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4 in a row

Anthony DeSclafani went toe-to-toe with Sandy Alcantara, the bats kept being crazy and scoring runs without home runs, and Gabe Kapler out-managed his counterpart to nab the 4-3 win.

MLB: Miami Marlins at San Francisco Giants Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants maintained their new-found success established in the Philadelphia series against the reigning National League Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara and the Miami Marlins on Friday night.

The once feast-or-famine offense heavily reliant on bludgeoning the ball out of the park no matter what the score was, who the pitcher was, what the count was, has taken that physicality and got sit-u-ation-al.

After a 3-game sweep of the Phillies in which the Giants scored 17 runs only 3 of which were delivered by a home run, while knocking 10 2-out RBI hits, the bats secured the 4-3 win to open the series against Miami with scoring cut from the same cloth: Weak but effective contact, sacrifice flies, balls in play in 2-strike counts, and some more good ol’ 2-out RBIs.

Michael Conforto dribbled a grounder towards third against the defensive positioning to extend the inning with 2-outs in the 4th. It was the Giants first hit against Alcantara and second base runner after Blake Sabol’s walk in the 3rd. The infield single forced Alcantara to pump the brakes and disengage cruise control. From the unfamiliar stretch, he missed high with a change-up and then misplaced a sinker to Mitch Haniger who lined it to the wall in left-center. With the 2-out jump, Conforto beat the solid relay throw to the plate for the first run of the game.

In the 6th, down 2-1, LaMonte Wade Jr. worked a lead-off walk before Thairo Estrada pounded a first-pitch change-up into the ground. Poorly struck but with his speed and where the ball rolled to on the left side of the infield, the righty Alcantara had no play at first—un-brettwisely, Alcantara forced the issue anyway, slinging a sidearm change-up to first that shorted the bag and ended up in foul territory up the right field line, allowing both runners to advance.

In the days of old—as in the second week of May—a runners-in-scoring-position with nobody out situation was the Giants’ kryptonite. An airborne noxious gas would filter into the dugout ceiling and attack batters’ nervous systems, clouded their vision, slowed their reaction times. Hitters would go into the box somehow already down two strikes. They’d pray to gods they didn’t believe in, never heard of before, to aide them, to helpt them look for the early pitch in the zone, to not chase, maintain count leverage, maintain control, just put the ball in play, put the ball in play…before striking out.

But this is the third week of May and in the third week of May, the San Francisco Giants alter their approach at the plate, shorten up in 2-strike counts, look to go the opposite way, and miraculously, the Giants knocked in, not one but two runs with sacrifice flies.

J.D. Davis swung through two challenge four-seamers from Alcantara before driving an elevated put-away fastball to the right fielder to advance both runners and score the tying run. Michael Conforto then scooped a 2-2 change-up to center to score Estrada to take a 3-2 lead.

With 2-outs and the bases empty, the Giants generated another scoring opportunity on another hard hit ball off the bat of Haniger, singling off the glove of a dying Jean Segura at third. Mike Yastrzemski spat on some devastating pitches just below the knees to push Haniger into scoring position with a walk.

The rookie lightning rod Casey Schmitt settled into the batter’s box. Schmitt was 0 for 2 against Alcanara with a strikeout and, in a blink of an eye, the infielder went around on an inside pitch that nearly hit him and waved over an unhittable slider.

0-2 count against a Cy Young Award winner with multiple avenues to send you back to the bench—the batter’s box looked more like a grave with Schmitt holding a shovel in his hands instead of a bat. All Alcantara had to do was just ask him to lie down and that would’ve been that. Throw the ball in the general direction of home and the rookie would swing.

But the starter’s 0-2 pitch?

That’s a bad pitch in most situations to most big league hitters, and Schmitt ain’t gonna miss it.

His single through the 5.5 hole was San Francisco’s 12th 2-out RBI hit in four games and knocked Alcantara out of the contest.

Alcantara has been struggling with his mechanics all season, and his ability to locate his pitches starts to wane in later innings. 20 of his 28 runs allowed have come in the 5th inning or later in 2023.

The Giants saw this on Friday, but this isn’t a unique problem. Plenty of starters struggle their third time through a line-up. What is maybe different with Alcantara is how Skip Schumaker and the Marlins coaching staff handle him.

In a dominant 2022, Alcantara was a workhorse—or more like a unicorn. He led the league in innings pitched, threw 6 complete games, finished the 8th 8 more times, and finished the 7th or was pulled in the 8th 8 more times on top of that. Of his 32 games started, Alcantara completed 7 innings of work or more 22 times.

This year, Alcantara is not the same pitcher, yet his workload suggests he is. In 9 starts, he’s thrown 57 innings (good for 6th in MLB) among the likes of Logan Webb and Shane McLanahan with an ERA that is two whole points higher.

His typical kill pitches—a 98 MPH sinker at the knees or his low 90s change-up that was maybe the best pitch in baseball last year with a run value of -25 and opponent’s BA of .145 have lacked some of their murderous tendencies. It seems like he’s maybe being exposed more the second and third time around the batting order merry-go-round and over-pitching to compensate, yet the Miami coaching staff have him on last year’s long leash.

One could argue difference in Friday’s game might be in how Gabe Kapler handled Anthony DeSclafani against how Schumaker handled Sandy Alcantara in high-leverage situations.

Both starters cruised through 5 innings. The Giants poked across a run against Alcantara, and Disco had to twice deal with Luis Arraez and his ludicrous batting average. Both pitchers flashed excellent location early with wiffle ball movement, and cashed in on a wide (but generally consistent) strike zone to righties from home plate umpire Marvin Hudson.

Disco’s sinker dotted the outside corner, freezing right-handed batters, and his slider missed bats. Alcantara’s change-up fell away beautifully from lefties while mixing in a deceptive 4-seamer.

These linked outings were derailed similarly in the 6th.

A lead-off walk to Jorge Soler spelled trouble in front of Arraez, who already had two relatively harmless singles against DeSclafani.

Arraez’s bat and his .390 BA doesn’t sting much when the bases are empty, but with a runner on, it becomes an instrument of death. Those early singles in previous at-bats previewed the double he ripped down the line in his 3rd at-bat, setting up a troublesome second-and-third, nobody out conundrum for Disco.

The Arraez double isn’t going to nag a pitcher—it was a decent inside pitch with count leverage, and a hot hitter just beat the ball to its location. No pitcher hung up his cleats after allowing a hit to Tony Gwynn. It’s the full count walk to Soler to lead off the inning that will keep Disco up at night. The Marlins don’t walk much. They’re in the box to swing the bat, but ahead in a neutral 2-2 count, Disco had two pitches to entice a swing out of Soler and he delivered two uncompelling offerings.

DeSclafani got Garrett Cooper to passively fly out to Estrada for the first out of the inning, but Kapler pulled him when his 84th pitch of the night was lined for a 2-RBI double by Bryan De La Cruz. Lefty Scott Alexander came in to face lefty Joey Wendle, and ultimately stranded the runner at second.

Would Alcantara have benefited from an earlier hook? His 6th inning developed in a very similar way to Disco’s. A walk and self-inflicted blunder forced him into a high stress inning with no margin for error with a 1-run lead. It made sense that he would pitch to the righty Davis, and his locations were excellent against him, but he still got beat. Why not go to the rested southpaw Andrew Nardi to pitch for the strikeout against Conforto? Or to Mike Yastrzemski after Mitch Haniger’s 106 MPH single?

I’m glad Schumaker played it the way he did. It provided a nice contrast with how Kapler handled his pitchers in a similar inning. He didn’t lean on Disco the way Miami did with Alcantara, and with a rested and confident bullpen, he trusted his relievers.

By the end of the night, it looked like Schumaker wished he did things a little differently as well and looked for an excuse to let out some frustration.

Catching prospect Patrick Bailey, after being called up earlier in the day, took the field behind the dish in his big league premier in the 7th, receiving for John Brebbia and nicely framing a low slider to K Soler to end a 1-2-3 inning.

Taylor Rogers took the mound in the 8th and retired Arraez for the first time on a pop-up to Estrada. He then got Garrett Cooper swinging on a sweeper before De La Cruz launched a solo home run, halving the San Francisco lead, 4 to 3.

Slightly infuriating for Rogers—especially with where his previous pitch ended up in the zone—but with 2-outs in a close game, the reliever’s job at the end of the day is to not offer up any free bases. In a full count, De La Cruz was expecting a pitch in the zone, he guessed right on a breaking ball, and the southpaw delivered on both counts. It was his first earned run allowed since April 12th. The dinger doinked Rogers from the game only to be replaced by another pitcher named Rogers, who closed out the inning before delivering the 4-3 win in the 9th.