The Giants lost a buckwild back-and-forth game, and now they’re 5.5 games out of the Wild Card and a game beneath .500. That they’ve played competitive baseball this deep into the season, let alone at all is incredible. The likeliest scenario was that the Giants finished last in the NL West, so no matter what happens, I think this season is an easy success. The farm system is back in the top half of baseball, there’s promising young talent on the major league roster, and the team is fun.
This loss feels like a deathblow to the Giants’ slim playoff odds though. Maybe it’s not impossible the Giants climb atop the scrum of the NL Wild Card race, but this highlighted a glaring weakness in the Giants roster: the bullpen.
The game began promisingly enough. Yu Darvish had been an unstoppable killing machine over his last few starts, but the Giants weren’t fooled in the first frame. Mike Yastrzemski, Evan Longoria, and Alex Dickerson all hit balls at 100 mph or more. Longoria’s came within a row of leaving the stadium entirely.
Longoria’s 16th homer of the year gave the Giants a 2-0 lead and it left Jeff Samardzija breathless.
Longo's HR had Samardzija in awe pic.twitter.com/uPGSGUcIbp— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 22, 2019
Get you someone who looks at you the way Smarj looks at a Longo Dongo.
From the way the Giants hammered Yu Darvish in the first, it looked like it might be an easy win for the Giants. They had Dereck Rodríguez on the mound, and if he could pitch like he did his last time out, the Giants would roll.
D-Rod did not pitch like he did in Arizona. D-Rod pitched like he had for the rest of the season which is to say poorly.
The command was nowhere near as sharp as it was in Arizona. If he wasn’t walking batters he was hanging breaking balls over the heart of the plate. Rodríguez gave up two runs in each of his first three innings. He walked three batters in four innings while striking out just two. Nicholas Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber both took him deep. Darvish did him dirty with a butcher boy to drive in the Cubs’ third run.
It was always going to be an uphill climb for Rodríguez. At home, the Cubs are one of the best teams in the majors, and they have dangerous hitters up and down the lineup including Nicholas Castellanos who can do no wrong right now.
Even when he hits a ball that’d be caught ten feet short of the warning track at Oracle, it goes over the fence. If he hits a ball off the end of his bat, he drives in a run. If he hits a ball off his thumbs, he gets a base hit. His home run in the first inning had an expected batting average of just .120, and on the broadcast it was mentioned that the only places it would be a home run are Minute Maid Park and Wrigley. It didn’t help that Rodríguez hung him a changeup. Castellanos should have hit it farther, but he swung under it. Figures that Castellanos’s ball would go over the fence, but Yastrzemski’s barrel from the night before would die at the warning track.
Yastrzemski eventually did get the homer he was due in the fifth inning. Yastrzemski hit his 17th homer of the year on a pitch down and away.
Mike Yastrzemski. That's it. That's the tweet.— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) August 22, 2019
That cut the deficit to two, but the Cubs added another run off Sam Coonrod. At that point, it felt like the Giants would concede ground every time they took some, but it looked like the zero sum pattern finally broke in the sixth.
Yu Darvish committed an error covering first to put a runner on for Stephen Vogt. A nine-pitch battle ensued, culminating in a ball clanking off the right field scoreboard. Kevin Pillar then went back-to-back to tie the game and knock Darvish from the game.
That brought in Derek Holland to face the Giants for the first time since he was designated for the assignment, and boy, Holland pitched beautifully. He walked Brandon Belt and deflected a Brandon Crawford comebacker into right field. Joe Maddon, playing 38-dimensional chess, left Holland, a guy who gets mashed by righties, in to face Austin Slater. Slater immediately lined a double into the right field corner to cap off a five-run inning and give the Giants a two-run lead.
It didn’t take long for the Giants concede that ground though. Trevor Gott got tagged for three runs despite doing the impossible: striking out Nicholas Castellanos. After the Cubs tied the game, Gott handed the ball to Tony Watson with runners on first and third with one out, and Watson, who has been quite bad lately, nearly got out of it.
Tony Watson lost his chance to get the double play when he didn’t field the ball cleanly. At that point, he should have gone home to cut down Rizzo, but hey, hindsight’s 20/20. If he had done that it still would have put a runner at second with two outs and who knows what Ian Happ would have done if those butterflies had flapped their wings.
The Giants had lost their second lead of the night, but this was officially One of Those Games. The Giants got two runs in the seventh with a line drive that just got over Javier Báez’s head and a series of sacrifice flies. Kevin Pillar also just missed hitting his 20th homer of the season.
It took two innings for the Giants to give up this lead. Jandel Gustave came within a pitch of an immaculate inning but had to settle for a 1-2-3 inning instead. He had only thrown 14 pitches, so he could have come out for the eighth, too, but Bochy went with Reyes Moronta. He gave the lead back after facing two batters.
It’s easy to second-guess that decision based on the results, but remember, Moronta is very good! He’s been one of the more dependable arms in the bullpen. Moronta and Will Smith should have been able to close out this game.
Jandel Gustave wasn’t going to get the last nine outs. They needed someone else to pitch effectively, but no one did. For a long time, the bullpen was a major strength, but even the solid pitchers who are still around haven’t looked right. On any given night, someone is going to break down, and on nights like this, they all will.