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Giants sink Pirates, take series

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Jeff Samardzija was tremendous, and the Giants scored just enough runs for him.

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Giants have a winning record this season against four teams. That is exactly four more teams than I was expecting, and here they are:

  • Indians
  • Dodgers
  • Pirates
  • Cardinals

All four of those teams still have a chance to win their respective divisions. That doesn’t include the Giants splitting a series with the Milwaukee Brewers. When it suits them, they play well against contending teams.

What I’m getting at is that I can respect the Giants’ commitment to annoying us in all the right ways this season. The Giants on Wednesday afternoon looked like a team that could put up a fight against a .500 team. It’s how they looked Tuesday night. They took a series against a team that isn’t filled with players actively booking Legoland trips in October, and they looked good doing it.

If you’ve been reading me for a little bit, you know that I have a soft spot for the Pirates. They have given so, so much to the Giants over the years, from Barry Bonds to Jason Schmidt to Javier Lopez to Ryan Vogelsong to Freddy Sanchez to Edinson Volquez, and the karmic debt for the 1971 NLCS is nearly paid off. They were having the saddest season in baseball before Andrew McCutchen shook off the cobwebs and guided them through the lost woods. I’m pulling for them.

On the other hand, please lose to the Giants. This is my request to the other 29 teams, too. I attend A’s games with my family and root for the A’s. I root for the A’s while I’m there. At the same time, please lose to the Giants. It’s a simple rule, without ambiguity.

The Giants can beat the Pirates, just like they can beat the Dodgers, just like they can’t beat the Padres. I dunno what it means. I just know that it feels better when the Giants are facing the Pirates.

The 100th pitch Jeff Samardzija threw on Wednesday was a 96-mph cutter to blow away Francisco Cervelli for strike three. There are teams that are reportedly interested in Samardzija, and you can understand why. His ERA is down, but his reputation is unchanged.

Never forget that the Giants gave him this contract after he led the American League in earned runs. He’s an innings-eater who seems forever one tweak away from being a Cy Young contender. That’s alluring, and not just to the Giants. If it’s surprising that he’s garnering interest, my advice to you is this: GET YOUR NOSE OUT OF THE STATBOOK AND WATCH THE GAME.

All you nerds with your new metrics like “ERA” and the like, get over yourselves. Imagine reducing a player’s worth to a single number. Samardzija is better than “4.85” or whatever number you want to slap on him.

On the other hand, that ERA sure isn’t pretty, but I can’t help but think that I’m missing something. His FIP is godly, and it sure looks like he’s been buried under an avalanche of poor luck and iffy fielding, the kind that can make a pitcher give up an extra run for every nine innings he throws in a four-month stretch. I keep going back and forth between that reality and the one where his get-them-to-fly-out approach isn’t suited for this era.

The uncertainty is what makes me eager for the Giants to exchange him for contracts. The idea that he’s just unlucky, and otherwise still an unholy pairing of Randy Johnson and Tim Lincecum, is what makes me want to see what he can do for the reloading Giants in the next couple years. Samardzija was super on Wednesday. And he even got some help from his defense for once:

It works both as a one-liner and as a legitimate point. I’m convinced that plays like this have favored other Giants starters disproportionately this season. I have anecdotes and FIP, but that’s it. The Giants’ defense hasn’t been that great, especially in the outfield, but they really seem to be all thumbs when Samardzija is pitching. It changed on Wednesday, though.

Because like Madison Bumgarner on Opening Day, Samardzija figured he’d do it his damned self. He was right to do so.

The odds of Samardzija getting traded are still low. But they’re not that low. The Giants would need something to convince them that they don’t need 200 innings every year. They would have to be convinced that what’s in the box is better for the next contending Giants team. And I’m fine with that.

It’s the part where another team would believe that, too. It’s probably not going to happen. Which means we’ll watch Samardzija for better and for worse for the next three years, roughly. The better will make you shake your head and appreciate the heck out of him.

The Giants won the game because the Pirates screwed up on defense again, because Starling Marte couldn’t catch a looping Brandon Belt double.

I can’t describe just how much I’m in favor of this.

Belt’s batting average on balls in play is 50 points below his career average, which means he’s unlucky by a bunch. And we’ve seen it. Balls caught in the gap. Shifts that work perfectly.

On this play, Belt hit a looper, and Marte simply lost it. He’ll get the RBI, and he’ll get credit for winning the game. All that needed to happen was an opposing outfielder to play a ball strangely. Never forget the outfield stylings of Jose Osuna from Tuesday, either. The Giants won this series because the Pirates forgot how to field.

And, well ...

Makes sense to me! This explains the series win, and it also explains Samardzija’s high ERA, so I’m running with it. It might be that the Giants’ liner-and-gap approach is particularly ill-suited for the hyper-defense era, and that Samardzija’s “make them miss more 95-mph pitches down the middle than they hit” approach is also linked.

I’d love it if you worked up a theory for me.

The most important note from Wednesday’s game, though, is that the Giants won and Jeff Samardzija pitched well. This helped the Giants in the present, and it could help them in the future. Also, they won.

Will this winning streak ever stop??? Only time will tell.