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Giants drop series to Tigers

The road trip was a success. This game was not.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The pitcher who started the 2016 All-Star game was replaced with a pitcher with a 5.71 ERA in Triple-A, and the Giants couldn’t hit. That’s the one-sentence recap, and if you need more, I’ll humor you, but I promise you that’s all you’ll really need. Johnny Cueto was sick, an unprepared rookie was on the roster, and the Giants are still physically incapable of hitting Anibal Sanchez. There’s another sentence.

That’s 70 words right there. Ooh, now the counter says 75. This thing basically writes itself!

Approximately 30 minutes before the game started, Chris Stratton was informed that he was the starting pitcher. Johnny Cueto was ill, and Stratton was the logical choice to fill in. He was the only choice to fill in, and he sure didn’t get a lot of notice to mentally and physically prepare. That would be a rough situation for a golden-armed, top-10 prospect thriving in his first major league experience, but Stratton is on the 25-man roster because he was on the 40-man roster, not because he’s been making great progress in Triple-A. There was almost no way that it wasn’t going to be a rough start.

And it was rough. Stratton struck out one (bad), walked five (worse), and gave up a home run to a player who hadn’t hit one in the majors before, and who had averaged 2.5 homers in the minor leagues over the last eight seasons (whoa). If you wanted to know who would win when a robust lineup of sluggers faced a pitcher who had been struggling in Triple-A and [Clerks voice] wasn’t even supposed to be here today, you have a pretty good idea.

There were bright spots, though. Stratton pitched into the seventh inning, which gave the Giants’ bullpen some needed rest, and he held the Tigers scoreless for his final 3⅔ innings. The fifth run he gave up didn’t exactly come on a brutal line drive, so there’s some parsing and mincing to do, if you’re so inclined.

What I enjoyed about this game, other than the nothing, was the contrast between the two Giants pitchers, and what they represent to an unqualified knee-jerk analyst like myself. Before the season started, I gave Chris Stratton about a two-percent chance of reinventing himself and becoming a part of the Giants’ plans. The odds were long, but that story wouldn’t even merit a 16 seed in a baseball-is-weird bracket.

Before the season started, I gave Kyle Crick about a two-percent chance of reinventing himself and becoming a part of the Giants’ plans. He had to have been so close to getting designated for assignment to clear a roster spot. I’m still not sure how he got here, apart from the abundance of talent and hard work.

This isn’t to suggest the two pitchers are comparable — Crick has the better arm, and he’s two years younger — but they’re roughly the same genre. They’re both first-round picks who looked like the undertow of baseball was pulling them down. Fast forward a month, and Crick looks like he belongs in the majors. He allowed a run, sure, but it was a cheapie, and he also struck out the side.

The Giants are in looksee mode this year. I’m not sure how much they can glean from an emergency start from a rookie, but they’re at least glad to have Stratton around. Because of the looksee. They’re glad to have Crick around for the same reason. One of them is impressing. One of them is most certainly not, even though it’s unfair to hold Thursday against him. That would be rough on an All-Star, much less a pitcher who has never made a start in the big leagues.

The hope is that slowly, surely, Stratton becomes a pitcher who helps the Giants win one day. I don’t know if there was evidence from this game either way, considering the circumstances, so I’m forced to project based on what the other unlikely pitcher did. Crick did fine. He continued to make me optimistic about a future that probably wasn’t worth a PTBNL at some point. Hopefully, Stratton can do the same, whether in the rotation or the bullpen.

“If Crick can do it ...” is the refrain, then, and I’m okay with it. I’m not sure what to make of Stratton’s start, but Crick’s continued improvement makes me optimistic about every disappointing prospect the Giants might have. Trust the process, and all that.

And, really, the bigger problem was that the Giants couldn’t hit Anibal Sanchez, who has been throwing like a right-handed Matt Moore this year. Stratton did fine. Crick did fine. This was just a series the Giants were not meant to win.

Sanchez’s ERA was 6.34 coming into Thursday, and I didn’t care one bit because he’s the Steve Finley of pitching. Always there. Never fair to the Giants. The last time he started against the Giants was when he mostly shut them down in Game 3 of the 2012 World Series. Before that, he was generally dominant, and it’s hard to believe he’s made only six starts against them in his career.

The Giants could not hit Sanchez, and you’re not sitting there in disbelief.

This is what it must feel for other teams to lose to Matt Cain, really.

I took zero notes during this game. I watched it all, but there wasn’t a single thing about it that interested me. This might have been the least essential baseball game of the season, and not only for the Giants. This might have been the least essential baseball game of the season for the entire league.

The Giants have still won 7 of 9. They’ve looked much better on this road trip than they have for most of this season, so don’t mistake this for doom and gloom. We’ve already planted saplings in the doom and gloom. This is something else.

It’s just a game the Giants probably weren’t supposed to win in the first place.