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October 23, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Recap: Giants Win The Pennant

by Sam Miller

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Guess the MLB.com headline!

a. Gritty By The Bay!
b. They Might Be Giants
c. Giants Cain On Cards’ Parade
d. Matt’s All, Folks
e. Giant Uprising Brings Pennant Back

It’s probably the one you’re not thinking of. Answer at the bottom.

***

***

Now that it’s over, let’s be honest: That was probably the worst seven-game series of our lifetimes.

The average margin of victory was 4.9 runs. The average game reached a 90 percent win expectancy with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. There was one lead change in the entire series, and it took place in the third inning. There were two saves. No game was tied later than the fourth inning. There were few true heroes -- imagine the Cardinals had won the series, which they very nearly did; now tell me who would have been the series MVP? Can you?

Furthermore, it was a matchup between two teams that had just won the World Series, two teams whose fans could elicit no sympathy from the general population, two teams with top-10 payrolls. One team had Brian Wilson's beard in the dugout; the other had, somehow, become the villains of the National League. It was almost impossible to get into this series.

And yet it was incredibly fun. Baseball can’t be ruined. That’s the takeaway here. Baseball can’t be ruined. Gosh, we’re lucky.

***
So I’ll probably make Ben talk about this on our podcast this morning, but there are always a bunch of narratives going into a series and there were a bunch of narratives going into this series. How did the narratives hold up? Let’s scan through a few of them:

Pete Kozma! (And to a lesser extent Daniel Descalso!)
How did it hold up: Kozma hit .214/.346/.333 in the NLCS, which is pretty terrible and just goes to show you that -- wait, whoops, that’s actually Kozma’s entire postseason line, including his heroic NLDS performance. In the NLCS itself, he slugged .273, which is still pretty darned impressive considering he slugged just .289 in the Pacific Coast League one year ago. The point is, I guess, that when people make a big deal of heroes coming out of nowhere in the postseason, they could just as easily point out that they are heroes going into nowhere. Kozma is the same as he always was. God bless, though. (Descalso, who slugged .684 in the NLDS but remains always a parenthetical to Kozma, slugged .200 in the NLDS.)

You can not kill the Cardinals.
How did it hold up: I’m not saying Giants fans weren’t nervous when they were only up 5-0 on Monday, but the Cardinals didn’t show any more grit or guts than you’d expect. The secret to the Cardinals’ ability to come back is pretty pedestrian: They are good. They are good at hitting. They are not Wolverine, or another reference that I’m barely familiar with.

Offense would be way up, as the league’s two best offenses face each other.
How did it hold up: Well, in one sense it came true. The winning team scored, on average, six runs. But, as noted earlier, the margin of victory was typically large, and the losing team scored, on average, many runs less. Cumulatively, only about seven runs per game scored, or about a third of a run less than you would expect from an Astros/Mariners game. This is partly because another narrative was busted:

Perhaps the two MVP frontrunners were facing off.
How did it hold up: Posey hit .154/.267/.154, while Molina hit -- wait, Molina went 4 for 4 in the final game? How did I miss that? How did the Cardinals get shut out? Okay, so Molina had a really good series, after all. And the Giants didn’t steal any bases stole only one base in seven games, though the can’t-mention-it-enough 4.9-run average margin of victory might have played some factor in that.

The Giants rotation is all over the place.
How did it hold up: In a way, the Giants rotation was all over the place. I mean, it was so all over the place that they let Barry Zito start a game. Barry Zito! But in the end the Giants suffered through only two bad starts. Both of Vogelsong’s turned out strong, Zito’s was strong, Cain’s clincher was definitely strong and Cain’s loss in Game Three was pretty forgiveable if you can block out the hanger to Matt Carpenter. That’s the thing about the Giants’ offense, and that’s the narrative that underlies the narrative: It’s high-beta. It could be terrible, but we wouldn’t be so fascinated by it if it couldn’t also be incredibly good. The best offense in the National League scored 2.7 runs per game against them. (Note: Past results are no guarantee of future success. I would be absolutely petrified of who could show up against the Tigers this week.)

Lightning round:

Chris Carpenter is an ace! Chris Carpenter is Curt Schilling.
Nope.

Carlos Beltran is a god. Carlos Beltran is Babe Ruth.
Yes.

Marco Scutaro is the best trade Sabean has made since Vogelsong (HA!) for Jason Schmidt.
Yes.

The Giants don’t die.
Somehow, still yes.

Tim Lincecum is back into form.
No.

Kyle Lohse is a True Ace and he's going to get $75 million as a free agent.
No.

Jon Jay is probably Sam’s favorite player.
For sure.

Somebody is going to need a closer to help finish this Chalupa.
No.

***

Super slow motion can not possibly be overdone. This is rain falling from a dugout, nothing more, and I'm grateful for it: 

I don't want to get everybody too excited, but there is going to come a time, and it's probably not too far from now, a decade perhaps, when every camera angle of every game is going to be available to you in perpetuity. Every game, every camera angle, and probably at every level of slow-motion. There will probably even be panoramic cameras that you can control and move around, after the fact, to see whatever you want to see. Hate on Fox all you want, hate on ESPN all you want, but at least they invest their Taco Bell income into truly spectacular camerawork. 

***

Answer:


 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

R.A.Wagman

"And the Giants didn’t steal any bases" - I have read this on more than one series summary, but it isn't true. Brandon Belt swiped one in the 8th inning of game 5. In any case, you did a marvelous job of recapping the series for this long-time misplaced Giants fan.

Oct 23, 2012 05:08 AM
rating: 2
 
DetroitDale

I'll admit I was rooting for a Cardinals rematch, not because I wanted revenge for '06, but I felt that Giants would be the tougher team. They're one of the few teams in the playoffs with starting pitching as deep as Detroit's. Combine that with a more solid bullpen, and the loss of the DH in national league parks (and SF pitchers aren't as useless with the bat as most) and I'm not sure you can call the Tigers the favorite.

I do think this will be a seven game series with several low-scoring games with one run margins, the kind of classic series neutral observers should love, fans of the teams will be biting their nails the whole way.

Oct 23, 2012 06:17 AM
rating: 2
 
rrvwmr

Couple of observations... Rafael Furcal's loss really showed in this series. Kozma looked fairly uncomfortable out there defensively. Telephone Company park looked monstrous with all of the Cardinals' fly balls. My gut tells me the Cards were at a 50% FB rate and the Giants were at a 50% LD rate. Aside from Posey, if seemed like every Giant was swinging like they knew what pitch was coming.

Oct 23, 2012 09:15 AM
rating: 1
 
rweiler

The Phone Company Park is only really only exceptionally large out in right center. The high wall in right turns a lot of line drives in that direction from home runs into doubles but the Cards rarely hit any that way. Molina has the right sort of line drive swing for the park, and he did well.

Oct 23, 2012 10:08 AM
rating: 0
 
drmorris

I had the same reaction to last night's x-mo cameraman, who really ought to be working for Michael Mann instead of Fox Sports.

Oct 23, 2012 11:13 AM
rating: 3
 
whatevergong82

I think that this year's World Series could turn out into a classic 7 game classic, where one turn at bat, one pitch, can decide who will be the World Series Champion.

Anyway, I hope that Detroit will pull it out, but if San Francisco wins, I'll tip my cap to them.

Oct 23, 2012 11:55 AM
rating: 1
 
LynchMob

How could Pence's "Triple Double" be scored a double? I initially thought it was E6 + E8 ... then saw the slo-mo of how/why Kozma got fooled ... so it was obviously single + E8 ... just a nit ...

Here's the slo-mo ...

http://webusers.npl.illinois.edu/~a-nathan/pob//PenceTripleDouble.html

Oct 23, 2012 14:03 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

I don't think there is any mystery about what happened to Kozma. Even playing left field in softball my first reaction would be to the location of the pitch and the timing of the batter's swing. On an inside pitch with an early swing, the batter is going to pull the ball. That's almost certainly what Kozma was reacting to and, if the bat hadn't broken, he would have been right.

Oct 23, 2012 17:24 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

It also occurs to me that the play illustrates what's wrong with Pence's swing; he isn't accelerating the bat head enough to get around on an inside pitch, hence, getting the ball near the handle instead of the bat head. If so, perhaps he should try a lighter bat for the series.

Oct 23, 2012 17:27 PM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

His swing is just flat out awful. In fact, I've never really watched him before and I've been struck by how ugly his entire game is, from his swing to his throwing motion to his posture to his general mannerisms to his crazy eyes and hobo beard. He has to have one of the ugliest games in the majors, and definitely the ugliest among guys who are actually good. I'm not trying to be mean; it just startled me to watch him play.

Oct 23, 2012 18:58 PM
rating: 2
 
SaxonB

mmmm...Chalupa.

Too bad I live in Brooklyn and there isn't a easily accessible Taco Bell within a ten mile radius. And that I don't have a car. And that it's 11 pm.

That's what I get for reading Baseball Prospectus past my bed time.

Oct 23, 2012 19:38 PM
rating: 0
 
elljay

Pence looks like he's doing everything for the very 1st time.

Oct 24, 2012 06:50 AM
rating: 2
 
Robotey

Sam - please risk inspring the wrath of Jason Parks by writing an article decrying Tom Verducci's 'don't swing for the fences in the postseason' mumbo jumbo.

It's gone too far. This propoganda made its way into my NPR broadcast this morning. Bill James would be turning over in his not yet dug grave if word of this sophistry ever reached him.

HR's are great in the postseason. In low-scoring games with dominating pitchers--of which there are certainly more in the postseason--it's that much more important to be able to tie the score with one swing. Exhibit A - the Yankees 9th inning in Game one of the NLCS. Sure, they lost the game in extras, but they made up for 8 innings of futility with a bloop and a bop, then a hard-fought BB and another bop.

Barring triple-struck grounders that miraculously are transformed into doubles, HRs are needed in postseason.

Oct 24, 2012 08:21 AM
rating: 1
 
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