Bad, Good: X-Ray reveals fracture in Brandon Belt’s thumb as Giants hope to capture NL West title

By Morris Phillips

The Giants have announced that first baseman Brandon Belt has a fracture in his left thumb, the result of a 93-mph fastball thrown by Lucas Gilbreath that clipped Belt as he squared to bunt in Sunday’s game in Denver.

Belt recoiled in pain upon the impact of the pitch and was removed from the game. The 33-year old in the midst of perhaps the biggest month of his career (.349 with 9 home runs, 18 RBI and 30 hits) expressed doubt that the injury was serious after the game, but it’s clear he will miss the final week of the regular season and at least the start of the playoffs.

Officially, the team said that Belt will meet with doctors tomorrow and in the days after to develop a plan of action, and a determination of how long he will be out. An update is expected after the first meeting with doctors tomorrow.

Belt suffered a broken left thumb in 2014 and missed 51 games. On that occasion in which he was hit by a pitch thrown by the Dodgers’ Paul Maholm, and the initial prognosis was that he would miss six weeks, and he ended up missing eight. In 2014, Belt played in a career-low 61 games (in 2020, Belt played in 51 of 60, the shortened season impacted by the COVID crisis) finishing with just 12 homers and 27 RBI. But that season, Belt was healthy for the postseason, hitting .295 with 18 hits in 17 games as the Giants captured the World Series title.

The difference between the two injuries? Belt (and manager Bruce Bochy) knew immediately his thumb was broken in 2014, but the injury transpired in the season’s 36th game, early enough for him to recover and aid the team’s postseason push.

This time, the timing couldn’t be any worse. Not only are the Giants battling for the division title with six games remaining, a potential showdown with the Dodgers would begin October 8, a date that might not be possible for Belt to meet even if his fracture doesn’t require surgery and he makes a quick recovery.

Besides the Belt injury, Sunday was another revelation for the club in that they again came up big late in a ballgame, besting the Rockies 6-2 and sweeping the three-game series in Denver. That, along with a Saturday loss by the Dodgers to Arizona in which starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw was roughed up for four runs before being lifted in the fifth inning of a 7-2 decision, gives the Giants a two-game lead with six games remaining.

According to baseball-reference.com’s playoff odds, the Giants now have 90.3 percent chance to capture the division, with the Dodgers clinging to hope with a 9.7 percent chance to prevail. The Giants have the easier schedule with home games against the Diamondbacks and the Padres, while the Dodgers close with the Padres for three, then the Brewers for three. Milwaukee has clinched the NL Central, but in a bit of scheduling intrigue may not be content to play their backups as they will be visiting Dodgers Stadium for the first time in 2021, and may want their regular lineups battle tested against the team they lost to in Game 7 of the 2018 NLCS.

The Brewers quietly could be planning big things. They have held of the challenge of the Cardinals–currently riding a 16-game win streak–and have several things in their favor heading into the final week:

The Brewers can, again, both rest and prepare, more likely with them playing their backups in a series with St. Louis beginning Tuesday, then ramp it up for the Dodgers over the weekend without hampering their preparation for Game 1 of the NLDS with them likely hosting Atlanta on October 8. Milwaukee already knows it will have home field advantage in the NLDS, and that they will avoid consecutive series against the teams with the NL’s best records, the Giants and the Dodgers. Also, if the Dodgers prevail over the Giants in a likely NLDS showdown, and the Brewers advance, Milwaukee would have home field against Los Angeles in the championship series.

Not what Giants’ fans would want, but Milwaukee is formidable with starters Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff along with closer Josh Hader (34 saves). Also, they’ve qualified for the postseason for the fourth straight season and have that 2018 disappointment they like to settle with Los Angeles.

For the Giants, especially with Belt injured, winning the division as quickly as possible is an even bigger aspiration. Look for them to go all out to sweep the D’Backs and put tremendous pressure on the Dodgers going into the final weekend. As an aside, Madison Bumgarner is the announced pitcher for Arizona in Thursday’s series finale, which would be his first time pitching in San Francisco since he signed with the D’Backs in the offseason prior to the 2020 season.

Also, the Giants would like to end things in the NL West as soon as possible to clear the path for Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir to pitch in the same game to test both veterans’ postseason readiness. If the division is clinched, that pairing of Cueto and Kazmir could come Saturday against San Diego.

On Tuesday, the Giants open their series with Arizona in front of a large, home crowd and Logan Webb on the mound. Arizona has announced Luke Weaver as their starter. Weaver is 0-4 with a 7.94 ERA in his five starts on the road.

Tight Squeeze: Giants’ NL West lead just one game after 7-4 loss to the Padres

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Well, this divisional race won’t be blurting out magic numbers anytime soon… if at all.

The Giants fell to the Padres 7-4 on Thursday afternoon, a second consecutive loss after nine straight wins that has the upstarts clinging to a one game lead over the establishment with 15 games remaining for both.

San Francisco’s season for the ages could also include a regular season finish for the ages. With the two best teams in baseball battling in one division–along with being long time bitter rivals–it doesn’t get any better than this. The Padres–with six games remaining with San Francisco, and three with Los Angeles–will have a say along with trying to further their own playoff hopes.

“The Padres are fighting to get in, too, and we’re fighting to win a division. They’re certainly not going to roll over and just hand it to us. They have some guys who are having some really good years. I know they’ve had some injuries over there, but they’re a good team, and we’ll see them a bunch over these next two weeks,” Kris Bryant said.

On Thursday, the Padres were very good. Losers of 21 of 30 coming in, they roughed up Kevin Gausman with eight hits and four runs through five innings. Gausman was looking for his 15th win, but he left early, trailing 4-0. After putting up a paltry two runs in two lopsided losses to start the series, the Padres bounced back with 30 hits on Wednesday and Thursday, many of them of heavy contact variety.

“I think we can chalk it up to kind of running into the best version of them,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

The Giants streak of scoring at least six runs ended at 10 games, and again, like Wednesday night, the offense came in pieces not chunks. After Pierce Johnson and Nabil Crismatt shut the Giants offense down through five innings, they scored single runs in innings six through nine. Not only was the output lacking, the hosts failed to put the pressure on the previous faltering guests by climbing within a couple of runs. The Padres’ three-run seventh keyed by pinch hitter Wil Myers and Manny Machado ended all the suspense.

Evan Longoria homered in the eighth inning and contributed two hits. And all eight position players in the starting lineup had at least one hit for the Giants, but with runners on base the whole lineup couldn’t produce. The Giants finished 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

On Friday, the Giants open a series with the Braves, leaders of the NL East. Red hot Logan Webb will face Ian Anderson in the opener at 6:45pm. The Dodgers were off on Thursday, and they travel to Cincinnati for a meeting with the Reds to start their final, 9-game road trip of the season.

Giants lose again to the Brewers, 5-2, fall behind the Dodgers in the NL West

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–After 115 days, the Giants are looking up.

A fourth, consecutive loss on Wednesday night allowed the Dodgers to pass the Giants in the NL West standings, just one game prior to the final meeting between the rivals in 2021.

With the additional drama of determining the division winner, the series takes on even more importance. But first, the Giants get one more opportunity to figure out the Brewers.

“Any time you have a little losing streak, it’s not fun,” catcher Buster Posey said. “This group’s shown an ability to bounce back throughout the year and that’s just what you have to believe you’re going to do.”

MIlwaukee jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second on Lorenzo Cain’s RBI hit that scored a pair of runs. Then with the score tied 2-2, the Brewers took advantage of the Giants’ bullpen with a run in the seventh, and two more in the ninth. Dominic Leone, who has been dynamite for the Giants pitching in setup roles, allowed a walk and an infield single in the seventh inning and took the loss.

The Giants’ offense managed eight hits–four of them doubles, two of those from Kris Bryant–but couldn’t come up with the big hit at any juncture along the way. They finished 2 of 14 with runners in scoring position, and also saw Lamonte Wade Jr. crush a ball in the eighth that looked like a game-tying home run but fell short for a table-setting double. Reliever Jake Cousins escaped damage when with two runners on, he struck out Austin Slater and got Thairo Estrada to ground out to end the inning.

Starter Kevin Gausman was effective, departing in a 2-2 tie after five innings. Gausman allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out seven. Five relievers followed Gausman, with Leone the tough-luck loser, and John Brebbia the only one of the quintet that got roughed up. Brebbia pitched the ninth, allowing Cain’s lead-extending home run, and Wily Adames’ RBI double.

While the Giants have slumped, the Brewers have soared, moving 30 games above .500 for the first time in more than 10 seasons. Milwaukee has a huge lead over Cincinnati in the NL Central, and is on track to best their franchise record with 99 wins on the season. They also are a dark horse candidate to sneak in and steal the NL’s best record from the Giants and Dodgers, which would put a new spin on the post season matchups.

The Giants have been hit hard in this stretch by injuries with Evan Longoria again out with a hand issue, and Johnny Cueto–Tuesday’s starter–back on the injury list for the third time. Also, Tommy La Stella is unavailable, and Wilmer Flores departed Wednesday’s game with a left hamstring injury.

Regardless, the Giants will have to answer the questions. In their most critical stretch of the season–10 games against the Brewers, Braves and Dodgers, they’re 1-5 against three teams that will undoubtedly comprise their two post-season opponents prior to the World Series if they get that far.

“I think now is the right time to really show a sense of urgency, continue to dig in on our process, but also not to have any panic,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “There’s no need for that.”

The good news? The Giants’ battle back up in the standings has an obvious path with Logan Webb–arguably the hottest pitcher in the National League–due to start Thursday afternoon against the Brewers. Webb has captured seven, consecutive decisions and allowed just six earned runs in his six starts in August.

And the pressure? If Webb falters, the Giants fall back to Anthony DeSclafani in the opener of the Dodgers’ series on Friday, and DeSclafani has had no success against the Dodgers this year, losing three decisions and allowing 22 earned runs in the process. Consecutive losses would put the Giants two games back with 27 remaining, increasing the doubt and the urgency.

On Thursday, Webb will be opposed by Milwaukee’s Eric Lauer, who has a 4-5 record with a 3.61 ERA.

Webb, Wade help give Giants their biggest NL West lead of the season in a 7-0 romp over the Rockies

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–German Marquez may be on pace for his most wins in his six major league seasons along with his first All-Star Game appearance last month, but he can’t beat the Giants.

Marquez is 0-4 against the Giants this year with a 13.82 ERA, and last night’s 7-0 drubbing at Oracle Park may have been his worst outing yet against the G-Men. Against everyone, Marquez is 10-9 with a 3.77 ERA.

“I continue to make my pitches and continue to work, but I’m really not sure,” Marquez answered when asked about his struggles against San Francisco.

 “He was really focused tonight to turn the tide on these guys,” manager Bud Black said of German. “It’s just that he didn’t make any pitches.”

In his career, German is 4-9 against the Giants with an ERA of 7.19. But in his six years in Denver, he’s never seen a Giants’ team this good. Or a Giants’ team that treats him this bad. On Thursday, German expended 81 pitches to get through four innings, capped off by a six-run outburst in which everything the Giants hit was hit hard. Lamonte Wade Jr. typified the inning with a 430-foot bomb above Triples Alley where home runs rarely land. In fact, experienced Giants’ hitters know not to elevate pitches in that area of the ballpark because they usually result in frustrating outs.

But the fourth inning on Thursday was its own animal for Marquez. After Brandon Belt was retired, Brandon Crawford, Mike Yastrzemski and Curt Casali reached on hard-hit balls. Alex Dickerson was intentionally walked to get to pitcher Logan Webb, but Webb disrupted that strategy with a two-run single that traveled 399 feet and almost got out. Wade followed with his blast that had him looking like Barry Bonds with the poor location of the pitch and his classic swing follow through. Wade’s ball left the yard at 107 mph.

I joke around saying I’m gonna hit a home run and I almost did,” Webb said afterwards.

Webb was just as impressive with his pitching performance in which he went six innings, allowing three hits and striking out eight. Webb has become the Giants’ best pitcher of late by stringing together four, consecutive quality starts while the other starters have had their post All-Star break struggles. Webb is 4-0 at Oracle Park and his strikeout totals (17 combined) in his last two outings are eye-opening.

“Ever since he came off the IL, he’s been an absolute gem on the mound and a bulldog,” Curt Casali said of Webb.

The Giants increased their lead in the NL West to five games with the win, the first time they’ve held a lead that large this season. They’ve won five straight and 10 of 12 to improve their major-league best mark to 74-41. The Giants haven’t had a won-loss record this good after 115 games since 1993 when Dusty Baker’s first year as manager saw them open 77-38.

On Friday, the Giants turn to Anthony DeSclafani in a matchup with Austin Gomber. DeSclafani hasn’t won any of his last four starts since beating the Washington Nationals on July 10.

Homers in Bunches: Giants slug their way to 8-6 win over the Astros

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Could the power outage in the Giants’ clubhouse at Oracle Park continue for a fifth straight day?

No, and neither could Zach Greinke’s magical touch at Oracle Park.

Greinke has never lost a game at Oracle Park, posting a microscopic ERA in the process, and barely being tested in the majority of his six wins. But these days, the Giants have a brand new approach, and Greinke found out first hand that things might be different going forward. And when was Greinke notified of the change? Probably three home runs into the four homer barrage the Giants hit him with, all in the game’s first five innings.

“Three of them might have been home runs still in any situation,” Greinke said of his start, the first time he’d allowed four home runs to the Giants, and the first time he’d allowed any club that many homers since 2019. “They weren’t cheap.”

In 53 innings pitched at Oracle Park, the 218-game winner described as a future Hall of Famer in the Astros’ media notes, had never allowed a home run. In fact, his dominance was the essence of velvet: Greinke averaged little more than six strikeouts in his previous eight starts along McCovey Cove, showing that he was content to let the Giants get themselves out without needing to display a dominant stance.

What’s new is the Giants are swinging harder. Among the few quality home run hitting teams not to feature one, standout slugger, the team’s across-the-board approach is to look for pitches to launch, swing hard, and don’t get discouraged by strikeouts or meager batting averages. Against Greinke, who’s not only unlikely to allow a big fly, but also stingy with teams trying to string together base hits, the approach works. Maybe not everytime, but during a day game in a park where the park needs ideal conditions to surrender big hits, it worked on Saturday.

“We put some really good swings on the ball. All the homers were pretty much no-doubters,” Ruf said. “Although it was a nice day to hit and the ball seemed to be traveling well, those would have been homers in any other day game.”

The Giants’ homer drought–none over the first four games of the homestand–ended with a bang. The four, consecutive games without at least one home run was a first in manager Gabe Kapler’s run of 164 games at the helm.

The Astros, considered MLB’s top-rated offensive club, attempted to keep up the pace. They homered three times, two of those from Aledmys Diaz, and during a stretch of nine half-innings in which runs were scored in eight of them, the teams went back-and-forth, wiping out any leads that one of clubs established. But that pattern broke in the sixth when Brandon Crawford singled home a run with two runners aboard to give the Giants a 7-6 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The only run on the afternoon the Giants would produce without hitting a home run was the difference, and it came after Greinke departed, allowing him to escape with his undefeated record in San Francisco in tact.

Alex Wood, described as the Giants’ stopper with his excellent record in games following a Giants’ loss, was anything but, allowing six hits–two of them home runs–in his abbreviated 68-pitch outing. But often, it’s better to be lucky than good, and Wood benefitted from the Giants’ offensive breakout, and a bullpen effort that saw four relievers following him and allow just one, meaningless base hit. Jake McGee capped that effort with a perfect ninth to earn his 22nd save.

Ironically, the Giants played without newly acquired Kris Bryant from the Cubs, who was flying to San Francisco during the game Saturday. Bryant will be in uniform on Sunday, and will assume a lofty position in a lineup where he will lead the Giants in hits (87), be tied for the lead in home runs (18), and second in doubles (19). To say the Giants lineup will be not only loaded, but versatile, would be understatement. But the objective is to do it on the field, and not on paper, over the season’s final 59 games.

In a final move before the trade deadline the Giants reacquired Tony Watson from the Angels with Sam Selman the key piece headed to Anaheim. Watson has a recent, string of exemplary outings but he also moves into a crowded situation in the Giants’ bullpen. Currently, the Giants have relievers Dominic Leone, Jack McGee, Tyler Rogers, Jarlin Garcia and Jose Alvarez with ERA’s under 3.00. Reliable arms Caleb Baragar and Reyes Moronta could also be the mix as well at some point if they recover from injury.

On Sunday, the Giants have Logan Webb starting in a matchup with Houston’s Luis Garica at 1:05pm.