I hope you’re happy, Rob Manfred. If quick baseball games are what you want, then quick baseball games are what you get, as the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds finished theirs in what felt like a shorter amount of time than Tuesday’s first inning.
That makes sense, given how there were five fewer runs scored than in Tuesday’s first inning.
The Giants beat the Reds 3-0, which can only mean one thing (well it can technically mean a lot things, but ... you know what, not going there again today; the bit is old): The Giants shut out the Reds.
The Giants, who entered the season with an enormous welcome sticker on their vest that read, “Greetings, my name is Can Our Bad Pitching Be Close Enough to Not Bad That We Can Win Games?” shutout the Reds, who entered the day with 11 more runs scored than any other team in baseball.
They didn’t just shut out the Reds, but they made it look — perhaps not easy, because I don’t think baseball ever looks easy, per se — but smooth. This wasn’t one of those perfectly acceptable games where hard hit balls find gloves and moonshots die in triple’s alley. It wasn’t one of those games where one team allows 8 hits and 4 walks but with perfect sequencing. It was one of those games where one team’s pitching staff just looks significantly better than the other team’s hitting staff.
San Francisco didn’t have too many games like that last year, even when they did shut out teams, which ... oh wow, the Giants didn’t have any shutouts last year. That explains a lot.
Well things are ahead of schedule then, I’d say.
The good and the bad of it was Johnny Cueto. In truly vintage form, Cueto was equal parts masterful and delightful. He shimmied and danced on the mound, smiled and wiggled in the batter’s box, and kept Cincy’s crew of rag tag dinger mashers uncomfortable and at bay.
Until the sixth inning when, immediately after striking out Nick Castellanos, Cueto turned to the bullpen and told them he was done.
Here’s Johnny Cueto pulling himself out of the game. Brutal for Giants, this is as well as Cueto has thrown in years. pic.twitter.com/3s2M3rLpHe— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) April 14, 2021
The swiftness of his self-removal was terrifying, but thankfully it appears that Cueto’s injury is mild, as the team announced he had a tight lat.
Johnny Cueto left today's game with a tight lat and is being examined, per the Giants.— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) April 14, 2021
Far too often we see athletes push through pain and discomfort, and far too often that is lauded as a great trait. So let’s take a big moment to applaud Cueto for doing the smart thing here.
He could have saved his season.
Curt Casali on the postgame show about Johnny Cueto's latissimus dorsi strain: "I think he was smart enough to get himself out of the game before any real damage was done."— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) April 14, 2021
With Alex Wood returning to the rotation, Logan Webb — who pitched an inning of relief — will pitch in Cueto’s spot if he has to miss some time.
But what a hit to the team that would be. Cueto allowed just 3 hits and 0 walks in 5.2 innings on Wednesday, while striking out 4. On the year he’s pitched 20 innings, and allowed just 13 hits, 4 walks, and 4 earned runs, while striking out 18. He’s been one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball, and a huge reason why San Francisco is out to a surprisingly hot start.
Yet while Cueto was dynamic, those who followed him also played a huge role in winning the game and, as a result, series. Caleb Baragar took his spot, and needed just two pitches to end the sixth.
Webb looked like the Spring Training version of himself out of the bullpen, needing just 11 pitches for a perfect seventh. Tyler Rogers, who has now pitched in two-thirds of the Giants games, continued to make Reds hitters look foolish and is, rather hilariously, the only right-handed reliever the Giants trust.
And while Jake McGee did give up a hit — ending his quest to become the first player in MLB history to have 100 saves and 0 hits in a single season — he pounded 10 out of 12 pitches into the strike zone for his sixth save of the year.
The offense didn’t pick up on Tuesday’s slugfest, but it did enough. The go-ahead run came in the fifth inning, which the Giants entered without a hit. Donovan Solano ended that with a very un-Donnie Barrels swing, popping a bloop into the perfect spot on the grass, as Dave Flemming saw so many golfers do a week ago in Augusta.
Brandon Crawford took his spot at first after a fielder’s choice and then, for the second day in a row, Austin Slater took a jaunt down Triple’s Alley, though he opted to stop at second this time around.
You can see Slater’s evolution in that swing. He’s always had a strong opposite field approach, but to inside-out an 0-2 pitch from a righty, and do so with power? Slater had a solid audition last year for the role of every day outfielder, and his callback is starting to look pretty nice as well.
But for as pretty as that swing was, Slater’s most impressive contribution came on the bases. He read a passed ball perfectly, and was able to get to third with just one out. What followed was a Curt Casali ground ball bullet to shortstop, which usually means the runner holds. But whether because he read the ball brilliantly, or felt he had to go with Cueto on deck, Slater got a dream jump on the grounder, and slid to the perfect part of the plate to score on a play that you don’t usually see runners score from.
At the risk of sounding like an old fart complaining about the younger generation of athletes, it’s a joy to see solid baserunning and defense after last season. The Giants outperformed expectations a year ago, but felt like they were perpetually held back by an inability to resist those tasty looking foibles.
They look like a smart, fundamentally-sound baseball team right now, and there’s enough talent in that clubhouse that they can be pretty good if they properly deploy it.
It’s gotten them to 8-4 for the first time since 2013. They just might be good?