When the San Francisco Giants touched down at CVG Airport in Cincinnati, they still lacked center fielder Angel Pagan and starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong. They didn't have reliever Santiago Casilla or swingman Chad Gaudin.
But the Orange and Black did have something sorely missing during the preceding weeks.
Having just brought a sizable losing streak to a close, they had hope.
Specifically, hope that the worst of the 2013 season was over.
The low points included six losses in a row, a 22-inning scoreless streak at one point, repeated baserunning blunders and 31 innings where no Giant other than the incomparable Buster Posey recorded an RBI—unless Jeff Loria bought the team, it couldn't get much worse, right?
Though struggling as they prepared to host the Giants, this is a Reds team that always plays the Giants tough and camethisclose to wiping them out of the 2012 playoffs. Just two of Cincinnati's 46 wins entering the series came in their previous nine games They'd endured a 22-inning scoreless streak of their own and lost their ace to the disabled list.
We're not exactly talking about a clash between two juggernauts.
Now that it's over, Giants vs. Reds 2013 goes down in history as possibly the most motley series I've ever witnessed—at least in the regular season. A rain-shortened game, a rained-out game, an 11-inning heartbreaker and a no-hitter. Through it all, San Francisco led for exactly one full inning.
During that inning, George Kontos escaped a two-on, one-out jam by whiffing Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. Did anyone else flash back to Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS during Bruce's lengthy, dramatic at-bat? I sure did, though this time, I did not sweat through my entire outfit.
My thoughts on the no-hitter by David Bailey Jr. are as follows: he owes Gregor Blanco a steak dinner—top-of-the-line cut. You may be asking yourself, "Why would Homer want to reward the man whose base-on-balls spoiled his perfect game bid?"
Were it not for Blanco's latest baserunning gaffe—and he's had a few lately—Bailey doesn't even get the no-hitter. Buster Posey is safe on an infield hit rather than a harmless fielder's choice. So in addition to mucking up a rally in a still-winnable game, Blanco clinched a spot for the Giants on a rather pejorative list. Way to go. Did I mention he's 0-for-his-past-19, too?
The most troubling aspect of the no-no: Bailey used all his pitches early on, but basically dominated the Giants on fastballs down the stretch; only two balls were hit to the outfield over the final five innings.
Granted, those fastballs were reaching 97 mph. Still, it was fairly obvious how he planned to approach Giants hitters in those final innings—and it wasn't trickery.
More on the now last-placed Giants' struggles against Colorado and Cincy:
- Over the past six games (the Rockies and Reds series), Juan Perez has accrued eight official at-bats. He's struck out in six of them—many of those on curveballs in the dirt. Early in his Giants' career, he'd often chase curves in the dirt for strikes one and two before adjusting. Now pitchers just save them for strike three, leaving the rookie hapless.
- Pablo Sandoval has one hit in 20 at-bats, striking out nine times (eight of those on pitches out of the strike zone, including one that literally went through his legs...unacceptable) and hitting squarely into two overshifts.
- Brandon Crawford did not register a single hit in 18 at-bats, drawing one walk. On the positive, he only K'd once.
- The Giants committed four errors to their opponents' one.
- Excluding the 5-2 win on June 30, the team is batting a collective .097 since June 28. For some contrast, former pitcher Jim Abbott batted .095 in 1999 using only one hand. For those of you not around in the 1990s, I am not making this up.
- Giants pitchers registered a 3.93 team ERA (2.83 when you erase Mike Kickham's ugly July 1 start.)
- At the plate, however, they were just 2-for-12—with many of the outs coming in clutch spots. All S.F. starters except for Lincecum made regular offensive contributions in the dawning weeks of 2013 and played direct roles in multiple wins, but that's badly tapered off. The ninth spot cannot be dead for much longer.
As for Los Angeles
The Dodgers, 30-42 at one point, have gone 10-2 since (including their sweep of the Giants in Los Angeles), despite losing veteran pitcher Josh Beckett to a season-ending neck surgery (their third starting pitcher who's currently on the disabled list.)
Yasiel Puig gave his left hip a good jolt this week while stealing an extra-base hit from rookie Rockie Nolan Arenado, but he and his .430 batting average seem to be just fine.
Other notable changes to the Dodger roster since that June 24-26 matchup include the return of Carl Crawford—one of the Giants' top nemeses of 2013—from the disabled list. Departed are the demoted Pete Moylan, the traded Matt Guerrier and the released Luis Cruz.
Facing the Giants this weekend will be the exact troika from the aforementioned sweep: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Stephen Fife and Clay Kershaw up against Matt Cain, Madison "Big Country" Bumgarner (Giants broadcasters are continuing to use the Bumgarner-approved nickname) and Gaudin, respectively. The latter will be activated from the DL this weekend, per The San Francisco Chronicle.
The waters are rough right now, but I lived through the Desi Wilson era and the Armando Benitez era. If they didn't sour me on the Giants or break my faith, neither will this slump. I predict—nay, expect—San Francisco to BEAT L.A. in two out of three this weekend. Go, Giants!