Cardinals beat Giants at their own game, win series opener 5-3 at Oracle Park

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Major League hitters don’t come to the park at spray line drives all over the place for nine innings like in days past. Now, they sport paltry batting averages, pick their spots and keep their focus on trying to impact the game with something big.

That’s the Giants winning style. And on Monday, the Cardinals adopted that style and thrived.

Matt Carpenter’s two-run triple in the seventh inning broke a scoreless tie, and sent to the Cardinals to a 5-3 win at Oracle Park in the opener of the Giants’ final homestand before the All-Star break. The Cardinals came to San Francisco sporting a chip on their collective shoulders from too many, narrow losses in recent weeks.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games and we’ve won some and we’ve lost some lately that have stung,” manager Mike Shildt said.

Carpenter cashed in a competitive at-bat against Giants’ All-Star Kevin Gausman, who was on his way to dropping his miniscule ERA even lower when he left a pitch over the plate to Carpenter in a hitters’ count. The breakthrough wasn’t easily had; Gausman had dealt to that point, allowing just one hit over the first six innings.

Carpenter, hitting just .174 coming into the at-bat, described his blast off the base of the left field wall as a breath of fresh air.

“I’d be OK if that was the swing that turned it around,” Carpenter said. “If we can have those kind of competitive at-bats that we showed and we did against a guy who is as good as anybody we’re going to face all season — if we can do that consistently, we’re going to catch some people.”

While the loss kept the Giants from extending their lead in the NL West, and their perch above all MLB clubs with the best record in baseball, the Cardinals got a needed boost from their spot in fourth place in the NL Central. For a proud franchise like St. Louis, the season hasn’t been what’s expected, but they’re of the mindset to turn it around even if that transition comes against the Giants, who they host coming out of the All-Star break next week as well.

The Giants attempted to rally with a run in the eighth and two in the bottom of the ninth, but came up short. Gausman suffered losses in back-to-back starts for the first time this season, and the Giants failed to build on their home dominance after 26 wins in their first 37 home contests.

Kwang Hyun Kim matched Gausman with a seven-inning outing in which he allowed three hits and two walks and departed with a 2-0 lead. Alex Reyes pitched an eventful ninth inning, allowing RBI singles to Donovan Solano and Steven Duggar, but he closed out with a strikeout of LaMonte Wade Jr. with a runner at third base.

Curt Casali got the start behind the plate in place of the injured Buster Posey, who injured his finger in the finale in Arizona on Sunday. Manager Gabe Kapler didn’t offer much of an update on Posey, other than to say that he remains on the roster, and the possibility of him avoiding a trip to the injured list is still a possibility.

The Giants are also awaiting updates on Evan Longoria, Tommy La Stella, Mike Tauchman and Brandon Belt as a major chunk of their offense is on the shelf heading into the break. Only Longoria appears to be a possibility to return to action during this homestand that concludes with the Washington Nationals over the weekend.

On Tuesday, veteran pitchers Adam Wainwright and Johnny Cueto matchup in the series’ second game at 6:45pm.

Led by Yaz the MVP candidate, Giants are contending at compressed season’s midpoint

By Morris Phillips

A week ago, the Giants were on life support, victims of too many ninth inning collapses in a short period of time. The prognosis? Take your medicine and get healthy for 2021.

A week later, and the Giants are sitting pretty, tied for seventh in an expanded, eight-team post-season pool that’s heated and refreshing.

How’s that? Well, in a 60-game season things happen fast. Fast like six-game winning streak fast.

Ok then, are the Giants any good, or is this smoke and mirrors?

That answer’s complicated, but let’s take a look.

Through 30 games–half the pandemic-truncated season–the Giants are 14-16, just six days after they were 8-16 and stuck in last place. Their schedule, unique given the uneven, 7/3 and 6/4 home/away splits for their four NL West opponents along with the sequence of the 60 games, has been especially harsh.

How harsh? The Giants have played 14 home games thus far, compared to a combined 11 games at Dodgers Stadium and Coors Field, both notoriously rough venues for visitors.

Given that, their schedule eases considerably in the second half starting with 19 of their remaining 30 games at Oracle Park or the Oakland Coliseum, which means just 11 more dates attached to hotel rooms, COVID restrictions, and the heightened, antsy atmosphere of being on the road in 2020.

The final 10 games? All locally, starting with three in Oakland, then the final seven at Oracle Park against the Padres and Rockies.

The expanded playoff field will take the top two finishers in each division plus the teams with the two best remaining records in the National League. While the Giants are competing for those final spots with the Cardinals (who have only played 17 games), Marlins and Mets, they don’t play any of those three teams, all of whom have horribly backloaded schedules due to COVID cancelations. Instead, the Giants will see either the Padres, Rockies or Diamondbacks in 20 of their remaining 30 games, allowing them to focus on climbing within the NL West and finishing second or third, both of which appear to be playoff spots at the moment.

The Giants boast one of the NL’s best offenses averaging nearly five runs per game, and nearly seven runs per game at home. So if you’re trying to envision how the Giants can win games down the stretch, start with the bats. In fact, in a recent development (in the last week, really) the Giants have an eye-popping 92 extra-base hits, 18 above the National League average. They’re third in doubles, second in triples and fourth in home runs with 38.

(If those numbers aren’t mind-numbing for Giants’ fans still stuck in the Bruce Bochy torture era, no numbers are.)

The pitching staffs the Giants will face aren’t imposing outside of the Dodgers and A’s, who are first and fifth respectively in terms of fewest runs allowed. The other four, remaining opponents have staffs with numbers at or well below the major league average, including the Mariners and D’Backs, who have been especially generous. Those four opponents with standard to substandard pitching account for 24 of the final 30 Giants’ game dates.

Offensively, the Giants have stars who not only reside among the league leaders statistically, but in many cases, lead the league. Austin Slater, currently on the injured list (and without enough at-bats to qualify) has an NL-best OBP of .458. Donovan Solano, despite cooling off recently, is hitting .363 with 33 hits.

And the Major League’s top offensive performer at the half way point, the unlikely MVP candidate who’s 30-years old with just 137 big league games under his belt?

Mike Yastrzemski.

The unassuming Yaz has a 309/.429/.645 slashline with 28 runs scored, 34 hits and 22 RBIs in 30 games. But there’s more: he’s second among all MLB performers in walks, triples, runs scored and tied for second in extra-base hits. In the complicated Wins Above Replacement (WAR) category, Yastrzemski has one peer: the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts.

Did we mention Joey Bart?

Giants fans, there’s only one requirement: stay tuned.

Giants hit all four S’s–Splash, Scream, Safe, Socially Distant–in dramatic, 7-6 win over the Padres

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Mike Yastrzemski doesn’t have an ounce of demonstrativeness in his body. Low-key, business-like, and surprisingly productive, let’s call the Giants’ outfielder the prototypical star for socially distant times.

Yastrzemski’s second homer of the game in the bottom of the ninth propelled the Giants to an improbable 7-6 win over the Padres, their first at home in a pandemic-shortened season. The homer, which sailed just inside the right field foul pole and into McCovey Cove enlivened 30 of the 300 or so people scattered throughout Oracle Park, all 30 of whom came streaming out of the home team’s dugout to greet their hero. With only their voices audible in a 40,000-seat stadium, the celebration at home plate was surreal and brief.

“Obviously we’re trying to do our best to stay safe and avoid as much contact as possible,” Yastrzemski recounted. “Sometimes in that situation you just have to follow the lead and everybody was doing the right thing. We just jumped around.”

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Giants ranked last in extra base hits, 29th in home runs and 28th in runs scored. With four home runs and triple among their 12 hits on the night, the unheralded squad look like a competent, offensive force for the first time in six games.

But most of that damage came after starter Johnny Cueto departed and Trent Grisham’s three-run homer off reliever Shaun Anderson left the Giants trailing 6-2 in the fifth.

But the Giants clawed back, first with Alex Dickerson’s solo shot to center in the sixth, and Donovan Solano’s improbable, three-run homer in the eighth to tie it.

The 32-year old Solano had homered just 13 times in 1,296 at-bats over seven big league seasons coming in, but that didn’t stop him from turning into a right-handed hitting Barry Bonds while facing veteran reliever Craig Stammen. On a 2-1 changeup running in on his hands, Solano some how got his hips turned and his bat moving with home run heft without sending the ball into foul territory.

“Luckily I have a short swing and I was able to do some damage,” Solano said through his interpreter Edwin Higueros. “The only thing I was trying to do was make solid contact and at least drive one run in.”

Reliever Tyler Anderson helped the Giants’ cause with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief that kept the Giants within striking range before their rally began in earnest with two outs in the eighth.

“This team is full of fighters,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “These are their words and I believe them when they talk. They demonstrated that they can back those words up.”

The win prevented the Padres from claiming the major’s best record at 5-1, and an early lead in the NL West. San Diego got a two-run homer from Manny Machado, but they imploded late. Two Padres’ baserunners got picked off first base in the eighth, and three of the four San Diego relievers allowed home runs, preventing manager Jayce Tingler turning the ball over to All-Star closer Kirby Yates with the lead.

The Giants are expected to activate Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt from the disabled list prior to Thursday’s series finale. Kevin Gausman will be the Giants’ starter opposed by the Padres’ Dinelson Lamet.