One baseball game in July can’t tell you much. It’s just not meaningful enough. Win or lose, you simply cannot judge a baseball team on nine innings of play.
But it damn sure can feel important nonetheless. And a narrative can certainly be formed.
On Wednesday, Farhan Zaidi and the San Francisco Giants made it clear that they’re going for it this year. They’re not going for it in the grandest way possible, which is certainly a good thing. They managed to improve their farm system as the deadline passed, which was necessary.
But their biggest trade chips - Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith - stayed put through the deadline. They acquired a few players who will improve their current squad. They didn’t sacrifice the future, but they made their current plan abundantly obvious.
They’re going for it.
And then, after making that hotly-contested decision, they went out and beat the Philadelphia Phillies - a good team - on the road. They beat them comfortably. They beat them by having pitchers that pitched better, and hitters that hit better.
Does it mean anything? No, not really, other than an additional and important tally in the win column. But a loss would have felt deflating. Even an eighth consecutive one-run victory would have felt a tiny bit off-putting.
But they didn’t have either of those things. They simply won. And, for one day at least, it made the decision to kind of go for it look smart.
From the start of the game, Phillies pitcher Vincent Velasquez seemed to have one goal, and one goal only: Throw strikes. He relied heavily on his fastball, and seemed content gunning it straight down the middle and hoping for the best.
It almost worked. Time and time again, Velasquez would throw mid-90s at the belt, right down broadway, only for a Giants hitter to foul it off, puff out their cheeks, and exhale with a look on their face as if to say “how did I miss that?”
And then Velasquez would come right back with the same pitch, and, more often than not, the Giants hitters would swing right through it, or maybe put it weakly in play.
I wrote this in my notes: “A matter of time, or a missed opportunity?” It felt like, either way, Velasquez’s penchant for throwing hittable baseballs would be the story, either because the Giants punished him, or because they failed to capitalize on silver platter of hittable baseballs.
For a while, it looked firmly like the latter. Though Joe Panik led off the third inning with rocket of a double, the Giants tripped over their feet, and t-ball location pitches. Austin Slater followed with a bloop single to put runners at the corners. Jeff Samardzija bunted Slater over. Brandon Belt drew the first of two walks in the game.
Bases loaded, one out. Mike Yastrzemski saw a few of those fastballs down the middle. He fouled some off, and then swung right through one. Buster Posey followed suit.
And so it continued. And with each missed opportunity, it felt like the team would, for the second night in a row, be stymied by a struggling pitcher.
And then they finally broke through.
Yastrzemski led off the sixth inning with a walk, at which point Posey was officially not having it. He’d seen one too many hittable pitches that hadn’t been hit, and decided it was time to pop one over the fence.
That brought Adam Morgan into the game. The next hitter, Pablo Sandoval, hitting right-handed for the first time in the game, dropped the barrel on an impressive opposite field dinger. A Brandon Crawford single later, and the stage was set for Kevin Pillar to launch an absolute rocket, deep into the bleachers.
Five batters, five runs, and the game was won.
Posey. Pablo. Pillar. All going yard in the 6th pic.twitter.com/exO2LCdP0z— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 1, 2019
It was the first time all year that the Giants had hit three home runs in the same inning. And while they still failed to capitalize on opportunities - once again failing to score with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the ninth, with Yastrzemski and Posey at the plate - it was enough to propel the team to a comfortable win.
All spring long, the Giants praised Sandoval’s approach from the right side of the plate. He claimed that, due to shoulder health, he finally felt normal there. Bruce Bochy and Zaidi both lauded how he looked on that side.
So far, that’s held true. With his home run, Sandoval improved to 13-42 against lefties, with three home runs, four doubles, and two walks. That’s an OPS of .952.
It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but it also matches what we’re seeing, which is increased comfort, balance, and strength.
Sandoval will still platoon at third, and Zach Green will start against lefties until Evan Longoria returns. But Sandoval being able to pinch-hit against righties or lefties - or simply stay in the game once an opponent goes to the bullpen - is a big weapon for Bochy.
With Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson gone, the Giants will need to change their bullpen strategy. Against the Phillies, we saw a preview of what the team would like the pitching to look like.
Samardzija was sharp all night, going six strong, scoreless innings, striking out five and allowing just four baserunners. Tony Watson pitched the seventh, giving up one run but working out of a jam. Reyes Moronta handled the eighth, and Will Smith was perfect in the ninth.
That’s likely to be the bullpen construction going forward. For one night, at least, it worked just fine.
The magical July has ended, not because the magic ceased to exist, but because that’s how months work. The finished July 19-6, which was their best July since 1913, per Kerry Crowley. I could be wrong, but I think that’s good.
More importantly, they went from 11 games under .500 to two games above it, in one All-Star break filled month.