In what some have termed the Year of the Pitcher, this postseason has provided some singularly impressive pitching performances to continue the trend. Add Jonathan Sanchez to the list after his 7 1/3-inning, 2-hit, 11-strikeout Sunday afternoon that put his Giants in line to win the game and go up 2-1 in their NL Division Series with the Braves.
By keeping baserunners off the basepaths and pitching late into the game, Sanchez was the driving force behind the Giants’ win. He added 46.6 percent to his team’s win probability, and since 50 percent is the maximum, the statistic tells the story as well as any other. He got the Giants almost all the way there on his left arm alone.
Sanchez joined Game 1 starter Tim Lincecum as the only Giants in postseason history to strike out double-figure batters. Sanchez was, as usual, effectively wild (105 pitches, 69 strikes), but his bread and butter was the offspeed stuff away. The lefty got eight swinging strikes on 40 offspeed pitches, good for a 20 percent whiff percentage that blew his 4.69 percent on fastballs out of the water.
Traditionally, this is the case — offspeed stuff garners more whiffs across baseball — but Sanchez used the weapon almost artistically. He began all but three at-bats with fastballs, but he ended most at-bats with offspeed pitches: Ten of his 11 strikeouts were on sliders.
Fortunately for Sanchez, the Giants’ offense did just enough. Though the offense scored the fewest runs of any National League playoff team during the regular season and seemed as if it might continue to be this team’s Achilles’ heel, the Giants pushed across three runs with the help of some shoddy Atlanta defense. Two of Brooks Conrad’s three errors in the game helped contribute to Giants runs.
Coming through in the clutch was the key at the end of the game, which swung wildly in each direction. In the bottom of the eighth inning, pinch hitter Eric Hinske hit what most Atlantans may have considered the game-winning home run off Giants reliever Sergio Romo. Down the right-field line and barely fair, his home run was worth a whopping 57.8 percent in win probability added, as the game swung from 28.8 percent likely for the Braves to 86.6 percent in one big moment.
As an aside, a bit of gamesmanship from the retiring Bobby Cox may have led to Bruce Bochy taking Sanchez out of the game. After the Giants lefty gave up a single, Cox showed righty Troy Glaus as the pinch hitter. Bochy went with the right-handed Sergio Romo in relief in order to exploit the platoon advantage. Cox pulled Glaus and went with lefty Hinske. The rest is, as they say, history.
But the Giants were not done. Freddy Sanchez, 0-for-3 with a walk before coming to the plate in the ninth inning, faced fireballer Craig Kimbrel, closing for the Braves with Billy Wagner hurt. Sanchez was down to his final strike before lacing a single up the middle. Then Aubrey Huff, in the single most tense and important at-bat of the game, drove in the tying run and swung the pendulum back close to 50 percent by adding 34.9 percent of win probability with his bat. One batter later, Conrad’s error on Buster Posey’s grounder sent the Giants to within one win of taking the series.
Jonathan Sanchez got the team most of the way there, but without Mike Fontenot, Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, and — yes — Brooks Conrad, the Giants would have been a tough-luck losers.
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