Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 7, Cubs 5

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Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 7, Cubs 5

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO The Giants have hit the fewest home runs in the major leagues. The wind was blowing in off Lake Michigan Sunday afternoon, too.

Good thing they can string hits together like Christmas lights.

Even without Melky Cabera, and a total lack of power from positions of traditional thump, the Giants keep finding ways to move the line along. Xavier Nady started all three of their scoring rallies, including a two-run sixth that tied the score and a two-run ninth that delivered a 7-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Nady, who hit a bases-clearing double in his Giants debut Saturday, was an impact presence once again. He walked to start two innings, including a three-run third. His final act was to draw a walk from Carlos Marmol to begin the ninth. Pinch-runner Gregor Blanco stole a base and scored the tiebreaking run on Angel Pagans single to left field. Marco Scutaro followed with another RBI single as the Giants pulled out a series victory and concluded a highly successful 5-1 road trip.

The Giants are 10-2 in their last dozen road games and have won four consecutive series away from AT&T Park. They wont stray further from Denver the remainder of the season.

Starting pitching report
Matt Cain was cruising toward his 14th victory, which would have matched his career high. But Soriano dashed those plans with one swing in the fifth inning.

Cain knew immediately that his poorly located 1-0 fastball wasnt coming back unless thrown by a bleacher creature. He bent at the waist and slapped the mound as Soriano watched his three-run home run cut through the lake breeze.

Until then, Cain was having a very good day. He gave up a run in the third inning when No. 8 hitter Darwin Barney singled, advanced on a sacrifice and scored on David DeJesus line single.

The Cubs used the same combination Barney single, a sacrifice and a DeJesus line single to right field to score again in the fifth. But DeJesus didnt get an RBI this time because the third base coach had held Barney before right fielder Hunter Pence bobbled the ball. Pence was charged with an error for allowing Barney to score.

After a walk to Luis Valbuena and a fielders choice, Cain faced Soriano with two outs. Back in the third inning, Cain was able to get out of a two-on, two-out situation when he threw a pair of two-strike curveballs and got Soriano to swing through the last one.

But this time Cain fell behind, and his 1-0 pitch wasnt remotely close to Buster Poseys low-and-away target. The fastball ran up and tailed middle-in, right into Sorianos happy zone.

Cain retired the next hitter to end the fifth but the damage was done. The home run turned a 3-2 lead into a 5-3 deficit.

Bullpen report
The Giants dont win without near perfect work from their relievers. Jose Mijares, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla navigated the sixth through the eighth.

Casilla began the ninth and yielded to left-hander Javier Lopez after giving up a one-out single.

At the plate
The Giants have done a credible job of scoring runs without the longball, and they did it again while grabbing a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey hit RBI singles in a four-batter span.

Nady set up the inning with a leadoff walk and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo threw wide for an error as Cain reached after getting down a sacrifice bunt.

Nady also started the Giants two-run rally in the sixth with a double, and when the Cubs pulled left-hander Travis Wood for right-hander Manuel Corpas, Giants manager Bruce Bochy sent up Brandon Belt to pinch hit for first baseman Brett Pill. Belt tripled into the left field corner to score Nady.

Then Bochy sent pinch hitter Aubrey Huff to the plate for the first time since July 30 (and just the fourth at-bat since June 10). Considering the long layoff, Huff had an impressive at-bat. He fouled off a two-strike pitch to stay alive, then Belt scored the tying run on a wild breaking ball in the dirt.

Huff ended up hitting a deep out to right field.

In field
Soriano didnt merely frustrate Cain with his home run swing. The left fielder also denied Cain when he crashed against the ivy while catching the pitchers well-struck drive in the fourth.

Soriano returned to his more familiar fielding foibles glove in the sixth when he didnt look so smooth while failing to catch Belts triple in the left field corner.

Angel Pagan had a right to feel robbed. Third baseman Luis Valbuena made a diving stop of a hard-hit grounder to take away a single from Pagan in the fifth inning. And center fielder Brett Jackson charged before making a sliding catch of Pagans flare in the seventh.

Blanco made a huge contribution in the ninth when he caught Brett Jacksons leadoff shot against the ivy in left field. Plus there was Blancos stolen base, too. Hes the new Darren Ford on this team.

Attendance
The Cubs announced 39,760 paid. Olympic hockey legend Phil Esposito was the guest conductor for Take Me Out to the Ballgame. He believes in miracles, obviously. But the Cubs winning the World Series? You might need something stronger.

Up next
The Giants play their final 28 games against NL West teams, beginning with a Labor Day matinee against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. Barry Zito (10-8, 4.42) will oppose left-hander Patrick Corbin (5.6, 3.93). Ryan Vogelsong is scheduled to pitch Tuesday against right-hander Ian Kennedy (12-11, 4.27) and Madison Bumgarner is due to pitch the series finale Wednesday against right-hander Trevor Cahill (9-11, 4.02). The Giants are 27-17 within the division thus far this season.

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

CHICAGO — The Giants gave Mark Melancon $62 million to make sure they don’t have an NLDS repeat, and the closer did shut the Cubs down in the ninth Monday. There’s a far cheaper solution to those big problems, however: Score so much that a late-inning implosion doesn’t matter. 

The Giants gave up four in the eighth inning in their first meeting with the Cubs since that infamous Game 4 meltdown, but thanks in large part to Joe Panik, the cushion was large enough. Panik, back atop the leadoff spot with Denard Span aching, reached base four times and had three extra-base hits. He came into the game with a .172 average over his previous 14 games, but he took John Lackey deep to lead off the night. 

“The last couple of days in St. Louis I started feeling better,” Panik said. “I started feeling a little better and today it clicked. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I felt good. The swing path felt good. It’s going back to staying on the ball and not trying to do too much.”

With the wind rushing out toward the bleachers, there was no need to try and muscle the ball. The Giants hit a season-high three homers and added four doubles. Brandon Belt and Justin Ruggiano also went deep as the lead was stretched to 6-0. After Ruggiano’s blast, a familiar feeling set in.

Ty Blach had been brilliant through seven, but Javier Baez took him deep in the eighth. Derek Law entered and gave up a two-run shot to Ben Zobrist. Just as in Game 4, Bochy started wearing out the track to the mound. Steven Okert faced one batter and plunked him as Hunter Strickland and Melancon started to heat up. Strickland got the call, and after falling behind in the count, he got Willson Contreras to ground into a double play, stranding a pair. 

“No lead is safe on a night like this,” Bochy said of the wind. “It’s not surprising when the other team answers.”

It probably wasn’t surprising to the players on the field. It did, however, bring back bad memories.

“You’re human,” Panik said. “You’re human, but with the bullpen we’ve got, we have confidence that they’ll shut it down.”

As the Cubs rallied in the eighth and again the ninth, a half-dozen key plays from earlier loomed larger. Panik was sent from second by Phil Nevin on a hard single to left and he cut the corner at third perfectly, scoring the second run of the night. Blach helped kill one potential Cubs rally by cutting behind Albert Almora in the sixth. The center fielder had dropped a one-out bloop into right and he made a hard turn. Blach followed him to first, fielded a throw from Ruggiano, and threw Almora out at second, eliminating a baserunner ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

“We work on that all the time,” said Blach, a former minor league Gold Glove winner. “I saw him rounding pretty hard so I tried to sneak in. We were able to catch a guy sleeping.”

Blach was being modest. It is not a play most pitchers make, not in a 5-0 game. It was simply one of many defensive highlights for the Giants, who did just about everything right until the eighth. When the bullpen started to wobble, the lead was large enough that it didn’t matter. 

The win was the eighth in 10 games for a team that’s threatening to get back into the postseason chase. For all that’s gone wrong, the Giants are just 3 1/2 games behind these Cubs. They’ll try to get another one back Tuesday in a reminder of what could have been: Johnny Cueto against Jon Lester.

Earlier this season, Panik would have hit seventh or eighth against Lester, but Bochy said he’ll get another night atop the lineup. The manager said Panik earned it with his first career night with three extra base hits. After the first leadoff homer of his career — and probably life — Panik doubled twice. That helped build the lead, but it led to some ribbing hours later. As Panik addressed reporters, Matt Cain snuck up behind the scrum.

“Ask him why he didn’t try for third on his second double,” Cain whispered.