What else could Giants fans, or the Giants themselves, ask for? They lost two starting pitchers before the season even started. They lost their two best outfielders for extended periods. Earlier this month they dropped six games in Miami and Washington, and looked primed for a flight into the Bermuda Triangle. Instead, they were more lethargic than ever when they flew back home the next morning and lost to the Mets a few hours later.
Now look at them: just one game behind the Dodgers, who lost in the 10th in NYC on a walkoff base hit from a familiar to face to all involved, Juan Uribe. The Giants followed up yesterday’s Bumgarnerfest (they don’t always happen in October) with another one-run win to sweep their struggling crossbay rivals.
This 4-3 victory wasn’t easy, not with the starter and closer still looking vulnerable. But this wasn’t torture. Save that word for A’s fans, who are getting tugged along on a nightmare ride powered by the whims of a General Manager with airtight job security and all of the sentimentality of Cruella de Vil. All Oakland had left — after the Scott Kazmir trade netted them a couple of A-Ball guys — was the hope that they could win a series against the hated “Gnats,” or “Vagiants” (as they’re known by the cruder members of Oakland’s fan base).
Does Huddy still have it?
“All in all, I think it was a step in the right direction,” said Buster Posey. That’s about as nicely as one could describe an outing like Hudson’s, which included a lot of loud contact but only three runs next to his name. A Hudson start with four groundouts and five flyball outs generally isn’t that impressive, and this one was no different.
A lot of the attention after this game — at least as far as the postgame interviews were concerned — centered on Tim Hudson beating the A’s to become the 15th pitcher to beat all 30 teams in his career. But Hudson himself wasn’t all that impressed after barely scraping past the five-inning mark.
It wasn’t a bad enough outing to convince the Giants to send Hudson back to the DL with an old man injury of some sort, but it forced the Giants to rely on more outstanding performances from George Kontos and Javier Lopez (who got a bunt down perfectly, his first sacrifice since 2004).
I’m still not sure how Bochy got through the fifth with Hudson, especially with Mark Canha hitting a single to start the inning and Ben Zobrist — who seemed to get a hit in every other at-bat throughout this series — up with two outs. Zobrist hit a pop fly to end the inning, and Hudson escaped with a victory after the bullpen pitched four scoreless innings.
After a rough outing in San Diego, Hudson needed a much better performance today to quiet those who feel one of two things.
1. Ryan Vogelsong needs to be a starter once again.
2. The Giants need to deal for another starter — an innings-eater at the very least, an elite No. 1/2 starter at best.
I asked Hudson how he felt today compared to his first start coming off the DL.
“Honestly, very similar. I felt like I was a lot sharper today with my fastball command than I was in San Diego,” Hudson said.
“Today was a game where, with a little bit of luck, I could’ve given up maybe one run and maybe gone six or seven. But at the same time, with a little bit more luck their way I could’ve gone three-plus and given up four or five.”
What does it mean? Probably nothing. As I wrote before today’s game, the Giants most likely will ride it out with the current rotation, unless an injury forces them to seriously consider parting with one of their top prospects (Andrew Susac and/or Tyler Beede). For now they’re content to keep winning and putting pressure on the Dodgers, hopefully while staying in the trade rumors news cycle enough to force the Dodgers to deal a top prospect of their own to stay in first place in the NL West.
So how are the Giants doing this?
It might not be fair to ignore the rotation (which has been better since the break) or the bullpen (which has been awesome since the break). But the Giants have won 11 of their last 12 games and sit 2.5 games ahead of the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot because they score more runs and collect more base hits than any team in the National League.
It’s true! Sort of.
The Giants came into today’s game with 422 runs scored in 97 games, three ahead of the Rockies and D-Backs. The D-Backs have played one fewer game, and the Rockies have played in two fewer games, and Colorado scored 17 runs today. So there goes the lead in runs. However, the Giants still have more hits than anyone else (32 more than the Rockies, even after today’s games). They have the highest batting average and on-base percentage in the NL. They lead the majors in WAR, according to Fangraphs, which also takes defense into account.
The Giants’ defensive superiority was proven once again today, as they played a clean game while the A’s (the second-worst defensive team in the majors, once again according to Fangraphs) committed another error on a misplayed grounder by Brett Lawrie.
But the hitting wasn’t supposed to be this good, not after losing Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse. Then with the injuries to their leadoff hitter and biggest power threat, the offense was really supposed to struggle. Yet their No. 2-5 hitters are all batting over .300. Their 2-7 hitters all have an OPS over .800. In the post-anabolic-steroid era, this isn’t a good National League offense. It’s the best National League offense.
I asked Posey what it all means (check out the soothing tune in the background).
“I think we have an offense that makes it tough on the defense. We’ve got guys that put together tough at-bats,” Posey said.
“What’s nice to see is regardless of the score or situation in the game, guys seem to be putting together good at-bats. I think if you’re able to do that consistently throughout the course of the year, results will be there.”
— Nobody is making it tougher on the defense than Posey, who went 4-for-4 to raise his average to .328. He also threw out two guys attempting to steal, including a game-killing decision by Jake Smolinski to try to nab third base in the ninth with one out and two on.
— Smolinski’s mistake helped Santiago Casilla, who struck out the last two hitters he faced. He’s clinging to that closer’s role with both hands, but his fingernails are losing traction.
— Posey was probably the star of this game due to his efforts on both sides, but Matt Duffy was the guy who gave the Giants an early lead when he smashed a 2-0 cutter into the left field bleachers to put the Giants ahead 2-0 in the first inning. Now he has two more home runs than Joe Panik and … Mr. Sandoval.
— I tweeted this during the game:
Matt Duffy’s OPS: .809 😀 Pablo Sandoval’s OPS: .666 😈
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) July 26, 2015
Duffy’s OPS now stands at .808, while Sandoval is 1-of-2 in the ESPN game as I’m writing, so he’s at .668. Either way, the Giants sure got lucky with how this whole Sandoval/McGehee/Duffy thing turned out at third base.
— Brandon Belt went 2-for-4 with a run batted in today, and he’s 5-for-12 since Friday afternoon, when I wrote about him possibly breaking out in the second half. I didn’t jinx him! No joke, I can’t believe he didn’t go 0-for-12 this weekend after I wrote that.
— Kendall Graveman wasn’t good (he lasted just 1 1/3), but the A’s bullpen didn’t walk one guy. Moral victories!
— The A’s beat writers have the day off tomorrow, but they’re expecting to have to cover a trade. Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard are the obvious candidates, but one has to figure Billy Beane wouldn’t mind shipping Smolinski out of town after the stunt he pulled in the ninth inning.
— In case you hadn’t noticed, this is the first baseball game I’ve covered in person in a long time. “Becoming a father changes many things,” said the regional sports blogger with a penchant for spouting the obvious.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in the new-and-improved Giants clubhouse. It was a lot darker back in April, and now there are a lot more kids running around. It’s a wild scene, man. Children playing baseball with one of those squishy balls. You know, the ones that are shaped like baseballs that still hurt if they hit you in the head.
I barely avoided a line drive off the bat of one of the kids (I believe he was a mini-Maxwell). I also caught this reaction from Hudson when one of the kids crushed a ball from one side of the clubhouse to the other during his interview.