The explanation for all the home runs hit over the past few days and all the runs scored across baseball this month is that it’s August. Okay, it’s August with an altered baseball, but the point remains, that it’s the dog days. In the history of baseball, it’s the time of the year when everybody hits a wall and the offenses lose their minds. The ball jumps because of the warmer weather, and, in most of the games, it’s not very long before we’re off to the races.
It’s why Logan Webb’s performance last night was so impressive and why Merrill Kelly’s and Madison Bumgarner’s today were, too. Bumgarner wasn’t great, but he was better than your typical August start and he had the unfortunate luck of playing with tired teammates who were up against a very smart pitcher.
The Diamondbacks were off to the races in the very first inning after Madison Bumgarner made the critical mistake of getting two quick outs. Then Eduardo Escobar launched a ball into the right centerfield gap which Austin Slater misplayed from a double into a triple. Then Christian Walker walked. Then Adam Jones and Kevin Pillar teamed up to essentially lose the game for Bumgarner and the Giants:
That’s a play Kevin Pillar makes most of the time and it’s one the Giants will probably want him to make in the first inning of any game any time there’s a chance. In that case, there ought to be trust that a team that’s hit eight home runs over the last three days and scored 28 runs could rally from an early deficit.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be today. You could smell the failure pile the Giants were about to build this afternoon after Scooter Gennett’s ball rattled over the right field fence for an automatic double and he got doubled off to end the top of the first after Buster Posey lined out to left. By the time Kevin Pillar scorched a ball to Escobar at third base in the top of the second, that 3-0 lead felt like it was going to stick.
I mean... come on. It’s not your day.
Half the balls hit at 100+ mph were hit by the Giants. 60% of those still went for hits, so this wasn’t some grand disaster in a cosmic sense, it was just a bummer to watch.
Merrill Kelly’s efforts can’t be ignored. He had a 6.75 ERA in seven starts going back to July 3rd and hadn’t registered a win for himself in Arizona since June, and today it was all about pitching. He worked his four-seam fastball, his sinker, and his curveball with relative ease changing locations and speeds from pitch to pitch and batter to batter. He was successful because his stuff was so consistently sharp, even if it wasn’t overpowering, and he had the benefit of facing a lineup of aggressive hitters.
His day went better than Bumgarner’s because he chose to move that fastball between 91-95 and both 12-to-6 and fade his curve. His ability to subtract velocity and hit location is why the Giants couldn’t launch another barrage of line drives and home runs at the Diamondbacks’ defense today.
Meanwhile, despite a healthy arsenal at his disposal and a fairly decent run of executing pitches and sequencing that led to nine strikeouts in six innings, Madison Bumgarner’s day was mostly one of frustration.
It was a study in contrasting styles. Bumgarner didn’t add and subtract and try to outsmart aggressive hitters. His entire focus was on beating batters to the spot. Overall, he didn’t have the command Kelly had, and he came up a little bit short in generating the stuff he needed to execute his game plan, so he got hit. Kelly was in command of everything and with a mixture of modest luck, was extraordinarily successful because of how locked in he was. Bumgarner’s defense didn’t help him out at all. He had no room for error.
This probably wasn’t Bumgarner’s most frustrating start of his 19 career starts at Chase Field, but it’s certainly one of those losses that will leave him and the Giants wondering what if. What if Pillar had made that catch? What if Pillar had played that for a single and just one run had scored? What if Brandon Crawford was half a foot per second faster running down the first base line?
As it stands, he’ll end the season with a career line there of a 3.13 ERA in 118 IP with a 1.16 WHIP and 3.6 K/BB (108/30). Not bad at all. And, who knows? Maybe today was his final appearance at Chase Field for the next couple of years.
Half of Wilmer Flores’s home runs this season (six) have come against the Giants now, and his home run in the bottom of the fifth showed just how locked in he is against Giants pitching:
Could Wilmer Flores BE on any more of a tear? pic.twitter.com/gMjCSN5Kl1— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) August 18, 2019
When he was pitched away, he moved his feet and easily adjusted for a pitch away. Here, Bumgarner missed down and in (that pitch needed to be about six inches lower), but Flores moved his feet and easily adjusted for a pitch down and in. Sometimes, it’s fate. It’s incredibly tough to sweep a four-game series anyway, but when you don’t have luck on your side, you get beat by the sheer ridiculousness of major league talent.
Tony Watson claims there’s nothing physically wrong with him and I’d like to believe that. He hit 95 mph with his fastball today and was able to throw his changeup at times, so if this were a court of law, he’d be able to enter evidence in his favor. But we also have the results of his efforts, and they have been stinky poo-poo (that’s a new SABR term): 10 earned runs allowed in 3.2 innings across six appearances. He’s also walked six.
The Giants have called up a bunch of left-handed relievers over the past couple of months, to the point that I’m suspicious. Maybe we can’t see exactly what’s going on and the Giants can. Or, maybe the Giants can’t see anything physically wrong with him either, but they’ve decided not to wait around for him and the coaching staff to straighten out the problem.
If I had to guess, though, it’s some combination of his age, career innings, and arm fatigue. It’s August. Runs have been scored. Workloads have been felt. Scooter Gennett has made two of the boneheaded-est baserunning plays we’ll ever see in our lives in the past two games, and whatever haze or daze or malaise that’s afflicting him could also just as easily be linked to this being the dog days. Maybe this is just a hump that he and Tony Watson need to get over. If the Giants are going to make some noise down the stretch, they’re going to have overcome that and hope that in doing so, they lap other teams sinking under the same weight.
Also, and most importantly, that was a boring game. I use two metrics in determining whether a game is boring or not boring. Only one of these needs to be satisfied to avoid the “boring” tag:
- Did I learn something new?
- Did the Giants do something outstanding?
If I am wrong here, please let me know what you felt answered either (or both) question(s).