A time-traveler shows up at your front door. He tells you that Madison Bumgarner is about to throw a two-hit complete game. Before you can yell at him about spoilers, he disappears in a puff of temporal fog.
If this had happened before any of Bumgarner’s first 200 career starts, you would have been excited to watch the game. A little concerned that someone used the power of time travel to get you excited about something you were going to watch anyway, but still excited.
If it had happened before Sunday, you would have been apprehensive. A complete game, eh? How many runs did he allow? How many runs did the Giants score? You didn’t mention if he won, which means he probably didn’t win. What is your problem? How can you not have anything better to do with your powers? I’m getting a golf club to use as a weapon, so you should probably leave.
A two-hit complete game in the second half of 2016 doesn’t mean what it used to. You have to adjust for inflation. Or deflation. One of the flations. You have to adjust and realize that this Giants team can still get more and more creative with exactly how they lose. Last week was a triple play. This week featured a brilliantly pitched complete-game loss. Next week we’ll get to see a mascot-inspired forfeit. How would that happen? Tune in and find out. Probably something to do with pyrotechnics and/or a t-shirt gun.
Before continuing down the road of angry grumbles, note that Bumgarner pitched fantastically. In the second half, he’s averaging seven innings per start with a 3.18 ERA and 35 strikeouts and 8 walks in 34 innings. He allowed five baserunners on Sunday, and he reached base twice. When a pitcher nearly matches the offensive output of the team he’s facing, that should be a pretty good sign that he’s having an outstanding day.
Not when you adjust for the second half of 2016. It’s a shame because the Giants looked so great on Saturday, getting "hits" with runners in scoring position and driving the ball with authority. Eduardo Nuñez looked like an impact player, and the pitching staff looked like an asset. A dozen hours later, they looked like a team that plays a sport where the goal is to keep the runners on base. The Giants are undefeated when they play marpball, where the bases are made of marzipan, and the runners get to eat the bases if no one is rude enough to hit them in.
The Giants got on base several times. They had runners in scoring position at several points during them game. They didn’t score a single run. Let’s figure out how. Here are all of the plate appearances with a runner in scoring position:
1. The third inning started with Gregor Blanco working a walk. Madison Bumgarner followed with a line-drive single through the left side. Two on, no outs, and the Nationals were in business.
That brought up Denard Span, and according to Brooks Baseball, he never saw a pitch in the strike zone.
Span has been hot. He’s been one of the reasons the Giants have won anything in the second half. But that was still one of the worst at-bats I’ve seen in a long time. It was overanxious at best, a sloppy mess of approach and execution. But it was okay, the Giants still had two chances to hahaha yeah, I know.
2. Angel Pagan came up next, and he fouled off a fastball right down the middle in a 1-0 count. He made an out on the next pitch, pulling a ball six inches off the plate to the second baseman.
If the fastball in the 1-0 count were hit into the upper deck, it would have been possible for my Nationals counterpart to use a freeze frame as the reason his team lost. Look at this terrible pitch behind in the count. Look at everything wrong with it. As is, it was a strike that led to an ill-advised swing and an out.
3. The called third strike to Brandon Belt was probably a strike. It looked like a clear ball on TV because it missed the target so much, but it was probably a strike.
The first called strike of the at-bat was a ball, though. A clear, unambiguous ball to the outside. Which means it should have been a 3-0 count, which means Belt could have afforded to take a borderline 3-1 strike that he didn’t feel like he could handle. In the alternate universe, he crushes the 3-2 pitch into the left-center gap. In the alternate universe, you’re eating an It’s-It right now, too.
Note that I’m not on Team Swing If It’s Close. Belt is good because of his keen eye, not in spite of it. I can’t imagine what he would have done with that two-strike two-seamer that would make an all-purpose "swing if it’s close" philosophy work better for him and the team.
At the same time, dammit, of course it had to be a borderline pitch that didn’t go Belt’s way again.
4. Buster Posey led off the fourth inning with a double, and the Nationals were in business once again. Brandon Crawford worked a 3-0 count, and the Nationals were really in business.
To reiterate: I’m all for swinging 3-0 if the hitter gets the pitch he’s looking for. Hunter Pence had a miserable 3-0 swing on Friday, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. Crawford was looking for a fastball, preferably a touch down. Maybe a little in.
That #4, there. This is from the catcher’s perspective, remember, so that was the perfect fastball in the Crawford happy zone. That’s the one. That’s the pitch we’ve seen him demolish in the past, and we’ll see him demolish in the future. And he couldn’t put it in play.
The next pitch was another one he hits well. He popped it up.
This is what happens to a team that can’t get out of its own way.
5. Eduardo Nuñez came up, and he had a great game on Saturday. That is the nicest thing I can possibly say about his ghastly at-bat, which ended on a swing on a shoulder-level ball in the left-handed batter’s box.
When the Giants are winning, Nuñez is 3-for-5 last night and gets a hit with a runner in scoring position on Sunday. When they’re losing, we should all feel lucky that he was so good on Saturday and cut our losses.
6. Joe Panik, who has the rottenest luck of any player in baseball this second half, lined a single in the center! A hit! A hit with a runner in scoring position! Posey read it well, and he was rounding third when the throw came in.
He was held. Oh, Roberto Kelly. I know coaching third base is a thankless job, but that was Ben Revere out there. He’ll run balls down and make spectacular catches (foreshadowing), but he throws like a small child his holding on to his arm and trying to prevent him from throwing. Even though Posey has been thrown out approximately 47 times at home plate this season, you have to challenge Revere with two outs.
The throw was a rainbow that drifted well up the first base line. As you might expect.
Before you get too mad, remember that the Giants would still be playing right now, setting up the 19th-inning walkoff that would haunt your waking moments for the rest of the week.
7. Gregor Blanco grounded out. The count was 2-1. The pitch was a fastball down the middle.
8. In the fifth, the Giants had a little two-out magic going, with Pagan hitting a single and Belt following with a walk. That brought up Posey, who popped out.
The count was 2-0. The pitch was a hanging slider.
I’m cataloguing this for my sanity, not for analysis. I just want to make sure I saw what I saw. And what I thought I saw was a Giants team screw up every single chance they had with runners in scoring position, even when they got the best possible pitch to hit, in situations where they should have been looking for them.
Ayup. That’s what actually happened, alright.
9. In the top of the seventh, Bumgarner walked, and an error put two runners on with two outs. A walk to the pitcher followed by an error should be an immediate loss. Put it in the rules. Codify that. If you want to make the games shorter, make pitcher-walk-and-error combos an automatic loss.
Brandon Belt was the second batter to put a good swing on a pitch with a runner in scoring position. He crushed it. It went 400 feet.
That’s the kind of thing that happens to a team that can’t win. That’s what happens to a team that spends the rest of the game screwing up with runners on base.
That’s what happens to the second-half Giants.
Did you curse Ben Revere for doing his job well? I did. But he’s not magic. He has some defensive weaknesses. Like, say, his arm. And the Giants managed to get burned by that, somehow.
The Giants got a complete game from Madison Bumgarner, who pitched magnificently. They worked the count with runners on base, and they got good pitches to hit.
They lost, 1-0.
What a mess.