If the San Francisco Giants have learned one thing as a team, it’s that when the going gets rough, they can always find a way to vent their frustration: Blame it on Affeldt. In this case, since it indeed actually was Jeremy Affeldt who came into the game in the eighth, and coughed up the tying run two batters into the inning, with the lead run right behind, they would be accurate.
For those of you not chuckling at the Giants’ third consecutive late-innings loss, I say lighten up. Stop me if you have heard this before: It is only spring training. A loss like the one Sunday would have been devastating, if it weren’t for the fact that the loss on Friday night, when the Reds scored five in the ninth to win, was that much worse. But then, there was Hunter Strickland to blame on Friday.
I am not making light of losses, only placing them in context. I would infinitely prefer to see the Giants engaged in tight ballgames-even if they lose-than to not be involved in tight games at all, which seemed to be the case for a spell there. I think Bruce Bochy agrees with me.
Over the grind of an MLB season, the chips fly in random fashion, as far as how brutally the chain saw of frustration can fray our nerves. Take that series in Colorado last June 13th-15th, when the bullpen blew three consecutive saves, two of them via Sergio Romo, who subsequently lost his role as closer to Santiago Casilla.
Coming on the heels of a series loss to the Washington Nationals (San Francisco lost three of four), it was the beginning of a two-month free-fall which almost was enough to keep the Orange and Black out of the playoffs. As we all know, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Good teams go through hard times; epic teams go through epic challenges.
Tough losses come with the territory. How a team responds to adversity helps to define it in terms of championship capabilities.
Says so in the manual, page twelve, paragraph four, subsection C. My point is that the Giants are precisely where they need to be at this juncture of the spring-even more so.
They have gotten past the “dead team” phase when the newbies have shown that they were not up to the task of competing with major leaguers. Their regulars have been reinserted into the lineup to a much greater degree, with satisfying results. A team that loses three straight games in the late innings, is now poised to win three in a row in similar fashion.
Oct 21, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning during game one of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Square/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Meanwhile, there are the inevitable checkmarks to be notched alongside specific points on the spring training to-do list, one of them being Madison Bumgarner’s start. Sporting a spring ERA of 5.65, down from the stratosphere, all MadBum did was pitch six complete innings, allowing only a solo home run by Albert Pujols in the first inning, and retiring the other eighteen batters he faced, sixteen in a row.
Bumgarner struck out four and walked none. Already an elite pitcher before he entered last October’s playoffs, imagine how much more confidence this guy must have after his fall performance. All spring there has been concern because of the possibility that he will have suffered a lasting fatigue that would prevent him from returning to form this spring, but such has not been the case.
Bumgarner’s only blemish, the Pujols home run, came off of a changeup, simply a case of a good hitter getting ahold of a good pitch. All spring it has seemed patently obvious to me that the pitcher who could dominate in such a nonchalant manner last October, was not going to waste a lot of energy worrying about what fans thought about his spring performance.
That’s the way it should be.
Other check marks being notched include the fact that Bumgarner’s start Sunday was the fourth consecutive strong outing by the rotation, leaving only Jake Peavy on the ropes for a comparable performance today against the Kansas City Royals.
Mar 6, 2015; Surprise, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Andrew Susac against the Texas Rangers during a spring training baseball game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Susac returned to the lineup after being out with right wrist inflammation, and threw out Mike Trout attempting to steal second base in the seventh inning. It was the young catcher’s birthday and he had just come into the game for Buster Posey, so to see him rely so successfully on the injured wrist is a good sign.
Gregor Blanco made a stellar diving catch on a Kole Calhoun liner to the left-center gap to end the third inning and Juan Perez added his two cents’ worth later on a shot to left field which he tracked down on the warning track. I like the fact that these two defensive gems are part of the fabric of the Giants’ tapestry, because they are tailor-made for AT&T Park.
They will win far more games with their gloves than they will with their bats, but too often fans lose track of that fact because offense, like any fireworks display, is explosive and gaudy, and there are all these impressive stats. Defense is just efficient and not as attractive, said no pitcher ever.
Besides, both are enjoying strong springs, with Blanco posting a line of .323/.417/.452/.868 and Perez notching a .273/.333/.394/.727, sterling numbers for guys who are coming off highly successful postseasons. The Giants’ continuous success is based in part on the ongoing contributions by individuals who are not marquee players, but integral components nonetheless.
Against his old teammates Sunday, in a splitsquad game the Giants lost to Kansas City, 4-2, Nori Aoki had his second straight two-hit game, also drawing a walk as he raised his spring average up to .190 (.292 OBP). Brandon Crawford, off to a slow start at the plate in part because of a sore shoulder, had two hits also.
Matt Duffy hit his second home run of the spring and Justin Maxwell clubbed his first. Maxwell added a double to lead off the ninth, but died at third with the tying run, as Javier Herrera took a called third strike and Ehire Adrianza struck out swinging.
Things begin in earnest two weeks from today, and it has not gotten boring yet, down in the desert. That’s one reason I can poke fun at Jeremy Affeldt so effortlessly.
Fortunately for him and us, it’s still spring training, regardless of the win/loss column.