Thursday, October 16, 2014

Giants Win National League Pennant

After dinking and walking and bunting their way to three victories, the San Francisco Giants got all of their runs from their first homers of the series, including a tying blast by pinch-hitting power hitter Michael Morse in the eighth, and the improbable three-run walk-off homer by Travis Ishikawa in the bottom of the ninth.  It was the first pennant won by a homer in Giants history since Bobby Thompson's most fabled blast in 1951.  The final score was 6-3.

But it wasn't exactly all power baseball.  Madison Bumgarner had rough patches early, including giving up back to back solo homers in the fourth, but settled down to shut the door through seven innings.  He was later named the series MVP.

There were several excellent fielding plays, including one by substitute center fielder Blanco.  The most crucial was in the top of the 9th, when Pablo Sandoval--who used to get taken out for defense in the late innings--got a glove on a sure extra base hit, deflected it to Brandon Crawford and got an out.  Casia was ineffective that inning and so it was up to Jeremy Affelt to get the final out and keep the Cards off the scoreboard.

Morse had already touched up a great reliever that the Giants hadn't gotten a hit from in earlier games.  Then Cards manager Metheny went to Wacha, the nemesis of the Pirates in last year's series, and he gave up a single to Sandoval, a walk to Belt, was behind 2-0 to the normally light-hitting substitute left fielder Travis Ishikawa, who was sitting on a low fastball, saw it and got all of it, into the right field stands.

The Giants won the series by winning the first game in St. Louis and all three games at home--a real treat for the tremendous Bay Area fans.  Not only did the Giants win the pennant with this game, they showed part of their game that had been missing for awhile.  So now they look a whole lot better against the Kansas City Royals, a team that has not lost a game in the playoffs. They both got next, in the World Series.

Noted: This SF Chronicle article says that Morse, who because of injuries had only 11 at bats since August, got the batting cage pitcher to simulate the sidearm delivery he would see at the plate, and he also got a useful tip before the game from Barry Bonds.

[Notes in Progress]

Top of the fourth: the announcers are talking about the strong wind to right--after Adams ties the game for St. Louis with his homer.  2-2.  Then Cruz hits a long homer to left and the Cards are ahead 3-2.  Bumgarner has thrown 60 pitches in the first four innings. [But this would be his last shaky inning.  He got every batter he faced until he left the game after seven.  Pinch-hitting for him in the eighth was Michael Morse.  His home run tied the game at 3-3.]

Bottom of the third: It's a Panik! With two outs, Gregor Blanco gets his second straight hit (that's right, Blanco) and Joe Panik homers to right--the first Giants homer this series.  It's 2-1 Giants.

After a couple of innings both starters, Bumgarner and more to the point Wainright seem strong.  Third inning: the Cards have scored.  Bumgarner issuing uncharacteristic walks, and a misplayed fly ball, but it could have been much worse.  Wainright can be more aggressive with a lead, though it's only one run going into the bottom of the third. [Wainright got even stronger through the middle innings, but threw a lot of pitches and was lifted in the seventh.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Giants One Win Away

Listening to this game on the radio, with the energy of the crowd audible and even palpable, there was no way the Giants were going to lose.  Even when they fell behind 4-1, and runs are at a premium for this team, it seemed like just a matter of time.  And that it was.  Despite Ryan Vogelsong faltering early, the Giants came back to win the fourth game of the series, 6-4.  They are now one victory away from winning--NOT clinching--this series.

They did it with their now familiar combination of scratch away, keep the pressure on, and timely two out (two strike) hits.  They brought in three of their six runs without a hit.  They got 18 men on base, and didn't get anything bigger than two doubles.  With walks, bunts, good baserunning and strategy, they forced some errors or at least imperfect plays, scoring runs that way.

Buster Posey (for the first time hearing a stadium chant "Posey! Posey!" when he came to bat) drove in three runs with two clutch hits and a sacrifice fly.  Manager Bruce Bochy orchestrated perfection from his bullpen, starting with three shutdown innings by Petit.  Whoever they actually name doesn't matter: Bruce Bochy is Manager of the Year.

The Cardinals seemed rattled and deflated.  Their pitching was erratic, and so was their fielding.  They're hitting home runs, and by that measure they should be leading the series.  But they ain't.

Tomorrow it's a first game replay: Madison Bumgarner against Adam Wainright.  Wainright wasn't right in that game--announcer Mike Krukow isn't sure it's his elbow exactly, but he hasn't been himself for his last several starts.  If the Giants get to him early, it might be enough to send the Cards into terminal shock.  It will take a mighty effort for the Cards to win this fifth game.  The Giants have three to win one, and this one's with their ace in front of the hometown fans.  (Although Bumgarner actually has a better record on the road.)

Of course if they lose it's a series again.  It's unlikely they'll have Bumgarner for a seventh game, and he's the only starter who has mystified the Cards this series.  The Giants want to wrap it up tomorrow, but they won't panic if they don't.  The mental health of the Cards is another question right now.

The Royals have swept the Orioles: with hitting for the first two games and pitching for the second two.  Once again, if the Giants get that far, they will be the World Series underdogs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Giants Survive Game 3

The San Francisco Giants held on to win the third game of the series with St. Louis, and the first of three at home, by the same score they lost the second game: 5-4.

The Giants scored four runs with two out in the first inning and held a 4-0 lead into the fourth, but by the late innings the Cards had tied it up at 4-4.  A throwing error in the bottom of the tenth provided the winning run.  The Giants are up in the series two games to one.

The Giants needed to win this game, and they got through it by the skin of their teeth.  Pence and Sandoval had solid hits, and Ishikawa might well have had another improbable grand slam except for the wind. But after that first inning their bats went dead.

After a brilliant play by Sandoval in the top of the tenth, the Giants scraped together baserunners in unlikely fashion.  They got the throwing error gift but they were well positioned to score the winning run that inning anyway.

 Still, they are not hitting and producing many runs. That may not get it done over seven games. Without an unusually strong performance by their starting pitcher, the Giants are vulnerable.

Ryan Vogelsong goes tomorrow.  The Giants will need another very strong outing from him, and he's capable of it.  But neither Peavy nor Hudson were as strong in this series as the last, so the Giants can't count on a shutout.  The Cards even without their best hitter (Molina, who didn't play) have more pop in their lineup right now.  The Giants need at least two guys in their lineup to get extra-bases hot: Pence, Sandoval, Posey, Belt or even Panik, whose bat has gone frigid.

You have to tip the cap to Gregor Blanco.  He's an abysmal hitter in the leadoff spot but he takes advantage of his strengths: his fielding and his speed.  He worked hard to get the bunt down against a tricky pitcher, and his speed probably had a lot to do with the throwing error that won the game.

 Now this fourth game becomes the key game. If the Giants win this one you have to like their chances, especially with Bumgarner coming to the mound.  If they lose,  the percentages may still favor them but the Cards have more ways to win working right now.

Later: the Kansas City Royals jumped over the Orioles 2-1 to take a 3-0 in the American League series.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cards Tie The Series

In a crazy back and forth game in which the Giants cobbled and lucked together runs while the Cards blasted homers, it was that third homer off Giants relievers in the ninth that won the second game of the series for St. Louis, 5-4.

This is the vulnerability for the Giants--though they've won two postseason games with timely homers, those two are the only home runs they've hit.   It was the failure of their relief pitching that started their midseason slide.

But the Cards may well have lost an important player in their catcher and best hitter Molina, who left the game with a leg injury.  There's still question also about their top pitcher's ability to go in a game that is now definitely on the schedule, the fifth.

The Giants had several opportunities to win this one, and it seemed they were destined to, when down to their last strike in the ninth they scored on an improbable play, a wild pitch in which the runner scored from second base to re-tie the game.  But with the bases loaded, notorious bad ball hitter Pablo Sandoval was impatient, and grounded weakly to the pitcher when he might well have worked a walk for the lead.

Now the series is tied, going back to San Francisco, with the Cards getting their mojo back and the Giants a little wobbly. Still, they made a game of it tonight, and some of their bats showed a little more pop.  Despite the wild pitch, several outstanding Cardinal fielding plays kept the Giants in check.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Game One: In Progress (and Over)

Final: Giants 3  Cards 0. The story of this game: the Giants came out ready and frisky, the Cards came out rusty.  It's a big win for the Giants, first game on the road, and their ace did what the Dodgers' probable MVP couldn't.  It will be interesting to see if Wainright recovers from a 98 pitch five innings or his rumored elbow problem gets worse.

Madison Bumgarner now holds the Major League record for consecutive shutout innings on the road in the postseason.  If not for his own throwing error in the DC series at home, he might hold the overall record.

With Wainright a 20 game winner, today's pitching match-up could be construed as a draw going in.  Tomorrow's may slightly favor the Cards, except that Jake Peavy for the Giants is on a roll.  But it's hard to believe the Cards will have a second sloppy fielding game in a row.  Whether their bats come alive is the real question.  But it does seem the Giants hitters are in the zone at last, although they are still leaving lots of runners on base.  Improving on that is the next step.

7:20: Going into the seventh, still 3-0.  These are the innings when St. Louis is most dangerous.  But Bumgarner got the 2-3-4 hitters easily in the sixth.

6:50: Wainright leaves the game in the top of the fifth.  Done in by sloppy fielding and threw a lot of pitches.

6:30 p. Pacific: The Giants have the early lead, 3-0 with Bumgarner on the mound.  But St. Louis is a very good come from behind team, and no lead is safe until the final out.

The Giants got to Adam Wainright with six hits so far.  A couple of walks and sloppy fielding by St. Louis.  Obviously Bumgarner is pitching a better game.  A good sign for the Giants: Pablo Sandoval is hitting--when he drops in hits on unlikely pitches as he did today, he's on a productive roll.

What, no extra innings? Kansas City has won their second game, in Baltimore, and have yet to lose in the postseason.

Late Night Match: Royals and Giants

Apparently when you play the Kansas City Royals the first nine innings are just foreplay.  For the fourth time in five postseason games, the Royals won in extra innings, again with homers.  They won the first ALCS game over the Orioles on Friday.  Or maybe it was Saturday.

So their only fitting opponent in the World Series would be the Giants, who played more extra innings than they have in the postseason, although all in the same game.

The World Series of Insomnia, here we come.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Anticipation

Who blinked first?  The Cardinals announced their starting rotation, but the Giants haven't.  Everyone thinks they know what it is: Bumgarner, Peavy, Hudson, Vogelsong.

One new wrinkle (so far): if his instructional league games go well, Giants slugger Michael Morse will be on the roster.  He might contribute, but I doubt that it's "huge" news, at least for the first few games of the St. Louis series.  Still, every run that crosses the plate counts hugely for the Giants.

The Cardinals are early favorites, as are the Orioles in the American League series against the Royals.  They are also two of the oldest franchises in baseball, and the two oldest in the playoffs in terms of time in their present city.  Ironically, they both have roots in St. Louis, and both at one time were called St. Louis Browns. The Cards have always been in St. Louis, and the Orioles have been in Baltimore since 1954, two years before the Giants moved to San Francisco from New York.  The Royals were an early expansion team, starting where they are, in Kansas City, in 1969.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

They Got Next

The error in the third game was an omen, but not for the Giants.  In the fourth game the Washington Nationals beat themselves, and the San Francisco Giants move on to play the St. Louis Cardinals.

As I suggested could happen, Ryan Vogelsong rose to the postseason occasion as he has before, with a stellar start.  The Giants started hitting, but could not bring runs home.  Their three runs were enabled if not created by Nats' errors and misjudgments.  The Giants are proving to be a resilient team, with impressive pitching.  The Giants defense was back, with Hunter Pence contributing a great catch.

With their win and the Cards win earlier in the day, every one of the most favored teams in both leagues lost in this round.  The Nats had the best record in the National League.  The division champ Dodgers were expensively constructed to win five and seven game postseason series.  The LA Angels were the AL favorites, with the Detroit Tigers close behind.  They all lost.

Now there's the O's and the Royals, the Cards (who at least won their very competitive division but on the last possible day) and the second Wild Card SF Giants.  So the Giants go into another series, the underdog...again.  First game is Saturday, with Madison Bumgarner expected to start.