The Giants started last August with a lot of confidence and a shiny, new Carlos Beltran. Well, not shiny and new. Well-maintained and vintage, like a classic car. The team charged into the month with hopes and expectations. It did not turn out well. When they called roadside assistance to help with their broken-down Beltran on the side of the road, the call was sent to Aaron Rowand's phone. Which was in the trunk. With Rowand. Where he was supposed to stay.
In the middle of all that, there was a whole lot of Astro. After dropping three out of four to Atlanta, who were just unstoppable last year, the Giants had a series in Houston. Phew, we all said. Here we go. The Astros, see, were abysmal. Last year's series preview was about how bad the Astros were. The Giants lost two out of three that series.
The Astros are even worse this year. Oh, no. I can see the symmetry a comin'. It's rollin' 'round the bend. If the Astros were bad last year and took two of three, maybe they're just bad enough this year to sweep the whole thing! Gulp.
It's hard to appropriately express in words how bad the Astros have been this year. Let's try with a visual, then. Baseball Reference puts a little graphic representation of wins and losses on each team's stat page. A win is represented by a green rectangle that soars into the sky, with the length representing the margin of victory. A loss is represented by a red rectangle that plunges into the depths of baseball hell, with the length representing the margin of loss. Let's check on how the Astros have been doing in the second half.
That's 8 wins and 44 losses out of their last 52 if you don't feel like counting. There was a two-game winning streak mixed in there -- they took the first two games of a three-game series against the Brewers. That was their only season win since one against the Indians in late June.
They've been bad. They shouldn't try any of the illegal performance-enhancing stuff, but I'm sure there's perfectly legal stuff that couldn't hurt to at least try.
Jeff Luhnow: … and if you'll just snort this, we should be ready for this week.
Scott Moore: Wait, what? No.
Luhnow: It's sort of organic, actually. It won't hurt you.
Moore: It looks like a pile of little red hairs.
Luhnow: It can't hurt. Just try it.
Moore: Hey, wasn't Jeff Bagwell clean-shaven when he stopped by the clubhouse this morning?
Moore: Oh, god, that's gross.
Moore: Eh, alright. Whatever.
But … wait for it … this is baseball. Jordan Lyles and Bud Norris have talent, even if they've had miserable seasons so far. Lyles is coming off a good start. And there's a Barry Zito game mixed in there. Spin the wheel. Especially since he's going up against a pitcher the Giants have never seen before.
So right now every Giants fan is going through the same back-and-forth. The Giants should beat the Astros. But baseball is a teenager with a 12-pack of Keystone Ice, a set of golf clubs, a bucket of golf balls, and a nice, flat deck that overlooks the freeway. You're not sure what baseball has planned, but you know that every so often, it'll be a mess. The Giants should beat the Astros. But baseball can be a jerk. The Giants should beat the Astros. But baseball can be a jerk. Back and forth, back and forth.
I want the Astros to continue playing miserable baseball for the next three days. I want them to run into each other while fielding bunts, and I want their center fielder's belt buckle to get hooked onto the flag pole in center. I want to feel pity.
But I'm sure as hell not going to expect it. The Astros punched the Giants' playoff hopes in the kidney last season. They can do it again, if only because they're playing baseball. Kind of.
Hitter to watch
I'll always remember Ben Francisco for an at-bat he had against Madison Bumgarner in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS. He fouled a pitch straight back that was about a quarter-inch away from being a Phillies lead. He was on that particular pitch like he was told it was coming. He ended up getting called out on strikes. It's not a cliché to say that baseball is a game of inches. It's more of an annoying understatement. With a imperceptibly different swing from Francisco on that pitch, there might not have been a parade down Market Street.
Also of note: Ben Francisco has been hitting cleanup for the Astros lately.
Pitcher to watch
Dallas Keuchel a) had a 4.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark in Triple-A, and b) is probably just a made-up name, but it looks like his minor-league career has been built on low walk rates and pitching to contact. Aw, man.
There will be 48,201 separate Matt Cain/perfect game mentions, and I'll enjoy every one.