It’s the Phillies, sure. After losing 4-2 to the Giants today to finalize a series sweep, the worst team in baseball has lost 15 of their last 18 games. They’ve been swept a mind-boggling eight times. Yet the Giants (46-43) looked like a team that could actually hit and catch and pitch semi-competently over the weekend, and rolling into the All-Star Break with three straight wins and a record above .500 isn’t too shabby considering all of their injuries and four losing streaks of five games or more.
The Giants remain 4.5 games behind the Dodgers (who beat the Brewers 4-3 today) and two games behind the Cubs, who currently sit in the second Wild Card position with a record of 47-40. The Mets sit one game in between the Cubs and Giants. Yet, as awful as they looked during their most recent losing streak, the Giants’ offensive explosion two nights ago propelled them into the break with more positives than negatives.
Bruce Bochy called Heston their “savior,” and who’d argue? He’s been their second-best pitcher since filling in for Matt Cain in Phoenix back in early April, and today he notched his 11th quality start. Only Madison Bumgarner (12) has more, with Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Hudson tied for third with eight apiece. Heston and Bumgarner are the only Giants to start 18 games in the first half, and (BONUS) both happen to be pitchers who can rake.
I’m not the first person to write this, and I won’t be the last, but it remains true: Heston is pretty much John Burkett. He’s more sturdy than flashy, and today’s strikeout count (seven) was higher than average for him, but like Burkett (and teammate Tim Hudson), he’s a ground ball machine. He went into today’s game in eighth place among qualified starters with a ground ball percentage of 55.8% (Hudson is in fourth at 58.1%), and he probably moved up a few spots after inducing seven groundouts — which helped Heston get three double plays in the first four innings — compared to just one fly ball out.
Heston seems like such a nice guy, but there’s some Peavy in there.
That was after this bloop fell, allowing the Phillies their only run off Heston over 6 2/3 innings …
With Angel Pagan patrolling center field these days like an overweight mall security guard (at times — he’s also made a surprising number of highlight grabs, too), Heston will probably stick to keeping the ball down. It’s never a bad move to throw sinkers and let the Giants’ strong collection of homegrown infielders handle the rest.
I got a few people who took issue with that second Vine I posted, noting Pagan’s knee pain/injuries this season. OK, fine, but he’s making eight figures this year and he’s healthy enough to play center field, a position which requires all-out sprints on occasion. It’s not like he’s got an OPS of 1.100 like Barry Bonds, and he isn’t playing left field either.
However, the Giants have to be happy with Pagan’s mini-turnaround at the plate. He had his second 3-hit game in the last three days; Pagan had just one 3-hit game in his previous 57 starts before the Phillies came to town.
He’s probably better-suited to a pinch-hitting/spot-outfielder role for the time being, especially if he can’t push through the pain and hustle on a consistent basis. But a demotion like that will never happen after Nori Aoki returns, not with Gregor Blanco — an experienced bench player who ends up starting more often than not — possessing no discernible ego. But if Pagan can take his greatest skill at this stage of his career (hitting for contact) and rack up as many multi-hit games as he had back in April, when he had nine and hit .341, the Giants will take it.
Amy G. might run into some trouble with the FCC this season due to his ridiculously difficult-to-pronounce name, because Osich looks like the real deal. Kevin Rogers, a lefty reliever for the Giants who was awesome for one season before getting injured a year later, was one of my favorite relievers in 1993. I loved Rogers, for whatever reason. If I was a kid in 2015, I’d probably hitch my lefty-reliever fan feels wagon to Osich.
Osich throws a lot harder than Rogers did, and he also has a good cutter AND changeup in his arsenal. Forget rookie jitters, too — the dude is literally unhittable so far. He had more swing-throughs (four in just 22 pitches) than balls put in play (two). After allowing 25 hits in 36 minor league innings, major leaguers are stuck on zero hits against Osich in 5 1/3 innings.
With Santiago Casilla looking a little shaky these days (he gave up another run today), would it be all that crazy to see Osich and Hunter Strickland as a lefty/righty closer tandem, provided they keep pitching better than Casilla and Sergio Romo? OK, that probably won’t happen. More likely: Strickland replacing Casilla as the full-time closer, with Osich and George Kontos getting more and more high-leverage work as the season goes on.
That homer off Chad Billingsley seemed inevitable, even though Susac was going through a pretty brutal slump heading into that at-bat. It ended up being the game-winner, and the Giants probably aren’t too worried about Susac’s long-term prospects as a hitter.
Bochy wanted to get Posey a little “rest” today, which is why Susac caught and Brandon Belt moved to left. Susac hasn’t hit righties well this year (.186/.260/.300 heading into this game, compared to .333/400/.500 against left-handed pitching), so despite the home run off Billingsley, he’s probably going to be Belt’s platoon partner (Belt’s splits: .307/.370/.544 vs RHP, .154/.267/.212 vs LHP) when Aoki comes back, in a sense.
The beat writers all posted Posey’s quote after the game about preferring silence to sports talk radio, but the hosts aren’t going to stop calling for Posey to become a full-time first baseman with these numbers heading into the break.
- Posey as a catcher: .301/.363/.458
- Posey as a first baseman (after going 3-for-4 today): .351/.420/.597
He’s also 3-for-8 with two walks as a DH. So, yeah, catching is hard. But this is a list of positives, not questions, and Posey is a clear MVP candidate and the best catcher in baseball even if you throw his non-catching numbers out the window. He’s also a really good defensive first baseman now, something we couldn’t say in past seasons.
He’s hitting .350 with runners in scoring position this year after going 1-for-2 with RISP today. He’s one of nine Giants hitting at least .300 with RISP, a group which includes Bumgarner (.303) and Heston (.300). Posey (.365) leads the team, of course.
There’s his All-Star infield partner, Joe Panik. And the team’s other saviors, Matt Duffy and Kontos. And the returns of Matt Cain and Jake Peavy have gone a lot better than I expected. There are a lot of positives here, is the point. Enough to go 44-29 from here on out to finish with 90 wins? Despite a brutal slate of games in August, this is a team that surely believes they can pull off that feat and make it to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 2003.