The San Francisco Giants have been playing their worst baseball of the season over the past couple of weeks. But, after losing their first seven games out of the All-Star break, the Giants finally ended their skid with a 4-2 victory over the Cubs.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler threw a lineup of righties at Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele, who was unable to work around some atrocious defense in the third and fourth innings.
With one out and nobody on, Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater reached base safely on back-to-back grounders to Patrick Wisdom (Yaz’s was ruled a fielding error while Slater’s was called an infield single). Then, after striking out Darin Ruf and hitting Wilmer Flores, Steele faced Yermín Mercedes with the bases loaded.
Mercedes quickly fell behind 1-2 but showed off his excellent bat-to-ball skills, fouling off several tough pitches to prolong the plate appearance. On the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Mercedes popped a fly ball into shallow center field that fell in and scored two runs. Thairo Estrada kept the rally going with a perfectly placed groundball to shortstop Nico Hoerner that allowed Flores to score.
The Cubs defense caused Steele more problems the next inning. Hoerner misfired a throw on a grounder by David Villar, giving the Giants a leadoff baserunner in the fourth. A few batters later, Seiya Suzuki misread a liner from Austin Slater that sailed over his head for an RBI double. Even with a better read, Slater still might’ve had an extra-base hit, but it encapsulated an ugly defensive night for the Cubs. It’s nice to write that about the team the Giants are playing rather than the Giants themselves.
Alex Wood took the hill for San Francisco and ensured the Giants held onto their early lead. Wood got off to a shaky start, walking the first batter and hitting the second, but quickly righted found a rhythm with plenty of help from San Francisco’s defense (Yes, I said that right).
Ian Happ ended Wood’s no-hit bid with a soft groundball away from the shift in the seventh inning, and three batters later, Patrick Wisdom hit a high fly ball that carried into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer, but it was the only blemish on Wood’s line.
While Wood’s fantastic outing carried San Francisco to victory, he was not the first Giants starter to turn in a quality outing during their recent skid. He was just the first to get ample defensive help.
Joey Bart was fantastic behind the plate, throwing out an overly aggressive Bret Morel on the base paths when he tried to steal third base in the third inning. Later in the game, Mike Yastrzemski made a run-saving diving catch in right field, doing an excellent job recovering after a bad jump. Even Wilmer Flores and David Villar made impressive stops on hard-hit balls, while Brandon Belt picked several difficult short hops to keep the Cubs off the bases.
Kapler pulled Wood following the homer for Dominic Leone, who quickly ended the seventh inning with a strikeout, before turning to John Brebbia in the eighth, who had a quiet one-two-three inning.
The Giants wasted a great opportunity in the bottom of the eighth to add some insurance off Cubs reliever Chris Martin. Tommy La Stella ended his 0-for-18 stretch with a pinch-hit double to start the inning. A single by Thairo Estrada put runners on the corners for LaMonte Wade Jr., David Villar, and Joey Bart. All three struck out. Luckily, Camilo Doval made sure it didn’t matter. The young Giants fireballer struck out three while working around a bloop single en route to his 13th save of the season.
The Cubs are one of the worst teams in MLB. They entered play on Thursday with a 40-57 record despite playing in the same division as the Reds and Pirates. On paper, the Giants should have no difficulty beating this team, but we’ve all seen the Giants play recently. It’s been ugly. No victory is guaranteed in a major league season.
One storyline worth watching will be a late-game substitution for outfielder Joc Pederson. Pederson, who has been the Giants best bat this season, appeared in discomfort after slamming into the left-field wall on Wisdom’s home run. He was replaced an inning later by LaMonte Wade Jr.
The Phillies and Cardinals are currently tied for the final National League Wild-Card spot, but the Giants remain just three games back after their victory on Thursday night. They’ll keep their series against the Cubs going tomorrow at Oracle Park (first pitch is scheduled for 7:15 PM Pacific).