Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Giants Move On

Madison Bumgarner was the better pitcher and the San Francisco Giants were the better team in the Wild Card game on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.  Bumgarner's complete game shutout will go down as one of the best pitching performances of this season.  The air went out of the stadium and the Pirates' game when Brian Crawford dinked his grand slam but even without it, the Giants were in control.  The Pirates' depleted bullpen could do no better than starter Volquez did, their third best starter.

This loss is pretty directly attributable to the Pirates trying so hard to win the division in the past two games, which they also lost.  I thought (and said here) that the Giants were looser and the Pirates could be deflated by two tough important losses in a row to end the regular season.  They could also rest Bumgarner.  But the Giants playoff experience also figured in.

I heard the game from the Giants radio announcers, and since they weren't doing TV, with the addition of Mike Krukow, whose comments I really miss all season--although he usually joins in for the analysis afterwards which is broadcast on both radio and TV.  (There's a nice ESPN piece about Krukow and the crew.)

Maybe they were a little hard on Clint Hurdle, talking about him limping out to the field every time he moved, and on the Pittsburgh fans, describing their exodus over the Clemente bridge in the late innings as looking like refugees, bundled up and forlorn.  But they are a fun group, and so I'm happy that I'll be listening to them for the Giants series with Washington, when they'll be major underdogs.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gamecasting Problems

Night before the game I really care about, checking in with the wild one in Kansas City.  And glad I'm not going to have to rely on ESPN gamecast for play by play tomorrow--I get the crack SF Giants radio team.  Gamecast is weird, with some information outrunning other pieces, and some stunning irrelevancies and mistakes.  Irrelevant: the percentage chance a team has of scoring 2 or more runs when it's the bottom of the ninth with the score tied.  Mistake: a foul out to second, very difficult to imagine.  To the second baseman maybe, I suppose, but the middle of the infield is kind of by definition not foul ground.

Sometimes it just freezes, like right now, at the very crucial last of the 12th.  When the little box at the bottom shows that the Royals just scored the winning run. And even there the icon of the runner at first is well not even superfluous, it's wrong. Gamecast doesn't even bother to try to catch up.

Sad for Oakland.  Ahead four runs late in the game, going ahead at the top of the 12th.  Now it shows that KC leads the series 1-0.  Hey, there is no series.  This was the wild card game.  It's over.  KC moves on, Oakland goes home.  Now we wonder whether this will be the only Bay Area team to squander its commanding lead, hang on for a wild card, but stop there.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Decided


The last day of the season turned out to be the last day of the season.  Before the games began on Sunday, it was possible for three division titles to still be decided by a game on Monday.  But none of the second place teams could earn a tie.

That included the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost to the Reds' ace (and now 20 game winner) early in the day, even before St. Louis won their game.  Either outcome meant that Pittsburgh would host the SF Giants in the Wild Card game on Wednesday, and that's what will happen.

The Pirates gambled on the possibility of earning that tie and then winning the division by sending out their ace (Gerit Cole) to pitch Sunday.  Their loss meant that St. Louis scrapped their starting lineup that evening, including their ace, saving them all for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants sent a rookie pitcher to the mound, and otherwise used the game as a tuneup for Wednesday.  They won easily over the Padres.

So it looks as if the Giants will send their ace Madison Bumgarner to the mound on Wednesday, while the Pirates will likely use a surprise starter, Edinson Volquez. The Giants seem pleased with the match-up.

So apart from the very apropos warning that in a single game, anything can happen, who has the edge?  The Pirates are playing at home, but they're coming off losing two tough games.  Volquez has been lights out in his recent starts, but that hasn't always been the case, and unless I'm mistaken this may be his first playoff game.  Volquez seems likely to be either devastating or gotten to quickly.  Bumgarner is steady, with great perseverance.

The Pirates have two hitters near the top of the league in average, and a lineup that's loaded with power.  The only significant injury might be to catcher Russell Martin, though that could be very significant.  (No word yet on whether he will play.)  And the team has the best home record in the league.  So in significant ways they should be the favorites (and they are clearly the better team for the long haul--that is, they are likely to go deeper into the playoffs than are the Giants.)

The Giants have lost the key to their lineup in Angel Pagan, and one of their power hitters in Michael Morse to injuries.  Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are in deep slumps, especially for power.  Sandoval and to an extent Buster Posey are playing hurt.  So the Giants don't seem to have a lot of margin for error.  But there are possible advantages to some of these disadvantages.  The Pirates haven't seen (or seen much of) their rookies.  And their flamethrowing rookie reliever Hunter Strickland could very well be the Giants' secret weapon.

What nags at me is how loose the Giants are.  They had two meaningless games that they won.  The players, management, and the announcers (maybe especially the announcers) seem almost giddy to be in the postseason.  They are counting on their exploits of the past, and that confidence.  That and Bumgarner (and the Pirates can be stopped by really good pitching) may give them an edge, if the Pirates are tired or tight.

So where does all this place me, fanwise?  On other occasions that they played each other I could just root for the home team and really not worry much.  But in the past week it's become clear where my deepest loyalties lie, and that's with the Pirates.  So I'm rooting for them in the Wild Card game and, if they win, beyond it.  But if the Giants win, I'll be rooting for them the rest of the way.

This game has one significant advantage for me:  I am without TV capability, but a local radio station carries the Giants and will carry this game.  So I can listen to the game on the radio, broadcast by the Giants' radio team I've been listening to with great pleasure all season.

A side note: though I haven't followed them, the other Bay Area team--the Oakland A's, got their American League division Wild Card on Sunday.  They play Tuesday.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Defining Moments

SATURDAY: It's going to come down to the final day of the season, at best.  The Pirates and the Cards both lost on Saturday.  The Pirates lost a slugfest in the 10th inning, so the Cards went into their game later knowing that all they had to do was beat the weak Diamondbacks and they would take the division.  As it is, with the Pirates loss, the Cards clinched at least a tie.  If the Cards win Sunday or the Pirates lose, the Cards win the division. If the Pirates win and the Cards lose, they play the tie-breaker on Monday.  The Cards are sending their ace out on Sunday.

The tie-breaker is not a win or go home.  The winner of the game wins the division and move on to play a series.  The loser plays the Giants in the Wild Card game, which IS win or go home.

The Giants as surmised played their rookies on Saturday, and they won, with all the rookies looking good.  Sunday they will send out a rookie starting pitcher.  Neither game means anything to the Giants.  They know they will be playing away on Wednesday, though they still don't know whether it will be Pittsburgh or St. Louis.


FRIDAY: Arizona came within a base hit in the bottom of the ninth of putting the Pirates into a tie for first.  They came back from a 6-3 deficit to tie the Cards in the 8th, and had two men on in the 9th but couldn't bring in that winning run.  The Cards scored in the top of the 10th, Arizona couldn't answer, so the Cards got a one run victory.

The pressure was on them because earlier in the day the Pirates beat the Reds 3-1 in Cincinnati.  Also, the Giants lost at home to San Diego, so they now know they will not play the Wild Card game at home.  So in a way they are in the best position--they can rest whatever players they choose because the final 2 games are meaningless.  Meanwhile, the Pirates and Cards have to keep contending for that very important top spot.  It is still possible they will tie for first, which is the chanciest outcome for both teams as their top pitchers will likely be unavailable.

Still, the Pirates now know that if they wind up playing the Giants in the Wild Card, the game will be in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Post-Season Players Known, But Not Matchups

Edinson Volquez pitched lights out for the Pirates win
Though the National League teams involved are known with three games left in the regular season, nothing else is.

On Thursday the Pittsburgh Pirates walloped Atlanta to move to one game behind St. Louis for the division title.  The San Francisco Giants held on to defeat San Diego to remain one game behind the Pirates for (essentially) home field advantage in the Wild Card game.  However, that Wild Card game could instead be with St. Louis if the Pirates take the division.

If you were playing the odds, you'd probably figure that the situation will wind up as it is now.  Not just the math but the matchups.  The Cardinals finish the season in Arizona, while the Pirates finish theirs with three games in Cincinnati.  The Reds are a better team than Arizona, which is also in management chaos.  The Pirates however are the hotter team, though not by much over St. Louis, their recent nemesis in the division.

Enthused by backing into a playoff spot by the Brewers loss earlier in the day, the Giants' bats came alive Thursday. An especially good sign was the splash homer by Brandon Belt.  Unfortunately their pitching went to hell, and they blew a 6-0 lead to come from behind for a 9-8 victory.  Then they celebrated their Wild Card before the Bay Area fans.
Brandon Belt's power will be needed for the Giants
The Giants play their remaining three games against the Padres at home.  Bruce Bochy says he's not holding anybody back for the Wild Card game apparently scheduled for next Wednesday, but that seems to not include his likely starter, Madison Bumgarner, who won't pitch his regular rotation this weekend.  So right now chances are that it will be Bumgarner against Liriano in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The Pirates seem much better equipped to win a series, even the long one of the World Series seven games.  They are hitting much better and they have the starting pitching.  The Giants have playoff experience but weaker hitting and probably just three reliable starters.

But of course that doesn't matter in a one game win or go home.  Anything can happen to win a single game or to lose it.  That's where the Giants postseason experience comes in, but the Pirates have also demonstrated a steadiness under pressure and an ability to come from behind.  You have to question the Giants hitting ability on that.  As for pitching, the Giants have the luxury of holding Bumgarner out for the wild card game, while the Pirates have to go all out to try to win the division, so they can't hold anyone out.

There's even the possibility of a Central Division tie, in which case the Pirates and Cards play a one game playoff for the division title.  The advantage of winning the division is tremendous.  It means no one and done, and no fewer than 5 games to decide anything.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Sweet It Is

In the city where it all ended for more than 20 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Atlanta team to clinch a postseason spot--the first time since 1990 and 91.  They clinched in part because the Brewers lost.

Their winning ways in September have been matched only by the Cardinals, but they've closed the gap to one game in the lost column for the division title.  With the Giants loss in LA, they are a full game ahead of the Giants for the top wild card slot.  The Giants can still secure the second slot but they face the possibility that the Dodgers will clinch the division against them tomorrow--and with Kershaw on the mound, it's a real possibility.

Update: Yeah, it happened, and the Dodgers fans could have started celebrating in the 7th inning of what became a lopsided game.  So the Dodgers got the West, but both the Pirates and Cards lost, so the Bucs are still a game out in the Central.  Apparently the Giants are very close to clinching a wild card but I've given up trying to figure this stuff out.

Update 2: So when the Brewers lost on Thursday, the Giants backed into a wild card.

Keeping It Going

For a long time it seemed like a sad summary of what the last few weeks have been like for the San Francisco Giants.  Jake Peavy and their bullpen held the Dodgers in check, but inning after inning they squandered opportunities to score.  In the 8th, in the 9th.  In the 10th.  And the 11th.  And the 12th.  They left ten on base.

But finally in the 13th inning they got deep into the Dodgers bullpen and scrambled together three runs, with pinch hitter and rookie catcher Andrew Susac driving in the winning run and scoring the third of the inning.  The game was iced by the fireballing rookie reliever Hunter Strickland, who struck out two and induced a ground ball out.  Though the hitting woes for many of the veterans continued, especially Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt started to look like his old self, and Gregor Blanco homered and drove in two.

Earlier, the Pittsburgh Pirates won their second consecutive 1-0 game, this time against their ancient enemy, Atlanta.  The sole run of the game was a homer by Andrew McCutchen. ESPN touted him as a repeat MVP.  Francisco Liriano pitched the shutdown shutout.

Which means my two teams are tied for the first wild card spot. It seems more and more likely they will be playing each other.

 They are also both barely alive for their respective division leads.  The Giants at least for the moment control their fate, as they are playing twice more against the division leading Dodgers.  The Pirates can't do anything but keep winning and hope that the Cards start to lose, which so far they are not doing.  They beat up on the Cubs on Monday.  But the Pirates every day look more and more like the real thing.  No longer just hoping to get into the postseason, they are showing the strength to go deep, even all the way.

Meanwhile, I've finally watched the second game of the 2004 NBA finals again, the only game (as it turned out) that the Lakers won against Detroit.  I hadn't remembered it as a great game, but it is--a great Laker game.  Maybe not the best this particular Laker team ever played, but definitely the last great game they played.  Shaq would go on to have a monster 4th game, but the Lakers couldn't compensate for Karl Malone's injury. They were outplayed and probably outcoached.  And that was the end for this team.  But this particular game was great, and I'm going to watch it again before I put it away.          

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pirates, Giants: Towards Defining Moments

Sunday Update: The Pirates enacted revenge on the Brewers with their own 1-0 victory to take the series.  However, they can't prevent the Cardinals from winning the division by continuing to win games.

The punchless Giants again wasted innings of strong starting pitching and ultimately collapsed in an 8-2 loss to the Padres, to complete the San Diego sweep.  Bochy did play two rookies in an effort to shake up the lineup but not successfully.  The Giants are now in danger of being overtaken by the Pirates for the first wild card slot.  A lot can still happen to both teams, but the Giants face three games against the division leading Dodgers in LA, at a very low point in their season.  


By sweeping the Red Sox and winning the first game against the Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates pretty much assured themselves a post-season slot.  But by losing the second game to the Brewers while the Cardinals continued to win, the odds are heavily against them in terms of the Central Division lead.  The Brewers 1-0 victory may prove expensive however as they sent two fast balls to hit Pirates star Andrew McCutchen, solidly both times.  It's a loser's kind of ugliness, as the Brewers are probably out of it.

Meanwhile the Padres are indeed playing the spoiler role for the Giants as I feared, and the Giants loss of leadoff hitter Angel Pagan has rendered the lineup dangerously askew.  Thanks also to the absence of power hitter Michael Morse, producing runs is a struggle, even with the excellent pitching they got on Saturday. Having lost the first two games of the series, and facing a schedule of nothing but the Padres and the Dodgers, the Giants could fall back even beyond the first wild card.  They could conceivably miss the postseason completely, although my math is pretty shaky on wild card combinations.  And if Pagan can't come back--a real possibility--the postseason might be pretty short anyway.  It's time for Bruce Bochy to take some chances with his lineup and insert a rookie in center field and perhaps elsewhere to try to shake things up and get some runs.