With the call up of Casey Schmitt, the development of J.D. Davis’s glove at third, Thairo Estrada’s range, Brett Wisely’s support at second, with all of that rooted in Brandon Crawford’s foundational play, the Giants infield has become one of the better defenses in the league with 9 outs above average—good for fourth in the Majors and fifth when taking into account the work of the outfield.
With the ground-balliest of pitchers on staff, team and fans alike have been enjoying the fruits of a solid—sometimes even trendy—infield in their recent climb towards .500.
A misread by Michael Conforto on a wiffling line drive to lead off the 2nd was the first and least egregious of San Francisco’s misplays over the next three innings behind Anthony DeSclafani.
Scorched at 110 MPH, the ball showed late-life on its flight path, kicking-up like a frisbee instead of spinning down as Conforto charged past it, under it as it floated over his glove and short-hopped the wall.
The out-turned-double was immediately cashed in for Minnesota’s second run on the next pitch with another hard-hit 113 MPH double from Matt Wallner.
Later in the 2nd, runners on first and second attempted to advance on a dropped third strike. Blake Sabol recovered quickly and made an accurate throw to second well-ahead of the runner, but Crawford completely and inexplicably missed the ball to make the tag.
Not an official error, the play warranted a sharp intake of breath, a desire to find a hole to hide in, and it most certainly came with implications. Instead of two outs and a runner on third, the Twins capitalized on the situational gift with a fly to deep left, scoring their third run of the game.
Things got worse the next inning.
The Twins scored 2-runs on 2 errors and a hit batter on a Three Stooges routine from the middle infield.
After consecutive strikeouts, Crawford should’ve ended DeSclafani’s 3rd, but a manageable ground ball ate him up instead. Disco (apparently he doesn’t like this nickname, but I’m feeling a little salty right now) pegged the next batter—probably to let off some steam—before a routine ground-ball slipped through Wisely’s legs.
A Minnesota rally completely orchestrated by San Francisco. Take that, Carlos! (Correa has a bruised heel and missed both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s game).
The Twins stole another run with a double steal assisted by a bad relay to the plate from Wisely. He did well to meet the baseball in front of the bag, but his throw sailed up the line towards the oncoming runner and skirted to the backstop.
Could Wisely have made the play on Wallner approaching second before Willi Castro crossed the plate? Should Sabol have made the throw down at all in a 2-strike, 2-out situation? The play had worked for them against Miami last series, but it felt like an unnecessary risk in a shaky inning. Poor decisions and worse execution—not a great combination.
The final slip on the banana peel came in the 4th when Minnesota scored their sixth run on a wild pitch.
The Giants offense may have been as equally as frustrating as the defense. It wasn’t that they struggled to set the table against Minnesota’s Joe Ryan, they struggled to clear it.
Ryan, a Statcast darling, boasts one of the heads of the Twins starting pitching hydra along with Bailey Ober and Sonny Gray. He avoids the barrel of bats, doesn’t hand out free bases, has a high strikeout-percentage with a lot of chase, and has earned red skittles in his percentile rankings for his xERA and xSLG.
Reliant on a 4-seam fastball 60 percent of the time and splitter another 30%, San Francisco hitters responded with hard contact and constant traffic on the base paths. Over 56 innings pitched so far, Ryan had racked up 66 K’s—the Giants first K didn’t come until 2-outs in the 4th while collecting 6 hits and 2 walks. They made the starter throw over 100 pitches in only 5 innings of work, while consistently threatening with runners on base.
Hitters did everything right against Ryan but land the “big hit.”
A lead-off single from LaMonte Wade Jr. and double by Estrada to start the 1st, and a lead-off double from Mike Yastrzemski and single from Schmitt in the 2nd produced only one run.
The Giants again put two runners on in the 3rd and 4th, yet all turned out to be shadow rallies with San Francisco unable to push anyone across the plate.
Ryan stranded 9 runners and limited hitters to 1-hit in 11 at-bats with runner(s) in scoring position. In total, San Francisco left 15 runners on base, with a player reaching safely in every inning, and went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
Brock Stewart replaced Ryan in the 6th, and the Giants promptly loaded the bases with no outs against the reliever and...of course they didn’t score! An ugly whiff from Thairo, infield pop-up from Mitch Haniger, and easy ground out from Conforto—the opportunity fell on its face. With perfect comedic timing, Ryan Jeffers launched a solo shot to lead off the Twins’ half of the inning.
Disco couldn’t get off the mound fast enough. His day bookended by solo shots on a day the Giants put up just one run—was all the nonsense in-between necessary?
The most jaded of us will point to the game’s many aberrations as symptoms of a greater disease. Bad defense! Too many strike-outs in the late innings (Twins’ relievers collected 10 over the last 4 innings)! Poor situational hitting!
We have seen these problems earlier in the season certainly—but not recently, and never so ludicrously packed together in one game.
Gabe Kapler encourages the Giants to turn the page after today's poor defensive display pic.twitter.com/6THOj5TdsG— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) May 24, 2023
The Giants will might/probably/definitely not be able to sustain this win two, lose one pattern, and end their season winning 96 games—but they’ve shown they can sustain quality play against a variety of quality teams. The defense is not as bad as it was today. The bats won’t go to these extremes to avoid scoring runs in so many run-scoring opportunities.
May has made me hopeful about these Giants! So let’s chalk this up to a weird one, a brief glitch in the Matrix and move on. The team certainly has to—their next off-day isn’t until June 5th.
Series against the Brewers in Milwaukee starts tomorrow.