Well, if the Giants had been playing the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX Friday, they would have lost – but only because they missed a fourth-quarter field goal.
A surefire sign it’s going to be a fun one is when your pitcher gets to bat before he even takes the mound. God bless Chad Gaudin. He may not have pitched long enough to earn a decision, but his first-inning at bat was a championship effort. A helicopter bat into the Marlins’ dugout, then fouling off a two-strike 94 mph fastball to see another pitch, all while not wearing batting gloves.
But with the Giants opening a three-game series in Miami by downing the Marlins 14-10, the foremost tip of the cap should go to Marco Scutaro. It has been over a week since the Giants’ second baseman was moved to the leadoff spot. Entering into play Friday, he had struggled while hitting just .222 (8 for 36) through eight games at the top of the order.
Scutaro demonstrated his chops in his first at bat against Marlins starter Nate Eovaldi though, opening the game with one critical at bat that set the tone for the entire contest. In grinding out a nine-pitch battle, Scutaro helped ensure it would be a short night for Eovaldi, especially after cashing in for a leadoff single.
Next thing you know, Eovaldi surpassed the 50-pitch plateau with just one out in the second inning, and the Giants led by a touchdown by the end of the frame. The Marlins’ 23-year-old right-hander went on to last just three innings in his worst start of the season.
This is the importance of a leadoff hitter. Oftentimes, it take a pitcher just one good pitch to establish himself in a big-league game. So, if a team doesn’t have an effective leadoff hitter, a pitcher can take hold of the reins by the time he notches the first out, especially when he comes out throwing 95 mph with sharp curveball, as Eovaldi showed against Scutaro. But when a leadoff hitter can show patience, be selective, and take a dangerous pitcher to task, a pitcher can’t necessarily establish himself.
And Friday night, Eovaldi never did.
Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres both seem like prototypical leadoff hitters. But neither of them are.
Blanco is always a solid starting option because of his outstanding defense, but on the offensive side of the ball, he is much better suited for the bottom of the order. As a leadoff hitter this season, he has posted a mere .296 on base percentage. To Torres’ credit, he has been solid against left-handed pitching. The switch-hitter is batting .271 against southpaws this year. However, he too has been more valuable at the bottom of the order, getting on base at just a .303 clip as a leadoff man.
The loss of Angel Pagan has shown just how important it is to have a top-of-the-order presence. In eight months with Pagan at the top of the order, the Giants won a World Championship, then proceeded to establish themselves as one of the most consistent offensive squads in baseball at the start of 2013.
Remember those slugging Giants of April and May? It’s no coincidence the offense started sputtering after Pagan went down. The Giants hit .283 as a team efore Pagan got injured while legging out a remarkable walk-off inside-the-park home run on May 25. Since then, they have hit .250, and that slide started immediately. In the final five games of May after the injury, the Giants hit just .260, and that includes two games in Oakland with the designated hitter.
Friday’s high-scoring win was a nice coming out party, with the Giants banging out 19 hits – their best single-game output of the season. Quite simply, it was Scutaro’s at bat that set the winning wheels in motion. And when Pagan and Scutaro once again establish a one-two punch at the top of the batting order, the Giants offense is going to take off, if it hasn’t already in moving Scutaro to the leadoff spot.