NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Sometimes it’s just not that complicated.
In a time and place – that being now and here – that in themselves engender theories of industry intrigue and cigar-smoke conspiracies, sometimes you just need a guy to pitch the ninth freakin’ inning.
Were it not for the ninth inning – many ninth innings, actually – the Giants might very well have won the National League West in 2016, and therefore not burned Madison Bumgarner in a wild-card game against the New York Mets, and therefore pitched him more than once in the division series against the Chicago Cubs, and you can take it from there.
Ah, but there were ninth innings, the last of which was on Oct. 11, during which the Cubs scored four runs against five Giants relievers, none of whom was named Santiago Casilla. Those five Giants relievers conspired to torch a 5-2 lead and end the division series there and then and send the Giants’ front office into the waiting arms of, turned out, Mark Melancon. It may have been Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, as a generally weak free-agent class is also notable for its strength at closer, though Melancon was viewed as the more thrifty option.
Even Bruce Bochy, bullpen ninja, was unable to save the Giants’ ninth innings from themselves. The Giants blew 30 saves in the regular season and the bullpen was leaking hardest by September. Then, as if to prove that was no fluke, Giants relievers blew ninth-inning leads in Games 3 and 4 of the division series.
So, Melancon. He’s a 31-year-old right-hander with a cutter-curveball-four seamer portfolio, 131 saves for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals in the past three seasons, and a sub-2 ERA in two of them. He has 10 blown saves across those three seasons. Casilla blew nine in 2016 alone.
A reliable bullpen was pivotal in the Giants’ three World Series titles since 2010. There was turnover – Brian Wilson was their closer in ’10, Sergio Romo in ’12 and Casilla in ’14. Now there is Melancon, with still more work to do. Casilla, Romo and Javy Lopez are free agents.