In fitting fashion, the 2016 San Francisco Giants exited their latest even-year postseason run earlier than they had anticipated thanks to a bullpen meltdown.
Starter Matt Moore was nothing short of spectacular against the powerhouse Cubs, holding the NL’s (statistically) second-best offense to two runs on two hits over eight strong innings. Unfortunately for the Giants and their fans, he didn’t make it to the mound for the ninth.
Derek Law saw the first opportunity to close the door on the Cubs, before Bochy yanked the young reliever following likely NL-MVP Kris Bryant’s lead-off single past a diving Brandon Crawford. Next up was lefty-specialist Javy Lopez to face the likely NL-MVP runner-up in Anthony Rizzo. After stretching the count full, Rizzo managed to walk, bringing the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist to the plate and forcing recently reinstated closer Sergio Romo into the game.
Romo, however, didn’t experience the same success he’d been enjoying for the latter part of the second half of the season.
Ben Zobrist doubled off Romo right away, setting up a two-score game with runners on second and third and nobody yet out. After a cat-and-mouse game between managers to try and grab the advantage in the hitter-pitcher matchup, it was young catcher Willson Contreras who tied the game with a single to center field off Will Smith.
One Javy-Baez single to center field later, and the Giants’ attempt at four titles in six seasons was effectively over.
Looking to the future, the Giants have to love what they received from their mid-season acquisition in Matt Moore. His 10 strikeouts were a career postseason high for the 27-year old lefty, who was making his third career start in the playoffs. His two hits allowed were the least he’d given up since that recent, magical night in L.A. when he nearly no-hit the Dodgers. Combine his last two outings (he also clinched a playoff spot for the Giants on October 2 when he easily handled the Dodgers) with the three years left on his contract (a contract over which the Giants have heavy control) and Giants’ fans have to be optimistic that they have a solid third starter in the rotation for a few years to come.
On a positive not, if there is one, the Giants offense looked like itself again: scrappy and effective, churning out consecutive base hits and cycling runners around the bases in lieu of a true power bat. Tied at one run apiece, Conor Gillaspie continued his postseason surge, spearheading a three-hit fourth-inning with a sharp single to right field. Panik found the big hole between first and second base created by Gillaspie’s being on first and moved Gillaspie over to third with a slicing ground ball to left field. After Gregor Blanco walked to load the bases, Matt Moore helped his cause with a single through that same hole on the right side, before Denard Span sacrificed home one more run to give the Giants a 3-1 cushion.
Without question the best player for the Cubs all night was the up-and-coming Javier Baez, who, whether in left field or at second base, seems to significantly impact every game in which he’s playing. Playing second base in Game 4, the young 5-tool player recorded the game-winning hit, knocking home Jason Heyward from second base. He also managed to get all the way to third on a Brandon Crawford error in the top of the fifth inning, before David Ross recorded his second RBI with a sacrifice line out to Hunter Pence.
It was the Giants offense, however, that, before the top of the ninth inning, gave fans false reason to believe in another elongated, even-year journey through the postseason. For a team lacking serious power and playing in one of the biggest outfields in M.L.B., the Giants enjoyed seeing 11 hits on the scoreboard, bringing their total up to 24 hits over the last two games, more than the 17 they were able to manage through the first three.
In the end, it wasn’t to be for the 2016 Giants. A roller-coaster season with as high of highs and low of lows ended in expected fashion: death by bullpen. No doubt it will be an offseason full of moves involving relief pitching and power bats if the Giants wants a better chance at World-Series contention in 2017.
Up next for the Cubs, the winner of tomorrow’s Nationals-Dodgers Game-5 clash in Washington.