Gosh, Brandon Crawford was great in that Washington series. He got big hits in both games he started, including 3 straight hits against Max Scherzer. He cemented himself among both baseball nerds and the general public as the right shortstop to start the All-Star Game for the NL. He raised his OPS to .921 and his wRC+ to 150. And he did it while playing his typical stellar defense. It was truly a weekend to remember for Crawford, and we could have posts about him all day and not scratch the surface of his impact on that series.
So let’s talk about the bullpen.
Over the three game series in Washington, the Giants bullpen pitched 14 innings, striking out 9 and walking 5. They allowed 7 hits and just 3 runs, which makes their ERA in those three games 1.93 and their WHIP 0.86. They had to pitch at least 4 innings in each game, and in their worst game — the loss on Saturday — they gave up 2 runs in 5.1 innings, which is fine, and looks even better if you take into account that 4.1 of those innings (and both runs) came from their seventh and eighth relief options, Ty Blach and Cory Gearrin.
Just about every other member of the bullpen can be singled out for praise (and Blach gave up just the one run in 3.1 innings, which is a very nice outing for a long man), so let’s start with the first Giants relief appearance of the series: Reyes Moronta. The team had spotted Andrew Suarez a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth, and with one out in the bottom of the fifth, it had become a 6-4 lead. Bryce Harper was on first base, Trea Turner was on second, and Anthony Rendon (2018 OPS+ of 114) and Mark Reynolds (2018 OPS+ of 150) were coming up. The situation was ripe for disaster. Instead, Moronta got Rendon to fly out to center and then got a foul out from Reynolds. He rose to the occasion, unlike so, so many Giants relievers we’ve watched since 2016.
Think about Tony Watson and Will Smith. Think about how confident you are in them right now. Think about how, when they come into a game, they get outs and it’s as drama-free as any pitcher in recent memory. Got it? You there? Good. Now think about how, last year, the two lefties in the bullpen were Steven Okert and Josh Osich. Do you have hives yet? Is your eye twitching? Well, I’m sorry for that, but when players are performing well and you have confidence in them, it’s easy for them to become Things You Don’t Think About. But you absolutely should think about Watson and Smith, and appreciate them, and be actively glad that they’re on the baseball team you root for.
Mark Melancon is back, but he might not be all the way to Mark Melancon Is Back. In his two innings in Washington, he struck out no one, walked one, hit one, and gave up a run. On the other hand, putting the walk aside, he looked like his old self yesterday, getting two groundouts and a pop out against Turner, Harper, and Reynolds. And on that same hand but going a little farther back, he sure looked great in San Francisco, when he struck out five in two innings of work. But the bigger point is this: when you have Mark Melancon throwing 91 MPH cutters as your sixth inning guy, you’re doing pretty dang well for yourself.
And Sam Dyson is throwing well too. Do you sense a theme here? Everyone is throwing well! That’s why you’re reading an article about it, in fact. Dyson seems to be back to his power sinker ways, which makes him the threat he was in his good years in Texas. Of the four guys who put balls in play against him over the weekend, three hit grounders and one flew out. That’s great news for Dyson, who’s made a living avoiding walks and making hitters put balls on the ground; this year, he’s avoiding walks and making hitters put balls on the ground.
And so now we come to Hunter Strickland. There was plenty of pre-series and pre-Sunday-9th-inning hype about Strickland facing Harper for the first time since The Great Butthurtness of 2017, and in the end, the reason it came to nothing was that Strickland has found something in himself to come up big in big situations and-
Oh, you’re saying I’m psychoanalyzing him and couldn’t possibly have any evidence that that’s true? Well, you explain it in a way that resonates with our stupid human need to believe in stories being the determining factor in our lives instead of blind luck in an indifferent world. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Back in 2016, Strickland had the opportunity to prove himself as the closer. He had multiple chances, and they tended to go wrong in ways that weren’t necessarily his fault (he came in at number two on this old power ranking for exactly that reason, for the record), but he still couldn’t overcome. This year, with Strickland as closer, things are generally not going wrong, but when they do, he regroups and gets out of the inning. Maybe he always had the mentality and the maturity to be a major league closer, and we just never saw it, but we’re seeing it now. The Harper AB was calm. Strickland executed his pitches and got a groundout to Crawford; he then got Rendon to ground out and Matt Adams to strike out to end the game.
Hunter Strickland looked the part of a major league closer, which is what he’s looked like since the first game of the season. That’s a position where the Giants have had, uh, a wee spot of trouble since 2016, and so to have not only Strickland, but half the dang bullpen as legitimate candidates to close is an encouraging sign for the team.
There you are. The Giants bullpen was phenomenal in Washington, and as penance for my writing this and your reading it, they will now embarrass themselves in Miami. But that doesn’t take away from what they did over the weekend, because without them stepping up in big situations like Moronta and Strickland, or just keeping a calm game calm like Watson and Dyson, you’re looking at one or zero wins against the Nationals. Instead, the Giants got two. Thanks, bullpen!