Before we get to the good stuff — Matt Cain not allowing a hit, Madison Bumgarner’s double, the 10 hits, the four extra-base hits, the three clean innings to end the game — let us all remember the real reason the Giants won on Sunday. They won because the Nationals committed wanton buffoonery in the field at just the wrong (right) time.
This is not a way to besmirch this precious Giants win. This is a way to remind you that things are never as bad as they seem in the death spiral. The Giants were 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position against a first-place team, and they still won because of the errors. That kind of game was impossible according to Newtonian physics last week. On Sunday, it happened, and we all got to watch. Angel Pagan grounded a ball right to second base with two runners on and one out, and because of it, the Giants won.
Not even feeling guilty. Mostly because of that 1-for-15 mark. It’s not just that the Giants made good contact on some of those outs. It’s also that of the 14 at-bats that weren’t hits, 13 of them ended in a ball put in play. Instead of focusing on the luck of the errors, you could focus on the poor luck of the Giants with runners in scoring position. Again.
If you’re looking for an update, the Giants have scored three runs total in the second half in their 16 plate appearances with the bases loaded. I know they won, so I should get to the pitching, but I just hate-love that stat so much. It’s so very hard to do.
It doesn’t matter because the Giants pitched well. Or, at least, they accomplished their goal of allowing fewer runs than the other team. I still can’t figure out if Matt Cain pitched well, or if he pitched okay with a couple breaks, or if he was lousy, but we can’t tell because of some good fortune and five scoreless/hitless innings. I’ll go with somewhere in the middle: pretty okay. Good enough to miss bats and keep the Nationals off balance. Sketchy enough to walk four and give up some line drives. Pretty okay.
The problem with that is this game could have been a referendum on whatever the Giants are thinking at the trade deadline. There was a rumor that the Giants were scouting Wade Miley over the weekend, which is notable because he isn’t very good. You seek a pitcher like Miley out because you are absolutely out of better choices. And while we could have some vicious arguments about what constitutes a better choice among the minor leaguers already in the organization, another blow-up start for Cain would have at least made us all agree that, sure, Miley was probably the better option going forward.
But if Cain came out and pitched as well as his body allowed, maybe the Giants would have been less inclined to look at the sixth tier of starting pitchers. I know one start isn’t going to change an organizational philosophy or plan of deadline attack, but it might have pushed the Giants away from the tipping point.
Instead, there was Matt Cain, and he was about the same as you remembered, except he got results this time. Great. We’ll take it. Enjoy Baltimore, Wade.
But don’t sleep too soundly. There’s still a day of rumors left.
So Cain gets a sprinkling of hero points for his outing. We’ll mail them to his house. Also receiving hero points is Bruce Bochy, who made the easy-not-easy decision to pull Cain after five innings. They were an imperfect five innings. The pitch count was up near 100. Still, there would have been a lot of managers who wouldn’t have pinch-hit for him, including one who was watching the same game. It was a bold that’ll-do that looks so obvious in retrospect, but one that managers bork all the time.
That brought up Madison Bumgarner, who has hero points mailed to his house all the time because they auto-renew. He was the pinch-hitter for the bottom of the fifth, and that led to this:
1. Bumgarner pinch-hits for Cain— MLB (@MLB) July 31, 2016
2. Bumgarner doubles
3. Samardzija pinch-runs for Bumgarner
4. Samardzija scores pic.twitter.com/dsQxGqqx5H
Bumgarner pinch-hitting or hitting for himself in an AL ballpark will always be absolutely fantastic and fun. But was it the best move in the bottom of the fifth? Let’s see, there was a lefty on the mound, so Denard Span and Brandon Crawford would have been curious choices, even before you remember they’re banged up. Gregor Blanco also didn’t match up well against a lefty. Trevor Brown is the backup catcher, and you should keep one of those on the bench unless you really, really have no choice.
Bumgarner was clearly the best option off the bench. This wasn’t Joe Maddon asking his shortstop to play on the bullpen mound because it’s something he thought of at a Phish concert one night. That was the right move. And it worked. Really, the Giants should have walked off right there. Just pretend it triggered some obscure rule that allowed them to win immediately, and see if the Nationals take the time to scour the rules and prove them wrong.
As is, it still took an error to score. Because that’s just how the Giants are doing things lately.
Finally, let’s save some hero points for Santiago Casilla. I have an MLB Trade Rumors app on my phone. I’d bet more than a couple players do, too. What I like to do is pretend there’s an app called "Seeing If Ben Lindbergh Has Your Job Now." Every couple hours, I check the app to see if Ben Lindbergh has my job, and, phew, go back to work. Except now there’s a Ben Lindbergh Has Your Job Deadline Day, and it’s tomorrow, and I have to write while thinking about this stupid distraction, hoping whatever I do in that situation doesn’t make me look even worse.
Seems stressful. So, of course, Casilla hit the first batter he faced, just to cheese us all off. If I’m ever in the majors — shut up, I’ve been working out — I’m going to practice my check-swing-with-my-forearm-and-wrist-in-the-path-of-the-ball skills, just in case I’m ever in a bases loaded situation in a tie game in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. It’s never called. It’s technically the right call. But it’s sure different than getting out of the way.
With that half-ill-begotten runner on base and your job already in jeopardy, it would have been easy to melt down. Instead, the game ended on these four pitches:
Daniel Murphy has been the Nationals’ best hitter this year, but he’s resting with hamstring tightness, and he hasn’t seen live pitching in a couple days. Once he missed that first fastball, I thought, "Gee, it should would be nice if Casilla could put one in the exact same spot again." Buster Posey had the same idea. It turns out that is a rough thing to do to a hitter who just got off the bench because he’s nursing an injury.
Those pitches — Casilla putting the ball where he wanted to — are what make me optimistic about his chances to help a bullpen in the short and long term. If he can do that, we know there are several years of evidence suggesting that he’s tougher to hit than the average reliever.
The other pitches — the one that sailed into a leadoff hitter who didn’t represent the tying run — are what make me anticipate the Giants giving away several of their top prospects for David Robertson.
But we get to focus on the happy pitches, instead. The Giants split a series I was worried they were going to get swept in. They won the Peavy game. They won the Cain game. They have a trade acquisition coming and a day off.
If anyone left their keys in the death spiral, forget them. They're gone. We're not going back. Just let them go, man.