Hoo boy. The Dodgers let the Giants get up on stage thinking they were the homecoming queen and then absolutely dropped a bucket of baseball blood on them. The Giants came into this season with a timid hope that they had fixed the termite-damaged holes in their foundation and were ready to compete against the very best the industry has to offer. To their credit, they escaped Dodger Stadium alive and not four games out of the division already. A series split is to be commended.
The Dodgers, to their credit, punished the Giants for stealing the first two games of the season in dramatic fashion. The Giants may have bested their Kershaw and their Jansen, but the Dodgers made sure the Giants left the series feeling a little bit of the sting that they felt all of last season. And that’s exactly what a first-rate team should do to a team that’s trying to regain its confidence. Destroy it. Make the bad team not want to get out of bed.
But maybe the Giants are not that floundering franchise raging against the dying of the competitive window. Chris Stratton looked great throughout the night, mixing pitches effectively and flashing solid rotation stuff. From the vantage point of my old, tired eyes, he’s got “heavy stuff”. His fastball and curveball look like they “land” with a thud on a hitter’s bat. His curveball was competitive. In the early innings, it was practically a curveball face-off against Rich Hill’s knucklecurve. He stood tall against what should be the National League’s premiere offense. He, like the rest of us, was let down by an absent offense.
It’s hard to contextualize his performance, because the exquisite awfulness of the Giants is the bigger story. The Giants limped into the season with basically no starting pitching (if you count the industry’s near-unanimous dismissal of Johnny Cueto), and crawled away from Dodger Stadium after being thoroughly dominated for 18 innings with a glimmer of hope that they can compete with the pitching they have.
And maybe this is the biggest takeaway from the series: we saw the floor and ceiling of this season in a single series. The Giants can hang with the elite teams a little bit, but they can also be a lot of Roberto Gomez-type innings. The offense is maybe a huge question mark if you just want to focus on these four games, but it’s probably not over the course of a season. And if it is, then the Giants are doomed no matter what else happens.
If you are sensing some admiration for the Dodgers up above, know that it comes only from the idea that when you’re “the best”, it helps to play like the best; and, in sports, the best need to remind the other teams of their status — especially when the other team is their rival. Of course, it doesn’t matter if “the best” doesn’t produce championships, which gets us to that eternal question as a fan: is it better to win a lot all the time or is it better to win championships some of the time?
The Giants were never designed to be an elite team. They were always supposed to be the party crashers who still managed to bring the good moonshine. The entire point of this multi-billion dollar enterprise is to get to 80ish wins and see what happens. The party crashing feels good when it works (see: Thursday and Friday) but the rest of the time (see: Saturday and Sunday) it’s not so fun to get thrown out by the bouncer.
After the final out of tonight’s 9-0 loss, the Giants’ information officer texted the broadcasters to tell them that for the first time in the franchise’s history they failed to score at least 1 run in each of their first four games. As Jon Miller then pointed out, this is the 136th year of Giants baseball.
On paper, this historic “feat” is shocking, but after the Giants’ 2017 and the final 18 innings we saw of this series, it feels expected, like the only response is a solemn nod. But the Giants still left Dodger Stadium not in last place and not already trailing the Dodgers by four games.
Still, they’ve tied the 1988 Orioles for fewest runs scores in the first four games of a season. That team finished 54-107 and featured a 32-year old Eddie Murray and 27-year old Cal Ripken Jr. It also, famously, began the season 0-21. Still, the Giants are leaving Los Angeles with a split.
The Giants didn’t win a single four-game series on the road last season and split only one (June 5-8 at Milwaukee), so consider this opening series a step in the right direction. Oh sure, the other foot is stuck in quicksand (or poop, if you’d prefer), but at least the Giants aren’t already in a hole they need to get out of to get back to even. They were 1-3 after four games last season and wouldn’t see .500 again.
And here’s where we discuss how it’s a long season and plenty of bounces can go the Giants’ way to make it all feel worthwhile. Only, it’s impossible to ignore what happened last season. It’s unavoidable, too, because this year’s team is intended as a direct response to last year’s, so, how can we not make a comparison? The Giants certainly looked as bad this weekend as they did all of last season, but last year’s team would’ve never split a four-game series in LA and it never would’ve had equal wins and losses after four games, either. So, there’s that. And that will have to do for now.
The Giants were so concerned with getting out Yasiel Puig that they forgot to score any runs themselves. Joe Panik might’ve thought he could trick Puig during the rundown in the bottom of the 4th inning and put a tag on him before Corey Seager scored, but it didn’t work. There’s a universe where this play doesn’t wind up being such a huge part of the story, but we’re in the universe where the Giants’ offense doesn’t work, so, here we are.
Panik probably should’ve tried to stop the run at third from scoring at any cost, but he was probably not thinking in his head like the rest of us that the Giants would not be capable of scoring any runs tonight. Besides, this play did not make or break the game. The Giants offense broke it.
Josh Osich went back to his old delivery and his old leverage stats. Bringing him in with runners on base has not been a wise move for a couple of seasons now, and it will be interesting to see if the Giants’ new analytic mindfulness will factor into his usage going forward. Again, he mostly gets a pass tonight because the game was over after the Dodgers went up 1-0, but he’s not shown any reliability when it comes to stranding runners.
Say what you want about Yasiel Puig, but at least he plays with energy and pizzazz. The Giants look like a lifeless grey husk in those road unis, especially when they’re getting shutout and making a mistake every inning.
Andrew McCutchen should be the organization’s first pulse since 2014, but that appears to be dependent on his bat getting going. You have to admit it’d be nice to see some of the players looking like they enjoy playing the sport. Evan Longoria’s face the entire game looked like he was starring in a cable drama about a complicated anti-hero with a tough moral decision to make.
The most basic optimism of a baseball fan can’t be squashed by the results of two games. If you want to think about how completely bad the Giants’ offense is, that’s fine. I would also add the following bit of information: Edgardo Alfonzo had two hits in his first 3 games of the series, whereas Evan Longoria went 0-for-15. Longoria is unlikely to be the next Edgardo Alfonzo, but it would be a good thing if these Giants wound up being similar to the 2003 Giants.
See? There’s no making sense of any of this. The Giants stunk for the calendar year 2017 and over these past two nights, they’ve stunk just as much as any time in 2017. It’s easy to think that we’re in for more of the same, but what’s the fun in that? They split a series with the Dodgers by scoring only 2 runs. Ty Blach was not afraid of them. Hunter Strickland closed games with ease. Tony Watson looked strong. Chris Stratton pitched well. Brandon Belt drew walks. Joe Panik made enemies of a metropolitan area.
Good things did happen. It’s hard to remember, of course, because it was so long ago in baseball time, and it has since been buried under a lot of punishing baseball. What was my point?
Oh yeah, there’s still 158 of these to go.