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Giants take game, series from Braves

R.A. Dickey was shaky, and the Giants took advantage.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the last series, which was against the Cubs in Wrigley Field, this space was reserved for some grumbling and whining about how the Giants weren’t as good as the Cubs. The series ended the way it was supposed to. What did you expect?

I don’t think any of us have changed our minds about that. A series win over the Braves isn’t going to make me reconsider how the Giants stack up with potential postseason contenders. But the corollary to the Cubs conundrum is that you would also expect the Giants to beat the Braves in a three-game series at AT&T Park. As in, sure, the season has been a dog relative to preseason expectations, but the team hasn’t fallen into the same pit as the 90-loss rebuilders and other ne’er-do-wells already, right? They should beat the Braves at AT&T, just like the Cubs should be the Giants at Wrigley.

They’re in the middle, then. You hope it’s a crossroads with a choice still to be made, but until that’s obvious, the Giants should still beat the Braves at home.

They beat the Braves at home.

And these weren’t just the squeak-by kind of victories, either. The Giants scored early, they scored often, and even when the bullpen was being a little twitchy, the games were never in serious doubt. The early leads were substantial; the early leads were enough. Oh, how we used to take this sort of stuff for granted. You don’t realize what a treat convincing wins are until they aren’t around that often.

The Giants scored seven runs on six hits. If you’re wondering if that’s rare, it most certainly is. The last time that many runs scored on that few hits was in 2002, and that was the only time it’s happened in the last 20 years. It happened three times in three weeks in 1996, and I’m not sure what to make of that, but this was just the 19th time that the Giants have scored seven or more runs on six or fewer hits.

What most of those games have in common, of course, are the walks. Lots and lots of walks. Taking what the other team gives you. The Giants weren’t flailing at R.A. Dickey, who was cursed with a baseball that was spinning on Sunday. He wasn’t fooling anyone and it was clear from the first inning that if the knuckler was dancing, it was dancing like Elaine*.

* ask your parents

Dickey has feasted on the Giants over the last few years, mowing them down twice in 2013 and once in 2011. He’s an odd-year grifter, then, and he deserved a spinning knuckler today. Taking advantage in a team in the middle of the odd years like that. Have you no shame? In this game, the Giants were happy to look up and expect the ball to drift out of the strike zone often. It has to be weird to face a knuckleballer — it’s like someone dropping a football on the rink at face-off — but the Giants were prepared and unimpressed.

But, really, they should beat the Braves two out of three at home. That’s not to belittle the Braves, who have been roughly as good as the Giants this year. It’s just a realistic look at where the two teams are and where they were playing. In Atlanta, you might argue that the Braves have the advantage over three games, and I wouldn’t argue vociferously against.

In this series, though, the Giants were supposed to win, and they won. Good for them. Good for us!

Johnny Cueto is still dealing with blisters, though he says they’re improving. But for four innings, he looked as dominant as he’s looked all season, which is the kind of dominance that makes a fella get starry-eyed and dream about spending the rest of our next five years together.

He’s still gonna opt out, of course. But at least we’ll feel bad about it. That’s all I want at this point.

I do wonder if the Giants are deep in double-secret negotiations with him, using the early season weirdness and general uncuetosity as the opening for extension talks that had more leverage than they would have in the offseason. Because games like this make me remember the guy who literally started the All-Star Game last year because he was so awesome. Do you know what it takes for a pitcher to start the All-Star Game? Like, Tim Lincecum in his prime. Matt Cain in his prime. It’s not easy. That’s how good he was last year.

That’s how good he can be again. I don’t know if All-Star-starter Cueto is the one we should expect going forward, but he’s better than the 4.64 ERA he started Sunday with. If the Giants aren’t still exploring ways to keep him around, I’ll be extremely disappointed.

(They’re totally still exploring ways to keep him around.)

Arbitrary endpoints, sure. But if you want to know which set of numbers I would have predicted before the season, given the choice of both, I would have gone with the happier numbers.

The Giants probably weren’t as miserable as they were over their first 36 games. That goes for their lineup, rotation, and bullpen. Now, that doesn’t help them make up the ground they’ve lost already, but at least there’s a chance we’ll get to watch more games like this for the rest of the season.

I hereby nominate Matt Kemp for the Most Annoying Baseball Player on Earth award. He’s not a valuable player, at least according to the modern metrics. His defense and baserunning hinder his production so much, that he’s been worth just 2.6 WAR since 2012. That’s barely above replacement level, and when you see him play defense, you get the metrics. There’s a child watching him play who will invent a time machine just to go back in time and invent the DH for him. With the irony being that he’ll never get to DH for some reason.

That’s fine. Except WAR doesn’t mean a damned thing when that guy is at the plate, waggling his bat, looking to annihilate a mistake. Separate of the other context, he’s just about the most terrifying player in baseball. There’s nothing to be gained from screaming, “BUT HIS WAR IS BAD” when he’s at the plate. Trust me, I’ve tried.

It doesn’t help to think about the defense when he’s hitting. He’s a monster in those situations, and you’re right to be scared, even as his overall value will sink because of something screwy he does in the outfield. Against another team, when you’re not watching.

Which means he’s the most annoying player in baseball. Here’s your stupid award, Kemp. It’s a bust of David Eckstein that I made out of the burs that stick to your sock, and it smells like anise and dandruff. Put it next to your bed.