7th inning of Game four of the NLDS between the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals. Game tied at two, Pablo Sandoval watches Aaron Barnett’s 2-1 fastball fly to the backstop as rookie Joe Panik easily trots across the plate to score the go-ahead run. Six outs later, the Giants are headed to the NLCS once again, taking three out of four over Washington.
The Giants became the fourth team to win a post-season series via a wild pitch in the 7th inning or later in a series-clinching game.
San Fran was the tenth seed in the MLB Postseason, sneaking in as the second wild card after the Dodgers won the division by six games. So how did the Giants go from under dog to top dog? Here’s how:
From the start of the postseason, the Giants’ pitching rotation was in control and it started on a cool night in the Steel City when Madison Bumgarner took the hill. Bumgarner set the tone for the Giants’ hurlers by tossing a complete-game shutout, yielding just four hits, and striking out ten against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
The pitching dominance trend continued against the Nationals who led the National League in wins with 96 (tied for second in the majors). Washington ranked third in the National League in hitting this season, but their bats couldn’t match up to the McCovey Cove-blessed arms of San Francisco.
In four games, Giants’ starters racked up 26 innings pitched and neither one of the four pitchers surrendered more than two earned runs. Props go out to Tim Hudson, the 38-year-old who had only won once in his nine post-season starts, silenced the crowd at the Nation’s Capital by tossing seven and a third innings of one-run baseball and striking out eight.
In game four, Ryan Vogelsong was excellent, as well. By allowing just one run over 5 2/3 innings, Vogelsong became the first pitcher in Major League history to open his career with five consecutive post-season starts allowing one run or less (Clayton Kershaw should take notes).
Overall in five playoff games, San Francisco’s starting rotation has pitched 34.2 innings, given up just four earned runs and has 31 strikeouts. That is a 1.03 ERA and an average of seven innings pitched, four hits, one earned run, and eight strikeouts per game.
In early July against the Cincinnati Reds, Sergio Romo gave up a game-tying homer to Brandon Phillips in the ninth inning and was removed from the closer role. This post-season, Romo and now-closer Santiago Casilla have been lights out.
Romo has a pair of holds and Casilla has followed suit with a pair of saves. Combined, these two have six innings pitched and have only allowed three base runners.
The bullpen’s brightest moment came in game two against Washington when they struck out 12 batters over 10.2 innings in a marathon game the Giants ended up winning after 18 innings.
Overall, the Nationals’ bats were cold. With the exception of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon who combined for 12 hits, the rest of the Washington offense hit just .113 (14 of 123) at the plate.
Through five games, the Giants have mastered the “get-em-on, get-em-over, get-em-in” concept, on top of getting timely hits with runners in scoring position. It started in the fourth inning in Pittsburgh when Brandon Crawford became the first shortstop in MLB History to hit a grand slam in the playoffs. His huge homer led the Giants to an 8-0 road win.
Game one and two of the series with Washington displayed even more timely hits by the Giants. In game one, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt each had RBI singles off Washington ace Stephen Strasburg. Again it was Panik in the seventh inning, who led the frame off with a triple and scored on a single by catcher Buster Posey.
Belt once again delivered in game two. With the game eclipsing the six-hour mark, Belt hit the go-ahead solo bomb off of Tanner Roark to put the Giants up 2-1, a score they would win by.
Just prior to the Giants finishing up their series on the West Coast, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated Clayton Kershaw for the second time in four games to reach the NLCS.
Previewing the matchup, one major advantage for the Giants is that St. Louis was the 24th ranked team in hitting and San Fran ranked tenth in pitching.
This will be a rematch of the 2012 NLCS, a matchup the Giants won in seven games. These two teams also have the most post season wins in the past five seasons, St. Louis has 30 and San Francisco has 26. It is also the fifth straight year that one of these two teams will represent the National League in the World Series.
The Giants will also welcome back Michael Morse to their lineup. Mores has had just two at bats since suffering an oblique injury on August 31st and was kept off the playoff roster for the first two rounds.
The main question is if the Giants can score enough to back up their strong starting pitching. San Francisco scored just nine runs in four games against the Nationals and the Cardinals scored ten in one game, a game started by Kershaw.
It begins and ends with starting pitching for San Fran. If the starters struggle and have to turn it over to the bullpen early against an explosive Cardinals’ playoff offense, it could be a long (or short) series.
If the starters can dominate like they have in the first five playoff contests, it could certainly be another #OrangeOctober for the Giant faithful as they endeavor for their third World Series ring in the last five years.
Cover Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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