Three thoughts from the Giants' come-from-behind, 6-4 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship, which puts them one win away from the World Series.
1. Battle Of The Bullpens: It was obvious early on that Game 4 would not be a tightly contested pitcher's duel. Playoff hero Ryan Vogelsong, who had allowed just four earned runs in 30 1/3 career postseason innings, didn't even make it into the fourth on Thursday night, giving up four runs on seven hits, including three doubles and a homer. Shelby Miller wasn't much better, getting chased after 3 2/3 innings with three earned runs to his name. With neither starter providing length, Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny were forced to go to their bullpens early, though only Matheny went often.
For Bochy, the plan to relieve Vogelsong was simple: Yusmeiro Petit. The Giants' swingman, who saved them in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Nationals with six scoreless innings out of the bullpen in extra innings, shut out St. Louis over three frames to keep San Francisco in it. From there, Bochy mixed and matched, using Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla to finish the game.
While Bochy went to Petit, Matheny — despite a bullpen that has been heavily worked this postseason — chose to skip over his potential long reliever in Michael Wacha. Instead, holding a 4-3 lead in the fourth, he went to lefty specialist Randy Choate to replace Miller, then burned top setup man Carlos Martinez in the fifth inning, leaving him no safety net if things went wrong in the late innings.That's just what happened in the sixth, as the third and fourth relievers of the game, Marco Gonzales and Seth Maness, came in and gave up three runs and the lead on a series of singles and groundballs.
It's worth wondering why Wacha is on the NLCS roster if his manager won't use him in what would seem to be a perfect situation: needing multiple innings and with a tired bullpen. It's reminiscent of the way Matheny handled Miller last postseason, when he buried the young starter in the bullpen. Even more curious is that Matheny had Wacha warming alongside closer Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth with his team trailing and just three outs left in the game.
Simply put, Matheny had too far to go with not enough quality arms. But his refusal to use Wacha in the way Bochy used Petit handcuffed him badly in a must-win game.
2. By Any Means Necessary: The Giants' sixth-inning rally was a microcosm of what they've done all postseason: score runs however possible, hits or no hits. Down 4-3, the inning started with a walk by Juan Perez and a single by Brandon Crawford, and after a bunt moved them over, Gregor Blanco grounded a ball to first base. Matt Adams decided to come home with the throw, but he lost his footing on the toss, allowing Perez to slide home safely.
The next hitter, Joe Panik, ripped a groundball to Adams, who tagged first and then tried to double up Blanco at second. But in doing so, Adams forgot to look toward home, letting Crawford break for the plate. Worse, Adams' throw to second was offline, breaking up any chance at a double play. An RBI single by Buster Posey gave the Giants an insurance run, but all the damage had been done by the two groundballs.
By this point, San Francisco's death-by-a-thousand-cuts offense should be no surprise to anyone watching. In their last six playoff games, the Giants have scored 12 of their 22 runs without a hit, including the first run of Game 4, which came across on a sacrifice fly. The Giants' offense has been struggling all postseason, but the team's ability to manufacture runs in almost any way imaginable keeps them dangerous even as the lineup slumps.
3. Holliday By The Bay: If there's one positive the Cardinals can take out of this game, it's that Matt Holliday may be waking from his postseason slump. The Cardinals' slugger came into the night with just one hit in 13 NLCS at-bats and just four hits in six playoff games. Game 4 was a different story, as Holliday bashed three hits, including a double, which was his first extra-base hit of the series, though he came up short in the ninth with a runner on and two out.
Holliday has struggled mightily so far, but then again, so has every righthanded hitter in the Cardinals' lineup. Jhonny Peralta went 0-for-4 with two double plays and now has just two hits in 13 at-bats this series. Randal Grichuk, meanwhile, hit the game-tying homer in Game 3, but the rookie has otherwise been silenced by Giants pitching, going 2-for-15. With Yadier Molina still sidelined by a strained oblique, those three represent the entirety of St. Louis' righthanded hitting.
The Cardinals have made it this far despite the poor showings from Holliday and Peralta, but those two will be greatly needed in Game 5 against lefty Madison Bumgarner. The Giants' ace is more than capable of shutting down the Cardinals' bevy of dangerous lefthanded hitters and has been nigh untouchable all postseason. Unless those righthanded bats can make a mark against Bumgarner, there'll be no NL pennant repeat for St. Louis.