Bullpen Runs Thin: Giants keep Mets in check through 10 innings then disaster strikes in 6-2 loss

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Okay, all knowing metropolitan New York media, what of that connection between Steve Cohen and Tyler Chatwood. What do we know?

There probably isn’t a relationship between the frustrated, billionaire Mets owner and the Giants’ newest bullpen acquisition, but from a journalistic standpoint, it’s worth a look.

On Wednesday afternoon at hazy Oracle Park the Giants–without starter Anthony DeSclafani, who departed after throwing 29 pitches with an ankle issue–held the Mets in a lifeless state for 10 innings. Through 10, the Mets managed five hits, none for extra bases, and one walk. J.D. Davis rescued the Metropolitans with a ninth inning, sacrifice fly to tie the game 1-1 and keep his team from an ignominious result.

Still, Cohen had to be steaming.

One day after he issued his well-intentioned tweet criticizing his team’s offense by saying, “it’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive. The best teams have a more disciplined approach. The slugging and OPS numbers don’t lie,” the Mets seemed to be playing in defiance or ignorance of Cohen’s statement.

Then Chatwood appeared, and the tenor and rhythm of the afternoon changed dramatically.

In his initial appearance as a Giant–after he was DFA’d by the Blue Jays–Chatwood nudged the slumbering New York bats. First Michael Conforto delivered a hard-hit double to right field gap that chased home the placed runner, Jeff McNeil, to give the Mets their first lead of the game.

But Chatwood escaped further damage, retiring the next two batters. The Giants answered in the bottom of the inning with Tommy La Stella’s RBI hit, and that brought us to the 12th and more from Chatwood.

First, Jonathan Villar smashed a shot down the left field line that was initially ruled fair for a run-scoring double, but then ruled foul by replay review. Villar struck out two pitches later. But the next batter, Patrick Mazeika battled for seven pitches, and got rewarded with a bloop single. Former Giant Kevin Pillar was next, and he sent a 95 mph sinker into the left field bleachers for a 5-2 Mets lead.

The backstory? Chatwood has always been known for his nasty repertoire of two-seam fastballs (sinkers) and cutters with the cutter arriving at the plate most frequently at seven miles an hour slower than his sinker. But in discussing his recent past with local media upon his signing with the Giants, he said that the popularity of the high fastball in today’s game left him lacking, and trying to do something he doesn’t do well. That led to lack of command, more walks, and inflated ERA that ultimately forced him out of favor with Toronto.

Enter the Giants, who have developed a reputation of resuscitating pitchers by eliminating pitches that they don’t throw well, reference Kevin Gausman and DeSclafani. So in four appearances in Sacramento, Chatwood focused on just throwing his sinkers and cutters and he had success. In 5 2/3 innings versus Triple-A competition, Chatwood didn’t allow a run. That earned him a promotion on Tuesday.

Chatwood’s sinker that had good sink didn’t fool Pillar. The veteran hitter waited on it–if you can on a 95 mph offering–and put a swing on it. The issue? Chatwood had thrown 30 pitches at that juncture, and 19 of them were sinkers at 95 to 97. If good hitters see it enough, they’ll figure it out.

But that’s the dire nature of extra inning baseball and being the last available guy. Manager Gabe Kapler had a philosophical take on the pitch that essentially decided a long, afternoon of baseball.

“Chatwood in that situation did everything we could ask him to do,” Kapler said. “Obviously I think he’d like to have that sinker back he threw to Pillar that ran middle-in or into a spot where Pillar could get it in the air like he did.”

Ironically, Kapler started his managerial career four seasons ago as a guy who was in over his head managing his bullpen. In a well-known sequence, Kapler, then managing the Phillies made a pair of rapid fire pitching changes, and didn’t realize that second arm he summoned hadn’t been up throwing and warming up. The Philly media pounced, and the scene became a national story.

Fast forward to August 2021, and Kapler has the best team in baseball, and a pitching staff that has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. Along with the 181 home runs that will shatter the San Francisco record book, the team’s 3.33 ERA is the biggest surprise. The Giants have turned close, low scoring games keyed by that pitching into a wildly winning formula by mixing in the bundle of timely, always impactful home runs. Again, Kapler was philosophical after the game.

“I think we’ve gotten pretty spoiled by this group of relievers,” Kapler said. “They’ve just been so dependable and so durable and we’ve come to expect they’re going to throw up zeroes and give us a chance to win. I don’t feel there are many clubs that can say that.”

The Giants finished their homestand with a 7-2 record and pending Wednesday night’s Pirates-Dodgers game saw their lead in the NL West shrink to 3 1/2 games. An off-day with no planes or hotels leading into a road trip that starts in Oakland couldn’t be better placed.

The Giants maintain their lofty spot as the second-best regular season team in San Francisco history after 121 games with a 78-43 record, surpassed only by the ’93 Giants who famously didn’t qualify for the playoffs despite 103 wins. This Giants team merely needs a slightly better than .500 finish in their 41 remaining games to win 100 games and likely outlast the World Champion Dodgers. A 22-19 finish would do the trick.

Not bad.

The Giants resume play Friday night in Oakland with Alex Wood facing the A’s James Kaprelian.

Giants blow big lead, recover in extras to best the D’Backs, increase NL West lead

By Morris Phillips

Trade deadline activity that strengthens a competing club is energizing for the fans and organization. But it can be agonizing for players who may be on the departing end of a big trade.

Once the trade deadline passes, nervousness ceases and everybody gets back to work.

On Monday night in Phoenix, Alex Dickerson got back to work.

The Giants’ burly left fielder hit a grand slam to give the Giants a big lead, only to see it evaporate, and force the club to regain control in extra innings in an 11-8 victory over the Diamondbacks. With the acquisition of Kris Bryant, Dickerson had to be wondering about his current status with the club with Bryant offering a better option for the team’s outfield spots. But Monday found Bryant and Dickerson in the lineup together, a clear sign that manager Gabe Kapler hadn’t forgotten what a menace Dickerson has been when facing Arizona.

“He’s had quite a bit of success against the D-backs,” Kapler said. “He’s had quite a bit of success in this ballpark. I think he feels especially confident.”

“It hasn’t been the greatest year for me to this point, but they know and I know that I’m better than how I’ve played,” Dickerson said. “I just needed that kind of day where it all comes together. It was a good feeling to have everybody pulling for me.”

Kapler made it clear that while more is expected of Dickerson, hitting just .217, not much more is expected. Being an occasional home threat and delivering in that manner may be enough.

“I just think he needs to be the better version of Alex Dickerson. That’s a guy who’s a really tough out at the plate against righties and occasionally has games with big damage like he had today. I don’t want Alex to put any additional pressure on himself to be perfect every time out. Just be productive and keep the line moving.”

Dickerson’s slam off reliever J.B. Bukauskas in the fifth was typical, Giants home run express delivery: a poorly placed pitch in the hitting zone that wasn’t missed. That Dickerson sent the pitch 437 feet for his career-best 11th home run of the season said it all. The slam ended an 0 for 17 stretch for the slugger.

Despite building a 7-1 lead, the Giants found themselves in a nail bitter with a D’Backs club that came in 40 games below .500 and was embarassed by the Dodgers on Sunday, losing 13-0. Josh Reddick got the Arizona comeback started with a two-run shot off Anthony DeSclafani in the fifth. Asdrubral Cabrera followed with another two-run shot, and Christian Walker’s two-run double got the D’Backs even in the seventh.

Reliever Jay Jackson was victimized by Walker, a surprise after Jackson gave the eight, neat appearances in July, and had put himself in line for a bigger role out of the Giants’ pen. Jackson’s command issues on Monday were apparent prior to facing Walker, but Kapler was reluctant to turn to any of his top three relievers after a weekend of extended activity against the Astros.

With the game tied, Kapler did find some success with newly reacquired Tony Watson and hot arm Jarlin Garcia, who pitched the ninth and tenth innings. That gave the Giants a chance to catch a collective breather, and rally in the tenth. Buster Posey started it with a double that chased home Brandon Crawford, the placed runner to start an extra inning. Dickerson’s line out advanced Posey to third, and Austin Slater walked. Steven Duggar followed with an RBI single, and Donovan Solano capped the rally with a ground out that allowed Slater to score.

The Giants gained a half game on the Dodgers and Padres, increasing their lead in the NL West to 3 1/2 games. The Giants have won six of eight and moved a season-best 28 games above .500 at 67-39. The season series against Arizona continues to be lopsided with the Giants capturing 10 of 11 meetings thus far.

On Tuesday, the veteran matchup sure to gain attention takes place with Johnny Cueto facing Madison Bumgarner, the former Giant and 2014 World Series hero at 6:40pm.

Posey hurt, Giants embarassed in lopsided 8-0 loss to the Dodgers

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Wednesday night was a stark reminder that the Giants face a daunting task in attempting to unseat the World Champion Dodgers.

Walker Buehler set the tone, pitching seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, as the Dodgers cruised to a 8-0 win over the Giants. The Giants remain two games ahead of their rival atop the NL West, with four remaining meetings between the clubs, all at Oracle Park.

Buehler has faced the Giants five times this season, and gone 3-0 with a 0.79 ERA. He’s been dominant, the clear counterpoint to all the upheaval the Dodgers have experienced with their lineup and starting rotation.

“We all know how good he is in October,” manager Dave Roberts said. “The challenge for him, the next level, was to put it together in the regular season. He’s done that to this point. To throw 100 pitches and go deep into games with the consistency, it’s been a big bonus considering all that we’ve had to go through this year.”

“He doesn’t give in much,” Wilmer Flores said of Buehler. “He hasn’t made many mistakes. I got only one mistake, and it was a fly ball. When you’re facing pitchers like that, you have to be ready for that mistake. If you miss it, it’s going to be a long game.”

Anthony DeSclafani struggled for the Giants, allowing four runs in the first three innings, and saw his personal record against the Dodgers fall to 1-8. DeSclafani was challenged from the early stages, allowing six hits while recording just eight outs before manager Gabe Kapler lifted his starter.

The Dodgers added three runs in the seventh, and struggling slugger Clay Bellinger, hitting just .165, homered in the eighth to complete the scoring.

The Giants had registered three, consecutive wins against the Dodgers, all with the winning push coming in the ninth inning. The stretch troubled the Dodgers, especially Roberts, who was ejected in the ninth inning of the first two losses. Having the season series evened at 7-7 was quite shocking to the Dodgers as well after they won the first four meetings, and six of the first nine. A response was likely, and Buehler and a patient group of hitters at the top of the Los Angeles lineup set the tone for a lopsided result.

Buster Posey was dinged by a foul ball behind the plate in the third inning, and was removed from the game in the fourth with concerns of a concussion, although all indications were the move was precautionary. Posey wasn’t expected to be in the lineup for Thursday’s series finale, but he will be evaluated for his availability on Friday when the Astros come to Oracle Park.

Brandon Crawford is expected to come off the injured list and start at shortstop on Thursday, welcome news for the Giants who are also anticipating the return of Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Tommy LaStella to bolster a limited infield.

With the trade deadline on Friday, the Giants are likely to examine their starting rotation closely, especially after DeSclafani’s bad outing and his struggles against the Dodgers. Speculation continues that Washington’s Max Scherzer is among the Giants’ targets and that Scherzer may be willing to waive his no-trade clause to join a contender in San Francisco.

On Thursday, the Giants will turn to Johnny Cueto in a veteran matchup with David Price. The duo have combined to win nearly 300 games in their careers with Price registering 154 wins.

Home Run Outcome: Dodgers hit one more than the Giants in 3-2 win

By Morris Phillips

For a team with 50 wins under its belt at the season’s halfway point, the Giants are clearly acting like they still have something to prove.

And they came that close to proving it at Dodgers Stadium on Monday… as close as a hand safely avoiding a swipe tag at second base.

Unfortunately, Mike Tauchman’s decision to stretch his single into a double opening the ninth inning failed, according to replay officials in New York who reviewed the call of out on the field. Had Tauchman been ruled safe, the Giants would have been set up with a runner in scoring position with three, capable hitters on deck with no outs.

Instead, they were reminded of a slow start, and an unforgettable 0 for 13 night hitting with runners in scoring position.

“I felt like I kept the team in the game and we were in it until the last inning,” said Anthony DeSclafani, summarizing the Giants’ evening of trying to overcome an early 2-0 deficit, but unable to come up with a big hit at any juncture. “We had a lot of runners on base. We just weren’t able to cash in on those.”

DeSclafani allowed home runs to Mookie Betts and Max Muncy, the first two batters he faced, and the Giants were in an early hole, down 2-0. But they answered with solo shots of their own from LaMonte Wade Jr. and Brandon Crawford, only to have DeSclafani give up a third shot to Will Smith in the fourth that ultimately became the deciding run.

Allowing three home runs had to be frustrating for the Giants. Only Alex Wood–also against the Dodgers–had allowed three in a game this season, and the statistic is one of a list that have catapulted the Giants to the top the standings. Coming into Monday, the team had allowed just 79 in 77 games, well below the league average for allowing home runs, and a nice counterpoint to the club’s MLB leading 116 homers hit.

The Dodgers managed just five hits, and the two that didn’t leave the yard didn’t amount to much. They also struck out 10 times against DeSclafani and three relievers, but it was enough. Meanwhile, the Giants piled up the hits and walks (11 hits, two walks) but it didn’t get them anywhere. They stranded all their baserunners when one breakthrough would have made the difference.

“Our guys just made pitches when they needed to,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

The win was the Dodgers’ fourth straight following the no-hitter they suffered at the hands of the Cubs last week. They’re within 2 1/2 games of the Giants atop the NL West, but there’s plenty of baseball left. The two teams currently sporting the best records in baseball will meet 11 more times, including Tuesday night, and the stakes will be high. But with half a season remaining, both clubs know they have to pace themselves.

“We did a good job of not adding any extra pressure” Betts said. “We haven’t got hot yet, but we’ve done a good job of staying steady.”

The Giants offer All-Star starting pitcher candidate Kevin Gausman on Tuesday in a star-studded pairing with the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler at 7:00pm on ESPN.

Hard-hitting Giants get the jump on the Cubs in 7-2 win

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Half full COVID restricted ballparks translate to fully-audible bat swing contact, and that couldn’t haven’t been more apparent at Oracle Park on Thursday night.

With balls being whipped around the park from the game’s initial pitch, fans were treated to an audible fireworks show from both teams. Joc Pedersen started it with a rocket that was caught spectacularly by Steven Duggar at the wall on the game’s first pitch. Kris Bryant got his lick in with a ringing double as the game’s second batter, and Pedersen doubled down with a 427-foot splash hit that had kayaks in the cove scrambling in the third.

But the night’s loudest smack belonged to the Giants’ Brandon Crawford swinging on a 3-0 pitch in the fifth that became a decisive three-run homer that propelled the Giants to a 7-2 win in the opener of a four-game series.

“We had the go-ahead run at second base against a hard-throwing lefty,” Crawford said. “It was three sliders in a row and then a fastball over the plate.”

“He knew he was going to get a fastball from Brothers and he was ready for it,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The ball wasn’t carrying tonight and that ball was hit very well.”

In the absence of Evan Longoria, Mike Yastrzemski, Darin Ruf and Brandon Belt–all dealing with injuries–Crawford’s contribution was essential to getting past the Cubs, winners of 15 of 19 coming in, and far healthier than the host Giants. With the game tied 2-2 the Giants were getting their first look at the Chicago bullpen after starter Zach Davies departed with an elevated pitch count, and allowing the first three hitters in the inning to reach.

Reliever Rex Brothers fell behind Crawford 3-0, and wasn’t afforded a get-across pitch as the host’s leading home run hitter was granted the green light. Brothers’ first fastball provided the speed, and Crawford the heft, on the biggest pitch of the night.

The home run capped Crawford’s big night which started with an RBI single in the second and a bare-handed catch-and-throw in the third to retire Kris Bryant in the third.

The Giants have won five of six and improved to an NL-best 35-21 on the season.

Anthony DeSclafani may have allowed some loud contact early, but he was the winner in the end, pitching six innings, allowing four hits and two runs. DeSclafani also aided his cause with his first hit of the season, an RBI double that tied the game in the fourth. Ironically, the pitcher had gone 40 official at-bats without a hit and suffered a feeble strike out with the bases loaded to end the second inning.

The Giants get a second shot at the Cubs on Friday with familiar face Jake Arrieta pitching for Chicago and the Giants’ pitcher unannounced.

Hard-hitting Giants strike early and take care of the Rockies, 12-0

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–The Giants love to get their most violent, damaging swings in when they see a pitch they can drive. In MLB circles, that’s common knowledge about the club in 2021.

So Rockies starter Austin Gomber knew it, but couldn’t stop it in the Giants’ 12-0 win on Monday.

Before he was lifted in the second inning, Gomber gave up seven, solidly struck hits, walked four, and was charged with nine runs despite recording just five outs. The shortest starting assignment of his career included his most hits (7) and runs allowed (9) as well.

What’s worse for Gomber? He probably didn’t even sense that trouble was brewing. The key piece moving from St. Louis to Denver in the Nolan Arenado trade has been pitching well and cruised into the seventh inning on April 9, allowing three hits and a run, in his only other start at Oracle Park.

“A lot of the hits were just middle of the plate,” Gomber said afterwards. “I think it was more about execution and putting myself in bad counts. They had a good game plan.”

Manager Bud Black intimated that there may have been more to Gomber’s uncharacteristic performance in that the pitcher may have tipped his pitches. But both pitcher and manager agreed they couldn’t say more in that regard without consulting the videotape.

“I think that there were some pitches in the middle of the plate that they squared up,” Black said. “But we’re going to look at some video to see if there was something more to it.”

With the socially-distanced crowd of 4,129 thinned even more by uncomfortable wind and cold, the voices, pitches and bats were audible throughout the park. The Giants’ loud contact off Gomber made an impression. Their breakout performance included three doubles and a two-run homer from Buster Posey off Jhoulys Chacin in the sixth.

Posey knocked in a run in the four-run first inning, and Evan Longoria, in his return to the lineup following a weekend of inactivity due to a hamstring injury, knocked in runs in the first and second innings.

Gomber was lifted trailing 6-0, but two pitches later Mauricio Dubon’s bases-loaded double off Chacin made it 9-0.

“There’s not much to complain about tonight. What’s there to pick apart?” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The guys did a great job.”

Anthony DeSclafani pitched a complete game shutout for the Giants, allowing three hits, one walk while striking out nine. DeSclafani has allowed five earned runs over five starts and 30 innings pitched. His 1.50 ERA is dramatically lower than the 3.28 he posted in 2016 for the Reds, in his previous best season at the major league level.

“I kinda peaked at my pitch count and saw that it was low and I knew I had a chance to finish the game as long as I beared down and didn’t get too lax and tried to continue making pitches,” DeSclafani said.

The Giants have won 13 of 18 after a 2-3 start to match the record of the first-place Dodgers at 15-8. The two clubs don’t meet for the first time until May 21, with the Giants having 21 scheduled games against lesser competition prior to that date.

Giants smash three homers in hair-raising 3-2 win at San Diego

By Morris Phillips

The Giants didn’t impress anybody in Seattle with their late inning collapse on Thursday and eerily quiet bats on Saturday night.

But they did impress on Monday in San Diego.

Mike Yastrzemski, in a pinch-hitting role, broke a 2-2 tie with a home run in the seventh inning, propelling the Giants to a 3-2 win over the Padres at Petco Park. Yastrzemski’s big blow came after he was 1 for 13 against the Mariners, and told the local media he had no excuses for his substandard start to the season.

“I just stunk this weekend,” he said.

On Monday, Yaz was back in comfort zone: swinging a big bat, and characteristically saying as little as possible afterwards.

“We were gritty today, DeSclafani did great and we faced a good pitcher.” Yastrzemski told the NBC Sports Bay Area audience on the field after the game.

MLB.com’s Maria Guardado was able to get more out of Yastrzemski in a zoom session interview after the game, and the answers were revealing from one of the game’s more cerebral hitters.

“I was obviously hoping it was either a home run or a deep flyout,” Yastrzemski said. “It was kind of working into what I wanted to do mentally with my swing. I was getting beat a lot in Seattle and spinning off the ball. I just wanted to really stay through the middle of the field, and I just got a pitch that I could do it with.”

Yastrzemski’s home run off reliever Craig Stammen came on a 2-0 sinking fastball, and continued the slugger’s penchant for coming up with big hits in big spots, a trend that began in the COVID-truncated 2020 season. But Yaz wasn’t the only big bat for the Giants on Monday.

Darin Ruf homered in the second, and Evan Longoria homered in the fourth, his third round tripper in four games. All three blasts were solo shots and gave the Giants the lead each time.

Anthony DeSclafani made his San Francisco debut and held the Padres to one run on four hits in five innings of work. Even more significant was the team’s bullpen, working the final four frames while allowing a run on four hits as well.

Jake McGee picked up the save after walking Manny Machado and hitting Eric Hosmer with a pitch with two outs. Tommy Pham flew out with the two runners aboard to end it.

Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. was injured while swinging at a pitch in the third. Tatis struck out and crumpled to the ground at home plate in obvious pain. He was diagnosed with a partially dislocated shoulder and could miss a month or more after signing a $340 million contract in the off-season.

Wondering how a 3-2 ballgame lasts 3 hours, 35 minutes in today’s baseball climate despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s insistence that games preceed at a faster pace? Here’s how.

Both teams started their fifth starter in their initial appearance of the season and both pitched deliberately. Between them, DeSclafani and San Diego’s Adrian Morejon started hitters with first pitch strikes on just 20 of 40 occasions. That led to a lot of deep counts, and lengthy at-bats as both pitchers were determined not to get hurt by lineups adept at extra-base hits and home runs. While both ultimately pitched well, they didn’t last long. Morejon, who had pitches hit as fast as 97 mph, allowed the first two Giants’ home runs, and was done after throwing 64 pitches in four innings.

DeSclafani threw 86 pitches in five innings of work, and had only one clean inning, the third, were he retired all three batters.

Both teams paraded relievers into the game after that–five on each side–and the common theme was yes, almost all pitched effectively, but they took their time. Matt Wisler, who found disaster in his previous appearance in Seattle, and McGee were particularly patient, mixing in balls and strikes at nearly an equal rate.

And that brings us to the main reason the game lasted so long: the Padres and Giants combined to throw 126 balls (with 184 strikes mixed in) and 314 pitches total. That’s a lot for a nine inning game, but reflective of how determined teams are of not letting lineups packed with power hitters hurt them. The Giants may be 2-2 and projected to finish third or worse in the NL West, but they can hit. Even at this early stage, and despite a Sunday afternoon off, the Giants lead MLB in homers with nine (tied with the Astros).

The Giants and Padres pick it up on Tuesday with Aaron Sanchez making his Giants debut in a matchup with Yu Darvish at 7:10 pm.