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The Giants might’ve met their match in the Padres

That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

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Cleveland Guardians v San Diego Padres Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

A marvelous weekend in Los Angeles after a wonderful trip through St. Louis has brought the San Francisco Giants safely beyond the gravity well of .500 and on a trajectory that could take them into the 2023 postseason. Of course, it’s only June, and plenty can go wrong over the next ~3.5 months, and the Giants might only be on that trajectory from our perspective. Besides, all 7-game winning streaks come to an end.

If you’re looking at the team from the outside, like, say from MLB.com, then you might not think what’s happened here amounts to a whole lot more than a nice run of late or something else that’s damning with faint praise. The Reds have the longest winning streak in Baseball right now at 8 games, with the Giants right behind them with 7.

Of the Reds, Will Leitch writes:

It has been a long time since Reds fans have had the pure joy they’ve experienced in the past week. They went undefeated this week, all on the road, winning three games in Kansas City and then three more in Houston against the defending champion Astros. They’ve won eight in a row and are just a half-game out of first place. Out of all the National League Central teams, they’re the highest in our Power Rankings. And when you look at this team play, it’s clear: They’re just getting started.

The Giants won three games in St. Louis and then three more in Los Angeles against one of the winningest teams of the past decade and their archrival. The Reds aren’t ranked higher than the Giants, but the Giants weren’t able to crack the top 10 somehow, with the Dodgers falling just to 6th.

The Giants have more wins, a better run differential, better pitching, better defense, and a lineup that’s, admittedly, not quite as good as the Dodgers, but still the third-most in the National League and top 10 in MLB. I should think the Giants would at least be close if not better than their nearest rival.

But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe the Power Rankers, by virtue of being disaffected and distant when it comes to the NL West, have a clearer view of the situation. They’re not caught up in the game-to-game, they can just see the results up until this point. That’s how Baseball works after all, right? Teams are the same at the start as they are at the end?

The Padres were supposed to be neck and neck with the Dodgers for the top of the division. Instead, the two Southern California teams are duking it out for third place while the Giants try to figure out if they have a shot at messing with the Diamondbacks’ position atop the division. Since May 15, the team with the best record in all of Major League Baseball is the San Francisco Giants (22-9). The Dodgers are 13-18 (23rd) and the Padres 16-14 (13th).

San Diego has had the best pitching by FanGraphs’ wins above replacement during this same span (5.4), generating more value than the Giants’ 4.8. That’s largely because of their starting pitching (3.4), but their bullpen has also been stellar. With 2.0 wins above replacement, they’re still a full win behind what the Giants’ arm barn has done, but second overall in baseball.

May 15 is when it turned around for both teams, really. After getting swept by the Dodgers in LA to fall to 19-22, their team OPS just .699 and ERA 4.03, they’ve gone 16-14 with a team OPS of .735 and ERA of 3.37. To put it another way, they’ve gone from averaging 3.93 runs per game to 4.63 and allowing 0.66 fewer runs per game. Look at the performance from their rotation over this span:

Blake Snell’s last six starts: 34 IP, 2.12 ERA (2.98 FIP) 50 K, 15 BB, 3 HRA, 1.00 WHIP
Joe Musgrove’s last six starts: 34.1 IP, 2.88 ERA (3.22 FIP) 29 K, 7 BB, 2 HRA, 1.14 WHIP
Michael Wacha’s last six starts: 37.1 IP, 0.96 ERA (2.69 FIP) 39 K, 9 BB 2 HRA, 0.92 WHIP

Baseball is often a mystery, but with some probing you can usually arrive at some sort of reasonable conclusion to explain certain aspects of performance. Why has the team started hitting and pitching better over the last month? After that sweep in LA, they still went on to lose four of their next five and Manny Machado to injury.The easy answer is that they signed Gary Sanchez to be their catcher. They’re 11-7 with him since he joined the team on May 30th, but I think that’s far too simplistic.

Truth is, I think the sillier-sounding explanation that “The team realized they’re too good to be this bad” makes the most sense. A team with Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, the pitching including Josh Hader as their closer, should not be scuffling so much.

This past weekend, they took two out of three against the Rays to clinch their first winning homestand of the season, a stunning fact to read because the Padres have the market cornered in San Diego. They’re the only game in town! They are supposed to be much, much better than a .500 team. In Dennis Lin’s great gamer on Sunday’s win that he wrote for The Athletic (subscription required), we get the team saying as much:

In Saturday’s 2-0 decision, they won with another sparkling start from Blake Snell and a somewhat inelegant, ultimately fruitful half-inning in which they bunted on three consecutive pitches, scored on a sacrifice fly and scored again on a swinging bunt. In Sunday’s series decider, they held on to win, 5-4, with a bend-don’t-break outing from Joe Musgrove, a game-saving throw from Tatis, his exhilarating jaunt of menacing baserunning and more small ball from some of the team’s big boppers.

[...]

“Not only do they hit homers, but you look at their numbers with runners in scoring position; a lot of times, that’s not trying to do too much and putting it in play and using the big part of the ballpark,” San Diego manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s not the sexiest thing in the world to shoot one in the hole between first and second. And it’s not hit very hard, but it’s just as effective as anything else.”

[...]

“Whatever it takes to win,” Machado said.

Athletes absolute have a mental component to their performance. The power of belief cannot be quantified (yet), but if you’ve ever been a conscious human being, you know that it can help you focus your attention and efforts. The Giants just swept their rival to wake themselves out of year and a half-long .500 stupor. Maybe the Padres have done the same and with the same mentality: “Hey, we’re better than this. Let’s play like it.”

The key to this four-game series might very well lie in which team can maintain that focus.

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Where they stand

Padres

Record: 35-36, 4th in NL West
Run differential: +24 5th in the NL
Postseason standing: 3.5 games back in Wild Card, 7.0 games out of the division
Momentum: 2-game losing streak; 7-3 in their last 10 games

Giants

Record: 39-32, 2rd in NL West
Run differential: +48, 2nd in the NL
Postseason standing: 2nd Wild Card ending June 18th, 3.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 7-game winning streak; 8-2 in their last 10 games

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Series details

Who: San Francisco Giants vs. San Diego Padres
Where: Oracle Park, San Francisco, California
When: Monday (6:45pm PT), Tuesday (6:45pm PT), Wednesday (6:45pm PT), Thursday (12:45pm PT)
National broadcasts: None.

Projected starters:

Monday: Ryan Walker (opener) vs. Michael Wacha
Tuesday: Anthony DeSclafani vs. TBD
Wednesday: TBD vs. Yu Darvish
Thursday: Alex Wood vs. Blake Snell
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Padres to watch

Michael Wacha: He’s had a dazzling season (2.89 ERA in 13 starts), and since May 18, he’s been the 6th-best starting pitcher in Baseball, 2nd-best in the NL (1.1 fWAR). Oh sure, this happened to him once at Oracle Park —

— but that was 1) a long time ago and 2) Mike Matheny’s fault for putting him in that situation.

He’s made 7 regular season starts against the Giants and has a 1.42 ERA in 38 IP. I must note that his 0.75 ERA in 2 starts at Oracle Park are the result of a start there in 2015 and 2017. In the 2015 start, he was charged with 4 unearned runs in what became a Cardinals loss. He hasn’t made a start against the Giants since 2017. So, does that mean it’ll be super easy for the Giants to get to him?

Well, he features a fastball-slider combo with that fastball being, primarily, a four-seamer. He also has a cutter and sinker. The Giants have been really good against the four-seam fastball — Joc Pederson, in particular is a top 10 in MLB in terms of Statcast’s Run Value (+10) against the pitch type. They’re not bad against cutters, either. J.D. Davis is 5th in Baseball with +5 Run Value on the pitch. Remarkably, Casey Schmitt has been the best Giant (+4) against the sinker.

The four-seamer has gone from being his worst pitch by run value last season to his best (-8). His changeup (-6) is right there and could be a real equalizer. It has a 36.1% Whiff Rate. His curveball is also right there at 32.4%. His cutter also has a lot of drop on it so it might act a bit more like a slutter, which could make him really tough to square up and much easier to swing and miss against. His 2.89 ERA is betrayed by an xERA of 4.05 so if the Giants are going to have any success against him it’ll be because they either guessed right on the changeup-curveball portion of his sequencing or absolutely demolish his fastballs.

Fernando Tatis Jr.: Since May 18, Tied with Corbin Carroll as the best player in baseball (2.1 fWAR), and since there’s clearly a nonzero chance that Kyle Harrison could get called up to make a start for the Giants, that rematch of their minor league encounter would be fun.

That might be the extent of the fun, though, because dude has crushed the Giants. A career .896 OPS in 43 games against them with 12 home runs. He’s also stolen 7 bases in 11 attempts. He has tormented the NL West teams, so the Giants aren’t some sort of exception, but they don’t have a player like him, and the idea of watching him shoot ropes all over Oracle and making diving plays in the outfield has the potential to be really annoying if that’s the only razzle dazzle on display at Oracle this week.

That’s where Luis Matos comes in, I suppose, and perhaps a battle of two young talents might be just what fans need to spark more excitement about these Giants.

Juan Soto: After a (slow for him) start to his Padres career, he’s gone Full Soto, back to his career averages. He has yet to really light it up at Oracle (career .648 OPS) and I’d like for that trend to continue, but if the Padres really are gearing up to go on a roll, you have to believe he’ll be a part of it.

Manny Machado: He’s back! He hit the IL on May 16th and since coming back on June 2nd, he’s hitting .295/.313/.475 (15 games), raising his abysmal season OPS by nearly 50 points. In this same stretch, he’s struck out 14 time and walked only twice; but, against the Giants and at Oracle Park, he’s always a monster.

Career vs. Giants: [78 G] .285/.344/.503 (.847) 36 extra base hits out of 85 hits

Career at Oracle Park: [43 G] .282/.337/.477 (.813) 22 extra base hits out of 48 hits

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Giants to watch

J.D. Davis: It was great seeing him hit that pinch hit grand slam, wasn’t it? Here it is again:

He’s simply the biggest threat in the Giants’ lineup, and against the Padres, he’s done well: an .809 OPS in 70 plate appearances.

Joc Pederson: That Wacha matchup will be crucial, because Pederson does great against the things he does well. Like Davis, he’s also done well against the Padres: an .835 OPS in 372 plate appearances.

Ryan Walker: The opener for Monday night’s game and I think it’s an important tryout. I’m of the opinion that as nice as it is that John Brebbia has versatility, I think he’s most effective late in the game. The numbers have shown that throughout this season. I like Walker in the 6th/7th inning role, too, but if I have to choose I’m picking Brebbia. Seeing if Walker can do this might allow them to move Brebbia back to higher leverage spots when he returns from the IL.

Anthony DeSclafani: A career 2.42 ERA against the Padres (9 starts, 52 IP) looks good because the Giants are down Alex Cobb and need as many innings as they can get from their remaining starters, but he’s gone in the opposite direction of his teammates since May 15:

6 GS
29.1 IP
6.44 ERA (4.78 FIP)
25 K
12 BB
1.58 WHIP
.857 OPS against

His last start in St. Louis (3 IP) was a big red flag (despite 7 strikeouts). Can he bounce back?

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Prediction time

Poll

Giants vs. Padres - how will it go?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Giants sweep
    (34 votes)
  • 48%
    Giants split
    (191 votes)
  • 33%
    Giants win 3-1
    (133 votes)
  • 1%
    Giants swept
    (5 votes)
  • 7%
    Giants lose 3-1
    (29 votes)
392 votes total Vote Now