The San Francisco Giants are one loss away from the end of their baseball season. Down 0-2 to this year’s “best team in baseball”, the Chicago Cubs, the Giants head home for game three of the National League Division Series Monday at AT & T Park. Must win. Can’t lose. They, and by that I mean we, have been here before. Not just in the recent past but just weeks, just days, ago.
Because the St. Louis Cardinals were playing a lifeless Pittsburgh Pirates team at the end of the regular season and getting runs they didn’t deserve (see scoring from first base on a ground rule double) San Francisco faced must win game after must win game against arch-rival and National League West Champion Los Angeles. They took on Clayton Kershaw… win. They faced Rich Hill… so what. They squared off against Kenta Maeda… no problem. And they did all that without their ace, Madison Bumgarner, having to pitch. That’s because he would be on the bump for the do or die Wild Card game, against the New York Mets, in New York. Backs against the wall, win or go home, again. Giants win. Next stop Wrigley Field.
Friday, facing baseball’s best, Giants starter Johnny Cueto was masterful. Then he made one bad pitch. In the bottom of the eighth, of a scoreless game, Chicago second baseman Javier Baez got a pitch up in the strike zone and got a lot of bat on it. His over-the-top, Yoenis Cespedes like, reaction told everyone watching, at home and in the stands, that he had just launched one on to Waveland Avenue. A sure-fire game winner with a rested Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. But the ball told a different story. Spinning through a left to right blowing wind it seemed to hit a wall and Giants left fielder Angel Pagan drifted back trying to get under it. A no doubt Big Fly suddenly appeared suspect. Then Pagan ran out of room and the ball remained just out of reach. Three feet. It settled in the wire basket that runs along the ivy covered wall, keeping balls from bounding back into play. It didn’t even have enough gas in the tank to reach the rabid fans in the seats. But it WAS enough to sink Cueto and the Giants. Chapman came in and, despite plenty of rest, looked vulnerable. Still launching pitches at 100mph plus but Wild. He walked Gorky Hernandez but was bailed out by a first base umpire who incorrectly punched him out on a what was clearly a 3-2 check swing. With two out Buster Posey plastered a fast ball into the gap in left center field that was slammed down by the same wind that grabbed Baez’s ball. Instead of a game tying home run Posey “settled” for a double off the wall. Runner on second, two out. And that’s where Hunter Pence left him. Game one, a game the Giants could have, maybe should have won, was lost.
With the wind definitely out of the Giants sails, for some reason SF manager Bruce Bochy called upon Jeff Samardzija to start game 2. Maybe it was because he used to be a Cub, maybe it was because he had a feeling but if it were me (I know I’m not a future hall of fame manager) I would have started lefty Matt Moore. Even though Samardzija was 7-5 on the road and 5-6 at home this year his ERA at AT & T was half a run better at home, he gave up 40 fewer hits, 18 fewer runs and 16 fewer earned runs in San Francisco. Plus the Cubs hit a second worst in baseball .229 against lefties this year. But Bochy went with Samardzija and things got ugly early. Four runs in 2 innings was all Chicago needed to take a two games to none lead in a best of five series. So here we (the Giants and their fan base) are again.
Is winning three straight against the Cubs in San Francisco impossible? Of course not. Is it unlikely? Absolutely. But consider this, The Giants have baseball’s best post season pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, ready to put the first brick in the great wall on Monday night. If MadBum wins another do or die game then a spectacularly rested Matt Moore goes on Tuesday. Win again and Cueto gets another shot at Baez and the Cubs on Wednesday. The Cubs, with an armada of arms themselves, will no doubt counter with 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta against Bumgarner, John Lackey on Tuesday and return with Jon Lester, who bettered Queto in Chicago for game 5.
Also one (me) could argue that history is on San Francisco’s side. The Giants were down 0-2 in 2012 heading to Cincinnati to face the favored Reds who just needed one win in three games at home. Giants win, Giants win, Giants win. It led to the teams second world championship in three years. They would make it 3 in 5 two years later. The Cubs, on the other hand, won back to back world championships of their own in 1907 and 1908. They haven’t won one since. I’m not great at math but that looks like one hundred and eight years to me.
But while it appears history favors the Giants one (me) could argue that the odds are with Chicago. Bumgarner has pitched 23 consecutive scoreless innings in winner-take-all post season games (CAN that continue?). He’s been involved in three of those games and won all three ( can THAT continue?). The Cubs are 0 for their last 108 years having lost in the World Series seven times (1910,’18,’29,’32,’35,’38, and ’45). Can that CONTINUE? My unbiased guess is no.
The Giants very well might, probably will, win behind Bumgarner again but these Cubs are too young, too resilient, and too DAMN good to lose three straight to any team, let alone this offensively challenged Giants squad. In fact, Chicago only lost 3 in a row four times all year, the last such streak coming the second week of July. Most things point to the Cubs advancing but if you ask me they better get it done in game 4, Tuesday night in San Francisco.