Barry Zito and three relievers blanked the Reds last night, as the Giants pitched a shutout for the 16th time in 120 games. San Francisco has allowed the fewest runs in baseball with 441 in 120 games, which is 31 fewer runs than any other staff, and you wouldn’t know it from his 8-11 record but Zito has quietly bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2008 season that saw him go 10-17 with a career-worst 5.15 ERA.
This season his ERA is down to 4.26 in 25 starts, and 114 strikeouts versus 56 walks in 148 innings is Zito’s best K/BB ratio since way back in 2002. He’s certainly not the top-of-the-rotation stud he was in the early Oakland days, but Zito is far better than he was during his first two seasons in San Francisco and has a 2.36 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break. Zito reemerging as a solid starter has the Giants looking like a very dangerous opponent should they get into the playoffs.
The entire pitching staff has been fantastic with a 3.47 ERA, but even that includes some poor performances from guys who wouldn’t touch the ball in October. Tim Lincecum is the best pitcher on the planet and Matt Cain is 12-4 with a 2.49 ERA. Toss in Zito and those are the three guys who could start nearly every playoff game. Beyond that the primary relievers have all been excellent, including closer Brian Wilson saving 30 games with a 2.75 ERA, 61/21 K/BB ratio, and .203 opponents’ batting average in 55.2 innings.
Setup men Jeremy Affeldt and Justin Miller both have ERAs under 2.00, Bob Howry and Brandon Medders are obviously no slouches with ERAs in the mid-3.00s, and rookies Sergio Romo and Merkin Valdez have also stepped up with a combined 2.21 ERA during the past month. Because of all the off days during the playoffs teams typically need three main starters, with the occasional fourth starter in the mix, plus three or four key relievers. Here’s what the Giants could trot out there under those circumstances:
SP1 Tim Lincecum 2.37 ERA, 207/46 K/BB in 178 innings
SP2 Matt Cain 2.49 ERA, 126/56 K/BB in 162 innings
SP3 Barry Zito 4.26 ERA, 114/56 K/BB in 148 innings
CL Brian Wilson 2.75 ERA, 61/21 K/BB in 56 innings
SET Jeremy Affeldt 1.80 ERA, 38/25 K/BB in 45 innings
SET Justin Miller 1.83 ERA, 34/18 K/BB in 54 innings
SET Bobby Howry 3.50 ERA, 33/12 K/BB in 46 innings
Not bad, huh? Those seven guys have combined for a 2.83 ERA and 613 strikeouts in 690 innings, and Medders, Romo, and Valdez are certainly capable of soaking up any loose work. Oh, and if the Giants need a fourth starter at some point Jonathan Sanchez has a 3.22 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in seven starts since rejoining the rotation with a no-hitter in mid-July. Come playoff time the Lincecum-led pitching staff has a chance to shut down anyone.
Of course, scoring runs have been a problem for the Giants all season, which is why they’re 4.5 games back in the division and a game behind the Rockies for the Wild Card despite the league’s best pitching staff. San Francisco’s lineup ranks 14th in the league with 4.0 runs per game, but has improved since adding Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko last month and does have one big-time threat in 22-year-old hitting savant Pablo Sandoval. If they can get there, the Giants would be my playoff sleeper pick.
SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo hears from a source that former major leaguer Jonny Gomes has decided to retire from baseball. The 35-year-old spent the 2016 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japan Pacific League, but he struggled at the plate, batting .169/.280/.246 in 75 plate appearances. Gomes left the Eagles by mutual consent back on May 11.
Gomes won a championship with the Red Sox in 2013 and the Royals last year. He ends a 13-year major league career having hit .242/333/.436 with 162 home runs in 4,009 trips to the plate.
Gomes was known as a clubhouse leader during his playing career, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up coaching or managing in some capacity in the future.
The pitching match-ups aren’t at all exciting, sadly, but there are a few streaks to pay attention to tonight. Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. is on a 28-game hitting streak, tying him with Wade Boggs for eighth-most in Red Sox history. Teammate Xander Bogaerts is on a 17-game hitting streak as well.
Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna has reached base in 31 consecutive games. And to think that owner Jeffrey Loria would have traded him during the offseason if not for manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds speaking up in favor of keeping Ozuna.
Frisco RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik got his money’s worth last night. He was ejected after arguing an automatic double play on an enforcement of the slide rule, and he didn’t go gently into that goodnight.
Rather, he threw things, kicked things, threw things and then subsequently kicked those same things, gave overly-demonstrative slides and safe signs and basically went all Earl Weaver/Lou Piniella on everyone.
Double-A baseball is the best minor league because you tend to see more prospects there than you do at Triple-A. But it’s also the best because, when you’re a manager who is not quite a heartbeat away from getting your shot at the big leagues, you’re a little less uptight about things. Or at least Mikulik was. Or maybe he was more uptight. I don’t know. He just went with it, and going with it has its charms.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation with their epic chase of Roger Maris’ home run record. But it has been, and after years of reaction, counter-reaction and, of course, baseball’s reckoning with the performance-enhancing drugs which helped fuel the chase, it’s probably finally time to do our best to contextualize it historically.
Today one of my favorite news outlets does that with an oral history. All of the key figures weigh-in on it, from McGwire and Sosa to Bud Selig to Tony La Russa. Randy Johnson makes an appearance as well, reminding us that it wasn’t just the sluggers who had an amazing year in 1998. Indeed, his story, including his being traded to Houston and going on an amazing second-half run, has almost been lost to history.
This is bookmark material, my friends. For savoring later if you can’t read it now. And for revisiting at another time given the depths to the drama which justifies multiple readings. I’ll just warn you that there is some adult language in the story, but that’s to be expected given the passion the 1998 baseball season inspired.