Breaking Even: Giants win 8-1, finish season at .500 for the first time in franchise history

By Morris Phillips

Manager Gabe Kapler knows this situation all too well. The Giants franchise hasn’t ever experienced a break-even, season finish in their history dating back to 1883.

Finishing at .500 (81-81) one season after winning 107 games isn’t ideal, but it is history. The Giants finish to 2022 marks just the fifth time a 100-win club has finished the following season without a winning record. The Giants may have not wanted that distinction, but they’ll take this one: they’re the first team since the 1925 Cardinals to be as many as eight games below .500 with 16 games remaining to finish .500 or better. Beating the Padres 8-1 on Wednesday gave them a 12-4 finish, and a clear sign that the club is engaged, not splintering, under Kapler’s leadership.

Some good, some bad. But more good than bad, just ask the manager.

Kapler has five seasons leading a big league club under his belt–the last three in San Francisco–and his 2019 Phillies team also finished 81-81. Conversely, that club lost 12 of its final 17 to finish that season at .500, and in his first season in Philly (2018) Kapler’s club led the NL East in early August only to win just 16 of their last 49 and finish with a losing record (80-82).

On the final day of 2019, the Phillies fell behind the Marlins 4-0 only to rally and come up short in a 4-3 loss. Eight times that day, Phillies’ hitters came up empty with runners in scoring position when one, successful at-bat could have pulled them even with the Marlins and given them a chance to win, and post a winning record. The Citizens Bank Park fans weighed in as always, by cheering Bryce Harper, who completed his first season in Philadelphia with 35 homers and 114 RBI, and booing Kapler.

“Expectations were high and we didn’t get the job done, but it wasn’t for lack of effort,” Kapler said after that game.

Eleven days later, Kapler was fired by Philadelphia, which freed him up to interview and be tabbed by the Giants to become their manager in 2020.

This finish will be far easier to digest for the team and the manager. David Villar homered twice in the win over the Padres, the second one with style as Villar’s drive bounced off the racing Jurickson Profar’s glove and into the first row of seats in left field. That gave the Giants a 7-1 lead in the eighth inning as they took full advantage of a Padres’ team that was more focused on their cross-country flight to New York for their first their first post-season encounter with the Mets on Friday night.

Austin Slater also homered in the win, and Lamonte Wade Jr. had three hits and an RBI. The three knocks were just enough to get Wade’s batting average to .207, a far more dignified end to his season than with the .198 average he started the day with.

Mike Yastrzemski had a pair of hits and two RBI. Yaz finished the season as one of only four Giants to get over 100 hits (104).

Joey Bart had a day as polarizing as his season as a whole. While he finished with a single and a run scored, he also struck out three times. Bart will need to cut down on his strikeouts (112 K’s in 97 game appearances) going forward, but his first, full season as the club’s catcher was a success behind the plate. Bart’s defense was impressive and memorable, as was his handling of the pitchers. On Wednesday, Bart helped eight relievers navigate the paired-down Padres lineup, allowing just four hits and a run, with the run allowed by opener John Brebbia in the first inning.

Again the bad: the Giants finished the season with 28 losses to the Padres and Dodgers combined. Against all other opponents they were 71-53. The newly-configured schedule for 2023 will see the Giants play their two tormenters six fewer times each as MLB switches to a more balanced schedule with increased interleague play.

Will that help the Giants? It could, but a headline-generating off-season filled with a couple of splashy, free agent signings will be the key to answering that question. All signs point to the Giants being heavily involved in attempting to sign slugger Aaron Judge, as well as their own free agent, starting pitcher, Carlos Rodon.

The Padres (89-73) qualified for the post-season for only the second time in the last eight seasons, but now find themselves facing a daunting task. They’ll play a best-of-three series in New York against the 100-win Mets. In order to prevail, they’ll have to face the challenge of seeing standout starting pitchers Jacob de Grom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt on consecutive days. If they don’t prevail, post-season baseball won’t come to Petco Park.

From a business and a momentum-building standpoint, nothing could be more important. In 2022, the Padres drew 2,987,470 fans, the fifth-highest in the majors this year and the second-highest in franchise history behind 3,016,752 in Petco Park’s inaugural season of 2004.

“More than anything we want to win the series so we can see playoff baseball here in San Diego,” slugger Wil Myers said.

Bullpen Boost: Giants rebound to outlast the Rockies 10-7 in 10 innings

By Morris Phillips

If there was a theme to the 336 pitches thrown in Monday night’s marathon contest between the Giants and Rockies, it was the ones thrown by the visitors’ pitching staff weren’t very effective initially, but by the game’s end they were.

As was the Giants’ defense and clutch hitting in a gritty 10-7 win in 10 innings that broke the team’s three-game losing streak.

“You make four errors at Coors Field and you win the game and it’s a minor miracle,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Scott Alexander, Camilo Doval and Thairo Estrada were the team’s heroes, a significant footnote for a club that has uncertainty engulfing its roster heading into the 2023 season.

Doval pitched a scoreless ninth after the Giants wiped out a 7-5 deficit in the top half of the inning to force extra innings. Of all the players on the roster, Doval maybe number one in having youth on his side and an established role going forward. The closer has allowed just five hits in eight appearances in September and lowered his ERA to 2.45.

Estrada committed one of the Giants’ four errors, misplaying a ground ball that allowed Yonathon Daza to reach base in the sixth, and later score the Rockies’ seventh and final run of the night. But the 26-year old rebounded to hit the game-winning, three-run homer in the 10th, one of his three hits in the game.

“His plate discipline is improving and in the biggest moments he seems to really lock in and focus,” Kapler said of Estrada. “He showed up in a big way today.”

“It shows the type of team that we are,” Estrada said with the assistance of an interpreter. “All of us put a little bit into this win. I just happened to hit the game-winning home run.”

Alexander picked up his second save by pitching a three-up, three-down 10th inning. The 33-year old reliever who spent the previous four seasons with the Dodgers, has allowed two runs in 11 appearances, putting him in the running for a spot in the Giants’ overhauled bullpen in 2023.

Starter Jakob Junis ran into trouble immediately by plunking leadoff hitter Ryan McMahon. He went on to allow runs in each of his four, full innings and was lifted in the fifth. Junis gave up 12 hits, including two doubles and two triples that had Giants’ running all over the expansive Coors outfield to chase down hits. Five of the six runs Junis allowed were earned.

Wilmer Flores had three hits, Mike Yastrzemski and David Villar had two each. Villar delivered the game-tying double with two outs in the ninth inning, scoring pinch runner Austin Slater from first base.

The Rockies got caught short-handed with high-leverage relievers Daniel Bard and Carlos Estevez unable to pitch. That left Justin Lawrence to pitch the ninth, and he was saddled with a blown save after allowing three hits in the Giants’ comeback.

Rookie Gavin Hollowell, in his Major League debut, took the loss. Hallowell, who was promoted from Double-A Hartford, admitted nerves may have surfaced when he walked Lamonte Wade Jr. ahead of Estrada’s home run.

“The adrenaline was definitely up in the beginning, then I started to settle down and maybe let the foot off the gas a little bit,” Hollowell said. “I’ve just got to be better.”

Our Turn: Dodgers late rally the difference in 7-3 win over the Giants

By Morris Phillips

David Villar’s pair of home runs kept his late-season audition humming along, but the Dodgers had responses to Villar and the Giants in their 7-3 win on Wednesday afternoon.

The Giants 2-0 lead was eclipsed by Justin Turner’s three-run homer in the fifth off Alex Cobb. Then in the eighth, Trea Turner doubled, scoring Austin Barnes to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead. Two batters later, Max Muncy’s three-run shot put the game away, and officially eliminated the Giants in the NL West race.

“I wanted to get the ball in the air on that one,” Muncy said. “We have the fastest guy in baseball (Trea Turner) on third base.”

The Giants suffered consecutive losses to the Dodgers after their five home run performance on Monday. That leaves them 28 1/2 games out of first place with 27 games remaining.

So what’s next? A trip to Milwaukee for a doubleheader with the Brewers on Thursday, followed by a weekend in Chicago with the Cubs.

While the Giants would love to catch fire and challenge the Brewers and Padres, who are holding the last, two playoff spots, just surviving the condensed schedule this week would be admirable. A revolving door roster, giving several guys opportunities to shine, will help ease the grind.

Currently at the top of that list are Villar and Lewis Brinson, after the pair both homered three times in the series.

“We’ve talked the last couple of days about how instrumental David can be to the future of this franchise,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I see him as a guy who’s setting the stage for what might happen next season.”

Even more impressive than Villar’s 30 combined home runs at Triple-A Sacramento and San Francisco with the Giants is his enthusiasm. Clearly, he senses the opportunity to grab a regular role at first or third base with Wilmer Flores, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria unlikely to return next season. Homering off Clayton Kershaw in the fifth inning to give the Giants a lead just intensified his aspirations.

“He’s a historic pitcher,” Villar said. “But my job is to do exactly what I did. I got a mistake slider that was over the heart of the plate, and I know that I’m capable of driving the ball to the right side of the field.”

Villar doubled down in his next at-bat in the seventh, with a home run to the same area in the bleachers that tied the game, 3-3. The second shot victimized reliever Jeff Bruihl and his cut fastball.

Outside of Villar, the Giants’ offense did little with their other six base hits contributing to seven men left on base. Flores, Longoria and Austin Wynns each suffered 0 for 4 afternoons.

NOTES: Luis Torres is traveling with the club and expected to pitch on Thursday. Jakob Junis, who was the scheduled starter, Sean Hjelle and Scott Alexander are also likely to pitch with their roles to be determined. Bryce Johnson, the outfielder, was optioned to Sacramento.

Giants Turn The Page: Brinson, Villar, Knapp first to get September auditions

By Morris Phillips

The Giants have a refreshed look for the final month of the season with three roster additions now that the team no longer has postseason possibilities in 2022.

The additions won’t showcase the organization’s top prospects, but they give three, intriguing players a chance to help the club win now, particularly if they can provide timely hits and credible defense. The biggest parallel for all three? They all have big league experience and little else to prove in the minors.

Once again, the Giants are practicing pragmatism, while the fan base might want personnel pyrotechnics. But their approach is sound. The new rules institued just before the start of the season allow for two, additional rostered players, not the clubhouse-crowding ten to 15 spots that traditionally bought the number of players in uniform to or near 40. Teams are forced fill specific needs under this format.

If you’re hoping to see Heliot Ramos, Marco Luciano or the fast-rising Vaun Brown–the guys in the San Francisco minor league system that have the biggest buzz–don’t hold your breath. All three probably won’t be heard from until spring training or even next September. Unfortunately, as we found out when the Juan Soto-to-the-Padres deal went down, Giants’ prospects haven’t had a bang up season as several experienced injuries and missed time, and none transformed themselves into MLB-ready breakout stars. The guy that came the closest was 21-year old Kyle Harrison who pitched well enough that there was speculation he could skip AAA Sacramento an earn a promotion to San Francisco.

David Villar and Lewis Brinson, who was acquired Thursday in a trade involving minor leaguers that haven’t made a Major League appearance this season, will join the team for Friday’s series opener against the Phillies. Villar provides his experience gained earlier this season in his first call-up, and gives the 25-year old a reward for his outstanding season at Sacramento. Villar will allow the Giants to spell Evan Longoria at third base, and provide insurance if the 36-year old veteran continues to have issues with his hamstring.

Brinson was acquired from the Astros for cash, and he provides intrigue in that he was a buzzworthy prospect a few years back as the main piece coming back in the trade that sent Christian Yelich to the Brewers from the Marlins. Currently, the 28-year old hasn’t panned out with heavy strikeouts numbers being his biggest impediment, but he had 45 extra-base hits in 85 games at AAA Sugar Land. Brunson provides another center field option for a club that only has Mike Yastrzemski with Austin Slater’s status uncertain due to the dislocated finger he suffered earlier this week.

Andrew Knapp got a promotion with fellow catcher Joey Bart landing on the 7-day concussion list. Knapp and Austin Wynns will be the team’s two catchers until Bart returns, although there’s a possibility that when he does return the Giants will retain all three for the final month. Knapp played collegiately at Cal and grew up in Sacramento. He wasn’t hesitant to express his excitement with the move.

“To end up back on the team that I grew up watching, it’s pretty awesome,” said Knapp, who has played 322 Major League games in five seasons with the Phillies, Pirates and Mariners.

Again, this isn’t a youth movement. Villar is 25, Brinson is 28, and Knapp, 30. The hope is Farhan Zaidi’s roster moves make the Giants better–even if it’s incrementally. The other prong in Zaidi’s equation is landing a splashy acquisition (like Shohei Ohtani or Aaron Judge) at some point next season.

On Friday, Alex Cobb will take the mound for the Giants with Kyle Gibson getting the start for the Phillies at 7:15pm.