The Giants didn’t commit any errors on Monday, but their 13-3 loss was still emblematic of a glaring flaw through 41 games: defense.
No one play determines a 10-run game, but Darin Ruf’s misplay on a bloop down the left field line in the third inning ignited the Mets’ offense. Ruf is far from the only problem on a team that has lost five straight game and is failing in all three phases of the game — including in the field.
“I think it’s a play I have to make,” Ruf told reporters postgame. “I think I had a lot going through my mind, of where the wall was. I know it’s close over there. The ball came back quite a bit. So I think the combo of the two. But yeah, it’s a play I had to make.”
Had Ruf came down with the catch, Cobb would’ve been out of the inning with a 2-0 lead. Instead, the ground rule double extended the frame for Pete Alonso, who smoked a three-run home run.
Cobb has been a victim of terrible misfortune so far this year. His 2.67 FIP — a metric that measures factors that a pitcher can control — is significantly better than his 6.25 ERA. He’s limiting home runs and walks while striking out a lot of batters, but balls in play haven’t been kind to him.
“That’s why I feel horrible,” Ruf said. “He’s been excellent. If I make that catch, he’s out of the inning with no runs instead of giving up five. He’s got great stuff. It seems like a lot of times the hits that they’re getting are infield singles. Then there’s just maybe one big swing in the game.”
Ruf’s miscue was by far the biggest and most obvious fielding blunder of the night, but it wasn’t the only one. The Mets had four infield singles. Balls constantly found grass instead of gloves, which seems to happen every time Alex Cobb takes the mound.
At least part of that unluckiness is due to defensive positioning and range. Those plays when Mets hitters beat the ball by just a half-step to first base are plays that could have been avoided with slightly better shifting or slightly more quickness — both foot speed and on the transfer.
“We can always get tighter,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We can always be on top of base runners. We can always be more on top of our defensive positioning. We can always be completing plays better. There’s room for improvement there.”
If a pitcher loses confidence in the defense behind him, that can negatively impact him. Cobb said postgame that all he focuses on is executing as many pitches as he possibly can.
Still, frustration would be understandable. The Giants aren’t making the tough plays that great teams do — the tough plays they seemed to make consistently last year.
As a team this year, the Giants have recorded -14 defensive runs saved, per Fangraphs. That’s third-worst in baseball, in front of the rebuilding Reds and a Phillies team that appeared to purposely ignore defense when constructing its roster.
In 2021, the Giants were tied for 10th in MLB in the same metric.
Brandon Crawford and Wilmer Flores have each committed five errors. Luis González’s hot bat and fun pitching appearances have distracted from his three errors in 23 games. San Francisco catchers have caught runners stealing four out of 23 times (17%) — 10% less frequently than the MLB average.
Some of the fielding issues, like the other problems plaguing the Giants during this five-game skid, will fix itself. It’s a long season, and flukey things course-correct. Kapler said pregame preparation conversations have been more focused.
“We’re just not making enough plays,” Kapler said. “Nobody expects us to win Gold Gloves because it’s not the type of roster that we are, it’s not the type of team that we’ve been. But we definitely need to make more plays than we’ve been making.”