This upcoming two-game series against the defending champions, the Houston Astros, is a good time to remember the Los Angeles Dodgers did not win the World Series last year. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Charlie Morton really did the Giants a solid by out-pitching and out-dingering LA, and it would be super cool of the Astros if they could just stop being an amazingly good baseball team for two days. After that, they can totally go back to decimating their opponents with their unhittable pitching and unpitchable hitting.
If, for whatever reason, the Astros don’t let the Giants win, the Giants are boned. This isn’t me being a Bryan Murphy. All teams who face them are boned. The Astros are really, really, really, really astoundingly, stupidly good.
You’ve undoubtedly heard about the historically good the Astros starting pitching, and you’re going to hear more about them now. Astros starting pitchers are first in the majors in IP, ERA, K/9, and fWAR and are in the top five for BB/9 and HR/9. Their collective ERA of 2.25 puts them among the best rotations of the last 100 years.
The good news is the Giants will only have to face two of them. The bad news is the Giants will face the Astros’ two best pitchers.
The Giants will have to go up against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. If you want an idea of how good both have been: Cole’s ERA is nearly twice that of Verlander, and Cole’s ERA is 1.75. I wanted to make a “But their DRAs are in the two’s so they’ve been lucky” joke but Cole’s DRA is 1.41, so if anything, he’s been unlucky.
Boned as they may be, the Giants are not completely without hope. Brandon Belt—who can now add NL Player of the Week of May 15, 2018 to his mantle—has hit five home runs in the last six games. Brandon Crawford is hitting .444/.462/.639 in the month of May and we all know, less than a month’s worth of splits are very meaningful. The rest of the Giants, uhh, all own their own bats, and you don’t just have your own bat if you can’t hit.
I would have a third example of a Giants hitter who has been doing good things lately, but at the time of writing this, the Giants have not recalled Mac Williamson from his rehab assignment.
It’s not as if the Giants have never gone up against a seemingly immortal Justin Verlander with a conspicuously mortal pitcher and come out on top. Is it unreasonable to think the Giants will overcome Verlander (or Cole) with an ace-like outing from their fourth or fifth best starter and a three-dinger performance from Pablo Sandoval? Yes. Is this just an excuse to embed this video of Pablo Sandoval hitting three dingers in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series? Also yes.
And, y’know, if the Giants lose both games, the stakes are much, much lower.
Hitter to Watch: The Astros have so many exciting, talented hitters that it’s hard to choose just one. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer are all incredible and seem like candidates to join the Giants in about five years when they’re past their primes. I don’t need to tell you to watch those three guys. I fear that maybe you’re not paying enough attention to Alex Bregman, though.
He’s hitting for slightly less power this year, but his patience is much improved. His walk rate is up to 13% from 8% and his o-swing% is down to 19% from his career average of 24%. He’ll be annoying in this series, but just think about how much he must annoy Dodger fans.
Pitcher to Watch: If the Giants can get Ken Giles into the game, it will mean they have done something right. Giles struggled in the World Series last year and had a high-profile meltdown in New York in which he punched himself in the face.
Other than that, he’s been mostly excellent. He hasn’t given up a run since punching himself, so maybe he’s on to the new market inefficiency, or maybe he’s just really good.
Prediction: If this were a three-game series, the Giants might be able to salvage a game. As is, the Giants are going to get swept.