Ah, Baseball. The one sport that’s ready to knock you out the second you feel good about how a game went down. Yesterday, the San Francisco Giants won 14-4, scoring the most runs at Oracle Park since July 2015. 18 hours later, they lose 2-1.
It wasn’t the worst game you’ll see the Giants play, but it was pretty typical of what we’ve seen since roundabout 2017. The exception this time being that it certainly felt like the Giants could move ahead at any time. But we’re not quite back in 2021 territory, where every late game deficit became a come from behind victory. We’re still in that stage where Patrick Bailey and Brett Wisely are gonna chase tantalizing high fastballs in the bottom of the 9th because they’re rookies and they’re facing an elite closer like David Bednar.
It might, however, be one of the worst games we’ll ever see Mitch Haniger play for the Giants. As a team, the Giants stranded 9 baserunners — that is, how many runners they left on base total at the third out of every inning combined. In all four of his plate appearances, Haniger totaled 7 stranded, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Maybe Casey Schmitt failed to slip him a Sour Patch Kid ahead of the game or maybe just some good ol’ fashioned Baseball luck happened.
Haniger had been on a bit of a hot streak heading into tonight’s game, hitting .340/.365./540 in his last 13 games (52 PA). That raised his average from .179 to .255. Defensively, Statcast’s Outs Above Average had him at a -1, so not a total clank mitt, but yeah, we knew defense wasn’t going to be his strong suit for the team, and tonight, his misplay of Jason Delay’s single in the 5th inning wound up being — by good ol’ Win Probability — the biggest play of the game.
All that to say, the Giants still managed to hold the Pirates to just two runs and the lineup generated 7 walks, striking out just 9 times. I call that a win because the team had been on a double-digit strikeout bender in 9 straight games heading into this series.
The bullpen game strategy that was mostly successful last year has carried over to this year, although John Brebbia couldn’t get through the first inning — on his 33rd birthday no less! — after Connor Joe blasted a solo home run to left field; but, the Giants might really have found a place for Sean Manaea, something that wasn’t a sure thing even as early as a couple of weeks ago.
Since pairing him with an opener or just using him in short bursts after the first inning, Manaea has become a dominant reliever (which for the purposes of this discussion is actually a compound word of relief pitcher + starter).
His full season line before tonight: (11 G 6 GS) 32.2 IP 6.61 ERA 44 K 9 BB 8 HR 1.62 WHIP
His relief line including tonight: (6 G) 13.2 IP 3.41 ERA 18 K 5 BB 1.21 WHIP
And if you really want to get silly, here’s just his last four appearances (so, since May 17): 10.2 IP
He took the loss tonight, but we all know that he pitched great and the loss wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t totally Mitch Haniger’s fault, either.
Johan Oviedo is a tough matchup because he’s the type of pitcher the Giants would love to have, featuring 95+ with his fastball and a 2,500+ rpm slider. The key difference here that gave the Giants a bit of an advantage was that he features a four-seamer rather than a sinker, and the Giants are really good at hitting four-seamers — I suspect most major leaguers are, which is why the Giants have focused on having pitchers who feature sinkers.
The four-seamer hasn’t even been a great pitch for Oviedo this season — just a 17% Whiff Rate despite throwing it 1⁄3 of the time. Compare that to his slider: 30% Whiff Rate on 42% usage. Tonight, he threw more fastballs than sliders. That explains why the Giants knocked him out one out into the 5th inning, drawing 5 walks along with 3 hits, but that failure to deliver the big hit coupled with the Pirates’ roster dominance in their bullpen sealed the deal. No, seriously, the Pirates’ bullpen is great. Just 8th-best in the NL by fWAR, but its strength is suppressing home runs (0.96 HR/9 - 5th) and striking guys out (9.34 K/9 - 7th). Guess what? The Giants score a lot of their runs on home runs and strike out a lot.
So, despite their best laid plans, it just wasn’t the Giants’ night. Patrick Bailey’s defense is sort of what he’s known for, and in the 5th inning he let a wild pitch go by that he’d probably like to try to catch again and his throw to home plate that wound up being dropped by Sean Manaea allowing the go-ahead run to score might be a throw he’d like back. In the 9th he just missed a 96 mph fastball, hooking it foul when it might’ve been a home run, Casey Schmitt went 0-for-4 on a night where they really needed one big hit from him (what else is new), and Austin Slater, slayer of lefties- took a terrible swing on a slow breaking ball and popped up. Those nights will happen.
That it comes the night after a day in which it was their day really stinks, but rather than draw any big conclusions from a 9 inning sample, this one feels a lot like the only rational response should be, “That’s Baseball.” After all, Patrick Bailey ended that 5th inning by nabbing a leaning runner at first base and Casey Schmitt angled back to his left despite breaking for second to start an inning ending double play, and Blake Sabol hit the ball really hard like he’s been doing and got wo hits. The good stuff’s still there.