For the first hour or so, the game was tied 0-0. You, an eternal pessimist, talked yourself into the Giants having a chance because Ross Stripling was dealing. I, an eternal optimist, thought the Giants had a chance because Ross Stripling was dealing.
We were humming right along.
In the sixth inning, Nathaniel Lowe came up to bat with two outs and the bases empty. Stripling, who came in to start the second inning after opener Scott Alexander, had retired 11 batters in a row. No small feat against a team that has, collectively, a better OPS than all but two Giants players this year.
Stripling backed up a fastball across the plate with a slider in a nearly identical place, a sound strategy that was, unfortunately, executed poorly. Lowe put the ball in the water, and the Rangers led 1-0.
You, an eternal pessimist, thought the game was over. I, an eternal optimist, was halfway through this thought when Mitch Garver put the next pitch into the bleachers.
You, an eternal pessimist, knew the game was over. I, an eternal optimist, was left with no choice but to begrudgingly agree and mute my Twitter notifications.
The offense was, as it has been for a shockingly long time, bordering on nonexistent. They were retired in order by Jon Gray in the first inning, on 13 pitches. Joc Pederson had a leadoff single to start the second inning, but never made it to second base. The went down in order in the third inning. The went down in order in the fourth inning, on seven pitches. Patrick Bailey had a two-out single in the fifth inning, but never made it to second base. They went down in order in the sixth inning, on 10 pitches. They went down in order in the seventh inning, on nine pitches.
The eighth inning brought the faintest glimmer of light, when Bailey drew a one-out walk against Aroldis Chapman and trotted to third on a pair of wild pitches, the likes of which quickly reminded me why baseball, a mild-mannered non-contact sport, still scared the bejesus out of me as a kid.
But — and I mean this as no respect to a Fremont legend — it’s a sign of the state of the Giants roster at the moment that their big move in the eighth inning was to pinch-hit with Mark Mathias, a 29 year old with 43 career hits. With Bailey moving to third on a pitch that made it 3-1, giving Mathias a prime RBI opportunity, Garver laid down the perfect blueprint for his pitcher. What should one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in MLB history do against an inexperienced big leaguer who just watched (in terror, likely) two wild heat-seeking missiles thrown by a pitcher who clearly had no control over where the ball was going?
Back it up with a pair of off-speed pitches in the zone, naturally. Mathias swung through both.
The Giants offense was and has been so listless that the squandered opportunity didn’t even feel noteworthy. So what if they missed a prime chance to score in the eighth? They weren’t gonna score in the ninth, so what does it matter? What’s the difference between a 2-0 loss and a 2-1 loss, really?
Oh, sweet child. Sweet pessimistic you, and sweet optimistic me, slowly being converted to the other side. How little we knew.
Because the ninth inning proved that point wildly incorrect, and it brought with it the lone silver lining of the game. The Giants turned to their third and final right-handed pinch-hitter to open the ninth, replacing LaMonte Wade Jr. with recently called-up Heliot Ramos.
Ramos fell behind old friend Will Smith 0-2 and I was prepared for a strikeout. Yes, the pessimism got to me: it just felt right. It was a disappointing game. The one thing we could all rally behind was that surely the Giants youngsters couldn’t do any worse, so it really did feel fitting that the recent promotee who was glued to the bench would strike out, just as a sly middle finger to your filed complaint. In my day they made the rookies dress up as Disney characters. Now they make them play the role of HR.
But then Ramos spat on two pitches, forced Smith to throw a challenge fastball, and roped it to the wall for a double, ending up at third thanks to an error by center fielder Leody Taveras, who spent all nine innings wondering who had the stupid ass idea to build a ballpark in San Francisco.
Pessimism and optimism abound with Ramos’ latest call-up. The reasons for the former are clear: his history of success in the upper Minors is brief; even in that success he’s still pounding a lot of balls into the dirt; his strikeout rate is quite high; and the Giants don’t seem very confident in him.
But the reasons for the former are equally clear, as Bryan laid out yesterday. And while I recommend reading Bryan’s article, the biggest reason for optimism — or at least short-term optimism — can be summed up with one simple stat.
Heliot Ramos' leadoff double in the ninth was 112.7 mph. Only Joc Pederson has hit a ball harder this year for the Giants. They've been missing that.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 12, 2023
The Giants offense is not nearly as bad as it’s been for the last two months, even if it’s not nearly as good as it was for the first two months, either.
Yet even as the offense recovers and shows life — and it will — there is a glaring issue. The team does not hit the ball hard. They do not have many individuals who hit the ball hard. There are many ways to play good offense, and hitting the ball hard is only one of them.
But it’s the most reliable one. If you hit the ball hard, good things reliably happen. This is a baseball truism that old school purists and analytics nerds alike can agree on. Plate discipline is swell, but there are plenty of mediocre hitters who are great at it. Contact is great, but tons of good contact hitters are so-so offensive players.
Hard contact? That’s a party that isn’t diluted. No strangers got the password to get into that one. The five hitters with the hardest average exit velocity this year are Aaron Judge, Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr., Shohei Ohtani, and Corey Seager. The five hitters with the hardest maximum exit velocity this year are Olson, Giancarlo Stanton, Jake Burger, William Contreras, and Ohtani.
Hit the ball hard and good things happen. And if you didn’t know, now you know: Ramos can hit the ball hard.
He’ll start tomorrow and maybe it will make a difference. Or maybe he won’t put the ball in play. Let your inner pessimist or optimist choose its own adventure before reality reveals the answers. Until then, we’ll hang on one swing.
Ramos scored, by the way. The run that would have tied it had the Giants found a way to score Bailey an inning prior. The run that kept them from getting shut out in Bruce Bochy’s return. The run that gave you at least one reason to watch this otherwise unwatchable team tomorrow.