As you may (or may not) have noticed, this corner of the Interweb has been strangely silent the past few days. I suffered a minor fall that had some challenging side effects and I’ve been largely out of commission. But things are back to whatever passes for normal in my life these days, so I’ll resume my commentary on things Giant and Niner.
The Giants went on a mini-tear while I was out of commission (but watching more games on TV), climbed into a tie, then a half-game temporary lead in the NL West. But they’ve lost their last three in a row and are now 1-1/2 back of the Dodgers in what is shaping up as a two-team chase. The Padres are 6-1/2 out of first with the D-Backs 7 out and the Rockies 7-1/2 out, so the bunch-up behind the two essential co-leaders is pretty interesting in and of itself.
If there’s a common thread in the current three-game skid, it’s hard to find. The series-ending loss to the Braves on Monday night could be attributed in large part (but not entirely) to an extremely rare error by SS Brandon Crawford. But if the Giants had a closer who could shut down left-handed hitting as effectively as Santiago Casilla handles righties, the error wouldn’t have resulted in an explosive rally that brought the Giants to their knees.
Casilla’s overall stats (2.82 ERA and 15 of 18 save opportunities) are sterling. But when you break him down lefties vs righties, it’s a different story. Left-handed batters are ripping him at a .382 clip. That’s beyond abysmal. And it’s second worst on the team; Sergio Romo holds the “top” spot with a .421 BAA (batting average against) by lefties.
Who’s the Giants pitcher outside the starting rotation with the best record against left-handers? Javier Lopez has a BAA of .074. Gene Machi (.105) and George Kontos (.152) aren’t far behind. But only Lopez among those three has any experience as a closer, which is a whole different breed of pitcher, as you know.
Manager Bruce Bochy has been having conversations with management about cutting the pitching roster by one recently, a move that may happen as soon as the end of this series against the Pirates. But if Casilla is going to be the closer, Bochy may have to platoon closers based on whether they are facing left- or right-handers. That would suggest not reducing the size of the pitching staff.
It may be worth noting that Casilla’s lifetime BAA for lefties is a respectable .261, so he may just be going through a rough patch at this point. With the team playing well overall, maybe it’s too soon to change gears. But with the season nearly at the one-third mark, it’s not wise for the Giants to wait too long to see if Casilla is a ship that can right itself.
Tonight the Pirates will send their veteran ace A. J. Burnett (5-1, 1.81 ERA) to the mound against the hottest pitcher on the Giants’ roster, Chris Heston (5-3, 3.82). This is as crucial a game as you can have one-third of the way through the season. It’s important to avoid long losing streaks (where long is anything longer than 3). But Burnett has a certain amount of ownage against the Giants, whom he is facing for the first time this season. In 2014, the team batted .138 against him.
I’m predicting the Pirates to win tonight by two. And hoping I’m wrong.