Giants even-year mojo wears off

Cameron Stover,

The even-year magic has worn off. The San Francisco Giants saw their season end after surrendering four runs in the top of the 9th inning during the National League Divisional Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Giants lost the series three games to one.

Breaking major-league records, the Giants won 10 postseason games in a row when facing elimination. And yet, the team still experienced one of the most devastating collapses in baseball history. Heading into the All-Star break, the Giants held the best record in baseball at 57-33. After the All-Star break, they went 30-42, narrowly making the Wild Card play-in game with a 87-75 record. This marks the first time since 2008 that the Giants made the playoffs and failed to win the World Series.

The game was not without controversy. Pitcher Matt Moore had the Giants in-position for victory through eight innings, leading 5-2. Manager Bruce Bochy, who has led the Giants to three championships, made the decision to pull Moore and give the bullpen a chance to finish out. It did not go well. The Cubs scored four runs in a furious fashion and took the lead as five members of the Giants’ bullpen struggled to record an out.

Brandon Crawford, the Giants’ Golden Glove-winning second baseman uncharacteristically committed two errors in the final game that halted momentum for the team. No Giants player had committed two errors in a postseason game since Don Mueller in 1951.

Though there is plenty of blame to go around, the bullpen was the main culprit behind this historical collapse: the Giants led the majors with 30 blown saves this season, the most ever by a playoff club. The bullpen had always been a strength for the team in their previous championship runs, perhaps a caution flag that this team wasn’t championship material.

Looking ahead, the Giants have some decisions to make. According to general manager Bobby Evans, the team will not look to overhaul the bullpen. Instead, offseasons’ top priority is finding a lockdown closer.

“The bullpen performs at a much higher level when you know who your ninth-inning guy is,” Evans told CSN

Bay Area following the game. “It puts everybody at ease and helps Boch as he defines roles. With ambiguity, it creates tension and unknowns that can add to or detract from performance and ultimately lead to struggles. We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure we’re clear on who is finishing our games.”

The Giants made a run at closer Mark Melancon at the Aug. 21 trade deadline, only to be outbid by the Washington Nationals. This time around, don’t expect the Giants to miss out on a game-changer. Relief pitchers Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla are all expected to move on and the team needs to find a new face to anchor the bullpen. Closers Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen will all hit the free agent market this offseason.

“As much as we can, we’d like to know going into spring training who is going to pitch the ninth,” Evans said.

Casilla, who was demoted from the closer role earlier in the season was vocal about his absence in the Giants final game this postseason. “I never had that moment before during five years here,” Casilla told the San Jose Mercury News. “I had a little struggle. But everybody [in the bullpen] has had their bad moments. I think they forgot all the great moments I’ve had here. I’ve pitched a lot in the playoffs and done my job. I know I am a good pitcher.”

The Giants have money to spend, fueled by a major league-high streak of 498 straight sellouts. The club had baseball’s sixth highest payroll last season, coming in at $172 million. Don’t expect that number to decrease. The Giants made it known that they aren’t afraid to go over the salary cap and pay the luxury tax penalty, which they have done the past two seasons.

“We have every commitment for 2017 to return to a championship-caliber club,’’ team president Larry Baer said. “Resources will be expended as necessary to get us there.’’

There is no disputing that the Giants had an excellent even-year run that eventually had to end. However, a team in the sixth-largest sports media market needs to give fans a reason to believe again. They have an excellent starting pitching rotation. But the pitcher closing the game is just as important as the pitcher who starts. If the Giants wish to contend for the World Series next year, they must find a reliable closer. With an odd year coming up, the Giants need to find a way to change even-year magic into every-year magic.