Giants once again bit by defensive miscues

July 3rd, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- A couple of hours before first pitch on Saturday, manager Gabe Kapler was asked how the Giants were approaching improving their defense, which has emerged as a major weakness for the club this year. 

“The way to improve in-season on defense is by changing the mindset and being aggressive in doing so,” Kapler said.

Kapler explained that he wanted his players to run through plays in their minds to streamline their decision making in the moment and give them a better chance to consistently execute plays. Clearly, there’s still work to do on that front. 

The Giants’ defensive woes once again loomed large as they fell, 5-3, to the White Sox to seal their ninth loss in their last 12 games. San Francisco didn’t do enough at the plate to overcome those miscues, going only 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 men on base to drop to 2-5 on a homestand against three sub-.500 teams in Cincinnati, Detroit and Chicago.

“It’s been rough as a whole,” said right-hander Logan Webb, who was charged with the loss after giving up five runs (three earned) over six innings. “It’s not what we want to do. It just hasn’t been very good, to be honest. … Right now, it just seems like it’s just kind of piling on, unfortunately.”

LaMonte Wade Jr. began his bobblehead day with a booming leadoff home run in the first inning, but the Giants committed a couple of costly fielding mistakes that helped Chicago mount a three-run rally against Webb in the fourth.

Webb retired the first nine batters he faced before Tim Anderson reached on an infield single to start the fourth. Andrew Vaughn followed with a grounder to the right side that kicked off first baseman Brandon Belt’s glove, putting runners on first and second with no outs.

Webb then got ahead, 0-2, to José Abreu, but he couldn’t put him away, issuing a one-out walk that loaded the bases for Gavin Sheets. Sheets subsequently hit a line drive to left field that was misplayed by Joc Pederson, who allowed the ball to sail over his head and roll to the wall for a two-run double. Sheets’ liner had a catch probability of 95 percent, according to Statcast.

“It happens, man,” Webb said. “That’s kind of the [tough] part of baseball, also. It comes with me throwing the way I do and trying to get ground balls. Sometimes there are amazing plays and stuff, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. That’s just kind of baseball.”

Yoán Moncada added an RBI single to extend the White Sox lead to 3-1, though Webb saved a run by making a nice play on AJ Pollock’s tapper in front of the plate and flipping to catcher Curt Casali to record the out at home.

Chicago padded its lead on another error by shortstop Donovan Walton in the sixth. With the bases loaded and one out, Webb came close to getting Leury García to bounce into an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play, but Walton uncorked a wide throw to first base, allowing the White Sox to score two more runs and go up, 5-1.

After winning a franchise record 107 games in 2021, the Giants have taken a step back in several areas this year, though their defensive regression has been particularly stark. San Francisco ranked fifth in the Majors with 27 Outs Above Average last season, but that figure has plummeted to -28 OAA this year, the second-worst mark in baseball.

With one of the oldest rosters in the Majors, range and athleticism have been issues for the Giants, who also traded away two of their better defenders, Mauricio Dubón and Steven Duggar, earlier this year. Tommy La Stella’s limited mobility following offseason Achilles surgery has also relegated him primarily to designated hitter duties, forcing the Giants to lean on the likes of Pederson and Darin Ruf to play more outfield.

The Giants are hoping a refreshed Brandon Crawford will be able to bring his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop once he returns from the injured list next week, though they’ll need to see improvements across the board after repeatedly watching their subpar glove work cost them wins this year.

“We work really hard on process adjustments and practice adjustments,” Kapler said. “That’s really all you can control. Once the ball is hit, the instincts take over. We can’t control it once that happens, once the ball gets hit. This is true for our athletes, as well. But what we can control is the practice and the process, so we’ll continue to tweak that. Exact tweaks are happening on a daily basis, and we’ll keep working toward getting to be the best defensive group that we can be.”