideas. He took a strike, then launched one high into the air and deep to left. Blanco appeared to have a play on it, but the ball hit the very top of the wall and bounced into the stands, a two-run homer. Shocked into silence, Giants fans watched numbly as Bryant circled the bases, the lead gone and the game now tied. Romo, to his credit, recovered and retired the side, and Mike Montgomery, Maddon's last reliever plus one, came out for the bottom of the ninth.

Buster Posey hit the all hard all night, and none harder than the line drive he scorched into the right-field corner after Belt had walked with one out. But Almora, who couldn't reach Gillaspie's shot, got this one with a full-out sacrifice-the-body dive, then got up and easily doubled Belt, who had sold out with the winning run and was already rounding third, off first. Extra innings.

Hail now the Giants' bullpen; gentlemen, we hardly knew ye! Romo with a perfect tenth, Will Smith likewise in the eleventh, and rookie Ty Blach with two scoreless frames and, ultimately, the win. Span made a fine catch to save a base in the twelfth; initially ruled a trap, the call was overturned by replay ("Finally! They got one right!"). Baez and Contreras singled with one out on the thirteenth, but Blach then got what he needed, an expertly turned 6-4-3 double play that took unconscionably long to uphold after Maddon challenged the call at first.  Bryant's homer remains the only blemish on eight innings of relief work, a prospect that would have terrified all of us had the news been leaked in advance. 

For his part, Mike Montgonery was equally heroic, right up until it was too late. Maddon having burned all his players and all but one of this relievers (Carl Edwards remained), the veteran lefthander went four innings, surviving a leadoff single by Panik and a sacrifice bunt by Blanco in the 11th. In the thirteenth it was Crawford leading off, lefty against lefty, and "Craw" ripped an 0-2 pitch down the right-field line and hustled into second ahead of Almora's strong throw. Now Panik. Sometimes benched against lefties, he'd singled off Montgonery two innings earlier. On a 2-1 pitch the young All-Star belted one high and deep to right-center, the crowd rising as one in full roar as the ball hit the bricks far above Almora, who slowed to a resigned jog as he realized the inevitable-- which was Crawford coming in with the winning run. Exhaustion never had a chance against exhilaration as the Giants swarmed onto the field in mass congratulation.

Fowler... Arrieta... Span... Belt... Posey... Law... Strickland... Gillaspie... Bryant... Montgomery... Blach... Crawford... Panik.   The list of game-changers, game-savers, and just plain gamers could encompass almost everyone on both sides. If Maddon had played the part of the mad genius back in Chicago, this night was Bochy's turn-- the patient, determined, implacable skipper riding out the storm. "Bochy is not a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of manager," noted John Smoltz as Romo, battered but unbowed, came out to work the tenth after allowing Bryant's homer. The man who loves the lefty-righty matchups had his best lefty reliever face down three right-handed hitters in the eleventh, and saw the game-winning rally generated by two lefty batters against a lefty pitcher. It was a night of extremes, of carefully-laid plans being chucked out the window, of bold, unorthodox moves and some extremely questionable "further reviews" by the unseen arbiters in New York. All in all, it was as entertaining as baseball can be, and with two of the three games in this series already certifiable classics, the inevitable question remains: what about now?

"Now" is John Lackey, 37 years old, veteran of two world champions, 11-8 on the year with a 3.35 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and 180 strikeouts in 188 inings. It's Matt Moore, ten years younger, not exactly a postseason neophyte but lacking Lackey's pedigree, with a record of being either very, very good or very, very bad in his starts. It says here, with absolutely nothing to base it on but gut instinct, that tonight's game will be decided with the bats, not the arms, and that the Giants best be prepared to do what they did last night. That is, score runs, especially when it counts the most.

Giants. GIANTS! GIANTS!!!!  


Monday, October 10, 2016

The San Francisco Giants face the Chicago Cubs in Game Three of their National League division series tonight at AT&T Park. Game time is slated for 6:30 PM local time (9:30 PM EDT). For the tenth time since 2012, the Giants are playing an elimination game. Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field put the Giants behind in the series, 2-0; they need to sweep the remaining three games to survive.

The last three times the Giants faced an elimination game, it was Madison Bumgarner to the rescue, and it will be he who is tasked with winning tonight and keeping this series alive. That's no small order, even given "Bum's" stellar postseason record, because the 2016 Chicago Cubs are as formidable an opponent as the Giants have faced since this postseason run began in 2010. Just for starters, Bumgarner's opponent is 18-game-winner Jake Arrieta, as good a pitcher as there is in the league, and that the Cubs were able to make him their third starter in this series further testifies to their excellence.

We breathed a sigh of relief when Jeff Samardzija was tabbed to start Game Two instead of Matt Moore; we needn't have bothered. Unable to "separate," in the words of John Smoltz, his fastball from his breaking pitches, "Shark" was hit hard, early, and often by the robust Cubs lineup, lasted only two innings, and took the loss. Dexter Fowler opened the first with a double, and after Samardzija got the next two outs, Ben Zobrist blooped a RBI single to right. An inning later, Jason Heyward opened the second as Fowler had the first, with a ringing double past Hunter Pence in right. "Shark" walked the dangerous Javier Baez, and catcher Willson Contreras scorched a single to right, hit so hard Heyward had to stop at third. That loaded 'em up for pitcher Kyle Hendricks, but any thoughts of escaping the jam evaporated when Hendricks dumped a Texas Leaguer in front of Denard Span in center for two runs. One out later, Kris Bryant made it 4-0 with another bullet to right. Samardzija got out of it, but knew his night was done.

The Giants desperately needing to answer back, Bruce Bochy pinch-hit Gregor Blanco for "Shark" after Joe Panik opened the third with a leadoff double to left. Blanco came through big-time: he smacked Hendricks' first pitch off the wall in left-center, and one out later scored on Brandon Belt's sacrifice fly, the third time in three games Belt has sent one to the warning track in deepest center. When George Kontos retired the Cubs in order in the third, we had a ballgame. And then the Giants got Hendricks, the league ERA leader, out of the game in the fourth, though not by design. Angel Pagan's line drive  back up the middle appeared to "punch" Hendriks right in the chest, but it turned out the ball deflected off his pitching arm and left a "stinger." With his deep bullpen, Joe Maddon took no chances and removed Hendricks in favor of veteran Travis Wood, the first of five relievers who would stifle the Giants on the night. Wood got the third out and then, in the bottom of the fourth, he took a Kontos fastball high and deep over the left-field fence for a 5-2 lead, and the scoring was done. Perhaps the most pungent explanation of the way this series has gone so far is to note that Cubs pitchers have driven in more runs (3) than has the entire Giants team (2).

Yes, we still had a ballgame, but it was the Cubs' game. Opportunities were meager against Wood, Carl Edwards, Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon, and the inevitable Aroldis Chapman over the final five. Bumgarner caused a minor stir when he pinch-hit for Kontos in the fifth, scorched a grounder that Bryant couldn't handle, and eventually reached third before being stranded. Singles by Belt in the eighth and Brandon Crawford in the sixth likewise went nowhere. On a positive note, the Giants' bullpen performed well, especially Ty Blach, Javier Lopez, and Hunter Strickland. Then again there was no lead to protect. In this series, there hasn't been one yet.

The Giants have won nine consecutive elimination games, dating back to the division series against Cincinnati in 2012. There, they lost the first two at home, had to win three on the road, and did it. The following week, down 3-1 to St Louis in the NLCS, they won three straight, one on the road and two at home. Then there was the winner-take-all wild-card playoff in 2014, Game Seven of the World Series that year, and, most recently, Wednesday night last's victory over the Mets. And, of course, it was Madison Bumgarner who shut out the Pirates on four hits in 2014, memorably pitched that shutout five-inning save in Game Seven, and just completed the shutout in New York. The last time "Bum" pitched a postseason game at home, it was another shutout, over Kansas City in Game Five of the 2014 World Series. Will it take yet another shutout to turn the tables on Chicago?

This is an awful lot to hang on one man, even one as imperturbable as Bumgarner. Christy Mathewson had Game Eight of the 1912 World Series, Sandy Koufax Game Two of the 1966 Series, and Bob Gibson Game Seven in 1968.  "Bum" is already in their league, or they in his. If he shuts down the Cubs-- and, just as importantly, if the Giants score some runs, preferably early-- this series will be wide open once again. If he doesn't, well, that's baseball. But it's also the San Francisco Giants, who are never out of any game, or any series, until the last out is made.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The San Francisco Giants face the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of their National League division series tonight at Wrigley Field. Game time is slated for 7 PM CDT (8 PM EDT).  The Cubs took the series lead with a tight, 1-0 win last night as Javier Baez' eighth-inning home run broke up a magnificent effort from Johnny Cueto and made a winner out of Jon Lester, who had matched Cueto zero-for-zero in a superb pitching duel marked by sharp, stellar fielding on both sides.  

Cueto allowed only three hits, struck out ten, didn't walk a batter, and allowed only one man to reach third.  That was in the fourth when Kris Bryant doubled with one out, advanced to third on a groundout, then was stranded when Kelby Tomlinson ranged far to his left and turned a possible RBI single from Ben Zobrist into a routine putout at first.  Baez had given a hint of what was to come in the third, when his drive to deep left-center was snared by the running, sliding Gorkys Hernandez, the defensive play of the game and one that prompted a congratulatory cap-twirl from the demonstrative Cueto. Other than that, it was a lot of swinging and missing by the Cubs, until the eighth. With one out, Baez had a full count when he crushed a no-doubt-about-it shot in the direction of Waveland Avenue. But thanks to a stiff wind, there was doubt, lots of it, until the ball settled into the webbing above the left field wall, just above the despondent Angel Pagan.

Lester, for his part, was not dominant, but he was utterly resilient. The Giants got the leadoff man on base in each of the first three innings, and never advanced him as far as second. Hernandez, who opened the game with a bunt single, was easily thrown out stealing by catcher David Ross.  Hunter Pence went nowhere in the second, and in the third the Cubs pulled off some slick defensive chicanery from the mind of manager Joe Maddon. Conor Gillaspie, Wednesday night's hero, singled to right to open the frame. With Cueto up to bunt, Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo switched positions, the left-handed Rizzo moving onto the grass immediately to the left of the pitcher's mound. With great ceremony, the Cubs sent out a batboy to swap out Rizzo's first-baseman's glove for a standard glove as per the rules. The unusual procedure thus complete-- how many left-handed second basemen do you see over the course of a season, anyway?-- Cueto squared up, let a ball go by, and catcher Ross immediately fired a throw to first, where Baez had slipped behind Gillaspie and promptly tagged him out. Napping? Deked? Distracted? No matter. Out.            

The best chance came in the fourth. Buster Posey singled with one out, and an out later Pagan dropped a soft line drive into left that got past Zobrist. Posey took third-- it will be debated whether he might have scored-- and with second and third, Lester got Brandon Crawford  to end it.  As with most great pitchers, Lester got better as he went along; he didn't allow another baserunner after that and, like Cueto, he didn't walk anybody. In fact, there was not a single base on balls issued in this game, about which more presently.  

Though he'd thrown only 86 pitches, Lester got a congratulatory hug from Maddon after the eighth, and with a 1-0 lead Aroldis Chapman took over. The 100-MPH ace closer is one of the best in the game, but still the Giants had to be optimistic. They'd beaten the Mets' bullpen under similar circumstances just two nights earlier, after all. Getting Lester out of there had to be a tonic, no matter who succeeded him. And despite his well-earned rep, Chapman has one weakness-- a tendency to be wild.  Sure enough, Hernandez worked him hard leading off the top of the ninth, holding up his swing on ball four to take the walk. That's how Hernandez, Chapman, Ross, plate umpire Todd Tichenor, and most of the 42,148 in attendance and millions on TV saw it, anyway. But first-base umpire Alan Porter didn't see it that way. He ruled Hernandez had swung, and it was strike three. One out later, Posey ripped the first pitch he saw in the same direction as Baez' homer, where it caromed off the wall for a double, easily deep enough to score a runner from first, had there been a runner on first. Instead, it was tying run in scoring position, two out, and Chapman, who hit 103 on the radar gun, got Pence on a grounder back to the box to end it.

It was a great game, well-played, and is already being hailed as a classic, but we Giants fans may perhaps be forgiven if we'd prefer a little less tension and tightness in tonight's game. It will be Jeff Samardzija taking the baton at Wrigley Field, where he started 41 games in years past for the Cubs. League ERA leader Kyle Hendricks, a right-hander with a 16-8 record, opposes. The Giants need to square up this series before it shifts to San Francisco Monday night. They must win at least one game at Wrigley to win this series, after all. Why not tonight?


Both American League series could be over by tomorrow. The Toronto Blue Jays have gone on a home run barrage in Texas, beating the Rangers twice amid liberal applications of the long ball. Now they return home with a chance to finish it out. This team reached the ALCS last year; it ought to surprise no one if they get back there now, wild-card or no. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians have gone the other way, beating the Boston Red Sox with good pitching against the game's highest-scoring lineup. Josh Tomlin gets the chance to close it out tomorrow; we'll see if the return to Fenway Park awakens the Boston bats.

Despite a so-so start from Clayton Kershaw, the LA Dodgers hung on to beat the Nationals at Washington last night, 4-3. Relievers Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez, and especially Kanley Jensen, who earned a five-out save, held the Nats scoreless over the last four. Max Scherzer, victim of one bad inning, took a tough loss. Tanner Roark, the answer to a Giants' trivia question, will try to even it up today against Rich Hill.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

The San Francisco Giants face the Chicago Cubs in Game One of their National League division series tonight at Wrigley Field. Game time is slated for 8 PM CDT (9 PM EDT).

It will be Johnny Cueto against Jon Lester, an 18-game-winning righty and a 19-game-winning lefty, two pitchers who made their reputations with other ballclubs before signing big contracts with their current teams, and two pitchers with World Series experience.

The Giants have been going with a platoon system at third base and in center field lately, which means Wednesday night's hero, Conor Gillaspie, may start the game on the bench behind Kelby Tomlinson, and Gorkys Hernandez, not Denard Span, may start in center. Brandon Belt, the one Giant who hit the ball hard against Noah Syndergaard the other night-- remember, it took Curtis Granderson's highlight-film catch to reel it in-- will join Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik as the three lefty hitters Lester is likely to face.

Meanwhile Cueto faces a lineup stocked with hitters, good ones. Four regulars-- Anthony Rizzo, Kris "MVP" Bryant, Dexter Fowler, and Ben Zobrist-- had OPS over .800; Bryant and Rizzo were both over .900, with 71 homers and 211 RBI between them. Bryant scored 121 runs, Rizzo hit 43 doubles. And all these guys will walk, too-- Zobrist led the club with 96 but all four were over 74. And while Jason Heyward's numbers were down, no one considers him an automatic out, nor is young Javier Baez at third. If there's a weakness here, it's that all these guys (except Zobrist) do strike out a lot, but when you score 808 runs as a team, well, a few extra swings-and-misses can be tolerated.    

Cueto has been a model of consistency wherever he's pitched. His home-and-away ERA are within 1/100 of each other; he's 8-3 at home, 10-2 on the road, 1.08 WHIP versus 1.11. He strikes out more and walks more on the road, and gives up a few more hits at home.  The Cubs' lineup may bother him, but rest assured Wrigley Field and the playoff atmosphere won't.

Looking ahead to Saturday night's game, one issue stands out in glaring red neon: Bruce Bochy absolutely must start Jeff Samardzija--  or, for that matter, anyone-- instead of Matt Moore. Moore's home/road splits aren't just dramatic, they're positively cosmic, especially considering that near no-hitter at LA is skewing the numbers positive. Consider: a road ERA of 5.17 verses a home ERA of 3.16.  Moore has walked 20 men in 31.1 innings away from AT&T Park; at home he's walked 12 in 37 innings. His road WHIP is 1.5; his home WHIP is 1.19. Over the course of  a six-inning start (assuming he even makes it that far), that's two, maybe three, extra men on base. It's not hard to imagine what the Cubs will do with those extra baserunners, is it? By contrast, "Shark" allows fewer hits and walks per nine on the road. His road ERA is half a run higher, but that's likely due to home runs alone, an AT&T Park anomaly that affects all pitchers.  With Madison Bumgarner likely to start Monday at the 'Bell on his normal four days' rest, Moore should be the candidate for a possible Game Four at home.
It'll be back-to-back evening starts at Wrigley, a rare occurrence of events indeed. Evidently the Giants-Cubs matchup is of more value to television advertisers than is LA-Washington, which gets underway about 80 miles from here at 5 PM local time.  Who'd'a thunk it? But the Cubs' 1908 legend is so well-known, and their regular-season dominance has built such high expectations, and their postseason failures have been so ineffably tragic (think 1969, Steve Garvey, and "Bartman"), that a series against the unlikely three-time champions makes for an irresistible story.  For baseball's sake, we hope the games measure up to the hype. For the Giants' sake, we need Our Boys to get off first.    


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Here We Go Again!

The San Francisco Giants defeated the New York Mets, 3-0, at Citi Feld in New York last night, winning the wild-card playoff and launching themselves squarely into the middle of the National League 2016 postseason fracas.

Once again, it was the unflappable, historically impenetrable Madison Bumgarner, pitching a complete-game four-hit shutout and running his consecutive scoreless inning streak to 23. Once again, it was an overlooked Giant reserve player, forced into the starting role by circumstance, delivering a game-winning three-run homer in the clutch. And once again it was the San Francisco Giants, waiting out a superb performance by the opposition starter, and taking merciless advantage once that ace had left the game. In short, it was Giants postseason baseball... and as the crypto-mysto fog rolls in yet again as it seems to do every other year, the rest of the baseball world is put on notice: they're back, folks. Whatever it is the Giants do in the postseason, they're doing it. Again.

And so it will be the San Francisco Giants against the Chicago Cubs on Friday night at Wrigley Field, opening their division series with a matchless pitching matchup-- Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester.  The Giants have faced down, and beaten, the team with the league's best record-- Philadelphia in 2010 and Washington in 2014-- before in these situations. They'll have to do it again, before another loud, hostile crowd thirsty for a postseason payoff-- and who's to say they can't do it?

A hostile crowd and a matchless pitching matchup-- that describes last night's game to a "T", at least up until the eighth inning when the tide began to turn. It was "Bum" against "Thor," the Mets' brilliant young righthander Noah Syndergaard, and both were near-perfect through seven. Bumgarner needed only 21 pitches total to retire the first nine Mets he faced through three. Syndergaard took a no-hitter into the sixth and struck out ten Giants on the night. "Bum" worked his way out of one tough inning, the fourth, and never looked back. "Thor" wasn't hassled at all until the seventh, when the Giants finally got a runner to second base. Brandon Crawford walked with two out and Angel Pagan beat out just the Giants' second hit off Syndergaard, a slow infield chopper. But Joe Panik grounded back to the box and the game stayed scoreless.

That was a 17-pitch inning, and 108 total, for the young ace, and manager Terry Collins went to his bullpen. The Giants have done this so many times to opposition relievers that it really came as a surprise to see Addison Reed, instead of Syndergaard, starting the eighth. Regardless of skill-- and both Reed and his successor, Jeurys Familia, are good ones-- getting the near-unhittable "Thor" out of there was all the Giants wanted, and it showed right away. Conor Gillaspie-- more on him later, you bet!-- greeted Reed with a base hit to right (and the crypto-mysto fog began rising....) . "Bum" laid down an exquisite sacrifice bunt, and after Denard Span popped up, Brandon Belt watched two excruciatingly close pitches go by and drew a walk. Reed bounced one past catcher Rene Rivera as the runners moved up, which occasioned a bases-loading walk to Buster Posey. Reed then reached back for his best stuff and fanned Hunter Pence to end it, but the Giants had, in some undefinable but definite way, broken the spell. "Bum" allowed his fourth, and last, hit in the bottom of the eighth, and Familia came out for the ninth.

Commentator Buster Olney warned presciently that the base on balls was the one chink in the closer's 51-save arsenal. Familia promptly fell behind Crawford 2-1, and Brandon ripped a double up the alley in left-center to lead it off. After Pagan, seeing nothing but high heat, struck out, Joe Panik worked, and worked, and worked some more to draw a critical walk, which seemed to unbalance Familia just a bit. Up stepped Gillaspie, who had flailed helplessly in two-at-bats against Syndergaard. A one-time first-round pick-- he was drafted right after Buster Posey in 2008-- Gillaspie again and again failed to establish himself as a starter while the likes of Crawford, Panik, and Matt Duffy passed him by. He spent a year with the Chicago White Sox but didn't stick, and a year ago was DFA'd by the LA Angels. Now 29 and back with the Giants, he made it as a spring NRI, and began to see some regular action when Duffy went on the DL. After the trade, though, it was Eduardo Nunez, and not Gillaspie, who took the regular third-base job. Like Kelby Tomlinson, Gillaspie played well enough to make the postseason roster as a backup, but only Nunez' nagging injury, which disabled him for last night, got Gillaspie into the lineup. If all this sounds vaguely familiar, it should-- Travis Ishikawa brought a similar resume to the plate in Game Five of the 2012 NLCS.

Here, Gillaspie looked at two pitches, then drove the third-- a sinker that stayed up-- high and deep over the right-center-field wall, and the raucous crowd fell deathly silent. They saw what all of us saw-- not only had Gillaspie broken the scoreless tie with a three-run shot, but Jarrett Parker, on deck to bat for Bumgarner, was called back to the dugout. "Bum" batted for himself, flied out to deep left, then strolled out to the mound and allowed three harmless fly balls to close it out on the bottom of the ninth. Raucousness at that point was limited to the Giants, who boiled out onto the field in fervent, if characteristically restrained, celebration, and the small number of  'Frisco fans who congregated above the dugout and pounded enthusiastically on its roof. The Mets, players and fans, stared at the scene for some time before their quiet departure.

The combination of Bumgarner, an unlikely late-inning hero, and the entire team's uncanny ability to wait out a close game and then pounce at the first hint of vulnerability-- that's become the Giants' own unique signature. Of course, "Bum" can't pitch every night, and Conor Gillaspie is not Babe Ruth, and there are pitchers aplenty on the Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers who have the ability to hold the Giants' lineup harmless. But, as we asked four, and two, years ago about this time-- given what we know, and given what we've seen, who, exactly, is willing to bet against the San Francisco Giants in any postseason series?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

End of the Regular Season

LA 91 71 - Open NLDS at DC Friday.
GIANTS 87 75 4 Wild-card playoff at NYC Wednesday.
Colorado 75 87 16 Scored 845 runs, allowed 860.
Arizona 69 93 22 This is NOT what they expected!
San Diego 68 94 23 Seems like they're always rebuilding.

We all know the story by now. After a 57-33 start, hitting the All-Star Game on the highest of high notes, hotter even than the Chicago Cubs, the Giants went 30-42 the rest of the way and managed to sneak into the postseason by the thinnest of thin margins. At its absolute nadir on September 7, the Giants' post-All Star record was 17-32, a .364 clip, more than enough to finish last in any division, and also the worst record in baseball over that time. It was still a sub-.400 mark as recently as last weekend. The Giants had to win five of six, and sweep the division champions, in order to make it. What that means in the context of the entire season is anybody's guess, but everyone in the game will tell you that playing into October sure beats the alternative.

The Giants scored 715 runs, ninth in the league, well ahead of the Mets but well behind the three division champions. Team ERA was fourth at 3.65, just behind the Mets but just ahead of LA. As it was all year, they played three games behind their Pythagorean projection of 90-72. Had each team played to its projection, the division would have ended in a tie between the Giants and the Dodgers. The Mets, meanwhile, matched their projected record exactly. 

Madison Bumgarner ranks as the most valuable Giant of 2016, with a WAR of 5.9. Almost a full point of that value comes from his batting; therefore Johnny Cueto's 5.6 is the highest pitching WAR total on the club. Familiar names-- Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt-- round out the top five, with Jeff Samardzija next. "Shark" set a career high with 12 wins, and his 2.8 WAR was second only to 2014. It will come as no surprise to many of you that the dear departed Matt Duffy ranks eighth overall on the team despite playing in only 70 games and being traded in July. "Duffman" put up one of the great single seasons in SF history a year ago with 5 WAR, and we are sorry to report he barely registered on the chart in his 21 games with Tampa Bay.

Defensively, Brandon Crawford is the clear star with 2.7 defensive WAR. We can also note that defensive estimates suggest Crawford saved the Giants 19 runs with his play at short (and Matt Duffy, in his short tenure, saved 11. Three-quarters of Duffy's value was defensive, and that well ahead of his replacements').  Overall the Giants' position players contributed 23.7 WAR (19 on offense, 4 on defense) of the team's total 42.2. Since the Giants projected to plus-18 wins, we can presume a replacement-level squad facing the Giants' schedule would have finished about 24 games to the bad (69-93, or, if you prefer, "San Diego").

Eight pitchers started games for the Giants in 2016. Between them they earned 13.8 of the entire pitching staff's 18.5 WAR. This will surprise almost no one, and is even more lopsided when we consider that Jake Peavy and Matt Cain combined for a minus-1.6 over 38 starts. In the bullpen, only Derek Law and Hunter Strickland were over 1 (116 combined innings). Sergio Romo had .8 in just 30 innings and Will Smith .4 in 18 innings. George Kontos was at .9 though he pitched more innings than both combined. The lowest "return", if you will, on WAR versus IP, would be a tie between Cory Gearrin and Josh Osich. Of course, that doesn't count Peavy and Cain, neither of whom will pitch in the post-season. 

We would recommend Bochy go with Law, Romo, Strickland, Blach, Smith, Javier Lopez, and Alberto Suarez for a 7-man bullpen behind the four starters. He'll probably go with an eighth reliever for twelve pitchers total, in which case either Kontos or Gearrin will likely get the nod.

With thirteen position players, there'll be Trevor Brown as backup catcher, obviously. That leaves four spots to fill.  Kelby Tomlinson and Conor Gillaspie would seem the clear infield choices-- this assuming Eduardo Nunez is healthy enough to start soon, if not by Wednesday, and can hold his place on the 25-man roster. Gorkys Hernandez (.3 WAR in 57 AB) is an obvious choice in the outfield. After that, with Mac Williamson on the 60-day DL, it's probably Jarrett Parker as the last man. Gregor Blanco does not belong on this roster unless the Giants go with eleven pitchers and 14 position players, and even then  Ehire Adrianza is probably a more valuable choice.

The Playoff Picture 

Toronto saved their season by winning two of three from Boston at Fenway Park, and will host the Baltimore Orioles today in the first of the wild-card playoffs. The Birds also won two of three this past weekend as the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners ignobly faded at the end.  

Terry Francona's current team, the Cleveland Indians, will host Terry Francona's old team, the Boston Red Sox, in the ALDS opener at Jacobs-- er, "Progressive"-- Field on Thursday.  No surprise that John Farrell has tabbed Rick Porcello, the game's leading winner with 22, to start against the Tribe's Trevor Bauer.  That same day, the winner of the wild-card battle on the Toronto carpet will open at the big Ballpark in Arlington, Texas against the Rangers.

Friday will mark four days of rest for Clayton Kershaw, and naturally he will get the start at Washington, with the Nationals expected to go with Max Scherzer. We could call this series the "Battle of the Disappointments" as both teams have been notable postseason failures of late.  Then there are the kings of disappointment, the Cubs, who will attempt for the 107th year to overcome their World Series "jinx." The journey begins at Wrigley Field on Friday, with Jake Arrieta likely to face whoever survives the Giants-Mets skirmish.

Unlike last year, there are no real surprise teams in the postseason: Seattle and Miami had their opportunities, but didn't cash 'em in. A year ago, the Blue Jays scored more runs than any other team in the game; this year, they're off by over 100 runs scored, but allowed the fewest in the AL. Now, it's Boston who's bringing the wood to the party, outscoring all their competitors by over 100 runs. Both they and the Indians are among the league leaders in runs and in ERA, but then we have the case of the Rangers, who barely outscored their opponents (765-757), yet had the best record in the league! They finished 13 games over their projected record of 82-80, a monumental difference. The Orioles had a similar, though less extreme, balance; they also hit 253 home runs, far and away the most in baseball.

Speaking of home runs, the New York Mets hit 218 themselves, second-best in the NL and more than any other NL playoff team.  The Giants, by contrast, hit only 130, by far the least. Yet the Giants outscored the Mets overall, 715-671, as did all the other finalists. The Mets scored only 453 runs not counting homers, as opposed to the Giants' 585. Even the Nats, who hit an impressive 203, scored 560 without homers, again more than 100 over the Mets' total. We're not sure what this means, though we're tempted to say if you can keep the Mets from hitting the ball out of the park, chances are you can hold them to three runs or fewer. And for those who think pitching isn't the name of the game, the top five National League teams in ERA are the five finalists, with the Cubs at the top.

This 'N' That

We noted the other day that Jeff Samardzija received one full run less in offensive support than did Bumgarner or Cueto. The full tally: Cueto 4.9, Bumgarner 4.8,  Moore 4.7 (12 starts), Cain 4.6 (17 starts), Peavy 4.0 (21 starts), Suarez 3.9 (12 starts), and "Shark" last at 3.7.

Quality starts: Bumgarner 25, Cueto 25, Samardzija 18, Peavy 9, Cain 7, Moore 7, Suarez 7, Blach 1. That's 99 quality starts out of 162. Percentages: Cueto 78%, Bumgarner 74%, Moore 58%, Suarez 58%, Samardzija 56%, Blach 50%, Cain 41%, Peavy 33%.

Cheap Wins: Bumgarner 3, Cain, Cueto, Moore, Samardzija. Total 7.

Tough Losses: Bumgarner 6, Samardzija 3, Cueto 2, Cain, Peavy, Moore, Suarez. Total 15.

Cheapest win: Cain, v. Cincinnati on July 26. Giants won, 9-7. Game Score 38. Cain hit a three-run homer in this game.

Toughest loss: Bumgarner, at Washington on August 7. complete-game 1-0 loss, 2 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts. Game Score 78.

Start of the Year: Bumgarner, vs. Arizona on July 10. Complete-game one-hit shutout, one walk, 14 strikeouts, Giants win 4-0. Game Score 104.

Runner-up: Moore's no-hit bid at Los Angeles on August 25. Game Score 91.

Dog of the Year: Moore, at Los Angeles, September 21. One inning plus. Game Score 6.

Roll the statistical parade... David Ortiz was the only major-leaguer this year with an OPS over 1000. Mike Trout, as might be expected, was next at .991. Washington's Daniel Murphy led the NL at .985, with familiar names such as Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt alongside newcomers Kris Bryant, Freddie Freeman, and Charlie Blackmon, all trailing close behind... The Rockies had three players-- Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and DJ LeMahieu-- all over .900... Brandon Belt, tops on the Giants, was 14th at .868... Most of the top guys did it with slugging, but LeMahieu, with a .495 SLG, had a .416 OBP, second to Votto's .434. LeMahieu won the batting title at .348 and drew a respectable 66 walks in 552 ABs... Last year's MVP, Bryce Harper, was 'way down in most stats, but still drew 108 walks, though he was outslugged by such as Curtis Granderson, Derek Fowler and Ben Zobrist... Without question, Billy Hamilton is the best base-stealer in the league: 58 versus 8 caught, quite a bit better than Jonathan Vollar's 61 with 18 caught... The worst in the league (assuming a significant number of attempts) has to be Philly's Cesar Hernandez, caught 13 out of 30 times. Just stay on first, kid, and hope they drive you in... Fifth in doubles, fifth in triples, fourth in walks-- that's Brandon Belt... The other Brandon, Crawford, tied for the league lead with 11 triples and is, as we reported earlier, the only man in baseball to reach double figures in doubles, triples, and home runs (28, 11, 12). He also led the Giants with 84 RBI, good for 27th place... The team leader in runs is usually Hunter Pence, but this year it was Buster Posey, with 82. Pence, limited to 106 games, scored only 58 and drove in 57, well off his regular pace. He has come on on recent weeks, though... Madison Bumgarner is fourth in the league in ERA, just behind Wednesday's opponent, Noah Syndergaard... "Bum" is also second in innings pitched, third in strikeouts, tied for tenth in wins, and is the hardest-working man in baseball, facing more batters and throwing more pitches than anybody... Johnny Cueto tied with Jake Arrieta for third in wins with 18. He was right behind Bumgarner: fifth in ERA, third in innings, sixth in strikeouts. ... Porcello, with 22 wins, has to be the favorite for the AL Cy Young Award, but consider Baltimore's lefty closer Zach Britton. A perfect season with 47 saves converted out of 47 opportunities, and a 0.84 WHIP... The wildest pitcher in baseball is none other than our old friend, former Giants prospect Francisco Liriano, now of Toronto, who walks 4.7 men per nine innings... Jered Weaver of the LA Angels is the most extreme fly-ball pitcher in the major leagues. He is 34, he's struggled with injuries, and he's a free agent. If healthy, he might be a cheap pickup for the Giants. AT&T Park is the place where fly balls go to die; only 108 home runs were hit here in 2016. 174 flew out of Anaheim, 37 of them off Weaver. Worth the risk?.. The Cubs have four starters with 15 wins or more-- Jon Lester (19), Arrieta (18), Kyle Hendricks (16), and Jason Hammel (15). That's 68 wins out of 103... Arrieta threw a league-high 16 wild pitches, and the Cardinals' superb Carlos Martinez induced 33 double-play grounders... Until the major leagues start keeping count of inherited runners versus inherited runners scored, it will be difficult to accurately measure the worth of late-inning relievers who are not closers. The "Hold" statistic is broken and cannot be trusted... The late Jose Fernandez was among the league leaders in most pitching categories, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was off the charts, and he was younger than Ty Blach. This truly is a devastating loss for the game of baseball...  LA's 20-year-old rookie lefthander, Julio Arias, picked off six runners, most in the major leagues. He did it in only 77 innings. Johnny Cueto, next with 5, pitched three times as many innings... Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown season of 2012 gets more and more amazing and historic in retrospect. No one even came close this year... As you all  know, we love outlier stats. Here's one: Brandon Guyer, the Cincinnati Reds' fine left fielder, was hit by the pitch 31 times, far and away the most in the major leagues. He walked only 19 times. Those hit-by-pitches boosted his OBP to a respectable .372 all by themselves... The Giants, as a team, hit 54 triples, more than any team in baseball except Arizona. The Mets only hit 19. HA!

Monday, October 3, 2016

  W L GB
New York 87 75 - Syndergaard starts Wednesday.
St Louis 86 76 1 Matheny's postseason streak ends.

Giants defeated LA, 7-1, to sweep the series and clinch the wild-card berth.
New York lost at Philadelphia, 5-2, the only loss by any of these three clubs all weekend.
St Louis defeated Pittsburgh, 10-4, but fell one game short.

Giants defeated LA, 3-0, as rookie Ty Blach outdueled Clayton Kershaw.
New York defeated Philadelphia, 5-3, to clinch the top wild-card spot. 
St Louis defeated Pittsburgh, 4-3.

A day of rest. No one-game playoffs to determine the wild-card finalists in either league.

The Weekend
What a bonanza! Not even the most optimistic Giants fan could have expected it would work out this way. Even those blindly confident of a sweep could not have imagined rookie Ty Blach would out-pitch Clayton Kershaw as he did Saturday, and few indeed could have foreseen the Giants' lineup using Kenta Maeda for batting practice as they did yesterday. But he did, and they did, and we're going to the postseason with our San Francisco Giants! And if the road ahead looks steep-- and indeed it does-- remember that the Giants went forth in 2014 with an 88-74 record, one game better than this year's, against a nemesis ballclub in their home park. And that one worked out fairly well. This one? It could be over two days from now, a week from now, or it could last until the week before the election. 

Saturday's game kicked off with the New York and St Louis games in progress and both contenders winning. But if Ty Blach felt any pressure, he disguised it as confidence. The rookie southpaw allowed three singles and a walk, with only one Dodger reaching scoring position, struck out six, and went 2-for-3 against Kershaw!  Angel Pagan's leadoff homer in the fifth broke a 0-0 tie, and the Giants' two runs in the seventh were set up by a grievous throwing error from Justin Turner. Pagan again had opened the frame with a single, came all the way around from first to score on the error, and Gordon Beckham got his first-- and last-- Giants RBI with a sacrifice fly. Charged with two earned runs, with one unearned, Kershaw left after that inning.  Blach turned his gem over to Sergio Romo for a quick, ten-pitch ninth, and the Giants walked off knowing they had, at a minimum, forced a tie and potential playoff for the last wild-card spot. For their part, LA lost the chance to take home-field advantage from Washington in the upcoming NLDS. 

More than any one event in the game, it was a slow, building excitement as fans realized young Blach was proving equal to the task. He made it through the lineup once, then twice; he got a thin one-run lead; he made it through the late innings, and as he remained in the game even after Kershaw had left it, the 41,320 in attendance fully realized what they were seeing and let loose with an extended  roar of approval. Blach finished with 99 pitches, his first career win, and, we hope, a place on Bruce Bochy's postseason roster.

Sunday, it was "Mercurial Matt" Moore, the third lefty starter of the three games, and as always we wondered which Matt Moore we would see. "Good Matt" is the guy who nearly no-hit these Dodgers at Chavez Ravine; "Bad Matt" was on display right here just ten days ago, as the same LA ballclub sent him packing after one disastrous inning.  Well, it was "Good Matt" all right, but "Good Matt" was only necessary for about two innings, because by then the Giants had given him a 5-0 lead. Denard Span opened the first inning with a single, Brandon Belt followed with a double, and Buster Posey scored both with a single to right. In the second Joe Panik singled, Conor "Man On Fire" Gillaspie doubled, and Moore grounded back to the box, sacrificing Panik who had unwisely broken for the plate. But Span followed with a triple past Yasiel Puig in right, and Posey delivered his third RBI of the game with another single to make it 5-0. Moore had a no-hitter through four; the Dodgers touched him for all three of their hits and their only run in the fifth, and then it was 13 straight retired after that. Four more singles and some defensive comedy in the Dodger outfield plated two more Giants runs in the eighth, at which we texted, "We're putting 'em to rout! Post-season, here we come!" And after Sergio Romo allowed a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Andre Ethier in the ninth, it was a three-step walk to that post-season door. Rob Segedin's two-out fly ball settled into Pagan's glove in left, and the celebration began in earnest.

Like tule fog rising up out of the swamps and dry beds and the cracks in the earth, sleepy and slow, first dreamily swirling its soft tendrils around your ankles and then rising, thickly, enveloping more and more until the very landscape seems altered, altogether different and somehow mysterious-- the Giants' undefinable,  inescapable "playoff mojo" was back and permeating through the 'Bell this weekend. After ten weeks of rumbling, bumbling, and stumbling, blowing an appalling number of leads and generally playing like a team searching for itself, the Giants snapped out of it with a bang, winning five of their last six to make this postseason push. From comments made by the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies over the past week, you could tell they weren't talking about the club that finished this season 30-42. They knew they had faced the one that began the season 57-33. And that team, sports fans, can beat anybody. Whether it will, of course, is another matter.

And so it will be Madison Bumgarner against Noah Syndergaard Wednesday evening in the borough of Queens, New York, at Citi Field. 8 PM EDT is listed as the starting time. "Bum" and "Thor" met on this very site five months ago, with the Giants winning the game and saving a road series.  It wasn't the pitchers' duel many expected then, and this next one may or may not be the same way, but it's the first step for both clubs. The winner moves on to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs, winners of 103 games, and that's all that needs to be said about that for now. 

Vin Scully has been the voice of major-league baseball for so long now it's not only impossible to imagine the sport without his gentle, unobtrusive, yet authoritative cadence, it's going to be impossible to hear it. So many of today's game announcers and commentators have developed and polished their style under the influence of Vin's consummate professionalism, we fans will be hearing the echoes of Vin's delivery for decades to come. It was he, more than anyone, even his predecessors and contemporaries Red Barber, Jack Buck, Ernie Harwell, and Mel Allen, who defined the commentator as a distinct, and specific, part of the game. He wasn't the lovable, eccentric Harry Caray, whose unique style no one emulates. Vin was all about setting the standard-- an imitable, if rarely achievable, standard.

We first heard Vin on the radio back in 1965, being that there was a Dodger fan in the house. And he had a long association with San Francisco, mostly because of the proximity and familiarity of the Dodgers and Giants, of course, but there were other moments as well. Some may not remember that Vin, in addition to Dodger games and the old NBC Game of the Week, also did football broadcasts for CBS years ago. His final call was one few of our age or persuasion will forget-- the 1981 NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Cowboys, played at Candlestick Park on January 10, 1982. We were huddled in a warm kitchen on a record low-temperature day 3000 miles from the 'Stick as Vin made the call: "Clark caught it!...  It's a madhouse at Candlestick!" Vin Scully artfully conveyed the converged tension, release, and sudden exuberance of such a moment many times, and he never had to shout. Dick Enberg, among others, carried on with Vin's distinctive influence on the broadcast of NFL games for decades afterward.

The length and breadth of  Vin Scully's career, 67 years at the mic, from age 21 in Brooklyn replacing the legendary Red Barber, to Sunday's last broadcast at AT&T Park, was filled with historic and memorable events. You can cite his perfect response to Hank Aaron's 715th home run-- he simply let the long, loud, uproarious response of the crowd speak for itself, without marring the moment with a single word-- or to yesterday's kind, magnanimous, and perfectly unassuming farewell to a life's work spent sharing his company with others, or to any of a dozen other moments, as the epitome of Vin Scully's career. They're all out there for posterity. We'll miss him, and we wish him a long and joyful life the rest of the way-- with God's blessing, maybe even long enough to see his beloved Dodgers win another World Series. Ordinarily that might be asking a bit too much, but we'll make an exception for Uncle Vin. He deserves it. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Michael Robert Price

Friend, inspiration, beloved brother in Christ;
Loving husband, loving father, loving family man.
Good and faithful servant;
Rest in the Lord now and evermore.

"This life is all chequer'd  with pleasures and woes,
That chase one another like waves of the deep--
Each brightly or darkly, as onward it flows,
Reflecting our eyes, as they sparkle or weep... 
Our life should resemble a long day of light,
And our death come on holy and calm as the night."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

New York 86 74 - Clinched tie for wild-card spot.
GIANTS 85 75 - Another high-spirited victory.
St Louis 84 76 1 Martinez with the shutout. 

Giants beat LA, 9-3.
New York defeated Philadelphia, 5-1.
St Louis blanked Pittsburgh, 7-0.

Giants host LA; 4:05 PM local time (7:05 EDT) at the 'Bell. Rookie Ty Blach against Clayton Kershaw. Yes, we know.
New York is at Philadelphia.
St Louis hosts Pittsburgh. Mike Wacha, recently off the DL, faces rookie Chad Kuhl.
All day games.

Last Night's Game
For the second night in a row, the sixth inning was huge for the Giants. Eight men got on base, seven scoring, before the Dodgers could record the first out, with the ballpark and Giants dugout rocking and rolling in grand style. It hadn't started out that way. Both Madison Bumgarner and his lefty opponent, Rich Hill, were touched for two runs in the first. The Dodgers got four hits off "Bum" in the top; the Giants responded with three hits and a walk in the bottom. Each team had a runner thrown out on the bases, preventing an even bigger inning. But it quieted down a little after that-- until Brandon McCarthy ambled out to pitch the bottom of the sixth. LA had just broken the tie with three more singles off Bumgarner, and had left Hill on deck in the top of the frame. With only 82 pitches under his belt he looked good to go one more. Did Dave Roberts outsmart himself? Well, Angel Pagan walked on four straight pitches, and then came the deluge. Brandon Crawford singled. Kelby Tomlinson, starting at second against the lefty and left in to face the righty, singled to load the bases. Conor Gillaspie pinch-hit for Gordon Beckham (starting for the same reason as Tomlinson) and he ripped a 2-1 pitch into the right-field corner, scoring Pagan and Crawford. Bumgarner then burnished his own legend a little more when he hammered one 'way past Howie Kendrick in left to clear the bases, and it was 6-3. Denard Span, batting for Gorkys Hernandez, singled to left, "Bum" holding third. Roberts brought in Josh Ravin; Brandon Belt had a 1-0 count when he clobbered one high and deep into the superstructure behind center field, some 440 feet away.

That was pretty much it as Bumgarner rolled into the eighth without further mishap. He wasn't dominant, allowing eight hits and striking out just five over 107 pitches. He retired Andrew Toles to open the frame, then yielded to Derek Law, who struck out Yasiel Puig on a down-the-middle third strike the surly Cuban evidently could not believe. He stared long and hard at umpire Andy Fletcher until Roberts came out and rescued him from any potential disciplinary action; with left-handers on the mound for San Francisco both today and tomorrow, LA needs to see a lot more of Puig. The dramatics over, Law finished it out and Santiago Casilla, greeted with mild applause, again worked a pressure-free and most orderly ninth.  

Old Hundredth
"Bum's" fifteenth win of the season was his first over the Dodgers in a year and a half, and it was also the 100th of his already-storied career. Offline and out of sight, we've been working on our master compilation and ranking of the greatest San Francisco Giants ever, and Bumgarner is movin' on up. He's leading the club with 6 WAR at the moment, which pushes his careeer total up to 26, and he's fast closing in on Jason Schmidt as the fifth-greatest pitcher in San Francisco history. This all two months after turning 27, with 7 years in already.

Bumgarner reached 100 wins in his 214th start, the fastest among the three great homegrown starters the club has developed over the past decade. Matt Cain earned his just two months ago, in his 305th start and his twelfth year as a Giant. Tim Lincecum made it on September 25, 2014. Ironically, the greatest Giants pitcher since Marichal, who started 270 out of his 278 career games, reached the milestone in relief. He came in in the seventh, threw two pitches, got two outs, and earned the win. It was his eighth season and he had made 246 career starts at that point.

Happy Birthday, Matt Cain
Matt Cain turns 32 today.  It's hard to believe for those of us who remember him as a 20-year-old rookie on a bad, bad team in 2005. Even then it was clear Matty was something special. The conventional stats have not been kind to him over the years, and Cooperstown will know him only because of his perfect game in June 2012. For a pitcher with a history of the worst kind of baseball luck-- who else loses two one-hitters in a single season?-- that day was sweet redemption. For one brief shining moment, Matt Cain was the greatest pitcher in the game. And for those of you who claim Matt "hasn't been the same since then," please check the record. Short version: You're wrong.

But Matt hasn't been the same since the injuries began their grim attrition of his skills in 2014, and there's no more than a 50-50 chance he'll even make the Giants' postseason roster (assuming there is a postseason roster). Few, if any, at his age have ever come back from this kind of long, debilitating slide. If this is all starting to read like a valedictory, well, in some sense it is.  No Giant in our memory has ever given more to his team than has Matt Cain. He has one more year to go on his big contract. If there's a way for him to make that one year count, we pray the big guy will find it. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

New York 85 74 - 2 of 3 in Philly should do it.
GIANTS 84 75 - A lot of hustle on display.
St Louis 83 76 1 Controversial walk-off win.

Giants defeated Colorado, 7-2, to take the series.
New York was idle.
St Louis defeated Cincinnati, 4-3, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a play that might have been overturned by instant replay.  

Giants open the season's final series against LA at the 'Bell. Lefthanders Madison Bumgarner and Rich Hill square off at 7:15 local time (10:15 EDT).
New York opens a three-game set at Philadelphia.
St Louis hosts Pittsburgh in the first of three at Busch Stadium.

Last Night's Game
You get Johnny Cueto early, or you don't get him at all. The Rockies did their level best in the first inning as Cueto, perhaps a bit tentative with his motion after the recent groin pull, allowed three hits and two runs mixed in with three strikeouts. But that was all they got as Cueto rolled through seven; by the time he left the game he was positively dealin', and the old hesitation, side-step, and paddlewheeler moves were back. He won his 18th game with 11 strikeouts and just one walk, though he was dinged for nine hits, most of them early in the game. And Cueto's all-around skills were on display in the sixth as the Giants scored three of the biggest runs they may earn all season. They'd tied it at 2-2 in  the fourth when Buster Posey opened with a walk and Hunter Pence with a double; Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik drove them in. In the sixth, Crawford lined an infield single off pitcher Jon Gray's shin; Gray's quick recovery was marred by a wild throw to first and Crawford took the extra base. Angel Pagan caught third baseman Nolan Arenado flat-footed with a bunt single, Crawford taking third. Panik tapped one toward first: Geraldo Parra thought he'd trapped Crawford off third and threw to the bag, but Arenado's tag was late (and confirmed so by replay). Bases loaded and Conor Gillaspie broke the tie with the inning's first out, a fly ball to deep left. First and second and Cueto rolled an absolutely perfect bunt past the lunging Gray; Arenado had broken for third but now recovered and made a quick pickup, but his inning-from-hell continued when he threw hastily and wildly past first. Both Pagan and Panik came all the way around to score. It was 5-2 and the entire Giants bench, from Pence to Giant-for-a-week Gordon Beckham, was jumping in jubilation. And for once the Giants' bullpen contrasted favorably with their opponents'. Three walks plus a hit batsman resulted in two more Giants runs in the eighth, and the lead was capably handled by Derek  Law, Javier Lopez, Hunter Strickland, and Sergio Romo.

Yadier Molina lined a one-hop double off the fence in left field at Busch Stadium last night, Matt Carpenter came around to score the winning run, and the St Louis Cardinals burst exuberantly onto the field, hollering and celebrating as if they'd won the pennant. The umpiring crew clustered together, lingered around the field for a time, then strolled off unhurriedly toward their clubhouse. On "MLB Tonight," commentators were already pointing out that the recessed set of billboards off which Molina's drive had caromed were out of play and that the drive should have been ruled a ground-rule double, forcing Carpenter to hold third. A subsequent tweet from the umpiring crew confirmed it; they'd missed it on the field but seen it on replays. Since Reds manager Bryan Price made no appeal, the point was moot and the run, and the win, will stand. At the time, the Giants were trailing Colorado 2-0 and Harold Reynolds, among others, waxed most eloquent about how this all might cost San Francisco their place in the wild-card standings. Fortunately, the Giants obviated any controversy by winning their game. Reynolds had a point, though, regarding the umpiring crew. It's easy to ask how "four guys could miss something like that," but in truth only one guy missed it-- the third-base umpire. Having umpired ourselves in the past, we can confirm that the first-base umpire was trailing Molina to and past first, the second-base umpire was trailing Carpenter as he rounded second and headed for third, and the home-plate umpire was getting in position for a play at the plate as well as ready to break for third if Carpenter slowed and/or the throw went there instead. Only the third-base umpire was expected to monitor the path of the ball as it went out to left field, and he just missed the call. It's a tricky one, in any case; the recessed wall sits atop the main wall, perhaps six feet back, leaving a ledge atop the main wall. We would suggest the Cardinals amend the ground rule to keep balls like Molina's in play, while dead-balling any ball that comes to rest atop the ledge or rolls along it.  

The Wild, Wild Card
We can expect the LA Dodgers to do their level best to sweep the Giants and knock them out of the wild-card race. While Dave Roberts is unlikely to make "playoff-level" moves to win these games, there's no chance the Dodgers will coast, rest key players, or otherwise ease up. They have a chance to win home-field advantage in the division series from Washington by winning here, and they want it. Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, and Kenta Maeda are a formidable one-two-three punch by themselves, though it's likely Roberts will limit their pitch totals a little more than he would in, say, June-- or October.  Mum's the word on the Giants' Saturday starter, although starting rookie Ty Blach would force the Dodgers to face three lefthanders in a row-- and left-handed pitching has been a problem for them this year. Matt Moore has not been officially listed as Sunday's starter, but we can't see who else Bruce Bochy would choose. From LA's point of view, it'll probably take a sweep, which none of us here want to even think about, to catch Washington. The Nats are still two games ahead of LA in won-loss record, though they do face the troublesome Miami Marlins this weekend. 

The Cardinals have the excellent Carlos Martinez (tonight) and venerable Adam Wainwright (Sunday) going this weekend. Our old friend Ryan Vogelsong is slated to start against Wainwright for the Pirates on Sunday. We want him to win, sure-- but let's just hope we don't need him to win... The Mets, meanwhile, have the ageless and shapeless Bartolo Colon on Saturday and "Thor" himself, Noah Syndergaard, in Sunday's finale. Tonight is rookie Robert Gsellman and his one month of major-league experience. Don't count him out; if any team can match the Giants for developing outstanding young starting pitchers, it's the New York Mets... Over in the American League it's really wild: Baltimore blew everything up by beating Toronto two in a row. Not only are the O's and Jays now tied for the wild-card lead, but this development keeps Detroit and Seattle, who've both also gained two games the past two days, in the hunt. The Tigers wrap up with an interleague series at the NL's worst team, Atlanta; both Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander are scheduled to pitch this weekend. What's really strange is that Detroit has played one less game than their competitors, so there is a tentative game between the Tigers and Indians penciled in for Monday back in Detroit, if it proves necessary... Seattle, meanwhile, opened their concluding four-game set against the Oakland A's with a win last night. They are two games out and need help from everyone... Baltimore will try to keep the momentum rolling at Yankee Stadium this weekend. It's already playoff time for the Birds and they haven't announced starters for Saturday or Sunday yet... Toronto, meanwhile, had to have been hoping things would be sewed up nice 'n' neat before this season-ending series at Fenway Park. The Sox have Rick (22-4) Porcello and David (17-9) Price awaiting; the Jays have yet to show their cards.

On The Record
Each Giants starting pitcher recorded double-digit strikeout totals in the series against the Rockies as Matt Moore, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto totaled 11 apiece on Tuesday through Thursday. According to Stats, it's just the second time since 1913 that Giants starters recorded 10-plus strikeouts in three consecutive games. The only other time this happened was Aug. 24-27, 1975, when Ed Halicki (10 strikeouts against the Mets in a no-hitter), Pete Falcone (12 strikeouts against Montreal) and John Montefusco (14 strikeouts against Montreal) accomplished the feat.
--From the Giants' website at

For all of you-- well, okay, both of you-- who remember the 1975 Giants, this will bring back some memories.  "The Count" was a rookie in 1975 and also the best pitcher on an underrated staff that included Jim Barr, Mike Caldwell, and Gary Lavelle. Montefusco, Halicki, and Falcone were all rookies that year, and pitching was the reason the club improved by 8 games over the dreadful 1974 edition. Winning 31 games his first two seasons at the 'Stick, "The Count" was briefly a local celebrity; by the time he left after the 1980 campaign he was the "punch" line of a not-very-funny joke. The 6'-7" Halicki, after pitching Frisco's first no-hitter since Gaylord Perry in 1968, succumbed to arm troubles by 1979 and was done before his 30th birthday. Oddest story of all is Falcone's. Here's a 21-year-old lefthander, winning 12 games (for a team that was outscored and finished 80-81) and posting a 4.17 ERA (league average 3.62). Yes, he walked 111 men in 190 innings-- but remember, this is a 21-year-old kid making 32 starts in the major leagues. He was traded that winter to the St Louis Cardinals for Ken Reitz, one of the stupidest trades we've ever seen. Falcone had a better season in 1976 for the Cards, though a worse W-L record. After that arm troubles set in and in 1979 he was dealt to his hometown team, the Mets, certainly the worst team in baseball at the time. He got his game back in New York, alternating between starting and relieving, then was traded to the Atlanta Braves, who had taken over from the Mets as the league's worst team. One good season, one bad season, and he was done at age 30. He never completely got over the wildness, and there's no guarantee he would have become a star in San Francisco-- but who in tarnation trades a 21-year-old lefty with electric stuff for anything less than a bonafide All-Star? Now we can see why 1975, with an 80-81 record, was one of the Giants' better seasons in that dreary decade.