For all the talk of the Giants' success in even-numbered years, no amount of hocus pocus was going to allow them to overcome their weaknesses against the Cubs. The most glaring San Francisco weakness? There isn't a single relief pitcher on that roster that can be counted upon to close games.
The Giants bullpen couldn't close out regular-season games against losing clubs such as Colorado and San Diego. Why should we believe they could close out playoff games against the 103-win Cubs? San Francisco took the lead into the ninth inning in both Games 3 and 4. The Cubs rallied to tie in Game 3 before losing in extra innings, and they rallied to win and close out the series in Game 4.
Clearly, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy knew he didn't have any reliable options Tuesday, as he used five different relievers -- none of whom had any success -- to navigate a disastrous ninth inning.
I have some sympathy for Bochy, because there's a distinct possibility that nothing he could have tried would have worked, but I definitely think he was one step behind Cubs manager Joe Maddon tactically in this inning.
The Giants started the inning with a 5-2 lead. But Derek Law gave up a single to Kris Bryant. Javier Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo, and Sergio Romo gave up an RBI double to Ben Zobrist.
5-3 game, three pitchers used, runners at second and third, still nobody out.
At that point, San Francisco's margin for error was gone, and the chess match was on. Maddon fired the first shot with a curious move: He sent journeyman outfielder Chris Coghlan out to pinch hit for everyday shortstop Addison Russell.
I found it odd, because Russell is a more dangerous hitter than the left-handed hitting Coghlan. I sensed Maddon was trying to prod Bochy into replacing Romo with a left-handed pitcher, with the intent of sending Willson Contreras to the plate with the game on the line.
Bochy took the bait.
He brought in left-hander Will Smith to "face" Coghlan, only to see Maddon counter with Contreras, who is hitting .311 with an .854 OPS against left-handed pitchers this year. Bochy had to know Maddon was going to do that, right? He should have.
Contreras won the favorable matchup with Smith, delivering a two-run single to tie the game at 5. I couldn't figure out why Bochy was afraid to leave Romo in to face Coghlan. I even looked up the head-to-head numbers -- Coghlan is 0 for 2 lifetime with a walk in three lifetime plate appearances against Romo. Small sample size. No apparent reason for concern from a Giants perspective.
Who is the more dangerous hitter there? Coghlan or Contreras? In my book, it's Contreras. Bochy should have called Maddon's bluff and left Romo in the game. Make the journeyman Coghlan beat you.
In any case, Contreras ties the game, the inning continues, the Giants fail to turn a double play behind Smith, and the next critical decision arises. Man at second, one out, still tied at 5. Javier Baez due up.
Bochy brings in right-hander Hunter Strickland to pitch to Baez, who singles in the winning run. Hmmmm.....
The Giants had a base open. Did Bochy forget that David Ross was the on-deck hitter? Why not walk Baez and set up the double play? I realize that Ross had homered earlier in the game. I realize that Ross has become a folk hero on the North Side. But who cares? The guy is a .225-hitting career backup for a reason. You have to put Baez on first base and make Ross beat you in that situation.
If Maddon wants to send Miguel Montero or Tommy La Stella up to pinch hit for Ross there, he can be my guest. I would rather face any of Ross, Montero or La Stella in that spot as opposed to Baez. For the record, Ross grounded into an inning-ending double play after the hit by Baez.
Let's be clear: The Giants were overmatched, and they were probably going to lose this series to the Cubs one way or another. Heck, San Francisco's brilliant shortstop, Brandon Crawford, uncharacteristically made two throwing errors that cost his team two runs Tuesday night. That shows right there that it wasn't meant to be for the Giants. Even one of their strengths, up-the-middle defense, became a weakness in this series.
But ultimately, the lack of a real closer and some tactical mistakes that were the product of not having a reliable reliever sealed the Giants' fate in this series. They should have made Coghlan and Ross beat them. Instead, Contreras and Baez sent them home.