As soon as Denard Span caught the final out last night, the national media and a lot of fans round these parts immediately began telling Cubs fans to fill their pants at the thought of the Giants rolling up here on Friday night. Yeah yeah, championship pedigree and #EvenYear, we got it. As if somehow rolling through a Mets lineup that contained two Riveras that are bad and a couple other hobos is akin to shutting down the ’04 Red Sox. Bumgarner pitched remarkably well and is a great pitcher, but there wasn’t a lot staring back at him last night. And he’s only going to pitch once in this series. Because he won’t get to make a relief appearance in Game 5, because there isn’t going to be a Game 5.
And the biggest reason there won’t be is that this Giants’ bullpen is the biggest reason they had baseball’s worst record since July. Think about that. There are people who believe that a 103-win Cubs team is an underdog to a team that had a thumb up its own ass for over two and a half months. Jesus fucking christ.
Here’s my favorite stat about the Giants pen. In a nine-game stretch of leading into the ninth in September, the Giants went 4-5. Take a moment with that. Nine times the Giants led into the last inning needing three outs, and they won less than half of them. That’s incredibly hard to do. Only two teams had more losses ALL YEAR than the Giants did in this spot in just over two weeks. Sink into that.
Who’s been good? Will Smith, who faces one hitter at a time and Sergio Romo who has lost and regained the closer’s job so many times over the years we might as well call him Nature Boy. The rest of this crew the past month has been a lesson in self-immolation. Javier Lopez has an ERA over 4.00. Santiago Casilla blew the closer’s job with an ERA near 6 the past month and now just sits rocking in a corner of the pen wetting himself. Hunter Strickland is walking five hitters for every nine innings he pitches. Josh Osich’s ERA is 9.00 in September. Derek Law also has been balloon-handed. I’d keep going but my eyes are starting to bleed.
Moreover, Bruce Bochy seems to have lost any idea on how to use these rodeo clowns consistently. I’ll let Joe Sheehan take over from here:
In three games, Bochy had used 15 pitchers to get 30 outs while facing 43 batters. It was a radical departure from even his normally aggressive use of his relievers. On September 4, Bochy had what looked like a normal game for him — Johnny Cueto for seven, Romo and Lopez matching up in the eighth, Casilla to close — until Casilla blew the save. Bochy then used six pitchers over the next 3 1/3 innings — facing 14 batters and getting ten outs before the Cubs won the game in the 13th.
In the four-game series in Chicago, Bochy used 24 relievers to get 40 outs while facing 57 batters. This, it seems to me, is where things fell apart. Given an endless bullpen — the Giants had 18 pitchers active when I counted on September 3 — Bochy went full La Russa, chasing the platoon advantage on a batter-by-batter basis not in a critical moment, but in all moments. It’s one thing to manage Javier Lopez this way; it’s Lopez’s entire reason for existence. It’s another to take pitchers not used to throwing 30 pitches in the bullpen and five in the game and shove them into matchup roles. I mentioned the 3.6 BFP/app number earlier; in September, Bochy is using his relievers for an average of 2.7 batters per appearance. He’s turned his entire bullpen into specialists.
And Bochy is going to need his pen here at Wrigley. At least in Game 2, does anyone in their right mind think that Jeff Samardzija is going to see the 7th inning? Johnny Cueto is going to show up for Game 1 when it’s below 50 with a balky groin and just hand the ball to Romo, huh? All right, let’s see it. And let’s not even get into which mystery guest is going to have to throw a possible Game 4, be it Matt Moore or Blach or whatever else. This pen can’t escape.
There isn’t one place on the field the Cubs aren’t better than the Giants. They have a better lineup, they have a better rotation top and bottom, they play better defense. But the biggest gap is in relief, and that usually tells the tale in October.
Even Year This.