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Defense costs Giants game they weren’t going to win anyway

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Jeff Samardzija was pretty good, but it didn’t matter.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

There’s probably not a more exciting type of baseball game than one that ends 1-0. Absent all context and specifics about either team, the mere concept of a 1-0 final score is, by definition, thrilling. Any game that can be decided by one pitch, one swing of the bat, is one that demands constant attention.

So, absent all context, the Giants losing a 1-0 game to the Cubs this afternoon to complete Chicago’s sweep of them was still a good game. Not because it signaled a series sweep by only a combined four runs, but because after losing a game 12-11 last night, the Giants were able to come back and keep the Cubs’ lineup in check.

The Cubs have been a much better team than the Giants for many years now and they had beaten the Giants 14 out of 17 games at Wrigley Field going back to 2015, so, there was absolutely no reason to think the Giants would do anything beyond embarrass themselves this week in Chicago... but that didn’t happen. Not really.

Of course, it didn’t take very much effort on the Cubs’ part to sweep them, either. Jumping on bad starting pitching and bad relief pitching is just something good teams do, and the Cubs were already 41-19 at home before the Giants rolled into town with their scattershot rotation and tired bullpen. But they weren’t able to blast the Giants off the field.

Sure, the Cubs didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to beat the Giants — the Cubs jumping on

With the Wild Card now a distant memory and another couple of years left on the rebuild, that’s a total win for the Giants. And Jeff Samardzija’s performance today shouldn’t be forgotten as they limp across the finish line of what figures to be another losing season.

Jeff Samardzija wasn’t brilliant, but he was effective. He slung cutters at the top of the zone and kept hitters honest by pounding them away with his 93 mph fastball. Samardzija has been getting by with some elite pitch spin rates, and that combination of location and spin kept the Cubs from squaring him up and barreling the begeezus out of him.

It was just his fifth start of the season wherein he completed at least seven innings, but also the second time this month he’s done that, the last time coming on August 10th against the Phillies. A few weeks from now — a year from now — you might look at Jeff Samardzija’s game log and note this game. Well, when or if you do, please know that this game deserves an asterisk next to the earned run in the box score.

The friendly confines were extra confining today, like an artist trapped in their hometown. There was no chance of escape with the right combination of exit velocity and launch angle. That was surely part of the reason for the final score, but it was the main reason why the Cubs scored and the Giants didn’t. In the top of the 4th inning, Jason Heyward “singled” to centerfield...

It was a ball that got caught in the wind that Kevin Pillar lost in the sun. Per Statcast, it was a 101.4 mph batted ball — the fourth-hardest hit ball of the day — with a 44-degree launch angle. It was, in essence a high fly ball. Statcast gave it an .080 expected batting average. Kevin Pillar couldn’t see it, it dropped in front of him, and the Cubs had their first baserunner of the afternoon.

I figured a Jeff Samardzija loss in Wrigley Field would involve a lot of walks setting up a lot of doubles or dingers, but that was anything but the case. Six pitches after Heyward’s “single”, Nicholas Castellanos hit a ground ball to shortstop that Brandon Crawford bobbled into an error, putting runners at first and second with nobody out. The ball had an exit velocity of 83.9 mph and 5-degree launch angle. Statcast says a ball hit like that has an expected batting average of .450, so... was it really an error or just a tough ball to field?

If this were any other season, you’d figure that the reason why a ball hit like that was an out .550 of the time was because it was hit to Brandon Crawford. That’s a play we expect him to make. It’s a play that might’ve been made when the Giants weren’t getting stuffed in a locker every time they traveled to Wrigley.

Whatever you might think, it was just more proof that it wasn’t going to be the Giants’ day. The biggest evidence of that was Kyle Hendricks, whose start I’ll talk about it in a minute. But, after this start to the fourth inning, you figured it was going to unravel here, but Samardzija’s day didn’t fall apart as we might’ve expected, which is why it was a good one, but he wasn’t flawless, either, which is why it wasn’t brilliant.

After those first two plays, he got Kris Bryant to hit into a double play, but with Heyward at third base with two outs and lefty Anthony Rizzo at the plate, here was his sequence:

Pitch number three was strike two, a four-seam fastball right into Rizzo’s wheelhouse that Samardzija was able to get away with. Why throw a four-seamer, especially in that location? Samardzija’s four-seamer, at 2,565 rpm, has the 14th-highest spin rate in Major League Baseball. His sinker, which he threw on that fateful fourth pitch of Rizzo’s at bat, is 16th (2,472 rpm).

Rizzo’s such a good hitter that they wanted to stay away from him driving the ball to the opposite field, but why Samardzija went with a sinker will remain a mystery. It’s a pitch that if thrown inside to a lefty will break back towards the plate, drifting into the middle of the plate if it’s not thrown effectively.

Jeff Samardzija is not the kind of pitcher who can throw to a spot, but the Giants have figured out a way to harness his stuff to be effective in zones. That was a bad pitch for that situation that was thrown beneath the quality required to execute the plan. And that wound up being the game.

The wind was blowing in which meant that home runs were extremely unlikely, This essentially neutralized Kevin Pillar and maybe even Mike Yastrzemski a little bit, as their power wouldn’t play. It was a game that was going to rely on good at bats that led to walks or consecutive hits. The Giants got neither.

As he often does against the Giants, Kyle Hendricks made it look deceptively easy. He hit his spots and he didn’t need command to jam Giants hitters. They just swung and missed at everything or watched pitches go by them. The only times they were truly jammed — usually on 88 mph fastballs in — was when they were looking for something soft away. He simply outpitched them, much like how Merrill Kelly managed to do in Arizona on Sunday.

Hendricks has never been bothered by the Giants. He’s given up just 14 runs (13 earned) in eight career starts, and has now struck out 44 against 14 walks. He didn’t walk anybody today while striking out seven and allowing just three hits, and threw 106 pitches in seven innings of easy work. The Giants had no shot against him, so it was a little surprising that Joe Maddon pulled him ahead of the eighth inning. He really didn’t break a sweat.

The Giants’ best shot was in a pitching change and it nearly worked.

Kevin Pillar led off the 8th by hitting the Giants’ hardest ball of the afternoon: this 104.9 mph slash down the third base line —

After Scooter Gennett struck out for the third time, Brandon Crawford destroyed a down and in fastball off of Brandon Kintzler that would’ve been a home run last night but instead got blown back far enough to hit off the utility door in right field and bounce far enough away from Jason Heyward to give Crawford a triple. Figure it was the same wind that blew in Jason Heyward’s “single” back in the 4th.

It was almost too perfect a setup to get egg on the Giants’ faces one last time. Bruce Bochy burned Stephen Vogt as a pinch hitter when Joe Maddon pulled Kintzler to bring in lefty Kyle Ryan by replacing Vogt with Slater. Austin Slater struck out to strand Crawford.

Rowan Wick closed out the ninth for the Cubs without incident against the top of the Giants lineup. It was the perfect end to the series for the Cubs, fortifying their position atop the NL Central and reminding them and their fan base that the championship days are still alive.

For the Giants, they get to hold their heads high, knowing that they’re probably good enough to avoid another 5-21 September.