San Francisco Giants Buster Posey (28) reacts to a called strike during the eighth inning as the San Francisco Giants played the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, October 14, 2021.
Throughout the Giants’ magical year, the team’s veterans led the way. In the NL Division Series, those rocks of the regular season were the primary targets of the Dodgers’ pitchers and, ultimately, they couldn’t do it all alone.
San Francisco hit .182 in the five games, and while Buster Posey hit .300 with a homer and Brandon Crawford .250 with a homer (and each had a hit in Game 5 on Thursday), third baseman Evan Longoria went 2-for-17 with four strikeouts.
None of three walked in the series, and the Giants drew only six walks in the five games, counter to their normal practice at the plate. Some of that was terrific pitching from Los Angeles, some of it consistently poor umpiring behind the plate, and potentially there was an element of trying to do too much, especially as the offense continued to spin its wheels.
And while the Giants very much wanted the home-field advantage that came with the rest, the four days off leading into the series didn’t help. The Dodgers, who had to play in the wild-card game, outscored San Francisco 18-10 in the NLDS.
Manager Gabe Kapler pointed to another reason for the flat attack: The Giants hit a lot of lineouts into shifts, or balls that died at the wall, like two off Darin Ruf’s bat in Game 5. The Dodgers had similar issues with wind pushing balls back in windy Game 3 in L.A.
“That’s just part of baseball, and I don’t think it makes any sense to throw your hands up and say ‘I wish this was different’ in any way,” Kapler said. “I thought we had some quality at-bats throughout the series. At the end of the day, they made more pitches than us. This is what the postseason is all about: You’re going to face the best pitching. Everybody’s going to be well-rested.
“You get into the postseason, you’re going to face really kick-ass pitching, and then you’re going to need to be on your A-game offensively. And I actually think we put good at-bats together and we just weren’t able to get the job done.”
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt missed the series because of a fractured thumb incurred on a bunt attempt on Sept. 26 in Colorado — and there is little doubt his presence was missed. He was the Giants’ hottest hitter down the stretch and led the team with 29 homers this season. He also plays terrific defense, even more of a factor in such a tightly contested series. The combo that replaced him, a mix of Wilmer Flores, Kris Bryant and Ruf, hit .111 with one walk, five strikeouts and one RBI while playing the position in the series.
Bryant, not among the Giants’ older players but nevertheless a postseason veteran, was the team’s most effective hitter, batting .471 with a 1.147 OPS. But he wasn’t immune to dreadful calls while batting, particularly two in the same at-bat against Julio Urías in the fourth inning of Game 5 with nobody out and a man at first.
The Giants were knocked coming into the season for having the oldest roster in baseball, but as their remarkable year unfurled and the veterans flourished, the narrative shifted to admiration for the leadership and savvy the older players provided. And while the results might not have carried through in terms of postseason stats, the tone the veterans set was very much intact: The team remained cohesive, calm and collected.
“The unselfishness that this team showed throughout the year, the trust that they showed in one another was second to none, better than any season that I’ve ever been a part of as a player, as a coach, in any position in baseball,” Kapler said. “I just respect the hell out of a team-first mentality. So, if there’s a message, it’s continue with that and we’re going to build on this season and be better because we have that foundation in place.”
Though the series ended abruptly on a bad check-swing call, none of the players displayed anger about the ruling — Ruf went so far as to point out that a key game in July went the Giants’ way on a blown check-swing call on him that went his way — or the oddball strike zone through much of the series.
“That clubhouse in there is extremely special, and it’s because it’s full of great people that you want to be friends with your whole life,” Ruf said, crediting the front office for emphasizing character. “When you take the field with them, everyone’s got your back, you know. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and is going to step up for you.”
Logan Webb, one of the team’s youngest players at 24, was the standout of the postseason after two phenomenal starts.
“I learned that it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “The crowd was just awesome. That was really cool, just being in the spot with our guys. We deserved this, to be here, and that was coolest part for me.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t happen the way we wanted it to end, and it really sucks. But I couldn’t be more proud of the guys in our room.”
Susan Slusser covers the Giants for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @susanslusser
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