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The Race to 2: Unlocking the Key to the San Francisco Giants’ Success

by Wendy Thurm on August 18, 2011


In last night’s game between the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves, the Giants scored one run in the top of the first inning. As Matt Cain prepared to take the mound for the Giants to pitch the bottom of the first, the tweets starting rolling in:

Indeed, it’s a common sentiment among Giants fans and observers that if the Giants score the first run of the game–just one run–then the burden is on the Giants starters and bullpen to win the game with that one run of support.

But it turns out–not surprisingly–that the Giants have won only two games all season by the score of 1-0. Matt Cain was the starter in one of those games and got the win. Tim Lincecum was the starter in the other 1-0 Giants victory, but Brian Wilson got the win when the Giants scored in the bottom of the ninth.  The other 14 games where the Giants scored only one run resulted in losses.

The Giants do succeed when they score first, posting a 36-24 record for a .600 winning percentage. In games where the Giants do not score first, their record is 31-33, for a .434 winning percentage.  That’s 31 comeback wins for the Giants–more than I expected. Probably more than you expected, too.

But the real key to the Giants success in 2011 is what my friend Evan Combs (@evancombs) calls “the race to 2.”  We even have a hashtag for it: #raceto2. Let me explain.

The Giants have played 124 games so far in 2011. Four of those games resulted in a 1-0 score (the two Giants victories mentioned above and two 1-0 losses for the Giants).  So in 120 Giants games, one team or both teams scored at least two runs.

In 58 of those 120 games, the Giants were the first team to two runs. In 62 of those games, the opposing team was the first team to two runs.

When the Giants are the first team to score two runs in the game, their record is 50-8. That’s a winning percentage of .860.  

This holds true when the opposing team scores the first run of the game. It also holds true when the Giants take a 2-0 or 2-1 lead, lose that lead and comeback to win. It hold true at home and on the road. Simply being the first team in the game to two runs provides a huge advantage for the Giants.

And the Giants’ advantage when they get to two runs first is bigger than their opponents’ advantage when they get to two runs first.  In the 62 games where the Giants’ opponent puts two runs up before the Giants did, the opponents are 47-15 for a winning percentage of .758.  Very good, for sure, but not as good as the Giants’ winning percentage of .860.

So the next time the Giants take a 1-0 lead in a game, don’t tweet about how that one run needs to hold up.  Tweet about the #raceto2.  And if the Giants are the first team to score two runs in the game, sit back and enjoy.


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