The Giants lost to the Reds 5-2 in Game 1 of their NLDS on Saturday, but for San Francisco, it wasn’t so bad — there were identifiable moments where things easily could’ve gone differently. One break here, one break there, and maybe it’s the Giants instead who’re leading the series. The offense, certainly, didn’t look as bad as its ultimate two-run total. While every game is important when there can only be three, four, or five games, at least the Giants could come away feeling like they hadn’t been badly outplayed.
In Game 2, the Giants got themselves slaughtered. The Reds scored nine runs, the Giants scored zero runs, the Reds racked up 13 hits, and the Giants racked up two hits. In Game 2, the Giants were badly out-hit, and accordingly, in Game 2, the Giants were badly out-pitched. With Madison Bumgarner pitching at home against Bronson Arroyo, I can’t imagine there were many people out there who expected the Giants to lose by the score of a forfeit.
But they did, and that’s how the Giants have been pushed to the brink of elimination. This is a difficult game to review, because there were no single moments people will be talking about all day Monday. There was hardly any drama at all after the first few innings. So I’m just going to give a little time to each of the starting pitchers. Bumgarner lasted four and a third, allowing four runs on seven hits, while throwing 72 pitches. Arroyo lasted seven, allowing zero runs on one hit, while throwing 91 pitches. By the time the Reds piled on against the Giants’ bullpen, those runs hardly mattered.
For Bumgarner, one has to wonder what might be going on. It’s easy to say that he threw strikes and got singled to death, finishing with a walk and four strikeouts. He did allow four singles in a three-run fourth inning. But Bumgarner was ineffective, and his fastball averaged about 90 miles per hour. Below, I have prepared a Madison Bumgarner table:
By ERA, Bumgarner got worse toward the end of the regular season. By wOBA allowed, Bumgarner got worse toward the end of the regular season. By his peripherals, Bumgarner got worse toward the end of the regular season. By velocity, Bumgarner got worse toward the end of the regular season. This could be nothing, everything, or anything in between, but it’s not like Bumgarner’s struggles on Sunday just came out of nowhere. Lately he hasn’t pitched like himself, and the velocity hints that something might be going on. This isn’t something the Giants can worry about right now, since they need to win Game 3 and then Game 4 and then Game 5. But if Bumgarner does get another turn, many will be unsure what to expect.
And then there’s Bronson Arroyo, who retired the first 14 batters he faced before allowing a single to Brandon Belt. Two batters reached in seven innings, and he might have gone longer had the Reds not scored an unnecessary five in the eighth. If you’re wondering how Arroyo pitched so effectively in Game 2, there could be any number of explanations, but the one I favor is that he just pitched like Bronson Arroyo to the max.
Oftentimes, when a pitcher is referred to as being “crafty”, what people mean is that he’s either left-handed or bad. Arroyo, though, is a crafty one, who survives and thrives by keeping hitters ever so slightly off balance. There aren’t a lot of pitchers who vary their velocities like he does, and there aren’t a lot of pitchers who vary their arm angles like he does. Arroyo could throw anything overhand, anything sidearm, and anything three-quarters. The way Arroyo mixes things up, you can’t help but feel like every pitcher should do the same. The way every pitcher doesn’t do the same should tell you how good Arroyo is at this.
Here is a Bronson Arroyo pitch-speed table for Sunday night. You might notice something about it.
Between 69 and 90 miles per hour, Arroyo hit every integer at least once. He hung out most often in the high-80s, with his fastball, but below that range he was all over the place. At one point he dropped 20mph on consecutive pitches. At another point he dropped 19, and at another point he gained 18. Arroyo was mixing his pitches and, per usual, he was mixing his deliveries. Here’s Arroyo with an eight-pitch strikeout of Gregor Blanco in the bottom of the third:
The way that at-bat ended:
Within that at-bat Arroyo threw in the low-70s and the high-80s. We can’t conclusively declare that Blanco was left flummoxed by Arroyo’s different looks, but we can accept that as a good possibility, and I’ll accept the same explanation for the entire game.
Look, it’s not like Bronson Arroyo is completely unhittable. Last year he posted an FIP close to six, and while his BABIPs have been low, they haven’t been that low. He coughs up his share of dingers. Arroyo’s flawed, and maybe something like average. But an average player will have his better performances and his worse performances, and Sunday, obviously, was among Arroyo’s better performances. He pulled it off just pitching like himself and getting the Giants to hit into outs. That’s a pretty uninteresting explanation, but then Bronson Arroyo is a pretty interesting starting pitcher. There aren’t many guys like him, and for that, the Giants might just be thankful.
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