Well there’s the message of hope the Giants haven’t had all week. They started the season leaking oil, falling apart, and without Madison Bumgarner for an unknown period of time, but with the chips down and an endless horde of talent ready to be unleashed upon them inside a pee pee-soaked heck hole, they banded together and put every last bit of talent they had into scoring a run off of Clayton Kershaw and preventing the Dodgers from scoring any... just as we all had guessed fewer than five hours ago.
Ty Blach, slated for the back of the bullpen or maybe even triple-A exactly one week ago, saved the day by doing what he always seems to do against the Dodgers: simply deliver. This one reminded me of this one from 2016. An October game the Giants simply had to have if they were to keep their dwindling playoff chances alive. They got 8 shutout innings from Blach. Tonight’s needs were different but the vibe was the same: Ty Blach needed to save the Giants’ season on a spiritual level.
Ty Blach restored our faith in Baseball.
Wait -- wait. Hear me out! If the Dodgers beat up Blach for 5 runs in the first inning and chase him after 3 with the Giants down 8-0, then our worst fears about the season are confirmed. If the bullpen comes in after Blach and gets rolled, that 13-0 or 13-1 game we’d all feared as we hit the pillow last night becomes the living nightmare we’d tell ourselves wouldn’t be worth suffering through for six more months.
I mean, THIS WAS A PUBLIC STATEMENT MADE ONLY TWO DAYS AGO
The Giants open the season in 48 hours and Bruce Bochy just said, "Sometimes you've gotta win those 9-8 games."— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) March 27, 2018
You want the first one to be a validation of your time. To provide some sign of life. To be a confirmation of the feelings you’ve had all offseason drifting into Spring Training, where the hope of a new season is strongest. Entire movements are built around the concept of hope. I’m just talking about a hobby... but where’s the fun in a hopeless hobby?
Tonight’s game was the smallest possible sample size of a baseball season, but the sampling was just enough to bring back that level of excitement we had last Wednesday.
Clayton Kershaw becomes the third left-handed major league pitcher to allow a home run to Joe Panik. The other two are Donnie Veal and Jaime Garcia. That is quite the escalation of dominant pitcher tiers traveled by the scrappy second baseman.
Joe Panik may not be the sole reason the Giants make the playoffs this year, but if they do get to a Wild Card game, it’ll be in part because of his steady contributions. He’s not an unsung hero, but he’s been a solid player who’s done everything the Giants have needed him to do, pretty much like Ty Blach.
I don’t believe that home runs are rally killers, but here’s a piece of evidence to support the idea that home runs are rally killers:
Giants’ offense before Joe Panik’s 5th inning home run: 15 PA / 4 H (4 1B, 2B) / 5K
Giants’ offense after Joe Panik’s 5th inning home run: 16 PA / 2 H (1B, 2B) / 1BB / 6K
They had Kershaw on the ropes a lot in the first 4 innings and he wiggled out of them with ease. Even though long-suffering Kershaw victims Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt managed to change their luck against him, the Giants still found ways to strike out at the wrong time and ground into double plays when it’s the worst outcome for the situation. To the front office’s credit, they traded for two guys (Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria) who fit into the organizational philosophy of hitting into double plays and striking out at exactly the wrong time. It’s Clayton Kershaw on the mound, so, it’s not like tonight’s outcomes were a revelation or a foreshadowing of final season lines, but it was, all the same, disappointing to see the Giants’ new guys fare as well as the old guys.
Bullpens really only get attention when they fall apart, so let me take this rare opportunity to spotlight the positive contributions of the bullpen. First, they combined for a shutout in Dodger Stadium, against a team that was hungry to devour them on national television. Second, they did it with very little drama.
And for what feels like the first time in a few years, the bad pitches actually spun their way. Chris Taylor didn’t crush Cory Gearrin’s hanging slider. Yasmani Grandal couldn’t make contact with Hunter Strickland’s. Josh Osich’s 2-out wildness that threatened to unravel the inning didn’t unravel the entire inning.
Tony Watson had three strikeouts and one walk in his debut. The Giants’ pitchers were consistently getting pitches by the Dodgers’ hitters. Maybe that’s a Spring Training timing thing, maybe that’s just an off night for the Dodger bats, but it was a break in the Giants’ favor that they simply did not have in any way last season. It felt like a real baseball team. Even if it’s just for one night...
The Giants have shut out the Dodgers in 100% of their games this season, something that only happened in 6.2% of their games over the previous two seasons. There’s another one tomorrow. It might not turn out in the Giants’ favor, but at least there’s still hope.