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Giants blow five-run, first-inning lead to kick off rare trip to Baltimore

© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There were two games played tonight. The first game was an hour-long, two-inning period of pure carnage, and the other was a relatively tepid, seven-inning trot that saw one run scored. The first game was the one that mattered.

Here are three notes from the Giants’ 9-6 Friday loss to the worst team in baseball in the Baltimore Orioles (18-39):

Those first two innings, and Mike Yastrzemski’s future after his first career homer

Remember how the Giants (22-34) are terrible at scoring in the first inning; how they entered tonight’s game allowing 53 runs and scoring just 12 in the first inning? It seemed like they were out to change that perception today.

Joe Panik led the game off with a single, and Yastrzemski dug out a triple from his shins to put the Giants on the board before they’d hit into an out.

A single from Buster Posey drove in Yastrzemski, and a single from Pablo Sandoval set up a sacrifice fly from Brandon Crawford. After Kevin Pillar reached on an infield single to load the bases, Steven Duggar shot this ball through the third base-shortstop gap to balloon the score to five.

Everything seemed so renewed, effective and positive; in other words, unlike the Giants. What was like the Giants was what came next. Drew Pomeranz followed up his disastrous last start against the Arizona Diamondbacks (8 hits, 5 earned runs over 2 2/3 innings) with an even more disastrous start against the Orioles, the worst team in baseball.

They tallied six runs in the bottom half of the first inning, which included back-to-back errors from Crawford and Duggar on run-scoring singles. Pomeranz then allowed a two-out grand slam to Dwight Smith Jr. to give the Orioles a 6-5 lead.

Yastrzemski evened the score at 6 runs apiece with his first career home run, which proved fruitless.

After that game-tying shot, Pomeranz gave up a bunt single to Jonathan Villar before allowing a two-run home run to Renato Nunez to give the Orioles an 8-6 lead. He was pulled for Dereck Rodriguez (more on him below), leaving the Giants with a two-run deficit that they never hinted at closing.

The biggest takeaway is that for the foreseeable future, Yastrzemski is the Giants’ left fielder, at the very least against right-handed pitching. For all of the grief given to Farhan Zaidi for calling up unproven outfielders who have been swiftly DFA’d or sent back to the minors, Yastrzemski has looked by far the most proven and disciplined at the plate. He’s now batting .273 (6-for-22) with a .360 on-base percentage, a .545 slugging percentage and three RBIs in his 18 at-bats. It seems like he’ll have more time than his predecessors to stay in the rotation.

Defense speaks volumes in rare trip to Baltimore

The last time the Giants came to Camden Yards was in 2004, according to Kerry Crowley. In that time, the Giants have finished below the league average in fielding percentage just four times (2014, 2013, 2012, 2008), led it in once 2016 (.988), and finished second in 2015 (.987). In general, the team has been solid defensively, especially in the last few years. Obviously, that does not correlate to success, as 2014 and 2012 campaigns made abundantly clear.

Yet, the Giants no longer possess that plucky ability to snag a few runs and hold a lead like they did in their championship years. At the very least, if they hope to win games, they need to play good defense. Right now, they’re woeful. It’s not just Pablo Sandoval making mistakes at third, it’s everyone. The Giants entered today tied with the Orioles and New York Yankees for the third-worst fielding percentage in the league (.979) before Brandon Crawford made a throwing error that allowed a runner to advance to third, and Steven Duggar forgot how to field a ball in center, allowing the same thing.

Crawford also made this tremendous play to save a run below, but it’s obvious that the Giants are lacking the same intensity required to play at a high level.

This is a team that, if nothing else, should be able to hang its hat on defense with two fantastic defensive center fielders in Duggar and Pillar (and a third center fielder by trade in Yastrzemski), and Gold-Glove caliber players everywhere around the diamond in Evan Longoria, Crawford, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey. For this team to struggle on defense belies a much bigger issue that centers around focus and effort.

Dereck Rodriguez makes strong case for return to rotation

While Yastrzemski stamped his offensive imprint on this game, Rodriguez did the same for the mound, taking over for the aching Pomeranz, who cannot seem to get an out. Rodriguez essentially turned the game into a failed opener strategy, with him as the traditional starter. When he took over with one out in the bottom of the second, the score was 8-6, and it remained that way until he departed after the conclusion of the sixth inning (Sam Dyson allowed a solo home run in the seventh to move the line to 9-6).

It was something of a comeback night for Rodriguez, and although his two walks were concerning, he battled well and secured ground ball outs when he needed them. He was saved by Crawford with the play above, but his 4 2/3 innings of two-hit, two-strikeout, two-walk baseball were at least solid, and he saved the bullpen from throwing unnecessary innings in a game in which the Giants showed little capacity to come back and win.

It was a performance that hinted at a potential return to the rotation for him, especially with everyone not named Madison Bumgarner (and Tyler Beede on Thursday) looking so replaceable.


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