Giants 2015: Last Week In Giants, 8/3-9
(originally written 8/12/15)
From August 3-9, the Giants went 0-7. And by 0-7 I mean 2-5 that felt like 0-7.
Obviously, the W's weren't going to keep piling up at the rate they were for the Giants out of the All-Star break.
Still, it's tough to rationalize a 2-5 week when four of the losses were winnable, one should have been won, and another was there for the taking. Looking back, it's tragically funny how it felt the Giants were in control of the painful August 5 loss at Atlanta. Even as the Freddie Freeman-less Braves pecked away at Matt Cain's 6-0 lead, it all just seemed like cosmetic filler for an eventual Giants triumph.
Games like that are exactly why I say to hell with etiquette and unwritten rules; never stop trying to score as much as you can. Why not? Simple—they're still trying, and anything can happen. Don't decelerate until it's out of reasonable reach—lest AJ Pierzynski rise up and smoke a game-tying home run off your closer.
Instead of jogging, I reguarly shoot about 500 three-pointers three times per week. Whenever I hoist up a mechanically-sound J with perfect rotation and arc, and it rattles out of the basket somehow, it is difficult to stop my legs from walking me right off the court and into my car. Ten swished shots later, I'll still be thinking about the one "stolen" from me.
"Stolen" wins can trigger similar frustration, which is why San Francisco's ability to bounce back with winning baseball against the Braves in games 2 and 3 of that series needs recognition—especially Santiago Casilla, who served up that Pierzynski blast. Casilla is going to need all the confidence he can get going forward as he deals with a drop in effectiveness. Mowing down Atlanta on seven pitches on Wednesday 8/5 was (briefly) a great start.
Casilla's been shaky with command since July, and this month, his ERA is at 15 and his WHIP is closer to 3 than 2. It could be due to his inconsistent usage since mid-July, it could be that Casilla turned 35 on July 25, or it could be a brief slump that happens to every pro athlete. Check back in October for the final determination.
The Giants won the second game in Atlanta by capitalizing on their many mistakes, as good teams should do. Plus, Nori Aoki ripped his first post-DL homer, 24 hours before grounding out to second base four times in the rubber match. In said match, "Big Country" Madison Bumgarner brought damn near perfect stuff—lots of empty swings by the Atlanta "B" lineup—and Pence made one of the best defensive plays of the season (plus an impressive throw to an unchallenged home plate.)
Besides Aoki, the only "blemish" on the series finale: Braves reliever Jake Brigham hung at least three fat ones to Buster Posey in one AB and escaped punishment.
Along with closing out Atlanta strong, here's more of what went right during these past two series before we leap into the vat of negativity:
Brandon Crawford. He left his mark all over Atlanta and Chicago by: smacking two homers in one game to the opposite field in Atlanta, hitting another at Wrigley when the Giants seemed on their way to a blowout loss, tying the Friday game vs. Chicago with a single and the Saturday game with a double, adding separate diving stops to save at least one run and likely more in that same game, and setting up two RISP with none out by doubling against Hector Rondon in the 9th inning of Sunday's game (for all the good it did).
Ehire Adrianza. Batting .120 entering the week, the kid started six times and batted .350 (7-for-20) during the week, doubling twice, bunting beautifully and walking four times against a pair of K. Additionally, he emitted confidence when he swung and looked like a true major leaguer—not a warm body masquerading as one.
Kelby Tomlinson. Or as he's alternately known, "The Skinny One With The Glasses". He opened his MLB career with three consecutive hits, the final two of which drove in runs and staked the Giants to a 3-0 lead in the Monday 8/3 game. If not for the flurry of transactions leading to Joaquin Arias' demotion to AAA, Tomlinson likely misses the opportunity to fill in while Joe Panik's back quiets down. Sometimes timing can matter as much as ability in sports, as young Kelby proved.
Brandon Belt and Posey. Belt homered thrice during the week, although he was only 3-for-25 with 11 K otherwise. And Posey—with a little aid from the Wrigley wind—hit .400 with five RBI and just two K, somewhat offsetting a "slump" by Matt Duffy (4-for-16, no RBI in Chicago, although he made a sensational diving catch to rob Addison Russell in game 2.)
Short off-topic rant: I seldom question Bruce Bochy anymore, but Duffy is a guy whose build no one would describe as "sturdy" and who went from not playing at all to playing practically every inning. It seems he could stand to get more time off than he's gotten, which I'd say even if he'd closed the week strong. If not a game or two, then maybe a couple innings at the end of decided games? Fatigue often sets in hard for rookies this time of year. Perhaps when Panik heals and Adrianza returns to the bench...
Notice how zero of the above positives apply to pitchers (though Ryan Vogelsong's game effort on little notice starting the Friday 8/7 game merits an honorable mention, as does Jeremy Affeldt's 8/4 bat hurl from a humor standpoint.)
So many (TOO many) of the blows struck by the Cubs against San Francisco came with two strikes, several on 0-2 counts. Bumgarner, the one healthy Giants starter who can whip 96 past a guy in the year 2015, didn't face Chicago, and the guys who did paid for not putting away Cub hitters...
Game 1: Chris Heston mostly avoids the two-strike hit...but he does so by falling behind 3-0 or 3-1 to half the guys he faces.
Game 2: In the Cubs' 5th-inning uprising, Kyle Schwarber singles home two runs off a 1-2 Affeldt pitch (aided by a bad ricochet off Tomlinson). A few batters later Jorge Soler—against whom Yusmeiro Petit held an 0-2 advantage—doubled home two more on a 2-2 fastball.
Bryant smacks hanging Matt Cain 0-2 curve for a home run in the 5th; later that inning Miguel Montero also singles after being down 0-2. In the 8th, Dexter Fowler sliced an 0-2 RBI triple. Earlier, Russell strokes a long double on a 1-2 pitch.
Fowler lives up to his name with a 12-pitch at-bat vs. Jake Peavy in Game 4. Rizzo (1-2 count) and Bryant (0-2 again) follow a walk with singles to score the first Cubs run—though it should be noted Bryant blooped a very good pitch...
Pitchers who can reach 95+ on the gun seem to grow on trees these days, but certainly not on those surrounding AT&T Park...a little extra gas might have come in handy at Wrigley. Then again, maybe not against Schwarber. There's no need to call in bomb threats to Wrigley Field—there's already one there, wearing #12.
Chicago ran the pitch counts of Heston, Vogelsong, Cain and Peavy up like a Norm Peterson bar tab—Peavy was the only one to complete even five innings at Wrigley. Plus, after his impressively long streak of cleaning up other pitcher's messes, George Kontos has allowed five of his past six inherited runners to score—he, too, had problems putting guys away this week, especially vs. Atlanta.
About that Sunday series finale: other than a strong bounce-back game from Affeldt and all the jersey lettering spelled correctly, there's practically nothing positive to extract from that game. Aoki—who'd homered again Saturday—was beaned by Jake Arrieta. It wasn't as "vicious" a beaning like some we've seen, fortunately, and the ball Aoki took to the nuts back in 2013 appeared more painful through the TV screen. Of course, it was his dome under that helmet, not mine...
Then came the 9th inning.
The ending of this Giants/Cubs affair almost doubled as the ending of my two-year barf-free streak. It wasn't simply ugly—donkeys are ugly, and I'd have preferred watching 10 minutes of a donkey chewing on itself than these final three outs. Which could be best described as...disappointing to the point of offense.
Bases loaded. Zero out. Hector Rondon has no idea where his heater is going. He's down to one pitch—a slider. A good slider, yes, but if Brad Lidge's was a diamond, Rondon's is an emerald, and no one who faced Lidge is particularly impressed by Rondon.
In what may be his worst at-bat as a Giant, Hector Sanchez whiffed on three pitches, none of which were close to being strikes. In a 2-0 game, all he had to do was put bat on ball almost anywhere except straight up and the Giants halve the Cubs' lead. Angel Pagan battled hard but also K'd on a dirt pitch—though, to be fair, his whole at-bat changed on a crappy strike-two call and he wasn't even supposed to play that day.
Gregor Blanco's AB was better cosmetically—which isn't saying much—but Rondon was nearing 40 pitches and starting to hang some. But Blanco could only foul them away before ultimately being called out on strikes.
As it turned out, the Giants' maxed out their 9th-inning rally card the day before with three meaningless late runs which, if queued for 24 hours, would have staved off a loss—and a sweep.
One pitch away was the theme of those final two Cub games. Too many pitches low and away by Heston ruined the opener. The new starter Mike Leake being away (from the roster) doomed Game 2—how ironic is is that the guy acquired specifically to give the Giants innings will give them zero for at least half of August?
From a divison race perspective, SF timed their 2-5 skid well. The Dodgers skidded to a 2-4 record of their own last week, so at least LA fans couldn't point and laugh at the Giants falling further behind...although the sweep allowed Chicago to pass them for the Wild Card co-lead. (Note: all four Dodger losses were tagged to their hot new imports, Alex Wood, Mat Latos and Jim Johnson.)
In closing, call me uptight, but this undone-top-button craze sweeping MLB needs addressing. It's one thing if fat starting pitchers do it. Now, you have guys like Chris Coghlan, Starlin Castro and Jason Motte all walking around like Bryce damn Harper.
Some guys don't have crew-neck undershirts on, exposing chest like a basketball player. It's sloppy, and for the rising number of dudes who don't groom above the neck, it's doubly bad—you can't tell the difference between today's ballplayer and some basement band player. Let's put the kibosh on this, MLB. Pros should look like pros. (Steps down from soapbox)