The Giants have won the World Series.
Every year, 30 teams play toward this end goal, and every year, only one of them actually achieves it. The odds are depressingly low.
And yet, the Giants have now won two championships in the last three years.
There were so many things that could have done the Giants in this year. They were fortunate enough to avoid another barrage of injuries. They faced an uphill battle down the stretch after losing all-star Melky Cabrera (especially in light of the strong additions the Dodgers had made).
The Giants played six potential elimination games in the playoffs, and won every single one of them.
And when they got to the final stage, they wasted no time in winning a championship. Carried by the same dominant pitching that brought them a title two years ago, the Giants played four games against the Detroit Tigers, and they won them all.
The front office did a masterful job building a contending team, acquiring the likes of Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, and George Kontos in the offseason, reinforcing the bullpen by bringing back Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, and adding guys like Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence, and Jose Mijares along the way. (Not to mention Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias, who were both signed to minor-league contracts, and ended up playing important roles with the team.) I wasn’t ecstatic about all of these moves, but most of the front office’s decisions panned out very well, and of course, it’s because of them that the Giants are champions.
The Giants won the World Series. Savor it. Bask in it. Seize the moment. These don’t come too often.
It’s been an amazing, unpredictable, thoroughly enjoyable ride. What a season.
Last night, Madison Bumgarner finally found a groove, tossing seven scoreless innings en route to a 2-0 Giants victory. You’ll hear a lot — or, scratch that, have probably already heard a lot — about how Bumgarner didn’t have his best stuff last night, and I think that’s pretty fair to say. Despite the mechanical adjustments he made prior to the outing, his fastball didn’t gain any zip, and his slider was certainly not at its best. When Bumgarner is at his best, he’s touching 93 with the fastball, and he’s throwing the slider with considerably more velocity and movement.
But Bumgarner had no trouble shutting the Tigers down yesterday, as he limited them to two hits in total while also racking up eight strikeouts. His last time out, he’d struggled to get the Cardinals to swing and miss at his stuff. In total, he only managed five swinging strikes. Last night, though, Bumgarner more than doubled that, yielding 12 swinging strikes in all. This might, as Jeff Sullivan suggested, have something to do with increased differentiation between his fastball and slider. The charts on Brooks Baseball (10/14, 10/25) make this pretty noticeable. For example, check out the horizontal movement of Bumgarner’s pitches plotted against the velocity. In his NLCS start, the pitches were somewhat clustered together, whereas there was a clear distinction in last night’s start. I tend to avoid jumping to conclusions based on pitch f/x numbers because it’s very easy to get misled, and I’m no expert on this stuff, but I’d have to think this is a pretty good sign.
Maybe Bumgarner’s stuff was “bad” last night, but if that’s the case, it’s a testament to how damn good he is. A pitcher can’t luck his way into eight strikeouts over seven innings of two-hit ball against one of the better offenses in baseball. Nope. That’s not to say that Bumgarner didn’t encounter some luck last night — he got away with some mistake pitches, and had some help from the defense — but there was definitely more to it than that. Something was working for Bumgarner, and while it remains to be seen whether he can recapture that magic if he does happen to make another start in this series, Bumgarner was dominant last night.
Bumgarner in the World Series, career: 15 innings, 14 strikeouts, five hits, four walks, 0.00 ERA.
The Giants are two victories away from a championship, by the way.
Yesterday’s game was all sorts of crazy, and I think that’s best illustrated by the fact that the following sentence is a perfectly valid, accurate arrangement of words: Barry Zito singled off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in Game One of the World Series. Let’s see here…
- Barry Zito started Game One of the World Series for the Giants.
- Barry Zito outpitched Justin Verlander, Best Pitcher On The Planet™.
- Barry Zito got a hit off Justin Verlander.
With some assistance from the defense, Zito kept the Tigers at bay for 5.2 innings. Zito’s last two starts have been crucial, and he’s delivered. It’s not a matter of whether Zito has earned his $126M with these performances, though these last two starts have definitely brought that question to light, and it’s one worth pondering. I mean, if he ends up having played an integral role in bringing the Giants another championship, does that make up for the years of mediocrity?
For me, though, these last two starts have had sort of an opposite effect, in that I’ve been able to forget about the Zito of the last six years — you know, the one that was left off the postseason roster in 2010 — and everything he’s come to represent. His last two outings have brought pure, unequivocal joy. I’ll say, I came into both outings with the lowest of expectations. I anticipated that we’d all see the Zito that showed up in the NLDS. We didn’t. Baseball. Wonderful, wonderful baseball.
And then there’s Pablo Sandoval. Between July 13 and September 18, a span of 43 games and 180 plate appearances, Sandoval did not homer once. For two months, when Sandoval was on the field and healthy, the Giants got a .331 slugging percentage. They saw Ryan Theriot-esque production out of third base for most of the second half up until the final two weeks of the season; but Sandoval turned it on at the end of the year, and he’s really come alive in the postseason.
Last night, Sandoval took the toughest pitcher in baseball deep on an 0-2 count. Then he took him deep again in the fourth inning. And in the fifth, he took Al Alburquerque deep. Three homers, two of ‘em off the reigning AL MVP, each of them in a different part of the strike zone, and this happened at AT&T Park — where there hadn’t been a three-homer game in more than a decade. (Oh, and by the way, Sandoval singled in his fourth and final at-bat).
Only three other players, throughout history, have homered three times in a World Series game. Babe Ruth did it twice. Reggie Jackson did it. And Albert Pujols did it last year. That’s three Hall of Famers right there. And Pablo Sandoval.
Oh yeah, and two of the homers landed in center field. Sandoval only had two such homers during the regular season. The other homer was opposite field. Sandoval had no such homers during the regular season. His timing at the plate looks perfect, and that means he’s a force to be reckoned with.
What a performance.
Hunter Pence struck out three times last night. He swung and missed seven times, which is the equivalent of a month for Marco Scutaro. He’s struggling mightily, and after 300 plate appearances with the Giants, it’s fair to be concerned. We can save this talk for after the World Series, but Pence is going to make a good chunk of money next season, and there’s been a frightening resemblance to Aaron Rowand in a lot of the at-bats he takes. Color me worried.
Can we have a moratorium on the Melky Cabrera talk for the next week?
The Giants are three victories away from winning the World Series. Three to go. That’s it. And then they’re champions. Heh.