Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Giants Continue to Confound Me

Hunter Pence and Giants crush Royals in Series opener
I have nothing against the San Francisco Giants. I just don't think they are as good as they have been playing this month. I may be wrong.

The Giants continue to confound me with their high level of play, and last night's opening game of the 2014 World Series continued that streak.

San Francisco crushed the previously postseason unbeaten Kansas City Royals, on the road, with the Royals top starting pitcher on the mound. They did it the way that they've been doing much of their winning this October.

The Giants basic formula in their best games is to have ace Madison Bumgarner pitch a gem, shut the opposition down, and allow the clutch bats of Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence to come through with enough offense at some point to win the game. That is exactly what happened last night.

Bumgarner was fabulous. He went 7 innings, allowing just 3 hits, striking out 5, walking just one, and yielding just a single run. That run came via a 7th inning homer by Salvador Perez, my pick at the start to win World Series MVP honors. The Giants ace threw 106 pitches, 71 for strikes.

Meanwhile, the Posey-Panda-Pence combination all struck first inning blows, with the capper being a blast by Pence to dead centerfield. His homerun put San Fran up 3-0 on Shields, who struggled the entire game.

The Royals ace, nicknamed "Big Game James" during his time with Tampa Bay, was acquired by KC to push their young team to the next level. Mission accomplished. But he was also acquired, once there, to deliver in these biggest of games. So far this October, that has not been the case. Just 40 of his 71 pitches went for strikes, and he was gone after 3 innings.

Shields did not pitch the big game that the Royals needed

If there was one saving grace for the Royals, it was that they didn't burn out their starter or their vaunted bullpen in this one. Shields 71 pitches will easily allow him to return for a rematch with Bumgarner in a Game 5, should the Series last that long. Manager Ned Yost used 3 relievers, but none of Danny Duffy, Tim Collins, or Jason Frasor are among the group that have made a real difference in the Royals success.

As I've stated a few times already in evaluating them, the Giants did not fare well in my final regular season Power Ranking. They finished just 17 of 30 MLB teams despite reaching the playoffs as a Wildcard. The PR doesn't factor a team's record. It is purely a reflection of their statistical performance in the areas of Hitting, Pitching, and Defense. The GMen were rated so low because, at least during the season, their defense was mediocre and their pitching often poor.

I did pick them to beat an overrated Pittsburgh team in that one-off Wildcard game. But since then, I had them losing in the NLDS to an all-around superior Washington Nationals squad, in the NLCS to a slightly better LA Dodgers team, and here in the World Series to a hot Royals squad .

What has happened is, the Giants have drawn on the experience of having won in October in both 2010 and 2012 to produce more consistently than any of their opponents in the increased pressure of playoff baseball. It is clear that, once a team reaches October and starts to get on a roll, you can toss the regular season statistics out the window.

Experience and momentum are clearly at work this Fall for the San Francisco Giants. The Royals are a very talented ballclub. They can still recover and win this thing. But if those two factors stay intact for the Giants for just a few more days, KC's talent won't matter a lick.

For the Royals to recover from the Game One debacle, they need to quickly develop some tough skin of their own. There is no magic button to push in order to make that happen. Someone, probably at least a couple of players, need to step up and make it happen. Someone needs to lead the Royals in voice, and more importantly, in deed. If not, the Giants will continue to confound me, all the way to their 3rd World Series title in 5 seasons.


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