Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
Getty Images

Santiago Casilla was not happy about not pitching last night


It’s been a frustrating year for Giants reliever Santiago Casilla. He was yanked from a game back in May, when he was still the Giants’ closer. He fumed at the time, saying, “the reason I got upset was because he took me out of the game where I thought he had confidence in me. I think I could pitch to the lefty, but I guess it shows the manager didn’t have faith in me.”

Bochy kept faith in Casilla for a few more months, but by September he had blown nine saves, leading the league in that dubious category. In mid-September Bochy demoted Casilla and used him sparingly in the season’s final couple of weeks. He made only one appearance in the NLDS: two-thirds of an inning in a low leverage situation in Game 2.

Which means he was basically the only Giants reliever of note who played no part in the meltdown that ended their season in the ninth inning of last night’s game. According to the Mercury News, Casilla is not happy to have not taken part. He reportedly sat in tears at his locker after the game and lamented the lack of confidence his team has in him:

“Never . . . I’m a pitcher. I’m part of the bullpen. I know I have had some bad moments in September and during the season, but I have good numbers in the playoffs and I know I can pitch in that situation. I know I can pitch in the big leagues.”

Before this season Casilla was a bullpen star for the Giants, playing an important part in all three of their World Series wins. Now the 36-year-old is due to become a free agent this winter. I’d guess the odds of him staying in San Francisco are close to zero, both because the Giants have lost faith in Casilla and because he has lost faith in them.



For the second straight year a long championship drought will come to an end

Getty Images

With the Cubs dispatching the Giants and their Even Year Magic last night, they’re now four wins away from being in the World Series for the first time since 1945. They’re eight wins away from winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. You know that already, however, because the 1945-leveled Billy Goat Curse and the year 1908 has been repeated ad nauseam in recent weeks and will be repeated more and more during the NLCS.

But even if the Cubs don’t win another game, we’re still going to have a quite lengthy championship drought come to an end this year. And that’s the case no matter who wins it all. The rundown:


Last World Series Win: 1908
Last Pennant: 1945
Last NLCS: 2015


Last World Series Win: 1988
Last Pennant: 1988
Last NLCS: 2013


Last World Series Win: Never
Last Pennant: Never
Last NLCS: 1981, as the Montreal Expos


Last World Series Win: 1948
Last Pennant: 1997
Last ALCS: 2007


Last World Series Win: 1993
Last Pennant: 1993
Last ALCS: 2015

As you can see, some of these teams have recent League Championship Series experience, but none of them have even appeared in a World Series in the past 16 years and none of them have won it all since the Blue Jays 23 years ago. It has been 28 years for the Dodgers, 47 years of zero championships for the Expos/Nats franchise, 68 years for the Indians and 108 years for the Cubs. That’s pretty large number of aggregate years of frustration.

This makes it the second year in a row that we’re poised to have a substantial World Series drought ended, as the Royals won for the first time in 30 years and, if they had lost, the Mets would’ve won for the first time in 29. Before that, however, long, drought-ending championships were not annual occurrences, and it wasn’t terribly often that this many teams in the LCS (or in LCS contention in the case of the Dodgers and Nationals) were on the doorstep of making recent history.

The Giants have become common trophy-hoisters in recent years, but in 2010 they ended a 56-year drought. The Yankees and Phillies were in the penultimate round, however, threatening the continuation of their then-recent success.

In 2008 the Phillies stopped 28 years of bleeding, but the Red Sox were in the ALCS. In 2005 the White Sox ended 88 years without a championship by beating an Astros franchise which has still never won it all. They spared us the Angels and Cardinals for that Fall Classic. The year before the Red Sox famously ended an 86 year alleged curse, beating the Yankees in the ALCS and the Cards in the World Series. In 2002 the Angels won their first championship in their 42 seasons by defeating a Giants team which had spent, at that time, 48 years searching.

Before that you have to go back to 1995 when the Braves ended a 38-year drought over an Indians club then working on 47 years of futility. The only other team in the LCS with recent glory that year were the Cincinnati Reds, five years removed from he 1990 title.

In 2015 we would’ve witnessed, at minimum, a 22 year drought end, as the Blue Jays made the ALCS, with the Cubs, Mets and Royals all dealing with their own long journeys through the playoff wilderness. We have that situation once again. That may not be very good news for Giants and Red Sox fans, but it’s a lot of fun for fan bases who have not had reason to celebrate when the season finally ended in recent years. And it’s a lot of fun for those of us who think championship variety is the spice of baseball.

Some baseball strategies never go out of style


In the 1990s and early 2000s, the teams which were thought to have a clear advantage were the teams that learned to take a lot of pitches, learned to only swing at the pitches they were looking for and, if they never got those nice fat pitches, were quite happy to take their walks. Take-and-Rake baseball was the order of the day and teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Athletics all pulled the rest of baseball into a “Moneyball”-driven era in which plate discipline ruled.

Baseball strategy is a cyclical thing, of course, and in recent years teams have found other means of finding an edge. As much of the league filled its rosters with big, lumbering pitch-taking sluggers, new inefficiencies were created, giving way to a period in which clubs with deep pitching staffs, highly-specialized bullpens and good defense had an advantage. A brief era in which run scoring plummeted to the lowest level seen since the 1980s ensued and putting the ball in play and winning close games was seen as the key to advancing in the playoffs. The Kansas City Royals and their famous Relentlessness of 2014-15 was considered by many to be a repudiation of plate discipline and OBP uber alles, and were considered a new model of winning team. Last winter multiple clubs were said to be trying to do what they do in terms of collecting hitters who put wood on the ball and ran like mad and collecting an array of top relievers to shorten games.

Last night’s Game 4 between the Cubs and the Giants was evidence, however, that claiming any given strategy passe and another ascendent is kind of a sucker’s game. Better players win games and better players can do it in any number of ways, regardless of the fashionability of the strategies employed. The ninth inning was a microcosm of that.

Kris Bryant worked himself into a 2-1 count and then led off the ninth with a single. Then Javier Lopez came on to face Anthony Rizzo. Lopez is a lefty-killer, and a prime example of the sort of bullpen specialization people talk about so much. Rizzo worked a six-pitch walk off of him, steadfastly refusing to chase four pitches which were not in his sweet spot. Then came Sergio Romo to face Ben Zobrist who, like Rizzo, took four pitches that were off the outside corner and got himself into a 3-1 count before hitting a double which plated the Cubs’ third run. By this point the Cubs had seen 15 pitches from Giants pitchers. Only five of them were strikes and two of those were smacked hard. If you squinted, you might’ve thought that the Cubs were the 2001 Yankees or something. The game unraveled for the Giants after that. Put enough men on base and a lot of those men are going to score.

The Giants’ downfall was, quite obviously, their historically unreliable bullpen. If you’re not going to bash your opponents into submission by hitting a lot of bombs, and the Giants didn’t this year, you had at least better be able to win the close games which inevitably ensue. That sort of an approach worked just fine for the Royals, but not having Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera — or anything close to them — makes that a lot harder. Meanwhile the Cubs, at least in the ninth inning were taking pitches they didn’t like and squaring up solidly once they got the pitch they were looking for, even if that’s not something you hear a lot about in the baseball press these days.

The next time you hear someone saying that there’s a clearly ascendant strategy in baseball or arguing that doing it the way this team or that team does it is necessary, pay them no mind. You can’t win with the latest state-of-the-art strategies if you don’t have players who can execute them well. And you can win with strategies some claim to be out of date as long as you have great baseball players. The Giants didn’t have the personnel to be the 2015 Royals. The Cubs have players who can do basically everything. It’s really that simple.