This isn’t a sentence that I, an annoyingly optimistic person, say very often, but here goes: it’s so easy to be pessimistic. I don’t just mean about the San Francisco Giants, but that is what I intend to talk about right now.
I just mean in general. It’s so easy to be pessimistic.
I’m not a neuroscientist or a psychologist (but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night) so I don’t want to speak above my fiscal (or intellectual) grade here, but the mind has a way of noticing trends, especially when they’re negative.
If you’re playing blackjack and you hit on 12, you’ll bust 30.8% of the time. But if you hit on 12 exactly 100 times and bust exactly 30 times, you’ll gripe and groan and wonder how you could get so unlucky. You’ll be astonished at how unlucky you got to bust so much more than you should have. You noticed the 30 times, and your brain strung them together like a rope made of twine, so much stronger than the individual pieces.
I think about this a lot with baseball because, for the entirety of my life, it’s felt like the Giants are a horrible team with runners in scoring position. A team that specializes in loading the bases with less than two outs and not scoring. A team that reliably puts a runner at second or third and leaves them there.
How good they would be if they could stop doing this frustrating and bad thing! And also all the other frustrating and bad things that my mind has convinced me they do with regularity.
And then, if you force yourself to reconcile, you might look at the stats and realize what your brain could not independently arrive at. The Giants are hitting worse with the bases loaded than other teams, but it’s not the monumental catastrophe you thought — they’re hitting 85% as well as league average.
With the bases loaded and less than two outs? They’re hitting way better than league average. With a runner on third and less than two outs? Their 1.039 OPS is almost identical to Barry Bonds’ career mark.
But that’s not what your brain tells you. Because your brain notices the pessimistic trend. Of course the Giants strike out with the bases loaded every time. Of course they can’t score the runner from third. Of course they make countless costly mistakes that no other team makes. It’s the Giants, for crying out loud. Nothing like it.
This extends beyond these hitting situations. It’s everything bad the Giants do. They do it more than other teams because that’s what your brain notices. Sometimes your brain is right. Sometimes it’s wrong.
I’m not here to talk about hitting with the bases loaded, even though this was on my mind when the Giants loaded the bases with one out in the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. It was on my mind when Mitch Haniger struck out. It was on my mind when the Phillies made a pitching change just two outs into the first inning, canning opener Connor Brogdon in favor of “starter” Bailey Falter, who was supposed to be helped by having an opener, but instead began his night with the bases loaded. It was on my mind when Brandon Crawford struck out, ending the fruitless inning.
And it was on my mind in the top of the second, when Alec Bohm homered off of Alex Wood to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead, capitalizing on an opportunity when the Giants had struggled to do so.
But here’s the funny thing about these pessimistic trends our brains catch: we don’t undo them by noticing positive trends. We undo them by noticing other teams partaking in the same pessimistic trends.
I don’t know what that says the human spirit. Not something good, I reckon. If the Giants do something good you dismiss it as a fluke but if the Phillies do something bad? Well, now I feel better about everything!
And so began the second inning, tame and timid in nature. Casey Schmitt, who had the fifth multi-hit game in his eight-game career, kicked things off with a single.
Joey Bart followed it up with a ground ball to third that felt like a routine double play. But Bart hauled ass up the line, and the Phillies were a just a hair shy of being perfectly sharp in turning it, and he was safe on the fielder’s choice. A break where there didn’t need to be one, courtesy of the other team.
Next was Bryce Johnson, who singled to officially create a rally. Just score one run please, Giants. It’s early. Cut the deficit in half.
Then Thairo Estrada hit a ground ball to shortstop. It wouldn’t have been a double play, but there was an out for the taking at second base, but Bryson Stott simply ... did not catch the baseball. It wasn’t a bad throw. It wasn’t even a mediocre throw. It was just a normal throw to second base, Little League style. And he dropped it. The bases were loaded. A break where there didn’t need to be one, courtesy of the other team.
Literally one pitch later, Wilmer Flores hit a routine sacrifice fly to right field and Nick Castellanos simply ... did not catch the baseball. He didn’t take a funny route. He didn’t have to lean over or reach up. He simply waited for the ball, then reached out, and watched it pop against the back of his glove and then flutter to the grass like a downed pheasant.
It really wasn’t a costly mistake. One run scored, same as if he caught it. Estrada was forced out at second. The Giants ended up with two outs, runners at the corners, and one run in, which they probably would have had anyways.
But it was oddly comforting for your pessimistic brain. On consecutive pitches the Phillies had dropped baseballs that any of us would have been expected to catch when we were 10 years old. It’s not just the Giants who do silly things. It’s not just the Giants who do frustrating things. It’s not just the Giants who gift wrap opportunities to the opponents.
The Giants instantly capitalized with barrage of opposite-field hits. Four, in particular. All in a row. Michael Conforto, who has officially found the rhythm the team dreamed off when they signed him, smashed a three-run home run as the Giants leap-frogged the Phillies on the scoreboard.
Hello, opporator? pic.twitter.com/a3Tc9JSlIb— SFGiants (@SFGiants) May 16, 2023
Then, after a six-pitch battle, J.D. Davis doubled. Another six pitch battle — and one remarkable dive by Davis — and he was scoring on a single by Haniger.
Haniger took second on the throw — another gift, albeit not a stupid one — then scored on a Crawford single. Just like that, the Giants had scored six runs in an inning that left Phillies fans thinking, “Why do we do dumb things so often? I know other teams don’t.”
The six runs were all the Giants needed. Wood was quite strong in his return to the rotation, though he got pulled an out short of getting the win as he builds his arm strength up. Jakob Junis gave up a run, but Scott Alexander was excellent. Taylor Rogers was OK until he wasn’t, and then when he wasn’t, Camilo Doval stepped in for the four-out save (aided by a fantastic Davis defensive play), leading the Giants to a 6-3 win.
Jumps Davis pic.twitter.com/6j7E98UYSg— SFGiants (@SFGiants) May 16, 2023
The Giants have lost two series in a row. They’ve got a prime opportunity to stop that in its tracks. Your brain might be shocked to learn that other teams lose series, too. Maybe the Phillies can remind you of that.