SAN FRANCISCO -- The pieces didn’t line up for Kevin Gausman to pitch in Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic, but he showed precisely why he’s an All-Star on Sunday afternoon at Oracle Park.
Gausman struck out nine and yielded only one run over six-plus innings as the Giants capped their spectacular first half with a 3-1 victory that sealed a three-game sweep of the Nationals. At 57-32, San Francisco will head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball for the seventh time in franchise history and the first time since 2016.
Gausman has been an integral part of the Giants’ success this year, emerging as the unquestioned ace of one of the best rotations in baseball. The 30-year-old right-hander improved to 9-3 with a 1.73 ERA over 18 starts this season, trailing only Mets star Jacob deGrom (1.08 ERA) among qualified Major League starters.
“When we took Gaus out of the game, I mentioned to him that I thought it was one of the better first halves I’ve been around,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “This is as a player and as a manager, from any angle in baseball. It was that good. I thought today’s performance was excellent.”
Gausman carried a shutout into the seventh inning, but the Nationals’ offense finally began to stir after Juan Soto and Josh Bell drew back-to-back walks and Starlin Castro singled to load the bases with no outs. Kapler subsequently summoned Dominic Leone to relieve Gausman, who received a standing ovation from the crowd as he walked off the field after throwing 102 pitches.
Kapler said Gausman was bothered by a blister toward the end of his outing, but Gausman didn’t feel the issue hindered his performance in the seventh.
“I get a blister every start,” Gausman said. “This one was a little bit bigger than normal, but I didn’t feel like it had anything to do with that last inning. I just couldn’t find the strike zone. I left one pitch up, and Castro put a good swing on it.”
Leone began his outing by inducing a routine double-play ball from Josh Harrison, but the Giants couldn’t complete the twin-killing after LaMonte Wade Jr. dropped Donovan Solano’s low throw from second base. Soto scored from third on the play to cut the Giants’ lead to 3-1, but Leone managed to avoid further damage by coaxing a flyout from Ryan Zimmerman and striking out Victor Robles to end the inning.
Gausman’s next stop will be Coors Field, where he’ll take part in the festivities for his first career All-Star Game only 30 minutes from where he grew up in his native Colorado.
“It’s kind of incredible,” said catcher Curt Casali, who accounted for all of the Giants’ runs by launching a three-run homer off Nationals right-hander Erick Fedde in the second. “To kind of back up what he started last year is even more impressive. I’m really, really proud of him. I’m happy he gets to go to the All-Star Game in Colorado where he’s from. I’m sure he’s got a lot of friends and family coming. I’m really excited for him to enjoy that opportunity.”
Fellow All-Star Brandon Crawford finished 3-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to nine games this month, bumping his batting average from .248 to .289 over that span. With Gausman unavailable to pitch and catcher Buster Posey electing to skip the trip to Denver to focus on rehabbing his left thumb injury, Crawford is expected to be the only Giant to take the field for the National League on Tuesday night.
Not many observers viewed the Giants as contenders entering the 2021 season, but they’ve watched their FanGraphs playoffs odds skyrocket from 5.7% to 91.2% after opening up a two-game lead over the Dodgers and a six-game lead over the Padres for first place in the ultra-competitive National League West.
Late-career renaissances from Crawford and Posey have helped fuel the Giants’ unexpected rise, but they’ve also received a steady stream of contributions from players who have stepped in to help cover a wave of injuries in the first half. Casali is the latest example, as he’s now 17-for-42 (.405) with four homers since returning from the injured list on June 12 and has filled in more than capably for Posey over the last week.
With a starting rotation that has posted the third-best ERA in baseball (3.18), a bullpen that has stabilized with the arrival of Leone (0.98 ERA) and others, and a defense that ranks second in the Majors with 24 outs above average, there’s not much the Giants are doing poorly right now, which bodes well for their ability to sustain their playoff push in the second half. They are poised to get even stronger with improved health, as Posey, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella could be ready to rejoin the club by the end of July.
“I can tell you we feel good about ourselves, as we should,” Casali said. “We’ve worked really hard to get to this point. Definitely proving some people wrong is some nice icing on the cake, but we’re just trying to keep it rolling.”