Cobb turns in gem, then SF wins on late balk

July 17th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hits his pillow each night, he surely has visions of all the runs not driven in, the late hits allowed by his relievers and the catchable balls that weren’t during the first half, as well as how he might fix the issues before the Trade Deadline.

With apparent needs to fill if San Francisco wants to compete for the postseason, Zaidi must take some comfort seeing that the rotation he built is solid enough that he need not fret over adding a starter, which would be a luxury, not a necessity.

As Alex Cobb further demonstrated in the Giants’ 2-1 victory over the Brewers on Saturday at Oracle Park -- settled when Jandel Gustave balked home the tie-breaking run in the eighth inning -- a rotation that has been pretty good is getting even better at an opportune time.

In his best game for San Francisco, Cobb carried a shutout into the eighth, when he allowed a run that was unearned because of a Mike Yastrzemski error. Cobb took a no-decision, but he added to an impressive run by San Francisco's starters over the past eight games, excluding Thursday’s bullpen contest against Milwaukee.

Cobb, Carlos Rodón, Logan Webb and Alex Wood have combined to allow five earned runs over 45 innings during that run for a 1.00 ERA. The Giants won six of those eight games (including the bullpen contest), which came after a challenging 4-14 stretch.

“It’s been awesome to see them do what I know they want to be doing,” Yastrzemski said of the starters.

Now, the Giants also have the promise of Jakob Junis rejoining the rotation after recovering from a left hamstring strain. When Junis got hurt on June 10, he arguably was the team’s best starter.

Entering Saturday, San Francisco's rotation ranked third in the National League in ERA (3.64), first in fewest homers allowed (36), second in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.78) and OPS (.665) and fifth in WHIP (1.21).

But the starters also had the third-highest average in the NL for batted balls in play (.311), a direct result of the less-than-ideal defense behind them -- not only the errors the fielders committed, but also the balls they didn’t get to.

Given all that, Giants manager Gabe Kapler had an easy answer when asked what “adjustments” the starters had made during their recent dominant run.

“I don’t think there was necessarily an adjustment,” Kapler said. “Our starting pitching has been pretty good since the beginning of the year. So I don’t think there was a turning point or anything like that. Obviously, the two starts in San Diego [by Rodón and Wood on July 9 and 10] were huge for us, just from a momentum standpoint. But the guys have been pretty consistent all year. ... Even on our bullpen days, our starters have done a nice job.”

Cobb pitched into the eighth after not going more than six innings in any of his first 13 starts. He was economical, getting 22 outs on 99 pitches, including 12 ground balls -- a good sign for a pitcher who throws a splitter. The right-hander struck out five, including Willy Adames in the sixth on a 96 mph fastball.

Cobb remained winless over his past eight starts, however, as he departed before singles by Austin Slater and Wilmer Flores and a hit batsman (Evan Longoria) loaded the bases in the eighth for Yastrzemski, who won Friday night’s game with his improbable walk-off grand slam.

On Saturday, the winning run scored with Yastrzemski’s bat on his shoulder. Gustave was called for a balk, allowing Flores to come home.

Crew chief Bruce Dreckman told a pool reporter that Gustave flinched while on the rubber, “pretty much a textbook, rulebook balk, pretty cut and dried.”

Dominic Leone got the save despite Adames leading off the ninth with a single and advancing to second on Leone's errant pickoff throw with nobody out. Leone struck out Kolten Wong to end it to the cheers of a sellout crowd of 41,279, stranding Adames at third.

John Brebbia earned a well-deserved hold in the eighth, when he and Joey Bart combined for a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play with Christian Yelich fanning and Jonathan Davis nabbed trying to steal third after previously swiping second.

Webb will now take the ball for the final game before the All-Star break on Sunday, with the Giants hoping to take three of four against the NL Central-leading Brewers.