SAN FRANCISCO – On opening day last year, the Giants bullpen gave up six runs in the eighth inning of a loss to the Seattle Mariners. It was a disaster, but six months later, when Dominic Leone closed out victory No. 107, the bullpen’s ERA dropped to an MLB best of 2.99.
It takes months to get a true sense of all the strengths and weaknesses of a baseball team, but there is still a lot you can learn early on. That Opening Day loss gave a glimpse of what was to come for Kevin Gausman and also Buster Posey, who immediately showed signs that he was fully back from a hip operation and a summer vacation.
This year’s version of the Giants got off to a much better start, with a walk-off that started one of the wildest home runs in years. There was history made by the Rogers twins and by Alyssa Nakken. There was a rare joint press conference for coaches from opposing teams. One top prospect made his long-awaited debut, and another hit his first bomb. There was a man standing on a boat with a “C” on his chest. There was even an “unwritten rules” controversy.
It was an action-packed week, and if you paid close attention, you learned a few things about the 2022 Giants. Here are three things that stood out:
They are the ones we thought they were
On opening day, Logan Webb allowed a run over six innings – and you can make a pretty strong argument that it was only the third-best performance the first time through the rotation. Webb saw Carlos Rodon hit 12 in five innings and Alex Cobb whiz 10 in his five, and then came back Wednesday with his own pearl of eight innings.
Webb’s second start lowered the rotation’s ERA to 2.53 through six matches. The starters have a league-high 43 strikeouts in 32 innings.
“We have a special group and we know that,” Webb said. “That’s the first thing Cobb said to me when I walked in. He said, ‘We’re going to pitch like this all year.’ And we all think so. I’m just letting it go. ‘
That was the best sign of the first week for the Giants, which is built around that rotation. Given what Rodon and Cobb showed in their debut and how Webb seems to get better each time, there is no reason to believe that will change. If those three – plus Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood – stay healthy, it could be the top five in the league.
The social media grumbling about the lineup started over the weekend and hit a crescendo as the Giants lost 4-2 Monday night. The next night they scored 13 races.
See, this is probably not the equivalent of the 2021 series that led the NL in homer, but it’s still too early to panic. The Giants are without LaMonte Wade Jr., Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella, but they felt they took their usual wear-and-down approach over six games. The biggest problem so far is .596 OPS with runners in scoring position, well below last year’s .792.
“I just do not think we got the big hit. It’s something I think we’ve struggled with a bit early this season and it’s something that came naturally and quite easily for us last year,” said manager Gabe Kapler . after a 0-to-11 with runners in scoring position on Monday.
The Giants still had their usual patient slaughterhouse (Sean Manaea became the first starter to come past the fifth in a row on Wednesday), but the shocking battles have mostly been lacking. That’s something to look forward to on this upcoming 11-game tour.
Something new in the field
Kapler keeps a steady tone most times, but he lit up when he had a chance to talk about Austin Slater’s attempt at a liner Sunday. Slater hit hard on Jorge Soler’s 108 mph rocket to the right, and although he could not quite grasp it with his dive, he scooped the ball on a short jump.
Outfielders are usually taught to prepare for that game, but Kapler said staff ask outfielders to attack those balls and not worry about the consequences. He said he was “really excited” to see Slater’s attempt.
“The aggressive mindset of an outfielder gives you the (best) chance to throw runners out, it gives you the best chance to keep a trail runner where they are, and over time you will also catch more balls because you never stop getting through a ball, “Kapler said. “We’ve all seen the moment an outfielder puts himself up, he pulls up and you say, ‘Ohhh, if he just kept coming, he’s catching that ball.’ One or two of them happen in each match, either on a low line drive or the weak ball that goes over the infielder’s head and falls right in front of an outfielder.
“Our concept is that over time, if we have an aggressive mind coming through baseball, there will be fewer of the moments when we move up and a ball falls in front of us.”
Kapler said this is playing the long game. It seemed like Steven Duggar threw the wrong bag on opening day, but Kapler said his mindset – coming up with attacking – was right, Duggar just toppled his cut-off husband. On Monday, Joc Pederson hit hard on a single left in the ninth. He did not catch, but like Slater he was able to keep the ball in front of him.
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Kapler called it the toughest game for an outfielder, noting that you have to “trick your mind to get through the ball.” You also need to show some courage. If the ball gets past Slater, it’s a triple. So isn’t the new mindset a risk?
“Yes and no. Sometimes it happens that you have good enough eye-hand coordination where it happened (Sunday) happens where you choose it. Other times the ball goes off your body and you hold the one in front of you, “Kapler said. “And once in a while a ball will go to the wall and another team is going to show up with a triple and the race is going to score. But again, the math is over time that you register more outs and you keeps the runners where they are. The aggressive style of play wins the long game. “
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