National League Division Series: San Francisco v. Washington

Coverage and Analysis by Ben Sherbacow, Contributing Writer

NLDS San Francisco v. Washington Game 1

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WP: Peavy

LP: Strasburg

SV: Casilla

Top 3rd: San Francisco

Joe Panik singled to center, Travis Ishikawa scored, Jake Peavy to third

SF 1 – WAS 0

Top 4th: San Francisco

Brandon Belt singled to right, Hunter Pence scored

SF 2 – WAS 0

Top 7th: San Francisco

Buster Posey singled to shallow center, Joe Panik scored

SF 3 – WAS 0

Bottom 7th: Washington

Bryce Harper homered (364 ft.) to deep right

SF 3 – WAS 1

Asdrubal Cabrera homered (360 ft.) to deep right

SF 3 – WAS 2

NLDS San Francisco v. Washington Game 2

 

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WP: Petit

LP: Roark

SV: Strickland

Bottom 3rd: Washington

Anthony Rendón singled to left center, Asdrubal Cabrera scored

SF 0 – WAS 1

Top 9th: San Francisco

Pablo Sandoval doubled to left, Joe Panik scored, Buster Posey to third

SF 1 – WAS 1

Top 18th: San Francisco

Brandon Belt homered (385 ft.) to deep right

SF 2 – WAS 1

NLDS San Francisco v. Washington Game 3

 

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WP: Fister

LP: Bumgarner

Top 7th: Washington

Wilson Ramos reached on Madison Bumgarner’s throwing error, Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper scored, Wilson Ramos to second

WAS 2 – SF 0

Asdrubal Cabrera singled to shallow left center, Wilson Ramos scored

WAS 3 – SF 0

Top 9th: Washington

Bryce Harper homered (408 ft.) to deep right

WAS 4 – SF 0

Bottom 9th: San Francisco

Brandon Crawford hit sacrifice fly to right, Pablo Sandoval scored

WAS 4 – SF 1

NLDS San Francisco v. Washington Game 4

 

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WP: Strickland

LP: Thornton

SV: Casilla

Bottom 2nd: San Francisco

Gregor Blanco walked, Brandon Crawford scored, Juan Pérez to third, Ryan Vogelsong to second

WAS 0 – SF 1

Joe Panik grounded out, first to pitcher, Juan Pérez scored, Ryan Vogelsong to third,Gregor Blanco to second

WAS 0 – SF 2

Top 5th: Washington

Bryce Harper doubled to left, Ian Desmond scored

WAS 1 – SF 2

Top 7th: Washington

Bryce Harper homered (414 ft.) to deep right

WAS 2 – SF 2

Bottom 7th: San Francisco

Joe Panik scored, Buster Posey to third, Hunter Pence to second on wild pitch

WAS 2 – SF 3

For the third time in five years, the San Francisco Giants have won a National League Divisional Title. They steamrolled over a heavily favored Washington Nationals team, winning three games while losing just one.

The Washington Nationals hoped to bring home the title to a city that hasn’t claimed a World Series title in 90 years, the last time being the now-extinct Washington Senators. And this year seemed like the year they would do it. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the overwhelming sentiment on the National’s postseason potential is this:

Fifteen baseball executives from various clubs that didn’t make the playoffs were asked about their postseason predictions. Twelve of them predicted Washington would win the National League Championship, and eleven of them said that they favored the Nationals to win the World Series.

It’s not hard to see why.

Over the last 90 games of the regular season, they had a record of 59-31. Only once since June 27 have they lost more than two games in a row, at any point, over a span of 83 games. They finished the season with the best record in the National League (96-66), and tied with the Orioles for the second-best record in the majors. They finished the regular season with the best team ERA (3.03) in the majors. They’re second in bullpen ERA, and their staff just finished reeling off the greatest single-season strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.66-1) in history, breaking the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies’ major-league record of a 3.39 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In addition, they had an exceptional offense, finishing out the regular season in the top four in the league in runs scored (686), home runs (152), on-base percentage (.321) and stolen-base success rate (81%).

They widely believed to be the most complete team going into October, with a lights-out pitching staff featuring Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 ERA), Jordan Zimmermann, who had a career-best year (14-5, 2.66 ERA), Tanner Roark, who stepped up during his first full year and posted an incredible 2.85 ERA and a 15-10 record, Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 ERA), and Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57 ERA). They had a strong bullpen, headed off by closer Rafael Soriano, who collected 32 saves and posted a 3.19 ERA.

They had an offensive force in first baseman Adam Laroche, who drove in 92 RBI’s with 26 home runs, and shortstop Ian Desmond, who finished the season with 91 RBI’s and 24 home runs. Ryan Zimmerman, the veteran who added an invaluable clubhouse presence and extremely clutch hitting, managed to post 38 RBI in just 61 games. Third baseman Anthony Rendon hit .287 BA and had 83 RBI’s on the season, and veteran right-fielder Jayson Werth, just 3 years removed from a terrible season and a wrist injury, continues to live out his renaissance, batting .297 on the season and driving in 82 RBI’s.

The Nationals were a force to be reckoned with, but they were inexperienced in the postseason. The last time the team made the postseason was in 2012, in which they won the division, posting similarly dominant numbers, they fell to the Cardinals in five games. Previously, the team had not made it to the postseason since 1981, when they were the Montreal Expos.

This is a team that had the talent and the depth to make a deep run into the playoffs, but nothing ever happens as expected in October.

The San Francisco Giants are a team with incredible tenacity in October. If you make a mistake, they will find a way to make you regret it. They win games by grinding it out and waiting for the smallest chink in the armor. That’s not to say that the Giants don’t have a talented team. They have won two out of the last four World Series (2010, 2012). They steamrolled over a strong Pittsburgh team in an 8-0 shutout wild card game, pitched by ace Madison Bumgarner, who, at 25, is already a veteran with an exceptional playoff resume (a 0.00 ERA in two World Series, and three postseason shutouts pitched). The San Francisco pitching staff is rounded out by the likes of veteran Jake Peavy, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Boston Red Sox who had posted a 2.17 ERA since being traded, Yusmeiro Petit, who was put in the rotation to replace Tim Lincecum, who posted a 9.64 ERA in six starts during the latter half of the 2014 season. Tim Hudson, another veteran, has been to the postseason six times since 2000 (with the Oakland Athletics), and owns an impressive 3.42 ERA in the postseason. And Ryan Vogelsong also adds another veteran presence to the lineup, making this rotation much more experienced than Washington’s. San Francisco also possesses stellar offense in Buster Posey, who led the Giants during the regular season in all three slash stats (.311/.364/.490) as well as OPS (.854), OPS+ (143), home runs (22) and RBIs (89). They also have rookie Joe Panik, who stepped up after Dan Uggla struggled at second base, hitting .345/.375/.423 over 204 PA from Aug. 4 through the end of the regular season. Panik went 3-for-5 in the Wild-Card Game against the Pirates, so he’s been hot as of late. They’ve also got Pablo Sandoval, an extremely proficient contact hitter (.279/.324/.415 in 2014) with plenty of postseason experience and surprisingly good glove at third base, and Hunter Pence, who posted 79 RBI in the regular season and regularly provides his teams with a .280 average, 20 home runs, 50 walks, 10-20 steals at varying success rates, and he has a knack for making key catches in right field.

Washington, on one side, have the stronger team, but San Francisco has the postseason experience. The latter turned out to be the difference maker, as it so often does in October.

In Game 1, San Francisco put Jake Peavy on the mound, facing Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg. Joe Panik drew first blood in the third with an RBI single, and Brandon Belt did the same in the fourth. Peavy didn’t even allow a hit until the 5th inning. Then, in the bottom of the sixth when, after a leadoff double from Nate Schierholtz and a two-out walk to Jayson Werth, Peavy was taken out of the game. Javier López came in to stop the bleeding, but only worsened it with a walk to Adam LaRoche. With the bases loaded, Hunter Strickland came on to make just his tenth overall Major League appearance and struck out Ian Desmond to end the threat. The Giants scored again in the seventh after Joe Panik tripled and Buster Posey singled to knock him in. The Nationals answered back in the bottom of the inning, when Strickland gave up solo shots to both Bryce Harper and Asdrúbal Cabrera to make it a one-run game. Jeremy Affeldt finished off the Nationals in the seventh, and Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless eighth, before Santiago Casilla retired the side in order for the save, as the Giants held on to win by a score of 3–2.

Game 2 lasted a record 18 innings, with the Giants winning 2–1. It was the longest postseason game in Major League Baseball history both by time (6 hours 23 minutes) and innings played (18). Tim Hudson got the start for the Giants, and he turned in a dominant performance, striking out eight Nationals and giving up just one run in 7 and two-thirds innings of work. However, he couldn’t be outdone by Nationals’ starter Jordan Zimmermann, who came within one out of posting a three-hit shutout. Zimmermann retired twenty San Francisco batters in a row before walking Joe Panik with two outs in the ninth. Washington took him out in favor of closer Drew Soren, who gave up a single to Buster Posey on the first pitch. Pablo Sandoval drove in Panik with a double. Controversially, Posey was thrown out at home plate on the same play, and manager Bruce Bochy called for a video review which was unsuccessful, and the game went to extra innings, tied 1–1. Entering the game in the 12th inning, Giants’ pitcher Yusmeiro Petit threw six shutout innings of relief, as neither team could break the deadlock. Brandon Belt finally broke the tie, launching a home run into the second deck in right field to lead off the 18th inning.

Game 3 saw the teams play at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Hoping to avoid a sweep, the Nationals started Doug Fister on the mound against Madison Bumgarner. Both pitchers threw six scoreless innings, but in the top of the seventh, Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper opened up the inning with back-to-back singles. Wilson Ramos attempted to bunt the runners over, but Bumgarner’s throw to get the force out at third went past Pablo Sandoval and down the left field line, allowing both Desmond and Harper to score, with Ramos ending up at second on the error. Asdrúbal Cabrera singled in Ramos and the Nationals had a 3–0 lead. The score remained this way until the top of the ninth when Harper lead off the ninth with a solo shot into the bleachers to stretch the lead to 4–0. Drew Storen came on in the bottom half and allowed a single to Sandoval and a double to Hunter Pence to open the inning. Brandon Crawford hit a sacrifice fly to score Sandoval and cut the lead to 4–1, but Storen got Travis Ishikawa to ground out for the final out of the game as the Nationals avoided a sweep.

Game 4 saw Ryan Vogelsong start for San Francisco and Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals. The Nationals needed a victory, or else they would be eliminated. The Giants chipped away at Gonzalez for two runs in the bottom of the second after Greg Blanco drew a bases-loaded walk and Panik grounded out for an RBI, knocking in Juan Perez to give San Francisco a 2-0 lead. Vogelsong held the Nationals hitless until the fifth inning, when Ian Desmond singled and Bryce Harper doubled him home to cut the Giants lead to 2–1. The Giants threatened against Nationals reliever Tanner Roark in the bottom of the fifth by loading the bases, but manager Matt Williams summoned Jerry Blevins to face Brandon Belt, whom he struck out to end the threat. Bryce Harper tied up the game in the top of the seventh inning with a towering solo home run off Hunter Strickland, his third home run of the series. Left-hander Matt Thornton started the bottom of the seventh inning by getting the first out but allowed singles to Joe Panik and Buster Posey. He was replaced by Aaron Barrett, who walked Hunter Pence to load the bases. Facing Pablo Sandoval, Barrett threw a wild pitch which allowed Panik to score the eventual game-winning run. Sergio Romo pitched a perfect eighth, and Santiago Casilla followed with a scoreless ninth. After issuing a two-out walk to Bryce Harper, Casilla retired Wilson Ramos on a groundout to eliminate the Nationals and send the Giants to their third NLCS in five years.

As is often so in October, experience reigned king in this series. The Nationals were the heavy favorite to go to the series, but they had their dreams cut short by a team who knows how to win in the postseason. The Giants will face the Cardinals in the National League Championship.

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Ben Sherbacow is a sophomore at Gettysburg College. He is from Avon, Connecticut, and aspires to be a sports writer for the Boston Red Sox someday. He covers baseball and baseball-related topics.

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