Every team is a lion when the upcoming season schedule comes out, and for the San Francisco Giants, early games against the Royals and these Detroit Tigers were circled as opportunities to chow down and load up the win column.
Kansas City pulled the lion’s whiskers, poked its eyes, and starter Joey Wentz put the tail between its legs for 7 innings, before Nick Maton (assisted by a dumb, dumb, dumb play by David Villar at second base) shaved its mane with a 3-run homer in the 11th, sealing their 7-5 win.
I want to believe that it’s still too early in the season to pass any major judgments on this team and season—but this loss made me pretty cranky. Allow me to pour my comfort bowl of Cap’n Crunch and vent: The Giants aren’t lions. They’re not predators either. The threat of the home run gives them a loud bark, but the bite is mild.
We’re not out of April yet and this team has jerked us around so much that fans are suffering whiplash. It’s infuriating. It’s intoxicating.
J.D. Davis came up with the huge 3-run homer in the 8th to tie the game after being out pitched, out run and out hit for 7 innings. In one pitch, a frustrating deficit was erased, papering over—momentarily—a multitude of sins.
The big hit wiped the slate clean yet the bats couldn’t maintain the momentum to break the tie, succumbing to their first extra innings trip in 2023.
After 11 walk-off losses in 2022, the Giants kept that ball rolling.
With a 5-4 lead after LaMonte Wade Jr. singled in the Manfred runner in the 11th, the 1-run leader looked really dice-y after David Villar chose to make a play on the runner going for third on a routine ground ball from Zach McKinstry.
Instead of one out with the tying run at 3rd, the Tigers had the winning run at first with nobody out. Villar’s decision to chase the lead runner was especially damning with Camilo Doval on the mound. The reliever has worked a clean, 7-pitch inning with a key strikeout with the winning run on 3rd and less than one out.
Doval nearly picked up his teammate, striking out Jake Rogers and Matt Vierling in vintage fashion, but finding himself in a 3-0 hole, Doval grooved a sinker to Maton who deposited it into the right field bleachers for the 7 - 5 win.
Fun fact: Maton had never swung at a 3-0 pitch before.
Fun fact: Villar will never try that throw again.
Okay, I’ve finished my second bowl of cereal and cooled down a bit. The Giants are beat-up. The Giants are beat up. The Giants are beat up. Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater are still out, Michael Conforto isn’t feeling great, Joc Pederson got a cortisone shot in his wrist with one foot on the IL, and Villar at second base is obviously not the ideal defensive alignment (though after what we saw today, it’d be fun to see more of Davis at third). The bats have a .537 OPS against left-handed pitchers (even righty swingers are only putting up a .580 OPS mark!). Kapler is handcuffed sometimes—he knows a lot of these match-ups are less than ideal.
Loss still stings.
And yes, the Tigers aren’t lions either, but every team is capable of beating every other team in baseball. Detroit played really well tonight and it didn’t just come out of nowhere. Their hitters were flies in Sean Manaea’s hair gel all evening. Starting with a pesky 9-pitch at-bat from Matt Vierling in the bottom of the first, the San Francisco Giants starter labored through 3.1 innings of work.
Relying on his sinker and a pretty generous height to the strike zone, the Giants starter kept the ball from the barrel for the most part but failed to put hitters away in an efficient way. Manaea fetched 30 swings on his sinker (66% of pitches thrown) but only missed lumber 8 times with 17 fouls. The increased velocity in the high-90’s was still there but the control—not so much, setting up some easy takes in leverage counts.
Weak contact set up the first Detroit threat of the day. After a shin-high flare off the bat of a wind-milling Javier Báez started the 2nd inning, Eric Haase broke his bat pulling a high slider into shallow left for a double. Spencer Torkelson brought in Báez on a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-run a piece before Manaea got Miguel Cabrera swinging on an elevated sinker and Johnathan Schoop on a dry fly to center.
It was irritating to watch and, I imagine, pretty dang exasperating for the man on the mound. The frustration broke through our gentle giants’ cool exterior after LHB Riley Greene barreled a sweeping slider into deep left-center for a two-out RBI triple in the 3rd. Lefty-on-lefty with a 2-outs, a runner on in a tie ballgame—it was an out he (I hesitate to say should’ve) probably could’ve, and definitely wanted, to get.
The Tigers extended at-bats, extended innings with 3 2-out RBIs against Manaea (and 6 2-out RBIs in total), cashed in on soft contact, ran the bases well, and ultimately forced Gabe Kapler into an exposed bullpen early in the game.
Manaea’s opposite—Joey Wentz—might as well have been Randy Johnson. Wentz isn’t known for much of anything (tonight was his 10th career start) but it doesn’t take much digging to figure out that the Tigers’ pitcher M.O. isn’t to blow hitters away. He had 3 total strikeouts across his first 2 starts in 2023. Against San Francisco, Wentz had notched 5 the first time through the lineup, which also matched a career high.
Wentz incessantly attacked the zone, putting already vulnerable Giants hitters in damning count situations. San Francisco’s hitters were able to adjust their second time facing Wentz by attacking early pitches in the count, yet the only hits they were able to string together came in the 4th. They failed to score after a loudish fly out from Darin Ruf and consecutive whimpers.
Other than scattering some singles about the field, the only viable threat the offense put together continued to be the long ball.
Thairo gives the Giants an early lead with a solo shot pic.twitter.com/Ag5wNUC5ZF— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 14, 2023
Thairo Estrada had a good game.