1. The formula works (especially when it works)
The tried and true way to win a ball game is to still score more runs than you allow your opponent to score. It’s my professional opinion that this aspect of the sport will never change—though there is more than one way to get this done.
The San Francisco Giants this offseason chose to focus on run prevention, doubling down on their starting pitching to compliment an established bullpen. The front office believed that an offense built on match-ups, pitch selection and launch angle will blast enough solo shots to support a stingy circus of slingers and flamethrowers and ground ball-getters.
For a lot of May and June, the formula was off. Just wonky. The balance of variables skewed. The offense scored runs, but the pitching was terrible. Everyone in the bullpen except maybe Dominic Leone had at least one melt-down. Everyone of the starting pitchers except Jakob Junis effectively tripped on their own laces. Logan Webb and Carlos Rodón faltered mechanically and spent the last month wandering the deserted sands of the pitching mound in search of answers. Anthony DeSclafani has been on the IL. Alex Cobb has been unable to avoid big innings after defensive miscues between stints on the IL.
This past weekend against the Dodgers, we saw some semblance of balance return. The offense wasn’t explosive, but solo homers from Darin Ruf on Friday night, Thairo Estrada on Saturday, and Austin Slater and Mike Yastrzemski on Sunday proved to be enough firepower to sweep because the starting pitching was excellent and the bullpen was even better.
Every aspect of the team found their center over the weekend and the 2022 Master Plan of how the San Francisco Giants will win games was finally executed to perfection.
2. The defense doesn’t have to be perfect to be successful
Thairo Estrada nearly cost San Francisco the lead on Saturday when he booted a potential double play ball off the bat of Justin Turner in the 8th. He then went out and saved the game-tying run the next inning by corralling a firmly hit Cody Bellinger grounder in shallow right field to secure the final out. The next day, he kept another run from scoring with a diving play to his left to keep a Hanser Alberto grounder from reaching the outfield.
It doesn’t make much sense but Estrada, like the Sundance Kid, is better when he moves.
The defense is also better with Austin Slater in center field. He showed that off on Sunday, not with flashy dives but great reads off the bat, gliding across that vast outfield green in straight and focused pursuit of line drives in the gap and deep flies towards the wall. His biggest play may have been backing up Mike Yastrzemski on his ill-advised dive in the 8th inning of Sunday’s game, preventing the speedy Trea Turner from scoring from first and dividing an already precipitous SF lead in half.
The defense set off alarms on Thursday in an ugly loss against Colorado. Gloves have shown their age and limited range as they continue to work through injuries to key defenders. Pitchers have been strained and games have been lost by lackluster fielding. It’s a domino that’s teetered for most of the season.
This weekend series showed us that errors will continue to happen, but they don’t have to be as consequential as they’ve been. Estrada’s beef was picked up by the cool pitching of Camilo Doval. Yaz airing out to help save the arm of Dominic Leone pitching in his third game in as many days, was a gallant gesture, but Slater’s back-up was the real bail-out. Leone returned the favor by striking out Chris Taylor with the tying run on base.
The holes in San Francisco’s defense this season have been highlighted because the pitching hasn’t been as sharp. The pitching hasn’t been sharp because the defense hasn’t been able to make certain plays. The snake has been eating its own tail—but when one element can breakout of the spiral and right itself, it provides the space for another to relax and re-focus on what it needs to do to follow suit.
A backpedaling Wilmer Flores made the play of the day pic.twitter.com/FJLLfYzpwy— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) June 12, 2022
3. The Dodgers are still good … and let’s keep telling them this
Dave Roberts holds a golden ticket in his hand every time he fills out a lineup card. Betts to Freeman to Turner to Muncy to…it’s just ridiculous and should probably be illegal.
The Dodgers are maybe in a bit of an offensive downswing, but they still spent the weekend populating bases, putting together compelling at-bats and driving the ball. Over the three games, they left nearly 30 runners on base. On one hand, that’d frustrate the bejeezus out of anyone, but the amount of run scoring opportunities put together by the Dodgers is still impressive. Logging only 2 hits in 24 chances with runners in scoring position is not a sustainable practice even if hitters were holding their bats by the barrel and swinging with one-eyed closed. The Giants pitchers deserve more credit than Dave Roberts will give them, but that doesn’t mean Dodger hitters didn’t take some ill-advised hacks either.
Trea Turner said it best that in recent weeks his team’s offense have been lackluster because they’ve been “sitting back and waiting for it to happen.” ‘It’ being the big hit with the bases loaded and nobody out, down by 2 runs in the 7th inning to tee off a division rival stomping rally—for example.
For the past couple seasons, it has felt like Dodger Damage was inevitable when someone like Max Muncy or Justin Turner or Mookie Betts came up to bat. It still feels like that even with Muncy’s .612 OPS. Since they bagged Freddie Freeman in the off-season, before a single game was played this season, this LA team has been heralded as one of the best rosters ever assembled in the history of baseball. There was a pretty solid argument for it on paper and they’ve often backed up the claim on the field—but watching these weekend games, I think a certain level of complacency has set in.
The Dodgers have been told they’re the best by everyone in the baseball world. Their manager came out and said they were going to win the World Series before a single pitch in the 2022 season was thrown. After Saturday’s loss, reeking of entitlement, he made the claim that his team will look back on the game as one they gave away. It’s not far off from blaming the wind—which has become Roberts M.O. when his team comes up short in big games. It’s easy to see how a player can internalize these claims and play as if operating under fate, a win guaranteed.
The Dodgers are in a bubble. The Giants may have burst it this weekend…but I hope not.
4. The Giants-Dodgers rivalry is the best in baseball
I think this has been pretty clear for a long time now.
A three game series in early June played with the intensity of a postseason series is a gift for any fan. If you still have your doubts, here’s Dom Leone to yell at you.