Brandon Belt

Giants take 1-0 NLDS lead over Nationals with 3-2 nailbiter — this is a well-coached team

panik

The Giants were hoping to go back to San Francisco with a split. Check that — the going wisdom was that they were gunning for a split. The way this team thinks about postseason baseball and themselves, they’re looking for a chance to clinch on Monday. They’ll get a chance to keep that greedy dream alive on Saturday, after winning 3-2 in a marvelously-played game in Washington, D.C.

Joe Panik is going to get famous pretty quickly at this rate. He peppered the warning track in right-center — after John Smoltz spent the early part of his first at-bat talking about how Panik wasn’t looking to drive the ball against Strasburg. He also made remarkable defensive plays in the fifth (starting the double play) and seventh (diving stop on Denard Span’s grounder).

When Panik ranged far to his right to snare Wilson Ramos’ grounder and made a perfect flip to Brandon Crawford (who threw a weird overhand bouncy throw to Brandon Belt that was reminiscent of the throws Ozzie Smith used to make off the Busch Stadium artificial turf), Jake Peavy yelled, “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! GREAT JOB, JOE! ATTAWAY, PANIK! GREAT JOB, SON! I’M GOING TO BUY YOU A GOSH DARN F-350!!!”

(The last sentence is more paraphrasing than lip-reading.)

SF Giants Jake Peavy

“(Peavy) competes to the max. It’s been so good playing behind him, because he gives everything he’s got,” Panik said to CSN Bay Area’s Amy Gutierrez. “He hit his spots today, he mixed up his pitches and he kept them off balance. That’s a very good lineup over there. He did a heck of a job.”

Peavy, who looked like he apologized to Bruce Bochy when he was lifted with two outs in the sixth, out-dueled the great Stephen Strasburg (despite Smoltz sending good vibes to Strasburg through the magic of color analysis). They look like they’ve worked together for several years instead of just a couple of months, as Peavy gives Posey a chance to show off his above-average framing skills.

“He mixed really well,” Posey told reporters. “He’s a very smart pitcher. I think he knows when not to give in. He had a higher pitch count through six than normal, but I think that’s because he went ahead and made some really tough pitches earlier in the game. He understood how important those first few innings were.”

Contrast Peavy’s anger-focus with Strasburg, who carried himself like Johnny Lawrence in Karate Kid, the blond stud who couldn’t believe the Giants kept hitting single after single. Poor dude looked like he was close to shedding a tear when Matt Williams came to get him after consecutive singles by the Brandons to start the sixth.

Stephen Strasburg

This was a heart condition game due to the score (the Giants clearly redeemed their “laugher card” in the first game of the playoffs this time) and all those — let’s say it together — missed opportunities!

  • Posey grounded into a double play to foil a first-and-third, one out chance in the third.
  • The Giants scored a run in the fourth when Belt’s single brought in Hunter Pence, but still managed to squander a first-and-second, one out chance.
  • Jerry Blevins got three consecutive outs to erase Strasburg’s jam in the sixth.
  • Crawford was hung up between second and third on Matt Duffy’s comebacker after hitting a one-out ground rule double in the eighth.
  • Gregor Blanco didn’t score after leading off the ninth with a bunt single.

The Giants were 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position, which sounds awful. But the Nats were 0-for-5. They got their two runs on solo homers by Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera off Hunter Strickland. Strickland had an interesting game. He struck out Ian Desmond with a 100-mph fastball in the sixth, then gave up his first run as a Giants on a 445-foot blast into the upper deck. But to worry about missed opportunities and long home runs against the Nationals is to disregard the talent that team possesses. The Nats are littered with strong, talented players. All the Giants can do is produce as many chances as possible while limiting Washington’s.

Bochy Ball

Panik and Peavy were great, and if the Brandons keep swinging like this, the Giants are in great shape. But after Santiago Casilla cruised through a one-two-three ninth, all I could think about was how this team looks like it’s coached incredibly well.

Take Hensley Meulens, the recipient of “Fire Bam-Bam” mentions every time the Giants score less than 30 runs in a week. The Giants probably created a visible path through the middle of the infield at Nationals Park with all the balls they hit off Strasburg. We always rip the teamwide approach when first-pitch outs are plentiful, so it’s only fair to congratulate the team for going 12-for-37 off Washington’s No. 1 starter and four capable relievers.

I don’t care about the homers Strickland gave up. It doesn’t take much to give rookies a chance during the regular season, but something is going on behind the scenes to get Panik and Strickland ready for this entirely new environment. The veteran players probably have a ton to do with that, but Bochy’s the one who creates an environment where young players are groomed, not shunned or expected to figure everything out on their own.

We keep seeing it from Bochy’s squads in the playoffs: no moment is too big. The Giants won their ninth straight playoff game, and Bochy ran his Giants postseason record to 24-9 (.727).

Extra BASGs

— Great shot of Pence after he scored in the third:

Hunter Pence

— I was *this close* to writing about how Blanco should get moved down in the order if he’s going to keep hitting fly balls … then he bunted his way on. Blanco needs to get the home run ball out of his brain, though.

— Many will disagree, but today’s eighth inning goes down as one of the best outings of Sergio Romo’s career. His slider looked a little loopy/hangy early, then he made some sort of adjustment and the bite was there. He gave up two singles, but they were BABIP specials — a perfectly placed single by Anthony Rendon (a total gnat) and a little doinker into short left by Adam LaRoche, the guy who was supposed to crush one of Romo’s sliders to the same fan who caught Harper’s home run. Romo made Desmond look like a guy off the street, with a first-pitch fastball to mess with his head followed by two sliders that Desmond swung at as if his arms didn’t possess elbows. Then the mightiest lefty in Washington’s lineup, Harper, grounded out meekly to Belt.

— Bochy is quietly getting more saber-savvy over the years. The higher leverage inning was easily the eighth, considering who Romo had to face. Hey, maybe he thinks Romo is his best reliever going right now. It would appear that Casilla is the unquestioned closer, but Bochy’s managerial style is much more nimble in October.

— Nate Schierholtz looks like he’s in a mood to mash against the Giants, regardless of where or how well he’s playing. For all the people ripping Matt Williams for leaving noted Giant-killer Scott Hairston off his NLDS roster, there’s still plenty of bad Giants juju on that Nats bench.

— Everyone rushes to yell about Crawford’s defense being overrated whenever he gets too cocky and makes a wayward throw to first when there’s no play to be made. But if we’re putting together an all-underrated team, he’s on it. A quick check on Baseball Reference shows a list of offensive/defensive WAR figures I’ll probably mention a few more times before the season is over.

  1. Buster Posey: 5.2
  2. Hunter Pence: 3.6
  3. Pablo Sandoval: 3.3
  4. Brandon Crawford: 3.2
  5. Angel Pagan: 1.4
  6. Madison Bumgarner: 1.2

First, Bumgarner is ridiculous. That WAR number has nothing to do with his pitching stats, that’s just his wins above replacement as a hitter and fielder. But look at Crawford, Mr. RBI. He’s really good, but that’s just par for the course with this farm system, amirite?

— Panik isn’t slow, which is generally how these compliments are divvied up … but he’s an excellent base runner. It’s been evident ever since his callup — fantastic instincts on the basepaths. Roger Craig would’ve been in heaven managing this kid.

— I brought up the businesslike approach after the win in Pittsburgh, but Casilla acted like he had just retired the side against Mets in May. That was his first postseason save, and it saved Peavy’s first postseason win. These Giants go crazy in the clubhouse whenever they clinch anything (as they should), but they follow the (unwritten rule)book during these pressure-packed, antacid-requiring, wonderful playoff games.

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