Alex Cobb walked to the Oracle Park mound in the first inning of Monday’s series opener with the Mets with a 2.67 fielding independent pitching (FIP).
Cobb was tied for 25th among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched in FIP. He was controlling what he could — preventing home runs, striking batters, avoiding walks and forcing grounders. All the other things that happen in a baseball game weren’t going his way.
His manager, Gabe Kapler, admitted he kept Cobb in too long during his last start. In Cobb’s worst start of the season, a May 1 dud in which he couldn’t get out of the inning, the Nationals scored four unearned runs.
Hits, even soft contact, were finding holes in San Francisco’s defense. Errors extended innings. No other pitcher in that top-25 list had an ERA above 3.50. Cobb’s stood at 5.61.
The misfortune chasm between Cobb’s FIP and ERA only widened on Monday, as more of the same bugaboos appeared. For the second time in as many days, the Giants (22-19) were blown out on their home field. Sunday’s 10-1 loss to the Padres secured a sweep and preceded Monday’s 13-3 defeat. Both ended with Luis González pitching.
In last year’s 107-win season, the Giants never lost five straight games. They’ve now lost five straight twice this May.
“We’re not playing our best baseball right now,” Brandon Belt, on the 10-day IL with knee inflammation, said Sunday night.
“We’re a good baseball team,” Belt said. “There’s not a whole lot of excuses to be made. It seems like we’ve been flat for the past week or so. I don’t think that has anything to do with one particular person or anything. It’s just, the hitters will do well one game, try to pick up the pitchers, then the hitters will not do well another game while the pitchers do. We just can’t get on the same page right now, it seems like. I think that’s a temporary thing. I know we’ll figure it out.”
Belt, Curt Casali, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Jake McGee have each hit the IL in the past week. Every team deals with injuries, though, and they tend to even out over the course of a season. The Giants won’t use injuries as a crutch.
But at this point, excuses can be made for Cobb specifically.
Cobb struck out the side in the first and retired eight of the first nine batters he faced. The Giants took a 2-0 lead into the third inning, but that’s where things got dicey.
Three singles loaded the bases. The latter two didn’t leave the infield and had exit velocities of 77.1 and 76.7 mph. Statcast tracked both hits as traveling two feet.
Then with two outs and the bases loaded, Francisco Lindor lofted a lazy fly down the left field line. Darin Ruf trucked over with his brakes cut. The left fielder overran Lindor’s ball and flew into the first row, turning an inning-ending popout into a game-tying double.
Had the Giants turned either of New York’s third-inning infield singles into outs, Cobb would’ve been out of the inning unscathed. Same with Ruf’s misplay. But his pitch count drove up, and the inning extended. Then Pete Alonso beat Cobb for a three-run shot, and cracked open the game.
Two more scoreless frames preceded a one-run sixth in which J.D. Davis doubled home Jeff McNeil.
Cobb finished out the sixth and exited with six earned runs and allowed on 10 hits. Four of those hits were infield singles, and another was the Lindor ground-rule blooper. The starter struck out seven and walked none.
In other words, apart from the Alonso home run, Cobb did what he’s done all year. The process was sound, the results were just loud.
Cobb’s Baseball Savant page paints the picture of an elite pitcher. Before Monday, he was in the 97th percentile in expected ERA, the 98th percentile in barrel rate and the 99th in expected slugging.
His six-run start against the Mets nonetheless boosted his ERA to an ungodly 6.25, while his FIP stayed at 2.72.
Cobb also entered with baseball’s best run support average among starters with at least 25 innings pitched. But SF’s lineup, which featured Michael Papierski, Stuart Fairchild and Kevin Padlo, mustered three runs on seven hits. The offensive shortage came one day after an embarrassing 10-1 loss to San Diego.
After Monday’s defeat, the Giants are now 7-14 against teams with winning records. They’re 8-12 in May; last year’s historic season featured no month of sub-.600 ball.
This loss in particular, though, shouldn’t be pinned on Cobb.
Pitchers are taught to trust the defense behind them. This way, they avoid over-pitching and therefore losing command by trying to paint the corners of the strike zone.
Nobody could blame Cobb if the trust your defense message fell flat at this moment. Just as the team as a whole has played, in The Captain’s words, flat.