The San Francisco Giants just swept a bad team I said they were a lot closer to than we wanted to admit but this time I really mean it. The Rockies are a weird bad team with no direction or hope. The Cleveland Guardians are a bad team that roughly follows the same general principles as the Giants — they just don’t have similar results.
Also, the Giants have more financial resources; but, the Guardians play in a weaker division. That might be what compounds the Guardians’ struggles: they don’t have to shoot for the moon and hope that even in failure they land among the stars. They’re in the AL Central. They could aim for the top of the refrigerator, and even if they land on the kitchen floor, they’ll still be among the crumbs in their division.
If the Giants’ greatest dream for the rest of our lives is to fight until the final week of the season for a chance at maybe tiebreaking their way in as the third Wild Card, then the Guardians’ dream to back into the playoffs by snapping up the AL Central title with 84 wins or whatever is the gross equivalent. Both franchises are smart enough to f around and stay competitive with very little risk of finding out (pejoratively).
It’s very tough to compete against larger media markets even if yours is pretty large, so you’ve got to work the margins and maximize the efficiency of the resources you have. The Guardians have done this by being nimble with waiver claims. They were the beneficiaries of the Angels’ post-deadline purge and before that, they got Ramon Laureano from the A’s.
Did you ever imagine we’d see these guys again, and in such meaningful roles? Now, the Guardians probably aren’t going to be able to catch the Twins this season, but that doesn’t mean the gambit was wrong-headed. You could see the reasoning behind all those waiver claims: might as well improve the roster any way we can and, hey, maybe we’ll get lucky. When you’re an AL Central team with no shot at the playoffs except for winning the division, you might as well go all in when you can.
They’ve focused on pitching and defense and a lineup built around a star player: Jose Ramirez. That’s the one component the Giants lack: they have a Guardiansesque lineup without the Jose Ramirez. Still, as the records reflect, the Giants’ “Guys” have been better than the collection of character actors working for Cleveland. I’m not sure what’s going on with the Guardians’ offense. Since 2019, they’ve scored the sixth-fewest runs in Baseball. The Giants are more middle of the pack.
But remember how I said before that the two teams are very similar? Since 2019, the Guardians have won 368 games; the Giants have won 367. The Giants pitching + hitting has generated 148.7 fWAR; the Guardians’ has generated 157.3.
This year, the Guardians have been the hardest team to strikeout (18.8%) but pretty easy to avoid walking (7.7% - 25th). They don’t hit for power (.131 ISO - 30th) and only the Tigers (564) and A’s (527) have scored fewer runs (579). They’re 1-2 against the Rockies! 1-2 against the Padres. 1-2 against the Diamondbacks. 1-2 against the Dodgers. Hmm... does this suggest... a possible outcome?
The Rockies series might’ve skewed our perception a little bit. I’m a firm believer that the Giants are never as bad or as good as they look, which means a sweep of the dregs of the NL is hardly newsworthy. The Guardians, though, aren’t much better. A series win or sweep would certainly be a good — no, GREAT — thing, but it still wouldn’t really tell us if the Giants are getting better.
Still, I’m willing to have that conversation after a series win or sweep.
Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Cleveland Guardians
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: Alex Cobb vs. Gavin Williams
Tuesday: Sean Manaea vs. Cal Quantrill
Wednesday: Kyle Harrison vs. Logan Allen (a different one)
Where they stand
Record: 68-76, 2nd in AL Central
Run differential: -32 (10th in AL)
Postseason standing: 7.5 games back in division, 11.5 games out of Wild Card
Momentum: 2-game losing streak; 4-6 in last 10 games
Record: 73-70, 3rd in NL West
Run differential: -7 (7th in NL)
Postseason standing: 14.5 games back in division, 1.5 games out of 3rd Wild Card
Momentum: 3-game winning streak; 4-6 in last 10 games
Guardians to watch
José Ramírez: I just think it’s neat to watch star players be stars. Now, he’s a bit off the mark this season (129 OPS+) from his prior three (148 OPS+) and because he makes so much contact he doesn’t appear near the top of the leaderboards for things like barrel rates and hard hit rates, but according to Statcast his expected batting average of .291 is in the top 7% of the league and he’s 19th in MLB in balls hit with an exit velocity of 95+ mph. He has a 10.5% strikeout rate and a 10.5% walk rate. Don’t see that very often. He’s also still picking it at the hot corner (+4 OAA). Put all that together and he’s still a top 20 player in MLB.
Steve Kwan: The Los Gatos native gets to play in Oracle Park for the first time in his pro career, which must be exciting as someone who grew up rooting for the Giants. Recall last season when the Giants traveled to Cleveland and six games into the season he was the sensation of Opening Week, batting .526/.655/.737 in his first 29 plate appearances. He was 0-for-7 against the Giants in two games of that series (a Giants sweep), and while the Giants didn’t break him, he certainly cooled off after that — because, of course. Why wouldn’t he? His second major league season has been exactly league average (100 OPS+), but like his teammates, he’s been tough to strikeout and avoid walking. Hometown kid makes good.
Emmanuel Clase: A 100 mph cutter that sometimes overpowers hitters, sometimes causes them to give up on it thinking it’s a ball, but ultimately, not being the primary driver of outs for the Guards’ elite closer. He’s down to 7.9 K/9, the lowest strikeout ratio for a closer in MLB. Still, he leads MLB in saves (39), so, it’s clearly working.
Logan T. Allen: I love this Wednesday matchup because here’s the 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Guardians from the 2020 draft set to go up against the Giants’ 3rd round pick of that same draft (Kyle Harrison). The handedness and draft year — and even pedigree; I’m sure Harrison might’ve been taken higher by some other team if the industry had a sense it would be easier to sign him — are about where the comp ends, though. Harrison thrives on dominant starters velocity. Meanwhile, FanGraphs’ Michael Baumann writes through his confusion with Logan Allen’s arsenal — keep in mind, this is an entirely different Logan Allen (he’s not this one):
The key to Allen’s whole shtick is his changeup, which is unlike any other pitch in baseball. It’s slow, even by the standards of a pitch that’s defined by its slowness: just 82.9 mph on average, though since he doesn’t throw very hard by modern standards, that’s not as extreme a number as it seems on first glance. What is extreme is the way the pitch moves.
Giants to watch
Alex Cobb: We can safely assume that Kapler letting him blow it out to try to get the no hitter tuckered out the venerable veteran, but hopefully he’s recovered from his 58-pitch start 8 days ago and is ready to give the Giants a strong 5. Cleveland’s 43.9% team groundball rate is 6th-highest in MLB and 2nd-most in the AL, while Cobb’s 57% groundball rate trails only Logan Webb in all of Baseball. The Giants need him to get on track and ready for a potential Wild Card round.
Sean Manaea: Same deal: Giants need to get him ready for the spotlight. He’s pitched in the first inning of a game just once in the second half (the Giants’ 10-4 loss in Philadelphia) and just 8 times in 33 appearances this season. Cleveland can’t hit, but they’re even slightly worse against left-handed pitching, so this looks like one of those times where the Giants are being careful as they test the waters.
Kyle Harrison: You get the feeling from his last start that maybe the team rushed him; at the same time, like Manaea, here’s a struggling lineup he could potentially bully, so why not see if it’s just a matter of learning the ropes or if there’s an adjustment that needs to be made. Learning in the thick of it makes a lot of sense, and the Guards’ struggles against left-handed pitching combined with their overall struggles will hopefully lead to a big night.
Luis Matos: This morning, I wrote about Matos’s emergent bat, and the first comment was about how great he is until Gabe Kapler pinch hits for him against a righty late in the game. That compelled me to go take a look at the split and, yeah, woof, that’s a bummer.
LHP: .329/.405/.457 (80 PA) 7-8 K-BB
RHP: .238/.284/.333 (135 PA) 22-7 K-BB
I’d like to see the Giants continue to keep him in there late against righties, but I get it. For a franchise that’s trying to win and develop, they’re probably not going to risk a 2-3 game Wild Card series for a rookie’s education. Still, the Giants do tend to win more than lose when he’s in the lineup and he’s a better defensive option than Joc Pederson. Save for Gavin Williams, who has been brutal to righties (.585 OPS against with 38-6 K-BB), this is still a favorable series for the matchup. Logan T. Allen is a left-handed pitcher and Cal Quantrill has been bad this year, and nothing special against right-handed hitters: .718 OPS against with a 14-4 K-BB.
Giants vs. Guardians - how will it go?
This poll is closed
Giants win 2 out of 3
Giants lose 2 out of 3