Besides October being a perfect month to drink pumpkin spice lattes and watch the Dodgers lose in the playoffs, it also holds a lot of awesome memories for Giants fans. On October 11, my Facebook memories reminded me of two great Giants moments from that date. One was when the Giants finished off the Braves in the 2010 NLDS, a very tense series full of one-run games. The most important, of course, is the one from the image above: It was the day that Buster Posey’s grand slam off Cincinnati pitcher Mat Latos broke open the deciding game of the 2012 NLDS.
Bochy vs. Dusty
Where this memory intersects with this week is that 11 years later, managers Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker, now both with different teams, are headed for a postseason rematch. Because both are now former Giants managers, we’re all paying attention, but of course, that 2012 NLDS was the first time their teams faced each other in the playoffs. Now, Dusty is a great manager who like Bochy is absolutely going to be in the Hall of Fame. He has taken five different teams to the postseason. But until last year, when his Astros finally won him a ring, the knock on his managerial career was that his teams flamed out in the playoffs. I always thought the scrutiny was unfair, and it was especially ridiculous that the Nationals fired him after two seasons in which they’d won 95+ games in the regular season but got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, what we all remember is the crushing ending of the 2002 World Ser–sorry, too soon. (Let’s also remember that the Giants had to win their last eight games to even grab the wild card spot on the final day, that they knocked out the heavily favored Braves in the NLDS, and that the Giants along with the Angels that year were the first wild card teams to ever make it to the World Series. Dusty had a pretty fine year in 2002.)
Anyway, back to the current matchup. MrLefty and I were talking about that 2012 series and trying to remember if Dusty made any awful mistakes in that very exciting series in which the Giants rallied from an 0-2 series deficit and won three straight games in Cincinnati to save their season…which later ended with a parade down Market Street. The main thing I came up with is that in that decisive Game 5, after Posey’s slam gave the Giants a 6-0 lead, the Reds were rallying an inning or two later off Matt Cain, with a couple runs in and runners on first and second with one out. Dusty called for a double steal that ended in a strikeout/throw out double play when Posey nailed the runner at third. (That may have been Buster’s single most important game as a Giant, particularly when you remember that he also had to get Sergio Romo through the excruciating at-bat with Jay Bruce in the bottom of the ninth.) Anyway, the Reds had Cain on the ropes, and the ill-fated double steal attempt killed the rally. The other thing we remembered was that Reds ace Johnny Cueto (there’s some foreshadowing) was injured about eight pitches into Game 1 (a game we were at) which scrambled the Reds’ rotation for the whole series. That, of course, was bad luck, not “Dusty’s fault.”
This all-Texas ALCS should be a great matchup. The Rangers have the mojo after sweeping through their wild card round and then sweeping the top seed Orioles in the ALDS. They have Bochy in the dugout. They won exactly the same number of games as the Astros did, with the Astros winning the AL West by virtue of a tiebreaker. As for the Astros–this is their seventh consecutive appearance in the ALCS, they’ve been there, done that, and first-round byes don’t seem to slow them down, either. Momentum vs history. Two future Hall of Famers in opposing dugouts. It should be fascinating to watch.
The NLCS: Who vs. Whom?
Like we all predicted back in March, the NLCS is a matchup of two wild card teams, the Phillies and the Diamondbacks. Not a Met, Cardinal, Padre, Dodger, Brave, or Brewer to be seen.
Ha ha ha. I didn’t even predict this last week. Indeed, I crashed and burned on three of my four NLCS predictions, getting only the Astros right. Now, maybe it’s not too surprising that the Phillies are back in the NLCS. They were in the World Series last year, jumping all the way from the bottom NL seed to the NL pennant. I would like to know why the MLB.com page promoting the NLCS has Trea Turner as the face of the Phillies and not Bryce Harper. I mean, seriously. But the 84-win Diamondbacks sweeping through the Brewers (92 wins) and the Dodgers (100 wins) to get to the NLCS is just flat-out stunning. I love it and not just because the Snakes humiliated the Dodgers. It’s a great story, and I am here for it.
I’m nonetheless predicting that the Phillies will win the NL pennant for the second year in a row, and I think there’s a good chance that the World Series will be a rematch of 2022 (Phillies/Astros). But given how wrong I’ve been so far, I’m sure we’ll all enjoy the Diamondbacks-Rangers World Series.
The Giants’ Manager Search
As we reported here last week, the Giants interviewed internal candidates for manager, and the sense is that Mark Hallberg emerged as the leading possibility. I’m not terribly surprised by this. While I think Ron Wotus would be a great choice for a variety of reasons, it seemed unlikely that Farhan Zaidi would go there. He’s clearly a guy with a big ego, and replacing his hand-picked guy (Gabe Kapler) with a link to past regimes in Wotus might feel like he’s losing too much face. Conversely, going with Kapler’s right-hand guy, Kai Correa, might not seem like enough of a change in a situation that clearly calls for one. So…Hallberg. As I mentioned in the comments last night, it’s unfair to dismiss Hallberg as “Kapler’s guy.” Hallberg was already a manager in the organization (for short-season Low A affiliate Salem-Keizer) before Zaidi or Kapler arrived and was considered an up-and-coming young coach/manager. And, of course, Hallberg has ties to one of the Giants’ owners, having been a roommate and teammate of one Gerald D. “Buster” Posey at Florida State back in the day. Indeed, a story a few years back by Andrew Baggarly argued that Hallberg indirectly deserves some credit for Posey becoming a catcher. Posey had been an All-American shortstop in his freshman year at Florida State, but then Hallberg, also a shortstop, arrived, and the FSU coach put on his thinking cap and approached Buster about converting to catching, and the rest is history.
So there are some solid reasons why Hallberg is the top internal candidate, assuming the rumors are true. But that doesn’t mean he’s getting the job. The top external candidates remain guys like Stephen Vogt and Donnie Ecker, for reasons also outlined here last week. However, Andrew Baggarly, in his latest piece for The Athletic, also teased that Padres manager Bob Melvin might still be in play. He explained that the Padres didn’t want to fire Melvin and have to pay him the $4 million still on his contract for next year. They’d rather another team took over that contract, so they might actually trade him. I know some of you don’t want Melvin, but I think he’d be a fantastic hire for the Giants, the right guy for the right moment, just like another Padres manager who was still under contract turned out to be back in 2007 (Bochy, of course).
Here’s a nagging little fear in the back of my mind: Dave Roberts finally takes the fall for another Dodgers October failure. In my opinion, he did a great job this year and is in no way to blame for three former MVPs (Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman) crashing and burning in their three-game sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks or for the Dodgers’ rotation being so decimated by injuries and legal troubles that the guy who led the majors in giving up homers was Roberts’ best option in an elimination game. (And yes, he left Lance Lynn in too long. So there’s that.) But in the same way Kapler was the fall guy for Zaidi’s incompetence and ownership’s penny-pinching, maybe Roberts gets the ax to take the heat off Andrew Friedman. And then maybe Zaidi, who never saw an ex-Dodger he didn’t like, jumps at Roberts, just like he jumped at Kapler in 2019 five minutes after the Phillies fired him.
Dave Roberts is a nice guy and an ex-Giant. I don’t want him to be the manager of the Giants. I think he’s (a) not a very good tactician but (b) would just knuckle under to Zaidi (as he does to Friedman). He’s a more charming version of Kapler and maybe not even quite as bright. So no thanks. If the Dodgers let Doc go, someone will hire him, but I hope it’s not the Giants.
It will be interesting to see how this managerial search plays out. I agree with Baggs that they absolutely will try to get it done by the time the World Series is over, with free agency starting five days after that. Any free agent worth considering would want to know whom they’d be playing for.
Baseball This Week
NFL be damned, the ALCS begins tomorrow (Sunday) on Fox, and then the NLCS starts Monday on TBS. There will be two games per day on Monday and Thursday (and then a couple more if necessary). Should keep us busy between football games and while we wait for the Giants to hire a manager. Here’s video of 2022 first-round pick Reggie Crawford hitting an inside-the-park homer yesterday in the Arizona Fall League. Stay tuned for more breaking news! Lefty out.