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Giants’ bullpen has an all-time meltdown, Cubs move on to the NLCS

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The Giants’ problematic bullpen reared its ugly head once again in Game 4 of the NLDS at AT&T Park on Tuesday evening. During the regular season that bullpen blew 30 saves, most in baseball and the most for any playoff team since saves became an official stat in 1969. That bullpen nearly cost the Giants Game 3. It cost them Game 4. But let’s start from the top.

The Giants opened the scoring in the bottom of the first, plating a run on a Buster Posey sacrifice fly off of Cubs starter John Lackey. The Cubs tied it at once apiece in the third inning when David Ross swatted a solo home run to left field off of Giants starter Matt Moore.

In the fourth inning, the Giants staged a one-out rally as Conor Gillaspie and Joe Panik singled and Gregor Blanco walked to load the bases for Moore. Moore, an American League pitcher until joining the Giants this summer, has taken 44 career plate appearances and has just three hits (all singles) to show for it. Nevertheless, the Giants’ lefty grounded a single to right field, plating a run to break the 1-1 tie. Denard Span then hit what appeared to be an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play ball, but Lackey slipped over the first base bag and missed the out, allowing another run to score.

The Cubs fought back for a run in the top of the fifth on a Ross sacrifice fly. In the bottom half, the Giants scored two more. With one out, Hunter Pence singled up the middle and Brandon Crawford doubled to deep right-center on a play that was reviewed. Lefty reliever Travis Wood relieved Lackey, but postseason hero Conor Gillaspie came through with an RBI single to center and Panik followed up with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.

Moore cruised through eight innings. He gave up just the two runs on two hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts on 120 pitches. It’s really a shame what happened next, considering how well he pitched.

Derek Law, with all of one career save to his name, took over in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff single to Kris Bryant and was immediately replaced by lefty Javier Lopez. Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs in Ben Zobrist. Lopez out, Sergio Romo in. Zobrist ripped a double down the left field line, plating Bryant. Romo exited and lefty Will Smith came in. Smith gave up a two-run, game-tying single up the middle to Willson Contreras. 5-5. Jason Heyward tried to bunt Contreras over to second base, but Contreras was forced out at second. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, though, made a wild throw to first base, allowing Heyward to advance to second base. Can you guess what happened next? That’s right, another pitching change. Hunter Strickland came in and immediately gave up a go-ahead RBI single up the middle to Javier Baez, making it a 6-5 game. At long last, Strickland ended the inning by inducing a 4-6-3 double play out of Ross.

Aroldis Chapman toed the slab for the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth, fresh off of his abysmal showing in Game 3. This time was different. Chapman struck out the side: Gorkys Hernandez, Denard Span, and Brandon Belt.

The Cubs move onto the NLCS. They’ll play the winner of Thursday’s Game 5 between the Dodgers and Nationals.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.