Instant Replay: Samardzija lasts two, Giants down 2-0 in NLDS

Instant Replay: Samardzija lasts two, Giants down 2-0 in NLDS


CHICAGO — Jeff Samardzija was drafted by the Cubs a decade ago, so he spent his early years in professional baseball dreaming of starting a playoff game at Wrigley Field. On the eve of that opportunity, Samardzija said he was not nervous about returning as a visitor. 

“I’m excited to have that opportunity,” Samardzija said. “It never matters where it’s at.”

Only Samardzija knows if the location Saturday night, historic Wrigley Field, with a lathered-up crowd waiting to watch him fail, played into the result. Only he knows if he was truly nervous, or overly amped. The only thing clear from the outside was that the choice of Bochy backfired horribly for the Giants, who picked him and slotted Matt Moore in for Game 4. 

Now, they have work to do just to guarantee a start for Moore. 

Samardzija recorded just six outs as the Giants went down 5-2 in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. They face a monumental task. They must go home and twice beat the best team in baseball to keep their season alive and force a return trip to Chicago.

Samardzija, who pitched seven seasons for the Cubs, had a brutal return to Chicago on Sept. 1, but he was Bochy’s hottest starter the rest of the month, leading to the postseason assignment. Dexter Fowler led off that regular season game with a 13-pitch plate appearance, and he doubled on the ninth pitch of the bottom of the first Saturday. Samardzija appeared to settle in, getting a harmless groundout from likely MVP Kris Bryant and throwing a wicked splitter to whiff Anthony Rizzo. Ben Zobrist finally got Fowler across with a single to shallow right. 

The second inning spun on Samardzija in a hurry. Jason Heyward led off with a hard double and Javier Baez, who drew just 15 walks in the regular season, got a free pass. Willson Contreras singled, loading the bases for right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who had two RBI all season. He hit a flare to center and Denard Span’s rush came up short. Heyward walked home and Baez, who made a tremendous read, was hot on his heels. The Cubs went up 4-0 when the ball popped out of Hunter Pence’s glove on a diving attempt in right.

Hendricks, the NL ERA leader, didn’t allow more than four runs in a start all season, but the Giants quickly cut the deficit in half. Joe Panik led off the third with a double and Gregor Blanco — hitting for Samardzija — followed up with a second one. The hit was the first since August 20 for Blanco, who missed most of September with a shoulder impingement. He scored on Brandon Belt’s sacrifice fly. 

Samardzija was charged with four earned on six hits in two innings. The Cubs also reached into their bullpen early, but not because Hendricks was struggling. Angel Pagan hit a liner that glanced off Hendricks’ forearm and knocked him out with two down in the fourth. Hendricks was diagnosed with a right forearm contusion.

George Kontos and Travis Wood took over, and the Cubs’ lefty pushed the advantage back to three with a long solo shot to left in the bottom of the fourth. Wood joined Rosy Ryan of the 1924 Giants as the only relief pitchers to homer in a postseason game. 

Wood has nine career homers in the regular season, but the Giants countered with their own slugging pitcher in the fifth. Madison Bumgarner had peppered Waveland Avenue with homers during batting practice, and he pinch-hit for Kontos. Bumgarner smacked a grounder to third that went for a two-base error but he was stranded. 

The Cubs made one of the biggest splashes of the deadline with the acquisition of rocket-armed closer Aroldis Chapman, but under-the-radar moves built a bullpen armed with depth. It showed after Hendricks departed. Wood, Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery carried the lead into the eighth, when Hector Rondon entered after a one-out single from Brandon Belt. Rondon blew a 96 mph fastball past Buster Posey and got Pence to ground out to second. 

The three-run lead was carried all the way to Chapman, who closed the Giants out for the second straight night. 

Could Giants trade Madison Bumgarner? Here's why Buster Olney believes so

Could Giants trade Madison Bumgarner? Here's why Buster Olney believes so

Madison Bumgarner forever will be a Giants legend for his 2014 playoff heroics. There was no way that former general manager Bobby Evans could emotionally separate Bumgarner from the Giants and trade the team's ace. 

Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' president head of baseball operations, doesn't hold the same history with Bumgarner, though, and that could be a good thing, writes ESPN's Buster Olney, who believes the left-hander's recent production shows the team should entertain a trade now sooner than later.

Bumgarner is 29 years old, and is scheduled to hit the open market after the 2019 season when his eight-year, $58.06 million contract comes to an end. Injuries from a dirt bike accident and a line drive off his hand in his last start of spring training have sidelined Bumgarner the last two years. When healthy and on the field, though, he hasn't been his former dominant self.

[RELATED: Giants Review: Bumgarner beset by injury for second consecutive year]

Over the last two years, Bumgarner has started 38 games, or four less than his dominant 2016 season. In that span, he has gone 10-16 with a 3.29 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 240.2 innings. It might all start with his slight dip in velocity. 

Since 2014, Bumgarner's average fastball, four-seam or two-seam, has slightly been slower, according to numbers from FanGraphs. He sat at 92.1 mph in 2014, was the same in 2015, fell to 90.9 in 2016, bumped up to 91 mph in 2017, and was back down to 90.9 mph this past season. 

Bumgarner also relied much more on his off-speed pitches than his fastball in 2018, according to FanGraphs. The lefty threw his fastball just 34.2 percent of the time last season, the lowest percentage of his MLB career. His fastball was heavily replaced by his curveball, which he threw a career-high 22.8 percent.

The rate of hard contact by opposing batters against Bumgarner also has increased every year since 2014, and reached a career high in 2018. According to FanGraphs, since 2014, Bumgarner's hard contact rate has gone from 26.9 percent, to 27.8 percent, to 31.6 percent, to 35 percent, and finally all the way to 41.6 percent last season. 

Here's the reality of the situation: The Giants have been awful the last two seasons, and while Bumgarner has been far from that, he's simply not his past self. He has to rely more on his off-speed as his fastball is slower and less effective, and batters are hitting him harder and harder. 

A contender will pony up for Bumgarner because of his playoff history, and he still can be at least a No. 2 on a playoff team. Is now the time to take advantage of the market? 

[RELATED: Farhan Zaidi says it's 'not absolutely necessary' for Giants to hire GM]

“Where we are, everything has to be on the table in terms of how we move this team and roster forward,” Zaidi said on a possible Bumgarner trade at his Giants introductory press conference. 

No matter if it's figuratively or literally, Bumgarner will go down as a Forever Giant. How much longer he toes the rubber at AT&T Park could be a different story, though. 

MLB rumors: Giants among nine Nathan Eovaldi suitors in free agency

MLB rumors: Giants among nine Nathan Eovaldi suitors in free agency

Nathan Eovaldi is a classic risk-versus-reward case. 

The right-hander is coming off a Madison Bumgarner-esque playoff run in which he had a 1.61 ERA over 22.1 innings in helping lead the Red Sox to a World Series title. He also already has gone through two Tommy John surgeries.

The postseason dominance is hard to ignore, though, and the Giants reportedly are eyeing the starting pitcher in free agency, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Sunday.

[RELATED: MLB free agency debate: Where will Nathan Eovaldi sign this offseason?]

Cafardo noted that Eovaldi's preference is to return to Boston, and the writer lists the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays and Padres as other teams showing interest. 

It's easy to forget Eovaldi still is just 28 years old -- he'll turn 29 in February. After making his MLB debut at 21 years old for the Dodgers in 2011, Eovaldi was traded one year later to the Marlins, and he already has pitched on five different teams.

He missed the entire 2017 season because of Tommy John surgery. 

Farhan Zaidi, Giants president of baseball operations, has a history of giving contracts to pitchers with injury issues in their past. And there's an occurring theme. 

As Dodgers general manager, Zaidi signed Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Rich Hill to contracts worth three years and $48 million. Eovaldi, however, is expected to demand more.