The illusion was real, the illusion was beautiful. For the last two games, we could pretend that the Giants could play with any of the remaining postseason teams. They had Madison Bumgarner, who is an unstoppable postseason force, and even in the game they lost, they reminded the world they had two excellent pitchers. They even lost one of the games, but we still said, "At least they played well. At least they belonged."
On Saturday night, they didn’t play well. They did not belong. The Giants faced a pitcher who finished the season with a 2.13 ERA over 190 innings, and they countered with Jeff Samardzija, who was given $90 million to not be Matt Cain. And that’s the kind of scenario in which baseball can get very, very normal.
This was the kind of game that lets us look back at last night’s game with even more regret. If the Giants got two doubles, a grounder to the right side, and a fly ball to deep center last night, they would have won. Sounds so simple. Two doubles at the right time, two of the right kind of outs, and Johnny Cueto’s excellent pitching is rewarded. Instead, that sequence came in the game where the Cubs had four runs before the end of the second inning.
If you think I’m suggesting the Giants were unlucky, please. It’s suggesting that they haven’t screwed with baseball’s source code, which is what we’re used to in the postseason. When it doesn’t happen, it makes you realize just how overmatched the Giants might be.
Consider that the Cubs as a team had an adjusted ERA of 128 this year. Jake Arrieta had an adjusted ERA of 129. That means that for every inning of every game, regardless of who was throwing, it was like Jake Arrieta was on the mound. For 1,459 innings, they had Jake Arrieta was pitching, from the top to the bottom of their staff.
The Giants? Well ...
THE GIANTS used SAMARDZIJA
It’s not very effective ...
Now, this isn’t a eulogy yet. Could the Giants win two home games against the Cubs, then win one in Wrigley Field? Sure they could. If you’re using the Front Page of the New York Times Test, it passes. The Giants winning three games in a row against a team, any team, might be surprising, and it might be very surprising if they do it against the best team in baseball, but that’s as far as it goes. The 2012 Reds were probably the better team.
Right. And then the Giants won three games in Cincinnati. It can happen. Madison Bumgarner is pitching the next game, and Matt Moore is probably okay, and then there’s Johnny Cueto again.
This is the game that reminds you just how flawed this particular team is when Bumgarner and Cueto aren’t on the mound, though. Samardzija is the kind of pitcher who might rack up 16 wins for the Red Sox, a team that could score enough to overcome his erratic Dr. Stuff/Mr. Results personality. But he’s often a lousy pitcher for a team that has trouble scoring more than two runs. Even when he pitches fantastically, he can lose. That’s just the lineup around him.
Denard Span is tired. Brandon Belt is probably fine, but he does have bouts of narcolepsy. Buster Posey is tired and/or broken. Hunter Pence is tired. Brandon Crawford is tired. Angel Pagan is tired. Joe Panik is tired. Conor Gillaspie is, well, Conor Gillaspie, and we should appreciate his home run even more. This isn’t a lineup that can overcome a bad outing from the starting pitcher. Not against an excellent team with an intimidating 1-through-12 pitching staff, at least.
But the formula remains the same. Pitch well. Hit just enough. Play excellent defense (in the infield!) and take advantage of mistakes. It’s still possible. The 2014 Giants couldn’t have faked it like these Giants need to. They were a good but imperfect team that stumbled into some dunderheaded managerial moves and sketchy pitching staffs (after the Nationals) at just the right time.
This year’s team, at least when it comes to the starting pitching, is better than that team. They’re better equipped to win three in a row against an excellent opponent. They just need the lineup to score just enough. The pitchers need to be perfect. It’s not likely. But I’d rather face these odds than the odds the Cardinals are facing right now.
In retrospect, Conor Gillaspie should have hit a solo homer on Wednesday and a two-run homer on Friday.
As is, the Giants are kind of hosed. They need to reach deep, deep, deep into their fanny pack of even-year bullshit and see what they can dig up. I’m not expecting this to end well.
But I’ll definitely watch.
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The Giants’ bullpen has a 1.50 ERA this offseason.
That makes me mad for some reason, even if it makes sense in context.
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Hunter Pence trying to make a backs-against-the-wall speech is like Blade Runner 2049. Maybe it works? But, dude, your masterpiece is back there, and it’s so very obviously your masterpiece. I don’t see how it works again. There’s no way it can have the same impact.
But I want someone to record him trying, please.
I didn’t think Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be good, either.
Maybe. Just maybe.
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The hair has become sentient. pic.twitter.com/XucplflQUt— Mighoul Clair (@michaelsclair) October 9, 2016
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I still like this team and I still like baseball, now go away.