Back On Top...But For How Long? Giants Week in Review #3

Weekly record: 5-1
Total record: 13-6
Division standing: 1st (Los Angeles 0.5 GB)

Offensive Player of the Week: Joc Pederson - 7-14, .500/.500/1.214, 3 HR, 6 RBI
Defensive Player of the Week: Jakob Junis - 10 IP, 0 ER, 0.80 WHIP, 10 K

At 13-6, the Giants rode a 5-game win streak last week to regain the position they found themselves in for most of last season; first in the NL West. Jakob Junis emerged as a force in the rotation, Joc Pederson flared brighter than a thermonuclear explosion, and the wrong side of history ended San Francisco's win streak as they continue to get peppered with injuries. All this and more in Giants Week in Review.

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After going 4-3 to start off a windy, chilly road trip, the Giants found themselves in the nation's capital as they faced off against the Nationals. But rather than grind to a halt after all those miles of travel, it was as though the warm weather thawed the Giants' icy bats, and San Francisco exploded during their three-game set. They were no stranger to the big inning, recording 7 runs in a single inning the first day, then 4 the next, and 6 in the last. But the one to get it started was Jakob Junis, who pitched in long relief in the first game.

Junis typifies the out-of-nowhere roster transaction that Farhan Zaidi has mastered; some new guy is acquired for cash considerations or a low-A prospect, does nothing statistically that would make you sit up and take notice, and then gets brought up to absolutely dominate major league competition. In Junis' case, an 8.74 ERA over three starts in AAA Sacramento certainly didn't ring any alarm bells in the fanbase. But where other organizations pin all their hopes on their touted prospects, cross their fingers they succeed, and fill out the rest of their lineup with whatever guys they can snag that have had some major league success, San Francisco has mastered the art of identifying hidden strengths and encouraging guys to play them up. That's how Junis came in and pitched 10 innings this week with a WHIP that would make Jacob DeGrom jealous. With a wicked slider and changeup, Junis carved through a pair of 5-inning stints to earn DPoW honors this week.

But even Junis has to tip his cap to the offensive showing that supported him and the rest of the Giants' pitching staff against the Nationals. Austin Slater and Brandon Crawford launched bases-clearing hits (Slater leaving the park, Crawford merely settling for a double) to knock out Nationals' starter Patrick Corbin early. There was even a kerfuffle late in the game, when Thairo Estrada attempted a steal in the ninth inning with the Giants up 7-1. He turned on the jets and tried to score from first on a Brandon Crawford single, and though he was thrown out relatively easily, the Nationals dugout seemed inflamed by the attempt. But if Estrada's breach of etiquette fired up the Nats, Alex Wood and Logan Webb doused those embers with good-not-great outings backed up by plenty of run support behind them. The Giants scored early and often in the series, but the real fireworks happened in the finale.

With Steven Duggar sidelined due to an oblique injury and Mike Yastrzemski testing positive for COVID at the last minute, the Giants' already-fluid lineup had to undergo some unusual permutations. Foremost among them was moving first-time back-to-back OPoW (congrats, Joc!) to the leadoff spot, and boy did that work, and then some. In his first game leading off, Pederson went a mere 3-for-3 with two home runs and a double, knocking in three. Between Joc's bombs and a trio of Wilmer Flores RBI singles, the Giants set themselves up for victory with a three-run lead going into the final inning of the series.

But as we saw just two days earlier, the Giants are a team that refuses to take their foot off the gas pedal as a matter of course. Even so, it was a mild surprise when Joc Pederson, who had had a perfect day to that point, was lifted in favor of Austin Slater to lead off the inning to get a handedness advantage against lefty reliever Sam Clay. Slater, unfortunately, wasn't able to prove his manager right, grounding out to second base. Slater, fortunately, got another chance after the Giants batted around in the inning, and he came through with an RBI single to cap a 6-run ninth inning.

The Giants took their good vibes to Milwaukee, where they faced the Brewers in an "only in 2022!" one-game series to finally end their long road trip. Their reward was the misfortune of facing reigning NL Cy Young award winner Corbin Burnes, who proceeded to slice through the Giants' red-hot offense like some sort of warm chopping utensil through butter. The only thing sizzling through the first half of the game was Burnes' fastball, and a manufactured run against Dominic Leone kept the Brewers on top. Only after a Luis Gonzalez single did the pitch count finally get to Burnes, who was replaced with former Giant Trevor Gott. In a turn of events so ridiculously karmic that it will surely be deemed apocryphal, a pair of Brewers fans started heckling Pederson so vigorously that he stepped out after the first pitch to glare at them. Then he stepped in and sent the next pitch directly into the Witness Protection Program, where it will live out the rest of its life as a tennis ball for fear of Joc Pederson's bat ever making contact with it again. With that 435-foot blast, the Giants found themselves up 2-1 in the top of the eighth.

Unfortunately, the Brewers had something to say about that, and Willy Adames tied it up in the bottom of the frame with a home run of his own. With Burnes delivering Milwaukee nearly seven innings of shutout baseball and the Giants' pitching a gem in a true bullpen game, this one looked like it might go on for a while. But in the ninth inning, Wilmer Flores walked.


Oh, right. You're wondering why that's important. There were two outs, you see. Two out walks always come back to haunt you.

Enter Luis Gonzalez, the toolsy outfielder brought up alongside Jakob Junis to start the week. The whole time, he'd been in and out of the lineup, contributing RBI singles here, sac flies there, filling in an outfield missing Duggar's steady defense. A supplemental piece on a veteran-heavy roster isn't easily noticed, so not many gave too much consideration to Gonzalez when he stepped up with two outs. A productive at-bat from a rookie in such a tight ballgame would be only a few steps down from a miracle.

Gonzalez delivered.

With two strikes, Gonzalez launched a soaring drive that burrowed into the right field bleachers. The only question was whether it was fair, and there was no question about it. With a 4-2 lead, Camilo Doval shut the Brewers down, ending an 11-game road trip with an 8-3 record that would make even the 2021 Giants whistle appreciatively.

With a 1 ER performance over a full nine innings, the Giants' bullpen lowered their ERA to a league-leading 1.65, which even the Core Four would have struggled to replicate. At this point, it's more remarkable when a reliever gives up a run than when they don't, and a team that gets sunk by Dom Leone allowing a run or Sam Long coughing one up every couple of openings isn't one that deserves to go very far. But with Doval...let's say fidgeting atop the closer's seat, Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee looking even better than last year, and a bevy of exciting arms in Brebbia, Marte, Alvarez, Littell, and Garcia, the Giants have somehow assembled the Young Avengers of MLB relief corps.

Fortunately, the Giants didn't need a heavy relief effort on their first day back home. In the opener of a short two-game series against the A's, Carlos Rodon dominated over 6 hard-fought innings. In that outing, history was on the Giants' side, as Rodon broke Tim Lincecum's record for strikeouts in the first four outings of a season, with 38. The Giants hardly needed the 8 runs they scored in part thanks to 3-run jacks from Wilmer Flores and Austin Slater. You may be wondering why, with multiple big hits, Flores and Slater didn't qualify for OPoW. The short answer is that it's hard to be the best hitter on the Giants right now. Over the past week, Flores topped Gonzalez' .526 slugging percentage with a .542 of his own, but Slater countered with an otherworldly .846 slugging percentage. Doesn't matter when Joc Pederson is hitting like Bonds and Mantle combined, with a 1.714 OPS. Good grief.

Those ridiculously eye-popping stats should give some good context for how frustrating it was for the Giants to drop the final game of the week, splitting their two-game set with the A's after a 1-0 loss. The first batter of the day snuck one over the left center-field wall for Oakland, and after that, it was a pair of complete game shutouts for both pitching staffs. The Athletics' Paul Blackburn did his thing, and the Giants' Jakob Junis did his, and Oakland left with the first game in their franchise history in which the leadoff batter homered, and it stood as the final score. Baseball's a funny game- you really can't win 'em all.

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Despite a lackluster end to the week, the Giants officially took the mantle of first place in the NL West after their short series with Oakland. Last week, I opined about the focus on the Giants not signing several high-profile sluggers, and in return, Joc Pederson outdid the world. He's on the injured list with a groin strain, though, and this seems to be theme of the week. Two of the five nominal rotation spots are currently being taken as bullpen games until Alex Cobb and Anthony DeSclafani return. In the meantime, the lineup is making do without Mike Yastrzemski and Steven Duggar, too, and the trio of Wade, Longoria, and La Stella still need time to return. If the Giants can hold serve until their health returns, they should be in a good spot, but expecting five out of every six wins for the time being is still a bit too optimistic.

In the meantime, the Giants are in an odd stretch of scheduling in which most of their games are played against the same team they either played seven days ago/will play in seven days. The Giants will start their three game set against the Nationals at home exactly one week after first visiting them in D.C., and should hope to capitalize with more offensive explosions. A much-needed rest day on Monday will precede a short two-game series against LA on the road, before the Giants return home for games against St. Louis and Colorado. The looming rivalry series may end up determining who walks away with the lead in the N.L. West race in the early season.

All weekday games (except Thursday, 6:45 PM start) start at 7:15 PM, and both weekend games begin at 1:05 PM Pacific. Thanks for reading, and as always, go Giants!

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