Curse of the Giants Bullpen

First game of the season for the Giants, and the bullpen’s falter in the 8th and 9th inning is terrifying. The fear comes from the reminiscence of the ghost of 2016. The addition of Mark Melancon, and departure of the core of the Giants pen, seemed to be the remedy for the expulsion of this ghost, but opening day seemed to tell a different tale.

The new setup man in the 8th inning, Derek Law, came in to relieve Madison Bumgarner, who took the Giants into the 8th with a 4-3 lead that he pretty well mustered up all alone. Law gave up back-to-back singles, before a meeting was called at the mound. Law gave up another single to Paul Goldschmidt, surrendering a run, and the lead. Ty Blach was summoned from the pen for a lefty-lefty match up against Jake Lamb, and he got him to ground out into a double play, and Bruce Bochy then went for his righty-righty matchup with Hunter Strickland against Yasmany Thomas, which ended up in a ground out to get out of the inning with a tie ball game.

My argument is that Bochy’s uncertainty on how he is going to handle his pen is, perhaps, one of the reasons for this supposed curse. Before the season started, the underlining story was that the pen would be fixed by the certainty of roles, as Melancon was the sure closer and this definitive role was going to bring stability to the pen that was not there last season. However, the setup man in the 8th gets banged up for three hits in a row, and Bochy immediately cuts the cord for his matchup ideals. These matchups end up working, and they get out of the inning relatively unscathed. However, it seems that this lack of trust for his relievers to get out of trouble may be one of the reasons the bullpen struggles when the game is tight in the late stages.

Let’s compare to the three other teams who had to pitch in tight situations in the closing stages that same day.

Their opponent, the D-backs:

J.J. Hoover comes in at the top of the 8th with his club down by one. With one out, he walks Buster Posey and allows Brandon Crawford to single. Torey Lovullo allows Hoover to get himself out of danger to end the 8th.

Fernando Rodney comes into the 9th with the game tied, and immediately gets hit for a triple. He gets a sac fly for his first out, but allows a run, to give the Giants a lead. He then allows a single, throws a wild pitch, walks Brandon Belt, throws a wild pitch, and walks Hunter Pence. Instead of pulling him after a mound visit, Lovullo allows Rodney to work out of his trouble, and Rodney gets a fly out and a ground out to end the inning.

Cubs:

Bottom of the 8th, down by a run, Joe Maddon uses Pedro Strop. First hitter he sees, he walks, then a pop-up, and then he allows a two-run HR. He then walks his next batter, but finally works his way out of the inning with back-to-back ground outs. Maddon uses Mike Montgomery in the bottom of the 9th of a tied game. He allows a one-out double, and Maddon comes out to talk him through the inning. He intentionally walks Yadier Molina to set up a possible inning-ending double play. He gets a K but then walks Kolten Wong, and is eventually led to his loss by a line drive to left field by Randal Grichuk.

Cardinals:

After doing a good job getting the final two outs of the 8th, Seung Hwan Oh was asked to close out the top of the ninth. He hits Ben Zobrist with a pitch, Ks Addison Russell, then is hit for a single and hit for a three-run HR, but then closes out the inning with a K and a pop-up.

You could argue here that the D-Backs and Cards just won because of their scoring output in the 9th, and that the Cubs had the same fate as the Giants. However, what I am trying to argue is that the short leash that Bochy demonstrated in the 8th is an outlier to the other three managers, and perhaps, may be an element that has been driving the curse of the bullpen.

Bochy’s tactics get really twisted as he allows Melancon the long leash to try and work his way out of danger in the 9th. Presumably because Melancon is the undisputed closer, and he had two outs in the inning. However, it seems like the stability of the bullpen becomes unraveled as soon as the short leash is initiated in the 8th.

If Bochy believes the curse was created from the instability of not having a definitive closer, than perhaps it is also the instability of definitive roles in the pen. If he believed that Law deserves the 8th inning setup role over Strickland, then he should stick to his guns and let Law pitch out of the 8th inning. (Still not sure how Matt Cain got the fifth spot over Blach.) If he lets up and wants to shuffle up the roles for the next game, then so be it, but the shift from short leash to long leash, concrete roles to matchup roles, all seem to be unbalancing to the pen.

Nothing is more evident of this than the series against the Cubs last October. Game 3, Bochy lets Sergio Romo finish up his work in the 9th, but not before Romo had given up two runs and allowed the Cubs to tie. The Giants would end up winning this game. Game 4, on the other hand…up 5-2 in the 9th, Bochy uses Law, who immediately allows a single and is pulled for Javier Lopez. Lopez walks Anthony Rizzo and is pulled for Romo. Romo allows a double and is pulled for Will Smith. Smith allows a single, and then gets the first out on Jason Heyward’s bunt. He is then pulled for Strickland, who allows a single, but then ends the inning with a double play. The Giants end their season with a monumental bullpen collapse in the 9th inning.

This short-leash/ r-r l-l matchup tactic that Bochy sometimes uses, and sometimes does not, seems to have a role in the haunting of this Giants pen. While last year he never had the luxury of that star closer, and definitely does not have the likings of a Clippard-Betances-Chapman bullpen, I think Bochy does fare better when he allows his bullpen to settle into roles with a margin of error. Moreover, the Giants have a great bullpen of Strickland-Law-Melancon and supporting cast. However, the bullpen probably fares better when the question mark of that order disappears and the setup men have the chance to play out their roles.

Hell, we are one game into the season and do not know if the bullpen is still cursed, but if it is, perhaps the curse is caused by the handling of the pen, and not the skill within it.



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