The atmosphere was quite playoff-like. It was the kind of game one would expect when the Giants face the Cardinals. Maybe things would’ve gone differently if this game occurred in October, because these two teams traded places on Monday night. It was the Cardinals who got the better performance from their starting pitcher. It was the Cardinals who scored the go-ahead run on a weak ground ball as a throw skidded past its intended target. It was the Cardinals who escaped with victory when the Giants’ best hitter ended the game with a deep fly ball to center that missed being the go-ahead two-run homer by less than 10 feet.
The Cardinals out-Giants’d the Giants.
If the Giants don’t make the playoffs, we can point at so many things. The rotation’s performance was uneven. The injuries were numerous. While they’ve performed well against the Dodgers (so far), they’ve failed to take full advantage of their games against the lesser squads in the NL West. But these recent games on the road cause the most pain. Because today’s game, like games we can remember all too well in Arlington and Atlanta, seemed pretty danged winnable.
The Cardinals are this year’s best team (so far), so we can’t call this 2-1 loss a fluke by any means. That doesn’t mean we can’t point to a couple of obvious mental mistakes.
Gregor Blanco’s bunt – whaaa?
I love Blanco. He’s one of the most valuable under-the-radar players in the league, plus he’s such a nice guy to boot. Then he does stuff — usually on the basepaths — that shows why he isn’t a $10 million per year player.
This time it was in the batter’s box. Third inning, Chris Heston on first and the speedy Kelby Tomlinson on third. Blanco is a certified badass hitter this year. Since a frigid April, his OPS is well above .800. He had 10 hits and three walks during the Giants’ seven-game homestand. For some reason, Blanco ordered off the menu in this key situation. He decided to bunt, but he didn’t quite commit. He drew his bat down toward the zone, catching the bottom of a 96 mph Michael Wacha fastball. The ball flew harmlessly into the air, just behind Blanco and into the glove of Yadier Molina.
Blanco knew he screwed up when the pitch hit his bat — the grimace was immediate. A player who almost never gets doubled up inexplicably decided that bunting Tomlinson home was the smart play, even though he’s been murdering 96 mph fastballs for the better part of a year now.
And yes, Blanco isn’t quite the center fielder he was a couple years ago, as evidenced by that ball that got by him for a triple (which eventually led to the winning run for St. Louis). However, it’s tough to ding Blanco on that play since no one else on the team would’ve come close to catching that ball.
Brandon Crawford misses Joe Panik
I’ll go with that for the subhead instead of “Brandon Crawford Panik’d,” which took a lot of restraint. A LOT.
Tomlinson is a better offensive weapon than Ehire Adrianza (right now, at least), but Tomlinson is not comfortable at second base. Not all shortstops-turned-second basemen are created equal, and Tomlinson (313 games at short in the minors, 140 games at second) is still trying to figure out where he fits in next to one of the best shortstops in the world. That’s pretty rough to tolerate in a pennant race — even if you go 1-for-2 with a walk.
It’s not like Tomlinson is Marcus Semien. His problems are more subtle. It started with balls he’d dive for and deflect without stopping. On Friday, he tentatively held onto the ball instead of attempting a relay throw on a possible double play, a decision that may have added several pitches to Ryan Vogelsong’s first inning.
Today, it showed that two shortstops were on the field at the same time. Shortstops go after everything they can get. Joe Panik is a former shortstop, but he understands that he’s playing next to Brandon Crawford.
When the ball is hit to the shortstop side of second base, and Ron Wotus hasn’t called for a crazy shift, and Crawford is the guy playing short, don’t go for it.
Tomlinson went for it in the first inning.
It didn’t matter all that much, since Chris Heston got out of the inning, but Crawford had to feel a serious sense of longing for his regular double-play partner after this one. And it didn’t seem like Crawford trusted Tomlinson in the eighth inning, when there were runners on third (the Stephen Piscotty triple that got by Blanco) and first (Brandon Moss, who was intentionally walked).
Mark Reynolds isn’t known for his speed. So instead of fielding Reynolds’ grounder and flipping it to Tomlinson — who was in better position to make the play this time — Crawford decided to handle everything himself. It didn’t work out too well.
Reynolds tried to steal second a minute later. When Andrew Susac got out of his crouch and let Hunter Strickland know, Crawford and Tomlinson both crashed second base to take the throw.
It looked like Crawford was in “fine, I’ll do everything myself mode” after that first inning play, sort of like LeBron James in the NBA Finals after Kyrie Irving broke his kneecap. And it’s tough. The Giants have had extraordinarily good infield defense this year, particularly up the middle. Tomlinson has the speed, but lacks experience and chemistry with Crawford. It’s that kind of chemistry which has propelled the Giants to so many huge wins over the last six years over the top teams in baseball, and we saw the other side tonight. Crawford was unable to just let instinct take over, be himself and not try to do too much.
— This Panik thing is ridiculously difficult. The Giants must believe he’ll be back before too long, otherwise they might’ve convinced Chase Utley that he’d be the full-time second baseman through mid-September. And Tomlinson is an exciting offensive player. He’s fast and seems to have a pretty good approach. But the decision-makers are going to fret over this one all night. Crawford could’ve made a better throw, despite the 360-spin (although Moss coming in hard at second surely didn’t help), but it was disconcerting to see Crawford play defense in a completely different manner than we’re used to seeing. Do they go back to Adrianza and hope they can get some offense from other guys?
— Mike Leake won’t be ready for tomorrow’s game, which means Ryan Vogelsong will start and Matt Cain pitches on Wednesday.
Leake said he can pitch, but can only run at 60-65 percent. Concern is injury getting much worse while fielding/running.
— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) August 18, 2015
I can’t remember an athlete rating his health at 60% or 65%. Usually it’s either 100%, 90%, or “I don’t really want to put a percentage on it.” The Giants can’t rush this thing, but is he really going to gain another 30% over the next week? Or two?
— One bright spot in this game (other than Crawford driving in the team’s only run) was Andrew Susac’s full-count walk in the ninth inning to bring up Posey as a pinch-hitter. The Giants really missed the Posey Clones, so at least they got one of them back today.