Last night Madison Bumgarner added to his legend with yet another complete game shutout of the opposition in the postseason that helped his team advance to the next round of the playoffs. Or the first round. Either way, the Giants are still very much alive. With the win, the Giants earn a date with the best team in baseball in Chicago, who are looking to break a title drought that has lasted more than a century.
Friday night's game could be extremely telling for which way the series will shake out. With Bumgarner having pitched on Wednesday, he will be unavailable for the first two games of the series (presumably), leaving free agent additions Johnny Cueto and former Cub Jeff Samardzija to start games one and two. Both are right-handers.
There are two breaks that could be involved in this series. The first is that the Cubs haven't played since Sunday, while the Giants had to earn their way into the NLDS against the Mets. Baseball is a sport that is played just about every day, and getting out of that rhythm can mess with a player's timing. While the Giants dominated the Series, the 2012 Tigers had nearly a week off in between sweeping the Yankees and their first game with the Giants, and Detroit was never able to get off the mat. Even when the club wasn't playing their best ball of the season, the Giants were still extremely competitive in their series with the Cubs at the beginning of September with the three losses the team took all being one-run affairs.
The second potential break is that their own ace is a left-hander, and will not be taking the ball immediately. The Cubs have fared much better against lefties than righties this season, as the tables below illustrate. First, the traditional statistics.
Since there are more right-handers in baseball than lefties, the sample size is obviously quite bigger for the Cubs offense. If you take the rate at which both home runs and RBI occur, the long ball rate (51.74) is lower than it is against southpaws, while the RBI total is just about the same at 205, but still comes in just shy. The batting average is a significant difference here.
Now a look at some of the advanced stats splits.
While the entire lineup has performed 16% above league average against southpaws, they are just above league average against right-handers. Cueto has been just as good as Bumgarner this season from the right side, and Samardzija has held a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the last two months.
They'll be going up against Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44) and Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13), so the pitching in this series is going to be dominant. Bumgarner and the reigning NL Cy Young in Jake Arrieta won't even pitch until Game 3.
The Giants offense has fared better against right-handers than lefties this season, but neither split has the team as world beaters, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The San Francisco recipe for success is to ride their pitching staff and break your heart at the most opportune time. It's just how it works.
The Cubs are the better team overall, as evidenced by their record and a number of fancy statistics they put up in 2016, but when the Giants make the playoffs they seem to be surrounded by magic. Or they make fewer errors, play sound fundamental baseball and get some of the best pitching performances in postseason history. Or magic.
The key to success this postseason may be limiting the amount of innings their bullpen pitches as much as possible, but that strategy has worked in the past.
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