In Gabe Kapler’s first game as a big league manager, back in 2018, he watched from the bullpen as his ace mowed down batter after batter. Aaron Nola was cooking for the Philadelphia Phillies, and then, in the sixth inning, despite having only given up 3 hits and 1 walk on 68 pitches, Nola was taken out of the game.
The bullpen imploded, and the Phillies lost 8-5. I don’t think the fanbase ever forgave Kapler.
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
In the seventh inning on Sunday, with one out already recorded, Kevin Gausman gave up a single to Cody Bellinger. Out came Gabe Kapler.
The Giants, clinging to a 2-0 lead, apparently had two options:
Option A: A player who had given up 3 hits, 0 walks, and 0 runs, while striking out 6 in 6.1 innings
Option B: A player who has given up 10 hits and 2 walks in 8 innings, who pitched 2 innings in the night game that immediately preceded the day game they were currently playing, and has the same handedness as Option A.
Kapler chose Option B.
Out came Gausman, who had thrown just 80 pitches, who hadn’t allowed any extra-base hits, and who hadn’t walked or hit a single batter.
In came Tyler Rogers, who has struggled most of the year, and who is a contact pitcher facing a wildly dangerous lineup.
Justin Turner single, Max Muncy strikeout on an umpire’s gift, A.J. Pollack home run, and the game was all but over.
Now I don’t want to put all the blame on Kapler, because he very well could have been following a directive from the front office. But someone deserves a 16-ounce cup of piping hot blame.
The Giants had a pitcher who was absolutely dealing for one of the few times this year, and they took him out preemptively so they could give the keys to a bullpen that entered the game ranked 29th out of 30 teams in Wins Above Replacement against one of the best offenses in baseball history.
I said in the headline that the Giants got too cute, but frankly that’s probably too kind of an adjective. I’ll let you fill in your own. Colorful language highly encouraged.
So, about Gausman. At the time of his departure his fastball was still hitting 98 mph (after touching 99 earlier), which is something Giants fans haven’t seen from a starting pitcher in a long, long time.
And he was doing it with stellar movement and control. It was truly a joy to watch.
For as impressive as his fastball was, Gausman’s changeup was equally impressive, and the two pitches worked hand-in-hand as they’re designed to do.
Gausman was constantly showing his changeup, and then making hitters look laughably late by reintroducing them to his fastball.
Gausman now has 23 strikeouts to just 2 walks in 20 innings. He’s been the Giants best pitcher this year, and it has not been close.
Before the meltdown, the Giants looked like they were going to win in the absolute funniest fashion: by getting one-hit.
Yes, after seven innings the Giants had registered only one hit, but led the game 2-0. Walker Buehler wasn’t allowing hard contact, but couldn’t find the strike zone. He walked four Giants and hit another, and mixed in a wild pitch for good measure.
In the fifth inning, one of those walks (to Pablo Sandoval) plus the hit by pitch (to Austin Slater) plus the wild pitch put runners at second and third for Mike Yastrzemski, who got an incredibly difficult pitch to hit. With two strikes he had to swing, and he made it work anyway.
The Giants finished with just two hits, the other coming on a swinging bunt by Donovan Solano that gave him a 14-game hitting streak. It is very Giantsy that no one other than Yastrzemski or Solano could register a hit.
The Giants bullpen woes continued even after blowing the lead, and again it felt like a managerial mistake. Caleb Baragar put runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth inning and, after recording the first out on a popup, was understandably taken out of the game.
San Francisco still only trailed 3-2 — even with their struggling offense, it was a game they were very much in. But they needed to get out of the jam first.
They turned to Shaun Anderson, who entered the game having given up 4 hits, 2 home runs, and 5 walks in 6 innings. One pitch later and Mookie Betts had made it a 6-2 game.
I don’t know who the right choice was in that position, but I feel fairly confident asserting that it wasn’t Anderson.
Lest the Giants think I’m picking on them, Kapler’s counterpart made his own head-scratching decision.
Caleb Ferguson took over for Buehler with two outs in the sixth inning and promptly struck out Pablo Sandoval.
He came back out for the seventh and started things off by striking out Brandon Crawford and Austin Slater.
Out came Dave Roberts, who had apparently seen enough. Just three strikeouts in three batters? Just four swinging strikes on 16 pitches?
Jokes aside, it didn’t initially seem like a crazy move. Managers bring in different types of pitchers all the time, even when someone is pitching well. You have to find the advantage.
But in came Jake McGee, who pitches from the same side as Ferguson, with a similar arm slot, and a similar array of pitches.
Unlike the Giants managerial mishaps, this one didn’t backfire. Probably because the Dodgers are good enough to actually have a margin for error.
What’s that like?
A few notes:
- Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval are still without an extra-base hit. Crawford did, however, have a very nice catch.
- Austin Slater had a really nice stolen base that was reminiscent of Buster Posey, in that it was all about reading the play. The count was 3-0, meaning the pitch was likely to be one that would benefit the defense, and Will Smith has a canon of an arm. Not exactly a steal scenario. But Buehler was struggling to throw strikes, and clearly wasn’t giving Slater any thought. Slater stole second without a throw, despite Buehler throwing a fastball down broadway.
- It’s been a disappointing road trip for the Giants, but they went 3-4 at Dodger Stadium this year. That’s impressive.
- Kevin Gausman should have stayed in the game.