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.    


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