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Throw, or no throw?

Patrick Bailey took a risk against the Reds’ base path didn’t work out

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

A double steal initiated by Elly de la Cruz broke-up the pitching duel between Logan Webb and Hunter Greene in the 5th inning of the series finale against the Cincinnati Reds.

Patrick Bailey’s throw to second wasn’t intended to nab de la Cruz at secondbase but play along with his opponent’s shenanigans, and hopefully give Thairo Estrada a chance to nab the runner breaking for home and take the edge off the Reds’ scoring threat.

That was the plan, and San Francisco had pulled it off before—but getting Spencer Steer, who’s in the 78th percentile of sprint speed, wasn’t going to be easy. Speed means a smaller margin for error, and Estrada’s relay throw back home erred too far to Bailey’s right, opening the door wide enough for Steer to sneak in across the plate.

But the play started to come off the rails when the initial throw from Bailey sailed and forced Estrada off his feet, affecting his momentum and how he set-up his cleats for the return. A better throw from Bailey would have enabled a better throw from Estrada which might have caught Steer. Ultimately, the decision to engage probably wasn’t the best choice. The Reds throw down the gauntlet in those situations because they generally have the upper hand in it. They lead MLB in stolen bases—speed is their game, and the risk for them, even against Patrick Bailey’s arm, is minimal. If the initiating runner is caught probably means the lead runner scores. And when the initiating runner is de la Cruz? Why not unleash a little mayhem?

It’s not that I don’t like the aggressiveness of Bailey. That’s why he’s fun to watch—he’s not afraid to just go for it. Risk comes with reward and regret. But with the score knotted at nil-nil, caution may have been the better tactic. Allowing the steal would put multiple runners in scoring position for Cincinnati but also open up first base, freeing the pitcher to tiptoe around a hot hitter. Christian Encarnacion-Strand already had 2 hits against Webb and would ultimately single in de la Cruz for Cincy’s second run.

With a base to play with, issuing an “intentional” walk creates an escape route for a ground-ball pitcher like Webb on the mound. One pitch and they could be off the field. Playing into the Reds hand in the end took the ball out of Webb’s. He didn’t get a chance to choose between going after Encarnacion-Strand, or pitching around him.

Hindsight 20-20. I’m always asking 3rd graders why they engage when a classmate is teasing them, and they look at me like I’m crazy. If a kid is waving a booger in your face why wouldn’t you react? In that sense, it’s hard to be overly critical of Bailey’s decision to throw. The Reds chose to instigate and he reacted. A way out of the inning presented itself and he steered the ship down it. In the end, the defense engaged but couldn’t quite execute.

The double-steal became so consequential in the 4-1 loss because the Giants struggled to create opportunities on offense, and when they did succeed, failed to capitalize on them. It was a Logan Webb game, so what do you expect? His 3.2 run support is the lowest in the Majors, and his rosy-cheeks and sandy hair are morphing more and more into the visage of Cain with each start.

They also had to deal with Cincinnati starter Hunter Greene, who has not had a great year but always has great stuff. The right-handed starter toggled between an easy high-90s fastball and slider to hold every hitter in check not named Casey Schmitt.

Schmitt had his first multi-hit day since June 11th with a pair of doubles. His single with two outs in the 3rd was San Francisco’s first hit against Greene and his double to lead-off the 6th was the second. That 6th inning was the best scoring opportunity for San Francisco and the best opportunity to erase the 2-run lead manufactured off Webb in the 5th.

Estrada’s bloop single chased Greene from the game but a botched pick-off from reliever Ian Gibaut allowed Schmitt to score. With Estrada now at second, Wilmer Flores popped out to first for the second out of the inning, and after Joc Pederson’s intentional walk upped the wager, it was up to Pat Bailey to cash in. He had done it before, and he’ll do it again, and he was so close to doing it this time.

Second baseman Spencer Steer, who spoiled Cobb’s no-hitter last night, picked with full-extension Bailey’s 100 MPH daisy cutter destined to be an RBI single in shallow right field and preserved Cincinnati’s slim lead.

The Giants had another opportunity handed to them in the 7th when Mike Yastrzemski in his return worked a lead-off walk, and another throwing error by reliever Fernando Cruz on a comebacker off the bat of Wade Meckler set up runners at first and second with one out. Hoping for another drive but would’ve settled for a doink, Schmitt couldn’t do either, taking a splitter that Cruz painted on the opposite corner for a called strike three. LaMonte Wade Jr. then flew out to center to end the inning.

Greene went 5.1 innings, allowing 3 hits on 1 run (unearned) with 1 BB and 6 K. The Cincinnati bullpen allowed only 1 hit and 3 walks over the final 3.2 innings. Webb’s final line: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 0 BB, and 6 K. It was his 11th loss and fifth when recording a quality start.

The story of today’s game was the Reds rookie infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand. The Pleasant Hill local made his debut in the series against the Giants in Cincinnati, but he finally got to play in front of a hometown crowd on Monday night. He doubled in that game but was a little overshadowed by the Kyle Harrison event. The two rookies are within a year of each other and played at high schools four miles apart in Concord. Encarnacion-Strand went hitless in last night’s game, but again, a bit lost in the Alex Cobb’s no-hitter bid hubbub. Finally, with the dust settled, Encarnacion-Strand stepped into the light in the series finale, going 4-for-4 with 2 singles, a double, and a decisive 2-run homer off Tyler Rogers in the 8th. He probably should’ve caught Gibaut’s pick-off throw that glanced off his mitt, allowing a run to score, but he saved some face lifting a Rogers frisbee over the center field wall with 2-outs, putting the ball just out of Meckler’s reach and the game from the Giants’.

Great for the local kid, but the home run raises some wary brows in Rogers’ direction. The submariner has now allowed 6 runs in 9.2 innings pitched this month, good for a 5.59 ERA. His 4.73 July wasn’t much better. ERA wise, other than May of last year and its 9.53 mark (mostly due to allowing 7 runs over 0.1 IP against those slaphappy Mets of ‘22), this month has been a knuckle-dragger. His 32% hard hit percentage since July (not including today’s game) is up from the season’s 29.6%. His barrel rate is double that of the season average but is still pretty dang low—he’s elite in both of those categories compared to the rest of the league. Hard to diagnose from the couch, but I know wiffle balls are particularly temperamental. Workload this time of year is always a good bet—he’s about 10 innings away from his 2022 total. Or it might just be another case of human nature inserting itself at an inopportune time.

A 4-1 loss sours a series win and a 3-game stretch of pretty excellent pitching from the starting rotation. The two wins on Monday and Tuesday secured the season series and the Wild Card tie-breaker. Onwards to San Diego.