Who the heck knows? We’re firmly in uncharted territory here. Spare me the “small sample size” admonishment or the warnings of April Mariners — this team defies convention. The roster churn and platooning shouldn’t be working this well, and on paper, the assembled talent shouldn’t be this much better than what was on the roster to start the season.
None of the turd tweets out there minimizing the Giants’ run with the gentle mockery of “it’s just the Padres and Rockies and only the Padres and Rockies they’ve beaten” takes into account that the Giants have had tremendous difficulty beating the likes of the Padres and Rockies for a while. And now they’re beating everybody.
More accurately, they’ve won 17 of 20, something they haven’t done since 2001.
Up until the 10th inning, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the Giants were going to win this one. To me, anyway, and I don’t say something like that lightly. I assume the Giants’ default state is losing. That’s just my way, as unprofessional and unhealthy as that sounds.
And yet my optimism on the night didn’t fluctuate much — not when they were down 2-1 after three innings or when the Cubs scored in the 7th and tied in the 8th.
Not when Buster Posey making contact on a hit and run attempt in the eighth inning after Brandon Belt drew a leadoff walk wound up backfiring on the whole inning — Brandon Belt probably could’ve stolen second base had Posey failed to make contact.
Early in the game, as flummoxing as Yu Darvish’s stuff was, the Giants didn’t look completely overwhelmed. As unbothered as the Cubs looked against Bumgarner’s cutter-curve-slider arsenal he used most of the night, the Giants’ ace never appeared to lose confidence. It’s when Kevin Pillar led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a cover version of Ian Kinsler’s World Series’ double that doubt hijacked my outlook. Here’s how close he came to walking it off right then and there:
Joe Panik tried to sacrifice Pillar to third, but couldn’t get the bunt down. He has zero sacrifices on the year. The last time he had one was on March 30, 2018. That was the second game of the season. Then Stephen Vogt drilled a ball deep into Triples Alley that would’ve been enough to score Pillar from third had he been sacrificed over, and that felt like the biggest missed opportunity of the night after Pablo Sandoval’s rally-killing double play in the bottom of the 8th that squashed their efforts to break a 4-4 tie.
That was the second double play Pablo Sandoval grounded into on the night, giving the Giants eight total over their last five games. But then it didn’t matter as he did a cover of his own World Series home run against Justin Verlander, shooting a pitch on the outside part of the plate over the left field wall.
Because that’s just how the Giants do things now. Everyone contributes something positive even if they’ve contributed something negative.
For instance, two batters after Kevin Pillar doubled, he was still at second base. The Cubs intentionally walked Brandon Belt ahead of Buster Posey, then hit Buster Posey. That was insult to injury. Buster Posey is no longer considered a credible threat with the bat, but that didn’t deter him from factoring into the game another way.
Here’s how the top of the 11th ended:
Yes, the Giants have played six extra innings games this month and four since last Thursday, and they’ve looked tired, but they’ve also done a great job of using and then resting players in an effective sequence. They’ve also managed to get immediate positive contributions from their fill-ins. Zach Green struck out tonight in his pinch hit appearance, but he had a great debut on Sunday. Meanwhile, Sam Coonrod’s return is one that should have us all excited to see the Giants trade away a member of the bullpen solely to see him pitch more often.
In the top of the 13th, the rookie Coonrod blew away Javier Baez with a 97 mph fastball that wildly missed location. Buster Posey setup away and the pitch sliced right through the zone and inside to Baez, who swung through it. It was a crucial moment in extras. Baez had worked the count full. A leadoff walk might’ve meant a broken tie or big inning.
Kris Bryant followed Baez and Coonrod disposed of him in three pitches, the last one a 99 mph fastball at the letters and on the black away. Bryant swung through it almost helplessly.
Anthony Rizzo came up next and the first pitch he got was an 89 mph changeup that he golfed through before eventually grounding out.
Sam’s inning was a reflection of every pitcher’s inning tonight — save Reyes Moronta’s. Moronta might be struggling with mechanics, but it’s clear he’s not as sharp as he was last year. This part of the recap isn’t about Moronta’s struggles, though, or how Tony Watson throwing a pitch up to Jason Heyward was a really questionable pitch choice if it wasn’t just a really poorly thrown pitch; no, this is about how the Giants pitched with confidence all night long.
Bumgarner struck out seven in seven innings and just seven of the 102 pitches he threw registered as hard hit by Statcast (95+ mph exit velocity). And yet, he threw just three fastballs that hit 92 mph (I’m being generous and calling the pitch with a 91.9 mph as 92). He’s had starts where he’s thrown at least a dozen fastballs at 92+, but he just didn’t have that pitch working tonight.
Normally, his usage rate with the pitch is 43.6% and 36% with his cutter. That was reversed tonight: 46.1% cutter / 29.4% four-seam fastball. But it worked. His cutter had late life, looking at times like a changeup and at other times a really sharp slider. And then he’d throw an actual slider and it would have bite, and his curveball would tease and torment the Cubs’ timing. He didn’t overpower tonight because he couldn’t, but he pitched.
BASEBALL TWITTER: The Giants should take whatever scraps they’re offered for Will Smith. The franchise is in such dire straits that even a bucket of turds would be a 100-win improvement.
GIANTS FANS: We should keep Will Smith! He’s great!
KEN ROSENTHAL: The Giants could hold onto both Bumgarner and Will Smith and extend them qualifying offers next year and just overpay Will Smith for one year.
"Right now it's still all up in the air and it's going to depend, in part, on the offers they receive."@Ken_Rosenthal weighs in on the #SFGiants' potential #TradeDeadline plans, the market for Will Smith and more on #TheRundown with @AlexaDatt. pic.twitter.com/1fRFB2ZBbe— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 23, 2019
GALAXY BRAIN: Trade Will Smith for elite prospects, then overpay him for one or two years by re-signing him in free agency.
It was less than a year ago that we watched the Giants go 5-21 in a single month and turn a .500 record into an embarrassment. This year’s team has a much better lineup and depth and they’re also just 2 games back of a Wild Card spot a week before the trade deadline.
In other words, it’s not the first two weeks of the season and they’re not playing fresh out of spring training competition and, most importantly, they’re not the Mariners. Maybe they’re still not a “good” team, but whatever they are right now, burning it all down because a bunch of people wrote some really solid books on the subject of burning down franchises to remake them in the image of their genius leader seems really short-sighted. The human compulsion to conform to group dynamics is a part of our genetic heritage, but isn’t shirking convention to troll conformists also a part of the human experience?