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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Giants Force Game 5 (!!!)

Who here saw this coming?  Ok, the question was not who HOPED this would happen.  Who actually thought this was going to happen?  Let me clarify... who actually thought this was going to happen after the Giants fell behind 0-2 in the NLDS after losing two straight AT HOME and after the Giants bats looked about as hot as Antartica?  You, in the back, really?

The Giants are looking to advance to the NLCS for the 2nd time in 3 years with a victory over the Reds tomorrow morning (for us pacific timers).  It's not going to be easy.  But this is Giants baseball and it's never supposed to be easy.  In fact, winning the division so easily felt kinda sorta odd, did it not?  It felt almost wrong.  No grinding the teeth, no biting the finger nails.  Just business like wins that eventually eliminated the Dodgers with about a week left in the season.  Well, we knew the torture would have to come at some point.  And it took the form of two ugly losses to the Reds at home to open the NLDS.

In my previous entry, I noted the positives I saw after Game 1.  Well, those positives were snuffed out by Game 2 which arguably was the worst SF Giants postseason game ever played (yes, there was that infamous Game Six but that game was likely the most heartbreaking, not the worst game ever played).

Game 2 was so atrocious that Giants fans that stuck around for the Croix D'AT&T could only make jokes about the putridness instead of actually crying, which we all pretty much felt like doing after seeing that awfulness.

But then Giants baseball happened.  Torture returned.  The Giants won a game they had no right winning by squeaking out an undeserved run in the late innings after essentially being no hit by Homer friggin Bailey for the majority of the game.  The script was vintage modern Giant baseball.  Some small ball, a game (series) changing error, a solid start by Vogels[tr]ong, a clutch 2 inning performance by Jeremy Affeldt (whom I rarely praise), and then the regular back end guys Casilla (who you never want to see anymore in key situations but who did his job), Lopez, and 2 innings by the replacement Fear the Beard closer of the year Sergio Romo.  And a crisp, tidy (ha!) 2-1 Giants victory that prevented a Reds sweep.

But not only did the victory prevent the sweep, it sent the Reds into upheaval.  The loss of starter Johnny Cueto that this blogger thought would alter the series in Game 1 and Game 3 (positively for the  G's) actually didn't wind up being a factor until Game 4 due to Mat Latos stepping up for the Reds in Game 1 and Homer Bailey coming into his own in Game 3.

But Game 4 was a different story.  With Cueto unavailable and Dusty Baker not wanting to pitch Latos again on 3 days rest (and feeling under the weather) the Reds moved Cueto off the roster and selected ASU alum Mike Leake to start.  Mike Leake is no Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos.  And the Giants feasted on him like the #5 starter he pretty much is supposed to be.  Angel Pagan, who the Giants desperately needed to get hot, set the tone with a lead off homer.  And after a rocky 2+ innings by Barry Zito (man Zeets, we were really rooting for you to do well), the Giants bullpen came in and dominated.

Of course, that bullpen included Tim Lincecum.  And gosh darn if Big Time Timmy Jim didn't look reinvigorated and, well let's just say it, he's BACK.  Tim Lincecum is back.  He may not be throwing 96 MPH but this banishment to the bullpen has awoken The Freak.  The Giants rolled to an 8-3 win and now the stage is set for Game 5.

Mat Latos.  Matt Cain.  Notorious Giant killer/prick vs nice guy understated ace.

Can Matt Cain become Big Game Cain?  He hasn't fared well against the Reds in 2012 in the regular season or the postseason.  But in Game 5, anything goes.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Boch have Cain start, bring in Vogelsong, then Bumgarner, Billy Swift, John Burkett, Mike Jackson, and god bless him, Rod Beck's ghost.

In a series that I had pegged as a 5 gamer prior to an 0-2 hole, I was relieved after Game 3 that the Giants weren't going to be embarrassed by a sweep.  Now, the fifth game is here.  And the Giants have a chance to go back to the NLCS and make history while they're at it.  No NL team in the NLDS has ever come back from 0-2 especially in this wacky 2-3 format but the Giants have a shot.

Besides, Bochy vs Baker?  I hold no ill will toward Dusty but Bruce's head is bigger for a reason.  He's a better manager.  It's science.

Go Giants!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Looking for Signs of Hope After Game 1 Loss

SFGiantsGuy was at Game 1 last night and will be heading out to Game 2 in a few hours. With that being said, here was my takeaway from last night's loss:

Got into AT&T about 6pm. Great vibe. Tons of people. Expected the Blue Angels to do the fly over but I guess the Giants couldn't pony up for that. Alex Smith threw out the first pitch. Not sure if anyone saw this but when they announced the rosters Freddy Sanchez was announced (and was in uniform). So was Brian Wilson for that matter but at least Wilson played a game this year. Was really kinda awkward seeing Freddy back in uniform and standing with the team prior to the game.

Right away the strike zone seemed "off" and then I heard Phil Cuzzi was behind the dish and I realized the game was in for a frustrating night at home plate. I noticed Cueto's injury IMMEDIATELY when it happened. And my first thought was "the Giants just caught a massive break". Getting into the Cincy pen early was supposed to be a huge advantage. But no sooner had Sam LeCure got out of the inning that Matt Cain coughs up a 2 run homer to Brandon Phillips on an 0-2 pitch. For me, that was the ball game. Not at the time, still thought the Giants could rally for 2 runs but I was very frustrated Cain gave up a tater on an 0-2 count. One of my biggest pet peeves in baseball is giving up a hit in strong pitching counts. Well, this wasn't just a hit, it was a 2 run bomb. That is inexcusable. In an 0-2 count, that third pitch has no business being anywhere close to the zone. Cain would frustrate me further when he did the same thing to Jay Bruce on a 1-2 count. My takeaways on Cain? He struggled against the Reds this year (2 starts, 5 runs given up in each of them - one at AT&T and one in Cincy). There was no way Matt Cain was NOT going to start Game 1 but he doesn't match up well with the Reds as they are a good fastball hitting team. I had no problem with Bochy's quick hook. When I look at the Reds line-up, there's 3 guys you just can't let beat you. Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Joey Votto. Cain allowed 2 of those guys to beat him. The Giants must pitch those guys carefully moving forward.

It just was not the Giants night. I thought when Cueto got injured the Giants were feeling some magic. But that quickly shifted. No one was hitting the ball for awhile and then, when they did make solid contact, as everyone noted here, those rockets were caught. In the mid to late innings they did have some opportunities and some hard hit balls but nada. You could argue that Pence would have had two homers last night in a different yard. That's a positive take away, Pence hit the ball hard just for outs. To me, Pence is a big key to the series as I see Posey getting walked more often. The Blanco strikeout was annoying as I don't think he even swung the bat once but again, Cuzzi sucks. I don't think this is the end all. Let's face it, even though the Giants home and road record is nearly identical they play better on the road offensively. 

Here are some things that give me reason for optimism as the Giants head into Game 2 of the NLDS. 

1) In 2010, they left AT&T 1-1. Tonight's game is a must win no doubt. But if they CAN win it, I'll feel confident going into Cincy. 

2) Latos was used tonight which means he'll be unavailable for Game 3. I am not sure what Cueto's situation is but it means it'll either be Cueto or Homer Bailey in Game 3. I am hoping it'll be Bailey. 

3) Arroyo is on the mound tonight. Arroyo has had a nice year but he doesn't scare me. The Giants offense should be able to do more against him tonight than they did against the parade of Reds pitchers last night. 

4) The Giants made Aroldis Chapman work. Damn near 30 pitches.

5) The Reds Game 2 starter Bronson Arroyo has a terrible track record in the playoffs (career 6.04 ERA) and at AT&T (0-4. 4.11).  

6) Everything (minus the Cueto injury) went the Reds way last night. Baseball balances out. I don't think they'll be quite as lucky tonight. 

The Reds are a very good team.  I wanted to play the Nationals in the LDS because if we were going to play the Reds, I wanted to face them in a 7 game series. Unfortunately, we're getting them in the 5 game series. So we'll just have to win tonight and roll the dice in Cincy. The Reds are good but the Giants are good too. We did not beat ourselves last night, the Reds beat us. I'd prefer it that way than kicking the ball around. Cain made two mistake pitches that got crushed and Casilla helped ice the victory for the Reds with the wild pitches (oops, I mean passed balls) but give credit to the Reds. They played a solid game and won. We need to come right back at them tonight and counter.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Giants 2012 Playoff Run Begins

For a diehard Giants fan who lives and breathes Giants baseball, follows every Giants blogger, fan, player, seagull, etc I really don't update this blog as much as I should.  I thought I'd post once a week like Grant used to do on Waiting for Boof but like Tim Lincecum this year, I just haven't been consistent.  My last blog entry was about Melky's suspension and the effect it could have on the Giants chemistry.  Well, I was right... it had a huge effect on chemistry.  It bonded the team so close together that they forgot they were supposed to go in the tank after yet another punch in the gut this season.

What about that ride!?  The Dodgers acquired every expensive player in baseball and THEY were the ones that went  into the tailspin.  The Giants got an unimpressive Hunter Pence and a utility infielder and wound up winning the division a week before the end of the regular season.  And here I thought they were doomed because they didn't acquire Chris Perez at the deadline.  Or any closer for that matter.

Nope, the Giants are NL West Champs and have as good a chance as any to make it to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Bochy is playing coy with announcing who the Game 3 starter is going to be at Great American Ballpark but we know who Cincy is throwing out there:  Cueto, Arroyo, and Latos.

Arroyo in Game 2?  Really Dusty?  Interesting call.  Latos is very much familiar with the NL West and AT&T Park and I'm actually thrilled the Giants are not facing him in Game 2.  Although the Giants lit up Latos in Game 162 in 2010 to clinch the NL West, pretty much every other game Latos has pitched against the Giants has been Kershawian.    Having him pitch in a live yard like Cincy's is a positive.

Bochy announced the NLDS roster today and I really do not like having Mota on the team and no speed on the bench (when Blanco starts at least).  This burned the Giants in 2003 when Eric Young was left off for an extra reliever and we all know how that worked out.

Regardless, it's playoff time in San Francisco.  Orange October is in full effect (in Baltimore as well and wouldn't it be neat to have an all Black and Orange World Series around Halloween?) and it's time to get back on the roller coaster known as playoff baseball.