Thursday, October 23, 2014

Speaking of Giants and Lakers

The morning after, the SF Giants were putting the best face on their 7-2 loss that they could.  The 5 runs charged to five different pitchers in the 6th was freakish.  Without it, a different game.  And their loss was not even as bad as the unexpected margin of the first game, which they won 7-1.

While it's true that inning was unique, disastrous late innings weren't unprecedented or for awhile even rare for the Giants this season.  Their bullpen imploded to begin their midseason plunge from comfortably in first place to struggling for the second of two wild card spots.

But this game was worrisome for a couple of other reasons: Hunter Strickland and (speaking of freak) Tim Lincecum.  Strickland let the game get away, and given Lincecum's solid innings that followed, we'd probably not see the young fireballer again in the World Series, at least in a pressure situation.  But Lincecum left the game with a back injury, and Giants fans await the word on whether he can pitch again.  All of this calls the Giants bullpen into question.  Bochy will have to do some fancy managing to cope with it.

Doubts are also being raised about Jake Peavy, but while not commanding, his start was decent: two runs through five full innings.  He might have pitched out of serious danger again in the 6th, though Bochy's decision to lift him made sense at the time.  If I were Bochy, I'd have no qualms about handing him the ball.  Strickland is something else.  He's shown himself susceptible to pressure, and that's not going to lessen.  If Bochy has an alternative, he may well have thrown his last pitch in this World Series.

The Royals are going to come into San Francisco confident and fired up.  They won the game they pretty much had to win.  Now the Giants have to counter.  The third game is a big one for them.

Meanwhile in the NBA, the Lakers' bad luck (or some would say comeuppance) continues.  After a controversial ESPN piece saying that the reason the Lakers couldn't score a big name free agent was that nobody wants to play with Kobe Bryant, it's announced that Steve Nash is hurt and will not play this season, again.

Meanwhile the Lakers can't win in preseason, which isn't surprising, with pretty much a brand new team.  I don't buy the Kobe story, at least not completely.  After Dwight Howard got burned by baby Buss' bungling in hiring a coach, and with Kobe coming back from injury at 36, the Lakers lost their luster--no free agent in his right mind who had a choice would have gambled on them, not if they want to be on a team that looks like it could contend. The Lakers will have to prove that this year.  I expect Kobe to come back strong, but that's yet to come.

If the Lakers were seriously counting on Nash to be their starting point guard this year, they remained delusional.  Nash is a formerly great player, but his competitors are bigger, stronger and faster now.  He's pretty much admitted that he's sticking around for the money, and the Lakers are paying him big time.  He could probably contribute as an assistant coach.  But his days as an impact player were over.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kansas City Surge

The Kansas City Royals broke loose in the 6th inning and their bullpen as advertised shut the door to take the second game of the World Series 7-2.

It was a pretty evenly matched game until the Giants lost control in the 6th.  Essentially the Kansas City game plan worked, as the Giants' plan did in the first game.  Now it's definitely a series.

Off day to build the KC buzz before the Series resumes with three in San Francisco.

6:05 pt: After two innings, it's Royals 2 Giants 1.  The Giants are getting pretty good at bats but Ventura is holding his own, and two excellent fielding plays kept the Giants off the board in the third.  Peavy however has given up 5 hits already.  The bottom of the third is likely to be an important test.

6:23: Peavy has a one-two-three third.  Top of the 4th, Sandoval doubles, Belt doubles him home--a goofy play limits the damage for the Royals.  It's tied 2-2.

Two general observations: The Cardinals were supposed to be a good fielding team.  In their series, they weren't.  The Royals are supposed to be a good fielding team.  So far they are.  They're also supposed to excel in baserunning and steals.  But the caught stealing in the first inning that ended a rally is all they have to show so far.

6:40: Peavy cruised through another inning in the fourth, the Giants again threatened but did not score in the fifth.  Ventura has thrown a lot of pitches so he may have no more than another inning.  2-2.

6:47: Peavy retires the Royals on 7 pitches to end the fifth.  The Giants probably have just the next inning to get to Ventura for runs. 2-2.

6:55: Giants get two on with one out in the 6th, and Ventura is taken out.  Now the Giants see the first of KC's vaunted relief trio, Herrera.  He's effective.

Man, I can't let these guys alone even to eat dinner.  The Royals score 5 in the 6th, and even the series with an impressive 7-2 win.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Giants Got First

6:22 pt: I miss these guys.  ESPN radio is on my usual Giants station, and is all I can find.  Can't believe the team broadcasters aren't working the game somewhere.

Giants game plan is to get to the Royals starter early.  Mission accomplished in the first inning: Sandoval double, Pence two run homer.  Though Royals pitcher Shields has settled down some, the Giants are still hitting the ball hard.  Bumgarner also having his early-mid innings troubles, in a jam in the third but strikes out two and gets a grounder from the Royals best hitters.  After three, it's 3-0.
Hunter Pence. Photo SF Chron

6:32: Giants knock out starter Shields in the fourth with a run and two runners on, nobody out.  Duffy the reliever isn't sharp, walked in a run but the Giants didn't get the killer hit.  Middle of the fourth: Giants 5 Royals 0.

7:35: Bumgarner continues his record-setting postseason shutout innings on the road through six.  With his pitch count at 93, now the question is how much further does he go.  It's an American League park, so the DH means there's no pinch-hitting for the pitcher move.  Meanwhile Duffy has settled down but may be tiring in the seventh.

7:44:  Yup, he was.  Opened the 7th walking Blanco, then Joe Panik tripled.  Giants 6-0.  New pitcher is Collins.  Panik on third, no outs.  Posey scorches one, but right at the first baseman for the first out.  Sandoval singles in Panik: 7-0.  A wild pitch sends Sandoval to second.  Pence walks.  Belt strikes out.  Morris flies out to end the inning.  So it's Giants 7-0, with Bumgarner apparently coming out to pitch the bottom of the 7th.

8:03: Bumgarner's scoreless innings end with a homer by Salvador Perez, both the consecutive scoreless on the road, and his streak of scoreless innings in the World Series.  The 7th ends Giants 7 Royals 1.  Doubtless Bumgarner's last inning this game.

8:17: Javier Lopez comes on in the 8th.  The ESPN announcers were clearly emphasizing the Kansas City story at the beginning of the game, but now they're talking up the Giants.  A double play ends the inning.  Still Giants 7-1.

8:35: Here's a novel sight: Giants rookie fireballer Hunter Strickland is pitching the last of the ninth. Give him the experience, the thrill, and don't show the Royals the regular late innings relievers. Strickland gets the first out with a three pitch strikeout.  A roller to second for the second out.  A strikeout ends the game.  The Giants win the first game of the World Series 7-1.

This puts the stats on the Giants' side.  Teams that won the first won the Series 10 out of the last 11.  A first win on the road rattles the home field advantage.  Roughing up the Royals' ace, who's had postseason problems, seeds some doubt for another start, probably the fifth game.  The pressure is on KC to win tomorrow, just to make it a series.

The Giants hitters were on it, but the fielding was excellent also--consistent for first games (apart from one error.)  Bumgarner didn't get to hit but he fielded, robbing the Royals of at least two hits.

Pence finally came alive at the plate, very good sign.  Sandoval has had a quiet record breaker, hitting in consecutive postseason games.  But his RBIs are what's vital.  His first today was the impetus.

Announcers note that the Royals are a young streaky team, that this is their first postseason loss, and the question is how they will respond tomorrow.  Jake Peavy against Ventura.  Most observers give the advantage to Ventura, a young fireballer. I would have agreed, but tonight I don't think so.  If Ventura isn't right from the start he could get rattled, but Peavy--though an excitable guy--can weather a storm.  Peavy's been here, and judging by the first game, that may be important.  I'm saying advantage Peavy, but ultimately every game is nothing more than itself.

Still, the Royals apparently believe that if they have a lead or the game is close after five or six innings, their bullpen will shut the Giants down.  The Giants thrive on getting an early lead like today, but they've shown in the postseason that they can come back.  They eventually hit the Cards best relievers.  So whether the Royals really have a bullpen advantage has yet to be seen.

Since I'm apparently stuck with ESPN radio, I'll note that on their website, 4 of their 6 "experts" picked the Royals to win the Series.  One of them said in four games, so he's wrong already.

A nice perspective on the game and the Series from John Heyman.

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.