- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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The Giants and Brewers are playing an interesting and important series in Milwaukee. The perception, I suppose, is that both teams are scuffling after playing their best baseball early in the season, and there's definitely truth to that perception. The Giants led the NL West by 9½ games back on June 8 but had gone 19-31 since then entering Wednesday's game. The Brewers peaked with a 20-7 start, meaning they've played under .500 since the end of April. Further, both teams have been hit by rotation injuries: As expected, the Giants announced Matt Cain would undergo season-ending surgery for bone chips; Matt Garza just landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
The Brewers won the opening game of the series, setting up a Ryan Vogelsong-Yovani Gallardo matchup for the second game. On paper and computer screens, the matchup favored the Brewers as Vogelsong, while he's had a nice comeback from a disastrous 2013 campaign, has a sizable home/road split with the road numbers including a 4.70 ERA and eight of the nine home runs he's allowed. Gallardo, meanwhile, was coming off two straight scoreless starts.
Of course, this is baseball, so that's not the way it worked out. Some random notes and thoughts on the Giants' 7-4 victory
Arguably the game's biggest hit came in the top of the first in the form of Michael Morse's two-out RBI single on a broken-bat grounder up the middle that gave the Giants a 3-0 lead. The Brewers had a shift on but the ball still scooted just past second baseman Scooter Gennett. Morse was a key reason the Giants were so hot early on, as he hit .295/.351/.574 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs through May. He has just four homers since, however, and if he's not hitting home runs, he's not providing a whole lot of value considering his lack of range in left field. The Giants were actually fifth in the majors with 63 home runs the first two months but rank 28th since June 1. More power from Morse will be helpful in catching the Dodgers.
Remember when Gallardo had that great start against the Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the 2011 Division Series? He went eight innings that day, allowed one run and struck out nine. One of his best weapons that day was a big curve that he threw 21 times. In 2011, opponents hit .200 against Gallardo's curve, and the pitch looked like it would develop into a huge weapon for him -- he had a strikeout rate of 42 percent with the pitch that year. But he lost some feel for the pitch the past couple years, and it hasn't been quite as effective. This year, that strikeout rate with the curve is down to 29 percent, although opponents are hitting just .198 against it. He still throws the pitch but uses it more often earlier in the count as a change of pace from his four-seamer and two-seam sinker (a pitch he rarely used back in 2011). He didn't have a great game on this night, but he has been a solid starter all season.
Pablo Sandoval had a big game, going 3-for-5 with a double and a two-run homer in the eighth, adding another diving stop in the field. Mark Simon just wrote about Sandoval's terrific defense in July. Sandoval is a free agent, and it makes you think: Don't the Giants have to sign this guy? Yes, there are flaws in his game and you're always going to worry about the weight, but -- while we've quit dreaming on him repeating that monster .330/.387/.556 season in 2009 -- he's settled into a solid, consistent player. I suspect there will be a lot of interest in him: The Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels and Royals are among the teams likely to be in the market for a third baseman. You don't want to give him six years, but, considering he'll be only 28, a three- or four-year deal seems like a reasonable risk.
The Brewers wanted to add a right-handed reliever at the trade deadline, and general manager Doug Melvin said they tried to get Joaquin Benoit from the Padres, and Wednesday's game revealed their lack of a top righty setup guy in front of Francisco Rodriguez, as Brandon Kintzler entered in the eighth inning with a 4-3 deficit and gave up three hits. Sandoval then hit his home run off Tom Gorzelanny. Kintzler has allowed a .307 average; among 164 relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, that ranks 162nd.
Brandon Belt had an awful game, going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. You might remember I predicted that he would contend for the NL batting crown, buying into his scorching-hot second half of last season. OK, so he's had some injuries. If he's the guy hitting behind Buster Posey and Sandoval, he's going to be a key RBI guy. Time to hit.
One reason Bruce Bochy is one of the best managers in the game: When Angel Pagan went down, the Giants lacked an obvious choice for a leadoff hitter. Eventually, Bochy settled on Hunter Pence. Instead of trying to find a guy who looks like a leadoff hitter -- see the Braves' Fredi Gonzalez and B.J. Upton -- Bochy simply put a good hitter there. By doing so, Bochy is giving his best hitter an extra plate appearance. I'm sure when Pagan returns -- he had a rehab start with Fresno on Wednesday and may be in the lineup on Thursday -- he'll be back in the leadoff spot, but Bochy would be wise to keep Pence at the top. A lineup that goes Pagan, Pence, Posey, Sandoval, Belt and Morse isn't too bad in this day and age.
Jonathan Lucroy, still in the MVP hunt. In fact, if Andrew McCutchen's rib injury keeps him out several weeks, Lucroy may end up as the leading position player candidate ahead of Cutch, Troy Tulowitzki (also injured) and Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins likely not playoff contenders by September).
The Giants and Brewers are playing an interesting and important series in Milwaukee. The perception, I suppose, is that both teams are scuffling after playing their best baseball early in the season, and there's definitely truth to that perception.