The good will accrued from the San Francisco Giants five game winning streak to start this second half has been spent and officially overdrawn.
Desperate for the Pacific air, the sweater weather, and familiarly mutable microclimes, the team was forced to touch down in Michigan for one last sticky, inland day game against the Detroit Tigers. The 5-1 defeat was their season-high 6th consecutive loss and a cleat to the shin of the already hobbling Giants just trying to make it back home.
The loss felt pretty assured after the Tigers announced a lefty, Tarik Skubal, would pitch the make-up game. On the season, the right-hand side of the plate has been the weaker link with an 88 wRC+ (100 is league average) and a .680 OPS (tied with Milwaukee for 28th in MLB going into today’s game). Those numbers are taking into account at-bats when Thairo Estrada and Mitch Haniger were healthy.
San Francisco stayed on-brand against Skubal, mustering 2 singles with only one leaving the infield while striking out 9 times over 5 innings against the Hayward native.
It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of attacking the zone and pitching in leverage counts against a hot-hitting lineup—if an arm does that against a team that’s scuffling, it’s like watching your middle-aged neighbor mount his riding lawn mower and methodically and absolutely lay waste to an overgrown and unruly front yard.
Shirt-off, denim cut-offs on, blasting Pearl Jam’s ‘Even Flow’ while drinking a Labatt Blue and clearly feeling himself, the mound was Skubal’s Cub Cadet and the Giants’ collective ass was grass.
Only three balls put in play by SF bats qualified as “hard-hit” (exit velocity > 95 MPH). 2 of them were off the bat of Luis Matos, and only 1 of those went for a hit.
On top of weak contact, hitters were perpetually down in counts. 15 of the 17 batters against Skubal were dropped in a 0-1 hole after the first pitch. An inside fastball to David Villar with an out in the 5th was the only 1-0 count Skubal put himself in—it didn’t seem to ruffle feathers though, and Villar eventually struck out on 5 pitches.
It’s tough to say how nasty Skubal’s stuff was weighed against how lifeless the Giants bats have been as of late. I guess they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Skubal didn’t pitch perfectly, but any mistakes left out over the zone went unpunished. Reliant on a fastball about 50% of the time with a slider and change-up as his go-to secondary, he did a great job of mixing his pitches while showing off command for the entire repertoire. The first time through the order he threw his four-seam fastball four times, slider four times and knuckle curve once for first pitch strikes. The second time through, he tossed in a change-up 3 times to offset the slider
It says something about the afternoon when the offensive highlight was Casey Schmitt seeing 19 pitches across two at-bats, with both ABs still ending in swinging strikeouts.
After review, Bailey ain't havin' it pic.twitter.com/Z3sesQemgS— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 24, 2023
I know the Giants pride themselves on a level-headed and “even keeled” approach at the plate. Stick to the game plan whether they’re hot or not. Swing path machines. Look for a pitch to drive and barrel it. I respect the faith in the process, but man, patience can sour into lifelessness pretty quick.
Neck-deep in a slump, it would be nice to see the bats get a little weird. Get aggressive. Tear up the script and start improvising. Even though Skubal pounded the zone, only 7 times in their 17 at-bats against him did they hack at the first pitch.
I was reminded of those at-bats from Dominic Smith and Keibert Ruiz against Logan Webb last Saturday. Those hitters found themselves in a count hole, and responded by choking up on the bat and chipping away at the guy until he broke. Easier said than done, and I get the current team philosophy grates up against this a little, but as a fan, wouldn’t it be cool—or encouragingly human—to see someone snap their violin in half and say screw it, I’m out of here instead of just going gracefully down with the ship.
The flexibility doesn’t feel like it’s there in this line-up. Apart from Matos, the free-swingers like Schmitt or Villar or J.D. Davis don’t have the bat-to-ball skills to shorten up and poke. Everything is all or nothing, which was the worry for these bats in April when this series in Detroit should’ve ended.
Ross Stripling, Nasty 83mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/FlA2e93any— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 24, 2023
If the loss felt likely against a lefty, it felt inevitable after Detroit bats scratched a 1st inning run off Ross Stripling.
The lineup just didn’t have the resilience—mental or physical or spiritual—to piece together a come-from-behind win. Stripling, no matter how much he’s improved as of late, didn’t have the ability to do anything against the Detroit offense but slow them down.
He did just that—allowing 10 hits but only 3 runs over 6 innings for his second consecutive quality start.
It was Detroit’s 2-3-4 hitters that gave Stripling the most trouble. Riley Greene went 3-for-4, scoring 2 runs. Spencer Torkelson 2 for 4 with an RBI. Kerry Carpenter collected two RBI-singles in the 3rd and 5th, both with 2-outs.
Detroit threatened with crooked numbers in the 1st, 3rd and 5th against Stripling. Flirting with disaster, the starter was able to skirt the big inning with defensive highlights from Patrick Bailey, Austin Slater and Michael Conforto.
Technically still in reach, the single runs were more than enough. Death by paper cuts. The train slowly rolled from the station and San Francisco watched it go.
Wilmer Flores launched another solo shot (he’s hit 5 in the past week) in the 6th off reliever José Cisnero, and Joc Pederson smoked a pinch hit single in the 9th, but like it was in Cincinnati and Washington, those feats were more of a personal note than consequential to the team.
It wasn’t until the 9th inning with the game safely out of reach after defensive replacement Zack Short’s 2-run homer off Ryan Walker that San Francisco pieced together their first semblance of a rally. Pederson’s 2-out single followed by Patrick Bailey’s walk in the 9th were the first time consecutive hitters reached base since the 4th inning of Sunday’s game.
In the team’s first at-bat with runners in scoring position, Blake Sabol struck out to end the game.
There’s a scene in “Cool Hand Luke‘’ where one of the prison guards points at a rectangular piece of ground and asks the prisoner Luke, recently recaptured from an escape attempt, why his dirt is in Boss Kean’s ditch.
Tired and spent, Luke sighs: I don’t know, boss and dutifully digs his dirt out.
The next day another guard leans over and asks why Luke’s dirt is in his yard. Luke then crawls out of the hole he just dug and starts to fill it back up. Again, the next day the first guard returns and wonders why his dirt is in Boss Kean’s ditch after he asked him to get it out.
The treadmill wears on until Luke is reduced to a pile of sore limbs and tears. Gone are the days of paving a road in an afternoon, of eating 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour, of making something out of nothing. Luke, with his charming defiance and casual indifference to authority worked out of him, can only throw up his hand in defeat.
Over the last half of this road trip, the Giants have shown up to the park to dig a hole one day and fill it up the next. Unable to close out batters and innings, trying to make up ground in early innings. Two hits…in the same inning??? A seeing-eye single…with runners in scoring position??? Those little baseball things feel like miracles. Impossibilities. Distant and unfathomable. The players are so exhausted they can only see as far as the shoes on their feet. They’re at a loss for words.
But that’s the long season at play—it wants to break you, and every team gets beat down and laid out on their back in their own way. The Giants are returning to the Bay broken and splayed out in a hole of their own digging, and the question is how do they respond.