Didn’t that all seem a little too easy?
The Giants scored in the first inning of the first game of this series, and never gave up their lead. They were never winning by a significant margin, but the way Madison Bumgarner was pitching, even two runs of support was enough to feel comfortable. Heck, even after Sergio Romo coughed up a solo homer to make it a one-run game, Javier Lopez came in and shut the door immediately. Just like that.
Last night’s game wasn’t entirely a walk in the park. But once again, the Giants got some runs up in the first inning, and never looked back. There was one moment in that game — one brief, isolated moment — that was cause for concern. Tim Lincecum was missing some spots in last night’s outing, so I was slightly worried when he worked himself into that sixth inning jam. Matt Kemp came up, representing the tying run. But in an instant, he smoked the second pitch into right field, and it was caught. And then there were two outs, and Jose Mijares came in to pitch against Andre Ethier — who is essentially Brandon Crawford when it comes to hitting left-handed pitching. Aside from that brief moment of tension with Kemp at the plate, it felt like the Giants were in total control the whole night.
And then the same happened tonight. Except tonight was a walk in the park. The Giants put three runs on the board in the first inning, and then Matt Cain took the mound. Cain retired the first seven hitters he faced, and then five of the next seven hitters he faced. Through five innings, the Dodgers were scoreless. And in the sixth inning, the Giants tacked on another three runs. By the end of the seventh inning, the Giants had a seven-run lead. Even when the Dodgers kept chipping away at that lead in the eighth inning, never did it feel like the Giants were actually in danger of relinquishing it. And Joaquin Arias, of all players, drove in five runs.
Not even a month ago, the Dodgers came to town and ripped the Giants’ collective heart out. The Giants had a three-game lead in the NL West before the series began, and by the time the Dodgers were gone, so was sole possession of first place. It was a gut-wrenching series, the kind that leaves a bad taste in the mouth for weeks. The first game was stolen by the Dodgers in the tenth inning, on a Hanley Ramirez home run off Sergio Romo — sound familiar? And in the subsequent two games, the Giants were shut out. The Dodgers scored 14 runs, and that was 14 more than the Giants. In that series as a whole, in their own home park, the Giants only scored three runs.
This was the polar opposite of that experience. There were runs, leads, wins. There were inconsequential homers hit by Hanley Ramirez off of Sergio Romo. The Giants waltzed into Los Angeles a second-place team, and they’ll exit with a modest first place lead.
Given how that last Giants/Dodgers series had gone, I was very nervous about the prospect of the Giants facing the Dodgers on the road. But it went well, shockingly well, and without much stress at all. It’s truly difficult to overstate how amazing this series was. Man, that felt good.
Tim Lincecum’s outing started in typically rough fashion today, as the Nationals tagged him for two runs in the first inning, and worked up his pitch count to 38. He was actually pretty sharp at times in today’s start, but by the end of the fourth inning, he was in the midst of his third go-round at the Nationals’ lineup and already up near 100 pitches. So that would do it for him.
There’s no question that today was all about Melky. But had Lincecum pitched well, and the Giants won this game (and the series), it would have been a heck of a lot easier to forget about Melky, even if only for a while. Today’s game was especially painful because five of Lincecum’s six second-half starts had been good — one more start like the one he had on July 14th, and I probably would have been ready to toss aside any concerns about Lincecum. Should we be as concerned about Lincecum as before?
In the later innings of this one, it looked like the Giants might be able to put together a comeback. They had runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth, but only managed to score one run. And in the ninth, when Pablo Sandoval appeared to have popped out to end the game, the ball dropped and Hector Sanchez came around to score. Suddenly, the Giants had Buster Posey up at the plate, representing the tying run.
And he struck out. And they lost. And that’s just how it goes sometimes.
There are a few silver linings though (not that they outweigh today’s unfortunate news). Among them:
- The Giants scored four runs on a day that Stephen Strasburg started against them.
- Brandon Crawford reached base a couple of times, and has now hit safely in eight consecutive games.
- Gregor Blanco, taking over in left field for Melky, had a multi-hit game. He had gone 21 at-bats without a hit before his single in the sixth inning.
- Pablo Sandoval went two for four with a walk.
Tomorrow’s a new day. A day off, in fact. Much needed.
Yesterday, the Giants completed a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros at home to begin the second half. It’s no extraordinary feat — the Astros are now 9-35 on the road this season, which is shockingly terrible (especially considering that they have a winning record at home). But there’s something to be said for winning the games that are supposed to be won — and the Giants did just that. Now they have a 1.5-game lead in the NL West, as the Dodgers continue to slide.
I was lucky enough to get into the press box for yesterday’s game, and a few things stood out to me:
– Brandon Belt drew a couple walks in four plate appearances, taking a very good approach in his at-bats. He doesn’t look like a player that’s been scuffling, that’s for sure. In the first inning, he “drove in” one of the Giants’ three runs by drawing a bases-loaded walk — in four pitches, no less. That’s the first time the Giants have drawn a four-pitch bases-loaded walk in almost exactly a year; Mike Fontenot did it on July 14, 2011. It’s not like it’s a pure reflection of a hitter’s plate discipline — it’s pretty clearly in the hands of the pitcher. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Belt was the first Giants’ hitter to do this in the last year. And it’s not like he stands up there just watching every pitch go by. In his fourth-inning walk, he was swinging on a 2-0 count.
He’s struggled over the past two weeks, and people have taken notice. But it’s been two weeks, and nothing looks off to me in terms of his approach/swing. It’s completely ordinary for a good major-league hitter to go through some rough two-week stretches; hasn’t he earned the benefit of the doubt at this point? I mean, if he were to go through an extended slump, I’d understand the concerns. In any event, it was nice to see Belt reach base a couple times yesterday and contribute to what turned out to be a crucial run, even if he did take an “0-for-2.”
– On the opposite side of things, Brandon Crawford had some extremely ugly at-bats yesterday, his sixth-inning walk notwithstanding. Following Belt’s four-pitch bases-loaded walk in the first inning, he swung (and missed) at Norris’ first offering. Then he swung at the second pitch, fouling it off. And then he swung at the third pitch, and once again missed. A pitcher walks in a run on four pitches, and Crawford comes to the plate and strikes out on three pitches to end the inning.
That wasn’t the only instance, either. In the fourth inning, Bud Norris began by walking Nate Schierholtz and Brandon Belt. Back-to-back walks to lead off the inning, and what does Crawford do? He comes up first-pitch swinging, of course, promptly flying out.
– There’s a pretty fascinating symmetry if you compare Emmanuel Burriss’ 2011 stats to his 2012 stats. He’s put up terrible numbers this season, and they’re just as terrible as they were last season. It should go without saying, but he is not worthy of a roster spot on a major-league team, let alone the #2 spot in the lineup.
– As a general rule of thumb, I try not to complain much about lineup construction, seeing as it doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. But having Belt (.360 OBP) bat in front of Brandon Crawford and [insert pitcher here] is absurd.
– The most important development of this series, of course, was the return of good Tim Lincecum. Eight innings, 11 strikeouts, one walk. Vintage stuff. Needless to say, that was highly encouraging to see, especially considering that the primary concern coming into the second half was Tim Lincecum.