Over the past few years, there’s been a unique frustration in watching the Giants lose on national broadcasts. Somehow, even the very best Giants teams of recent vintage have, under the auspices of Buck, Verducci & company, devolved into thumbless shamblers flop-sweating all over the diamond. They’ve repeatedly embarrassed themselves in front of the nation to a Spicerian degree, leaving us fans to point at the standings in protest as a normally very successful team gets blanked by Jamie Moyer wearing flip-flops.
It was kind of fun, really. The Giants would get thwomped on national television all year, and then they’d amble into the playoffs like a simple country lawyer into a courtroom, snapping their suspenders, fixin’ to show some fancy Harvard fellas how it was done down here. But now, we can rest easier knowing that the Giants everyone in the country sees are the real Giants, and if they struggle to make loud contact or collapse in the late innings or sleepwalk through entire games, it’s not because of some weird national-TV curse, but because that’s how they collectively approach playing baseball.
Don’t you feel better now? I feel better.
It’s not like it’s particularly startling. Jacob DeGrom is an extraordinary pitcher, and his tough start to the season seems more of a flukish dinger-fest than a predictive trend. And for all the Mets’ much-vaunted Metsiness, some of that slow-motion disaster was put in motion by capable players getting hurt; they’re back, and no less capable, which helps. Think of the last couple years, where Hunter Pence played about one full season of baseball combined, but was one of the team’s better players when he did. Think of how it felt when he’d return to the lineup and unfurl his telescoping limbs to demolish an eyeball-high fastball; that surge of hope, that knowledge that the talent is there and the team just needs things to line up right — that’s what Mets fans are experiencing right now.
Or maybe they’re mad that the team is winning meaningless games when they could be building draft stock! I dunno, I’m not a Mets fan. Tell you what, though, watching Jacob DeGrom do DeGrom things, I had absolutely zero doubt in my mind the Mets were winning this game. Even when Brandon Belt briefly tied the game with a fine swing on a first-pitch mistake, it was pretty clear where this was headed. The Mets look like most teams with big payrolls and bad records — temporarily embarrassed contenders, a couple tweaks and a big trade away from getting right back into things. The kind of team that just needs some games like this.
The thing is, there’s really not all that much daylight between these two teams. They’re both purported contenders sunk by aging contributors, high-profile injuries, and combustible bullpens. The Mets have more power and more young talent on the roster; they also have the pervasive aura of Mets suffusing everything good and right happening to the team, turning their victories to ash.
Say what you will about the Giants, but at least when something goes wrong for them, it’s usually identifiable as to why it happened and how, eventually, they can fix it. There’s no such easy explanation for “all of our pitchers are
healthy undergoing tests filled with static-charged locusts” or “our maybe-ace is missing games because his celebrity girlfriend dumped him” or “we might literally call up Tim Tebow to the majors this season.”
But it’s telling that, in the face of phenomenal and resounding Metsness, the Giants have managed to look — even briefly — like the more hopeless team in the ballpark. That’s impressive. Salute.
That Brandon Belt dinger, though! Belt is having a frustrating season in the most Brandon Belt kind of way possible. To wit, his fourteenth homer, well shy of the season’s halfway point, puts him on pace to blow past his career high and even challenge the 30-homer barrier that has bedeviled the Giants since [year]. That’s good!
But he’s hitting .228 and striking out in almost a quarter of his plate appearances. That’s bad.
But thanks to the magic of walks and power, and good ol’ park factors he still grades out as a comfortable above-average hitter with a career-low BABIP that is certain to rise as less of his drives and bloops find gloves.
But now it’s your duty to explain all that crap to your friend who thinks Brandon Belt, a first baseman hitting .228, should be traded for Pedro Alvarez and two first-round draft picks.
Yes, you can go now.
Let’s end on a pleasant note. Johnny Cueto was very good, wiggling out of trouble in a way that great pitchers do when they don’t have their best stuff. If his Giants career ends this year (and it probably will, one way or another), these might be the most fun memories — not the dominant shutouts or perfectly executed three-pitch seeyas, but the games where Cueto’s fastball wandered, his slider didn’t slide like he expected, and he still found ways to keep hitters off-balance and lunging at perfectly hittable pitches. There’s a special joy in watching a pitcher keep getting away with it.
Kyle Crick had a rough outing, but it was a matter of a couple bad and well-scouted pitches, not the sort of compass-and-a-map wildness that the name conjures up to Giants fans and prospect hounds. The most interesting thing about watching him pitch is watching Buster Posey’s glove; the leather moves late, snaps and twitches, in a way that it doesn’t for other Giants pitchers. The velocity and late movement on Crick’s fastball is a new wrinkle for Posey, and that alone should be enough to tell you why, lo these many years later, the Giants have refused to give up hope.
Just spoke with Kyle Crick. When I prefaced with the purpose of the blog, he laughed and said, "The prospects are over there."— Giant Potential (@giant_potential) April 3, 2017
This tweet made me sad. Watching Crick take the mound for the big club, and cause the best defensive catcher in the game to flinch and stab like Pedro Feliz, made me very happy. When Crick starts throwing more of those pitches where Buster is expecting them and hitters aren’t, I’ll be even happier.
And lastly, we can’t overlook the debut of Ryder Jones, a very unexpected Next Big Thing. Jones spent several minor-league seasons producing unremarkable batting lines, but the Giants kept seeing something they liked, and he moved on up. This season in Sacramento, it all clicked to the tune of a .953 OPS, and Christian Arroyo’s major-league struggles (or, more pertinently, the struggles of every third base-capable player who actually expected to be in the major leagues this season) opened up an opportunity.
Jones’s first major league play was a quick, clean double play. Nice pick, smooth transfer, accurate throw. He had an undistinguished day at the plate, but there are worse things than undistinguished. Jones faced one of the National League’s best pitchers, and he went 0-4. That happens to lots of guys. He didn’t strike out, he didn’t get his bat broken, he didn’t bail out on a curveball that plopped down the heart of the plate.
And on a beautiful summer day, after spending the vast majority of his professional baseball career experiencing frustration and struggle, he got to take the field in a Giants uniform on a beautiful summer day. He made some plays, got his hacks in, got his name in an MLB box score. If the 2017 season turns into a succession of these experiences, minor leaguers of varying ages getting the chance to step onto the pristine grass of a real major-league field, we could do worse than to enjoy them. I bet Ryder did.
(He’ll enjoy it more when he plays his first major-league winning game, though. And so will I.)