The Giants won’t lose 100 games. This was an outcome I would have bet thousands of dollars on in March. It’s an outcome that comes with an exaggerated sense of relief in September. Whatever. I’ll take it. They’re tied with the Tigers for the worst record in baseball, which means they might not get that first-overall pick, but that would still come with a consolation prize. They won’t lose 100.
Part of me wanted them to turn into the bad year and spin out, tires smoking, while losing exactly 100. That’s the completionist in me. Another part of me didn’t want the stink of 100 anywhere around this team. It clings to the clothes and upholstery like the smell of Dorals or GPCs, somehow worse than the regular cigarettes, and it doesn’t go away if you leave the windows open overnight. Next year’s team would have played in the shadow of the 100-loss Giants, and that’s just not a healthy way to run a baseball team.
It’s not like the 99-loss Giants are that much more fun, but work with me.
The Giants aren’t going to lose 100 games because they could score five runs against Jordan Lyles, whose clubhouse nickname has been “5 ER” on three different teams. That’s great. Not even going to pick nits. They drove the ball well. They got bushels of hits. Oodles of them. They even got a bunch of them with runners in scoring position. It was, on the whole, more enjoyable than at least 97 other games have been this year.
All of the runs make it far too easy to overlook Chris Stratton, who was solid once again. He broke hitters down with his curve, and when the hitters were looking for the curve, like poor Carlos Asuaje in the third inning, he screwed them into the ground with his fastball. After starting the season in Sacramento, he has a chance to be a starter on next year’s team.
That curveball has to help somewhere.
Before Stratton was called up the first time this season, he had a 7.15 ERA, and he wasn’t striking anyone out. Then he was sent down, and during that time, he had a 5.30 ERA, although the strikeouts and walks looked a little better. Then he made a couple of starts in his third trip back to Triple-A, and they were mostly excellent. The Giants were watching each individual start for evidence, whereas I was lazy and kept staring at the ERA over 5.00 and writing him off.
The thing about that ERA is that it was deceptive. His poor starts were abysmal. His strong starts were absolutely compelling, with low walk totals and gaudy strikeout marks. And the strikeouts were gaudy, I’m guessing, because of that curveball. When it works, it’s golden.
At the top of Stratton’s FanGraphs page, there are scouting grades, and the curveball gets a 40 grade with a 45 potential, which is below-average and fringy. MLB.com gave it the same grade. When Baseball Prospectus saw Stratton, they didn’t even mention the pitch.
According to Statcast, Stratton has baseball’s quickest spin rate for a curveball.
Now, if you click on that link, you’ll notice that the tightest curveball doesn’t mean automatic success in the major leagues. That is not a list of the pitchers who will finish top five in the Cy Young this year. But it does speak to the strength of that particular pitch relative to his peers. According to the available internet evidence, the curve wasn’t a strength of Stratton’s in past years. It’s a recent development. And if Rich Hill is a lesson here, it’s that one strong pitch can take you pretty far.
Because I’m dead inside, I’m reminded of the last mid-20s Giants pitcher to go on a run of success with gaudy strikeout totals, and his name was also Chris ____ton, so if this feels like a premature celebration, it’s not. Because it’s not a celebration yet. It’s more of a, “Huh. Will you look at that?”
Huh. Will you look at that? The Giants scored a bunch of runs, and Chris Stratton was magnificent again. It feels like this team is just getting started.
I predict great things in the third half.