December 5, 2022

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Giants' pitchers, hitters hot in cold Cleveland 

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CLEVELAND — Puffy jackets protected the players and coaches who lined the top step of the Giants’ dugout at Progressive Field. Joc Pederson took his spot in left field with a balaclava on his head and a big hand warmer on his midsection.

San Francisco’s final game of its series in Cleveland was a chilly one. The first-pitch temperature of 35 degrees was the coldest the Giants have experienced since at least 1990, per the club. But the Giants showed no signs of freezing, pelting the Guardians, 8-1, to earn their first series sweep of 2022.

The Giants have kept the temperature high against opponents this season, and a few areas in particular have been heating up in the first week and a half of the new season. Here are three.

Fueled by rotation
Left-hander Alex Wood is from North Carolina, but he strutted to the mound in short sleeves. He and his catcher, Curt Casali, were the only two Giants brave enough to do so.

Who needs sleeves when there’s superstition involved — he said he’s never worn long sleeves in a start, ever — or when you have a fiery tempo on the mound? He braved the conditions to pitch five-plus scoreless innings against the Guardians and he helped the Giants’ rotation set some history with their run prevention to begin the season.

Every starter in the first nine games of the season has allowed two runs or fewer, which is the longest such streak in club history and the second-longest in MLB since 1901. The 1966 White Sox had a stretch of 11 starts with two runs or fewer allowed to begin their season.

“Everybody’s really happy with the start we’ve had as a staff,” Wood said. “And I think we’ve got some competitive juices flowing and guys want to back up what the guy did the day before. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

Sure, the Giants have started with a smaller workload than they would generally give to their starters due to a short Spring Training, but the eye test as well as the numbers have backed up their superb run.

“I choose to enjoy that stat,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “… We’re aware our starters are pitching well. We expected it to be a strength of our club, and they’ve just come out and filled up the strike zone.”

Torching homers
The Giants are beginning to find their home run swing after leading the National League with 241 homers in 2021. On Sunday, it was Thairo Estrada and Brandon Belt doing the mashing, marking eight homers in the past five games for San Francisco.

Estrada’s dinger was part of a complete day at the plate, as he played a part in all of the Giants’ first six runs in the game. He also scored two runners on a fielder’s choice, though he was credited with only one RBI due to a throwing error.

He also drove in a run with a double.

But the homer on a frigid day — one batter after Wilmer Flores had a ball die at the wall in nearly the exact same location — speaks to the power Estrada is capable of producing.

“[Flores] basically asked me, ‘What is it you’re doing? What are you doing?’” Estrada said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “And I just said, ‘Hey, I put the ball where it’s a home run.’”

Belt’s homer, his third of the season, rocketed 108.3 mph off the bat into the right-field seats, per Statcast.

“The Captain” has been instrumental to the 7-2 start the Giants have gotten off to this season, but Kapler said the type of selective at-bats he’s had — swinging hard at hittable pitches and being patient with others — is affecting the team in other ways.

“When you have great examples like Belt and [Crawford], some of these younger players take on those characteristics in the batter’s box,” Kapler said. “And I think that’s happened a bit for Estrada.”

Blazing speed
The Giants have shown they are an equal opportunity employer of the stolen-base attempt, not allowing speed differences nor player type affect who they will allow to take advantage of pitchers for an extra base.

It showed as Pederson got his first stolen base of the season in the sixth inning, setting him up to score a run.

Despite having no one on the team who has produced 15 stolen bases in an MLB season on the active roster, the Giants now have seven in nine games and are near the top of the league’s leaderboard in the category.

“In many cases, it’s a math equation,” Kapler said. “It involves the pop time of the catcher, it involves speed to the plate of the pitcher, it involves how much that pitcher picks, it involves tips and tells, what pitch might be coming, and if all of those those are lining up and we feel it’s the right opportunity for a runner to take a base, we’ll do it — with anybody on our roster.”

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