Tonight, the San Francisco Giants faced a team that’s been struggling a lot worse than they have been since August 1st. A weekend in Oakland left me in a daze — did that really happen? Did they really lose two games to a team giving away wins? And here they were tonight facing an Angels team that’s 0-6 in August and just 11-11 in the second half.
But the Angels have Shohei Ohtani, which is better than what the A’s — or Giants — have.
That ground-ball single from Shohei Ohtani left the bat at 111.4 mph. It was his 32nd ball hit at 111+ mph this year.#SFGiants have 11 as a team.— Evan Webeck (@EvanWebeck) August 8, 2023
In the series preview, I presented a poll featuring four possible awesome moments Shohei Ohtani might give us in this three-game series, and while extreme exit velocity on batted balls was assumed and therefore left out of it, something else just as incredible but (ultimately) maybe not as surprising was presented, too: that he’d steal a base against Patrick Bailey.
Bailey has quickly become one of the 3-4 best catchers in the entire sport, but that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to steal against him. He had 19 caught stealings (and 36% success rate) in just 483 innings coming into tonight’s game, the most in the National League. Ohtani is 14-for-18 in stolen bases and is the best player in the world right. Of course he was going to test out this hot shot rookie.
Shohei Ohtani 15th stolen base— (@Sh_o_o_sy0Z2z5a) August 8, 2023
大谷くんの15個目の盗塁❣ 点に結び付きたかった pic.twitter.com/ahnBw3YWDW
And lest you think this was just some kinda-sorta big deal for Patrick Bailey, remember that this is Shohei Ohtani, whose every move creates history. In this case:
He became the first player to have at least 40 homers and 15 stolen bases through his club’s first 114 games of a season.
The only other player with at least 40 homers and 15 stolen bases through a club’s first 120 games is Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., who reached those levels in Seattle’s 117th game in 1998.
It was a close play, but not close enough for the Giants to burn a challenge. Close was the theme of the night. Through the first eight innings, it felt a lot like a Giants game we’ve seen since July started: offensive ineptitude and close calls that didn’t quite go the Giants’ way, creating a razor thin margin for error that a stiff breeze could push the other away.
Ohtani’s first scorched ball referenced above led to that stolen base and he hit a second scorcher in his second at bat of the night that he hustled into a double that setup the Angels’ first run. He’s so, so good. So good that, as expected, maybe Ohtani alone was going to be enough against the Giants.
But then Logan Webb looked strong through five innings.
His home/road splits this season are troubling: 4.75 road ERA heading into tonight’s game versus 2.23 at Oracle Park. The Angels “got to” him — or rather, the bundle of ineptitude called the San Francisco Giants that he was contractually obligated to represent on the mound tonight — in the 6th inning, but his line ended with 7 hits in 5.2 IP and just one earned run (two total) with six strikeouts and zero walks. It was his eighth start of the season (out of 24) without allowing a walk.
The Giants fell behind after a defensive miscue by Luis Matos in center field, but managed to pull even after a J.D. Davis bomb to the Disney rocks at Angel Stadium. From there, it felt like it was still anyone’s game, but because it’s the Giants — the worst lineup in baseball for the past seven weeks — you could be forgiven for being skeptical. Skeptical would almost be the most rational action, even in a game that can be as unpredictable as baseball.
It’s when A.J. Pollock had his Ricky Ledee moment in right field that it felt like, “Ahhhh, right. The Giants,” and everything we’ve learned about the Arte Moreno Angels got tossed out the window. At least for one night, the Giants could be worse than the Angels’ six game losing streak and general crapulence.
And in the 8th inning, when Mickey Moniak honored Mike Trout on Mike Trout’s birthday by making a Mike Trout Leap at the center field wall to rob Joc Pederson of a game-tying home run —
Do you remember the days when a Giant could just hit one over the field?
On this day 16 years ago, Barry Bonds became MLB’s all-time home run leader pic.twitter.com/f8K63BZIpA— KNBR (@KNBR) August 7, 2023
Anyway, Moniak’s catch is when it felt like the game was over.
But the Angels have... something wrong with them. I don’t know what it is.
Carlos Estévez, their closer, is an All-Star this year! He pitched a scoreless inning with a pair of strikeouts in that game! He had 23 save opportunities through July 23rd and converted all 23! In the five games since that 23rd save, though, he’s allowed 14 runs (9 earned) in 5.1 innings. But Baseball fans know that it doesn’t always come down to one guy.
As much as fans were ready to take down A.J. Pollock for a loss tonight, Luis Matos’s miscue and Mickey Moniak’s play on Joc Pederson’s ball — which would’ve been a hit 97% of the time — were right there, too. Same goes for the Angels and Angels fans regarding Estévez.
Yes, he made mistakes. I’m no pitching coach, but it looks like he had no command of his slider — his secondary pitch that he throws 33% of the time — and had just spotty command with his primary pitch: his four-seam fastball, which averages 97 and he throws 66% of the time. You could see it in the first three batters of the 9th inning: Wilmer Flores, who stroked a fastball to left field. J.D. Davis, who took a bad slider for ball four; and Patrick Bailey, who dumped another bad slider into left field which Randall Grichuk misplayed into two runs.
You see? The Angels have their own A.J. Pollock, because they’re the Angels. There’s just something wrong with them. That 9th inning meltdown that led to a miraculous 6-run explosion and come from behind win for the worst lineup in Major League Baseball all started thanks to an earlier miscue, when Mike Moustakas’s throwing error in the top of the 7th turned a Luis Matos groundout into a free baserunner. Mark Mathias — a 9th inning hero — struck out to end that inning, but it made it possible for LITERALLY THE BEST HITTER IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE SINCE JUNE 1ST, Wilmer Flores, to leadoff the top of the 9th.
And Wilmer Flores knows what to do with a four-seam fastball thrown in a bad location:
It was Mark Mathias’s at bat that moved me the most. Estevez had him beat. That second strike was a 100 mph fastball that the Giants’ recent acquisition couldn’t catch up to.
But Mark Mathias has a really nice career OBP in the minor leagues, and has enough of a track record that I think he can hit a fastball — even of the 97-100 mph variety (Estevez averages 97 according to Statcast) if he knows it’s coming. Then it’s only a matter of hoping/expecting/looking for the pitcher to make a location mistake. I can understand the sequencing not calling for a breaking ball there, especially if the slider isn’t working, but that’s either a poor decision to try to bust him on the hands or a hugely missed location.
Nope. They were definitely trying to go inside and bust him up above the hands. He missed location into most righties’ wheelhouse, but it was a questionable decision anyway.
Anyway, good for Mathias and the Giants.
¡Bienvenido a los Gigantes, Mark Mathias! pic.twitter.com/ETMA2xMaOi— SF Gigantes (@SFGigantes) August 8, 2023
And, earlier, good for Patrick Bailey.
He had a really nice night: 2-for-3 with 3 RBI and a walk. From July 1st to July 30th (21 games) he was just 11-for-74 (.149/.192/.189) with 2 walks against 23 strikeouts. He’s 7-for-21 with 5 walks against 4 strikeouts in his last 7 games. That’s a nice bounce back after beginning to look overmatched. The Angels might’ve been playing off an old scouting report all night, or their scouts suck.
It was a rough night turned great night, one that moved beyond “what a relief” to “Hey, are we back?”
That was the first time in 12 days that the Giants have been involved in a game -- win or loss -- decided by more than 2 runs.— McCovey Chronicles (@McCoveyChron) August 8, 2023
After this past weekend and seven weeks of offensive futility, I’ll take an evening’s reprieve.