The San Francisco Giants hit the record 34 times Friday night. At each of these record appearances, they either had the tie or kicked off the record. In theory, this is the best kind of baseball. Every pitch counted. Every plate appearance, every ball, every shot, every full count, every ball in play. The game was even for everyone.
In practice, the game should have come with a warning about operating heavy machinery. At no point did I really feel that every pitch counted. The Giants lost 1-0 to the White Sox due to an error, a ball that hit third base, and a two-out hit. Each of those events would have been one of the biggest thrills of the night had it happened to the the Giants instead to them, but they certainly passed the Giants. They led to the only run of the night. What was scored by the other team. And it’s hard not to come to an inescapable conclusion.
The Giants 2022 are boring.
There have been boring stretches in Oracle Park before. seasons worth of them. There were teams that couldn’t pitch, teams that couldn’t score, and teams that couldn’t do either. There were hopeless teams, and there were teams that were mathematically eliminated the following season. This year’s team is not one of them. Any comparison to some of these ultra-dull Giants teams comes with an air of entitlement and selective amnesia.
But you can feel it, especially at home. It’s been months since Duane Kuiper yelled, “CALL IS ON THE MOVE,” and since then there’s been a tiny archipelago of brilliant moments. There was the all-time craziness of the Mets game, the momentum of the Dodgers, and a walkoff against the Rockies, but around these islands there’s an ocean of lukewarm baseball.
It’s not just anecdotal evidence, either. Here are all of the season’s high-leverage record appearances, according to the Baseball Reference. Scroll down and check out what the Giants have done in their last three home series in these late and tight situations against the Royals, Reds and Tigers. These are moments when the crowd is waiting to erupt, waiting to have fun, waiting to feel good about their decision to come to the stadium. A random selection looks like this: Pop Fly, Pop Fly, Walk, Strikeout Swinging, Walk, Single that didn’t score the second runner, Foul Pop, Grounder, Double Play.
My favorite analogy for baseball’s sluggish pace is that it’s a progressive jackpot, a quarter slot in Las Vegas with a large display of spinning numbers. Someone’s gonna put a quarter in that sucker and win the whole thing, and guess what, maybe it’s you. Except unlike a slot machine, it is a guaranteed progressive jackpot. You will be rewarded for investing so much time in baseball. There will come a moment, a game, a week, a month, a season, a postseason when it’s all worth it and you’ll be glad you spent hours pumping quarters into it.
Until then you feel like a goober putting so many quarters in. And parking in San Francisco requires a lot of quarters.
The Giants are capable of scoring runs. You know that. You know that. They’ve hit double-digit runs in seven games this season, which is more than the 2012 or 2014 team did in an entire season. The Giants probably won’t stay at the top of the runs-scoring leaderboard unless they improve, but they’ve never been a below-average or average lineup, even with all sorts of injuries.
The 2022 Giants are temporarily boring? Maybe that’s safer to say. For now.
There’s no Excite-o-Meter to tell you how thrilled you would have been if Nick Castellanos (.689 OPS) or Trevor Story (.720 OPS) were in Friday’s lineup, but it’s hard to say that the current drudgery is all an offseason issue. In the end, the Giants had one of their best free-agent hitters — All-Star Finalist Joc Pederson — and he couldn’t provide momentum either.
Well, maybe he could have done it. At the end of the eighth inning, Austin Slater was a walk away lead, and Pederson’s spot was due. But left-hander Tanner Banks was on the mound, so manager Gabe Kapler executed a line change and sent up Darin Ruf to hit a trick. He immediately started a double play to quell the rally.
Let’s make one thing very clear: it was the right move. You can sniff and say it was the right move “on paper” with finger quotes, but since Pederson got into the league he’s been one of baseball’s worst left-handed hitters. Ruf was a monster against lefties and he’s continued to hit them well this year.
But let’s also be very clear about something else: The Giants’ pinching has been abominable this season. Just months after setting a major league record for home runs in one season, the Giants can’t find a tiny speck of the same magic. They have exactly zero pinch-hit homers this season, despite sending a pinch hitter up 102 times, which is 25 times more than the team that sent the second most. For every pinch hitter the Braves have sent up this season, the Giants have sent six, yet the Braves have two pinch-hit doubles in 16 PA this year; the Giants have one of 102.
It’s smart to send up a pinch hitter with the draw advantage at a crucial point. When it works, the smart team is rewarded. If it doesn’t work, time and time again, it’s boring. Temporarily boring maybe, but certainly boring right now.
(The Giants do one thing well as a pinch hitter: They walk. They have a .195 batting average and a .208 slugging percentage, but a .343 percentage on base. The Giants pitch a lot and work on scoring, as well as every team in the Baseball. But if you had to rank the most boring skills your team’s batsmen are supposed to have…)
Part of the solution is to get the previously productive players back on track. Brandon Belt is in a gnarly funk right now, and his eighth inning at-bat with a runner at first base was one of the more exciting moments of the late innings. He searched on a borderline level because that’s what he does when he’s in these funks. He should pull himself out every day now.
Part of the solution is to make the roster healthier. The final loss of the game went to Jason Vosler, and even if he had made it, Austin Wynns and Donovan Walton would have followed him. This trio has sold zero combined Shirseys over the course of their major league careers, and that kind of hope for a last chance in the ninth inning brings us back to the adjective of the day. Don’t be too hard on them — Saturday is LaMonte Wade Jr. Bobbleheads Day, so things can turn around quickly for lesser-known Giants — but as a way to end a 1-0 loss that has never felt so close , it seems remarkable .
There were positives about the night, such as Alex Cobb finally gets the defense behind him that prevented runs instead of allowing them. He earned about six more nights like this. However, Giants fans have earned about six more nights Not like this. They will probably get it. Assuming the Giants are better than their average record since late April, they likely will get it soon.
However, that is a big assumption. Especially on a night when they’re so… well, you know.
(Top photo of Donovan Walton making a catch near Chicago’s Jose Abreu during Friday’s sixth inning: Kelley L. Cox/USA Today)