Take a deep breath. Search your mind for the emotions you felt when you saw the Giants go ahead of the Dodgers 3-2 in the 9th this week. Recall those emotions, doubly or even triply as intense when the Giants did it again the following night. Take that joy and scribble it onto a little notecard. Stuff that notecard into your wallet. Doesn't have to be in one of those middle pockets that it'll get lost in for a few years, although that's not actually a terrible idea. Just make sure to have it handy tomorrow in case the Giants do this again.
For the second straight night, the Giants looked hapless against the Pirates. It wasn't any one thing in particular that dug them into a hole too deep to crawl out of, but once again, the Giants just looked tired. Six days ago, Kevin Gausman labored through three innings against LA, getting knocked out early but keeping the Giants in the game despite posting his worst start of the year, by game score. Tonight, Gausman faced a significantly worse team yet fared even worse himself. His command of his splitter seemed oddly absent, resulting in 3 BB and 3 ER allowed through 4 innings. Gausman was pulled in the 5th after allowing three baserunners to reach, starting with a home run by Gregory Polanco. John Brebbia came in to relieve him and continued a relatively disappointing appearance, immediately allowing a 2-run single and putting the game firmly out of reach for the Giants.
To Brebbia's credit, he followed that single with five consecutive outs, posting the first 1-2-3 inning for Giants pitching in the top of the 6th. But more bullpen woes were soon to follow when Littell had an extremely rough outing in the 8th, allowing three runs on four hits (7 total bases), making the score lopsided enough for the Giants to bring in Mike Tauchman to close out the game in the 9th, which... I hate to say it, but come on. If your justification for keeping Tauchman on the 26-man roster is that he can mop up blowouts, he might need to be the first DFA casualty of a roster crunch. His average is looking more and more like a starting pitcher's, so here's hoping he finds some life in his bat.
Speaking of lifeless bats, the Giants backed up an impressively frustrating 14-strikeout, 14 LOB game yesterday with 12 K's and 9 LOB today. While that might suggest a bit of improvement, mustering two runs on five hits isn't encouraging in the slightest. It's still a small sample, but the stats suggest that the Giants are suffering a dreaded strikeout epidemic. In the eight games since the All-Star Break, the Giants have struck out 86 times, nearly 11 punch-outs per game, and almost 13 K's per game over the past two series. Especially troubling are key contributors like Mike Yastrzemski, who has grabbed the pine 7 times in the last two games.
In fairness, in a long season, stretches like this will happen. San Francisco has posted a lot of swinging strikes on breaking balls out of the zone and takes on fastballs in the zone in the past week, which suggests that opposing pitching staffs are counterpunching to the Giants' strategy. Coming off the recent LOB craze, the amount of whiffs produced by San Francisco hitters is certainly aggravating. Hopefully the Giants will very shortly stop giving underperforming pitchers career highs in strikeouts, as they have the past two nights.
On the bright side, LaMonte Wade Jr. slugged his 10th home run of the year, making him the eight Giant to reach double digits dingers, a testament to the surprising strength of this team's depth. The Giants continue to show that they can be dangerous up and down the lineup with latent power, but the past five games have started to reveal the blueprint to beating them: solve their starting pitching and grab an early lead, then continue to put the pressure on the hitters to produce. For the most part, the Giants have excelled at putting runs on the board early and pressuring opposing pitchers, taking advantage of the mistakes that pressure creates. Recently, that paradigm has been flipped on its head, and coming from behind has been a struggle. Look for the Giants to try to flip the script once more in the coming weeks.
Despite the disappointing on-field results, a major development in the Giants' staff was revealed today as Duane Kuiper returned to the broadcasting booth after his hiatus to undergo chemotherapy, to the joy of baseball fans everywhere. Nobody was more enthused than Mike Krukow, who was audibly delighted to be back with his long-time partner. For the time being, San Francisco fans can look forward to the power quartet of Kruk, Kuip, Miller, and Fleming anchoring the TV and radio broadcasts, and I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that I'll be appreciating their commentating especially much as this season starts to wind down. But with 64 games left on the slate, there will still be plenty of time to listen to their dulcet tones.
The Giants will attempt to avoid the sweep at 1:05 PM tomorrow before welcoming the Dodgers into town for another gritty series. We'll see then if the Pirates' inexplicable domination of 3rd and King can outmatch the Giants' continued, quiet determination.