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Missed opportunities

Giants offense can’t cash in a bevy of base runners to make up for long balls launched against Ross Stripling

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Scoring opportunities for the Giants abounded in Sunday game yet fell by the way side as starter Ross Stripling followed up his best start of the season against Houston with more of what burned him in this season’s early goings.

After throwing 11.2 innings across 3 appearances of homer-less baseball (a feat since he had given up 6 in his first 10 IP of the season), both catcher William Contreras and shortstop Willy Adames lifted 2-run shots into the left field bleachers to fuel the Milwaukee Brewers 7-3 sweep-spoiling win over the San Francisco Giants.

Both homers were preceded by walks. Rowdy Tellez worked a 9-pitch free bag to lead-off the 2nd before Contreras did his damage on an elevated slider.

In the 5th, Jesse Winker worked a 2-out walk before Adames extended the Brewers lead to 5-2. Loud contact felt inevitable. The shortstop had smoked a 110 MPH sacrifice fly “rally killer” that found Mitch Haniger’s glove on the warning track in the 3rd.

It wasn’t that Stripling was pitching poorly as much as Milwaukee’s approach in the batter’s box was incredibly effective. They took pitches falling through and out of the zone and spit on borderline fastballs, change-ups, and sliders dotting spots just off the plate. Brewers bats weren’t fooled by what the Giants’ starting pitcher was offering: if they didn’t hit the ball hard they put it play, if they didn’t put it play, they fouled it off.

Through 5 innings, Stripling had worked himself into 13 2-strike counts. Positive, yes—but only 3 of those ended in K’s. 6 ended with the batter reaching base with 5 hits and a walk. Of the 42 swings Milwaukee unfurled against Stripling, 5 of them missed completely.

Adrian Houser had a similar day. San Francisco bats had 7 hits and worked 1 walk against the starter over 4.2 innings. They would knock 13 on the day. The difference was Houser, in his first start of 2023, wasn’t serving taters on the menu.

In an early test, he got Joc Pederson to ground into a double-play to subdue a runners-on-the-corners threat in the first.

Other than a 2-out, 2-run rally in the 2nd manufactured by the bottom of the order, Houser, among all of Milwaukee’s four other arms, did well to stress the dam but not break it.

After the 2nd, Houser retired the next 8 hitters in order before being yanked after consecutive 2-out singles. Of course, that fledgling scoring opportunity got squashed by the tough lefty slinger Hoby Milner who fanned Pederson on a pitch above the zone.

Some would say pinch-hit for Joc in that situation, and a chorus of salty couch coaches would say certainly say so now knowing the end result. In the moment, Gabe Kapler elected not to. It was certainly a high-leverage situation in a somewhat tight game, but it did feel early. Swapping Pederson for someone like J.D. Davis would’ve made sense and could’ve been effective (righty Wilmer Flores homered off Milner in Friday’s game) but my bet is that Kapler didn’t want to lose Pederson so early, especially with a roster apparently still recovering from a bout with the stomach bug. As much as Kapler might come off as some dummy idiot robo-beefcake, I think pulling Pederson in the 5th in an already strapped LHB situation would’ve been a bad idea. With a lot of game left and a 3-run deficit with righty-heavy Milwaukee bullpen, Kapler needed the potentially potent Pederson.

It didn’t work out as such, but the thinking was sound—Pederson did get more opportunities to hit in the preferred platoon match-up in the 7th and 9th.

I think the more questionable call on Kapler’s part was not pulling Stripling after he walked Winker in the 5th. Adames had scorched a Stripling offering two innings earlier and was clearly seeing him well. The bullpen options weren’t great but I think going to Jakob Junis earlier and giving the Milwaukee shortstop a new look from the mound might’ve played out better.

But back to Pederson because he had a rough day and I want to talk about it. The DH authored an 0-fer on the day with a GIDP and 3 strikeouts while stranding 5 runners. All 3 of his K’s ended with swings at pitches out of the zone, and 2 of those would’ve been ball four.

With Brandon Crawford and Mike Yastrzemski on the IL, San Francisco is suddenly left-wanting on the left-side of the plate.

LaMonte Wade Jr. continues to be an excellent lead-off man, but both Pederson and Conforto have seemed sap of power as of late. Pederson has a homer and 5 RBIs this month, but he’s just 3 for 20 and has seen his season OPS drop to below .750.

Michael Conforto is 1 for 19 on the month with an OPS clinging to .600. He hasn’t homered since the Miami series and his K% is un-godly. He looks completely lost at the plate.

These hitters’ negligence has meant responsibilities have trickled down to the bottom of the lineup, resting on the rookie shoulders of Blake Sabol and Brett Wisely.

And you know what? They’re doing like…okay! Wisely homered yesterday and knocked a 2-out RBI in the 2nd today. With a 3-hit day including a double off the bricks, Blake Sabol is currently out-slugging both Conforto and Pederson.

Wisely getting a little more comfortable at the plate with consistent opportunities to play and Sabol continuing to hit the ball hard while improving his chase rate is encouraging news, but their rising tides just won’t lift the ship as much as the tides of Pederson and Conforto. Heart of the order bats will get more at-bats in general, and more often swing in high leverage situations. You can’t have a healthy, well-rounded lineup with a bad heart. That’s just science.

Obviously, the Giants have played well in May, taking two series from above-.500 teams, but to be an environment of sustainable wins, Ped-Co (cool nickname?) are going to have to re-tap into their power.

San Francisco clogged up the base paths the entire game but failed to pour on the drain-o hit that would’ve de-haired, unblocked, de-knotted, and set the runners free. The release never came, foiled especially by late-inning strikeouts.

Six of the nine innings, the Giants had a runner on base. Only one of those innings resulted in a run.

There were three opportunities with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs three times, and San Francisco failed to score on all 3 counts. The Giants currently have 4 sacrifice flies on the season—good for the lowest amount in baseball. Sac flies are not the key to success (the Rockies have 14 and the Braves have 6) and are the subject of vitriol from someone like Bruce Bochy—but in a close game in which you were down by 3-runs for the majority of it, scratching across a run here or there would’ve been nice. Some runs are better than none in those situations.

Ironically, the blast fans had been waiting for all came off the bat of Thairo Estrada with the bases empty in the 9th.

As a team, the Giants were 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position and left 10 on base. The Brewers were 2 for 7 and left 8 on base.

The magic of the walk and home run.

San Francisco has yet to secure a series sweep this year but have won three of their last four.

They’re playing well right now and have an opportunity to gain ground towards .500 with a 3 home games against the 13-20 Washington Nationals, but the team has a tendency to lose in bunches. Making sure Sunday’s loss against Milwaukee is a gentle dip not a cliff edge feels like an important early season test for these Giants.