Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pittsburgh Memories R.I.P. 2014

With the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the playoffs, and my annual Pittsburgh-themed Christmas gift from one of my sisters (this year, a Pittsburgh scenes calendar) I pay homage to my hometown city and some of the people from its past--and my past--who passed away in 2014.
Chuck Noll was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 1970s glory days, winning 4 Super Bowls.  I met him after their 1979 championship, on a story.  I asked him about Pittsburgh fans, and his face lit up.  He loved them.  And they loved him.  In football he was above all a teacher.  In the rest of his life, a civilized man.  He was a class act, and Pittsburgh learned from him.

Ralph Kiner was probably the first baseball player whose name I knew.  He was not just the Pirates' best player in the early to mid 50s, he was just about their only good player.  He led the National League in homers for seven straight years, with little help from the rest of the lineup.  Later he became an affectionately remembered baseball announcer, though in a different town.
Bill Nunn, Jr. was the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, the premier African American newspaper in the US.  He then became the first African American executive of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hal Smith was one of two catchers on the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.  Smoky Burgess was the hitter--he was kind of the Pablo Sandoval of his day--he hit bad pitches, and came up big in big games.  But in the seventh game of the World Series, Hal Smith came up in the eighth with the Pirates behind, and hit a three run homer that put them temporarily ahead, setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski's tie-breaking ninth inning solo homer.

Another former Pirate who passed away in 2014 was Eddie O'Brien, from their not great 50s team.  But when his brother Johnny played, he became half of the first twins to play for the same team in the same Major League game.

But life isn't all about sports, not even in Pittsburgh.  There's also music!  And Porky Chedwick was a legendary DJ in Pittsburgh and beyond, the original daddio of the radio, the platter-pushing papa, whose most influential era (even beyond Pittsburgh) was the doo-wop 1950s.  I was just a little too young (and a little too far away for good reception from his station) to catch him in his first flush of local fame, but everybody knew his name.  He brought a lot of attention to a lot of black acts in particular, not only on the radio but with live shows.

Pittsburgh had some great mayors, two of whom became PA governors.  Another great one was Richard Caliguiri, who I once interviewed at length.  But there was no Pittsburgh mayor who screamed Pittsburgh! in every way than Sophie Masloff.  As president of the City Council she became mayor upon Caliguiri's death in 1988, and was later elected in her own right.  Her proposal for a new baseball-only park was laughed to oblivion, but she lived long enough to attend games at PNC Park.  She left office in 1994.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Giants Trouble

Here it is late December and the World Champion San Francisco Giants are unable to attract the players they need while other teams in the division--notably the Dodgers and Padres--are trading like crazy, and at least on paper, improving immensely.

The Dodgers are putting together a formidable rotation of starting pitching, while the Padres are adding lots of power.  But the Giants, who need starting pitching, power and two key position players, are seeing their championship team losing important pieces without gaining any.  The Padres are in the midst of installing an entirely new and very impressive outfield.  The Giants can't seem to find a left fielder.  Or someone to play third base.

The Giants have lost two keys to their 2014 success: Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse.  While the Dodgers add pitching, the Giants don't have a starting rotation.  They signed reliever Romo, who was shaky for a period in 2014.

Sure, there's still time and other ways to get good players.  But it does seem mysterious.  In the competition for big name free agents (including Sandoval) their money offers were close if not the same.  And their reputation for a close-knit clubhouse, an exceptional organization, and great fans, presumably would have been an attraction.  The mystery is why it wasn't.

 It may be that San Francisco doesn't draw nationally.  The ratings for the 2014 World Series were pretty bad until the seventh game.

Last year the Giants had a great first half, then barely made it into the playoffs.  The competition within the division is likely to be greater this year.  Nobody knows of course whether all those new Dodgers and Padres will jell into a team, or when.  But the Giants will likely need to find some players somewhere just to remain competitive in 2015.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Panda Blues

It's not a decision that is easy to understand, and as this piece implies, one that Pablo Sandoval may come to regret, but the Panda is gone from San Francisco Giants baseball.  He's signed with the Boston Red Sox for about the same contract as the World Champion Giants were offering.  Anyway, a really good piece on Sandoval and the Giants, and their respective futures.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

They Might Not Be Giants

The constant is change in the three recent San Francisco Giants world championship teams.  At the same time, the teamwork and clubhouse attitudes were at the core of the team's success.  Manager Bruce Bochy is known for his loyalty to his players, and GM Brian Sabean is known for going the extra mile to re-sign his best players.

Still, next year's team is bound to be different.  Among the free agents now are pitchers Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo.  Jeremy Affeldt nears the end of his two year deal.  Position players include Michael Morse and the one everyone is talking about, Pablo Sandoval.

There was a lot of "this may be the last time in a Giants uniform" in the World Series, but negotiations start with Sandoval's uninhibited declaration that he wants to remain a Giant for the rest of his career.

Who could blame him?  Among the best fans in baseball come to watch "the Panda", he's a beloved player even when he's not playing all that well, his teammates and the culture of the clubhouse are nurturing and fun, and he's on a persistent winner.

Fortunately for the Giants, they've already signed Madison Bumgarner, or they might not be able to afford anyone else.

It seems likely that the Giants will want to resign Romo and Morse.  But Bumgarner's dominance can't long mask the problems the Giants have with their starting pitching rotation for next year.  Peavy and Vogelsong, as well as Hudson and Lincecum are big question marks in terms of coming back. Nobody knows how effective Matt Cain will be, coming back from his injury.  That's a lot of spots to fill.

The relief corps may also need to be refreshed.  Affeldt had a rocky season but he was stalwart in the postseason, so he'll be back.  Hunter Strickland demonstrated that he's not quite ready for prime time, so he probably won't, at least to start the season.

The rookies that the Giants would be nuts not to hold onto are Joe Panik, who can be their second baseman for the next decade, and Andrew Susac, who didn't play in the Series but showed signs of being a good backup catcher and pinch hitter, who can spell Buster Posey behind the plate during the season.

But this is going to be an active offseason for the Giants management.  Signing Sandoval is their first priority, but that's just the start.  The starters is where the real problems are.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's MadBum Time--Giants Are World Champs

An improbable year for an improbable championship team ends with an historic pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner in five scoreless innings of relief, just two days after his complete game masterpiece in the fifth game.  The final score was Giants 3 Royals 2.

Records fell all over the place with this win, including many for Madison Bumgarner, quickly named MVP of the World Series.  But this was a team that led the Majors for the first half of the season, and fell so far so fast that it squeaked into the postseason with the last possible playoff spot.  It started the playoffs with its best hitters in slumps, with Angel Pagan and Matt Cain out for the season, with Brandon Belt just returning from injury, and Michael Morse still not back from his injury.

The Giants won the World Series with only one starter who got a victory, and two who didn't get out of the second inning--but Madison Bumgarner got three of their four wins, though an scoring change gave the official win in this one to Affeldt.

The quote of the night belongs to Jeremy Affeldt: "Sometimes we sit around wondering if Madison is human.”

The most dramatic moment had to be in the last of the ninth, when just one out from victory, an error in the outfield by normally excellent fielder Gregor Blanco put a man on third for the Royals.  It seemed like one of those awful portentous plays that forecasts doom.

But on a 2-2 count, MadBum induced a pop-up with a pitch that rode high inside, the Panda squeezed it before falling to his knees, and the San Francisco Giants became 2014 World Champions.

Major contributions on offense by Pablo Sandoval (who set a Major League record for hits in postseason play), DH Michael Morris (2 of the 3 RBIs, including the winning run) and Hunter Pence (two hits this game, .444 average for the Series, and hit in all seven games.)  Major contribution on the mound by Jeremy Affeldt, who pitched 2.5 scoreless innings, stopping the bleeding after Tim Hudson was knocked out in the second, and before MadBum took over.

Major contributions on defense by Perez in left, Crawford at short and by Joe Panik at second, whose great grab in the third stifled a rally and started a double play (which was assisted by Bruce Bochy who appealed the safe call at first.  After lengthy review, it was overturned.)

When the Giants went back ahead 3-2, Bruce Bochy seized the moment to get MadBum into the game.  It was a perfect baseball move, and a perfect psychological move, since the Royals knew he had completely mystified them in two previous games.  Bochy's decision to play Perez in left for his defense also paid dividends.

In the end, this is Bruce Bochy's championship.  He managed the Giants through this crazy year, and made the right moves when they counted in the postseason.  It's no coincidence that Bochy was the manager for three championships by three quite different Giants teams in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Finally, there is the resilience and the attitude of this team.  I was really surprised by the buoyancy with which they and everybody with the Giants (including their announcers) greeted their wild card berth, which they backed into.  It was as if the burden of the questionable season were lifted.  They were a new team.  They played like one.

And so, San Francisco celebrated.  In Pittsburgh, the Pirates are the city's longest love, but the Steelers are the most intense.  But in San Francisco, it's the Giants.

Except for the Panik photo from Fox, all the photos--like all the articles linked to--are from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Royals Erupt in Game 6

It was their night, as Hunter Pence so aptly said.  The Royals piled up 10 runs and the Giants got 0.  So the seventh game of the 2014 World Series is tomorrow in Kansas City.

Once again, it wasn't as bad as it looked.  Some errant play, especially by Brandon Belt, allowed KC to keep the second inning going, when they eventually got 7.  The really bad news was that they got to Petit after sending Peavy to the showers in near-record time.

It isn't just history that's now against the Giants.  The Royals are pumped up at home, and they finally got to SF's best long reliever.  Tim Hudson starts, with everybody else--including Bumgarner--in reserve.  The Royals obviously didn't have to use their late inning relievers, but neither did the Giants.  Except for Petit, everybody else that's been getting the Royals out is rested.

The Royals got an excellent start from Ventura on Tuesday.  They'll need an excellent start on Wednesday as well.  The Giants got six hits, and they've won games on fewer.  So it's game on.

6:50 Pacific: Sure didn't see this coming.  Instead of the game of his life, Jake Peavy had one of the worst starts of his career (which with the Giants may be over.)  The Royals had another of their explosive innings and in the fourth lead 8-0.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Seize the Sixth

It was the last day of baseball in San Francisco for the season, but it's not yet time for a retrospective of an interesting year.  Monday's a travel day before the sixth game of the World Series, so that's topic A.

It's looked like a seven game series and it may yet turn out to be.  But I'm feeling more and more that the Giants have the edge in the sixth game.  I base a lot of that on how the Giants have improved as the series has gone on.  They've now seen the entire pitching staff and hit starters, middle and late relievers.  This is their second look at Ventura, a young fireballer.  Curt Schilling said something interesting at ESPN.  He said Ventura is a thrower, not a pitcher.  He expects the Giants to be looking for fastballs to hit.  If Ventura's stuff is not exceptional, they could get to him.

Then what does Yost do?  He has to go all out with his staff, none of whom (except for his closer and his 7th game starter) have gone untouched.

On the Giants side, Jake Peavy is a veteran who has been in pressure situations before.  He knows that this is potentially the game of his life.  He pitched well in the second game, and that hellish inning wasn't entirely or even mainly his fault.

Nobody knows what pitchers have until the game is well underway.  But I think Peavy has the edge this time.  And the Giants have a "rested and ready" bullpen (as reliever Jeremy Affeldt said.)  So far the Royals have not touched Petit or (in a couple of innings) Lincecum, and hardly grazed Affeldt, Lopez, Cassia and Romo.

This is the Giants' second trip to Kansas City this Series.  It didn't bother them in the first game, which they won.  So it's unlikely to bother them tomorrow.  They have two games to win one, but the Royals must win tomorrow--that can help them, and that can hurt them.  The Giants, many of whom have felt World Series victory, can smell it.  They won't get tentative.

The Giants bats are hot, the Royals are cold, and though that can change, it looks more to me like series adjustments by the Giants hitters, and their pitchers. Every game is itself, but I like the Giants today.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Giants Behind Bumgarner Win 5-0 to Take Series Lead

In a dominant complete game performance, Madison Bumgarner pitched a 4-hit shutout, and the San Francisco Giants got to the Royals late relievers to add to their lead.  The 5-0 victory in the last game of the season at their home park, sends the Giants off to Kansas City needing to win one of the next two games to win the World Series.

He pitched the first World Series shutout since 2003.  Bumgarner set all kinds of other marks, as summarized here.  He threw eight strikeouts, many swinging, and many with the batters looking silly.  He walked no one.  It was an historic performance, and if the Giants win the Series, he's likely to be named the MVP.

But going forward it was the Giants' hitting that was most encouraging.  First their ability to scratch out runs from timely hits but also productive outs, bunting and base-running, and taking advantage of mistakes.  Second, they got to two of the Royals' previously untouchable late inning relievers.  So they've touched up starters, middle relievers and now the finishers.  They've seen everybody the Royals have.

Also important for the Giants: Sandoval and Pence continued hot hitting.  Brandon Crawford produced in the clutch (3 RBIs this game.)  Blanco was the only Giant besides Bumgarner not to get a hit in this game, and Blanco has gotten some key hits in the Series.

The Series is not won, of course.  The Giants now face the two starting pitcher that beat them in the second and third games.  From the Giants perspective, they need just one of the next two.  From the Royals' perspective they've accomplished what they needed to: won one of two at home, and one of three away.  Both teams have now won two games in a row, so the Royals winning two at home is hardly a stretch.  But the Giants are playing their best baseball right now, and the Royals aren't.

For the last pre-game of the year at the home park, I'd expected some acknowledgement of the players who helped the Giants get here but aren't on the roster, namely Matt Cain and Angel Pagan.  Maybe that's happened and hasn't been reported.  What is documented is the pre-game ceremony honoring the late Robin Williams, who was among other things a San Francisco Giants fan.  His son threw out the first pitch, caught by Billy Crystal.


630 p. pacific: Through four innings, it's Giants 2 Royals 0.  Bumgarner is very sharp but Shields is almost as sharp.  It's his infield that's let him down, and the Giants have cashed in a couple of opportunities.  Singles, a smart bunt by Belt, contact to move the runners, and the Giants manufactured two runs.

6:51: Bumgarner bears down with a man on second to get out of the inning without damage in the top of the fifth.  In the bottom half, the Giants get two on, Pence hits a titanic drive but excellent outfield play rescues Shields, who may have pitched his last inning.  It remains 2-0.

7:12: Bumgarner cruises through the sixth, Shields does pitch, gives up a single but the Giants strand the runner on second.  However their hits and at-bats have stretched Shields pitch count past 90.  Hererra, one of their big three late innings relievers, was warming up so he's likely to pitch the seventh.  After 6, the score is still 2-0.    Bumgarner starts the seventh with 7 strikeouts and no walks.

7:24: The Royals get a hit but Bumgarner pitches out of it in the top of the seventh.  It seems likely that barring a jam he'll finish the game, regardless of how that affects the possibility of relief in the seventh game.  Yost uses his late relief trio for one inning each, and with a travel day tomorrow, the risk of using them all in this game in terms of the next two games are pretty minimal.

7:38: The Giants strand a runner but they forced Hererra to throw a lot of pitches in the bottom of the 7th.  His pitch count is way up from the regular season.  He doesn't look unhittable anymore. Yost made some other roster moves that will play out in the 8th.  After seven, Giants 2 Royals 0.

7:49: Bumgarner pitches a strong 8th and though just over a hundred pitches, is likely to start the 9th.  Sandoval begins the bottom of the 8th by hitting the unhittable Hererra.  Then so does Pence. Hererra is gone.

8:04: Dominant Davis comes in.  Belt takes him to 3-2 before taking strike three.  Then light hitting Juan Perez also takes him 3-2, then launches one into center for a triple.  Two runs score.  Crawford comes up and singles Perez in for his third RBI on the game.  It's 5-0.  Cassia was warming up but now Bumgarner is batting, and he'll pitch the ninth.  After 8 innings it's Giants 5 Royals 0.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

11 by 11: Giants Even the Series with Come From Behind Win


Dark clouds turned into a rainbow: Coming back from a 4-1 deficit, the SF Giants lit up their home ballpark with an 11-4 victory to even the World Series at two wins apiece.

Bruce Jenkins of the SF Chronicle placed it in context: "This was the one, the performance for the Giants’ time capsule. If any future historian wants to know exactly why this team kept showing up in the postseason, and winning, bust out the four-hour spectacular from Saturday night. Who knows if the Giants will even win this World Series? It was only Game 4, with a trip back to Kansas City now guaranteed. But this 11-4 win over the Royals was about the restoration of faith and reputations. So much was on the line. And about 19 guys came to the rescue."

Down 4-1, the kids threw some 11s: 11 runs on hits by 11 different batters--a World Series record. Buster Posey got his 16th single of the postseason and drove in a run, tying him with Barry Bonds for the club WS RBI record.  Pablo Sandoval had key hits, including driving in the winning run, unusual only that he was hitting from his far weaker right side.  Joe Panik had two doubles, scoring and driving in two runs.  Hunter Pence had 3 hits, 3 RBIs and at least one fielding gem.

  Ryan Vogelsong started but it was Petit who was the pitching hero, shutting down the Royals and even getting a hit.  He has yet to give up a run in the postseason.

Yesterday was Royals Friday but this was Giants Saturday.  They won the key pitching battles, they got the breaks.  Their baserunning was daring again, but this time it worked.  They had a bad inning that included a mental error, but they overcame it.  Yost's moves failed, Bochy's moves succeeded.

The Giants eventually got to the Royals' starter but even more to their middle relievers.  That was absolutely the key to this game.  So the Giants learned one good lesson (the middle relievers are vulnerable) but they won't see this starter again.  It's back to the top three in both teams' rotation.  The Royal's Shields hasn't had a good outing in awhile, but Bumgarner has the most trouble this year at home.  The Giants know they need to get ahead in those first six innings.  Fifth game winners usually win the Series, but for the Giants this last game at home is almost essential.  (For what it's worth, Curt Schilling has the Giants in seven.)


It was a great game for the San Francisco fans, who rallied along with the team.


Jenkins also comments: The Giants’ organization has become known for staging the classiest pregame ceremonies in baseball, and this one stood out: Henry Aaron, the Little League champions from Chicago, 13-year-old Mo’ne Davis throwing out the first pitch (beautifully), Carlos Santana performing the national anthem, and Bryan Stow — flanked by his magnificent benefactor, Tim Flannery — shouting “Play ball!” from a wheelchair.  Stow is the Giants fan crippled by a Dodgers fan outside the stadium in LA.  Davis was the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series.

Royals Up a Game with 3-2 Win

The Kansas City Royals won the third game of the World Series 3-2.  Tim Hudson pitched a fine game for the Giants.  Javier Lopez gave up what turned out to be the winning run but it was more a case of an excellent 11 pitch at-bat than anything he did wrong.  The Giants were in position to tie a few times but the KC relievers are pitching extremely well.

The Giants have to take advantage of any scoring opportunities against the starter of the next game, scheduled for Saturday but with rain in the forecast for San Francisco.  The more times they see the relievers, the better they should see them.  But they've got nothing to hang their heads about.  The Royals outplayed them and got the breaks.  It could be the other way tomorrow.  And then comes Bumgarner.

Whatever happens, the fifth game is going to be a great one for the folks lucky enough to be there at the park in San Francisco--the last home game of this strange season.  From second Wild Card to National League champs in itself is worth celebrating, and I'm sure that's what they'll do Sunday, no matter what happens.

Because if things continue like this, they won't be bringing home a world championship.  But that's the great thing about baseball.  Things don't always continue the way they are.  A couple of feet from foul to fair, a liner that falls instead of staying up, and they could have won this game.

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.  Friday pregame update: Lincecum not seriously injured, stays on the roster.

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.  I've got a good feeling about Tim Hudson's start.


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.  

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.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Shake It Off

Everyone remembers the dark moments that turn a series.  Boston will always remember the Buckner boot, Chicago Cubs the fan interference that cost a foul ball out, both foreshadowing imminent and final disaster.  I will always remember the seventh game of the 1992 National League championship series when the Golden Gloves second baseman for the Pirates booted a ground ball in the ninth with the Pirates ahead, and opened the floodgates that saw Atlanta go to the World Series instead of the last truly talented Pirates team (Bonds, Bonilla, Van Slyke etc.) until the recent one.

So tonight people are talking about the throwing error by Madison Bumgarner that broke his shutout and allowed Washington to score its first two runs.  They won the game 4-1.  It's certainly true that the error juiced up the Nats, and contributed to them playing another day.

But nobody remembers the errors that were overcome, that wound up not meaning anything to the final outcome.  This could just as well have been one of those.

It does stand out because this game between the Giants and Nats was notable for defensive plays on both sides.  However, the Nats made more key plays and fewer mistakes, unusual for the visiting team.  The pitching on both sides was superb.  But perhaps the weaknesses in the Giants lineup are starting to tell, particularly Blanco in the leadoff position instead of the injured Angel Pagan.  This was always a worry.  Blanco contributes on defense, but the lineup is hampered without a better leadoff hitter.

Tuesday's pitcher is Ryan Vogelsong, who has not been having a good year, and has been roughed up by the Nats.  But he has also been very good in postseason.  He may well rise to the occasion.  The key will be the Giants' bats.  They can't depend on their pitchers not allowing a single run.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Home But Not Free Yet

Yusmeiro Petit
After the postseason game of the longest duration in Major League history--6 hours, 23 minutes--both the SF Giants and the Washington Nationals got on a plane to fly 3 time zones away to San Francisco.  Today they rest (I'm guessing the scheduled workouts were cancelled or curtailed.)  Tomorrow they play the third game.

With a 2-0 lead and their ace taking the mound, the Giants could not find themselves in a better position--except for the unpredictable effects of that 18 inning marathon that ended after midnight DC time.  On paper everything lines up for a Giants sweep Monday--but the game ain't played on paper.

Here are the cautions: the Giants sleep two nights in their own beds.  They are home, and prey to everybody who wants them to supply tickets, etc.  They may show up at the ballpark relaxed and loose, or they could find themselves flat.  The Nats on the other hand will likely be wired.  They've already shown themselves to be a tightly wound team, and that's hurt them, but the energy of desperation could help them Monday.

The October cold and wind kept balls hit to left field in the ballpark in Washington.  Such will not be the case by the Bay.  Left field fences are far, but not that far.  With a left-hander on the mound, look for the Nats righties to swing for the big flies.  They will probably take those swings early, before Bumgarner gets settled into the game.

But if the third game isn't a done deal, how about the series?  The Giants have had really bad stretches at home this year, so losing two games in a row is not unthinkable.  And then there's the pitching rotation.  Petit might well have been the starter for the fourth game, but he pitched a full game in relief--80 pitches--on Saturday (and got the win, after Tim Hudson's heroic 8 innings, giving up a single run.)  Does Bochy go with Peavy on three days rest?  If not, who?  Vogelsong is back on the Giants roster, so he's a possibility.  Not a good year but he's been successful in the postseason.

I'm thinking Bochy held Lincecum out of Saturday's epic partly to make him available to start Tuesday, or be available for long relief, especially after he inserted Petit.  If the Nats manage to win both SF games, the Giants will have Hudson (or Peavy if he's isn't tapped for 4) available for the 5th and deciding game.

It may well not come to that but even though the pressure is obviously on the Nats, there's some on the Giants, too.  Their best possible outcome is to win tomorrow, and rest everybody for the next series.

The Epic

A few more notes on the epic 2-1 game Saturday.  Among Bochy's brilliant moves was to choose Petit in relief rather than Lincecum.  In doing so he may have sacrificed his fourth game starter.  Petit, who left relief pitching behind to become a starter late in the season, seemed somewhat unprepared when called upon.  But after a shaky first inning he settled into the game and was lights out. He gave up one hit and struck out seven in an 80 pitch, 6 inning performance.  And of course he gave up no runs--when for six innings the first Nats run scored would give them the victory, right then and there.  Bochy went with the pitcher he thought was the better one for this game, without thinking too far ahead.

Both teams virtually depleted their bullpens.  (Sandoval said (or kidded) later that he was ready to pitch if needed.)  But by using Petit, Bochy required fewer innings from his regular relievers.  That may pay off Monday.  

Both Baltimore and Kansas City swept the more favored American League teams of Detroit and Los Angeles on Sunday.  An omen for the Giants?  Well, maybe, but for now it means the game will start a little later in the afternoon for TV.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

A Giant Epic

The superlatives start with this one: 18 innings, tied for the longest postseason game in Major League history.  Epic pitching on both sides but particularly by the Giants bullpen, which has held the Nats scoreless for 14 consecutive innings.  The Giants tied this game at 1-1 with two outs in the ninth, when the Nats made the fatal mistake of lifting the unhittable Zimmerman.  It was the length of a normal game later that (under the wind and temperature conditions prevailing in Washington) probably the only Giant capable of homering, did: Brandon Belt belted one more than 400 feet to right, it was gone off the bat and he knew it.  The Nats could not answer.  Now the Giants need just one of two games at home to take the series.

It was a pitcher's duel from the start, with Zimmerman getting stronger as the game went on, but Tim Hudson finding his pitches to mesmerize the Nats hitters.  But his wasn't the only "quality start" for the Giants in the game (as their announcers quipped): Petit--who figured to start a game in the series--was called in to pitch 6 innings of extras.  The flamethrowing kid, rookie Hunter Strickland, got the tense 18th inning save.

Bruce Bochy severely outmanaged the Nat's Matt Williams, who in addition to taking Zimmerman out, got himself thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes.  Catcher Buster Posey managed the parade of Giants pitchers brilliantly, got a key hit and almost scored the lead run in the ninth.  Pablo Sandoval doubled in the first Giants run and--though he's not having a particularly good postseason--has a record 12 postseason game hitting streak going.

The statistics and superlatives will continue to be compiled about this classic game, which clocked in at six hours.  But here's one stat that stands out: Brandon Belt's home run in the 18th was the first extra inning home run in a postseason game since one of the most famous homer in Giants history (in this case the New York Giants): Dusty Rhodes 10th inning homer to win the first game of the World Series in 1954.  That was the year the Giants swept the favored Indians.

Could these Giants sweep the favorite Nationals?  They have Madison Bumgarner on the mound for their first game at home on Monday.

I couldn't listen to every pitch for six hours, although I did hear more than 3/4 of the game.  Some of the announcers kind of got hoarse but it also meant 18 innings of Mike Krukow talking baseball, and that's worth it.  At one point he said that even when a batter decides to take a pitch, he should be watching and measuring velocity and so on, with his body as well as his eye.  He noted with some disgust that a Nats player hadn't done that, just spaced out for a pitch.  It's that kind of observation that adds to my baseball knowledge (I personally got maybe two or three tips from my so-called coaches in little and pony leagues, the rest I learned from other players, baseball novels by John R. Tunis and Joe Archibald and biographies, and mostly from Major League announcers) and that enhances my enjoyment of the game.

Friday, October 03, 2014

One Giant Step

Joe Panik
The San Francisco Giants played their game, and they won the first in the five game set with the Nats at Washington, 3-2.  Jake Peavy, a much underrated pitcher probably because he faltered in previous postseason game, outpitched his glorified opposite number Strasburg.

The Giants won the way they had to win, with pitching, stubborn hitting and above all with players who are new to the team this year to supplement their veterans on the field and in the bullpen.  They got the biggest out of the game from rookie Hunter Strickland, who struck out a fast ball hitter who often cleans up with the bases loaded, with a 100 mph fastball, with the bases loaded.

Strickland gave up the only runs the Nats got, two bases empty homers.  But the Giants veteran bullpen shut the door after that.

But the rookie of the postseason so far is second baseman Joe Panik.  A kid who looks like he stepped out of the cast of The Natural and with that perfect baseball fiction name, has done what no Giant did before in the team's long history: he's had five hits in his first two postseason games.  He had two in this one, including an RBI and a run scored.  He made some excellent plays in the field as well.

The two Brandons (Crawford and Belt) and now the two Hunters (Pence, who got a run with his running, and now Strickland) were among the standouts.

So the Giants got the game they probably had to win.  Now they can afford a split in DC, pitch Bumgarner at home, and see where they are after 3.  They go into the game tomorrow even more of an underdog than today, despite their win, knowing that Tim Hudson is capable of throwing a gem, or of getting really roughed up.  He'll have to recapture his magic and again keep it a low scoring game, the most likely scenario for a Giants win.

Meanwhile the O's have gone two games up on Detroit.  As of this moment the Dodgers and Cards are in a tense and testy opener to their series, and the Royals play the Angels later.  Update: The Cards got to Clayton Kershaw, wound up winning an improbable 9-8 pitcher's duel, upending that series with the first game.  And the Royals took down the Angels again, and again in extra innings--with a homer in the 11th.  Not a boring game in the postseason yet.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Mr. Peavy Goes to Washington

I'm too lazy to check the actual odds, but from what I've gleaned, the smart picks to win the World Series this year are either the Los Angeles Angels or the Washington Nationals.

Well, the Angels lost the first game of their series to Kansas City, who may be replacing the Pirates as the "destiny" team.  And the Orioles looked awfully good chewing up the superior pitching of the Tigers in their first game.

The Nationals are called a "complete team," excellent in all phases of the game, starting with starting pitching.  Based on the season, they do have a definite advantage over the Giants. Gone (for now) are the days of dominating Matt Cain (injured) and Tim Lincecum (who will likely be in the bullpen.) Bumgarner is the Giants' ace, and he won't pitch again until the 3rd of five games.

Jake Peavy gets the first game start Friday, with the former wonder boy Strasburg getting his first postseason start for the Nats.  After Peavy, there's a falling off in quality starters for the Giants.  Petit has pitched well, at times brilliantly, since he's become a starter late in the year. Tim Hudson is scheduled for the second game--he's been brilliant during the season but in recent games he's been uncomfortably hittable. He's facing Jordan Zimmerman, who pitched a no-hitter his last game.  So it's pretty important for the Giants to win the first game.

As for Lincecum, I have a feeling we're going to see him in this series, probably if a starter falters.  He did relief work in the 2012 postseason I believe, and did very well.

This is the early game--it'll be high noon around here.

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.  The Giants, with nothing to gain or lose, could rest Bumgarner and give their starters some rest and easy innings.  But as the game with the Pirates went on, 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 the Giants will be definite 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.