In the National League Championship Series, after a full season of hitting their way to a division title, the San Francisco Giants could not hit.
There are a lot of story lines you could choose. The return of the new Tim Lincecum, whom we didn't miss at all. The sloppy defense. A bullpen that picked a bad time to fail. But, no, the real story is the dastardly, villainous offense. After worrying we were going to watch this kind of offensive display all season, there was a reprieve. The offense was quite good for most of the year, especially in the last two months of the season. It was the starting pitching that was shaky. That was a little unexpected, sure, but everything was portioned out well enough to get the team to 94 wins.
And in the NLCS, the Giants couldn't hit.
Worse, it's been the same kind of can't-hit that plagued the Giants early in the season: a lack of hits with runners in scoring position, especially with two outs. The hitting was generally lousy in Game 4 -- five hits! no walks! -- but over the series, the Giants have been miserable with runners on base. If the Giants got to cut Angel Pagan's triple and paste it into Game 3, for example, the series might be tied. And if touching Pablo Sandoval's nipples gave you the weather, he'd be an iPhone. So it goes.
The worst part is that I caused this. For years, I've felt smug about 2002, if only because I knew the secret about that series: The Giants didn't deserve to win. At least, not so quickly. The Cardinals were 3-for-39 with runners in scoring position in the 2002 NLCS. That was horribly unlucky, especially considering the Cardinals were outscored just 23 to 16 in the five games.
I always wondered how frustrating that must have been.
Well … if I had to describe it, I'd say it's really, really frustrating.
The Giants lost a stinker because of a team effort -- really, from hitting to the rotation to defense to the bullpen, everything was awful. But the reemergence of the lineup we were scared of, at exactly the wrong time, was a twist of the knife I didn't really relish.
(Adam Wainwright kind of pitched a helluva game, too, you know. TIP YOUR CAP. Maybe even 20 percent this time.)
Now we can dig into the rest of the awful. There was a button labeled "AWFUL" somewhere in the Giants' clubhouse, and beside it was a sign that read "Don't push! Awful!" And some derelict kept pushing it before the game.
Derelict (probably Brad Penny): HEY THIS BUTTON DOESN'T DO ANYTHING.
Penny: /push push push
Penny: Man, what a stupid button.
Penny: /push push push
And the awful got everywhere. The first inning was a perfect microcosm of Lincecum's season. He left a change-up high in the zone, and it was hit. He walked a guy because he has no semblance of command now. Then he allowed a run-scoring grounder between two infielders because he sure as shit isn't going to get away with anything. Not this year. It all happened before there was an out in the first inning, too. Ta-daaa! Lincecum's 2012!
When there was a debate over Lincecum starting a game in the playoffs, this was exactly the argument against it. In several starts this season -- a sound majority, really -- Lincecum didn't really know where the ball was going. That's not just a walk thing, either. He didn't know where it was going in the strike zone, either. It was hard to watch then. It was hard to watch tonight.
It's going to be an interesting offseason discussion when it comes to Lincecum. Which we'll save for the offseason. Which isn't here yet, dammit. But the Lincecum who dominated the Reds with strikes was the exception to the rule. And the rule kind of stinks.
It's kind of nice to write up a blow out*. I can point things out without worrying about someone thinking I'm trying to blame the loss on one guy. Well, I kind of did up there with Brad Penny, but that's just an educated guess.
I don't want to blame Hector Sanchez for anything. Jeez, no. But when a manager makes a change that weakens both his lineup and defense, it's worth pointing out. And before the playoffs, I was concerned that it wasn't a good idea to play someone who would weaken the lineup and defense. You know, because of baseball reasons.
Now, baseball isn't always so obvious. In a short series, goofy stuff can happen, and in a single game, well, Hector Sanchez can hit a pair of doubles and gun out a runner from his knees. The weakening of the lineup and defense is a long-term thing, with gains and losses throughout a long season adding up to a net loss.
In Game 4, though, everything was sorta just right out there in the open. It wasn't just the three strikeouts and a dribbler down the line. It wasn't just a ball bouncing off Sanchez's closed glove as a crucial run scored. And it wasn't just Posey missing a ball at first that turned into a run in the seventh. It's all of it. If the game had finished 4-3, any of those things could have been the reason why the Giants lost. That's the risk you run when you put a bad hitter in the lineup and weaken two positions defensively.
It probably didn't matter tonight because of what Brad Penny did with that button. But if you were looking for a highlight reel of McCovey Chronicles propaganda, that will do.
*It's not nice
At least Bochy bored the Cardinals fans with his mid-inning pitching changes.
HEY, I HAVE AN IDEA. LET'S KEEP THROWING PETE KOZMA FASTBALLS DOWN THE MIDDLE. LET'S SEE … HE STRUGGLED IN THE MINORS, SO I'LL BET HE JUST DESTROYS BREAKING BALLS. THAT'S HOW THAT WORKS, RIGHT?
I made it through the whole game without finding out the Niners score, and I'm going to watch it now. If the Niners lost tonight, I swear, I will set something on fire, and I don't know what it will be, but it will probably be the exact same shape and size as the convalescent home down the street, not to give anything away.
The Giants need to win three straight again. Ah, hell. It worked once. And this time they get a couple of home games. I don't see what the big deal is.