Thursday, April 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Opinion: It's Giants vs. Cubs, with the pressure squarely on Chicago

So Conor Gillaspie in 2016 is Marco Scutaro from 2012 or Travis Ishikawa from 2014 or Cody Ross from 2010, at least for one enormous wild-card game and that means it could go on and on again.

And Madison Bumgarner in 2016 is. Madison Bumgarner, the perpetual postseason legend.

That's a two-paragraph summary of the Giants' scintillating 3-0 wild-card victory over the Mets on Wednesday, and yes, obviously, the patterns and connections from the previous three Giants postseason trips are impossible to ignore.

You know who probably understands this better than anybody? That would be the Cubs, who now face the Giants in the NLDS, starting with Games 1 and 2 at Wrigley Field on Friday and Saturday.

And just having Bumgarner out there, throwing up zeros, calms everybody on the Giants roster, and just knowing that he's on the team sets them up in every postseason series.

I think the Giants weren't as stressed as another team would be going up against somebody like Noah Syndergaard, because they knew their guy probably would match Syndergaard, and would stay on the mound longer than Syndergaard.

I covered most of those previous Giants World Series runs — in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — and what we all know is that the Giants are very, very difficult to kill off in October, even when they're matched up against a more talented (on paper) opponent.

The Cubs are more talented. The Cubs are the most talented team in baseball.

I'm not saying the Cubs should fear the Giants or start doing crazy things right off the bat in this series in order to counteract what the Giants might bring.

Still, I said days ago and I'll say it again: If the Giants can get a split of the games in Chicago, and hand the ball to Bumgarner for Game 3 at AT&T on Monday. I think they're going to beat the Cubs in that game, they're going to beat the Cubs in that short series, as the pressure mounts.

We know how the Giants play when the pressure is the highest; the Cubs will have find out for themselves and find out how they deal with it.

And I think, if those things happen, the Giants will win the World Series again.

It's silly just to say that the Giants have some sort of October magic or that anything they do in the playoffs is perfect, because every season is different than the one before it and maybe the Giants will start screwing up immediately in the first inning at Wrigley.

But what I think about this season: Just like the Giants' incredible first half probably was an exaggeration of how good they were, their prolonged second-half slump absolutely exaggerated all of their weaknesses.

The Giants are a good team, they have good, battle-tested talent, they might have the deepest starting rotation in the playoffs.

And they have Bumgarner. It all points to him, just like it did in 2014, and if the Giants can get it to him with a chance to take a commanding lead against the Cubs, then that's almost all they'll need.

Because if they get great starting pitching then the great unexpected moments are even more valuable, such as:

• Gillaspie jumping into the lineup because of the injury to Eduardo Nunez who was inserted in place of Matt Duffy who took the place of Pablo Sandoval last year.

• Joe Panik making that great plate appearance to work the walk off of Jeurys Familia in the top of the ninth right before Gillaspie's at-bat, which forced the Mets to pitch to Gillaspie (with Bumgarner on deck).

• And no need to go to the bullpen — the Mets had to remove Syndergaard when his pitch-count got up there after seven innings, but the Giants had Bumgarner cruising.

Nobody else was going to finish off this one. Nobody had to. And he's slotted for Game 3.

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