Putting it to Bed: The 2012 San Francisco Giants Postseason, Part III

 Jim Jividen concludes the story of San Francisco’s surprising run to the 2012 World Series with a look at the Giants’ unlikeliest heroes. Plus football picks!

 

I picked the Tigers in 7.

I’d like to say I picked the Tigers in 7 because, as a Giants fan for each of the conscious days of my 42 years I either take pains to appear objective in prognostication or am looking to fake out the Baseball Gods, but I did pick the Giants over the Rangers two years prior.

I picked the Tigers because they were nominally the better side; their stars and scrubs roster composition is designed for postseason success. Detroit came into the World Series with both the best bat (Miguel Cabrera) and the best arm (Justin Verlander) in all of baseball. I picked the Tigers because the Giants had been fortunate; the team that rallied from 0-2 in the Division Series and then 1-3 in the NLCS wasn’t more likely to be the team that showed than the unit that fell behind in those respective series’. I picked the Tigers because the Giants were, intentionally, heading into the contest with less than their optimum roster. In the NLCS Tim McCarver said the Giants leaving Melky Cabrera off their postseason roster made it a “non-story”; another story to tell would be “Giants intentionally leave second best hitter off the roster without a baseball reason for doing so” which sounded like a pretty important story. I sit in the front row in both the “chemistry isn’t important” and “PEDs aren’t that big a deal” schools of thought so I was disinclined to accept either the argument that a drug free Melky wasn’t an upgrade over Aubrey Huff or that his return to the club would cause Brandon Crawford to start kicking ground balls out of distraction that a teammate that he was unhappy with was on the end of the bench.

And I picked the Tigers because the pitching matchup planned for Games One and Five was maybe the biggest mismatch in recent World Series history.

I know in my own life during moments of unexpected, seemingly life altering triumph who I’ve most wanted to tell is an earlier version of me; to tell him to hang in there, to keep punching, that a day would come where I’d approximate the person I wanted to be.

Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball; he had a 7.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference version) in 2012 and an 8.2 the previous year; 8 WAR is a Most Valuable Player Quality season, meaning in back to back years, you could have safely tossed Verlander an MVP vote without issue.

Barry Zito’s WAR was 3. Not during 2012. Not during 2011 and 2012. Barry Zito’s total combined WAR in all of his 6 seasons as a San Francisco Giant was 3.

Half a season of Justin Verlander> Barry Zito’s entire Giants career.

I picked the Tigers in 7.

I also voted for Dukakis. These things happen sometimes.

The left fielder whose name dare not be spoken, 2012 version, was the MVP of the All Star-Game, and that gave San Francisco its first home World Series Game One in 50 years. It was a game that saw Pablo Sandoval, maybe one of the dozen most popular Giants over that half century, put his name in the record books.

In the bottom of the first, with two out and an 0-2 count, Sandoval took a 95 mile per hour Verlander fastball over the center field fence. Neither team allowed another baserunner until a third inning Angel Pagan double off the third base bag; that was followed by a run scoring Marco Scutaro single, and after a visibly irritated Verlander received a visit from the Tigers pitching coach – Sandoval hit another 95 mph fastball over the fence, this time to left field.

If you’ve read parts one and two of this series (and come on, why haven’t you?) you’ve seen one of my themes has been that objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are – when you’re ahead in a baseball game, even with what might “feel” like a relatively limited lead, 3-0 through 3, the chance that you will lose that baseball game is really small. In this case – 10%. You remember the comebacks, but baseball is a data rich endeavor; and from that position in a baseball game, we’ve got a good statistical understanding that the team that’s ahead wins 90% of the time.

And that’s what happened. Barry Zito, who would be the winning pitcher in Game One, singled home Brandon Belt in the 4th; and with Verlander out of the game in the 5th, Pablo Sandoval became the 4th man in World Series history to homer three times in the same game, hitting an Al Alburquerque slider over the center field wall.

4 men in a hundred and eight years. Ruth. Reggie. Pujols. Panda.

That made it 6-0, the final was 8-3. Cy Young got beat by Sayonara and the Giants were up 1-0.

The Giants lied to us prior to Game 2. Madison Bumgarner’s the fourth youngest game winning starter in World Series history but he had been brutal down the stretch and a playoff ERA of over 11 got him shelved in the back end of the NLCS.

But the Giants said they made a mechanical adjustment and he was ready to go. Anytime you ignore a couple of months of declining performance in favor of vague pitching coach promises that things are “all fixed” you’re going to be handing cash to your sportsbook.

Bumgarner went out and struck out 8 in 7 scoreless innings; the Giants gave up just two hits and beat the Tigers 2-0. Apparently he’s all better now.

Other than the second, in which Prince Fielder got thrown out at the plate and the Giants left the bases loaded (Tigers pitcher Doug Fister’s memory of the inning may be spotty, he took a line drive off the head) neither club had a runner reach scoring position until the Giants broke through in the bottom of the 7th. Fister’s last pitch thrown was a leadoff single to Pence; Drew Smyly came on, walked Brandon Belt, and then loaded the bases on a slowwwwwww bunt single that hugged the third baseline. We only got one, on a Crawford double play, but a 1-0 lead headed to the 8th inning gives you a 77% chance to win a baseball game. We picked up the second run an inning later on 3 walks and a sac fly; and hitless innings from Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo gave the Giants a 2-0 win and a 2-0 lead.

A 2-0 World Series lead is sort of a big deal. It had happened 50 times prior to 2012 and 40 times there was no comeback. 14 of the past 15 teams to go up 2-0 won the World Series. We headed to Detroit solidly, solidly in the driver’s seat.

Back in the modern deadball era, in 1966, the Baltimore Orioles threw back to back shutouts in a World Series. It hadn’t been done since.

The San Francisco Giants drafted 20 year old Ryan Vogelsong 14 years ago. Our top pick that year was Nate Bump; in 2011 after 13 minor league seasons and almost 1100 minor league innings pitched, Bump was still pitching for Lehigh Valley.

Now is the time when I’d say something like “it’s hard to make it in the Show” but that’s a little more Ring Lardner than I can get away with.

Vogelsong was in the same Single A clubhouse with Giants farmhands like Damon Minor and Joe Nathan; in the same Double A clubhouse with Scott Linebrink and Cody Ransom; in the same Triple A clubhouse with Calvin Murray and Ryan Jensen. Lot of Ghosts of Giants Past, Well Less Past and More Ghost of Giants Never in Vogelsong’s real view mirror.

And then he was gone – sent to Pittsburgh in 2001 in the Jason Schmidt trade.

When your prospects leave, particularly in what turned out to be an incredible heist, you lose track of them quickly; one day Vogelsong’s someone you’re keeping track of in Shreveport, and the next he’s just another guy bouncing around.

Nashville.
Lynchburg.
Altoona.
Indianapolis.

3 seasons in Japan. And not great seasons. Ryan Vogelsong was 11-14 with an ERA over 4 in over 200 innings pitched before returning to the States in 2010 to get kicked around AAA in both Salt Lake and Lehigh Valley. 33 year old Ryan Vogelsong hadn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues in five years when he returned to the Giants organization in 2011.

Ryan Vogelsong had been gone a decade. He missed our losing Game 7 of the World Series; he missed our getting knocked out of the playoffs on a home plate collision; he missed Barry Bonds breaking both the single season and career home run records; he missed the bottoming out of the organization at the end of the first decade of the 2000s and he missed the first World Series Championship in the history of San Francisco.

Almost all of the pivotal moments in recent Giants history – and Ryan Vogelsong, who first signed a Giants contract when Bill Clinton was President, has no connection to any of them.

In 2011, Ryan Vogelsong had his career year; he had more value (by WAR, B-Ref version) in 2011 than the entire rest of his career combined, and tonight, with the Giants having already won four elimination games in this year’s postseason, Ryan Vogelsong struck out 9 (his career high) and won his second game of the NLCS.

Ryan Vogelsong is 34; I don’t know what level of reflection he allows himself tonight – if he’ll think about Altoona or the Hanshin Tigers – if he’ll think about that 20 year old kid who signed his first contract in 1998 and what would become of him. I know in my own life during moments of unexpected, seemingly life altering triumph who I’ve most wanted to tell is an earlier version of me; to tell him to hang in there, to keep punching, that a day would come where I’d approximate the person I wanted to be.

I don’t know if Ryan Vogelsong does any of that.

The Giants entered Game 4 having not trailed in 54 consecutive innings.

Ryan Vogelsong (backed up by Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo) shut out the Tigers in Game 3 of the World Series; taking him to a postseason 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA.

All of the runs were scored in the Giants’ second on a Hunter Pence walk, Gregor Blanco triple, Brandon Crawford single. It was 2-0 good guys and that was that – Detroit threatened periodically, two on in the third, loading the bases with one out in the fifth, but Vogelsong held firm. Lincecum came on with two out in the 6th and didn’t give up a hit in his 2 and 2/3, capping off a season saving postseason bullpen run of 1 earned run in 13 innings with 17 strikeouts.

They’ve been doing this World Series thing for a hundred eight years; a team had never come back from a 3-0 deficit. The Giants entered Game 4 having not trailed in 54 consecutive innings.

The second streak ended, the first did not.

San Francisco took the lead early on a second inning Pence double/Belt triple. A wind aided two run Cabrera homer gave Detroit its first lead of the series in the third. Three innings later it was Buster Posey retaking the lead for the Giants by hitting a Max Scherzer changeup just on the good side of the left field pole; a lead that Matt Cain gave up in the bottom half on a Delmon Young solo shot.’
3-3 in the 7th. 3-3 in the 8th. 3-3 in the 9th.

12 years ago LSU beat Stanford in the College World Series on a single to left by Brad Creese in the 9th inning to break a 5-5 tie. Ryan Theriot was the winning run, sliding home from second base.

Theriot was the DH in Game 4 and after a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt, he stood on second base with the man who took his job, NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro, at the plate.

Scutaro singled to left.

Theriot slid home.

Sergio Romo struck out the side in the bottom of the tenth, and for the second time since moving to San Francisco in 1958 and the second time in three years, the Giants were World Champions.

Now to the picks.

I’m 104-88-2 ATS in this space through the Wednesday Bowl games.  I’ve got 4 Bowl games left that I picked in a previous piece. Below are my NFL postseason thoughts; I’m not offering any ATS predictions, although I may as the playoffs unfold.

AFC

1. Denver

2. NE
3. Hou
4. Balt
5 Indy
6. Cin

This will be boring; I’m picking chalk all the way through.

I’m going to deal with three of the advanced metric systems; Bryan Burke’s, Football Outsiders, and PF-Reference.

Bengals at Texans: The Texans are better, but not by a lot, by each of the systems.

Offense: Burke: Texans 12th/Bengals 19th
FO: Texans 16th/Bengals 17th
PFR: Texans 1.8/Bengals 1.2

Defense: Burke: Bengals 7th/Texans 10th
FO: Texans 3rd/Bengals 10th
PFR: Texans 1.7/Bengals .9

The line’s 4.5 which is a stay away, I’d pick Texans by 5.

Colts at Ravens: The Ravens are better by each of the systems

Offense: Burke: Colts 16th/Ravens 17th
FO: Ravens 13th/Colts 18th
PFR: Ravens 1.9/Colts -1.9

Defense: Burke: Ravens 16/Colts 30
FO: Ravens 19th/Colts 31
PFR: Ravens 1/Colts -2.8

The line’s 6.5 which is a stay away. I’d pick Ravens by 6.

No results in those games would be as surprising as any of those four teams making it to the conference title; there’s a healthy difference between the Denver/Patriots group and the other four teams.

In this scenario it’s:

Ravens at Broncos
Texans at Patriots

I’m likely to favor Denver by 10 and NE by 7. If one of those games were to go the wrong way it would be Houston upsetting NE. Far and away, the most likely AFC result is:

Patriots at Broncos

Offense: Burke: Patriots 1/Broncos 2
FO: Patriots 1/Broncos 2
PFR: Patriots 12.2/6.3

Defense: Burke: Broncos 2/Patriots 29
FO: Broncos 5/Patriots 15
PFR: Broncos 3.8/Patriots .5

The AFC isn’t that complicated; the two best offenses in the league are Pats/Denver, but Denver also can play defense and the Pats can’t. NE offense is the top unit in all of football, it makes them elite all by itself, but the defense isn’t as good as potential second round opponent Houston’s. There’s an open door for the Texans, but it’s not a big opening.

Denver shouldn’t have much trouble getting to the AFC Championship game; I’m likely to favor them by 6 – offense is the more important of the two sides, so the Patriots monstrous offense, now with the TE back, gives them a chance under any scenario – but the defensive gulf is too wide for me, and I’ll take the Denver Broncos to go to the Super Bowl.

NFC

I don’t recall the last time I picked the 49ers to go to the Super Bowl; it may have been 1994.

But here we are.

1. Atl
2. SF
3. GB
4. Was
5. Sea
6. Minn

As with the AFC, I’m referencing Bryan Burke/Football Outsiders/Pro-Football Reference when making this analysis.

Vikes at Packers

Offense: Burke Packers 8/Vikes 26
FO: Packers 3/Vikes 15
PFR: Pack 4.9/Vikes 1.6

Defense: Burke Pack 9/Vikes 13
FO: Pack 8/Vikes 21
PFR: Pack 2.4/Vikes 1.8

The Packers are better on both sides of the ball under each of the three analytic systems and solidly so; they’re favored by 7.5, that’s a no play for me, I’d favor the Pack by 7. The Vikes are the only team in the NFC that it would be a real surprise if they made the Super Bowl.

Seahawks at Redskins

Offense: Burke Seahawks 4/Redskins 5
FO: Seahawks 4/Redskins 6
PFR: Redskins 4.6/Seahawks 4.5

Defense: Burke Seahawks 6/Redskins 24
FO: Seahawks 4/Redskins 17
PFR: Seahawks 7.7/Redskins 1.2

It’s a wash offensively, but Seattle’s substantial defensive advantage outweighs the home field advantage the Skins have; Seattle’s favored by 3, I like them by a point, I’m saying no play to all 4 games this weekend, but if you had to, taking Washington probably provides the most daylight.

So, under that scenario:

Seahawks at Atlanta
Packers at Niners

Does Seattle beat Atlanta?

Atl Offense: Burke 13, FO 12, PFR 2.0 – so Seattle’s offense is solidly better
Atl Defense: Burke 18, FO 12, PFR 4.5 – so Seattle’s defense is better.

The Seahawks are better, not by a lot, and given the Falcons home field, that’s a pick em game. I’m going to take the Seahawks, but you could go the other way, and I might by gametime.

Do the Niners beat the Packers?

49er Offense: Burke 3, FO 5, PFR 3.5 – it’s close, you’d give a small edge to the Packers, but it’s small.
49er Defense: Burke 3, FO 2, PFR 6.7 – the Niners defense is better.

San Francisco’s better, I’d favor them (and by them, I mean us) by 6.

The two best teams in the NFC are, in a pretty healthy reversal of recent history, both from the West. On a neutral field, I think you’d take Seattle, maybe by a point – maybe even two. But in San Francisco, I’m going to favor the Niners by that point.

The image at the top of the page is Justin Smith; for at least the last two seasons it has been evident that he is the pivotal player on the Niner defense; it took a second week for most of the media to catch up – but his leaving the field as the Niners were up four touchdowns in New England led to a complete collapse that didn’t slow until we left Seattle a week later.

If you tell me now he’s not on the field at all, I’m likely to say we lose in any NFC Championship scenario.

If you tell me he’s on the field but only marginally effective, I’m likely to say we still beat the Falcons, but lose to Seattle.

If you tell me he’s on the field and largely effective, I’m saying (as I am) that the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl.

My Super Bowl is 49ers/Broncos – a game that, were it to occur, I’d analyze when timely – from a month away that seems like a pick ‘em, with Denver maybe a point/two points better. But I’d pick San Francisco.  I’m getting greedy.  

Photo–Flickr/HarmonyRae

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About Jim Jividen

Jim Jividen (@JimJividen) is a lawyer, a professionally produced playwright, a game show winner, and the owner of a 2009 Honda Accord on which he diligently makes payments. He can distinguish among dozens of different suplex variants and may be occasionally read at his two non-revenue producing blogs, Basically Gherkins and What if Steamboat Beat Hogan? Jim’s been a college instructor since the top of 2004 and is currently working in the mist as a Course Mentor for Western Governors University.

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