Well, look, the San Francisco Giants are exactly where they wanted to be at the start of the season: competing for a Wild Card spot as deep into the season as possible. They are just 1.5 games out of the third Wild Card despite holding onto a the #2 spot for a decent chunk of the season. Sports are cool (in theory) because sometimes one game or one performance really can turn things around for an entire team. That’s exactly the sort of miracle the Giants will need after yesterday’s game against Atlanta.
The Reds are a reinforcing example of how each baseball season is made up of runs. Like the Giants, the Reds were competing for a decent chunk of the season, but as the calendar flipped to August, they hit the dog days of summer which, like it does to most teams, ran them into a ditch. Dead? That remains to be seen.
These three games in San Francisco will conclude a 10-game road trip for the Reds that started off great: a sweep of the Angeles in Anaheim; but losing three out of four to the Diamondbacks in Arizona pushed them into a tie with the Giants for 1.5 games back of a Wild Card spot and a full six games out of the NL Central race. They’re 9-15 in August, the Giants are 9-14. They’ve been outscored by 26 runs, the Giants 25.
A lot like the Giants, they’ve overperformed relative to expectations, but in somewhat opposite ways. While it’s true that the Giants have somehow defied the odds and been able to rely a little bit on their farm system to provide badly needed depth — and, in the case of Patrick Bailey, perhaps fate-altering defensive play — the Reds have excelled, calling up really interesting hitting prospects who’ve hit the ground running, for the most part.
Noelvi Marté is the latest infielder to make the leap, a 21-year old 3B/SS rated the #1 prospect in Cincinnati’s system. He had an .820 OPS in 50 Double-A games before the callup, including a 22-38 BB-K. In his first four games he was 2-for-12 with four strikeouts and just one walk, but in the Diamondbacks series he was 4-for-13 with two stolen bases, two doubles and two walks against 4 strikeouts and a GIDP. He followed Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the 23-year old Bay Area kid who made his major league debut against the Giants when they visited the Great American Ballpark back in July. And, of course, before either of them was the sensational Elly De La Cruz.
De La Cruz has played in exactly 70 major league games now, and since his callup on June 6th, the Reds have had a team OPS of .753 and averaged 5.03 runs per game. In the 60 games prior? A .719 OPS and 4.55 runs per game. He and the other rookies have been a big help offensively. Unfortunately, the team’s pitching from June 6th to the end of July, while firmly middle of the pack in terms of ERA (4.21 — 15th) had some indicators of a big let down (5.04 FIP — 28th in MLB) and August has been nothing but those peripheral chickens coming home to roost (25th in ERA — 5.28, 26th in FIP — 5.17).
This is sort of the inverse of the Giants where their largely veteran pitching staff has really carried the team. From May 1st until July 31st, they were 2nd in MLB in team ERA (3.61) and 1st in MLB in FIP (3.67). Since August started, they’re 14th in ERA and FIP. And you know all about the lineup. Still the fewest runs scored in Baseball since August 1st (83).
So, these teams are polar opposites in specifics but nearly identical when it comes to results, and they arrived at their destinations differently. The Reds were trying to cheap out and half-tank and instead youth’d their way into some success, the Giants were trying to feign competitiveness with clever sequencing and methodical stat scouting to boost veteran savvy into something that suggested a sustainable model, but both teams have now firmly run into the limits of their strategy: the Reds’ youth has come up against experience, the Giants’ age has come up against fatigue.
The Giants failed the test posed by the toughest month on their schedule and regardless of outcomes this week, will have yet another losing month to toss onto the stockpile (since start of 2022, they’ve had just four winning months out of 11); but, September’s right around the corner, and last year, they went on an incredible run to get to .500 (18-8). If they can fight back their closest competition in the Wild Card chase, they’ll have a shot at turning the page just in time for a similarly great September to actually matter for playoff purposes.
With Mitch Haniger and Mike Yastrzemski set to return, Kyle Harrison on the mound to kick off this series, and the team publicizing Thairo Estrada’s pre-game speech before Sunday’s game, it’s clear the organization wants everyone to know they’re doing everything they can to save the season.
The Reds are 5-4 at Oracle in the Farhan Zaidi era and 38-39 since the park opened. They’re also 37-30 on the road, with a +14 run differential. None of that matters when both teams are desperate, and I think it’s safe to say that given the stakes, the Giants are about as desperate as a team should be.
Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds
Where: Oracle Park, San Francisco, California
When: Monday (6:45pm PT), Tuesday (6:45pm PT), Wednesday (12:45pm PT)
National broadcasts: Tuesday – MLB Network simulcast
Monday: Kyle Harrison vs. Andrew Abbott
Tuesday: Alex Cobb vs. Brandon Williamson
Wednesday: Logan Webb vs. Hunter Greene
Where they stand
Record: 68-64 3rd in NL Central
Run differential: -22, 9th in NL
Postseason standing: 6.0 games back in division, 1.5 games out of Wild Card Momentum: 1-game losing streak; 5-5 in last 10 games
Record: 67-63 3rd in NL West
Run differential: -2, 7th in NL
Postseason standing: 13.5 games back in division, 1.5 games out of Wild Card
Momentum: 1-game winning streak; 3-7 in last 10 games
Reds to watch
Elly De La Cruz: The Giants faced him 33 games into his major league career and a human highlight reel with an .812 OPS. They were able to hold him to a 2-for-16 with 7 strikeouts and 2 walks and just one stolen base (2 caught stealing!). Since that four-game series in July, De La Cruz has hit just .205/.276/.439 (.715 OPS) with 12 walks against 56 strikeouts and two more caught stealing in 7 attempts. Did the Giants figure him out? Nah, probably not. But they didn’t blow their scouting assignment, either.
Of course, there are some things you can’t scheme against with scouting, like a player’s innate physical ability. Let’s examine THIS THROW he made against the Diamondbacks to nab Corbin Carroll:
fastest-tracked assists by infielders under Statcast (2015):— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) August 27, 2023
7/20/23 Elly De La Cruz: 99.8 mph
Today Elly De La Cruz: 99.7 mph
7/16/23 Elly De La Cruz: 97.9 mph
7/14/22 Oneil Cruz: 97.8 mph
8/15/23 Elly De La Cruz: 97.5 mph
9/20/20 Fernando Tatis Jr.: 97.3 mph https://t.co/mI0lAYcfMO
Matt McLain: (3:30 pm update: Uhhh never mind. He’s on the IL!) He was 3-for-11 with a home run in the July series against the Giants and on the season he’s hitting .290/.357.507 in 403 plate appearances. I highlighted three rookies above, but here’s another. His 128 wRC+ is 20th in MLB, and while his .507 slugging percentage is exactly the same as Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz, an objectively great player, McClain does have some batted ball luck in his favor: a .385 BAbip and a 35-point difference between his wOBA and xwOBA (.370 to .335). He has a lot of swing and miss in his game, too (28.5% strikeout rate, 33rd percentile Whiff rate). Basically a 4:1 strikeout to walk guy with a ton of power who is especially deadly against fastballs (+7.5 Run Value).
Hunter Greene: Wednesday afternoon’s starter has had a rough pair of starts since returning from a 60-day IL stint. He hit the 60-day IL back on June 18th with hip pain and that’s probably because dude throws 100 mph fastballs a lot. He’s averaging 98.5 mph with his four-seamer on the season, but he gets the most swing and miss from his slider (40.2% Whiff rate) and also has a changeup. He gave up 10 hits and 8 ER in 3 IP to the Blue Jays’ lineup and 5 hits and 5 ER (along with 5 BB) against Arizona’s. The Giants don’t have a good lineup, never claimed to, and if he shuts them down, it’s to be expected. BUT, if they’re actually getting hot or just focused, Greene might be someone they can get to.
Giants to watch
Kyle Harrison: His first home start! He told old friend of the blog Jen Ramos Eisen,
Harrison said he learned a lot from his debut outing against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday.
“Learned a little about the fastball and what I can do with a changeup as well, maybe sprinkle in a little more and learn that I can land that sweeper,” Harrison said.
The Reds have a team OPS of .738 against left-handed pitching this season... same as their OPS against RHP, and the same split: .325 OBP + .413 SLG. Weeeeeeeird.
Logan Webb: Obviously, the Giants couldn’t add five players on their roster to equal even one player on Atlanta’s roster, and they made sure to remind him of that in his last start at Oracle, a place he’s been absolutely dominant. The Reds have shown that they really like Oracle Park, and a slumping ace in August would hardly be breaking news for a Major League Baseball team; it’d just be really bad timing for a fading team.
Thairo Estrada: Can he be the hero the team so desperately needs? Maybe the speech can be a jumping off point? He has a .601 OPS in his last 8 games.
Mitch Haniger: It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote, without sarcasm or irony, that Haniger’s batting profile is exactly what the Giants’ lineup had been missing this whole time. He’s set to come back this series just in time for the team to face two left-handed starting pitchers. Can he be the bat they’d hoped for in the offseason at the most crucial point of the regular season? It’s weird to think about because in the offseason, when millions are on the line, we always focus on injury history as a reason to doubt the player, but if the player’s on the roster, the same naysayers are quick to retreat to “career averages” and “veteran experience.” Mitch Haniger’s career is defined solely by injury, but if he gives the Giants anything that’s not an injury or an out, it might be enough to help them get over this hump.
Giants vs. Reds - how will it go?
This poll is closed
Reds win series
Giants win series
Giants win series