I have a few friends who are fans of some currently-dreadful baseball teams. Every time I get to complaining about the Giants, they’ll tell me something along the lines of “Hey, I’d love to root for a team around .500!” They have a pretty good point, of course – I mean, Royals? Astros? – but there’s something to be said for the power of expectation. Call us spoiled, but Giants fans are rooting for a top 10 payroll team coming off of several stellar first-round draft picks. We’re banking on playoffs, not a few more years of development followed by possible playoffs.
What’s the point of these Yankees fan-esque meanderings? Today, the St. Louis Cardinals – a team that can take Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay, and Rafael Furcal out of the lineup and still be a league powerhouse – sauntered back into SF and teed off on the Giants’ best starter thus far this season, throwing their own struggling ace against an offense that has been a consistent panacea for struggling pitchers. And the Cardinals lost. They feeb’d it up in the field, and they flailed against the cracked and sideways-hanging Giants bullpen, and they gave up big hits to some guys who had even odds of starting the season in AAA.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m gloating, but I am, so that’s how everything comes out. But I’m also saying, Cardinals fans, I know that feel, bro. Losing sucks. Losing an eminently winnable game super-sucks. It feels like the Giants have been giving away games all season, but watching it happen from the other side has reminded me that, well, you’re gonna lose some games. Even the 2001 Mariners lost 48 games, and I’m sure at least some of those felt like they just slipped through Seattle’s fingers like so many delicious jelly beans.
Is there a point to all that prelude? Mostly that baseball is weird, and that sometimes things will go just right for the Giants, or just wrong for their opponents, which is basically the same thing. Of course, it wasn’t just the BABIP gods and David Freese’s yips; the Giants took 9 walks today and went a comparatively stellar 3-12 with RISP (including a sacrifice fly and the aforementioned Freese error.) Bruce Bochy’s been making some noises lately about patience at the plate; his lineups haven’t necessarily reflected that, but it’s a compelling development nevertheless.
Angel Pagan reflected that particularly well today, taking 3 walks in 5 PAs. Before today, he had 4 unintentional walks for the season. This is the guy who I was hoping for based on his preseason commentary about taking pitches, and I’d be pretty chuffed if he stuck around. Brandon Crawford had a good day, and his key RBI single came after one of the best plate appearances I’ve seen from any Giant this season. Gregor Blanco’s still looking like a credible leadoff guy. Brandon Belt took pitches, doubled twice, and I don’t care that one was a grounder down the line and the other one was a line drive single with extra hustle, because Brandon Belt doubled twice. The power will return. Fingers crossed, goat entrails on the altar. The power will return.
Matt Cain was pretty bad by Matt Cain standards, but he toughed it out, and I didn’t even mind Bochy leaving him in for the sixth once he was clearly in a groove. Jeremy Affeldt pitched one of the most dominant innings I’ve seen since that time he scraped melted bits of Jonathan Sanchez off the mound and used them to make the 2010 Phillies look like the 2012 Phillies. Santiago Casilla is still really good.
This is still the plan. Hover around .500, maybe even a few games over, until Pablo Sandoval returns and puts his team on his back again. If the team can adopt an advanced hitting philosophy like “don’t swing at bad pitches” then their chances look a whole lot better. Also, Orlando Hudson is on the waiver wire now, and while he’s a pretty poor excuse for a major leaguer these days, I’d take a has-been over the never-were and probably-never-will-be that is the Burriss/Culberson combination.
Incremental upgrades! Patience at the plate! Taking advantage of goofy-ass errors by the opposition! It’s not exciting, but it’s the recipe for success.
(Also, if someone could hit a dinger already, that’d be pretty swell.)