At first glance, the Giants didn’t do anything that differently. They scattered their hits around the lineup. Jeff Samardzija threw hard, struck hitters out, didn’t allow a walk, and gave up an unfortunate home run. This is a game the Giants have played before this season, and it left them about two dozen games below .500, and it’s left Samardzija with an undeserved ERA and won-loss total.
This game, though, they won. I have theories.
When a starting pitcher throws as well as Samardzija did, he should win more often than not, dammit
Controversial, I know. But Samardzija is one of the most frustrating parts about the 2017 Giants, other than the everything else. He’s been pitching so, so well, and his FIP is getting close to 3.00. When I read about the “juiced” ball, though, it makes me think that Samardzija is hurt more than, oh, every other pitcher in baseball. Jordy Mercer’s home run came on a good, inside pitch, and it turned me into a thinking-face emoji.
It’s not like it was a cheap home run. But it was a very 2017 home run, sailing just a little farther than expected off the bat. And those are the ones that are dragging Samardzija’s numbers down.
The Giants caught the ball as well as they have all season
This Hunter Pence play was impressive as all heck, even without context:
Except there’s more to the catch. It came immediately after a triple that Pence probably could have caught if he were a little more familiar with PNC Park. He alligator-armed a fly ball, and it was completely understandable, considering that he was aware of a large wall running straight toward him. Still, this was exactly the kind of break that’s gone against Samardzija all year, and you could smell the two-out single coming.
That’s the context of Pence’s war bark, and it was richly deserved. Aside from that catch, the Giants also featured ...
- Another diving catch from Austin Slater, who is almost certainly the best defensive left fielder the Giants have had all year. Which is cool, considering that he’s also the best offensive left fielder the Giants have had all year.
- A behind-the-back, running grab from Brandon Belt, who got a “Jerry Rice” comp from Duane Kuiper. I’ll go with Michael Crabtree, myself, for the symmetry of a player who was underappreciated and secretly pretty good.
- A sliding catch from Jae-gyun Hwang in foul territory
- Joe Panik making a mesmerizing ho-hum play, which was a reminder to appreciate him even more
- Brandon Crawford probably did something awesome, idk
The Giants caught the ball as well as they have all season, and it was the difference in a Jeff Samardzija start. It was not a coincidence that he won.
Bench help, ahoy!
Not to be a bummer, but I have to point this out: Nick Hundley’s .688 OPS is the best on the bench, and it’s not even close. Gorkys Hernandez’s .604 OPS is the second-best.
Let that sink in. The second-best hitter on the Giants’ bench this year has been Gorkys Hernandez. I know he’s been hot in the last month, but ... cripes, man.
So in this game, Kelby Tomlinson came up with the bases loaded and one out. The Giants were looking for contact, and they were looking to stay out of the double play, so I understand. At the same time, wow, that is the only Magic: The Gathering card the Giants had to play in the game’s most critical situation? It wasn’t even the right card. Pretty sure it had pinochle rules on it.
Tomlinson drove the ball deep enough to score the run. He didn’t fail, like so many benchies before him. He made the contact that was required of him.
And if we’re considering Jae-gyun Hwang as a bench player, which we probably should, note that he was 2-for-4 and his season OPS is up to 1.052 in a totally meaningful sample. Still, Dave Flemming was quietly enthusiastic about Hwang during the game, and I completely agree. He’s having strong at-bats, waiting for his pitch. He doesn’t look intimidated by the speed of the game like the typical rookie, which I guess should be expected because he’s 29 and has played at a high level, but still. He’s been fun to watch.
The bench! Helping the Giants win since July 2, 2017.
The bullpen done good
If it were a one-run game, all of the focus would be on the home run allowed by Steven Okert, unless that was Josh Osich. It was not a one-run game, so we can focus on Cory Gearrin and Sam Dyson.
Gearrin’s walk rate remains ludicrously high, but it’s worth acknowledging that he’s walked eight batters in his last 26 innings pitched, which is much more reasonable. He’s back to striking out about a batter per inning pitched, too. I’m not sure if he’ll be with the Giants on August 1, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Dyson is ... man, I don’t know. You can see the appeal, right? High-90s heat with sink — who does that? — and a slider that’s good enough to get swings and misses. He’s under contract for a while, and he was basically free. If, last year at this time, you told me that Dyson was going to be getting saves for the Giants, I would have nodded and said something like, “Cool, cool.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not a little weird. The reclamation project is going well, even if it’s not out of beta testing yet.
One of the hitters in the lineup got a hit with runners in scoring position, and then he hit a home run with a runner on base
That hitter would be Brandon Belt, who was 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored. He also hit a long, bat-dropping dinger. If you’ll remember, the Giants weren’t so good at getting hits with runners on base or home runs with runners on base. Get you a man who can do both. But, like, consistently. For a full year.
Belt was the guy today, and I’m pleased to announce that one of those hits was a sneak-attack bunt single. I like when he has one of those in the same game as a homer. Makes me feel like he’s hitting on the right hands and staying on the right hands, and the Giants have been an awful blackjack team this year.
So the Giants were the team we’ve been watching all year, except they got just enough offense to support a quality start, got a little bench help at the right time, had bullpen success, and strung their hits together at the right time.
That’s the difference between this kind of game and one of the dozens they’ve lost. It seems simple when you isolate it all. It is apparently not simple.
The Giants have a six-game winning streak, and I’m not sure what it means. FanGraphs has them as a .500 team for the rest of the season, if not slightly better, and I can believe that.
They also have a .03-percent chance of making the postseason, according to FanGraphs, and while that is not anything to take seriously, it’s just funny enough to wake me up in the morning. That would be an amazing troll-job. And it starts with a winning streak like this one.