A gift of tickets allowed my daughter and I to attend the Giants' 161st, or second-to-last, game of 2014. Until that morning, our decision to attend the game had been up-in-the-air. Now that the day was nigh, it was seeming more like a meaningless game. All the National League playoff spots had been decided. The Giants were in the midst of a four-game series with the San Diego Padres, a team long out of contention, with little to play for, save pride. Conversely, the Giants had just clinched the last wildcard spot — but they also had nothing left to strive for in the regular season. Two more games and they would be heading to Pittsburg for their next meaningful game, the one-game wildcard playoff to see which team would continue on. At the last minute, we decided to go.
As the Giants took the field to start the game, we saw they were taking this opportunity to give many of their regular players some much needed rest. Blanco, Panik, Posey, Pablo, Pence, and Ishikawa were all on the bench. The only starters in the lineup were the two Brandons, Crawford at short and Belt on first. But that decision also turned out to be a great opportunity to see a lot of the younger and more unknown players, which turned out to be quite interesting and enjoyable.
A few impressions...
Matt Duffy is a tall, thin second baseman. He is also a very competent hitter. He looks comfortable at the plate, has a nice swing, and makes solid contact. Even though he is young and inexperienced at the big league level, it seems like he arrived already knowing how to hit. (By the way, the Padres’ starting pitcher was Eric Stults, a big, veteran lefty who was pitching well on this day.) Duffy got a couple hits, and also had an at-bat where he fouled off an impressive number of pitches. Duffy appears to be a good, not great, fielder — but this kid can hit.
Chris Dominguez was an adventure in left field. He takes awkward, confused routes to the ball, and generally looks pretty clunky out there. Although he did end up making two catches on a couple of well-hit balls, both of them were a lot shakier than they should have been. On the first one he ran back to the warning track, shifting directions a couple times, before making an awkward catch, as if he had been wrestling an armadillo. On the second one, a misjudged line drive over his head, he just barely managed to pinch the ball in the fingertips of his glove. It looked like a scoop of vanilla sticking out, and I was surprised it didn't fall out as he brought the whole show to a stop. Chris appears to be a defensive liability. But he's a big, strong fellow who is probably coveted for power hitting.
Hunter Strickland, a big young relief pitcher, throws very hard. We got to watch him warm up in the bullpen, loudly popping the catcher's mitt with fastballs. He came in to pitch the eighth inning, and dominated the three batters he faced.
Gary Brown, in centerfield, was very quick on his feet. We saw him leg out a couple infield hits. If he can bunt, hit grounders, and learns how to steal, he could become a valuable leadoff man. He is also a much better defensive outfielder than Mr. Dominguez. We saw him scoot back on a big hit and make a good catch at the wall. It was not scary.
Juan Perez, in right field, was kind of ho hum for me. Not particularly impressive at the plate, he also dropped a running catch that did not appear especially difficult.
The young catcher, Andrew Susac, continues to impress. He's been on the team for the second half of the year, and has gotten some substantial playing time spelling Posey behind the plate. So he was not a complete mystery, but it was nice to see him in person, and he appeared just as expected: a solid, dependable catcher. He also seems to have a habit for clutch hits.
Another player who was no mystery to me was Brandon Crawford, but the more I see this guy play defense, the more impressed I become. He's not physically built like a shortstop — burlier than you expect — but he sure can play the position. He gets great jumps, and it surprises you how many balls he reaches and snares, all with seeming ease. He has a good arm and makes accurate throws. He's an excellent defensive shortstop who also has a knack for getting big hits, and he won this game with a two-run single in the eighth.
Jake Peavy, another veteran, started the game for the Giants. At one point, late in the game, the umpire called a Peavy strikeout pitch a ball. Even from a great distance you could tell Peavy was fuming about the call. There was nothing overt or demonstrative, it was all contained, but you could still sense the tension. After a few moments he settled down and went back to pitching. Peavy's not a big fellow, but he seems like a scrappy fighter, a good guy to have on your side.
Back to the young players: how fortunate the Giants seem this year with their crop of rookies. At the head of that list is Joe Panik, who also arrived midseason, after numerous injuries and failures had reduced second base to a shambles. This minor leaguer seemingly came out of nowhere, solidified the position, and soon made it all his own. He now bats second in the order, and ended the year with a .305 batting average.
And now the Giants are heading for the playoffs of 2014 — another even numbered year, so watch out, world! Some of these youngsters might surprise us this postseason.