History says the Giants’ season crashed and burned in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Well, history lies.
The Giants went pffffft in the week of July 25-31, the days before the non-waiver trade deadline. They were one of several teams in dire need of a lockdown closer, you might recall, and Balls strongly advised them to get one.
The Chicago Cubs were quick to pursue Aroldis Chapman and got their man. The Nationals stole Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates in return for a bag of balls. Then the Cleveland Indians acquired Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees at a reasonable price.
The Giants? They gave Santiago Casilla a pat on the back and said, “Go get ‘em, Gas Can!”
The rest was predictable. Blown save after blown save after blown save after blown save … The bullpen finished with 30 of them in the regular season, more than any major league team. Nine were in the ninth inning.
Now do the math, kids.
The Giants finished four games out of first place. Win five more games and they beat out the Los Angeles Dodgers as West Division champs. And they don’t have to play the Wild Card Game against the New York Mets and then the Cubs, the best team in the regular season. And co-aces Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto start Games 1, 2 and 5 (if necessary) against the Nationals.
And maybe, just maybe, the Giants still have a game(s) to play.
Meanwhile, Chapman and the Cubs, Miller and the Indians and Melancon and the Nationals are still in the World Series hunt, and if one of them doesn’t win it all, then we’ve got a major story on our hands.
BLAME GAME: Oh, and while Balls is at it, let’s not forget …
Bruce Bochy. The manager made a name off his ability to handle relief pitchers. It will get him a Hall of Fame plaque one day. But we saw very little of his magic this season.
Take the final game, when Bochy called on five relievers to cough up a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning. If Sergio Romo was his closer, then fine. Start the inning with him. But if Bochy was concerned that Romo might be a quart low, as he indicated later, then he should have stuck with starter Matt Moore, who had been lights out until then.
The offense. What should have been the most talented and versatile lineup in years was anything but that, especially after the All-Star break. No player put up big numbers. Not a one.
Skeeter and Matt Duffy. On Aug. 1, the Giants had a 61-44 record when Matt and his cat were shipped to Tampa Bay in the Moore trade. They lost 14 of their next 21 games and never were as many as 17 games above .500 again.
Blaine Gabbert. Just because.
KUDOS TO CUBS: This wasn’t a playoff series. This was a passing of the torch to the next great National League team and organization.
No management team in baseball has been more efficient, more thorough than Cubs seamheads Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer the last few years. From top to bottom, they’ve turned a perpetual underachiever into a vibrant, forward-thinking franchise, maybe the best in all of pro sports.
See, not only do the Cubs boast the resources of a big-market franchise in a league that has almost no financial restrictions. Finally, at long last, they have the baseball smarts to go with them. From analytics to defensive alignments to talent evaluation, the Hoyer-Epstein-manager Joe Maddon team has forgotten more than everyone else remembers.
That small matter of a World Series title still remains for a franchise that hasn’t had one in forever. But it’s gonna happen soon, and if Balls were the rest of the league, it would be afraid, very afraid.
BEN THERE, NOT HERE: Who got the big hit in the ninth inning? Ben Zobrist.
And why did the 35-year-old Zobrist do it in Cubbie blue and not Orange and Black? Because the Cubs agreed to a fourth year in his contract, something the Giants refused to do.
Yep, the young Cubs fans with the sign in Game 2 at Wrigley Field nailed it, all right.
We Want It More.
WHAT NEXT?: The Giants have two obvious needs — a dependable closer and a power-hitting outfielder. A competent backup catcher to take the load off Buster Posey wouldn’t hurt, either.
Chapman, Melancon and closer Kenley Jansen will be free agents next summer. “Outfielders” Edwin Encarnacion and possibly Yoenis Cespedes, too. Any would look good in Orange and Black next season. Except that those guys will want lots of money and the Giants prefer bargains. Because, you know, it’s hard to make ends meet when your franchise is worth just $2.25 billion and has the longest sellout streak in the major leagues.
THEY’RE BACK: The Sharks open the new season on the heels of their most successful ever, but Ball fears there’s a Stanley Cup Finals hangover ahead.
Coach Peter DeBoer’s bunch are too long in the tooth, what with core guys Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton on the wrong side of 30. And Thornton still has his playoff beard, which makes him another quarter-step slower.
Even on their worst day, the Sharks will beat the snot out of the other local teams. Because hockey has the best people and best game. Other than knuckleheads Mike Milbury and John Tortorella, of course.
THE LIST: Can’t-miss picks against the spread for Week 6 of the NFL season. Or your money back.
Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots (-6 1/2 points).
Denver Broncos (-2) at San Diego Chargers.
Philadelphia Eagles (even) at Washington Redskins.
Last week: 3-0. Season: 6-9 (.400).
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