Giants offense is in a race to the bottom after shutout loss to Braves


Share post:

ATLANTA — When it comes to bringing up the rear, San Francisco Giants batters are … well, bringing up the rear.

The No. 9 batters in their lineup have combined for a .543 OPS this season, which ranks 30th among 30 major league clubs. Their combined OPS from their Nos. 7-9 hitters (.587) also rank dead last. They’ve been unable to create base runners for the few productive hitters they still cluster at the top of the order. So they began trying something different earlier this week against the Tampa Bay Rays. They batted second baseman Thairo Estrada in the ninth spot for just the second time all season. Estrada found himself hitting ninth again Friday night when the Giants opened a daunting road trip against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park.

Make no mistake. When the locomotive is out of coal, it doesn’t really matter what color you paint the caboose. The Giants have been the worst-hitting team in the big leagues since mid-June. They didn’t get derailed in midsummer because of their No. 9 hitters. Their struggles in the lower third of the order are not the issue. They are symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself. But when you are critically ill, symptoms have a way of cascading. Their inability to turn the lineup over is one more problem holding them back.

That’s never more evident than when you line up the Giants across from a team like the Braves, whose league-best offense goes beyond potential NL co-MVPs Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson. The Braves lead the majors in OPS from the Nos. 7-9 spots, too (.783). They’re getting more production out of the No. 9 spot than any team in baseball (.814). Put another way: the Braves’ ninth-place hitters are out-OPS’ing the Giants at every one of their lineup spots.

Their usual No. 9 hitter, Michael Harris II, batted in the No. 2 spot Friday night as the Braves shuffled the lineup to replace injured second baseman Ozzie Albies. Harris responded with four hits, which is two more than the Giants collected against Spencer Strider and three relievers in a 4-0 loss.

Spencer Strider of the Braves struck out 10 Giants batters over seven innings on Friday. (Matthew Grimes Jr. / Getty Images)

Shortstop Brandon Crawford juggled the transfer on a hard-hit potential double-play grounder that would’ve prevented two runs from scoring in the first inning. Third baseman J.D. Davis, whose first-half sure-handedness disappeared along with his offensive production, minimized another potential inning-ending double play in the sixth when he backpedaled on a grounder from Acuña Jr. and then didn’t make a clean transfer. The slight bobble was all it took to extend the inning, knock Alex Cobb from the game and precede an insurance run.

“You’re able to get those (double plays), you hope to go a little bit deeper in the game,” Cobb said. “Maybe save the bullpen a little bit.”

Cobb didn’t list winning the game as a potential outcome. How could anyone say that with a straight face when the Giants managed no runs on two hits?

At least this was a night when the Giants could credibly tip their caps. Strider recorded double-digit strikeouts for the 10th time this season. (For reference, the most Tim Lincecum posted in a season was nine.) He held the Giants to a flared single from Wilmer Flores in the fourth. He was so dominant while striking out six the first time through the order that I looked it up to be prepared: the Giants’ record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game is 18, on August 31, 1959, against the Dodgers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Sandy Koufax went the distance that day on 147 pitches.

So there weren’t a lot of scenarios Friday night that would’ve led the Giants to a happy handshake line. In terms of their offensive production, or lack thereof, there isn’t much to smear on a microscope slide from this game. But there might be some value in the macro-analysis — including the reminder that the Braves are the best offensive team in the National League because of their depth in addition to their thumpers.

“When you face good lineups, it’s the depth that makes it such a challenge,” Cobb said. “Pretty much every lineup throughout the big leagues is going to have one or two really dangerous hitters. For the most part, if you’re able to navigate the meatier part of the order, you can work deep into a game and give your team a chance to win. But when you have a one-through-nine that’s having career years and on a hot streak, you just have to act like you’re going out every inning facing the 3-4-5 hitters. That’s sort of what it feels like. They make you work.”

It’s even more important that a team like the Giants create a deep lineup with production spread throughout. They don’t have those MVP candidates and the modifying effect of everyday stars. They’ve won in the past by making sure that the 10th-best hitter on their roster is better than the league average. They amass their value with hedge bets and margin calls.

So it’s a massive problem that they’ve invested just 55.5 percent of their plate appearances in hitters currently with an OPS+ over 100, which is league average (including struggling hitters like Davis, Joc Pederson and Michael Conforto, who aren’t on the plus side by much anymore), and 45.5 percent of their plate appearances in sub-average offensive players.

Given those figures, it’s not surprising that the bottom third of the Giants’ lineup has been the least thorny in the big leagues. When you break down where the Giants have invested those plate appearances, you’ll find a lot of rookie names. Brett Wisely has started more games in the No. 9 spot (26) than anyone else. Blake Sabol has started the most games in the league’s leanest No. 7 spot (24). Casey Schmitt combined for 46 starts in the lower third of the order. Luis Matos started 21 games there. Others like Cal Stephenson and David Villar merely passed through for a bit.

But you’ll also find the longest-tenured Giant’s name. Crawford has made 67 of his 73 starts in the lowest third of the lineup, including 20 in the No. 9 spot. He is in a 1-for-28 stretch that has dropped his average to .194. He went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts on Friday. He hasn’t been healthy all season and it’s been evident that he isn’t catching up to fastballs. His .256 slugging percentage on pitches 95 mph-plus is the lowest of his career. That’s a steep fall from the .507 slugging percentage he posted against those pitches in 2021 when he finished fourth in NL MVP balloting.

Just two seasons ago, Crawford was a productive, middle-of-the-order presence on a team that won 107 games. Now there’s no hiding him at the back of the lineup — or anyone else. And after the risky promotion of Wade Meckler, an eighth-round pick who was playing at Oregon State last year, it’s unclear what options the Giants have remaining to create an offensive spark.

So they’ll try to stay positive. Pederson wore his string of pearls for the first time all season to commemorate his return to Atlanta. The clubhouse mood as hitters filed out for their pregame meeting was subdued but not obviously downbeat. There might be one reason left for optimism: the Giants are still second in the NL wild-card standings. Except now the Cincinnati Reds are a half-game behind them. The Miami Marlins are a half-game behind the Reds. The Chicago Cubs are a half-game behind the Marlins. And the Arizona Diamondbacks are a half-game behind the Cubs.

Two more losses in Atlanta and it’s possible that the Giants could arrive here in second place in the wild-card standings and leave here tied for fifth.

“It just goes in waves,” Cobb said. “Obviously we’re all down right now. But you show up the next day, you see that you’re still in control of your own destiny and you get really excited and confident and expect to win the game. And it seems of late, you lose that game. And you go through that cycle. It’s not fun to ride that wave.

“I think everybody believes that if you get just that one good week of crisp, winning baseball, it can turn everything around. We do show up every day believing that’s going to happen. It just hasn’t. And that’s frustrating. We’ll show up tomorrow ready to go and be excited to accept the challenge.”

(Top photo of Thairo Estrada reacting after a swing-and-miss against the Braves: Jeff Robinson / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Source link

Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

Recent posts

Related articles

Kawakami: Chris Paul, of all people, sets an upbeat and sensible tone for Warriors camp

SAN FRANCISCO — There was no game for Chris Paul and the Warriors to win on Monday,...

Ducks’ Trevor Zegras, with new contract, needs to start down a ‘runway to stardom’

The tug-of-war between the Ducks and Trevor Zegras on a new contract is now – say it...

Full Time: NWSL playoff race pandemonium

There were 729 possible playoff-clinching scenarios heading into the weekend. After five games, only one of the...

NFL’s Taylor Swift attention bothers Sauce Gardner, Jets fans amid SNF call controversy

Welcome to New York, the NFL’s been waiting for you.The league has embraced pop star Taylor Swift’s...

Expectations on Mets’ David Stearns seem nearly impossible to meet: Drellich

NEW YORK — David Stearns’ task running the Mets is so steeped in expectation that it might...

‘It’s what we do’: How the Dodgers embraced joy (and tequila) as a winning ritual

The images reside somewhere in a folder on Miguel Rojas’ phone. Maybe his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates...

Sean Payton acknowledges ‘fiasco’ Jets remarks, but Broncos have bigger issues

The bass was still thumping in the visiting locker room at Soldier Field on Sunday when Sean...

Will Pete Alonso be Mets first baseman in 2024? ‘I expect’ it, David Stearns says

In the twilight of Sunday night, more than an hour after the Mets’ 2023 season had come...