The Giants caught an enormous break in this one when, eight pitches into his outing, Johnny Cueto was forced to exit the game with back spasms. With Matt Cain on the mound, it was as though they had been gifted Game One of the series.
Matt Cain did not pitch like Matt Cain, though. In the third inning, he served up a two-run homer to Brandon Phillips on a fat, hanging 1-2 pitch. Following the home run, he hit Zack Cozart and then walked Joey Votto on four pitches. At one point, he’d thrown eight consecutive balls, there was one out in the inning, and Ryan Ludwick was at the plate with Jay Bruce on deck. Were it not for a timely double play, he could have fallen apart at the seams right then and there. He didn’t. The very next inning, Jay Bruce led off with a solo shot, sending a decent pitch (this one was kept down in the zone, and had considerably less hang-time than the pitch to Phillips) over the wall in right-center field for the Reds’ third run.
Things didn’t go much better with the Giants’ offense — they rallied with two outs in the second inning, only to have Matt Cain come up with the bases loaded. He hit one on the screws, but it was right at Bruce. And that kind of stuff seemed to happen throughout the night — Brandon Belt struck the ball well in his only two at-bats, but was twice robbed of hits. Hunter Pence, in his final two at-bats, hit very deep flyballs — but they just weren’t deep enough.
In reflecting upon the game, though, I find myself coming back to one pitch. With two outs and a couple runners on in the eighth inning, Gregor Blanco worked the count full. Jonathan Broxton made a pitch right at the knees, on the outside corner of the strike zone, taken for a called strike three to end the inning. I’m not sure if it was a strike or ball; it was close, though I’m leaning toward “missed call.” Blanco probably should’ve been protecting on such a pitch anyway. I’m not sure what to take away from this — my instinctive reaction is just to shrug. Broxton simply got the better of the exchange. And I can’t help but feel the same about the game as a whole — the Giants made some mistakes, had some tough breaks, and ultimately lost. It sucked, but I’m just left here shrugging. I’m not entirely sure where to direct the frustration.
Not to be forgotten in all of this: George Kontos and his two perfect innings of relief. I don’t know how close the Giants were to leaving him off the NLDS roster, but they were wise to find room for him.
There was a lot more in this game: Brandon Phillips’ standout play on the basepaths, at the plate, and in the field; Santiago Casilla and his less-than-stellar inning of relief; the Giants’ almost-comeback against Aroldis Chapman.
But enough about this game. All that really needs to be said about this game is: “the Giants lost.” And now they’re two games away from elimination, with only one remaining home game in the series. The Giants really, really can’t afford to lose tomorrow.
…and that was the low point in the season. So far, that is. Barry Zito, to his credit, did fifth starter things — which is to say, he was good enough. Three runs in six innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearing sub-1.00 territory, but that seems like the least of the Giants’ problems right now.
Brett Pill is not a left fielder. Conor Gillaspie isn’t much of a third baseman, either. With this Giants roster, there are actually quite a few lineup variations that are capable of playing good defense. This was not one of them — not by a longshot.
And the offense. Oh my. Ted Lilly kept them to one run over six innings; the Dodgers’ bullpen kept them silent. Hector Sanchez struck out three times; the 1-2 of Pagan/Theriot put up a collective 0-for-9; and “lefty-masher” Brett Pill failed to reach base. In the first pitch of his first at-bat returning from the DL, Aubrey Huff promptly flied out to center. And yet, the Giants still managed to get enough runners on base to strand ten of ‘em. The Giants haven’t hit a home run in 60 innings.
As of now, the Giants have scored 109 runs; they’ve allowed 114 runs. And they still have to get through the next six weeks without Pablo Sandoval. Just an incredibly frustrating loss.
This is a graph of Tim Lincecum‘s strikeout-to-walk ratio through the years. Ignore that last data point if you want — he’s only thrown thirty innings this season — but the trend is still the same. He peaked in 2009, when he was 25 years old. At this point, I think it’s pretty safe to expect Lincecum to never reach that point again.
Now here’s Matt Cain‘s graph. Again, ignore that last data point if you want, but the general point is clear: even as Cain has gotten older, he’s kept on goin’. He’s now 27 years old, and he’s already passed the point where he should’ve began his decline. Cain’s track record speaks for itself, but one of the main things that stands out to me is that he hasn’t started to drop off yet; in fact, one could argue that he’s improved. After today’s performance, his K/9 is at a career high, his BB/9 is at a career low, and his ERA is at a career low. Small samples be damned, his ability to stand the test of time has been wonderful, and it’s not something to take for granted. While Tim Lincecum’s future (both as a Giant and in general) is up in the air at this point, Cain is here for the long haul. After Madison Bumgarner‘s excellent start yesterday, there was a lot of talk about how Bumgarner had claimed the title of “most reliable Giants starter” or “best Giants starter so far.” Whatever it was, I think Cain stated his case pretty clearly today.
Cain didn’t get the win though, of course. But the offense did just enough to give the Giants the series victory. A couple players in particular stood out to me with their hitting today, and obviously they’re the two guys I can’t shut up about: Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera.
Pagan extended his hitting streak to 20 games, though he’s been getting by with a lot of .250/.250/.250 performances (meaningless 1-for4s). Today wasn’t one of those, as Pagan had two hits — one of them a well-struck double down the first base line — and got the Giants a very important run in the first inning by beating out a double play. Oh yeah, and he stole a base. His OBP is still in sub-.300 territory, but whatever. Fueled by an early power surge, he’s been above-average hitter thus far (105 wRC+). He dug himself a sizable hole at the beginning of the year with that first-week slump, but he’s already worked his way out of it and then some.
As for Melky, he put up a 1-for-5 — but that was only because he was robbed of a double in the tenth inning. Both of his hits — the actual one and the would-be one — were to the opposite field, too. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s pretty good at this opposite-field hitting business: since the start of 2011, he has 61 opposite-field hits.
And unlike Pagan, he’s been excellent with the glove: today’s notable was that 11th inning double play — he robbed Jonathan Lucroy of a bloop single then proceeded to double up Corey Hart at first base.
Pagan, meanwhile, continues to disappoint with his defense. I’m not sure if an average centerfielder catches Travis Ishikawa‘s ninth inning game-tying double. But I’m certain of the fact that Pagan is capable of getting to that ball if he takes a better route, and I also have no doubt that Andres Torres would have made that catch.
Entering the season, I felt the Giants had a top-notch defense; so far, that hasn’t been the case at all. Melky has been better than expected, and Emmanuel Burriss has shown a bit more range than I thought he had. But other than that, they’ve been utterly disappointing. Especially with the easy stuff — the routine plays. Bobbling grounders, failing to communicate in the outfield, et al. That’s exactly why I’m not too worried about this, though. I don’t think the Giants are fundamentally flawed on defense — it’s not as though they’re not getting to the ball in the first place, for example; they’re just making a few (costly) mistakes here and there. In other words, I don’t expect this to be a lingering issue.
Anyway, the Giants came away with the W, and sloppy as they were at times, a win is a win. Considering their next stop is LA, for the 18-10 Dodgers, it’s a good thing they were able to rebound and grab a couple wins to end this homestand.