When the Giants are in the middle of one of their funky losing streaks, it's so easy to be down on them. They're not just a team in a rough spell during one of those streaks. They're not just in the middle of a stretch that every team goes through in a long, long, long season. They're quite possibly a bad team. You feel dumb for not realizing it in March.
Then the Phillies come to town. I don't want to pile on the Phillies, necessarily, but when the Giants were down by a run, I thought, "That's okay. The Giants will eventually score eight runs or something." When the Giants tied the game, I sat back and waited patiently for the next seven runs. When the Phillies took a 4-1 lead in the sixth, I thought, "That's okay. The Giants will eventually score eight runs."
The Giants scored eight runs, and it was like, "Pfft. Yeah. That's what I'm talking about."
You can see the difference, right? It might be the body language, it might be the fact that Jeff Francoeur occasionally hits cleanup, but the Phillies are supposed to lose. When the Giants lose, there's an incredulity to it. C'mon, you dinguses. I know you can hit, why did you stop at the exact wrong time, stop being dinguses.
The Phillies cannot stop being dinguses. They even have a scarlet dingus on their jersey, so you know they'll never forget. They claim it's a "P", but we get it. It's an upside-down scarlet dingus. They Giants are dingus-tourists, though, occasionally stumbling into dingus land. The Phillies have a shanty there, and that's kind of how they live.
The Giants are an incomplete team, not just in terms of the roster, but with respect to their story. We don't know how this wacky odd year is going to play out. There's still hope, though, and maybe it's not fair to be so hard on them. For contrast, please examine the real mess. The Phillies are now 29-61. They're 11-37 in their last 48 games, which is Cleveland Spiders territory. And at no point during the game did I think they were going to win.
That doesn't mean that the Phillies can't win on Sunday, because a .333 team still wins one game every series, on average. That's all to say, c'mon, Phillies, I'm eating here.
Focusing on the Phillies too much means that you ignore the good things the Giants hitters are doing, though. Line drives all over the place. Look at all these line drives! It's not that rare for the Giants to have 15 hits or more in back-to-back games -- they did it about a month ago in Cincinnati -- but they've done it in three straight games just once since moving to San Francisco. That was in 2010, against another beleaguered Reds staff. That means there's something to shoot for on Sunday.
Yeah, I'm smelling a 1-0 avoid-the-sweep special, too. That doesn't mean that you can't appreciate the guaranteed over-.500 team at the All-Star Break, though. The timing of this series was absolutely perfect.
The at-bat of the night, if not the last month, belongs to Angel Pagan. The woeful, depleted, trying-so-very-hard Angel Pagan. With two on, two out in the sixth, Pagan was almost certainly going to roll it out to the second baseman. We're used to it. An out there would have meant the Giants would have been down 4-1 heading into the seventh, and it would have felt completely natural, somehow.
Instead, everything worked out. The first pitch to Pagan was a 95-mph fastball right on the outside edge. Like what kind of cheat-code crap was ... okay, fine, lucky shot. The second pitch in the at-bat was a nasty, furry slider, right where it was supposed to be. The third pitch was another nasty, furry slider, taken on the outside by someone who was either fooled or who had snorted dried Barry Bonds cornea before the at-bat.
The fourth pitch was a ball that probably should have been a strike, but suddenly there was a pattern. Luis Garcia was going to keep throwing sliders and sliders and sliders, and that was how he was going to get Pagan out. He tried one more and hung it just enough for Pagan to be the hero.
The Giants scored five runs in the sixth, but they wouldn't have scored any without that at-bat. For the first time in months, it feels like the Giants won a game because of how Angel Pagan approached an at-bat. He saw the slider just enough, one time too many. Without that two-inch hang on the slider, this is a very morbid recap. Instead, all hail Angel.
Matt Duffy is probably the best hitter of his generation, or at least tied with Joe Panik.
Consider the state of baseball today. Pitchers are throwing harder, harder, harder. Hitters are swinging harder, harder, harder. Strikeouts are up, but hitters don't care. They're waiting for one pitch and swinging like it's the last pitch they'll see before the rapture.
Enter Duffy (or Panik), a hitter of modest physical gifts who is concerned only with a good swing. The 95-mph-throwing goons will supply the power. Duffy's hit to take the lead came off a 97-mph fastball, and he drove it to the opposite gap, quick to the ball and disrespectful to the idea of fancy fastballs.
Think of the clubhouse dynamic with Hensley Meulens and Duffy. The former was supposed to be the toolsy heir apparent, the next Yankees great. Except he couldn't hit. The latter was supposed to be a crumpled raffle ticket, picked in the later rounds because it's impolite to stop drafting players after the first dozen.
The former has so much to teach. The latter still has so much to learn. I just love thinking about that nexus of potential and performance. Duffy is the anti-Meulens in all the right ways, and I think that just tickles the real Meulens just fine.
If the new paradigm is going to favor gap-hitting folks like Duffy, who let the fastballs supply the power, there will be a transition period, in which the doddering galoots will still swing for the fences every time up. That transition period will be especially difficult for Ryan Vogelsong.
About once or six times every one of his starts, Vogelsong will leave a ball where it shouldn't be. Back in '67, that might have meant an additional runner and base hit. Here, it means the baseball goes boom.
And yet the Giants won because they can hit. That's the focus of the night. If the lineup does what it's supposed to, Vogelsong will make a fine fifth starter.
Maybe this team isn't so bad after all. They just need to hit. The last two days have been so much fun.