Come October, the Giants may be in a position where they look back at several key moments that proved to be the difference between making the postseason and not.
Monday’s 5-4 loss in Atlanta, when the Braves scored three times in the ninth to win, may be one of those moments. And it’s hard to shake the feeling that it could have — even should have — been avoided, if not for Bruce Bochy’s decision to stand by his closer, Brian Wilson.
Now, we’re not suggesting Wilson be replaced as the Giants’ closer. Far from it. But with the depth and talent the Giants have in their bullpen, there really is no need to ALWAYS go to Wilson in save opportunities, especially if Wilson is not 100 percent.
Bothered by a stiff back — an issue that has lingered with Wilson all the way back into spring training — Wilson was unavailable to close Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Marlins. Prior to Monday’s game in Atlanta, Bochy was taking a wait-and-see approach on whether Wilson. But in the ninth, there was Wilson on the mound.
Now anyone who has ever been bothered with a sore back — particularly a recurring one — knows that you don’t go from “not being able to perform” to “100 percent” in 24 hours. So why even risk sending Wilson out in the ninth.
It wasn’t as if the bullpen has been taxed over the past few days. Matt Cain threw six innings on Friday, leaving an inning each for Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez. Tim Lincecum threw seven innings on Saturday, leaving an inning each for Affeldt and Wilson. And Ryan Vogelsong threw 7.2 innings on Sunday, leaving an inning for Santiago Casilla, Affledt and Ramirez to face one hitter each on Sunday.
Bochy passed on hitting for Madison Bumgarner in the seventh when the lefty had already thrown over a 100 pitches and the Giants holding a 3-2 lead. The move worked when Bumgarner set the side down in order in the seventh, then Mike Fontenot added a run with home run to left-center in the eighth.
But then Bochy went to Wilson to close out a 4-2 lead in the ninth. But wouldn’t have it been better to send Affeldt out to open the inning against the left-handed hitting Jose Constanza? With the lefty Affeldt on the mound, the Braves likely don’t send the left-handed hitting Eric Hinske to pinch hit, instead turning to righties like Julio Lugo, Brooks Conrad or David Ross, as Chipper Jones was clearly not an option with a sore knee. Wouldn’t those matchups have been more favorable, even if it meant going to the pen to get Casilla or Ramirez? Note: Sergio Romo was not an option, as it appears he’s headed for the DL with a tender elbow.
We’ve seen guys like Affeldt, Casilla and Ramirez get big outs in the 6th, 7th or 8th inning. What makes Bochy think they can’t get outs in the 9th, particularly with a two-run lead and a less-than-perfect Wilson? I’d much rather see Casilla, Affeldt or Ramirez at 100 percent, than Wilson at 80 or 90 percent.
Wilson said afterwards that his back was not an issue. But early in the inning, his pitches were topping out at 93 mph. It wasn’t until he faced Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman later in the inning that his pitches started to hit 96 and 97 mph. But by that time he was in a heap a trouble.
Wilson also said that none of the hits the Braves got were hammered. They just found holes. And that is true. Constanza opened the inning with a grounder to short that Orlando Cabrera mishandled into an infield single. But then Wilson failed to challenge Hinske, nibbling around the edges and eventually losing him to a walk that put the tying run on with no outs. A sacrifice put runners on second and third before a single by Martin Prado past the diving Mike Fontenot at third scored one run.
Wilson then walked Brian McCann on four pitches. Some may say Wilson was not giving in to the dangerous McCann, but the walk moved the winning run into scoring position with one out. Wilson struck out Dan Uggla with some 97 mph gas and was one pitch from getting Freeman when he got ahead of him 1-2. But Freeman worked the count to 3-2 before slapping a Wilson fastball up the middle for the winning hit.
Now the Giants find themselves 2.5 games behind Arizona in the West and 5 games behind the Braves in the wild-card. The Giants really needed to earn at least a split in Atlanta with the Diamondbacks headed to Philadelphia for three. Tuesday, the Giants send Jonathan Sanchez to the mound, and that hardly fills any die-hard Giants fan with confidence, even with the Braves countering with a rookie pitcher just called up from Triple-A.
The season isn’t over by a long shot, and there’s plenty of baseball to be played. But it will be hard to look back on the night on Aug. 15 in Atlanta if the Giants fall one game short of the postseason.