There's nothing worse than facing a bad team with an excellent starting pitcher. You look at the schedule and think, "Oh, well, at least we get to play the Washington Generals three times," and then when the game finally comes, Pedro Martinez in his prime is pitching for them. Cole Hamels did it for years. Jose Fernandez might get to be that guy for years. And while I'm not sure the Braves are one of the worst teams in baseball yet, it's still mighty annoying to see Shelby Miller as one of the probable pitchers when the Giants roll into Atlanta.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers were playing the Phillies. Jerome Williams was starting for them. See? That's how it's supposed to be. Baseball should give temporary work visas to the good pitchers once their teams melt into a puddle of goo. Let them pick their own teams for the rest of the season.
That was the setup. Giants facing an excellent pitcher the night after a funky, dispiriting game. Dodgers facing a stopgap on a team that couldn't find any nice stopgaps.
The Giants scored eight runs. The Dodgers scored one. There was no reason to think the Giants were going to gain a game, and several reasons to think they were going to lose one. It's probably about time to stop doubting the offense. Fold all of those doubts into a nice, neat foil pouch, write "BULLPEN" on it, and stick it into the fridge. We'll get to that part, but for now, appreciate that the Giants might have one of the best offenses in the post-Bonds era, which is an era that's already featured some fun teams and lineups.
Miller, for his part, pitched quite well, befuddling and overpowering at times. At one point, I was looking up "cow tipping" on YouTube because I was going to photoshop a baseball cap in place of the cow to make the ultimate tip-your-cap GIF.
It turns out that cow-tipping is a myth! There aren't phalanxes of teenagers out in the pastures, recording every last tipped cow and Snapchatting it, like I thought there would be. Baseball never stops teaching me. Regardless, that's how good Miller looked through six innings. He was tip-your-cap good.
But he wasn't complete-game good. There haven't been a lot of complete-game good pitchers against the Giants this year, partially because the lineup is adept at getting on base and putting pitchers in the stretch. They can turn eight or nine innings of Miller into seven, with the final two getting distributed among various bullpen flunkies. Sometimes the relievers hold the Giants off. Other times, they climb over the moat and start dingering the place up. Like that.
It's that kind of lineup that makes you appreciate Jake Peavy ... as long as he's not facing the same kind of lineup. When Peavy is facing Giants doppelgangers -- patient, contact-driven teams -- it's terrifying. When he's facing the youngish Braves, who seem to hack with a certain glee, he's the pitcher we remember from the second half of last year. The Giants kept telling us to get excited about Peavy, and it had been so long since he was dependable, it was something to roll your eyes at.
Instead, he might be the third or fourth starter the Giants need. Every team would prefer Madison Bumgarners stacked on top of each other, one through five, but in practical terms, the Giants have a mid-rotation starter doing mid-rotation things, and that is more endearing than we could have possibly imagined in years past. Just keep it close and get through six. Seven would be ducky. Hope the lineup can score a few runs. It's not a perfect template, but it's working most of the time.
Since the All-Star break, the Giants have outscored their opponents 89-59. Take a deep breath, forget about THAT STUPID GAME LAST NIGHT, and enjoy how the team bounced back. You don't have to enjoy the part where they made you freak out for a half-inning, but they can be jerks like that.
In the eighth inning, with the game tied, no outs, and a runner on second, the Braves walked Buster Posey intentionally. This made sense, considering that Justin Maxwell was hitting behi ... oh, wait, no, it was Hunter Pence. Huh.
Pierzynski was setting up here:
And he was giving it one of these:
The ball went here:
And it was more like this:
Whoops. Also, don't watch that GIF up there if you don't like spiders. I know I don't.
I'm running out of words for Matt Duffy -- four hits, average up to .309 -- so I'll let someone else write the words this time. From Jorge Ortiz of the USA Today:
After a week and a half of feeling out his new swing, "It clicked one day and it was like, ‘Wow, that’s how it’s supposed to be,’’’ Duffy said. "I’d face a guy throwing like mid-90s and the ball looked like it was mid-80s.’’
The Giants still liked his defensive skills and competitive at-bats enough to draft him, and at (Cape Cod coach Benny) Craig’s urging Duffy picked up Harvey Dorman’s "The Mental Keys to Hitting’’ before his first pro spring training. The book has become Duffy’s hitting bible – he has read it about 10 times – and he still turns to it for reinforcement when he falls in a slump.
I'm a gonna pick that book up for five bucks and leave all you clowns while I make millions in the pros. You'll see.
Meanwhile, Duffy is probably the frontrunner for the National League Rookie of the Year. Just like we were all counting on.
Peavy threw six innings of medium-high-quality baseball, but only six. In a game with a gassed bullpen, it was playing with fire to have a relatively short outing. And when you're playing with fire around a bunch of relievers perspiring kerosene, things can blow up. Like that Pierzynski game against the Braves from three or four months ago that we've all totally forgotten by now.
That brought George Kontos into the game. Single, infield dribbler, single, infield dribbler, and Giants fans dialed up Entitlement Rage, Lev. 24, which is kind of our secret power. We're so used to good-to-excellent bullpens over the years, we can't handle an okay-to-good one suffering through a dismal stretch. Kontos isn't as good as his 1.93 ERA ... but he hasn't been bad enough to scream, "UGH, TYPICAL BULLPEN" at the heavens every time he allows two solid singles.
After Kontos came Jeremy Affeldt, who continues to make us think that his earlier problems were acutely physical, not just a case of the olds. Just like when he remembered to use a knee brace after the first month of 2012, it looks like the difference between a trustworthy Affeldt and whatever that was in the first half is a rested, healthy pitcher. I'm not telling you to pick him up in your fantasy leagues, but he looks like a familiar cat right now.
Affeldt begat Sergio Romo, who struck out one in a clean inning. He's now struck out 48 batters in 35⅔ innings, walking just eight. He's getting more swinging strikes than he ever has, even in his otherworldly 2011. The FIP suggests he's still one of the best relievers in baseball, as it usually does. His problem this year has been lefties -- 18-for-40 against him, with seven doubles and a .474 batting average on balls in play -- but I'll blame sample size, as is my right according to the Internet Baseball Writers' Charter.
Romo gave way to Yusmeiro Petit, who probably isn't a part of the close-and-late bullpen discussion. But I'm happy that he got to pitch in a win at least, dang it.
Long point short: That's not a miserable pile of bullpen jalopy up there. If you want to see a struggling bullpen, look at who the Braves trusted to protect a one-run lead in the late innings. A guy released by the Rangers two weeks ago, followed by a guy released by the Dodgers two months ago. A couple of rookies ambled in after that, generally making things worse. The Braves are a long way from Venters and Kimbrel.
That's what we like to think the Giants bullpen is like. But it isn't. Monday night was the worst loss of the year, several times over, but the Giants are almost kinda sorta okay in the bullpen? It all hinges on Affeldt, but I've seen scarier relief corps in the past.