The San Francisco Giants accomplished what they needed to on the road against the St. Louis Cardinals, splitting the first two games of the 2014 National League Championship Series to claim home field advantage. But the Giants could very easily own a commanding two games-to-none edge over the red birds with the aid of a timely clutch hit, or two. Even though the orange and black haven’t been entirely anemic at the plate in postseason action, they’ve squandered numerous opportunities, an ongoing problem that will doom their title hopes if it doesn’t soon change.
The Giants are just 14-for-71 with runners in scoring position (RISP) this postseason, frequently failing to execute in the clutch. Credit San Francisco’s scrappy nature. They’ve scratched across enough runs to win five of their seven postseason games to date, but must vastly improve their ability to score in the clutch without the aid of walks and wild pitches.
Some would argue the Giants have been lucky thus far. It’s difficult to make a counter argument that suggests they’ve helped themselves more than opponents’ blunders. Game 4 of their division series-clincher is Exhibit A, in which the Giants won despite never scoring a run with a hit. Some believe the Giants’ past successes in the playoffs have built up an intimidation factor that stymies opposing teams, but the Cardinals aren’t exactly newbies to October baseball. They’ve been here time-and-time again, like the Giants.
Oct 12, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay is unable to catch a ball hit for a double by San Francisco Giants outfielder Travis Ishikawa (not pictured) during the fifth inning in game two of the 2014 NLCS playoff baseball game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
At some point, the Giants’ so-called luck is going to run out. They’re not going to win another World Series title by becoming entirely reliant on the opposition committing head-scratching mistakes. At some point, the Cardinals are going to hang on to diving catches in the gap. They’re not going to allow hard hit grounders to slide through the wickets, and most of all, they’re not going to commit two-base wild pitches that tie the game in the ninth inning.
The 2014 version of the Cardinals might be the most mediocre of the four squads that have reached the LCS for four consecutive years, but the same could be said about the Giants, who have seemingly overachieved, yet again, this postseason. The Giants are without team catalyst Angel Pagan, 2012 NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro and former ace Matt Cain. Michael Morse could prove to be a valuable bench option, particularly in the late innings, but also isn’t the middle-of-the-order presence the Giants envisioned after his torrid start to the 2014 campaign.
At this juncture of the season, every team in banged-up to some degree. Both the Giants and Cardinals have endured roster-crippling injuries this year, but that didn’t prevent St. Louis from playing pepper with the right field wall at Busch Stadium in Game 2 to stave off a two-game deficit. The Giants had their chances, regardless of how surprisingly poor San Francisco’s bullpen was in Sunday night’s loss.
Oct 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval hits a single against the St. Louis Cardinals in the third inning in game one of the 2014 NLCS playoff baseball game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
After a momentum-changing wild pitch that could have very well severely altered the entire complexion of this series, Pablo Sandoval, who has been so good in the postseason throughout his career, bounced a weak grounder back to the pitcher to end the Giants’ rally in the ninth. Sandoval isn’t to blame for the Giants’ loss. In fact, the “Kung Fu Panda” ignited the Giants’ initial comeback in the sixth inning, slicing a two-out double down the left field line before being driven in by Hunter Pence to tie the game.
That was one of the few times this postseason that the Giants came through in a clutch two-out situation. That needs to happen more often if they’re going to win what could be a seven-game series against the Cardinals. The Giants’ current .197 batting average with RISP is nowhere near good enough for them to win their third pennant in five seasons. Even though the Giants mantra of pitching and defense remains stout, their inability to consistently come through with big hits with runners at second- and third could prove deadly.