Monday, October 11, 2010

Giants' Starters Continue to Lead the Way

The story of this series so far is the Giants starting pitching and the clunky glove of the Braves second baseman, Brooks Conrad. Through three games in the series, the Giants have held the lead at the completion of 20 innings – out of a possible 29 – or 69% of the time. The Braves have had a lead at the completion of exactly 2 innings, and it’s been tied at innings end seven times. The main reason the Giants have dominated this series, though they’ve been dominating in spider web thin fashion – if there is such a thing – is the aforementioned starting pitching of the Giants.

Lincecum, Cain and now Jonathan Sanchez have been nothing short of breathtaking. Between them, they’ve tossed 23 innings, allowing 11 hits and 4 walks, and struck out 31. That’s good for a 0.65 WHIP and 12.13 K/9. To say they are carrying the load would be an extreme understatement, but a statement that’s been the theme in San Francisco for the past two seasons. The other theme and club motto they adopted – thanks to an early season proclamation by Kupier – is: Giants Baseball: Torture. What would a postseason series with this team involved be without it?

The series has been downright excruciating, and the bullpen utterly disappointing after a remarkable September. The Giants’ Frisbee slider tossing setup man, Sergio Romo, had given up two singles and a potential game winning, pinch hit homerun to Eric Hinske – who looks like a candidate for the World’s Strongest Man competition, by the way* – before recording an out in the series.  From what I’ve heard about the odds in Vegas, the likelihood that Bochy runs Romo out there again in a critical situation is somewhere in the neighborhood of Bobby Cox putting Brooks Conrad in as a defensive replacement.  The range of emotions I’ve been through in this series, even from just the 8th through 9th inning yesterday, has been astounding. 

*Just prior to his dramatic HR, I’d tweeted that it “looks like he eats Smart Car’s for breakfast.”

I also want to point out the fact that the Giants’ 9th inning uprising on Sunday was fueled by something that happened two nights earlier, 2,500 miles away. Billy Wagner tore his oblique on Friday night at AT&T, ripping him from the NLDS, a potential NLCS, and possibly ending his career. The Braves managed to cobble together a win that night despite their enormous loss. They did this with a mid-July, Dayton Moore (The Brilliant) aided, desperation acquisition of a near replacement level outfielder – who, strangely, was also a former phenom pitcher – a shaky reliever who was greatly aided by a gutsy double play started at third by an at best first baseman, and finally a few sprinkles of pixie dust. The Giants’ comeback on Sunday would have been far less probable versus the experienced and formidable Wagner.  For example, the Giants may have went with Aaron Rowand against the lefty instead of Ishikawa – who scored the tying run – against Kimbrel. Enough said, right?

Game 1: Lead – Giants 6, Tied 3, Braves 0
Lincecum: 9 IP, 2 hits, 0 R 1 BB, 14 K
Conrad: 1 error, resulting in 0 runs**

Game 2: Lead – Giants 7, Tied 3, Braves 1
Cain: 6.1, 7 hits, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
Conrad: 0 errors

Game 3: Lead – Giants 7, Tied 1, Braves 1
Sanchez: 7.1 IP, 2 hits***, 1 ER (on Romo HR), 1 BB, 11 K
Conrad: 3 errors, resulting in 2 runs – one of which was game winning

**Don’t be fooled by the fact that this error didn’t “cost” the Braves a run. Not every error costs the same, but they all cost something. And what each of them cost, at a minimum, is pitches – stressful pitches.  This isn’t to be underestimated when these guys who have been ridden for 200+ innings, and are now being asked to go on short rest

***Sanchez’ first hit given up came on a single off the bat of Braves starter Tim Hudson. Noteworthy, however, is that it came directly after back to back questionable non-strike calls. Paul Emmel – who was behind the plate – was pretty inconsistent, if not horrible, throughout the game.

Tweets of the series, so far:

Damon Bruce: Can the NLDS MVP go to the frying pan Brooks Conrad brings out to second base with him? The biggest impact of the series so far, right?****

Andy Baggarly: Your winning pitcher: Sergio Romo. What’s this about wins being an arbitrary stat?

****This tweet came before the 9th inning error that finally sunk the Braves Sunday

GAME 4: Madison Bumgarner versus Derek Lowe @ 4:37 PDT

There’s a lot to like going into today. The Giants need to win one of the next two to advance.  They will look for their rookie left hander, Madison Bumgarner, to continue to exhibit the fearlessness he has thus far in his young career.  He’s pitched extremely well on the road this season.  Bumgarner is going on extra rest and Lowe is going on short rest.  Most would automatically assume this would dramatically tip the scale for the Giants.  That might be fair, but it could just as easily go against them.

Bumgarner is already going to have the extra adrenaline going for several reasons.  The 21 year old will be making his playoff debut and will be pitching relatively close to his home in North Carolina. His key is to not allow the extra rest and ample amounts of pumping adrenaline propel his fastball to the upper portion of the strike zone.  He just has to find a way to harness his emotions. My scouting report on Bumgarner can be read a few posts back comparing him to Zito: Game 4 Starter…

Lowe will be pitching on short rest, but that’s not a terrible thing for the Braves.  Lowe is a sinker baller, and sometimes less rest is better for these types of pitchers. The heavy arm can often have the affect of assisting the sinker ball pitcher to keep the ball down in the zone more easily. A huge key is for the Giants to lay off assortment of stuff Lowe will be teasing them with in the bottom of the zone.

This series has been extremely tight.  I expect nothing less today. It would behoove the Giants to finish the Braves off and avoid a game 5 in San Francisco. They can set up their rotation for the NLCS versus the rolling Phillies – and pitch Lincecum three times instead of twice. Also, you never know what can happen in a game five, play in game.

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