Familiarity and Execution: The two, foremost themes heading into NLDS Game 5 between the Dodgers and Giants

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–The biggest game in the long history between the Giants and Dodgers is here. Twice, the Giants struck first, and the Dodgers answered emphatically both times. Now in Game 5, only one statement remains to be made. Which team will win this epic series with all of the baseball world focused on Oracle Park Thursday night?

The Dodgers took the first, and biggest gamble of the series on Tuesday, in bringing back Walker Buehler on short rest to start Game 4. And Buehler delivered. That allows Los Angeles to now start Julio Urias on regular rest, opposite the Giants’ Logan Webb in Game 5. Manager Dave Roberts said he eyeballed Buehler, and what he saw made the manager’s decision easy.

“I would feel really weird not pitching a game that we could lose a series,” Buehler said in explaining the vibe he sent to Roberts.

“Sometimes when you might be a little bit more fatigued and not too amped up or too strong, you kind of try not to do too much,” Roberts said of his ace’s Game 4 performance. “And all night long he stayed in his delivery. All the stuff — the velocity, the characteristics of his secondary pitches — was really good.”

Both starters for Thursday have already won a game in the series. Logan Webb was spectacular in Game 1, pitching into the eighth inning and forcing the Dodgers’ hitters into uncharacteristic mistakes. Urias had a shorter stint in Game 2, pitching five innings and allowing three hits and a run. But when Urias departed, the Dodgers were already in control, leading 2-1 in a game they would break open in the sixth, and win 9-2.

For the Giants, the questions are clear: Can Webb summon the magic a second time? And can the San Francisco bullpen support him when he departs? The odds of both happening are good.

Webb remains a problem for any ballclub that steps into Oracle Park. He’s yet to lose a ballgame at home (6-0, 1.96 ERA in 73 1/3 innings in 2021, not including his 7 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 1), and his unwavering demeanor and penchant for dialing up strikeouts will energize the sold out crowd on Thursday. The only issue? Los Angeles’ hitters were undisciplined in Game 1. This time, they will challenge Webb to be at his absolute best this time by only swinging at baseballs in the strike zone.

Overall, the Giants’ pitching staff has done some good things. They’ve kept the Dodgers’ best hitters from leaving the park. Only two Dodgers have homered in the Series: Will Smith has two, and Mookie Betts greeted Giants’ reliever Jarlin Garcia with bad news in the fourth inning on Wednesday night. A host of other Los Angeles sluggers have been left frustrated trying to drive one out, especially in Game 3. For the Giants, that needs to continue.

Also, the Giants’ pitchers that have shown some vulnerability most assuredly won’t throw in the deciding game. Starters Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani both must turn the page, and get ready for the next round if the Giants advance. Dominic Leone and Garcia have both had a pair of substandard appearances.

So that leaves Camilo Doval, the re-emerging Jake McGee, and Zach Littell as top options for Gabe Kapler if the Giants’ are fortunate to reap high-leverage situations in Game 5 after Webb departs. Littell–awful in Game 2, but lights out in Game 4–is the most intriguing. He’s a trusted arm, and Kapler is likely to forget his Game 2 hiccup, and remember his four strikeouts in an inning plus on Tuesday.

The Dodgers also will be in great shape to unearth a well-pitched game in the decider as well. Urias, the 20-game winner will start, and the best bullpen in baseball will follow. All signs point to a tense, low scoring game.

From a hitting standpoint, the Giants will have all-hands on deck, but they’ll likely depend on the most familiar suspects against Urias. Both Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey had hits off Urias in Game 2, and Austin Slater will likely earn another start in right field against the Dodgers’ left handed starter. Slater, too, doubled off Urias in Game 2.

Darin Ruf (left field) and Wilmer Flores (first base) will likely be in Kapler’s starting lineup, as will Kris Bryant, who has picked up his game after a lackluster end of the regular season, giving his manager tremendous versatility.

“A bat of that caliber and that quality, and knowing that they can play anywhere and they are going to be ready to go gives us the flexibility to do a lot of things,” Kapler said of Bryant. “So I guess it’s not just Kris, but also what that does for the rest of the roster and how we can construct our lineups.”

The defending champion Dodgers are easier to decipher. Betts, Trea Turner, Corey Seager and the youthful, but dangerous Smith can each be the one to individually or collaboratively ruin the evening for San Francisco fans on Thursday. And don’t forget Justin Turner either. He’s done almost nothing in the series thus far–hitting .059–but he undoubtedly will be in the Roberts’ lineup and a serious threat to come up clutch in a big spot.

The Skinny On The Giants-Dodgers Division Title Race For The Ages: You don’t wanna finish second

By Morris Phillips

You don’t want to finish second. For the Giants and the Dodgers, winning the NL West is paramount.

Here’s why.

Barring a minor miracle–but also a real possibility–the first postseason meeting of the long time rivals begins on Friday, October 8, a full four days after the regular season ends on that previous Sunday. The best case scenario for both teams: they win the NL West outright, and get all four of those days to rest and set up their Operation World Series ’21 war room in which they align their rotations, rest key regulars and stay out of COVID protocols. Beyond that, the NL West winner would have time to develop a strategy to derail their rival in a seven-game series, then roll two more high-level opponents on their way to a Series title.

Now back to the minor miracle/real possibility that could evaporate one of these two 100 plus-win teams before October 8: a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the almost certain, second wild card entrant currently riding an eight-game win streak that has all but retired the competition with two weeks remaining in the regular season. What would the Cardinals have to do to pull an upset? Summon the perpetual youth tonic for 40-year old Adam Wainwright and his battery mate, 39-year old Yadier Molina, who would be slotted to pitch and catch the Wednesday, October 6 wild card game as the only pair manager Mike Schildt–or the state of Missouri–would trust in such a situation. In a separate slice of baseball history, Wainwright and Molina have paired as battery mates 298 times. The October 6 clash would see them likely pairing for the 301st time, which ranks fourth in major league history for the most prolific catcher and pitcher pairings.

Wainright (16-7, 2.89 ERA) has a win against both the Dodgers and Giants this season (beating Los Angeles at Busch Stadium on September 8) although he was roughed up in the rematch against the Giants on July 16.

Think the stakes are high in these final two weeks for the Giants and Dodgers? Think higher.

The Giants are trying to secure the apex of their franchise history (which dates back to 1883 as the New York Gothams) by winning a fourth World Series in 12 seasons, a rash of success never accomplished by a franchise that’s won eight titles in 137 seasons.

For the Dodgers, who have had far more success at this level, this would mark some level of redemption after their well-chronicled postseason flame outs beginning in 2013. On the line for the Dodgers: an unprecedented ninth, consecutive division title, back-to-back Series titles, and the fulfillment of their stature as the team widely considered to be Major League baseball’s best.

Currently, the Giants have a one-game lead with 12 games remaining for both contenders. The teams will be on the road this week, and home next week, six road games then six home games. Amazingly, Baseball-Reference–the premiere MLB website chronicling the game’s history and all of its current metrics–favors the Giants to win the division with a 104-58 record, besting the Dodgers, who according to their database, are most likely to finish 103-59.

If you been following this race intently, you know those won-loss figures are extremely conservative and predict that neither team will win at their current clips, which are best described as torrid. The Dodgers since losing six of nine (four of those six losses to the Giants) at the end of July, have won 34 of 45. The Giants have won 13 of their last 17 ballgames after a four-game losing streak spanning the end of August and beginning of September.

Most likely, both managers (Gabe Kapler and Dave Roberts) are hoping for fast finishes with a record of 9-3 or better. For the Giants (97-53) that’s the safe spot. 106 wins should be the number the Dodgers can’t match. Of course, 105 might be just what the doctor ordered for the Dodgers (96-52). Obviously, it’s just that close.

Now for what might happen after game 162 with the caveat that neither of these teams is fearful of playing a big game in the other team’s ballpark. Both have had too much success, and have won too consistently (with pitching) to feel any other way. That’s why one (Los Angeles) or both teams may not scared to finish second, and get ready for the postseason without the burden of overusing their bullpens, starters or key starters.

But here’s why they would.

Playing on Monday–Game 163–burns a critical starter who would otherwise be primed to pitch Game 1 of the NLDS. For the Giants, based on how the rotations are set up (and there’s little reason for either team to dramatically juggle their rotations with the aces in line to pitch the final weekend or on that following Monday) Logan Webb would likely be a one-game playoff starter, Julio Urias (18-3, 2.99, the NL Cy Young favorite) would be most likely for the Dodgers.

The loser of Game 163 would then host the Wild Card game Wednesday and assume the challenge presented by the Cardinals. Then after burning two prime starters, they would open the NLDS as the visitor on Friday.

Does the second place scenario offer a reasonable path for success? Sure, for either of these balanced clubs. But potentially, playing eight, consecutive Dodgers-Giants games doesn’t set you up to play exceptional baseball for three weeks–against two, more formidable opponents–after that.

So, in conclusion… if 2021 is your year, the “your” part starts now.

And the quote of the weekend from Kris Bryant of the Giants: “I feel like we’ve been playing great baseball, and they have been matching us. That’s annoying.”

On Tuesday, the Giants open up a three-game set in San Diego against the frustrated, fussing, faltering Padres with Kevin Gausman facing Joe Musgrove. Gausman will be pitching with four days rest, Musgrove with five.

Kris Boss: Bryant homers twice, Giants outlast the Mets, 7-5

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–On 77 occasions this season, the Giants have felt great about themselves and their play. After Monday’s win, that good feeling was running rampant throughout their clubhouse.

“We’re working the ball through the middle, we’re not letting the starter steal strikes from the very first pitch and we’re ready to go right when the bell rings,” Monday’s hero Kris Bryant said. “It’s really fun to be a part of.”

Bryant homered twice–the first time to give the Giants the lead, then later to build on that lead–and the Giants outlasted the Mets, 7-5 at Oracle Park. The team’s big trade deadline acquisition had gone more than two weeks without home run after doing so in his first game with his new club on August 1.

“After the second one, obviously back-to-back is going to get the crowd going,” Bryant said. “I felt that one. That one, I just can’t thank (the fans) enough. They’ve embraced me with open arms and it’s really been a great time playing in front of them.”

Bryant’s second homer in the seventh came one pitch after Brandon Belt connected, and extended the Giants lead to 6-3 in a game the Mets briefly led 3-2 in the fifth inning. The Mets answered with Jonathan Villar’s two-run shot in the eighth, but Jake McGee closed the door after that, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth for his career-best 26th save.

Bryant and McGee weren’t the Giants only stars on the night. In fact, there were a bunch as the club bagged its most satisfying win in weeks, and maintained its four-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West.

Kevin Gausman picked up his 12th win–a career high–by pitching five innings, allowing three runs while striking out seven. The seven strikeouts caught notice as the team’s ace has struggled since the All-Star break. On Monday however, Gausman had great fastball location, and life on his cutter, as Mets’ hitters struggled to find balance attacking his pitches. Still, Gausman’s outing wasn’t without its wart: Pete Alonso’s hard hit triple keyed a three-run fifth that briefly gave the Mets the lead.

Brandon Crawford continued his hot hitting with four hits, Wilmer Flores knocked in a run against his former team, and Brandon Belt came up big with his pinch-hit home run in the seventh.

A couple of the Mets complained about the scheduling that saw the team play at home in Citi Field on Sunday night against the Dodgers than have to fly all the way across country to face the Giants on Monday night. The Dodgers made the same trek, and survived, beating the Pirates 2-1. And to be fair, the Mets survived too, thanks to starter Rich Hill, and his underwhelming but effective repertoire that kept the Giants under raps until the fourth when they strung together five, consecutive hits for a 2-0 lead.

The Mets are in the midst of a concerning stretch of 13 games against the Giants and Dodgers that could decide their fate in the NL East. The club had lead the division until they slumped coming out of the All-Star break, allowing the Phillies and Braves to surge. The Mets are 0-4 in the stretch so far, a stretch which as challenging as any in the last 40 seasons at this stage of the season. Both the Dodgers and Giants have winning percentages above .600 and no club has faced teams with such superior win percentages 100 games into a season for this lengthy a stretch since the Blue Jays did it in 1980. The Jays didn’t fare well either, winning just four of the 13 games.

The Giants moved a season-best 35 games above .500, and have the second-best, 119-game start to a season in San Francisco Giants history at 77-42. The Giants have won 16 of 21, and a much more modest stretch of 23-20 to end the season would net them 100 wins.

On Tuesday, the Giants welcome the much anticipated appearance of Logan Webb, who will be trying to win a sixth, consecutive decision dating back to May 11. New York will counter with Marcus Stroman, who will be facing the Giants for only the second time, and the first as a Met.

Giants take down Astros 5-3 in Bryant’s debut

The newest San Francisco Giant Kris Bryant is all smiles in the Giants dugout after hitting a third inning home run against the Houston Astros on Sun Aug 1, 2021 at Oracle Park in San Francisco (AP News photo)

by Marko Ukalovic

SAN FRANCISCO–Kris Bryant was jokingly asked before the game if he felt pressure to hit a home run in his debut game for his new team since two of his former Chicago Cubs teammates had done the day before for their respective new clubs.

If he did, you wouldn’t have known as the newly acquired Giant, hit a solo home run in his second at bat to help The San Francisco Giants beat the Houston Astros 5-3 in the rubber match of the three-game series on Sunday afternoon at Oracle Park.

San Francisco took two out of three from Houston and went 5-4 on its nine-game homestand, 4-2 in the last six games. They remained three games ahead of Los Angeles and six and a half games up on San Diego in the National League West. Houston has lost two in a row and lead Oakland by four and half games in the American League West.

“I think it says we’re steady”, Giants manager Gabe Kapler said after his team won the past two series against contending teams. “We’re not going to let one day, spill into the next. But I also think the confidence is growing. And I think we’ve played well against some of the best teams in baseball.”

Bryant finished the game going 1-4 with the home run and RBI. He also made an errant throw to first base on a Martin Maldonado ground ball to third base in the fifth inning.

Bryant, who started at third base for Kapler, ignited the two-out three-run third inning for San Francisco with his 19th home run of the season. Brandon Crawford singled in Mike Yaztrzemski to tie the game at 2-2.

“I feel giddy”, said Bryant after his first game with his new team. “It felt like Christmas morning honestly. It’s really cool to be part of it and experience it first hand”

Darin Ruff who went 3-4 with a HR and three RBI, just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle, ended up upstaging his new teammate. His RBI single in the third inning gave the Giants the lead they wouldn’t relinquish. His two-run homer in the fifth inning gave San Francisco all the runs they would need on the sunny afternoon.

“Today in particular, I focused on not missing a fastball (thrown at me). Luckily, I was on time and ran into some good pitches, you know squaring them up pretty well. Overall for the series I don’t know maybe a little bit more aggressive. You gotta find some holes out there and get lucky sometimes. I fell into a good rhythm,” Ruff said.

Ruff feasted on Astros pitching over the weekend going 6-13 (.461) with a home run, 5 RBI and four runs scored.

Logan Webb started the series finale for San Francisco (66-39). He pitch a strong 6 plus innings giving up only two earned runs on seven hits while striking out three and walking one batter. Webb settled down after the first inning when he gave up a two-run home run to Yuli Gurriel.

“We wanted to stay with the same game plan”, said Webb. “Keep attacking those guys. They got some hits but (when) you keep them to singles, I’ll take that all day.”

Astros starter Luis Garcia went four and two-thirds innings giving up five earned runs on eight hits, striking out seven and walking two batters.

Houston (64-42) scored a run in the eighth inning off of Tyler Rogers when Kyle Tucker hit into a 1-6-3 double play.

Jake McGee came in and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his 23rd save of the season.

GAME NOTES: The Giants left six runners on base. Houston stranded seven.

To make room for Bryant on the 26-man roster, the Giants optioned infielder Jason Vosler down to Triple-A Sacramento.

Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo became the first trio in MLB history to all homer in the debuts for their new teams.

The Giants home record of 35-17 is the best in MLB and their day game record is now 26-14 (4th best in MLB).

UP NEXT: The Giants began a seven-game road trip when the travel out Arizona to begin a four-games series with the Diamondback on Monday 8/2 at 6:40pm at Chase Field.

San Francisco Giants podcast with Michael Duca: Giants acquire Cubs Bryant in big move during trade deadline

Former Chicago Cub Kris Bryant watches the flight of his home run at Wrigley Field as he joins the San Francisco Giants on Fri Jul 30, 2021 (photo from pantagraph.com)

On the Giants podcast with Michael Duca:

#1 The San Francisco Giants is a big move picked up Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant who will be playing the hot corner as regular third baseman Evan Longoria is on the 60 day injured list.

#2 Longoria got injured when he collided with teammate and shortstop Brandon Crawford and suffered a shoulder sprain and has been out since June 5th

#3 The Cubs picked up a right hander Calib Kilian and outfielder Alexander Canario in exchange for Bryant and two minor leaguers. Bryant who will be a free agent at the end of this season might be at the crossroads of whether he would want to come back to the Cubs or will he stay with the Giants that is yet to be seen.

#4 Bryant is hitting .267, with 18 home runs and 51 RBIs he certainly can be expected to help the Giants at the plate.

#5 Bryant knows something about the post season he was on the 2016 Cubs Worlds Championship team his rookie season when the Cubs snapped their 108 year drought of not getting a World Series Championship.

Join Michael Fridays for the Giants podcast at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

Cubs beat the A’s 3-1 to sweep the series

 

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Oakland Athletics
Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sean Manaea Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

By Charlie O. Mallonee

OAKLAND–The Chicago Cubs made it a three-game sweep over Oakland as they beat the Athletics 3-1 on Sunday. The Cubs supported the outstanding pitching of Kyle Hendricks with some timely hitting and the 104 mph pitches of Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning to nail down the win for Chicago.

The Cubs have now won seven consecutive games and 10 of their last 11 contests. Chicago is a season-high 28 games over .500 with a record of 69-41 which is best in the majors. This was their 10th series sweep of the season.

The A’s have now lost three in a row and eight of their last nine games. Oakland is now 15 games under .500 with a record of 48-63. This was the ninth time the A’s were swept this season.

On the Bump

Kyle Hendricks (11-7) has quietly been one of the most solid pitchers for the Cubs this season. He did not overpower hitters as his fastball topped out at 89 mph on a consistent basis. It was the sinking action of his fastball that caused Oakland hitters to groundout and the change up that kept the hitters off balance that Hendricks used to defeat the A’s.

Hendricks worked 7.1 innings giving up just one run (earned) on three hits. He struck out four batters and walked none. Hendricks entire outing was about control.

Pedro Strop worked 0.2 innings of relief for Hendricks.

Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth inning thrilling the crowd with pitches that hit 104 mph on the radar gun. Chapman did give up a single to the A’s Stephen Vogt, so he is human.

“He pitched great. A couple of swings ended up being two runs for them. Pitching deep into the game for us again. Getting the swings and misses. Using all three pitches. It’s a pretty good line up that other than two pitches he did a great job against,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin evaluating the pitching performance of Sean Manaea on Sunday.

Manaea (3-7) worked 6.0 innings giving up two runs (both earned) on six hits. He struck out four and walked two batters. Both runs came via the home run. Kris Bryant hit his 27th home run of the season off Manaea to lead off the top of the sixth inning and Jorge Soler hit his seventh homer of the year to lead off the seventh inning.

The A’s used five relief pitchers in the game. Reliever Liam Hendriks came in with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the eight and worked out of that jam without allowing a run. Manager Bob Melvin praised Hendriks for his effort after the game.

Chris Smith who was just added to the A’s roster closed out the game for Oakland working a scoreless top of the ninth inning.

In the Batter’s Box

Marcus Semien was the bright spot for the A’s at the plate against the Cubs. Semien went 2-for-3 on the day. That included him crushing his 23rd home run of the season into the left center field seats which accounted for the only A’s run of the day.

Stephen Vogt and Max Muncy were the only other A’s to pick up hits in the game.

The A’s left three men on base.

Kris Bryant went 2-for-3, scored a run, hit a home run and walked twice in the game. The home run was his 27th of the year which is a new career-high.

Jorge Soler enjoyed being the Designated Hitter as he went 2-for-4. He hit his seventh home run of the season off Manaea.

Anthony Rizzo had a 1-for-4 day that included an rbi. He has now reached base safely in 14 consecutive starts.

The Cubs left eight men on base and went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Defense

Yonder Alonso executed the rare unassisted double play in the top of the third inning. With the bases loaded, the Cubs Ben Zobrist hit a low line drive down the first base line that Alonso snagged with his glove hand. He then stepped on the first base bag to double up the runner – Anthony Rizzo – to end the inning and the Cubs scoring threat.

A rare call by first base umpire Paul Emmel preserved a good defensive play by the A’s. In the top the fourth inning, Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras struck out but the pitch was in the dirt so the batter was able to run to first. Catcher Stephen Vogt fielded the ball and made the throw to first. Contreras ran out of the runners lane to distract Yonder Alonso who was waiting to catch the ball. Alonso dropped the ball but Emmel called Contreras out for leaving the lane and interfering with the play. It is a call that should be made more often.

Notes

Sonny Gray has been placed on the 15-day disabled list for the second time this season. Gray was lifted from the game on Saturday when he strained his right forearm in the fifth inning. Gray was on the DL from May 21 to June 4 with a strained right trapezius.

Right-hand pitcher Chris Smith has been promoted from Triple-A Nashville to take Gray’s spot on the roster. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Smith, catcher Josh Phegley has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

This is the 25th time the A’s have placed a player on the DL this season. That ties a club all-time record.

Up Next

The Athletics will stay in Oakland for a four-game series with the Eastern Division leading Baltimore Orioles:

Mon 8/8 RHP Kendall Graveman (7-7,4.46) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (3-8,4.08) 7:05 PM

Tue 8/9 RHP RHP Zach Neal (1-1,5.25) vs. LHP Wade Miley (0-1,7.20) 7:05 PM

Wed 8/10 TBA (probably a call up from Nashville) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (4-3,5.47) 7:05

Thu 8/11 TBA (possibly another Nashville call up) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (14-4,3.50) 7:05

The Cubs have the day off on Monday and start a two-game series with the Angles in Chicago on Tuesday.