It doesn't matter if it's 2000, with Bonds/Kent/Burks, or if it's 2011 with Fontenot/Huff/Schierholtz: When I see someone like Max Scherzer listed as the probable starter against the Giants, I assume the worst. Baseball doesn't work like that, it's not automatic like a lopsided heavyweight fight, but it's something that's hard to shake. Max Scherzer? Dude throws 95 with breaking balls that move 30 feet, and he can put them wherever he wants. Where do you even start?
This team, though, apparently features the Max Scherzer of lineups. There are missteps. There are off nights. They can be beaten, and they can look bad. For the most part, though, when other teams face the Giants, they should assume the worst. (From their lineup. Not their starting pitchers. Whom we'll get to in a bit.)
Is that hyperbole? Maybe a little, but the Giants have one of the better lineups in the National League, so the analogy almost fits. The secret to their success is probably that they don't give a rip how hard the other pitcher throws. They've been beaten this year by David Phelps, Josh Collmenter, and Scott Feldman, who all thrive on keeping hitters off-balance. If you look at the super-aces the Giants have faced this year, though, it's a different story. Your definition of super-ace might vary, but this at least gives you a healthy idea of what I'm getting at:
That's a 10-9 record, with the opposing pitchers sporting a 3.85 ERA. The Giants aren't ace-killers or anything. Those marks aren't that impressive. But look at those names. The Giants have a winning record against those starters this year. I guarantee you that if you pull up a similar list from 2011, it's not going to look like that.
There's some evidence that the Giants are at least a little lucky with their timing this year, that the batting average with runners in scoring position isn't something that we should expect to continue. Fair enough. But I'm still having a blast watching this team hit. Matt Duffy hit the Giants' 100th homer of the season -- a total I wasn't sure if they'd get to all season. They're hitting doubles and using the entire field.
They're ... good. This is the kind of lineup that can score against Max Scherzer on the right night. The hitting was the least of the Giants' worries before the season, but that doesn't mean it isn't still surprising.
Sometimes I think about Matt Duffy and just laugh and laugh and laugh.
I used to be so annoyed when the Cardinals would call up someone like Matt Carpenter and slap him with the Stick of Talent, weaponizing him against their opponents. When Carpenter was Duffy's age, he started the season in Class-A. Then he was an MVP candidate. "Where do they get those wonderful toys?", I wondered.
This season, I think about Matt Duffy and laugh and laugh and laugh.
It's not like there was a strident, vocal contingent of Duff-bots before the season, aghast that the Giants would trust Casey McGehee more. I was on Team Duffy, thank goodness, but the difference wasn't a battle worth picking. And now, a few months later, Duffy is a key cog in the lineup. He's the kind of hitter who can see Max Scherzer for the first time and drive a 95-mph fastball -- with nasty movement -- into the bleachers.
That was a 95-mph whiffle ball. Basically this:
Duffy didn't care.
That's when I thought about Matt Duffy again and laughed and laughed and laaaaaughed ...
The jokes aren't so funny when you get to Matt Cain. Ugh, this is a tough one. He's not throwing the baseballs so hot right now, and I have no idea what the Giants should do.
In the first inning, after completing his warmups, there was a runner on first base. That's just how it happens for him now, sorry. He probably balked with one of the warmup pitches. He went 2-0 on Yunel Escobar in the next at-bat, and then Escobar put down a bunt. What a maroon. The pitch was a fastball out of the strike zone. That's a 3-0 count with a runner on second, no outs in the first ... except he made an out on purpose.
It looked like that was going to be the secret play of the night, the reason Cain finally had a quality start. But in the fifth there was trouble.
Oh, no. Not the fifth. That means Bruce Bochy would be thinking about pitcher wins.
With Bryce Harper up, two runners on, and a four-run lead, this happened:
Matt Cain: (to self) Okay. Not a problem. Two outs. Base open. No big deal. Just live on the corners. If he hits one of those pitches, you'll live with it. Just make your pitches, Matt.
Cain: /walks up to plate
Cain: /lies on back, feet in the air
Cain: /puts baseball on soles of feet
Cain: Here you, go, Bryce! Hit that baseball, whenever it's convenient for you! I have time.
Just an abysmal pitch in an abysmal situation, with a left-hander warming up in the bullpen and Cain getting slapped around all inning. It's time to treat Cain like he's a rookie making his debut, like he's a complete unknown that can let things get out of hand in a hurry.
I'm still hoping that Krusty is coming, but that's because I'm an idiot. The Giants would probably be better to explore their options at this point.
Bruce Bochy wasn't really going for the win, was he? As in, he didn't let Cain pitch to Harper because he wanted Cain to get a shiny win, right? It had to be that he just wanted to let the bullpen start with a clean inning, get that extra out because every one of them helps, and Cain hadn't thrown 90 pitches yet. Right?
Because pitcher wins are useless. We all ... we all had a meeting about this. Here, I'll prove that pitcher wins are useless: Matt Cain, for his career, is under .500. He has a career ERA of 3.44, a career ERA+ of 115, and he's been worth 32 wins above replacement over his career. He's a game under .500. Because pitcher wins are a curiosity, not something to care about.
That's not what Bochy was going for, though. Couldn't have been. I mean ... it's 2015. We've been through this. Put the best pitchers in the game in the best situations.
No, no. I'm just seeing things that aren't there. There's no way ...
Gregor Blanco is playing like someone who doesn't want to give his job back.
From 2012 to 2015: Take away everyone with negative D or baserunning value, or below-ave K%, BB%, wRc+. 11 players and Gregor Blanco remain.— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) August 12, 2015
Translated: Blanco is an asset in the field. He runs well (when he's not thinking about unicorns or whatever). He doesn't strike out as much as the average hitter, and he walks a little more. He's above average offensively, all told. Over the last four seasons, only 11 other players can claim the same.
He probably doesn't have to worry about giving his job back.