After the first inning, the Giants led 3-0 and it never really felt like that lead would be threatened. Sure, Chris Stratton ran into some trouble in the bottom of the fifth inning by walking consecutive batters, but the Giants’ offense looked unafraid all night, and found themselves in favorable counts in virtually every inning.
Tonight was all about the young pitching. Chris Stratton came into this one having never finished 7 innings at the major league level. He left after 7 having allowed only one hit. He started to lose his command in the 5th inning but was able to regain his focus and power through a pair of walks. The Padres’ only hit of the game came off the bat of Clayton Richard, their #1 starter, who came into the game as a pinch hitter for tonight’s starter, Bryan Mitchell (#5 in the rotation), in the bottom of the 3rd inning.
The Giants made quick work of Mitchell thanks to the power of the base on balls. Joe Panik led off the game with a walk and after an Andrew McCutchen single, Buster Posey walked. Evan Longoria hustled to beat a throw to prevent a surefire double play to score the Giants’ first run, which then setup another walk to Brandon Crawford which setup Hunter Pence’s 2-RBI single for a 3-0 lead.
Sure, the Giants went 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position, but they had 15 at bats with runners in scoring position! The offense was clicking insofar as they managed to work counts and take walks. There wasn’t a lot of hard contact, but there was just enough of it. This was a game that a bad Giants team might’ve struggled to win. That they won tonight fairly easily should be another point in favor of the Giants’ season being different from last season.
Stratton has been effective for long stretches in all of his starts and tonight he found himself in a situation where he could work through some trouble without getting punished for his mistakes. Of course he’ll face tougher competition going forward, but one reprieve (that bottom of the 5th inning) could provide just enough information for him to carry over into his next start and learn enough to keep himself in games longer. There’s talent there and a ceiling to reach and it’ll be interesting to see how he grows from start to start.
I can’t go too far into this recap without mentioning Derek Law. He looked like a miracle arm coming up in 2016 and last season felt like not only a step backwards but perhaps an entire leap out of a major league career. Plenty of talented pitchers have failed to harness their talent, so it’s a credit to Law that he didn’t let last season bury him psychologically. He pitched two stellar innings tonight and, if the radar gun wasn’t hot, showed a 95 mph fastball and the sharp breaking stuff that we’d seen flashes of in the past. He was the most Derek Law he could be.
Even if he did it against the Padres.
That’s the thing: the Padres aren’t just in a rebuild mode, they’re down two of their better hitters (Wil Myers and Manuel Margot) and tonight they started a pitcher who had been a reliever primarily in his career. They also debuted reliever Colten Brewer, who wound up being charged with 4 runs as the Giants broke the game open. But both Mitchell and Brewer showed flashes of why they were on the major league roster and the hitters, while not scorching the ball tonight still looked like they could be major league hitters if not tonight then very soon this season.
And yet, if the Giants had struggled against them tonight, if they’d gone, say, 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position, if Chris Stratton hadn’t made it out of the 6th inning, then we’d have reason to be concerned, even just these handful of games into the season. The Giants’ offense should be able to handle a fifth starter and untested middle of a bullpen and their pitching should be able to hold the line against a damaged lineup. It all went according to plan. Let’s hear it for the plan. The plan is solid.
Buster Posey has a 10-game hitting streak and shows know signs of age in either that swing or strike zone recognition. Stay perfect, Buster Posey.
Gregor Blanco is a beautiful angel we maybe don’t deserve. He’s back to his old Blanco ways and we should, at some point, take a moment to realize how fortunate the Giants have been to get so much production out of him. He could have very easily come back and been as bad or worse than 2016.
Brandon Belt walked in the 2nd inning and was hit by a pitch in the 4th. In that 2nd inning plate appearance, he tried to bunt the ball down the third base line to expose the extreme shift the Padres had put on him.
On the TV broadcast, Mike Krukow was noticeably annoyed by Belt’s decision, saying that he didn’t mind the idea of beating the shift with a bunt, but thought it more appropriate for when the team was down late in the game and they needed base runners, and certainly not against a struggling starting pitcher who was behind in the count 3-1 and with Belt’s team up 3-0.
Duane Kuiper got on Belt in the 4th because although he “takes a lot of walks” he doesn’t get aggressive in two-strike counts. That plate appearance ended with Belt getting hit by a pitch, but I wanted to basically stop, magnify, and enhance these points in the TV broadcast.
For one thing, the Giants broadcasters rarely get on Giants players about, well, anything, and if a veteran makes an obvious mistake, they usually frame it in a way that’s forgiving of the player — “Pence knows he screwed up”, etc. And, usually, it’s not both broadcasters taking a moment to call out the same player, particularly for different reasons and particularly in separate innings.
Brandon Belt might very well be deserving of all the criticism he’s received of late, given that he’s struck out 9 times since you started reading this recap, but he is who he is, and for people on the payroll to still be talking as though he should be a different player, is befuddling. Are we sick of the Belt Wars because people are sick of Belt or are we sick of Belt because we’re sick of the Belt Wars?
In any case, we’re not sick of shutouts, and we got one of those tonight.