The San Francisco Giants were ready to exploit the underbelly of the Texas Rangers.
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With right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain having picked up victories in the first two games of the World Series at AT&T Park earlier in the week, the Giants had the left-handed tandem of Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner lined up to try to finish off the Rangers with the best-of-seven affair moving to Texas for the weekend.
So much for that idea.
There won’t be a Series sweep this year.
For all the statistical evidence that can be offered for why Sanchez should have manhandled the Rangers on Saturday night, the reality is that not only was Sanchez a fifth-inning departure in the Rangers’ 4-2 victory in Game 3 of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, but it was the left-handed bats in the Rangers lineup who were Sanchez’s undoing.
"I didn’t pitch very well against them," Sanchez said.
Now that doesn’t mean the Giants are suddenly on the verge of a collapse. They do still have a 2-games-to-1 lead in the Series, and 41 of the 81 previous teams to lead 2-to-1 have gone on to win the World Series.
But this isn’t going to be as easy as 1-2-3-4.
For all the planning by manager Bruce Bochy and his staff to align the starters in a heavenly formation, the Rangers were unwilling to cooperate.
See, here’s the deal. After pitching Lincecum and Cain in Games 1-2 in the Division Series against Atlanta, the Giants adjusted in the NLCS to slip Sanchez in between the two of them. Ostensibly it was to break up the starts so the Giants could go right-left-right-left with Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
The truth of the matter is Bochy likes having Cain pitch at AT&T Park, where pitchers can find refuge thanks to deep fences and dense air. And so when the Giants had the home-field advantage in both the NL Division Series and World Series — meaning they opened with two games at home — Cain started Game 2.
Not only does Cain pitch better at AT&T Park, but Sanchez is better equipped to handle those hitter paradises such as Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington — supposedly.
After lasting only two innings in Game 6 of the NLCS, which the Giants rallied to win to claim the NL pennant, Sanchez failed to survive the fifth inning in Texas on Saturday night.
What’s more, the four runs he gave up came on home runs, and were hit by left-handed hitters.
Sanchez has had his problems with consistency, but one thing he has done without fail this season has been dominate left-handed hitters.
Here are some stats to chew on.
Lefties have hit .214 off Sanchez during the regular season in his career — just 16 home runs in 605 plate appearances — and managed a meager .181 with five home runs in 167 regular-season plate appearances this year. Even with his mulligan in his second start in the LCS, he had allowed left-handed hitters only four hits in 18 at-bats the first two rounds of the postseason, striking out eight.
But that was before he took the mound in Arlington and faced Mitch Moreland, the rookie hitting ninth in the Rangers lineup, and Josh Hamilton, the potential AL MVP.
Moreland unloaded a three-run home run with two out in the third, and Hamilton added a solo shot with two out in the fifth.
"I can’t give up home runs to left-handed hitters," Sanchez said. "If I don’t pitch well against them I’m in trouble."
Even if Sanchez pitches well against them he can be in trouble. Now, Hamilton’s fifth home run of the postseason did come on a hanging slider, which is supposed to be hit hard.
Moreland, though, was the puzzle.
Platooned after being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City and limited to only 20 regular-season at-bats against left-handers — which resulted in only four hits — Moreland came up after Sanchez actually pitched around Bengie Molina with two out and a runner on third.
Then Sanchez got to 2-2 in the count to Moreland, who proceeded to foul off the next four pitches, all off-speed offerings, before Sanchez, looking to set up a slider away, threw a fastball down and in that Moreland sent out and away, over the right-field fence.
"Give him credit," said Sanchez. "This is baseball. You never know what is going to happen."
The Rangers, after all, had more than their share of problems against left-handers during the regular season. They were 28-23 in games lefties started against them, but hit only .266 (fifth in the AL), with a .719 OPS (eighth in the AL) and 36 home runs (ninth in the AL).
Don’t, however, be fooled, like the Giants might have been.
"We’ve done things in spurts (against left-handed pitchers)," said Texas hitting coach Clint Hurdle. "And what’s been surprising is it is our left-handed hitters who have stepped up against left-handers as much as anybody. Right now, we’re having a good spurt."
Good? Well, they are now 4-2 in games left-handers have started against them this postseason. Both losses were in games CC Sabathia started for the Yankees in the ALCS. But in Game 1 of that series, Sabathia actually left trailing 5-1 only to see his Yankee teammates rally in the eighth against the Rangers bullpen.
Good? Well, the Rangers have hit .329 against left-handers this postseason, with eight home runs and 21 RBI in 156 at-bats.
And they get another chance to test their regained success against lefties in Game 4 on Sunday.
Bumgarner, the recently-turned-21 rookie, will start for the Giants.
Bumgarner, however, feels he can benefit from getting a chance to see how Sanchez worked the Rangers on Saturday.
"During the season I liked pitching behind him, getting a chance to see what he was doing and what was working," Bumgarner said.
The way things have gone lately, the Rangers aren’t complaining about having Bumgarner follow Sanchez either.