Offensive Game-Changing Situation
Tonight, we caught a rare glimpse of what the Giants look like offensively when sparked by leadoff baserunners. Through 45 games, the Giants have been the worst offensive team in the National League in terms of at-bats starting the game (.159 batting average), hitting in the first spot (.222 batting average) of the batting order, and batters leading off an inning (.216 batting average). It is no coincidence that the Giants have been lowest scoring team in the National League (2nd lowest in all of Major League Baseball) and the worst at getting leadoff men on base. As Straight 108 readers are aware, the Run Expectancy Matrix predicts an average of .86 runs scored per every leadoff baserunner that reached base. Tonight was no exception as in the 5 innings the Giants got the leadoff man on base, they scored all 6 of their runs. In the absence of a consistent homerun threat (even though they hit 3 tonight, they still have the fewest, 38, in all of Major League Baseball), the Giants need to manufacture runs with productive situational at-bats. But manufactured runs start with leadoff baserunners, and for the first time perhaps all season, fans saw how the Giants offense can operate when it gets production not only out of the leadoff spot, but also batters leading off innings.
Back on May 9th, Straight 108 predicted (through video analysis) a power-surge from Buster Posey, resulting in a 4-homerun spurt over 6 games. On May 11th, Straight 108 again predicted an offensive outburst, this time from leadoff man Denard Span. Span followed with hits in 8 straight games, including a 3-hit game, a 4-hit game, and 2 homeruns. A week ago today, Straight 108 predicted it’s 3rd surge, this time in power production from Joe Panik. While Panik was not as quick to adapt as Posey (as expected and discussed previously) to the timing and rhythm of his new swing, today was a strong indication that he’s comfortable with the adjustments Straight 108 saw him attempting to implement over the last week. While it’d be unfair to assume Panik’s power production to mirror Posey’s, I see no reason to think this significant swing adjustment won’t lead to career highs in homeruns and extra base hits despite him already being over a quarter of the way through the season.
Following a disappointing loss in St. Louis yesterday in which the Giants only got 2 leadoff batters on base and their leadoff man, Denard Span went 0-5, the offense looked to get off to a quick start. Joe Panik did just that, belting a leadoff homerun. The homer, Panik’s 3rd on the season, was his first of 3 hits on the night, and his other 2 went for extra bases. Panik also reached a 4th time via hit-by-pitch. In addition to Panik’s multifaceted impact of power production and on-base percentage, Giants leadoff batters reached base a season-high 5 times.
The most telling offensive statistics of the game – there were 10 combined runs scored tonight. All of them occurred in an inning that began with a leadoff batter reaching base to start the inning.
Defensive/Pitching Game-Changing Situation
In the 3rd inning and the Giants leading 3-0, the Cubs looked to climb back into the game with a Javy Baez leadoff single, immediately putting pressure right back on the Giants and starter Ty Blach. After a John Lackey lineout, Buster Posey appeared to eliminate the threat of a run-scoring inning by gunning down Baez trying to steal 2nd. However Ben Zobrist hit a flare into right-center field with 2-outs, which had all the makings of a routine single. Giants centerfielder Gorkys Hernandez made a bonehead play on the ball, and instead of keeping Zobrist to a single and forcing the Cubs to piece together at least an extra base hit or 2 straight singles to score, he dove for the ball, which went right past him, allowing Zobrist to make it all the way to 3rd. Thanksfully, Blach was able to pitch out of the jam, stranding Zobrist at 3rd. Had the Cubs converted with the 2-out RBI, they would have cut the deficit to 2 and provided the home team with some much-needed momentum. As the game played out, it became evident how badly the Giants needed to maintain a multiple-run cushion against the defending World Champions.
As huge as the Hernandez’s misplay could have been, the game-changing play of the night occurred in the 6th inning with the Giants leading 5-0. Following a Zobrist lineout, Albert Amora hit a bloop single to right, setting the stage for Blach to have to go through 2016 MVP Kris Bryant and All-Star Anthony Rizzo with men on base. Instead, Blach did something very few pitchers in Major League Baseball do – he backed up a base and was where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there. With Brandon Belt retreating to try and catch the ball, Amora took an overly aggressive turn around 1st base to see if he could stretch the hit to a double. Instead, Blach went behind Almora to cover 1st, where rightfielder Justin Ruggiano fired a strike to Blach which forced Almora to commit to 2nd. Looking like an infielder, Blach dropstepped to receive the ball, and with a perfect transfer, fired a bullet to Crawford at 2nd for the out.
Instead of being forced to pitch to the Cubs best hitters with men on base, Blach had the bases empty and escaped the inning with no runs scored. This is a perfect example of Blach taking care of the little details and despite not being acknowledged in the score book, was hugely impactful in the Giants walking out of game 1 with a win. As Giants fans are beginning to learn, Blach is not going to WOW you – instead he’s going to be smart and take care of the details in hopes of giving his team the best chance to win every time he takes the ball.