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Desert solitaire

No place more lonely than the pitcher’s mound when ya get no run support.

Logan Webb reaching back to throw a pitch Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fitting that the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks ended with a show of speed. They had been roadrunner-ing around all weekend, letting out a quick meep-meep before kicking up a flake of turf and chasing down a fly ball in deep right-center.

Defensively, offensively—I’ll admit it—the Diamondbacks are kind of a thrill to watch.

But Arizona’s walk off run in the 9th did not score on the fleet feet of Corbin Carroll or Dominic Fletcher or Ketel Marte or Geraldo Perdomo, but the comparatively brick cleats of Christian Walker. Still, with Blake Sabol pulled from the line and a good jump on the bases, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s double towards the left field corner allowed for an easy game-winning run.

The typically resolute Tyler Rogers walked Walker to start the 9th before Gurriel sealed the win and the series for Arizona. The 2-1 loss spoiled another excellent outing from Logan Webb, who pitched 7 IP allowing 1 run on 3 hits and 3 BBs—with no home runs allowed to boot!

On paper, it seemed like an ideal match-up for the San Francisco Giants: Logan Webb vs. recent call-up Brandon Pfaadt sporting a 12 + ERA over his first two starts in the big leagues. Across two starts and 9.2 innings against the Rangers and Marlins, Pfaadt had been tagged for 13 runs.

Instead the young Pfaadt cruised through 5 innings, allowing 1 run on 1 hit while striking out 5 and walking 3. His first inning on the mound he struck out the side. 3 of his 5 innings, Pfaadt retired the side in order. After hitting the ball hard against an early Cy Young contender in Zac Gallen the night before, the Giants were baffled by Pfaadt.

This has happened to the Giants. An ideal matchup on paper goes sideways. A new face becomes a worst nightmare, burned into the players’ subconscious. San Francisco is vexed by the unknown, and they’re gaining a reputation as a team that a struggling pitcher wants to face.

Brandon Pfaadt is the latest in a lengthening line of starting pitchers who are generally straightened out by the rest of baseball but have conversely straightened out the Giants.

Here’s a list of starters who presently own a 4.30+ ERA (MLB average ERA in 2023 is 4.29) but held the Giants to 1-run or less.

April 2nd 0 - 6 loss vs. Yankees: Jhony Brito (5.81 ERA) 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 6 K

April 5th 3 - 7 loss vs. White Sox: Dylan Cease (4.86 ERA) 5.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 8 K

April 7th 1 - 3 loss vs. Royals: Brad Keller (4.31 ERA) 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K

April 21st 0 - 7 loss vs. Mets: Joey Lucchessi (4.43 ERA) 7.0 IP 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K

April 27th 0 - 6 loss vs Cardinals: Miles Mikolas (5.40 ERA) 6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K

May 14th 1 - 2 loss vs Diamondbacks: Brandon Pfaadt (8.59 ERA) 5.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K

I know every pitcher in the big leagues is capable of finding their form and having “a day.” But San Francisco bats have made it a habit of going AWOL in games they could—dare I say, should—rake against below-average opponents. It’s...perplexing.

Sunday’s start was Webb’s 6th quality start in 9 games. He skirted danger in the first inning by walking the bases-loaded with one out (2 BBs and 1 HBP) before Gurriel grounded into a whip-quick 5-4-3 double play initiated by Casey Schmitt getting his first start at a more familiar third base.

Arizona’s first hit off Webb didn’t come until the 5th with an infield single off the bat of Moreno. Moreno was erased and replaced by Geraldo Perdomo on his fielder’s choice ground ball to first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. Josh Rojas then evened the score at 1 with a bounding ground ball over the base at first that just eked by Wade’s glove. Perdomo scored easily. Speed kills. Speed is also really helpful in winning baseball games.

Webb’s 3-2 change-up to Rojas couldn’t have been better. It dropped out of the zone after Rojas committed to his swing. His contact smacked the ball directly into the ground, leaving the bat at 80 MPH with an expected batting average of .070, but because Wade was pulled off the line no longer holding the runner on in a full-count situation, the conditions were just right for a typical ground out to turn into a dagger.

Still, it would be nice for Webb to be in a situation in which a weak ground ball doesn’t factor into the game decision. That’s a luxury San Francisco bats have not afforded him so far in 2023. Going into Sunday’s start the run support per game (RS/G) for Webb was at 2.8, tied for lowest on the team with Ross Stripling, and well below the 4.6 league average. Runs scored during innings he was still in the game were slightly higher at 3.1. Both those numbers obviously dropped after the loss.

Michael Conforto’s solo shot against Pfaadt in the 4th was less of a spark and more of a faint ember buried in a bed of damp ash and coal. A home run for an early lead feels like a kiss of a death for San Francisco these days.

Casey Schmitt put up his first 0-fer in his short career with 3 free-swing strikeouts. Gossip on a hot start from a rookie spreads fast in this league and opposing teams want to be the one to figure a kid out. Schmitt goes up to the plate to hit. He doesn’t have much plate discipline and has a tendency to chase—the Diamondbacks played into that weakness all afternoon and you better believe that’s the game plan for Philadelphia tomorrow.

Schmitt also launched a rocket from his arm in the 4th so let’s not get too down on the kid.

Thus concludes a tough series in the desert.

San Francisco held a lead in every game but could only nurse one win from the four game bunch.

There were flashes of power, exit velocity, and excellent defense, but each loss had their slip-ups, their blinks, or dropped piano benches. A lot of them involved the bullpen. Most of them involved a guy named Dominic Fletcher (who went 0 for 3 in the series finale—embarrassing) who seems to be the representative player of a young, healthy and athletic Arizona Diamondbacks. I guess San Francisco’s front office had a different interpretation of those descriptors.