The Giants have a 9.3-percent chance of defeating the Cubs in three straight games, according to FanGraphs. If you figure that every game is a coin toss, it would be more like an 12.5-percent chance. But the Cubs are better, and there’s no sense pretending they aren’t, so they get the advantage even if the Giants have two home games out of the three possible remaining games.
Really, it feels like the Giants have more of a 9.4-percent chance, which suggests FanGraphs is biased to me, but whatever. My job today is to put a 9.3-percent chance into perspective by looking for other things around baseball that would have a roughly 9.3 chance of happening.
These, then, are the 9.3 percent:
Brandon Crawford taking a walk
Brandon Crawford walks more than the average major-league hitter (by about a percentage point), but he’s not exactly a walking machine. He’s just a solid hitter with a solid eye, and he walks 9.2 percent of the time.
So if you’re rooting for the Giants to do the unthinkable and beat the Cubs three times in a row, think of it like rooting for a Brandon Crawford walk. There are a lot of ways it couldn’t happen. A first-pitch foul is akin to a first-inning run for the Cubs, with the odds shifting away from the desired result immediately. A second-pitch ground out is like blowing Game 3 entirely. Even if Crawford gets to a 3-0 count, all it takes are three fastballs down the middle to mess everything up with a ball in play, and most pitchers can throw fastballs down the middle.
But if it happens, it wouldn’t be like Bengie Molina hitting a triple in his last at-bat to hit the cycle. It’s not like rooting for Jake Peavy to steal home. It’s not even like rooting for Trevor Brown to hit a home run. It would make sense as one of the normal possible outcomes.
"Hey, Brandon Crawford just walked," you would say. "Yeah. He’ll do that about every 10 plate appearances."
George Kontos issuing a walk
Same thing, but from a slightly different perspective. Kontos isn’t a pitcher who walks a lot of batters, and he never has been. He mostly allows the ball to be put in play, and it’s worked for him somehow. But every now and again, he’ll allow a walk. In 9.3 percent of his plate appearances, to be precise.
Happens. And it’s a moderate surprise when it does happen, but nothing shocking. There’s always a chance of it happening, but there’s always a much greater chance of something else happening.
That’s where the Giants are against the Cubs, roughly.
Madison Bumgarner getting an extra-base hit
The best hitting pitcher in baseball gets an extra-base hit in 9.3 percent of his plate appearances. He’s third on the team in XBH%, below Gorkys Hernandez and Brandon Belt, which isn’t a very, very sad stat, no, not at all.
Think about what happens when Bumgarner hits a double or home run at AT&T Park. The place goes wild, absolutely wild. It’s like an actor on a sitcom saying his catch phrase in front of a live studio audience.
Everyone goes wild because, even though Bumgarner is a fantastic hitting pitcher, it’s still pretty rare for him to hit a double or a homer. It makes you feel like you’ve seen something special, something that doesn’t happen all the time.
That’s roughly the reverence we should hold for the Giants winning three games in a row.
Conor Gillaspie swinging and missing
There’s no point beating the point into the ground, so we’ll leave with this one because it also brings up some contrast. When Conor Gillaspie swings, he misses the ball 9.4 percent of the time. This isn’t an extraordinary rate. It’s not a bad rate. He generally makes contact.
Now Gillaspie being on the Giants at all? The odds are low, considering that he already left the organization once. Him getting called up after being sent down in the spring? Decent enough, I suppose. Getting at-bats in October because one third baseman was traded, and the other one is hurt? Now you’re getting into some long, long odds.
Gillaspie hitting a home run against a closer who had allowed one home run all year? Ha ha, now we’re in silly town, and that’s before you multiply all these odds together to get to what happened in the Wild Card Game.
The Giants don’t need that kind of fluke. They just need something as likely as Gillaspie swinging and missing at a pitch, or as likely as Madison Bumgarner hitting a double or homer.
It can happen. It’s just not likely. There are thousands of reasonable, normal scenarios that would spell doom for the Giants’ season. That doesn’t mean there aren’t at least a few reasonable, normal scenarios that would represent good news. I’ll hope for those until further notice.