All the offseason moves, playoff heroics, and preseason predictions aside, the SF Giants are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the bottom of the NL West after one day of regular season play. Kevin Gausman looked like a legitimate ace, striking out 6 and surrendering just 1 run on 2 hits and 2 walks in 6.2 innings of work. While the offense showed off its depth in what should have been an easy victory, the bullpen imploded, and the Giants fell in a brutal 8-7 defeat against the Seattle Mariners.
Gausman’s velocity started in the low-90s but quickly crept up to its normal levels and peaked at 97 mph. While he shied away from his split-finger changeup, which has easily been his most dominant pitch, early Gausman began utilizing it more frequently as the game wore on to strong results. He looked comfortable mixing in his slider and a more traditional changeup to keep hitters off-balance, but his fastball and splitter remained the star of the show.
SF Giants fall to Mariners 8-7 on Opening Day:
Kevin Gausman and Buster Posey finally team up
When Gausman signed with the Giants as a free agent before the 2019 season, he cited catcher Buster Posey as a primary reason for choosing San Francisco. Obviously, he never got to work with Posey last season, with the six-time All-Star opting out, but more than a year later, Gausman finally got his wish. Posey easily lived up to his batterymate’s expectations.
Behind the plate, Posey did a fantastic job calling pitches and stealing a couple of strikes for Gausman with an extremely hitter-friendly strike zone from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. On the other side of the diamond, Posey showed what Giants fans had missed all of last season. In his first trip to the plate, Posey blasted a pitch over the left-field wall. Giants catchers managed just four home runs in all of last season. After one game, Posey has already matched 25% of that production.
Posey was far from the only notable offensive performer. The Giants’ offensive depth was their calling card last season, and it looked like a strength once again on Thursday. Evan Longoria and Austin Slater blasted their first homers of the season down the right-field line. Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores each had a pair of hits, while Brandon Belt worked a six-pitch walk and drove in Solano on an RBI single.
Then, after the Giants bullpen allowed 6 runs in a nightmarish bottom of the eighth, Alex Dickerson entered as a pinch hitter for Slater and blasted a game-tying home run to right-center field off of Seattle’s closer Rafael Montero. The platoon of Darin Ruf and Dickerson worked wonders in 2020, and in the first game of 2021, Slater and Dickerson generated two home runs in tandem. Slater may have been the 15th different Opening Day starter in left field in the past 15 years, but that spot should be far from a weakness this season.
SF Giants fall to Mariners 8-7 on Opening Day:
Bullpen nerves return alongside defensive woes
While Gausman and the Giants’ offense rose to the occasion, many of the team’s bullpen woes from a season ago were back in full force on Thursday. Caleb Baragar entered with the bases empty and two outs in the sixth inning and walked the first batter he faced. Offseason acquisition Matt Wisler entered in the eighth and recorded no outs against three batters before Jarlin Garcia replaced him.
With two runners already on, Garcia walked Kyle Seager and would have walked Evan White had the Mariners’ first baseman not chased a 3-2 slider. Then, with the bases still loaded, he walked Taylor Trammell and was pulled for Tyler Rogers. Rogers immediately allowed a two-run double to Dylan Moore, hit Jake Fraley, and the bases were loaded again.
Then, Rogers induced what might have been an inning-ending double play, but shortstop Brandon Crawford couldn’t corral a wide throw from Belt, and the Mariners took a 7-6 lead. While few expected it to be the veterans, the Giants led the league in spring training errors, and their defensive woes carried into the regular season.
Manager Gabe Kapler has been criticized for his bullpen management throughout his managerial career. There were some obvious places for criticism in his moves on Opening Day. Caleb Baragar recovered from his leadoff walk to blow away Tom Murphy and could have easily returned to the mound with a five-run lead in the eighth inning. Instead, Kapler turned to another reliever, and things fell apart.
Of course, a manager generally only looks as strong as their relievers pitch. Both of the hits off of Wisler could have easily resulted in outs, and the lead-off walk could have quickly been forgotten. Needless to say, those hits fell in, Garcia walked in a run, and Rogers had no room for error. The Giants made a point of adding depth to their bullpen all offseason, but that will only go as far as the high-leverage options can carry things.
Jake McGee was signed to a three-year deal this offseason to be that stabilizing force. When Kapler finally brought him to the mound in the bottom of the ninth, he induced a weak groundout, flyout, and strikeout. Perhaps he can solidify things in the ninth inning, but Kapler will need to find a sturdy group of relievers for the seventh and eighth to make a big difference.
Finally, in the top of the tenth inning, Belt, Flores, and Posey failed to drive in Longoria, who started the inning on second base. Jose Alvarez entered in the bottom half of the tenth in a nearly impossible situation. Evan White began the inning on second base, and clearly pressing, Alvarez walked three consecutive hitters to solidify the Giants crushing 8-7 loss. The bullpen finished the game with 8 walks and 7 runs allowed in just 3.1 innings of work.
The SF Giants’ first game did not end the way the team hoped, but with 161 games left, there’s plenty of time to get things on the right track. They will look to record their first win of the season tomorrow. They’ll be sending Johnny Cueto to the mound to square off against Yusei Kikuchi and the Seattle Mariners at 7:10 pm Pacific Standard Time on Friday.