The Giants will lose the Wild Card Game
by Bryan Murphy
Two years ago, I asked a simple question: "Should the Giants even try to win the Wild Card Game?" The point was that even if the Giants survived a one-game playoff in Pittsburgh, they would get their heads bashed in by the Washington Nationals. I neglected to take Matt Williams' managerial style into consideration.
I'm not interested in repeating posts, so I'm not going to wonder if the Giants should even try against the Mets. Let us assume that the Giants, being used to trying this season, will try and try hard to win at Citi Field, all for the privilege of moving on to get swept by the Cubs. Furthermore, let us assume that even years have no tangible effect on the quality of team play. For these reasons, let's look at how the Giants lost the Wild Card Game.
That's right. The Giants have already lost. Why?
1. Home field advantage
While the brief history of the NL Wild Card Game has favored the visiting team (STL @ ATL in 2012, SF @ PIT in 2014, CHC @ PIT last year), a simple majority of the time in the history of the sport, the home team wins. Sure, in a single game, anything can happen. But if something really weird happens and you're the home team, you have to figure that weirdness at home is preferable to weirdness afar because you'll at least have your surroundings to anchor you.
Does Tim Lincecum survive his defensive lapse in game 1 of the 2010 World Series if he's pitching in Arlington? Does Travis Ishikawa rise to the occasion if he's facing Michael Wacha in St. Louis?
The Giants are 16-11 all-time at Citi Field, but a lot of those wins were against really bad Mets teams (I know, I know -- is there any other kind?). The Giants played okay on the road this year, and they've even played this current iteration of the Mets okay. They've played OK traveling east, too. Maybe the odds for the 2016 version of the Giants are 50-50 at worst, but taking into consideration the entire history of sports, the fluky-small sample size of success on the road in this Wild Card format suggests that a road team will probably not win.
2. Baseball actually makes a lot of sense
Even year sorcery, #beliEVEN, fiery speeches from an intergalactic representative ... there's this sense that the tyranny of history has no power over the postseason. Except when it does. I submit that the flukiness of the postseason includes that "broken clock is right twice a day"-level of random chance: sometimes the stuff that makes total sense over the course of a season makes total sense in the heat of a single game.
Better records, home field advantage, favorable or unfavorable matchups... sometimes, these things actually do matter in terms of the outcome of the game. But the Mets and Giants wound up with identical 87-75 records! The Mets' home record is worse than the Giants'. The Giants scored more runs than the Mets and allowed only 14 more runs than the Mets. The Giants beat the crap out of their division while the Mets struggled against the mighty Nationals and the white-flighty Braves in theirs.
But the Mets are hosting this one and that matters. The Giants' good fortune since 2010 do not set the stage for perpetual good fortune. The home team winning makes sense, even if the visiting team might actually have the edge in some key categories. Terry Collins is a below-average manager over the course of a season, while Bruce Bochy is an above-average manager. In a single game, the opposite can be true.
It doesn't makes sense that baseball doesn't always make sense, because the majority of the time, it makes a whole lot of sense.
3. Strengths are suddenly liabilities
Because it is currently impossible to measure the effect of coaching, our baseball hivemind assumes coaches have zero impact on the outcome. Players play. Coaches are just there to remind us that Major League Baseball should replace humans with robots. Therefore, Roberto Kelly's chronic brain fartery throughout the season is dismissed out of hand. But even if baseball players at the major league level have their coaches on block like the Christmas episode of Black Mirror, in a single game, those invisible coaches can ruin everything.
Have you ever tripped over something you didn't know was in your path? Have you ever walked into a window because you didn't recognize in time that it was glass? Roberto Kelly can be the spotless glass, The ottoman to the Giants' Dick Van Dyke. And if you can't accept that a third-base coach can impact the outcome of a game, then may I suggest the manager who makes pitching changes?
Bruce Bochy is a better manager when he has to make fewer decisions. In fairness to the future Hall of Famer, human beings are better creatures when they have to make fewer decisions. Having options reduces anxiety, sure, but the anxiety of a moment -- when a quick decision based on the luxury of multiple options snaps suddenly and harshly into focus -- can lead to mistakes. Bochy's a genius when Madison Bumgarner pitches a shutout, but his IQ drops with every inning that Bumgarner isn't on the mound.
Pitching changes are a game of Russian roulette, even if you've got the greatest bullpen in the game. You never know who's having an off night. You'll never guess who'll throw the worst mistake pitch. You'll never really know. It's about track records, matchups, and guts. Which are all meaningless in a one game playoff.
4. Noah Syndergaard is better than Madison Bumgarner right now
The Mets eased Syndergaard back into the rotation following an injury earlier in the season while the Giants have had the pedal down on Bumgarner since Opening Day.
The final month of Bumgarner's 2016 featured one of the greatest self-owns in baseball history. It resulted in t-shirts and, more importantly, Yasiel Puig winning hearts & minds of baseball fans. Bumgarner was also battered by the San Diego Padres' AAA affiliate. All of this after a 2015 season that ended with Bruce Bochy publicly acknowledging that all the marvelous innings from the brilliant end to 2014 had finally caught up with him. Did Bumgarner's blowup at Puig, and subsequent removal from a game in which he was throwing a one-hitter, signal that his ace was running out of gas at season's end for a second consecutive season?
The bad stat ERA favors Syndergaard by over a run in September (2.83 to 3.92) and the batting average on balls in play suggests that Bumgarner has been really lucky in this regard while Syndergaard has been a bit unlucky. Like the two teams, there are a lot of similarities between the Giant and the Met, but the very slight edge goes to Syndergaard here.
5. Yoenis Cespedes
He's what Madison Bumgarner thinks Yasiel Puig is: a soulless killing machine of baseball talent, and one that will look so good while embarrassing you in front of huge crowds, that pitchers can only imagine it's intentional.
Cespedes is in that strata of superstar the Giants haven't had since Barry Bonds. Buster Posey represents the Disney version of a superstar, but Cespedes' talent brings all sorts of people together to watch -- even if they don't like baseball, they can't help but get caught up in that power, defense, and charm.
He's also one of the few players in baseball who can beat an entire team by himself. The Giants are countering him with their own one-man wrecking machine, but as indicated above, it might not be an even match here.
6. Bobby J. Jones
Finally, the Giants will lose today because when the Giants play the Mets, weird stuff happens. John Franco can strike out Barry Bonds looking, Bobby J. Jones can pitch a one-hit shutout, and designated hitter Aubrey Huff can play second base.
Sure, Chris Heston can come out of nowhere to pitch a no-hitter at Citi Field against Noah Syndergaard, but this is baseball: anything can happen. And the one thing that has yet to happen to these Giants is the bitter taste of defeat. Running into a team with their own gilded path. The Mets mowed down the mighty Cubs last year. The Mets, by virtue of filling the void of NL baseball after the Giants left New York, to the extent that the orange in their uniform is meant to signify the Giants, are the Giants' baseball cousins. The '69 Amazin' Mets, '86 Cocaine Mets, and '00 Timo Perez Mets rival the '10 Renteria Giants, '12 Scutaro Giants, and '14 MadBum Giants.
These baseball cousins share a bloodline of thorn-in-sides, not-s'posedtah-wins, and "Seriously, that guy beat us?". So, the Giants were bound to lose this one. In fact, for all these reasons, they've already lost. But you should still watch the game, if only to be a completionist. You suffered through 3 months of really bad baseball. The least you could do is watch them lose on national television one last time.
Bryan Murphy is a dingus, and the Giants should probably play the damned game
by Grant Brisbee
Thank you, Bryan. First, I want to apologize for calling you an "ignorant slut" two years ago. It was a Saturday Night Live reference, but it was also from the '70s, when it wasn't common for people to think about gender-based insults and how language matters. You were an ignorant ass, and I'm sorry. You were also a dingus.
Still a dingus, I see. I know that some of you think that I make Bryan write this stuff just to set me up. Like he's the patsy, and I get to swoop in on my pegasus of reason and faith and make up for it. That's not true. Bryan actually writes this crap unbidden and DMs me with, "Hey, wrote something for the site." Then I have to stop what I'm doing to respond.
Anyway, the Giants might lose tonight. There's no pretending otherwise. They lost when Madison Bumgarner was matched up against Dan Straily and Luis Perdomo, so it's entirely possible that Noah Syndergaard will be just too tough for the hitters to handle. The Giants haven't been eliminated from the postseason in 12 years, and it's possible tonight is the night.
It's just hard to imagine a Giants fan being this self-defeating and eeyorical before the game even starts. I get down on the team, too, don't get me wrong. There are times, at 11:00 at night after another blown loss, when I don't want to write sunshiney things about them. Baseball seasons are long, games are long, and there are times when giving up is way, way easier.
But as a permanent worldview regarding the Giants? It has to be exhausting.
Forget Cody Ross against Roy Halladay, forget Edgar Renteria, forget Brandon Belt in the 18th inning with the candlestick and shoulders that slumped in triumph. Forget Travis Ishikawa as your default example of baseball eating the entire bowl of pills, It all happened, it was real, and it was unexpected.
I keep going back to this:
Forget the bunt single, which was one of my favorite Giants moments ever. Just think about Barry Zito starting an elimination game against a Cardinals team that was much stronger against left-handed pitchers. Think about them still needing two wins after that, then go right back to Zito starting in the first place.
His ERA+ that year was 85.
His ERA was 4.15, 61st out of 88 qualified starters, and that's before you get to park effects.
And please pay special attention to my favorite part: He was starting that game because nobody trusted Madison Bumgarner. This is not something I've invented to make the story better. Bumgarner looked so worn, so tired, that it wasn't just reasonable for Zito to start, but it was preferable.
Then the Giants had to win two more games after that. Then Zito was matched up with Justin Verlander in his prime, and they won that too.
One of these years, this kind of bullshit won't work. Like, oh, this year. And when it's happening, you might have a feeling of dread in your stomach. Don't chase it away. You can't just think of Zito against the Cardinals and never be nervous about baseball again. He's not an eternal guard against the typical pessimism of a fan. Ninety-seven percent of baseball teams have a moment of ultimate failure every year. You're right to be scared. It's coming for us, just like it's coming for all teams.
To buy a condo right in the middle of that fear, though, is weird. To open the curtains every morning and allow yourself to be enveloped in that fear is weird. The best part about being a Giants fan is that before it happens, you have the luxury of shrugging your shoulders and saying, "This looks bad, but Barry Zito" or "This looks bad, but Travis Ishikawa" or "This looks bad, but Cody Ross" or "This looks bad, but Ryan Vogelsong" or "This looks bad, but Hunter Pence hitting a ball three times with one swing" or "This looks bad, but Ian Kinsler's home run hitting the top of the fence and bouncing back" or "This looks bad, but Sergio Romo freezing Miguel Cabrera with a fastball" or "This looks bad, but Brooks Conrad" or "This looks bad, but Aubrey Huff" or "This looks bad, but Yusmeiro Petit" or about 49 other examples.
While everything's going south? Grumble.
After everything's gone south? Grumble.
It's your right as a fan. And the sheer vastness of every major league season means that you don't have to feel guilty about the letdown, even if you are well aware that Giants fans are spoiled. It can still feel awful.
But before it all starts? Nah, I'll savor these moments. It's when you can use the thoughts of Giants past as a talisman to ward all the creepy stuff away. Because Barry Zito beat the Cardinals that one time, I'm a gonna feel okay with Madison Bumgarner starting in a one-game playoff.
Also, Bryan, you're fired. Pack your shit, and if you're thinking about taking anything, know that Doug will be watching you the whole time. Thanks for all the hard work over the years, but more importantly, thank you for absolutely nothing. Dingus.