Wednesday, September 30, 2015

After Over

In the past two days, the Giants and the Pirates had to endure watching their division rivals clinch the championship by defeating them.  In both cases, the decisive game wasn't close.

Tuesday's game in San Francisco was dominated by Clayton Kershaw, who threw a one-hit complete game shutout, getting stronger as the game went on.  Madison Bumgarner was not nearly as sharp and gave up three homers in a game for the first time since his rookie season.  Manager Bochy apparently said he'd run out of gas.  Once it got to 7-0, Giants fans started leaving the building, not enthralled with watching the Dodgers celebrate.  But the Giants posted congratulations on the scoreboard, a characteristically classy move.

But Tuesday in Pittsburgh it rained--and I mean rained: 3.5. inches, which is a lot anywhere, but the most in the burgh ever on the date.  So today became a day/night double header, and in the first game the Pirates did their pitch and power thing with Cole on the mound and a grand slam by Cervelli for an 8-2 victory.  But the pitching fell apart in the nightcap and the Cards had all they could handle to keep from celebrating long before the final out.

Both final outcomes were likely but these games made it reality.  We'll see how the Bucs bounce back, with home field advantage in that stupid wild card game still somewhat at issue.   It's just a week away.

But we've seen how the Giants bounced back.  Out of the postseason completely, they played a solid, energetic game behind pitcher Mike Leake, who threw a two hit complete game shutout--remarkably, the first shutout of his career. 5-0.

 September rookie Nick Noonan playing first base for I believe the second time got only his second hit, but it was a soaring homer that almost made it into the water.  Matt Duffy got his 12th homer in the first, but even more impressive was later in the game when reliever Jansen threw at his head.  Duffy responded with a single and promptly stole second, in case message wasn't received.

Kelby Tomlinson doubled in a run, and made an athletic play picking the ball out of the air after it bounced off the heel of Crawford's glove and getting the runner at first.  The large crowd was into the game.

So for a no postseason season, almost unbelievably, the Giants are a better team.  They suffered, as Bochy said, "four concussions and three obliques" and you could probably count on one hand the games in which their starters in the field actually started.  Late trades helped,  but their farm system really came up big.

They lost one, two, three, four starting pitchers, and Chris Heston came up to give them important games and wins for much of the season.  Only one injury I can think of to the relief corps but age and wear take their toll, and while Strickland matures, up comes lefty Osich to become a go-to guy.

They lost one, two backup catchers, and discovered Trevor Brown, who was solid behind the plate from the start, and then started hitting.  Looks to me like they finally found the catcher who can alternate with Buster Posey and extend his career.  Even this year he became a godsend when first base starter Brandon Belt went down (again), and has just had surgery.

Their All-Star second baseman goes down, and up comes Kelby Tomlinson, who wins them some games with his bat, becomes a solid second baseman, and a fan favorite.

From the outfield they lose Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, and after a hot-hitting first half, Ayoki, as well as veteran Blanco.  Up comes Jarrett Parker, and hits six homers.  He drove in the Giants final run tonight with a line drive single off the Dodgers closer.  Up come Williamson and Noonan to play solid defense, and get some timely hits.

 In fact, when contemplating the Giants lineup the night after their season became an end in itself, the only real differences were that Posey got a night off and veteran Marlon Byrd--not really expected to be the starting right fielder-- gets the rest of the season off as a starter.

So next season suddenly looks very interesting.  Pagan came back and is pretty frisky--he still has mental lapses in the outfield, but physically he seems rejuvenated.  Kelby Tomlinson will get offseason work at other positions including outfield with an eye to being slotted as the ultimate utility fielder, but--back injuries are really difficult, and the Giants need insurance at second if Panik can't play every day.

Even if he's cooled off at the plate, Parker's power can't be ignored--and power is something the Giants need.  (And what a strange year-- no big power hitter but more grand slams and more pitchers with homers than anybody.)  Williamson at worst is a late innings defender and pinch-hitter.

Relief pitching is in pretty good shape with young arms Strickland and Osich joining the aging crew.  Remaining games this year will probably see more innings for call-ups, both relievers and starters.  I guess everyone expects that much of the offseason will be about the pitching corps.  Hudson is retiring--pitching his last game tomorrow afternoon.  Vogelsong is probably going.  Matt Cain has pitched some in relief and may get a start, but hasn't looked real good--certainly not as good as Peavy has since his injury.  Word today is that Lincecum may well be back in some role.

Then there's today's arm, Mike Leake, a free agent who after the game sounded like he'd like to remain a Giant, and make that decision pretty soon.  Lots of news to come no doubt, but the important thing is that fans go happily to the ballpark, without dread or cynicism,  and that's the way it is now.  That's a good place to be in planning next year--which is dare I mention, an even numbered year.

No comments: