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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

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