The San Francisco Giants hoped to exploit one of Jon Lester’s few previously identifiable weaknesses and run on him on Friday night.
Instead the Giants’ aggressive approach on the bases could leave them wondering about what could’ve been as they lost to the Cubs 1-0 in Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series in front of 42,148 at Wrigley Field. With two of six Giants base runners thrown out on the bases, Lester and Aroldis Chapman didn’t need much more as they combined on a six-hitter. Javy Baez provided the only offense with an eighth-inning solo home run off Johnny Cueto to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
“Yeah (those outs) probably get a little magnified,” Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said. “But at this level of play, it’s not something you want to do. Just from past experiences, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes usually wins the ballgame. And they made less than we did.”
You can’t fault the Giants for their hardline tactics on the bases. Lester was nearly unstoppable at Wrigley Field in 2016 with a 10-2 mark and a 1.74 ERA in 15 games. He had only allowed 95 runners on base in those 103 1/3 innings.
But even though he’s a left-hander, Lester has proven susceptible to the opposing running game over the years. His struggles throwing to first were discussed ad nausea in 2015 as Lester allowed stolen bases in 44 of 55 attempts against.
Even though he improved to better than league average in 2016 -- the Cubs threw out 32 percent of attempts with Lester on the mound -- the Giants hoped they could take advantage.
But catcher David Ross shut the Giants down nearly from the outset.
Leadoff man Gorkys Hernandez was the first out when he was easily caught stealing second base in the first inning after reaching on a bunt base hit. Conor Gillaspie was erased in the third inning when Ross picked him off first base after a leadoff single.
“It’s hard,” Gillaspie said. “Obviously, I wasn’t expecting that, but we were trying to create a throw over and trying to get something stirred up to create an opportunity for ourselves. It’s smart. It was a good play. Got me.”
Later the Giants caught attention for an extra base they didn’t take. With two outs in the fourth inning and no score, Buster Posey stopped at third base after Angel Pagan’s sinking liner skipped under the glove of left fielder Ben Zobrist for a double. Not the fleetest of foot, Posey said he initially hesitated as he neared second base thinking the ball would be fielded cleanly and then raced over to third when it got past Zobrist. But Posey and Pagan were left stranded when Brandon Crawford grounded out to short to end the inning.
“It’s a tough one, just because as you mentioned if it’s short-hopped and he gets it, I’m not going to be going to third on the play,” Posey said.
Posey, who caught 123 games this season, was asked if he could have scored if he had fresher legs.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I don’t know. I can’t really answer that.”
Lester found a rhythm after he retired Crawford to end the fourth and set down the last 13 batters he faced. Baez made it count with his solo homer off Cueto in the eighth.
[RELATED: Javy Baez blasts Cubs to victory in Game 1]
Giants manager Bruce Bochy made no apologies for his team’s aggressive style on the bases.
“When you’re in a game like this, you have to try things and we know Lester doesn’t throw over there much,” Bochy said. “That’s our game. We’re not a team to sit back and wait for the long ball. They did a nice job of throwing (Hernandez) out and a pick off. But you’re in a game like this, you got to play your game and try to find ways to score. And you scratch and claw anyway you can.”