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MSR’s Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Giants to 2014 NLCS

The San Francisco Giants are onto the NLCS after an unexpected NLDS victory over the Washington Nationals.

The San Francisco Giants are onto the NLCS after an unexpected NLDS victory over the Washington Nationals.

And now for another installment of “Looking Back, Looking Ahead”.

I did one when the Giants beat the Pirates to advance to the NLDS, so you know what’s coming next …


San Francisco Giants advance to 2014 NLCS: October 7, 2014


LOOKING BACK

The San Francisco Giants continue to defy all logic.

With all of the pieces they have been missing in both the starting rotation and their starting lineup, it was fair to say that this incarnation probably shouldn’t have made it out of the Wild Card round. And, despite reaching the Divisional round of this even-year postseason, there was no logical reason that they would have had any chance against the best team in the National League. This was a 96-win club that had, perhaps, the most talented rotation in the league, and a power offense led by Bryce Harper. How could the Giants possibly beat that?

Despite the daunting task, the Giants somehow found a way.

In Game 1, it was an unexpectedly strong pitching performance by starter Jake Peavy, who used a variety of pitches to shut down the Nationals’ potent attack. Meanwhile, they capitalized on a series of small ball plays throughout the game to scratch out three runs. And, despite rookie reliever Hunter Strickland giving up two home runs to Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera in the seventh, relief pitching – which had been an issue early in the regular season – preserved the 3-2 victory.

The Giants found a way.

In Game 2, with an up-and-down Tim Hudson starting, he defied the Baseball Gods by dueling Nationals ace Jordan Zimmerman virtually pitch-for-pitch for 7.1 innings. Despite an impressive performance on the mound (7 hits, 1 ER), the Giants offense was confounded by Zimmerman’s array of pitches for 8.2 innings. Washington was destined to tie up the series headed back to AT&T Park – until manager Matt Williams decided to pull him for relief with two outs in the ninth. It was all the Giants needed, apparently, to get the run they needed, on an RBI double by Pablo Sandoval to bring home Joe Panik.

From there, the Nationals and Giants played an entire game’s worth of extra innings, with SP Yusmeiro Petit getting in 6.0 innings of 1-hit ball to hold the Nationals scoreless. And, in the 18th, Brandon Belt came up with an unexpected towering home run in the 18th to take the 2-1 lead. They then turned to Strickland to close it out, and bring a commanding 2-0 lead to San Francisco.

The Giants found a way.

The Giants relied on 6 innings of relief pitching from SP Yusmeiro Petit in the 18-inning marathon that was Game 2 for a 2-1 victory.

The Giants relied on 6 innings of relief pitching from SP Yusmeiro Petit in the 18-inning marathon that was Game 2 for a 2-1 victory.

Then, despite having ace Madison Bumgarner on the mound to finish a sweep in Game 3, it was his throwing error in the seventh that lost the game for the Giants, forcing a Game 4 and giving the Nationals new life – especially with Ryan Vogelsong on the mound, who had struggled this regular season (8-13, 4.00 ERA). But, again, the one they call “Vogey” found his postseason stuff once again, and gave the Giants a fighting chance to win (5.2 innings, 2 H, 1 ER). And, despite leaving a whopping 10 men on base through the game, they managed to get three runs in the most unconventional ways – a bases-loaded walk in the second, a ground-out sacrifice in the second, and a wild pitch in the seventh.

And while the game will be remembered most for the “Air Pence” play – a tricky catch at the right field wall that prevented a scoring threat in the sixth – it was their relief duo of Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla that were tasked to shut the door, and forced to pitch through the heart of the order. No way they could hold back a Goliath in the Nationals offense for a second time. But that was exactly what they did.

The Giants found a way.

It’s what they do in the postseason, as the mighty Nationals found out on Tuesday, as did the favored Pittsburgh Pirates six days before. Now, this San Francisco club find themselves at the cusp of the World Series for the third time in five years.


LOOKING AHEAD

In an unlikely rematch of the 2012 National League Championship Series, the San Francisco Giants will face off with the St. Louis Cardinals – who defeated the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers – starting Saturday.

Not only have these two squads been the sole representatives of the NL in the World Series for the last four years (and going 3-1 in those World Series, in the process), they know each other well. After all, these are two of the most consistently successful clubs in the National League – in the playoffs, that is. Managers Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny know how to get the most out of their respective ballclubs, and with a spot in the World Series up for grabs, each managers’ next moves will be crucial.

As of right now, the Giants have not officially tabbed a Game 1 starter, though conventional wisdom has Bumgarner to square off with Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. Knowing the unconventionality of San Francisco, however, it should not surprise if Bochy throws a curveball of his own, turns to his old San Diego Padres ace, and hands the ball off to Peavy for Game 1 – if for nothing else, to save Bumgarner for possible must-win starts in Games 3 and 7 (if necessary).

Pitching - especially by aces Madison Bumgarner (left) and Adam Wainwright - will likely determine who represents the NL in the 2014 World Series.

Pitching – especially by aces Madison Bumgarner (left) and Adam Wainwright – will likely determine who represents the NL in the 2014 World Series.

In any case, it is difficult to ignore the fact that, as of right now, the Cardinals seem to have the edge on paper, as well as on the field, based on their previous series performance. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports pointed out, the Cardinals were able to match the Dodgers’ potent offense run-for-run (at least, in Game 1), and win their share of close wins in the process. They have the firepower to keep the Giants at bay, and the kind of predictably steady rotation that has a better chance of being successful. Put more succinctly, if I were to ask who you would take in a series for your life, which rotation would it be: Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Shelby Miller; or Bumgarner, Peavy, Hudson and Vogelsong? Conventional wisdom says you’d likely take the former.

That’s not to say the Giants don’t have a chance. Obviously, Bumgarner is a bonafide ace, as has been established over the course of their previous World Series runs. And Peavy and Hudson are no scrubs, either – lest we forget, these two stood up to the one of the best offensive clubs in the National League, and won. The lineup is also filled with scrappy young talent and wily veterans who know how to get runs when they are needed (no matter how maddening it can be to watch, at times). Combine that with an almost uncanny sense for October Magic when it comes to this team in the postseason, and the fact that they have shown in the past they could beat the Cardinals – even when spotting them three games – and it’s not insane to think the Giants could pull off another trip to the World Series.

After all, in a postseason where none of the higher-seeded teams made it out of the LDS, expecting the unexpected is old hat for these two teams. However the result, the National League will undoubtedly be represented by a resilient group of underdog that, despite whatever odds may face them, will likely conquer all.

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