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Giants take first game from Cubs, 6-4

The Giants were as smooth as a suede couch, and they were unstoppable today

San Francisco Giants v Chicago Cubs
Joe Panik stores doubles and home runs in his cheeks during the long winter months, portioning them out slowly over the season
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The Giants led 6-0 at one point, and it was uncomfortable. The lead made you realize that it was a strange, unfamiliar landscape. Prior to Monday night’s game, the Giants had played 436 innings. They had a six-run lead or larger for just eight of those innings. What are you supposed to do in that situation? Relax? Pretend the lead doesn’t exist?

While the bullpen clearly felt uncomfortable with these questions, too, the larger point is the Giants won again. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games, with a bunch of them coming against contenders. The lineup was robust. The defense was stellar. The starting pitching was a revelation. The bullpen wanted us to feel alive. And yet again, we were treated to what the 2017 Giants look like in the shadow universe. This is the kind of performance that makes me want to hit the reset button on the entire season and live through it again on purpose.

Except that means we’d have to go through the politics, too. So maybe we’ll just take the wins as they come and hope for more of them.

They’ll still need a lot more. Not sure if you’re paying attention, but the Rockies won’t stop winning. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are both hanging around the top of the division. The Giants, meanwhile, have needed to scramble just to get six games under .500. That’s fine. Baby steps. At the start of the season, I included a “This is the second- or third-worst start ever” snippet in every recap. It was cathartic. So it’s only fair to keep going as the numbers improve.

This is just the 13th-worst start in franchise history now, and I promise I’m not trying to be a buzzkill. That’s a valid, real improvement on how they started. The 2017 Giants aren’t much different than the 2000 Giants at the same stage, and that team finished with the most wins in baseball. Some more wins against the Cubs and the Nationals would do wonders to convince us.

This game started with a 13-pitch at-bat to the Cubs’ leadoff hitter. If that sounds familiar, that’s because last year the Cubs had a 13-pitch leadoff plate appearance against the Giants in Wrigley. Last year, the plate appearance ended in a walk, and chaos ensued.

This year, Ty Blach’s 13th pitch might have been his best of the night.

If that pitch is called a ball, I’m convinced everything would have been ruined. As is, the at-bat jacked Blach’s pitch count and helped tack three earned runs onto his ledger. But there was a sense of inner calm after the closure. It was a fine contrast to the irritating Samardzija/Fowler duel from last year.

Blach is still an anomaly in the modern game, an extreme pitch-to-contact pitcher in a sport that’s violently moved away from contact, but you can see how it might work. Just as pitchers are throwing harder, harder, harder, defenders are getting better and rangier and more agile. I ... can’t speak for the outfielders, but it’s possible this is one of the best defensive infields the Giants have ever had. While I’ll always show love to Williams-Clayton-Thompson-Clark-Manwaring, I’m going to guess that defense works like 40-meter times in the Olympics: The talent level doesn’t go backward.

So if a pitcher like Blach is going to pitch to contact in an era where more hitters are okay with all-or-nothing swings, maybe the complement to that is an all-world infield defense.

Which is a segue into Joe Panik looking like an MVP candidate for most of the night. He’s been the coldest Giant, which is hard to do, but his defense hasn’t slumped. In this game, he led off with a home run and made three brilliant stops within the first 15 minors or so. Then he roped another pair of doubles, just to prove his point.

The Giants are better with a hot Joe Panik. Actually, they were much worse with one early in the season, but I’m rolling. Like most of the players on this weird-ass team, he should probably be at least a little better, overall. In this game, he raised his average 13 points, his on-base percentage 14 points, and his slugging percentage 43 points. He’s on his way to respectable Panik numbers again. That’s probably a reminder of how easy it is to freak out over early-season samples.

The heroes of the game, then, in a rough order:

  1. Ty Blach
  2. Joe Panik
  3. Actually, Panik’s defense is a part of the first one, too, so he gets two slots
  4. Hunter Strickland, for inducing a double play in the eighth inning and sparing us
  5. Brandon Belt, who had a dinger and a two-out RBI, both of which the Giants needed, apparently
  6. Justin Ruggiano, who
  7. Buster Posey for calling a swell game
  8. Other assorted Giants here and there, including Gorkys Hernandez, who drew two walks, putting him in fourth place, ahead of five different starters, but we’re not here to dwell on the weirdness of the season
  9. Bruce Bochy for not leading Derek Law out to the mound by his nostrils so he could bonk his head against Steven Okert’s, Three Stooges-style. You know Bochy is a total Shemp, too.

It was an encouraging win. I suppose they all are, but when you see Blach pitching like a deserving major leaguer and the Giants slapping the ball around the ballpark, it’ll make you think of March, when you actually liked them. We could like them again. Heck, maybe I’m starting already.

Aw, I can’t stay mad at you, come here.

Solo homers update: The Giants hit three home runs in a game for the first time this season. All three home runs were solo home runs. Of course they were. That means we’re up to 18 consecutive solo home runs, which is just three behind the major league record, owned by the 2011 Giants.

I believe in this team’s ability to set a new record! Keep at it, boys.

The Giants have 46 RBI on 38 home runs this year, which is about 15 or 20 fewer than a team should expect. Remember that when you get hung up on run differential. There’s a little bit more to this bizarre story. This year’s team is hard to quantify in multiple ways.