The Giants just swept the Diamondbacks in Arizona for the first time since September 2016. That season, the Giants won 9 out of 10 at Chase Field. They’re 4-2 there this season, and even though they won 9-6 today and 7-0 last night, none of the games have been easy.
Credit to the Diamondbacks for their tough lineup and tough pitching, but extra credit to the Giants for rising to the occasion. They’ve been especially bad on the road this year, coming into the series with a 16-26 record. They head off to Colorado 19-26, which isn’t spectacular by any stretch, but it looks a little bit better. You can certainly squint and see a scenario where they can end the season at or near .500 on the road.
If they can continue to get sturdy relief pitching and timely hitting like they did today, the squint requires no additional imagination. A solid road record will follow.
Cory Gearrin hasn’t been a reliable relief pitcher, but against a right-handed batter with the bases loaded in the 4th inning and the Giants clinging to a 4-3 lead, he did exactly what Bruce Bochy asked of him.
The campaign for Brandon Belt’s Gold Glove continues pic.twitter.com/OBNyAVvWnZ— Carmen Kiew (@carmenkiew) July 1, 2018
Okay, Brandon Belt made a beautiful play on a ball running on a fast infield. But he didn’t give up a home run or a shot into the gap.
Pierce Johnson followed Gearrin with two strong shutout innings. Bruce Bochy tempted fate by running him out there for a third inning, and within three pitches of the seventh inning, an 8-3 game was an 8-5 game. Still, in fairness to Johnson, since being recalled from Sacramenton on June 19, he’s pitched a total of 1 inning (two games). Wanting to save the bullpen as much as possible before heading to Coors Field was a sound decision, which I give a lot of credit for because it feels as though sound decision-making is in short supply!
But Johnson gave way to Sam Dyson, who’s shown that when it’s not the 9th inning, he’s borderline stupendous. Tony Watson only needed 7 pitches (6 strikes) to get through the 8th, and Will Smith struck out Jake Lamb on 4 pitches to end the game.
That was Mark Melancon’s first 9th inning in Arizona since Opening Day last season. If you recall, that did not go well, and it set the tone for an entire season that did not go well. He threw 15 pitches, allowed 3 hits and an earned run, and was the reason Will Smith had to close out the game in the first place.
Melancon last pitched on the 28th, so this wasn’t the result of fatigue and it’s doubtful it’s a sign of injury or pain in his repaired forearm. It’s one of his worst parks to pitch in, I think. So, yeah, not going to worry too much about Melancon or the bullpen in general. They’ve been the key ingredient in the Giants’ recent run of success. The offense was built to deliver and it has, but without a bullpen, offense doesn’t matter.
Along those lines, I’m not going to worry about Derek Holland’s start, either. 7 hits, 4 walks, and 3 earned runs in 90 pitches over 3.2 innings is not ideal — the leadoff batter reached in every inning — it’s not even average; it’s actually bad. He had a three event sequence where he grounded into a double play to end the inning with a runner on third base, walked the leadoff hitter, and then gave up a double to have second and third with no outs.
But it only feels worse because it comes on the heels of back-to-back stellar starts by rookies right as a rotation roster crunch looms. If you remove that context from the equation, then this was basically what happens with a fifth starter. A string of quality followed by total disasters.
Well, it wasn’t a total disaster.
Derek Holland collects the first extra-base hit of his career pic.twitter.com/4Ys7wlt57T— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 1, 2018
The Giants should absolutely field the best team possible and a rotation with Suarez, Rodriguez, and Cueto in it is unambiguously better than one with Suarez, Rodriguez, and Holland in it. But even if Holland moves to the bullpen and Suarez or Rodriguez takes his place — or even Samardzija — these kinds of starts will still happen. That’s what a backend of the rotation starter will give you: good stuff and bad stuff. The Giants always defer to experience, however, and I think you know they’ll presume Holland will give them fewer bad starts over the rest of the season than the rookies might.
But that’s an argument for later in the week. For today, Holland just didn’t have it, but the Giants were good enough to work through the mess.
Not only did Belt make two spectacular plays on defense (in addition to the grounder save in the 4th, he caught a screaming liner in the 9th), he reached base 5 times (a single, a double, and 3 walks) and drove in two runs. They hit 5 doubles as a team and were 8-for-21 with runners in scoring position, including 3 RBI with two outs.
Austin Slater gave the Giants the lead for good in the top of the 3rd inning when he cracked a sharp 2-out single through the hole between first and second on a 2-0 count and the bases loaded. Every Giant save Andrew McCutchen (who went 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts) had great at bats and looked like the best versions of themselves.
We just spent a week McDeeping Diving on Hunter Pence, and earlier today did a post about his 23-game hit streak back in 2011. His pinch hit 2-RBI double in the top of the 5th would’ve fit in nicely with the montage in that post:
Opportunity knocked; @hunterpence answered— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) July 1, 2018
The Giants are 45-40. They have 5 more wins than losses for the first time this season and their best win-loss separation since the end of 2016. It’s okay to imagine the possibilities.