This was supposed to be a lesson game. The Giants weren't going to average seven runs per game forever. Tim Lincecum was going to allow more than four homers all season, which is what he was on pace to do. This was supposed to be another game that reminded you baseball sure isn't as easy as it seems when the team is in the middle of an eight-game winning streak. This was a regression game, a nod to the idea that the team that taking three steps forward and two steps back for an entire season will win 97 games. These games happen.
And then the Giants won anyway.
Behold, the power of singles. The Giants had two extra-base hits -- a double from Hunter Pence that was about two feet away from being a grand slam, and an always blessed Norichika Aoki dinger -- but they had 13 hits, total, with five walks mixed in. That's so Giants. With Matt Duffy officially in the lineup, here are the current batting averages from the lineup regulars:
Aoki - .312
Panik - .293
Pagan - .306
Posey - .310
Pence - .342
Belt - .302
Crawford - .298
Duffy - .302
GET YOUR CRAP TOGETHER, PANIK. You might think that batting average isn't as useful as other stats, and you would be right. You might think it tells an incomplete story, and you would be right. From a previous article:
Batting average is an incomplete picture. It's a Match.com profile picture that starts at the waist. Oh, those are nice shoes. Boy, the pleats in those pants, mmmf. But I'll need to see the top half before I'm making a superficial judgment and pursuing it any further. Same goes with average. There's only so much to learn from it, and it isn't nearly enough to evaluate a player.
Still true. However ...
What happens when someone on your team gets a hit? If you're at the park, you clap and cheer. If you're at home alone, you ... well, that's your time. But you're excited. A player who does this more often than the other players is releasing more endorphins for you, making you clap and cheer more than the other slobs. It adds up over a season, and even if it should be hard to eyeball the difference between a .280 hitter and a .300 hitter, you have a sense of who's doing what. Those .300 hitters are usually fun to watch.
Here's a whole team of .300 hitters, give or take. There will be regression. There will be slumps and extended stretches of misery, and I'll guess that at least two of the players up there finish under .270, just because them's the odds. For now, though, with everyone performing about as well as could reasonably be expected with regards to batting average, it's fun to watch.
And that part up there about the singles? Yeah, it's true to a point. Except it's easy to give the three true slappers -- Panik, Duffy, and Aoki -- too much credit for their influence. The other five regulars have more than enough power to create big innings. Monday's comeback was single after single, but it doesn't always have to be like that. Now that Crawford and Belt are hitting for power, these aren't exactly the 1985 Cardinals.
For years, there were bloody, vicious debates about Matt Cain's home run rate. There were statheads who were absolutely convinced he was lucky, year after year, and that the dingers would eventually catch up with him. There were others who maintained it was a skill, this home run prevention, and there was no way it was a fluke after maintaining it for five or six seasons. The debate remains unresolved, with bone chips messing everything up.
However, both sides of that argument would agree that Tim Lincecum was going to give up more dingers. We didn't have to go back and retroactively add dingers to the innings he had already completed, but he was going to give more up. It wasn't a question of if, but when and how many. In this game, there were three. A couple of them sure went a long way.
They came without a ton of runners on, so the damage was limited, and the Giants could/did come back. But the homers went that Lincecum's FIP just burped, and there's now a run-and-a-half difference between it and his ERA. While I'm not comfortable suggesting that FIP is the One True Number and only metric by which a pitcher should be judged, it's matching the eyeball test now.
On the other hand: 5-2 with a 2.56 ERA. Scoreboard, suckers. Still in line for the All-Star Game, even if he took a small step back today. Keep it up, Mr. Lincecum.
You don't really want a home run overturned because a dude just missed home plate. I get that we all like Giants wins around here, rules are rules, and you can't have these ding-dongs just stepping wherever in the heck they want, can you? When runners leave too soon on when tagging up, screw 'em. Out. When runners miss a base on a ball in play, or when the slightest of balks leads to a run, fine. There are rules. Baseball does not do anarchy well.
But not stepping on home plate after a home run ... when you complain about that, you're basically going through your favorite book and looking for split infinitives, just to have a reason to loudly complain. There is nothing positive that can happen with the karma that comes after getting a dinger overturned like that. That's a slight against the old baseball gods that will come back like Benny Blanco from the Bronx, right when the Giants are about to do good baseball things.
You don't really want a home run overturned like that. Replay saved the Giants. If not the team, then its collective soul.
Goodness, was it annoying to have the entire baseball world pay attention to Hunter Strickland last October. The jokes were bad enough -- I mean, I would never stoop to such jokes -- but there was such a certainty behind the knee-jerk evaluation. Every Twitter scout bleated something about how pitchers can't throw fastballs only, about how it was a straight fastball, about how it was so obvious that he wasn't a major league reliever.
It bugged me because I like to do knee-jerk evaluation, too, and my knee-jerk evaluation suggested this guy could pitch.
Outing two, then, was another success. He used breaking balls to steal strikes, and he broke hitters down with 97-mph fastballs around the perimeter of the zone. If you believe in the postseason and nothing else, Strickland is the worst pitch in history at allowing home runs. That's not hyperbole. If he kept that rate up for a career, he would easily have been the worst ever.
Turns out that small samples might fool you. There is absolutely no way -- no way -- that Jean Machi is as effective right now, so the Giants just turned a seventh-inning weakness into a strength.
Now that I've gushed over Strickland again, here come the dingers. At least two in his next outing. This isn't anything I make money on. It's just a gift.