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Giants lose series opener to Cubs, 5-4

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The bullpen couldn't hold a one-run lead, and the lineup couldn't add on to it. This is not copied and pasted from the last time, I promise.

Somewhere between the 30th and 40th pitch of the first inning, when Jeff Samardzija’s arm sounded like a riding lawn mower running over a bag of recyclables, you knew it was going to be a bullpen game. Matt Reynolds might have been the first reliever to get warm in the first inning for the Giants this season, and it’s a minor miracle that Samardzija lasted four innings.

It was going to be a bullpen game. Which meant the Giants’ bullpen was going to have to absorb five innings. Which meant either the Giants were going to have to score more runs, hold the Cubs scoreless, or lose.

Guess which one they chose.

Go on. Guess.

It started innocently enough. Josh Osich looked like a pitcher who wanted to stay in the majors for the next 15 years. George Kontos had his slider working, striking out the side in the sixth. You could see how it would work. Hunter Strickland for the seventh. Maybe Sergio Romo for the eighth. And [loud coughing noises] for the ninth, look, there were ways it could have worked. Other teams can have games where the bullpens hold the other team scoreless for five innings.

Like, oh, the Cubs. Just then. In this game. That one right there.

Instead, the Giants were fish-slapped to death. Some of the wounds were self-inflicted. Some of them were the baseball gremlins pulling the fuselage apart while William Shatner watched. The progression:

  • Ball hit off Strickland, who recovered a half-second too late to get the out
  • Walk
  • Strikeout
  • Walk
  • Pop fly
  • Broken-bat single

In the first half, here’s how that would have gone:

  • Ball hit off Strickland, who gets the out
  • Strike three looking
  • Strike three swinging

Mix in a walk or two in the middle, it doesn’t matter. But it’s hard to be mad at Hunter Strickland for walking Kris Bryant, who represented the go-ahead run. Bryant is a serial killer of baseballs, and he’s been hotter than anyone in baseball. It doesn’t help when the second pitch of the at-bat is called a ball, when it was clearly a strike. MVP candidates get the 1-1 counts that should be 0-2 counts. The Giants in the second half most certainly do not.

It’s hard to be mad at Will Smith, who did a fine job striking out Anthony Rizzo and getting Jason Heyward to pop out in a runner-on-third, one-out situation. The walk to Ben Zobrist wasn’t ideal, and the balls weren’t especially tempting, but he got the two lefties, which is his job.

It’s hard to be mad at Cory Gearrin, who shattered a dude’s bat into 49 pieces. That’s usually a good thing, to make a pitch that’s so hard to hit, it shatters a piece of solid ash and maple.

Collectively, though, you knew it was coming. The imperfections don’t just add up; they’re exponential. Every damned time. And asking the bullpen as a collective, cohesive unit to hold the best lineup in the National League scoreless for five innings isn’t realistic. You can hope for the Giants bullpen to be okay. You can’t expect them to be perfect.

This brings us back to the idea we explored last week. The bullpen ain’t great, but the lineup sure makes it look worse. The Giants put their relievers in tough spots more often than any team in baseball. It’s so easy to grumble about the bullpen blowing another game — I just spent 500 words on it — but the Giants had three hits.

Now I feel bad about spending so much time on the bullpen. The lede should be "The Giants had three hits" and the second paragraph should read, "That isn’t a lot of hits" and the third paragraph should be a capybara gif.

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Yeah, that. In the last 30 years, the Giants are 25-167 when they have three hits or fewer, and I’m surprised that they have that many wins. They managed to score four runs or more in just six of those 192 games, so this game was something of an anomaly. One of those hits was a home run, and it came in the same inning as one of the other two hits. That’s some mighty fine sequencing!

Instead, none of it worked because none of it works in the second half. The single-homer combo didn’t happen in any of the other one-run losses. It didn’t happen in the 1-0 loss. It happened in the game with one other hit, in the game where the bullpen was just bad enough.

It’s games like this that make me think I won’t even feel bad when the Marlins pass the Giants in the wild card standings and beat the Cubs in the NLDS. But that’s just the low-grade rage talking.

It all started with the 47-pitch first inning. That isn’t a record, not even close. But it let you know it was going to be a bullpen game. Jeff Samardzija has problems getting hitters to swing and miss, and it killed him in this game. He didn’t pitch that poorly, to be honest. That’s not sarcasm! There’s a lot of bad luck that comes with a hitter like Fowler making that much contact without putting a single ball in play. Maybe if his name were Dexter Fairler, the Giants would have won, 4-2. Think about it. You know I’m right.

As is, the Giants lost another game they could have won. They’re 4-10 in one-run games since the All-Star break. If baseball is a game of cribbage, they’re getting the 5s without the face cards. They’re opening with sevens when the other team has eights. And they can’t stop chewing on the damned pegs.

The only thing left to do is toughen up, look yourself in the mirror, and remember that Albert Suarez is starting tomorrow. This is fine.