The Giants swept the Dodgers in the final weekend of the regular season to clinch their fourth postseason appearance in seven years.
The previous three appearances, if you’ll recall, resulted in World Series titles. And there lies the thread on which this team will walk.
Through the 42-loss second half, the dizzying blown saves followed by hungover offensive droughts, the Giants had no answers. They’d find a groove at some point, they kept promising, but waited until this final weekend to pull off their first four-game winning streak of the second half.
But momentum, for this team, can ignite at any time for its desired affect, said a beer-soaked Brandon Crawford, celebrating his third postseason appearance:
“We have a lot of experience at this time of year … we feel good, we’ve been there before.”
Bruce Bochy chuckled at his desk. He’d shouldered a lot up until that final out Sunday afternoon. A single loss could etch his team’s name into every sport’s fan’s trivia notebook.
With the regular season melting behind him, an unwanted concern he could finally abandon, Bochy marveled at his team’s affinity for winning only when they have to:
“It seems like we need our backs to the wall … They found their game at the right time.”
San Francisco has one game to get it all right again and, really, a remarkable opportunity to bleach each and every skid-mark on the butt of this season. The Wild Card game allows the Giants a short memory; they have all the talent they need going forward.
It was a no brainer: Madison Bumgarner would pitch the Wild Card game, said Bochy:
“We know what Madison’s done in a game like that.”
Bumgarner’s had a wild few months, posting a 4.14 ERA in August before knocking it down to a 3.92 ERA in September. But, with the postseason in hand, the past is the past. The postseason Giants are not to be compared with their regular season equivalents.
Just a refresher: Bumgarner holds a career 2.14 ERA in 14 postseason appearances through three years. His 2014 performance yielded a 1.03 ERA on the back of four wins, including a complete-game shutout and a five-inning save in Game 7 of the World Series.
So, yeah, Bumgarner is the guy.
Should the Giants advance, though, the rotation behind Bumgarner can put up a show like any other ace in the game.
But, for Wednesday, Bumgarner faces a formidable foe in Noah Syndergaard.
The Giants beat him before, 6-1, back in May when the team was fueled by reckless, bubble-building overachievement. Thor then shut them out on a dismal day in August. At least this team knows what he has: a 100 mile-per-hour fastball and a 94 mile-per-hour slider. Should be fun, said Bumgarner:
“He’s obviously got really good stuff. No matter who you are up against, I got to find a way to get that lineup out.”
Bumgarner’s teammates have to worry a little more about Syndergaard than he does. Sweeping the top of the Dodgers’ rotation might have boosted an inconsistent lineup’s confidence.
Brandon Belt hit .409 with a home run and five RBI in his final five games at home. Bochy pulled him up to the two spot, and he’s been a key cog in the table-setting game, extra-base hit game and walk game — he managed three doubles and a triple along with that three-run dinger.
Angel Pagan has been amped since he eviscerated that protester’s soul on Friday, he’s hitting .409 through the last six games. His unexpected home run against Clayton Kershaw was his sixth career extra-base hit against the human puzzle, only two others in the league can claim the same.
Brandon Crawford has been a consistent force throughout the year, and sprinted through the last home stand with a .458 average. Denard Span, with rest, broke out with a 3-for-5 Sunday. Buster Posey struggled, but broke out of the first game with a three-hit, three-RBI day. Hunter Pence flatlined, but kept up some sort of contribution every day.
The Giants hit .313 with runners in scoring position over their last seven games.
The key to a perfect Wild Card storm will be for the core bats to play their game. Timely hits made for more lopsided scores, but the Giants thrived this weekend on their ability to create productive outs and just put the ball in play.
The Giants have nearly every team beat on defense, especially in the infield.
Through August 7, Brandon Crawford ranks below just Chicago right fielder Jason Heyward in SDI (defensive rankings that evaluate batted ball defense and defensive runs saved) with a 13.5 score. Buster Posey sits two spots behind his shortstop with a 10.7. Joe Panik‘s 5.3 score keeps him in the top ranks, too.
The Giants have committed a league-low 72 errors and combine for a third-ranked 50 defensive runs saved by Fangraphs’ calculation. The Cubs, by comparison, have 81.
The defense has been a constant through this team’s ups and downs, a nice anchor to drop as they had into this do-or-die game.
Bruce Bochy couldn’t make any definitive statements on Eduardo Nuñez’s health. He strained his hamstring stealing his 40th base and hasn’t played since.
The Wild Card roster is due hours before Wednesday night’s game, and there’s a chance Nuñez’s name won’t be on it.
Conor Gillaspie has been an excellent fill-in, though, balling out on defense and pulling out clutch hits with runners in scoring position. The dude is tough as nails, and Bochy can’t be too mad about that kind of fill-in.
The bullpen is always an uh-oh. But the starting pitching performances of late helped prevent any late bullpen meltdowns.
Sergio Romo has emerged as a dominant closer, completing all four of his last save opportunities. It helps to have a ninth inning plan.