Results tagged ‘ San Fransisco Giants ’

2010 World Series Primer

World Series 2010 Small Logo.jpgAfter spending the last few days hearing the media churn on relentlessly about the lack of a so-called “marquee presence” to add to the World Series appeal, I think I’m finally ready to do my part and help those with questions to wrap their collective heads around the actual point of the postseason. That being:

The team that keeps winning gets to walk home with the trophy.

It’s a remarkably simple concept. And for a league that has preached the virtues of parity for years, this should be a celebration of sorts.

Years of work to help bridge the gab between MLB’s richest and poorest, and even those stuck in the middle, has finally paid off with a Fall Classic that has historic implications.

Despite the fact that the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants have not been as fortunate in October as the dragons they slayed to get to the World Series, neither team was ready to roll over and allow a rematch of last year’s series.

This World Series matchup contains not only great storylines but also great human interest stories.

For Texas, there is the well-chronicled comeback of Josh Hamilton, followed up by Rangers ownership’s faith in manager Ron Washington, who made some poor personal decisions but was allowed to stay the course and lead his team to the World Series.

For San Francisco, there is the clutch hitting of late season waiver claim Cody Ross, Then there’s the slim margins of victory that have led to a brand of baseball that Giants fans have dubbed as “torture.”

And of course there is Brian Wilson‘s beard.

The two teams are not complete strangers. A 15-7 lifetime Interleague mark favors the Giants, who have won seven games in a row over Texas and claimed victory in 11 of the last 12 regular season battles between the two teams.

After 50 years and two cities in the league, the Rangers started this run through October by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays to win their first postseason series in franchise history. Then they came just one big New York inning away from sweeping the much vaunted Yankees right out of the American League Championship Series.

Mays Catch.jpgStill playing in New York, the Giants last won the World Series in 1954 over the Cleveland Indians. It was in that series against the Tribe that Willie Mays made his historic catch at the old Polo Grounds.

The Giants moved out west in 1958, but have been unsuccessful in three trips to the World Series while in San Fran. A very different Giants club was just five outs away from a winning it all in 2002, before the Anaheim Angels rallied to take Game 6 and then went on to win a decisive Game 7 the next night.

The Rangers first joined the American League in 1965 as the
second incarnation of the Washington Senators, relocating to Texas prior
to the 1972 season.

As you might have gathered, these are two completely different clubs. The Giants are strong on pitching and rely on timely hits, while the Rangers hit the ball with authority, run the bases well and rely on key pitching performances to hold opponents in check.

Texas has left-hander Cliff Lee, one of the biggest weapons on the mound in recent memory. With his October work over the past two seasons, Lee is cobbling together one of the best postseason résumés in the history of baseball.

As good as Lee has been individually, the San Francisco pitching staff has been collectively. Giants hurlers boast a 2.47 ERA in 91 playoff innings and have held opposing hitters to just a .199 average thus far this postseason.

When it comes to offenses, the Rangers appear to have an edge there. Texas hit .276/.338/.419 and scored 787 runs as a club in 2010, while San Francisco’s team slash line was .257/.321/.408 with 697 runs scored.

Since they have the luxury of the designated hitter, the AL team should hold the advantage upon a cursory evaluation of the team offensive statistics. There is a rather vast chasm between the hitting exploits of Vladimir Guerrero and those of Giants pitchers and pinch-hitters. So take it all with a grain of salt.

The Rangers and Giants both hit exactly 162 home runs as a team in regular season. Texas, however, utilizes the speed game more than their NL counterpart, stealing 123 bases to San Francisco’s 55 this year.

Texas has put on a postseason power display while running wild on the basepaths thus far in October. As a team, the Rangers are hitting .281 with 17 homers and 59 runs scored in 11 playoff games. Led by Elvis Andrus‘ seven steals, the Rangers have swiped 15 bases and been caught just twice this postseason. That gives the Texas offense a rare balance of power and speed. 

Offensively, the Giants have not exactly been the biggest run producers in October. Through their first 10 postseason games, San Francisco is hitting .231 as a club and averaging just 3.0 runs per game. Their defining work with the bats seems to come in the clutch, with 15 of the 30 Giants runs coming with two outs in an inning.

Cody Ross has been the man the Giants have turned to throughout the postseason. He’s shown not only a flair for the dramatic, but an ability to give his team a lift when it’s needed the most. Ross has broken up three different playoff no-hitters with solo-homers. His heroics in the NLCS netted Ross series MVP honors.

The Game 1 Pitching Matchup:

Cliff Lee WS.jpgA pair of Cy Young Award winners will lock horns in the opening contest, which pits two distinctly different styles against each other.

Trying to write economically about Cliff Lee’s postseason career is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Where do you start?

How about his absolutely unheard of 34/1 K/BB ratio this postseason. Or maybe his six game postseason winning streak, second only to Bob Gibson in baseball history. Or maybe the fact that Lee (1.26) possesses the third lowest ERA among all pitchers with at least five postseason starts, trailing the likes of Sandy Koufax (0.95) and Christy Mathewson (1.06).

Lee (3-0) tamed the Yankees bats as a member of the Phillies World Series squad last year and did it again for the Rangers in this year’s ALCS. He brings a streak of 14 consecutive scoreless innings into tonight’s start, and has struck out 10 or more batters in each of his three playoff outings with Texas. One more 10+ K performance would give Lee the most in MLB postseason history (6).

Tim Lincecum WS.jpgTim Lincecum has been putting together a fine playoff run of his own for the Giants, twirling a dominating two-hit shut-out against Atlanta in Game 1 of the NLDS before splitting a pair of decisions against the Phillies in the NLCS.

Lincecum (2-1) has piled up 30 strikeouts in 23.1 innings so far this postseason The aptly dubbed “Freak” is a former first round draft choice who has been silencing critics throughout his career. Nine teams passed over the hard throwing yet slightly built Lincecum in the first round of the 2006 draft, fearing his body would never be able to hold up under the incredible strain of his mechanics. If his early results are any indication, Lincecum is doing just fine, thanks.

Two Cy Young Awards later, the 26-year-old Lincecum is anchoring the pitching staff which turned in the best ERA (3.36) in all of baseball this season. Lincecum will need to channel the same kind of electric performance that he turned in against the Braves in the NLDS to get keep the high-powered Rangers offense in check. That makes a nice segway to the…

Series Keys:

San Francisco — The Giants will need more strong pitching from Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and rookie Madison Bumgarner in order to lay the foundation for success in the series. Texas has Hamilton, Guerrero, and Nelson Cruz among other very capable sluggers who can turn the game around with one swing of the bat.

If they can avoid a barrage of Rangers longballs and maintain some semblance of order on the basepaths, then there is a chance that San Francisco could minimize damage long enough for their offense to produce the necessary run support. I wouldn’t count on the bats breaking out in a big way for the duration of the series, but the Giants should be due for at least one big scoring night.

Freshman catcher Buster Posey has made himself right at home in his playoff debut, racking up a franchise rookie record with 11-hits so far this October. Veteran bats Aubrey Huff – who led the Giants in most offensive categories, Pat Burrell – who enjoyed a renaissance after returning to the NL at midseason, and Pablo Sandoval will all need to do their part to help generate the support that Lincecum and company will need.

San Francisco has one of the deepest bullpens in the NL, and have used it to their advantage throughout the playoffs. Anchored by the bearded-wonder Brian Wilson, the Giants got seven scoreless innings out of the pen in the NLCS clinching win against Philadelphia. Suffice it to say, manager Bruce Bochy would like to avoid doing that on a nightly basis.

The Giants have gone 4-1 on the road this postseason, but they want to grab the early series lead in order to make the most of the homefield advantage that was provided by the NL’s victory in the All-Star Game. The Giants can ill-afford to see the series shift to Texas with the hot-hitting Rangers up 2-0.

Texas — If Lee and/or C.J. Wilson can give the Rangers an early lead in the series, then there is a chance the Rangers can bring the series home and do some real damage. Hamilton hit .390 with 22 homers and 57 RBI’s in Arlington this season and is coming off ALCS MVP honors. His presence in the lineup will be a clear and present danger to the Giants hopes of quieting the Rangers run scoring attack.

The Rangers red-hot lineup will force Bochy and the Giants to pick their poison. Nelson Cruz (.371-13-42), Vladimir Guerrero (.315-16-63), and Michael Young (.307-16-55) likewise enjoyed the home cooking for a Texas club that batted .288/.352/.447
at home during the regular season. Luckily for the Giants, this series starts with the Rangers playing the visitor’s role.

I mentioned the Giants had the lifetime advantage against the Rangers during Interleague matchups, but the Rangers enjoyed their slate of games against the NL in 2010. Texas went 14-4 in Interleague play, while the Giants finished 7-8 against the AL this season.

At the back of the bullpen for the Rangers is the electric right arm of 22-year-old rookie closer Neftali Feliz, who strangely enough has not registered a save in the postseason. His early work was definitely shaky, with five walks and a home run allowed over his first three appearances. Feliz bounced back with scoreless frames in his final two outings against the Yankees, but if the Rangers are going to edge the Giants in close contests then Feliz must be ready to slam door.

NLDS Game 3: Conrad’s errors give Giants edge

Conrad_Alone.jpg

The Recap…
 
Atlanta was one strike away from victory before the San Fransisco Giants stunned the Braves with a ninth inning rally in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday.        

The defensive woes of second baseman Brooks Conrad fueled the Giants comeback. Conrad committed three errors on the night, including a costly miscue on a ground ball that allowed the eventual winning run to score in the top of the ninth as the Giants took a 3-2 victory.

Momentum has been swinging back and forth between the two clubs, in both single contests and the series itself.

Great pitching performances by both Tim Hudson and Jonathan Sanchez had the two teams locked squarely in another one-run battle into the late frames.

Hudson went seven innings and allowed just one unearned run on four hits and four walks while striking out five. The lone run against him came across during the second inning, when Conrad dropped a flyball in shallow right field to allow Mike Fontenot to cross the plate and break the scoreless tie.

Sanchez continued the Giants starters’ penchant for big strike-out performances, fanning 11 men and allowing just two hits and a walk over 7 1/3 innings of work.

Atlanta moved quickly against Sanchez in the eighth as Alex Gonzalez stroked a single to give the Braves just their second hit of the night. Conrad’s nightmare continued, this time with the bat, as he popped up a bunt attempt for the first out of the inning.

From there, the managerial wheels began to turn. Braves manager Bobby Cox sent right-handed hitting Troy Glaus to the plate to pinch-hit for the lefty swinging Rick Ankiel. That move prompted Giants skipper Bruce Bochy to lift the lefty Sanchez in favor of righty reliever Sergio Romo (1-0).

Cox countered by replacing Glaus with lefty bat Eric Hinske, who made the move look like a stroke of genius when he wrapped a line-drive two-run homer around the right field foul pole to put the Braves ahead by a run.

But just when the dramatic pinch-hit homer by Hinske gave the Braves a 2-1 lead, disaster struck an inning later in the form of Conrad’s third error of the night.

Hard-throwing rookie Craig Kimbrel started the ninth, but his one-out walk to Travis Ishikawa breathed life into a stunned Giants club. After a strikeout of Andres Torres pressed the Giants down to their final out, Freddy Sanchez rolled Kimbrel’s two-strike slider back up the middle to put the potential go-ahead run aboard as well.

With two Giants runners on base, Cox again played the matchup game and brought in southpaw Mike Dunn to face lefty-hitting slugger Aubrey Huff. That move backfired when Huff lined a single to right that plated Ishikawa and tied the game 2-2.

Conrad’s third and final gaffe of the evening would follow, and it proved to be the Braves undoing. Buster Posey slapped a sharp grounder that skipped between the second baseman’s legs, allowing Sanchez to come across with the eventual winning run.

The Breakdown…

 
Atlanta proved to be one of the most resilient teams in all of baseball throughout the season, and they will need to continue those kinds of exploits if they hope to continue playing beyond Monday.

That said, the Giants gave the Braves a taste of their own medicine with the late-inning come-from-behind victory. Atlanta had 25 victories in their last at-bat during the regular season, and one already in the NLDS, but the Hinske homer would not stand up in the face of a ninth inning collapse.

Brooks Conrad’s night became the stuff on infamy. In the aftermath, columns that threw Conrad in with the names of “the Ralph Brancas, the Bill Buckners, the Leon Durhams” popped up almost instantaneously.

While most of them were able to keep in mind that the Braves roster has been –  and continues to be – drastically altered by injuries suffered to key players, it’s still hard to fathom how one player could have a defensive game of such epically poor proportions. It was so much so that “Brooks Conrad” was the number two trending topic on Twitterin the entire world in the hours following the game.

Conrad_in_field.jpg

Conrad has served much of his 10-year professional career trying to find his way into the big leagues after showing a decent bat and little else in the minors for three organizations. Some forget, or simply fail to realize that the only reason that he is in the starting lineup for a playoff team is the number of key injuries to the Atlanta infield.

His story should have been marked among the highlights of what was an incredible 2010 season for a Braves club that had missed the playoffs every season since 2006. Conrad became the master of clutch hits, and clutch grand slams for that matter. His game-winning hits represent yet another piece of the puzzle that has the Braves battling for postseason glory in the NLDS.

Sadly, one cannot overlook the fact that Conrad’s glove has long been a big part of the reason that he has never had the opportunity to hold down and everyday job in the majors. He committed seven errors in 37 games at third base this year, and his throwing issues there in the final week of the season forced Cox to move him back over to second base to keep the best-hitting infield option the Braves had remaining in the line-up.

It’s a fact of the game that when you’re playing badly on defense, the ball will find you. I think we’ve all seen that now.

There’s no way to bring back Chipper Jones or Martin Prado. Their seasons are over. Troy Glaus lacks mobility and has played two innings at third base in the majors this season. Add to that that Glaus missed most of 2009 due to injury and then moved across the diamond to first base in Atlanta. That may not stop him from finding his way back in the lineup at the hot corner based on his key double play from Game 2.

Diory Hernandez, a career .138 major league hitter in parts of two seasons, is primarily a shortstop. He has only played eight games at second base over the past two seasons (majors and minors), but perhaps he should have checked in defensively given the struggles Conrad has suffered with the glove. There’s no going back now.

There simply weren’t better options to be had at the time, but Conrad’s defensive lapses may force Cox to explore one of those options tonight. My guess would be Glaus over Hernandez, as the offense can’t afford to lose the power threat.

While much of the blame will sit squarely on the shoulders of Conrad’s defensive shortcomings, the loss of closer Billy Wagner was evident in the ninth inning struggles.

Cox chose to go with hard-throwing rookie Craig Kimbrel to start the ninth, but the righty put the tying and go-ahead runs aboard be
fore being lifted with two outs in the frame.

A questionable pitch selection by Kimbrel in giving Sanchez a slider after repeated late swings on high-octane fastballs may have been the final straw in the rookie’s outing. There’s no questioning Kimbrel’s stuff, but after issuing a walk and yielding a base hit on a secondary pitch that puts both the potential tying and wining runs aboard, it’s hard to blame Cox for making a move.

Aubrey_Huff_Shell.jpg

Some would decry the decision to use the situational lefty Dunn, citing that Huff hits LHP’s better than RHP’s, but that is a fallacy. Sure, Huff had a hit against Jonny Venters prior, but over the course of his career, Huff has been more productive against RHP. Huff had strong stats against lefties in 2010, but his slash lines were roughly the same. Again, choice is often dictated by track record and calculated risk.

Postseason games are not a good place for a young closer’s growing pains. If Cox leaves Kimbrel in the game with Dunn warm in the pen and Huff does his damage against Kimbrel, then critics will ask how could Cox not go to the lefty and play the matchup. It’s a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

As it happens, you have to make a choice. All numbers aside, there’s a 50/50 chance that the batter is either going to make an out or get on base. That is the only percentage that matters. Beyond that, it’s hunches and educated guesses.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Second-guessing is easy. It’s the first-guessing that’s hard.

Regardless of having the luxury of hindsight being what it is, there is no guarantee that Kimbrel retires Huff. One can’t simply assume, because there’s absolutely no way of knowing. Given the eventual outcome of the game, of course the masses are going to side with any other option that was available at that time over the stark reality of a frustrating loss.

That’s baseball. That’s sports. That’s life.

One of the best pieces that I have ever read on second-guessing was written by former player turned ESPN analyst Doug Glanville. He is a very talented wordsmith who has been inside the world where most of us can only imagine the inner workings. I’ll leave you with that as we get ready to discover what changes may be in store for the Braves line-up…

Doug Glanville – As an authority, expect second-guessing