The San Francisco Giants were favorites to win the NL West, and looked like they were headed there come mid-July. However, a serious late-summer slump cost them the division, and they’re now headed to a Wild Card playoff game on the road with a record of 87-75. Was it mentioned it was an even year? Oh yeah. That was 2014.
In 2016, the story is the same. Second half slump, 87-75 record, road playoff game. It’s so similar that Madison Bumgarner is once again scheduled to start the NL Wild Card game, just like he was in 2014. Everybody knows how that ended up. So what do the Giants need to do for it too happen all over again?
Giants 2016 Postseason: Keys to Success
For the Giants to be champions in 2016, a few things need to happen. Luckily, they’ve seemingly found their bats and their feet at just the right time. They always do this. Come playoff time, they should be the most feared team in the field. Yet every year, somebody else is the scary team. You would think national analysts would’ve learned their lesson after 2010, 2012, and 2014, but no. History repeats itself, folks, and for the Giants to repeat history, they need to do these three things.
Score Early and Often
The Giants won a lot of games in the 2014 postseason by getting ahead first, and putting pressure on the opposing team’s at bats. The pressure in the postseason is immense; when you’re behind, it’s even worse. The Giants were 9-0 in the 2014 postseason when scoring first. For a Wild Card winner, it takes 11 wins to capture the World Series. A big part of that is holding leads with the bullpen. The Giants bullpen in 2014 was almost as sketchy as this year’s. Santiago Casilla took over the closer role that season after Sergio Romo lost it early on. However, the Giants seem to be getting back on track out of the pen, as of late. With Romo basically installed as the closer for now, they’ve picked the right moments for the supporting cast to make their appearances.
Getting, and keeping, leads will be a major key, especially with the high level of pitching in the NL postseason. On Wednesday, the Giants will face Noah Syndergaard, who they have a history of roughing up. Getting to him early will be highly beneficial to winning the Wild Card game. If the Giants score first, they likely will hold on to win. Early and often should be the motto for the Giants plate approach.
Starters Need to go Deep
One thing that the Giants struggled with in ‘14 was having another pitcher in the rotation that they trusted alongside Bumgarner. They squeaked by on the backs of transcendent performances from Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, and Tim Hudson. One thing that bullpen possessed in 2014 was a high-quality long-relief man in Yusmeiro Petit. Petit was one of those guys who could give you two or three perfect innings nearly every time he came in. His performance in Game Two of the NLDS was crucial in their run, and will be stuff of legend in San Francisco for decades to come. This season, they don’t have that guy in the pen.
The issues from that rather weak rotation plagued the Giants, and eventually cost them a postseason spot in 2015. Enter Matt Moore, Jeff Samardzija, and Johnny Cueto. The Giants playoff rotation is stacked, just like their 2010 and 2012 championship years. Those three alone were the first Giants pitchers to string together three straight starts with 11+ strikeouts last week. They’ll need them to get into the seventh inning every time they get handed the ball, since they don’t really have many reliable options at long reliever. Ty Blach and Matt Cain are the best long relief options, with Steven Okert knocking on the door behind them. Even then, getting into the bullpen early doesn’t bode well for the Giants. If the starters can go deep, it gives them a chance to win every game.
Defense, Defense, Defense
The Giants have always been a really good defensive team. Brandon Crawford continues to climb to a new level each season. If you thought he was incredible in 2014, he’s even better now. Couple that with Joe Panik, and Brandon Belt, and the Giants infield looks stacked. In 2014, the Giants only committed five errors in the entire postseason. The Mets committed six in the 2015 World Series alone. It’s safe to say that defense is an important aspect of a playoff run, and the Giants 2016 defense might be the best in the playoffs.
San Francisco had the least errors among any team in baseball, and were tied with the Washington Nationals for the best fielding percentage the majors. Outside of Washington, there isn’t another NL playoff team within the top five, with the Los Angeles Dodgers at seven, and the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs at 13 and 21, respectively. Solid defense is the key to a long postseason run, and minimizing errors is the best way to shore up a defense. The Giants defense is the best in the postseason; to extend their run, they’ll need to play at their expected level.
The San Francisco Giants postseason run begins on Oct. 5th against the New York Mets in the NL Wild Card playoff. You can watch that game on ESPN at 8et/5pt.