Instant Replay: Bullpen implodes, Giants eliminated from NLDS

Instant Replay: Bullpen implodes, Giants eliminated from NLDS


SAN FRANCISCO — Through good times and bad, a strong first half and a stunningly awful second half, the Giants tried to find a solution for the ninth inning. They never did, and on Tuesday night the ongoing issue ended their season. 

Five relievers combined to give up four runs in the top of the ninth as the Giants lost 6-5 to the Cubs, ending a record streak of 10 consecutive wins in elimination games. The end came quickly, but it was not surprising. The Giants blew 30 saves in the regular season, the most by a playoff team since saves became an official statistic in 1969. They could not hold the lead in the ninth inning of either of their home playoff games. 

The collapse wasted a brilliant effort from Matt Moore, who was making his third playoff start. 

The Giants have learned that there are two versions of Moore: The one be prone to wildness in short outings, and the one who can look as good as any lefty in the game when his power repertoire is on. Moore brought the good stuff early on Tuesday, allowing just one run — a David Ross homer — through four. 

The Giants manufactured a run off John Lackey in the first, with Denard Span doubling, taking third on Brandon Belt’s fly ball to deep left, and racing home on Buster Posey’s sacrifice fly. They put together an extended rally three innings later. The red-hot duo of Conor Gillaspie and Joe Panik put runners on first and third with a pair of singles. A walk of Gregor Blanco loaded the bases with one out, and it appeared Moore was instructed to watch a strikeout and set the stage for Span. He stared at two pitches and then stunned Lackey by pulling a fastball into right field. The RBI was the second of Moore’s career and his first in four years. When Lackey’s foot missed first on the back end of a double-play grounder, the Giants led 3-1. 

A three-base error by Brandon Crawford led to a run in the fifth, but the shortstop came right back and got within an inch of doubling that damage. With Hunter Pence on first, Crawford smashed a fly ball off the very top of the right field wall. He settled for a hard-luck double. Gillaspie’s third single of the night pushed Pence across, and Crawford scored on a sacrifice fly from Panik. 

Moore’s occasional command issues showed up in the sixth, and when the lefty opened the frame with seven straight balls, Derek Law hopped up the dugout steps and sprinted to the bullpen. Kris Bryant hit a flare to right that looked like it would bring the tying run to the plate, but Dexter Fowler — who had walked — read the play wrong and Pence scooped up the single and threw Fowler out at second. Moore turned to the outfield and screamed, “Attaboy, Hunter!” before getting two quick outs to end the threat. 

Moore’s 120th and final pitch was a fastball that froze Fowler for his 10th strikeout. He allowed just two hits in his eight innings, but the Cubs quickly got to work in the ninth. 

Law gave up a single and was promptly pulled. Javier Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo and he was also pulled. Sergio Romo gave up an RBI double to Ben Zobrist and he gave way to Will Smith. Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras bounced a single back up the middle, tying the game. 

After a fielder’s choice and error put the go-ahead run on second with one out, Smith handed it off to Hunter Strickland. He fired a 100 mph fastball at Javier Baez with two strikes and it was lined right back up the middle. Jason Heyward raced home for the go-ahead run.

A night after Gillaspie’s heroics, the Giants had no answer for Aroldis Chapman. The team that could never hold a lead in the ninth went down quietly.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”