Fishy Circumstances: Once again, Giants allow last-place Marlins to look better than they actually are

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Strickland: Close or not to close? That is the question.

For eight innings on Monday, numerous storylines swirled around the windy ballpark by the Bay, most of them surrounding a redemptive win for the Giants over the Miami Marlins, their lowly, youthful nemesis from the National League East.

But all those storylines were flushed when Strickland entered, and walked two of the first three batters he faced, on his way to turning a 4-2 lead into a bitterly, disappointing 5-4 loss.

Quite naturally, manager Bruce Bochy emerged for his post-game presser and the questions surfaced: What’s going on with Strickland? Should he be the closer if Mark Melancon’s healthy? How can he can be the guy if only his fastball is thrown with confidence and proficiency?

“There’s no reason to have a leash on him,” Bochy calmly reasoned.  “He’s pitched well.”

And so continues Bochy’s belief in the hard-throwing right hander, a belief that began with the 2014 World Series, even as Strickland allowed home run after home run.

And the truth is, over the years, Strickland’s got better and better, in concert with Bochy’s steady belief… for the most part.

Monday just wasn’t Strickland’s night, not by any stretch. Nor the Giants, who have suddenly lost seven of 11, and are on mid-season, life support, even in the forgiving NL West.

“For eight innings, we played great baseball,” Bochy said.  “Couldn’t add on…”

Great baseball, then pfffft? Yes.

Andrew Suarez–in his second, consecutive start against the team he grew up watching–had the type of start he wanted in Miami. Suarez pitched into the seventh inning, striking out seven, walking one, before departing with a two-run lead. Making his 11th big league start, the former Miami Hurricane looked like he deserves to make another 100 starts: he was efficient, threw strikes and quietly set the tone for what the Giants hope is a bounce back homestand.

Sam Dyson followed, retiring all five batters he faced. Pablo Sandoval supplied the big blow, a two-run shot in the Giants’ three-run second. Buster Posey, limited in the Dodgers series, started behind the plate, and doubled leading off that inning, setting the table for Joe Panik as well as Sandoval.

Kelby Tomlinson started in place of Brandon Crawford (off to celebrate the birth of his child) and made it happen at short with a pair of Crawford-like fielding plays.

Bochy’s claim of beautiful baseball prior to the ninth? Not far from fact. Not adding on? The Giants went scoreless over the final, six innings of the ballgame. The Giants’ first three hitters in Monday’s lineup–Gorkys Hernandez, Brandon Belt and Andrew McCutchen combined for just one hit (1 for 12, one run scored).

That bring us back to Strickland, who entered Monday’s game having converted 11 of his previous 12 save opportunities, and hadn’t allowed an earned run since May 28 at Colorado. But while facing the bottom half of the Marlins’ lineup, Strickland couldn’t settle in, walking Brian Anderson before allowing J.T. Realmuto’s RBI double. Strickland then walked Justin Bour, a guy who had two hits in his previous 15 at-bats.

One out later, Lewis Brinson, hitting .179, singled home Realmuto, tying the game, 5-5. The next hitter, Miguel Rojas delivered the go- ahead run with a single to right.

“Nothing seemed to be right and working for me,” Strickland admitted.

In his previous 33 appearances in 2018, Strickland walked just 11 batters, and had walked more than one batter just twice. The multiple home runs Strickland allowed in the 2014 postseason aren’t issues any longer. In 2018, Strickland’s allowed a home run to Eric Hosmer and one other to Paul Goldschmidt.

So all numbers point to an off night, and Melancon’s likely to be Strickland’s richly-paid understudy for the forseeable future.

The Giants have now dropped four of five to the Marlins, and are 2-9 against the fish over the last two seasons.

Dereck Rodriguez gets the start Tuesday in a matchup against Miami’s Dan Straily, the former Oakland Athletic.



Giants bullpen gives up sure win in late innings

by Michael Martinez

SAN FRANCISCO – Johnny Cueto (13-3) appeared to have his first win since the All Star break in the bag after he threw a solid six and two thirds innings, allowing just three runs on eight hits with four strikeouts. Cueto also had a nice day at the plate putting together two hits and driving in a run. However, the Giants bullpen fell apart in the late innings and allowed the Orioles to make things competitive.

Hunter Strickland came in to relieve Cueto and got out of a seventh inning jam but gave up two runs in the seventh to let the Orioles back into the ball game, which included a solo shot by Mark Trumbo. The blast was Trumbo’s was number 34 of the season he still leads the AL in that category.

Derek Law replaced Strickland in the eighth and was able to limit the damage as the Giants still held a 7-5 lead heading into the top half of the ninth.

Then Santiago Casilla came into the game and not only let two runners get on base, but threw a hanging curveball right over the heart of the plate to Baltimore second baseman, Johnathan Schoop. Schoop made Casilla pay as he crushed the hanging breaking ball into the left field bleachers to give the Orioles the lead, eight to seven. The homer marked Casilla’s fifth blown save of the year.

“I have confidence in all my pitches,” Casilla said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I threw the curveball, and I just made a mistake. The ball didn’t break.”

The Giants then tried to make something happen off Orioles closer Zach Britton in the bottom of the ninth, but unfortunately could not get a run across the plate to push the game into extra innings. Britton added to his league leading save total, 37, as Baltimore sits just a half game behind the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the AL East.

For San Francisco, its their 18th loss since the Mid Summer Classic and a real bad one after they held a six run lead heading into the top of the seventh.

The orange and black hit their stride at the plate, tallying 14 hits for seven runs and forced Orioles skipper, Buck Showalter,  to remove starter Wade Miley in the fifth inning.

Giants back up catcher Trevor Brown got the scoring started with an RBI single in the second inning. Brown got the start behind the dish after Buster Posey was a last minute scratch due to back tightness. The injury could have been sustained from the flight back and has gradually worsened, according to Posey.

Before Sunday’s ball game, Brown had been hitless in his last seven at bats, with just three hits in his last 19. But Brown made the most out of his start and was a huge spark for SF’s offense. He finished the game three for five with three RBIs.

“He’s been great,” Posey said about Brown’s performance this year. “He gave us a chance to win the game.”

Outfielder Hunter Pence also had a good game and it appears his swing could be coming into form. Pence hit a bomb to center field, 436 feet to be exact, and added a single during the Giants big fifth inning. Pence’s dinger was his first since returning from the disabled list. Prior to today’s game, Pence had not put one into the seats dating all the way back to May 18.

Fortunately, the Dodgers (65-52) lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday, 11-3, keeping the Giants a game ahead in the NL West.

After blowing a huge lead and taking a loss in what looked to be the Giants first back-to-back wins since July 30 and 31 as well as their second consecutive series victory, San Francisco will take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at home tomorrow night at 7:15 p.m. PT as Matt Moore takes the mound.

“I think everyone knows what’s at stake. I don’t think there’s really any motivation needed,” Posey said. “This time of the year, this is when it’s fun. Each game as we get further and further along will have a little more importance on it. I think the group of guys in here generally thrive in these situations.”