Tim and John S already proved their baseball knowledge by issuing World Series predictions that were proven wrong within moments of the series starting. Now, with Game 3 moments away, they reconvene to discuss the series in progress.
TIM: Two games into the World Series, John, and as everyone expected, the Giants are just bludgeoning the Rangers’ pitching. I don’t think I’m telling any tales out of school when I say that everyone knew Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson could handle the Yankees, but neither one really stood any chance against this San Francisco lineup, right?
JOHN: Surely nobody expected Cliff Lee and his 1.26 postseason ERA to shut down a lineup that included Juan Uribe and Freddy Sanchez, but did anyone expect a dazzling 5.2 IP, 4 ER shutdown performance from Tim Lincecum? In all honesty, I think a lot of people were prepared for that matchup to disappoint after the relative anticlimax that was Lincecum-Halladay, but it was obviously shocking to see Lee pulled in the 5th for Darren O’Day. I think what Game 1 showed, though, was why the idea of a “great postseason pitcher” is kind of a flawed notion. Most of the time, Lee has excellent control and is masterful, but when he starts missing spots, even slightly as he did in Game 1 (only 1 BB and 1 HBP), he becomes a mediocre pitcher. The reason his playoff numbers were so great was that he simply hadn’t had a game like in the playoffs yet.
TIM: Well, I think you can say it shows why the idea of calling Cliff Lee a “great postseason pitcher” is flawed, but not the concept in and of itself — with the caveat, of course, that most great postseason pitchers are great pitchers, period. Even the best postseason pitchers — such as Bob Gibson and Curt Schilling — have had bad outings somewhat like Lee’s the other night. One bad outing may hurt his reputation, but it doesn’t tarnish it.
Let’s talk about that Giants’ infield. Coming into this series, I mean, that trio of Sanchez, Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe had to be the worst in World Series history, right? Name me one worse.
JOHN: Hmm, this is tricky but I’m sure we can come up with someone: There’s the 2006 Detroit infield, that included Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, and Placido Polanco (who was pretty bad that year). This is somewhat surprising, but the 2001 Diamondbacks also had a pretty bad one, with a decrepit Matt Williams, Craig Counsell, and Tony Womack. You can make arguments for at least those three, but this Giants one is certainly in the conversation. Let’s not forget, though, that Renteria is the only active player with a walk-off RBI in a World Series Game 7…
What’s been the most surprising, though, is not that the Giants have scored so many runs with contributions from those three guys, but that those three are really the ones carrying the team. If I’d told you that the Giants would score 20 runs in these first two games, then you probably would have guessed that Buster Posey would have a big series, but he only has two hits. Even Aubrey Huff has only 2 RBI. If you’re an optimistic Giants fan, then you think this means the team can hit even better. If you’re a cynic, then you probably realize that this kind of offense is likely unsustainable for the whole series.
Do you see the Giants setting the scoring record for a four-game sweep?
TIM: Gene Larkin isn’t active anymore?
Also, Brandon Inge is great, haven’t you heard? Renteria has that GWRBI, but Craig Counsell has the game-tying one and the game-winning run in that same series. And Matt Williams was at least a has-been, rather than a never-was. I will say this: Juan Uribe is 150% better as a defender than you would expect by looking at him.
If you’d told me the Giants would score 20 runs in the first two games of the series, I would have wittily rebutted with, “Now, this is the baseball team we’re talking about.” And no, I don’t expect San Francisco to start hitting even better with Huff and Posey coming along. I expect them to score fewer than 20 runs in the three games in Texas, not least because Huff and Posey has to be the least intimidatingly named middle-of-the-order duo in the history of the National League.
JOHN: Yeah, I’m inclined to agree that this offensive outburst is more of a statistical anomaly than anything else. I mean, just look at Game 2: That was a 2-0 game until the eighth inning, when a Posey single was followed by four consecutive walks and a seeing-eye single from Renteria. By the time the Giants got its first extra base hit of the inning (a triple from Aaron Rowand, of all people), the score was already 6-0.
What kind of got lost in all the runs San Francisco scored was how great Matt Cain was again. For all the talk about Halladay’s no-hitter, Lincecum’s 14 K game, and Lee’s best postseason ever, you can make a pretty strong argument that Cain has been the best pitcher in this postseason (even if his advanced stats aren’t impressive).
I think the big question is whether or not Sanchez pitches like Game 2 Sanchez, or Game 6 Sanchez tonight.
TIM: Yeah, Cain has pretty much been Kenny Rogers – the mysterious smudge on his palm. When we did a draft of LCS starters a few weeks back, Cain went ninth. That’d probably be different now, advanced stats be damned. (You know I do dabble in advanced stats, but I don’t really know how you can wonder if Cain’s success is “sustainable” if you’re The New York Times there; he’s been very consistent throughout his starting career.)
One of the guys I said I’d take ahead of him was Sanchez, who I still have confidence in tonight. I have conflicting emotions on what’s going to happen tonight, though: I want to say that the rest of the series hinges on Sanchez’s performance. If he pitches well, the Giants could sweep. If he doesn’t, the Rangers can get right back in it. At the same time, I think he’ll pitch pretty well and still lose.
How big a factor do you think getting back to Arlington will be for the Rangers, first for the lift of a presumably raucous crowd, second in getting back to a hitter’s park, and third in getting their DH back?
JOHN: In order of importance, I’d say it goes 1) getting their DH back, 2) getting back to a hitter’s park, 3) playing in front of a raucous home crowd. I don’t mean to discount the importance of a home crowd, or to imply that Texas fans aren’t good, but the Rangers were 2-4 at home in the Division Series and LCS, so it’s not clear to me how much fans lift their game.
On the other hand, losing Guerrero in Game 2 (and, for that matter, playing him in the field in Game 1) was a big liability. The only real threat the Rangers staged in Game 2 came in the sixth inning, when Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler each popped up with runners on second and third. Texas really missed Guerrero’s bat in that inning–it was a 1-0 game and that point, and the inning could have swung the whole game in the Rangers’ favor. I’d say that getting back to a hitter’s park is important, but Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner are both actually better on the road than at home, so I don’t think it’ll be a huge issue.
Like you, actually, I expect Sanchez to pitch well (after all, he didn’t pitch THAT poorly in Game 6), but I think the game will come down to two people on Texas: Colby Lewis and Ron Washington. The two big questions tonight: Will Lewis pitch like he did in the ALCS? Will Washington mismanage his bullpen again in a close game?
TIM: I’m intrigued to see how Lewis pitches. I think the Yankees helped him out a lot in that Game 6; they weren’t as disciplined at the plate and seemed to panic once they fell behind. Of course, that’s kind of how the Giants offense operates regularly, so we’ll see.
I have to admit that I fell asleep during that interminable eighth inning on Thursday night. But what is the big deal with not pitching Feliz there? It’s the eighth inning of a game you’re losing. No manager uses his closer there. You can argue that managers should use their closer there, but that’s more of an ingrained, systemic argument. We saw Joe Girardi do the same thing in Game 3 of the ALCS, with almost exactly the same result. At a certain point, you admit defeat in the game and move on. What’s the problem with that?
JOHN: Yeah, I mean, it’s one thing for if the Rangers are at home–you see managers bring closers into non-save situations a lot more once the possibility for a save is gone–but you’re right that it’s generally the conventional move not to use your closer there. On the other hand, I think it SHOULD be the conventional move (I thought Girardi not using Rivera in Game 3 of the ALCS was a big mistake), so I’m glad people have been killing Washington. Just because something is the conventional move doesn’t make it right.
Plus, I think a lot of the criticisms stem from Washington’s perplexing use of his bullpen throughout the postseason. In that eighth inning, for example, it wasn’t just that he didn’t use Feliz, but the changes he made throughout the inning. Bringing in Darren O’Day was fine, especially when he struck the first two batters out, but pulling him for Holland after one single doesn’t make a lot of sense. I get that the next batter, Nate Schierhotlz, was a lefty, but A) Holland is not a lefty-specialist–he’s a sometime starter/longman, so bringing him in the middle of an inning is unusual, and B) Schierholtz, in addition to not being that good, is basically as good against lefties as he is against righties. Not only was the decision to bring Holland in confusing, but leaving him in for three batters, all of whom he walked, the first two on four pitches each, was just as strange.
Even then, though, the game was close enough that I think bringing in Feliz makes sense. It was 3-0, and if you get out of that jam right there you give your offense a decent chance to come back and, at the very least, you make Bochy use Wilson for the second day in a row. And what’s really the down side of using Feliz there? He hadn’t pitched in Game 1, and now if you use him in Game 3 he will have gone a full week without pitching. The last time he pitched after so much time off was Game 2 of the ALCS, when he walked two of the five batters he faced.
TIM: I think that brings us to Prediction Time, for tonight and the rest of the series. My specific prediction for this evening was kind of spoiled by what I said earlier, but here goes: Sanchez allows three runs in six-plus innings while Colby Lewis surrenders two in five rocky frames. The Texas bullpen has a bounceback performance, with O’Day and Oliver each coming through as bridges to Feliz, who appears with two outs in the eighth nursing a 4-2 lead—given on a Nelson Cruz double against Sergio Romo in the seventh. (Sanchez will start the frame against Mitch Moreland, allowing a base hit. Santiago Casilla will retire Elvis Andrus but not Michael Young, and Javier Lopez will walk Josh Hamilton to load the bases with one out. Romo will be brought in, and he will strike out Guerrero before serving up the two-run double to Cruz.)
As for the series, the big question is whether these Giants are closer to the 1990 Reds or the 1996 Braves—both teams that got off to somewhat one-sided 2-0 starts. Cincinnati cruised to the stunning sweep of the A’s; the Braves, not so much. My hope, even as I’m rooting for the Giants in the series, is that Texas not only wins tonight, but takes all three in Arlington, setting up a tense Games 6 and 7 at AT&T Park, where the Giants come back to win the series in a thrilling seventh game. Too much to ask?
JOHN: Yeah, probably. I don’t really see the Rangers making this a very competitive series for the simple reason that, unlike the 1996 Yankees that rebounded from a similar start, this Texas team hasn’t been one that wins close games. Their average margin of victory in the postseason is over 5.5 runs, and none of their wins have come by fewer than four runs. Basically, the Rangers have won this October in one of two ways: Either Cliff Lee pitches great, or the opposing team’s starter pitches poorly and gets knocked out early. Lee is only pitching once more this series (if at all), and the Giants simply don’t have bad starters. Their best chance to make this competitive is knocking Sanchez out early tonight, but I don’t see that happening. Lewis may keep them close, but I see more of Washington’s bullpen mismanagement backfiring again, this time possibly blowing a lead. San Francisco wins tonight 5-3, and the Giants close it out tomorrow.