The Giants lost. The season is over. I am going to cry myself to sleep.
More to come…
Thank You Giants
Let me begin by saying “thank you” to the Giants for a memorable and exciting season. I prefer gratitude over furious teeth-gnashing and resentment. We are spoiled fans of course. Three championships since 2010 is remarkable and downright historic in baseball history. The joys and highs seemed never-ending: Matt Cain’s perfect game, Buster Posey’s MVP season, the All-Star game heroics of Melkey Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval, the many playoff conquests and so much more during the regular season… This has been a decade of feast after feast for Giants nation. Let’s remember this before we hurl fury and resentment, anger and wrath at our heroes and Bruce Bochy. If the Giants never get to another postseason game in our lifetimes we will still have enjoyed more pleasure and euphoria than fans of just about every other team. Think about that for a minute the next time you want Bochy fired.
The joys this San Francisco ballclub have all given me personally I will treasure the rest of my life. In 2010 I left my secure job to start my own business. Three weeks into my bold venture with little to fall back on financially should I fail, my father had an emergency quadruple bypass that could have easily taken his life while my mother was battling her own health wes. I am happy to say he is alive and well today thanks to excellent work by his family doctor, heart surgeon and cardiologist. Why do I bring this up now?
This is real life folks. Our fandom for a baseball team or any sports franchise cannot and should not be so serious that it affects our civility and well-being, our mutual respect for each other. When my father was recovering from his procedure and my mother’s health was in decline it was left to me to run my business, help my father recover and care for my mother. What I remember most about this time was the sense of urgency I was living with and how life has a way of clarifying what matters for you. Suddenly Timmy’s slump in August of 2010 was not that big a deal.
I also remember watching Edgar Renteria’s homer and Timmy’s dominant performance in game 5 on November 1, 2010 with both my parents. The Giants were companions in my life during that very difficult time and I will always be grateful for that. A baseball season is a metric for life’s events in many ways. We all personalize our own histories according to specific games and seasons.
First the Good
Now about last night’s game. The end of this once-promising season feels a bit like a death. There was so much joy and life among Giants fans after Monday night’s unforgettable triumph and so much sadness this morning. The baseball Gods have a way of evening things out and boy did they even things out last night.
Matt Moore pitched his heart out in a display of command, composure and leadership. His fastball was super-charged and his off-speed pitches, particularly his curveball, were spotted with efficacy completely confounding the potent Cubs hitters. His final line: 8 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 2 hits, 2 walks and 10 strikeouts. His ability to minimize trouble was ace-like while the defensive play behind him was mostly sterling, except for Brandon Crawford’s bad throw that ended up leading to an unearned run. Clearly this is the pitcher Robert Evans was hoping to acquire when he traded away beloved Matt Duffy and top prospect Lucius Fox this summer. Matt Moore became a force and legitimized his place among the Giants rotation with his superb performance that proved his postseason mettle and tantalized both teammates and fans with thoughts of a dominant starting rotation for years to come.
Joe Panik had what may have been of the most important at-bat of the evening (had the outcome of the game been happier) when he fouled off 5 pitches and hit a sharp sacrifice fly to center in the bottom of the 5th to give the Giants a big run, an inning after the Cubs clawed their way back to make the game 3-2. Panik’s sacrifice fly followed Conor Gillaspie’s RBI single. The offensive display was superb in its situational hitting. The Giants had three sacrifice flies, advanced runners when they had to and put the ball in play in very difficult pitchers counts. Matt Moore even pitched in with an RBI single in the third inning to give the Giants a 3-1 lead.
This is the Giants team we were expecting at the start of the season: opportunistic, fierce, relentless and ready to capitalize on every chance an opposing team threw their way. Tonight, in another elimination game, the Giants hitters responded with a superb team effort up and down the lineup. Denard Span set the tone with a lead-off double in the bottom of the first and advanced on Brandon Belt’s sacrifice fly to center. He would score on Buster Posey’s sacrifice fly to right that came in a tough at-bat with at 3-2 count.
The Cubs would not go down quietly. John Lackey pitched five tough innings and mostly flummoxed the Giants twisting them into contemporary yoga poses with the diversity of his breaking pitches, particularly his slider down and in to left-handed hitters.
Then the Ninth Inning Happened
Matt Moore had already thrown 120 pitches after eight innings. He was spectacular. Forget about bringing him back. In no rational mind can one think sending Matt Moore to pitch the ninth was the right move. Forget about his recent Tommy John surgery. We have all seen Bochy leave his starters in an inning or a batter too long. Even if Moore did look dominant and even if the bullpen has been problematic, putting Moore back out there to start the ninth would be a big gamble with many repercussions if it were to go badly. It was simply not the right move from a rational point of view. An argument can be made that this was an exceptional game and an exceptional situation and rational thought be damned. We are all feeling bitter and hindsight gives us only an illusion of understanding the situation. Risking a player’s career and a team’s future on such a slim chance of probability is not the way to manage a baseball team.
Bochy and Matchups
Let’s analyze what did take place, not what could have happened. The inning started with Derek Law giving up a single to the lead-off hitter and then getting pulled. This was a move I would not have made. I would have let Law continue to pitch to Rizzo. If Bochy should examine one of his customary managerial protocols it is his obsession with lefty-righty match-ups. Sometimes the risks outweigh the numbers. Taking Law out after one batter and bringing in a very iffy Javy Lopez to face Rizzo was the second questionable move, after removing Law. Rizzo was in no way intimidated by Lopez. Lopez was nibbling because he no longer trusts his fastball and off-speed pitches to get batters out if they are in the strike zone. Rizzo knew this and took a walk. That’s a hit and a walk to the first two batters in the ninth inning! It’s not Bochy’s fault that Law and Lopez failed to retire the batters they faced but it is on Bochy for choosing an in-effective Lopez for that situation.
The inning got worse from there. No need to analyze it except to say that Brandon Crawford’s two throwing errors contributed directly to two unearned runs that were the difference in the game.
Bochy did not walk those batters. His pitchers did. Bochy did not give up the hits that tied and won the game for the Cubs. His pitchers did. The question is, what level of responsibility is there between Bochy’s decisions and the execution of his relievers? I believe there is a correlation with regards to last night’s game.
Romo and Strickland fared no better. Romo too was pulled after one batter. I am a firm believer that using match-ups to determine your pitching choices so frequently in an inning disturbs the flow of the game for your defense and calls on your pitchers to be perfect in an untenable way. If each relief pitcher knows he has such a short rope then the stress and pressure of not being allowed an occasional walk or hit is often too great. The problem with the bullpen-by-committee approach the way Bochy employed it in the ninth inning was that he over-managed for the situations and put the Giants relievers in a huge mental disadvantage that I would argue affected the entire bullpen and ultimately the outcome of the game. Bochy’s mistake was both his approach in using so many relievers and his choice of relievers. It was a double error that I believe ultimately lead to the loss.
Why did he employ Javy Lopez over Will Smith to face Anthony Rizzo?
Why didn’t he start the inning with a well-rested Hunter Strickland?
Why didn’t he give Law a longer inning?
The culture of the bullpen and the pitchers will no doubt be different next year.
The Cubs Will Be a Force in the National League for Years to Come and The Giants Will Need to Make Plans Accordingly
The Cubs are a great team with a great manager. They have an excellent combination of speed and power, solid defense and exceptionally strong starting and relief pitching. They are a thing of beauty to behold from a baseball point of view. They are athletic with phenomenal players like Addison Russell and Javier Baez up the middle. Many players on their bench could be starters on most other Major League teams. The Cubs front office and Theo Epstein crafted a superb blend of veteran talent and young promise. They drafted well. They made excellent trades that paid huge dividends jettisoning favorites like Starlin Castro and acquiring talent like Anthony Rizzo and Aroldis Chapman. I believe they will win the World Series this year and it will be thanks to both their outstanding talent and winning culture. There is no 108 year curse hanging over this team. The Cubs are better in nearly every way than the Giants and it’s time we face that fact if we want to compete with them next year and beyond.
My favorite sports quote of all time comes from Bill Parcells: “You are what your record is.” His point is that fans and writers like to look for justification for losses and consolation prizes for the future. There is no consolation in losing if you are an athlete or coach. It’s winning or nothing and that is how it should be for a champion. It takes cold and hard analysis to build a winner. The Giants were burned by their sentimental signings and use of players who were past their prime and ultimately ineffective in that critical ninth inning (Romo and Lopez).
The Cubs went 7-4 agains the Giants this year. That is a dominant record. Of those eleven games all but three were decided by one run with the Cubs winning four of them. When you continuously lose close games it is tempting to believe that a few breaks here and there would have contributed to better fortunes. The truth is you cannot build a team counting on a few breaks or hoping for good fortune. At some point you have to accept that you are just not good enough. The Giants fought hard and played very well in most of the games but they do not have enough offensive fire power and a strong enough bullpen to beat the Cubs in a short postseason series and no amount of wouldas, couldas, shouldas will change that.
The Giants will need to examine all phases of their team and make some difficult choices if they want to win the World Series with this excellent group of players in the coming years. I do not believe they need a rebuild but they will have to find a lights out closer or develop one. They will also need more power and run production from their lineup. The Giants front office should use the Cubs as the metric for their offseason and design the team to defeat the Cubs in the postseason in much the same way the Red Sox built their 2004 team to defeat the Yankees.
It’s going to be a long offseason. I guess it’s time to break out those World Series DVDs.