Put on your amateur straw hat on. You are a scout. You drive a '93 Accord with 200,000 miles on it. It's filled with empty fast-food wrappers. You forget more about baseball than most people will ever learn. Your job is to scout Mat Latos.
He's pretty much the greatest pitcher the game has ever seen, right? Purely from a scouting perspective, and limiting yourself to games he pitches against the Giants, he's the archetype of a successful starter. Forget that he's a smarmy twerp for a second. Just focus on the pitching. His control is impeccable. His curve and slider are good enough to get swing-throughs, and he can command them well enough to steal strikes. He puts his fastball wherever he wants. When he gets the benefit of the doubt from a home-plate umpire, like he did today, he's untouchable.
So I'll just mosey on over and see what his ERA is for the season coming into today. I'm thinking 1.03. Oh, man, it's going to be gross to watch Mat Latos start the All-Star Game. So let's just see what … oh, dammitsomuch. How can his ERA be over 4.00? Seventeen home runs? Do they shoot him with sodium penathol before the non-Giant games?
I get that Great American Ball Park is hitter-friendly, but, come on. Mat Latos is the greatest pitcher who ever lived. At least if you limit your scouting to Giants games. He's Bob Gibson pitching from 30 feet away. It's not like I watched that game frustrated, yelling at the TV screen for the Giants to do something. Latos pitched great. He looked like a pitcher who should be shutting the other team down. I got it. It made sense. This wasn't Brandon Backe hanging curves that were bounced to second. It's fun to blame the Giants' offense, but I wasn't seeing a lot of egregious stupidity at the plate today.
The Giants hit a few balls hard that found mitts, so you might consider them a little unlucky offensively. The Reds got a 30-hopper through the middle right when they needed one, and the Giants didn't. That was the margin of defeat. But it's not like there was anything from this afternoon that suggested the Giants should have had any chance today, especially when you consider that Barry Zito allowed one run despite walking 15 out of the last 13 he faced. The Giants were lucky -- totally lucky -- to be within two runs when the ninth inning started.
Coming into today's game, Latos had a career 2.35 ERA against the Giants. In his five games in AT&T before today, he held Giants hitters to a .192/.223/.320 line. That line's going to go way down after today. When he faces the Giants in AT&T Park, he turns every hitter into Matt Cain. It was cute when he was with the Padres, because they generally have a lineup filled with Matt Cains. But if Latos is on a team that can score two runs, he's going to be impossible.
You just have to tip your cap, everybody. The standard is 15 percent, but you can push that to 20 percent if the cap really deserves it.
There's nothing worse than a Zito start like today's. Technically, there's much, much worse, but in a big-picture, thinkin'-of-Zito sense, this is the most frustrating kind of start. He looked so damned good for the first two innings. He had hitters off balance. His curve had snap. The slider was busting in on hands, unless it was nipping the outside corner. The changeup was dying a half-foot before the plate, and hitters were flailing at it.
You could see how Zito used to be really successful. It's not like the Giants gave him $126 million because he owned a plot of land where the Giants wanted to build a parking structure. He used to be really, really good! Like, three or four seasons before the Giants acquired him, but now you're just picking nits. In the first two innings tonight, you could see how he was good, even if his fastball was down to Latos-slider speeds.
And then he turned into the Zito we expect. Two outs, runner on first, three straight walks. So annoying. It was the only run he allowed, so it's not fair to be too harsh on him, but I'm almost more comfortable with him allowing seven runs in the second and allowing me to read a book instead of watching the rest of the game. The first two innings were such a tease. The last four were a cold shower. Yet he only allowed one run. The Aristocrats!
Also, Zito was in the bathroom with you, staring at you while you took a cold shower. That's how uncomfortable Barry Zito starts are. He's just staring. Not threatening, or anything. Just, like, hey, what's up? He's not really bothering you. He's not getting in your way. He's just making you uncomfortable, and you're sort of hoping he'll leave soon.
So Brad Penny is Guillermo Mota now. Okay. I almost have an opinion on that! Then I get distracted by things. I should probably check on things. Maybe next time I'll have an opinion on Brad Penny being Guillermo Mota.
(He sure looked good today. Penny, I mean. Not Mota. Mota was playing Angry Birds all day, just hanging out.)