One of the oddly poetic things about baseball is how often it is immediately apparent which team will win the game, despite a close score. There’s just an indescribable vibe to some games that makes it appear as though one team came prepared, and the other team came after one round of Jell-O shots - they’re just ever so slightly off.
This was that kind of a game. The Oakland A’s were always going to win.
And then, proving once more that they’re not the 2017 San Francisco Giants, the 2018 San Francisco Giants reversed course, made us question whether the A’s actually were going to win, and then made us realize that, wow, the Giants were going to win this game.
And then, harshly reminding us that just because the 2018 San Francisco Giants aren’t the 2017 San Francisco Giants doesn’t actually mean they’re good, the Giants lost anyway.
They lost the meaningful game, 6-5, in 10 innings. They lost the meaningful series, 2-1. And they lost the meaningless inaugural Bay Bridge Trophy.
It’s hard to know what to make of Johnny Cueto’s night, as the team desperately searches for a reason to believe that he’ll return to being an ace. He made quick work of numerous batters, though that was often the result of throwing hittable pitches. With a taxed bullpen he gave the Giants a crucial seven innings of work, and allowed only eight baserunners.
He also gave up an absurd amount of hard contact, including three home runs, and managed to strike out only three batters, while producing just seven swing-throughs. The hard contact, unfortunately, has been a post-DL trend:
Johnny Cueto's first five starts: 1 HR allowed.— Kerry Crowley (@KO_Crowley) July 22, 2018
Cueto since returning from the DL: 7 HR allowed.
The later figure is bound for positive regression, just as the former figure was bound for negative regression. But if the Giants are to make a run towards the postseason, they need that positive regression soon.
Mark Melancon’s contract was unlikely to ever look good. That much was apparent the moment the pen touched the paper. Still, one would have expected it to not look horrible, but it’s hard to make that case right now.
Melancon took the mound in the 8th inning with a 5-4 lead, and promptly allowed a home run to Khris Davis. It was the eighth time that Melancon has blown a lead in just 50 appearances with the team.
I’ll let you make of that what you will, but head’s up: not good.
Ray Black pitched in consecutive games, and the Giants were likely encouraged. He was a little too wild to make anyone comfortable, but his fastball started at 97, and by the end of the inning was sitting at 98. Hunter Strickland earned a closer’s job by being able to sit at 97-98 with an effective secondary pitch, so if that’s what Black can accomplish on his second days, he’s in for a long and successful Giants career.
There were doses of fun offense for the Giants. They got back into the game through a series of dinks and dunks, mixed with a one-pitch pinch-hit double by Pablo Sandoval. They took a lead on a solo home run by Andrew McCutchen.
It was fun.
But when the other team hits four home runs - two each by Davis and Matt Olson - you usually don’t win. It takes an especially good day to small-ball your way past a dinger squad, and for as close as the Giants got, today was a reminder that they simply don’t have any margin for error.
Had the Giants escaped the 10th inning, they very well might have lost in the 11th. Still, it would have been fun to get the chance to see what would have happened, but instead, a super high chopper gave Brandon Crawford fits, and wound up in the outfield, allowing the A’s to walk it off on consecutive days.
There’s no one on the team the Giants would rather see get a hard-to-handle baseball with the game on the line than Crawford. But even your best players don’t always make the best plays, so I’ll repeat it: the Giants simply don’t have any margin for error.
They’re 51-50. That feels about right.