CHICAGO — The quiet and cramped visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field on Saturday night featured a steady stream of the traditional cliches used by a team staring at elimination with a loss in Monday’s Game 3 back in San Francisco.
Take it one game at a time. We’ll go pitch by pitch. We’re looking forward to playing at home.
Catcher Buster Posey, however, led off his talk with an assessment that seemed a little more honest as his San Francisco Giants looked at an offseason that’s just one loss away.
“Realistically, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Posey said after a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs dropped the Giants into a 0-2 series hole. “There’s no doubt about it.”
The Giants have been here before, of course. Saturday’s contest was barely half over when Bob Costas and MLB Network started running down the measured Houdini acts that have turned this decade’s Giants into a backdoor dynasty.
Counting last Wednesday’s wild card win over the New York Mets, this franchise has played in nine elimination games since 2010, winning all nine. They’ve defeated 11 straight postseason opponents since 2010 and have never lost a playoff series under manager Bruce Bochy.
The foundation of this current run was laid by an unbelievable October in 2012. That was the year they fell down two games to Cincinnati in the NLDS then stormed back to win the final three by outscoring the Reds 20-1. The Giants then fell into a 3-1 hole against the Cardinals in the NLCS, only to advance to the World Series by winning three straight.
Asked if the Giants had something in their DNA that makes them indestructible on the edge of destruction, right fielder Hunter Pence just smiled and refused to take the bait.
“I do know we have a lot of guys who love to play,” Pence said.
The good news for the Giants is that Madison Bumgarner will start Game 3 and, as you might’ve heard, he’s the best pitcher in postseason history. No exaggeration. Bumgarner has given up one run in his last 30 innings of playoff baseball, including a complete-game shutout of the Mets in Wednesday’s NL wild card.
The Giants might also be due for some better luck. Game 1’s defeat featured a Javy Baez homer that barely caught the left field basket while a ninth-inning blast by Posey was deflated by the wind.
The Game 2 loss was marred by a broken-bat two-RBI bloop single given up to Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks and an ensuing homer surrendered to Cubs pitcher Travis Wood.
So if you’re scoring at home, that’s a one-run loss in a pitcher’s duel that could’ve gone either way and three RBIs given up to pitchers in a game that was lost by three runs. It’s enough to make the Giants wonder how they didn’t head back home with the 1-1 split they coveted.
“You can’t really put your finger on it,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “We just haven’t gotten it done.”
Pessimistic Giants fans can point to an already-flagging offense looking listless against Cubs pitching in the first two games as a reason they might be free to do other things by midweek. San Francisco only scored in one inning in Chicago — a two-run effort in Saturday’s fourth — and failed to capitalize on any mistake made by the Cubs the first two days. Even worse, they failed to draw a single walk against any Cubs pitcher.
While the Giants will have Bumgarner going in Game 3, the Cubs will have reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. If the Giants continue to not hit or score, it won’t matter how much Bumgarner dominates.
“I think we’ve had great at-bats,” Pence said. “But you gotta get some balls to fall in. A big hit here or there. It’s coming. You just have to keep pushing.”
Posey said that it was hard to compare this current situation against the Reds in 2012, saying that the challenge of coming back against a 97-win or 103-win team is great no matter what.
Only nine teams have overcome a 2-0 hole in a best-of-five LDS or LCS since the advent of a multi-round postseason in 1969, the most recent being the Toronto Blue Jays after falling behind the Texas Rangers in 2015.
On the flip side, 87.5 percent of teams who start with a 2-0 lead advance to the next round.
It’s hard to believe that these Giants will be the team to dismantle the giant blue buzzsaw the Cubs have assembled in their bid for history. This is a team that struggled in the second half this season, going 30-42 after posting a 57-33 mark in the first. It’s a team that goes only two starters deep and features a heart of the order that can barely match the power and productivity the back half of the Cubs’ lineup presents.
But if any team can do it, it’s these Giants. At no point during these last seven seasons have they been considered a heavy favorite or maybe even a slight one.
And considering it’s again an even year, wouldn’t it just be like the Giants to come clawing back to alter the ending of a script everyone had already erased them from?
“Going through the second half, this club has faced adversity,” Panik said as the team quietly filed out to catch their charters. “We were up and down but we were able to get ourselves in here. This week hasn’t been any different.
“On Monday, we know what to focus on.”
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