Photo credit: ESPN
The title for this post came from the latest Giants Talk podcast, and Alex Pavlovic said it twice. The podcast was recorded after the Diamondbacks series and before the Brewers series, but this Brewers series so far, in just two games, has perfectly captured the highs and lows of this strange and often frustrating season. On Thursday, the Giants scratched out a two-run lead against Brewers ace and defending Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes with their own All-Star, Carlos Rodón, on the mound. But thanks to shaky relief pitching and iffy defense, they couldn’t hold the lead, couldn’t walk the game off in the bottom of the ninth, couldn’t score the runner (Mike Yastrzemski) who started the bottom of the tenth on second base, and finished with a disheartening 3-2 loss. Friday’s game looked like more of the same only worse. Again, the Giants took a two-run lead against another Brewers ace, Brandon Woodruff, and again, bad defense and awful relief pitching was about to make a very unlucky loser out of Giants starter Alex Wood.
I went to bed. Many of you went to bed. Many of the already sparse crowd at Oracle Park went home. And we missed it. When I woke up this morning, picked up my phone, and saw the Giants final score flash across the screen, I literally rubbed my eyes like I couldn’t possibly be awake yet. But it happened, so let’s do some belated basking. We’ll start with the ending and then pick up on a couple of earlier moments.
Remember last night’s date–July 15, 2022–not just because the Giants had their first walk-off homer since Donovan Solano hit one in 2020 and their first walk-off grand slam since Bobby Bonds in 1973(!!!) but because we may look back on it as the day the Giants became Joey Bart’s team.
Much has been made of Bart’s struggles at the plate this season. Many had already written him off as a bust, one of the last big failures of the Bobby Evans regime. He was demoted to AAA a few weeks ago to work on his batting approach, but because of an injury to Curt Casali, he didn’t actually stay there long. Since his return, Bart’s slash line is .318/.400/.682/1.082 with two homers and eight strikeouts in 28 plate appearances. Though his overall numbers for the season are still ugly, his OPS+ has climbed to a respectable 94 (and rising). Bart hit a homer, his first in over two months, off Dallas Keuchel on Tuesday, and that was nice, but Keuchel is not who he used to be, and it was part of a 13-0 Giants blowout. But then he put up two great at-bats against Burnes on Thursday–a walk that led to a run scoring on a wild pitch and a double–got another hit off Woodruff, and, happily, was still in the game in the ninth inning. Bart started the epic ninth-inning rally with a blast off four-time All-Star Josh Hader.
Nice to see Joey Bart do damage against good velocity on the inner half. That is an area whether pitchers have exposed him in the past. pic.twitter.com/bNR1nDl6TO
— Jeff Young (@BaseballJeff1) July 16, 2022
Even without the heroics that followed, that was awesome. Those of us who’ve watched Bart in spring training and AAA games have had numerous opportunities to see his prodigious power. He’s a big, strong young man–his older brothers were football players–and when he hits one, it stays hit. We’ve been waiting for this in the major leagues, and it’s starting to happen.
But as game-winning hero Mike Yastrzemski shared later, Bart’s rally-starting homer in the ninth wasn’t his only contribution to the comeback.
Yaz describes the leadership Joey Bart showed tonight, which included him snapping in the 6th inning to fire up the team 👏 pic.twitter.com/DiebNZk6Qw
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 16, 2022
The night Joey Bart became Poseydential. https://t.co/DIKsWdojtM
— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) July 16, 2022
OK, comparisons to Buster Posey…too much? Too soon? We’ll see. But whatever else happens or doesn’t this season, if Joey Bart can establish himself as the everyday catcher for the Giants for years to come, that is HUGE for the present and the future. It’s also worth noting that the Giants’ better play this past week has been firmly linked to some very strong performances by the starting pitchers–and those also coincide with Bart’s return from AAA. It was Bart who called Rodón’s complete-game masterpiece a week ago tonight in San Diego, and Rodón spoke highly of Bart’s game-calling skills back in spring training.
It is no secret that I love me some Yaz, and perhaps more than any other current Giant, he has a knack for the big moment. One of the most memorable games of an extremely exciting season in 2021 was the Giants’ rally from a 7-0 deficit against the Diamondbacks, capped by a Yaz grand slam. But that was in the eighth inning. Much has been made, including just this past week, of the fact that the Giants hadn’t had a walk-off homer of any description since 2020, the longest drought by any major league team, and especially odd because (a) they won a lot of exciting games in 2021 and (b) they led the NL in homers in 2021 and broke their franchise record. But Yaz hit a walk-off homer in 2019, his rookie season, a homer that many of us were in the park for. That was also off a tough lefty reliever.
So…yeah. It was Yaz. After Bart’s homer, Darin Ruf hit a pinch-hit solo shot, bringing the Giants within one run. They then loaded the bases with one out, and up came Yaz, who ended the game on Hader’s first pitch to him. Below are both Duane Kuiper’s and Jon Miller’s calls of the homer. See which one you like better. I think they’re both awesome, but Miller’s “Can you believe it?!” is pretty perfect. Remember that Kuiper missed calling Yaz’s dramatic grand slam last year, so it was nice that Yaz provided him with another opportunity.
Mike Drop pic.twitter.com/SSGMHK7M50
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) July 16, 2022
“Can you believe it!?!?!?” #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/ty8ZJBi0sj
— Life, Unpresidented (@AngryKruk) July 16, 2022
Also…that’s something that Yaz’s Hall of Famer grandpa never did.
In the last 108 years, no major league franchise has more walk-off grand slams than the Boston Red Sox (20). But tonight was the first time that a Yastrzemski hit one.
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) July 16, 2022
Before I move on from last night’s game, I want to mention two more things. When the lineups were posted, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Austin Slater was in the lineup, batting third, against a tough right-handed pitcher. Slater has been a strict platoon player this year, and it’s tough to be on the right-handed side of a platoon, since relatively few starting pitchers are lefties. On the same Giants Talk podcast, Alex and Cole Kuiper were talking about the Giants’ platooning and about Slater in particular, noting that on many other teams, he’d likely be an everyday player, and musing about whether any right-handed hitters in the future would be everyday players on the Kapler/Zaidi Giants. At the start of the game, Mike Krukow commented on how unusual it was to see Slater in the lineup but observed that Slater’s swing was a good match for Woodruff’s delivery, and thus Slater got the nod. And it certainly paid off, as Slater went 4 for 5 and was on base when Yaz hit the walk-off. Slater has his batting average up to .297 and his OPS for the year is .853. His OPS against right-handers, in 69 plate appearances, is .815. If that could hold up over a larger sample size, Slater should play everyday, especially considering that he’s a plus-defensive outfielder and an excellent base runner (36 of 39 stolen base attempts in his career, which is…really good).
The other thing is that was a historically bad blown save on the part of Josh Hader.
Since Saves became an official stat in 1969, Josh Hader is the first Closer to enter in the 9th inning in a Save situation, record 1 out or fewer, allow 6 Runs, 3 Home Runs and walk-off a loser. Possibly the worst regular season Blown Save of All-Time.
— David Feldman (@dfeldy) July 16, 2022
A Better Week
I woke up this morning, assuming the Giants had lost, and musing over what I’d write about the past week, which definitely had its “really weird” highs and lows. It’s a lot nicer to write about a week in which the Giants went 5-2 than 4-3. The two losses were clench-your-teeth-annoying one-run losses, but–at least they were in those games. Anyway–this past week, dating back to last Saturday, has gone much better. What’s working well? Two things: (1) the starting pitchers and (2) the offense is finally starting to click a bit.
Rodón kicked things off with his complete-game win on Saturday. It was a much-needed stopper effort after two losses to the Padres and a trashed bullpen. His other start, on Thursday, was good but not long enough (five innings)–credit to the Brewers for grinding him down. Logan Webb has been stellar for awhile now, and he finally got some run support in Tuesday’s 13-0 laugher. In Webb’s last five starts, he has a 1.36 ERA and a WHIP of 0.939. He arguably should be an All-Star, but it was a very tough field of starting pitchers to compete against this year. Alex Wood, whose year overall had been a disappointment compared to last season, has come on strong in July, yielding just one earned run in three starts. (As an aside, I didn’t understand why Kapler yanked Wood with two outs in the fifth last night. The inning had been extended by a bad error at first by LaMonte Wade Jr., but Wood still had the lead and had been pitching well. Tyler Rogers’s horrific outing looked like it was going to pin Wood with a loss.) Alex Cobb has also pitched in a lot of bad luck, but he has a 2.84 ERA over his last five starts.
So the Giants have co-aces who are pitching great, a solid #3 in Wood, a decent #4 in Cobb, and hopefully Jakob Junis returning after the All-Star break. Unlike last year, the Giants don’t have a good bullpen, so they really need to not have bullpen games one out of every five. The season-ending injury to Anthony DeSclafani means that the rotation has zero depth (that’s what Junis was meant to be, “depth”), so it’s a tenuous situation. But for now, as we predicted before the season began, the rotation is a team strength.
Grant Brisbee wrote a piece a week or two ago about how the Giants’ offense was actually worse than some of its stats (runs per game, in particular) would suggest. Part of the problem was that no one seemed to get hot and stay hot, and there was never a critical mass of hitters who’ve gotten hot at the same time, making the lineup challenging for opposing pitchers. That has changed in the past week. Here are some OPS numbers for the last 7 days:
- Wilmer Flores: 1.500 (4 homers!)
- Joey Bart: 1.367
- Brandon Belt: 1.368
- Austin Slater: .978
- Mike Yastrzemski: .993
- Thairo Estrada: 1.166
- Darin Ruf: .896
- David Villar: .798
Notably not hot: LaMonte Wade Jr. (.460), Brandon Crawford (.205), Joc Pederson (.305), and Luis Gonzalez (.449). These two lists help explain why the Giants are kicking the crap out of lefties this week but less so righties. But the list is long enough that there are threats up and down the lineup, and so the Giants are scoring runs (lots of them, in some games).
This “really weird” team is hovering just above .500 and just outside of the playoff picture because of two major factors: the defense and the bullpen. They have a terrible record in one-run games, likely because of both of those things. As to the defense, here’s an interesting Twitter exchange between two Athletic writers during last night’s game.
The Giants' ineptitude with the glove isn't only a function of age. Defensive Efficiency reflects the percentage of balls in play that a team turns into outs. The Yankees rank second in MLB in Defensive Efficiency (.722). The Giants rank second to last (.677). https://t.co/9XUolC7htT
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) July 16, 2022
The Giants’ bullpen is 21st in MLB with a 4.16 ERA. Now, that might not sound so bad (21st), but the only decent team behind them on the list is Toronto–the others are teams that never intended to compete and thus didn’t invest in a good bullpen. The Giants’ relievers have a losing record (18-19) and have blown 12 saves in 30 opportunities. Their WHIP of 1.37 is 24th in MLB. This is not a good bullpen. Now, it’s worth remembering that last year in May, the Giants’ bullpen was the weak spot of the team, and the front office made adjustments and changes, and by the end of the year, it was one of the best in baseball. That could happen again because bullpens are easier to remake on the fly than are lineups or rotations. But unlike last year, the Giants don’t have as many internal options to try to fix things. For example, last year the Giants brought up Camilo Doval, Kervin Castro, Dom Leone, and Zack Littell from AAA, all of whom made important contributions later in the season. But they also had a well functioning Jake McGee (who had 31 saves last year but is no longer a Giant) and Tyler Rogers (who is having a terrible season).
The Draft and the Trade Deadline
So we’re almost to the All-Star break, and the MLB draft begins tomorrow. I’ll admit I’m not very excited about the draft, given that the Giants draft dead last in every round, but especially since the Giants have not demonstrated any talent in drafting since, oh, about 2009 or so. (As Grant Brisbee observed in his article this week about the Giants’ grim draft history, the 2020 draft class could upend this narrative in a few years. Let’s hope so!)
After the draft comes a focus on the August 2 trade deadline. It appears that the Giants will not be sellers because that’s not what they do, but it’s hard to tell whether they’ll be buyers, either. In a press conference earlier this week, Farhan Zaidi expressed no interest in obtaining another starting pitcher and was noncommittal about what the Giants might add elsewhere (if anything). Bart’s recent performance may remove any urgency about trading for a catcher, but they could still use (in my humble opinion) one or two proven relievers and a right-handed outfielder. We’ll see.
Brewers at Giants, 4:15 p.m., Willie Mays Field
Eric Lauer (6-3, 3.83 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (3-4, 4.57 ERA)
Last night’s comeback win feels like the kind of game that could turn a season around. But “it’s a really weird team.” Lefty out.