The Giants were supposed to be good this year. That's one of the forgotten parts of this troll-the-world narrative that I'm gleefully pushing on you, or the they're-just-lucky narrative you'll be slapped upside the head with for the next 10 years if they win one more game, or the Bochy-is-an-all-time-great narrative that will never, ever die. The Giants were supposed to be good. They had expectations. We had expectations. Maybe they weren't the favorites in the division, but making the playoffs was a realistic scenario.
In just about every scenario I could have concocted, though, the Giants needed Matt Cain to have a fantastic season. His second half was outstanding last year, as good as his first half was lousy. He was supposed to keep that momentum going into this season and be the same pitcher he was for his first eight seasons.
Instead, in a game that could win the World Series, the Giants will turn to the Matt Cain they fashioned out of twigs and mud because they had no other choice.
Jake Peavy is the Giants' best chance to win a World Series in 2014. This is not a sentence that makes sense. Don't even bother looking at how the team got here, and just focus on that one sentence. Peavy (former Padres nemesis, who once won a Cy Young, but now pitches like an even pissier Ryan Vogelsong, if that's possible) is on the Giants now, and he's pitching a potential clincher. He's better than 2002 Russ Ortiz and Livan Hernandez, but not as good as 2010 Tim Lincecum or 2012 Cain. He's the median, the midpoint between the last four World Series clinchers.
Let's explore the different scenarios:
This is Peavy pitching as well as he can possibly pitch, going deep into the game and removing the yoke from Bruce Bochy's hands. Did you know that after Peavy came over to the Giants, he threw at least five innings in all 12 of his starts? He pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his last 11 starts, including five of his six in August. He was really good, exceptionally reliable for a bit. Like, right over there. It wasn't that long ago.
2. Slave to the grind
Peavy has never made it out of the sixth inning in eight postseason starts, though, and his teams have combined for a 2-6 record. That includes two starts from when he was Cy Young Peavy, the reason the Padres were there in the first place. When he's been at his best in the playoffs, it's still been a grind. He walked three in 5⅔ stressful innings against the Nationals in this year's NLDS, and that might have been the best postseason start of his career. In his last two starts, one against the Cardinals and one against the Royals, he's thrown 142 pitches. Batters swung and missed six times.
That's unusual, though. He usually has just a touch more swing and miss in him. Still, this is the likeliest outcome: Peavy is workable, but less than perfect, and he gives the Giants five innings, keeping them just close enough to keep your nerve vomit coming at its regularly scheduled pace.
Peavy doesn't have a short leash. In the place of a leash, he has Bruce Bochy's hands almost around his neck, and Bochy's saying, "I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you," but completely ready to yank him by the throat back to the dugout. If the Royals get their second run by the third inning, I'm guessing it would be a Petit déjeuner at that point. Bonds help us all.
The good news is that Peavy isn't exactly a mercurial pitcher. You'll know within a couple batters if he has the command he needs to annoy the Royals. In his last outing, he spent a lot of time furiously shaking Buster Posey off, only to miss the eventual target regularly.
There isn't a lot of ambiguity, here. Peavy is probably the Giants' second-best starting pitcher, depending on how optimistic you are with Yusmeiro Petit. But Petit threw three innings on Sunday, so even if you wanted to play second-guessy with Bochy -- and, oh, man, how some of you badly want to play that game -- that hampers the argument. This isn't a tired Livan Hernandez against a power-hitting team designed to punish him. This isn't Jerome Williams instead of Jason Schmidt. This alignment makes sense.
Doesn't mean it's not scary, though. Peavy almost certainly isn't as good as his ERA for the Giants would indicate. We're seeing that now. He has to be fine with his command. He has to be incredibly fine. He's had the career path that Tim Lincecum would have had if Lincecum had command in the first place, but command and deception is all Peavy has right now. If the Giants win the World Series on Tuesday, it will take a combination of luck, surprise, and skill.
Which is how the Giants are here in the first place. Don't sneeze at luck, surprise, and skill. Here's hoping there's just enough left in the mickey-fickey godblessed toothpaste tube.