Eric Hacker came up from the minor leagues, threw six innings, and allowed three earned runs. That's the pictogram of a quality start. A five-inning, three-run game isn't a quality start. Too few innings. A nine-inning, one-run game is technically a quality start, but it's not the archetype. Too flashy.
When you call up a guy from the minors and give his hotel strict instructions to change the locks the next day, all you're hoping for is a six-inning, three-run game. Hacker delivered. Hacker delivered like no Hacker has delivered since Juan Uribe put the Giants ahead in Game Six of the NLCS. It was a great start, at least if you're using a sliding scale. I could see Hacker coming through for a team in two or three years, having a unexpected, tumescent flare of a great season before he returns to being a journeyman going through ads on Craigslist. And I'll almost feel good for him when that one season is going on.
I write "almost" because that team will be the Padres. Look in your heart. You know it to be true.
Still, fine start by Hacker, considering. He's not the reason the Giants didn't win. But a quality start just isn't enough. For shame. Quality starts are the C-student in the Yale admissions of the Giants offense. I'm not sure if I parsed that half-baked idea correctly, but I'm a C-student.
Also, ho man, is his delivery slow. I'll watch any pitcher if he's good enough, but that's about the limit. I'm going to make a sign that reads: "You need at least an ERA+ of 110 to pitch that slowly."
This is the new Giants paradigm, it seems. They can score three runs consistently! Bully for them. But now they give up four or five runs in a game. The baseball gods keep dangling that carrot, and we keep chasing it. All we want is a perfect equilibrium, with a perfect pitching staff and a dominant offense that drives the runs in before their opponents and hears the lamentation of their women, resulting in a 120-win season and another championship. Is that too much to ask?
The problem is the hitting with runners in scoring position. Again. This was the problem last year, especially with two outs. This year, it's a problem regardless of the number of outs. The conventional wisdom suggests this isn't sustainable. The sabermetric wisdom suggests this isn't sustainable. It's not sustainable. I know that people aren't robots, and there's a good chance that people choke and triumph under pressure, but I'm not buying a team-wide fog that turns every hitter turn into Kirk Rueter when a runner's on second or third.
That doesn't mean that it isn't really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, annoying to watch a team flail with runners in scoring position so completely, especially after doing the same last year. I'll still clutch my teddy bear of logic. It doesn't make me feel better right now, though.
Last season is generally remembered as a miserable season for a lot of good reasons, but as time passes, and as the rose-colored glasses become more palatable, it wasn't all bad. Pablo Sandoval went from postseason afterthought to franchise cornerstone, which is where he should have been all along. Ryan Vogelsong inspired us all, taking a Billy Madison route to his success. Even though the season was a dud, you can always look back and say, oh, that was the season when Pablo and Vogelsong did some cool things. Wasn't all bad.
Right now, Buster Posey is feeding opposing pitchers their own entrails and saying things like "Gosh, I'm sorry it has to be like this, but it is my destiny." It's marvelous to watch. Even in a loss, it's still early enough in his comeback to feel quite good about the direction of the franchise. As in, if we get the real Buster back, that's swell, but if he's better? That'd be astonishing. If he reached his ceiling in 2010, that would have been marvelous. But if he's better …
There are sixteen wild cards this year. It would be a disappointment if the Giants missed the playoffs. But even if they did, a full-strength Posey (or better) would go a long way toward taking that sting away.
Considering that Brian Wilson's arm went kerflooey -- and that the front office probably had a decent idea it was going to do so -- the Jeremy Affeldt option makes a little more sense than it did at the time. That doesn't mean it looks like a good deal. It's just almost understandable. But Affeldt has looked like a completely normal reliever, even if he can uncork a nasty pitch every now and again.
Relievers are volatile, sure, but the only reliever I feel confident in this season is Casilla. Everyone else, even Romo, kind of gives me the jibblies right now. That's the kind of thing that irons itself out in a month, and we all look back and laugh at the primitive proto-fans we were in the recent past, but right now, the bullpen's sketchy. And Affeldt might be the sketchiest.
And then Ryan Theriot was hitting in the eighth inning against Andrew Cashner and his 100-m.p.h. fastball, and I was like, oh.