The first thing to note is that the Giants are a very good team right now. They’ve won ten of their last twelve games, putting them one back of the Chicago Borg in the win column. They’ve done it with dominant starting pitching, and when the pitching hasn’t shown up, they’ve done it with timely, pesky, hitting, and when the hitting hasn’t shown up, they’ve done it with reliable, capable defense. Players have gotten hurt, and other players have stepped up in their place. And when the Giants have lost, as all teams must do, it has been in a variety of different ways that don’t bespeak a big underlying weakness.
Just think about it, enjoy it, even revel in it a little. The Giants are playing like one of the best teams in baseball right now, and they’re doing it in predictable and sensible ways.
Okay, I suppose we’d better talk about Jeff Samardzija.
The idea behind Samardzija, and it’s a good one, is that he has great stuff and all he has to do is consistently harness it. Drill down on that concept of “stuff” a little; at its most elemental level, it means that Samardzija throws his fastball real hard and throws his other pitches real wacky. It means that he has room for error that other pitchers don’t have; that when he’s living at 95 MPH, he doesn’t have to execute every pitch perfectly, and less of the inevitable location mistakes that every pitcher makes will get turned into a fine, floating mist.
That’s the idea, anyway. But for the last month and a half, reality’s borne out the opposite. Samardzija’s mistakes are being punished with a ferocity usually reserved for the Jereds Weaver of the world. And the troubling thing is, it’s not just one pitch. It’s not that he’s grooving fastballs and they’re being picked up. Take a look at tonight’s dinger-fest:
- John Jaso — 93 MPH cutter, belt-high, outside corner
- Gregory Polanco — 86 MPH splitter, middle-in
- Jung-Ho Kang — 89 MPH slider, middle-middle
The cutter didn’t cut, the splitter didn’t split, the slider didn’t slide. And it isn’t as if Samardzija is out there just shrugging and grooving pitches because he’s out of other ideas. The stuff is there. The intended execution is there. But when he does fail to execute, he’s not getting away with those pitches. It’s somehow a little more unsettling than when Jake Peavy was getting pummeled, because of course Peavy was getting pummeled, did you see that damp garbage he was throwing? Compared to that, Samardzija is launching flaming rocks from an angry catapult. And yet, he’s now given up nine homers in his last six starts, and gone past the fifth inning in one of his last five. He might have been even worse tonight if it wasn’t for Brandon Crawford’s slick glove.
Jeff Samardzija’s results don’t match his stuff. That was the book on him; the Giants signed him under the theory that they could make some small but important edits. Maybe he’s tipping his pitches again, or has just briefly lost his release point, and they’ll get it back in order. (After all, that one time he went past the fifth inning was a complete game that was one batter away from a shutout.) He still has the full-season numbers of a perfectly acceptable mid-rotation starter, which isn’t too far off what he’s being paid to be. But it’s something to keep an eye on.
Only four and a half more seasons of worrying about this.
Back to good news! Samardzija’s woes meant that the bullpen had to do the heavy lifting, and friends, they are looking swole. Derek Law pitched two clean innings for a win in front of his hometown crowd. Josh Osich flashed the velocity and command that make you understand why the Giants insistently continue to pitch him against right-handers. Strickland, Gearrin, and Casilla were all good. It was taut and exciting in the right way, where the Giants have a one-run lead and every relief pitcher has to execute well, as opposed the “load the bases again for funsies” kind of excitement they’ve been giving us.
As for that one-run lead, they accomplished it the exact way this lineup -- or various permutations of this year’s lineup — is supposed to. The Giants had seventeen baserunners, and only three of them were on extra-base hits, all doubles. They poked, prodded, and pestered a shaky Francisco Liriano out of the game, and then continued annoying a vulnerable Pirates bullpen. It was sort of a proof-of-concept for the 2016 Giants, where core players like Panik, Crawford, and Posey were supplemented by the random infielder of the week (in this case, Ramiro Pena, who gave up two bases with his glove but earned three with his bat, so he came out ahead).
In maybe his most promising game of the season, Mac Williamson reached base four times, showing patience, comfort, and discernment. He also hit the shrieking snot out of a baseball, which is sort of the point. Nothing much came of his time on the basepaths, but with Pence out, the Giants are going to need something from their young outfielders. Something like don’t swing at total crap or don’t drop catchable fly balls. Tonight was a good step in that direction.
John Jaso made the final out on the back end of a truly silly strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play. I like to think that if his helmet had come off, and he'd slid headfirst, and his awful dreadlocks had flipped forward and hit the bag a split second before the tag, the umpire would have called him out anyway. He should keep trying to steal bases, for science.
I always like to preach patience in the early-to-middle months, when postseason rosters have yet to materialize and the standings are miles away from final. Teams are still finding out what they have, running the Francoeur Test on their rookies and the Rowand Test on their veterans. A loss with good process isn’t the worst thing for a team in those months. It’d be hypocritical to say that a win with bad process was the best thing, either.
So by that token, today’s game was a mixed bag. The Giants offered up a demonstration of how this team can succeed when the starting pitching isn’t Cy Young caliber. They also offered up some starting pitching that was a long, long way from Cy Young caliber. You can decide for yourself which is more important; whether to laud the balanced offense from up and down the lineup, or nervously side-eye the $90 million home run derby audition.
Or you can just celebrate the win. Because, hey, it might be only June, but you don’t have to give ‘em back. The Giants won a game that they probably had no business winning. Yeah, let’s go with that one.
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