In his first series with the San Francisco Giants, Gabe Kapler managed a four-game series against the Dodgers like a college head coach leading his underdog team through an NCAA Regional series.
Kapler eschewed tradition, never letting a pitcher record more than 10 outs in an appearance. He sent a reliever from Thursday’s opener, Drew Smyly, out to the mound to start Sunday’s game, and brought Kevin Gausman, one of his top starters, out of the bullpen when he thought the Giants could steal a victory on Friday. Kapler platooned at nearly every position on the diamond, drawing up vastly different lineups based on the pitching arm of each Dodgers starter.
The Giants were overpowered and overmatched on paper, needing to evaluate every possible strategic move that might give them an edge. Beaten up, but not beaten down in two blowout losses to open the season, the Giants emerged with a stunning series split after securing a 3-1 win on Sunday night.
Following back-to-back blowout losses, the Giants recorded a too-close-for-comfort one-run win on Saturday and treated their fans to another narrow win in the finale.
For the second consecutive day, first baseman Darin Ruf gave the Giants a lead as he singled home Mauricio Dubón with a grounder through the left side of the infield. Ruf didn’t start the first two days of the season because the Giants faced right-handed starters, but he lined a RBI single into right center in his debut plate appearance Saturday against Alex Wood before picking up a pair of hits in his first two at-bats against Julio Urías.
Ruf, who signed as a minor league free agent to fortify the lineup against left-handers, also made one of the finer defensive plays of the weekend in the bottom of the sixth. Following a move from first base to left field, Ruf made a running catch on the warning track to snag a deep flyball and pushed through the outfield fence, which opened into the Dodgers bullpen.
Ruf busted the fence right open pic.twitter.com/VKgPfRefD2
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 27, 2020
After coming out of the bullpen on Opening Night, Smyly was tabbed to start Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers. Smyly worked one frame in the Giants’ 8-1 loss Thursday, so he only lasted 3 1/3 while pitching on short rest on Sunday.
Smyly held the Dodgers scoreless over his first two innings, but labored through a 31-pitch third inning in which 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger yanked a 106.2 mile per hour single through the right side of the infield to drive in Mookie Betts.
After retiring shortstop Corey Seager on a groundout to open the bottom of the fourth, Smyly was pulled in favor of Shaun Anderson, who recorded five consecutive strikeouts to open his season after walking the first hitter he faced in the seventh inning of Saturday’s victory.
Anderson’s slider topped out at 89.5 miles per hour on Sunday and he recorded a pair of strikeouts with the pitch against Kiké Hernández and A.J. Pollock before he exited following a walk in the bottom of the fifth.
Kapler’s decision to start Smyly meant veteran right-hander Jeff Samardzija never pitched in the Giants’ season-opening four-game series in Los Angeles. Despite being the second-highest paid pitcher on the staff behind Johnny Cueto, Samardzija wasn’t included in Kapler’s pitching plans for the series even though the Giants haven’t said the right-hander is dealing with any injuries.
The guess here is the Giants would prefer to maximize Samardzija’s opportunities to pitch at Oracle Park and minimize his exposure against a Dodgers lineup loaded with left-handed sluggers. Samardzija could start twice at home if he gets the ball on Tuesday against San Diego, but if Samardzija isn’t announced as the team’s starter, it would hint there’s trouble behind the scenes with the 13th-year veteran who will become a free agent at the end of the season.
The Giants appeared to be in a world of trouble after the first two games of the series, as Kapler’s pitcher usage came under fire. They ended the weekend tied in the standings with the heavy NL West favorites, and ready to board a happy flight back to San Francisco.
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Author: Kerry Crowley