A masterful outing by All-Star right-hander Kevin Gausman has become a common trend this season. It proved important once again Sunday, as the Giants closed out the first half of the 2021 season with their MLB-leading 57th victory, a 3-1 win to complete a three-game sweep of the Nationals.
Shockingly enough to the baseball world, San Francisco’s (57-32) remarkable run in the first half has defied the preseason notion that the Dodgers and Padres would be the National League West frontrunners. For the seventh time in franchise history, the Giants head into the All-Star break with the best record in the game. They will lead the second-place Dodgers by three games if Los Angeles loses to Arizona Sunday afternoon.
On the club’s first-half and momentum heading into the All-Star break, manager Gabe Kapler said:
“I think there’s plenty of confidence. But I think the reasons for that is from every angle as a baseball team I think we’ve been a quality, quality group. … But for the most part, we’ve always felt like we were in baseball games because we’ve had the opportunity to have beginnings.”
Gausman (W, 9-3, 1.65 ERA) has put himself in the early National League Cy Young conversation with his stellar performance in the first half. The 30-year-old right-hander strung together another strong outing by firing six scoreless innings, punching out nine Washington (42-47) hitters, walking three, and allowing four hits – all infield hits.
Everything seemed to be working for Gausman as he breezed through six innings with ease and finished with 102 pitches. His splitter, which checks in as one of baseball’s most valuable pitches, was lethal from the the get-go and received 17 swings – 10 whiffs.
On Gausman, Kapler said:
“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 as a player and as a manager – like from any angle in baseball. It was that good, and I mentioned that to him.”
The small amount of trouble Gausman encountered he escaped in a variety of different ways. After allowing a single to Starlin Castro in the second, he toggled with a few pickoff moves before finally catching Castro sleeping to end the frame. When he gave up back-to-back singles with one away in the fourth, he rebounded by inducing an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play ball to avoid a jam.
After taking a gamble on himself in the offseason by accepting the one-year qualifying offer, Gausman will make the trip back to his home state of Colorado for the MLB All-Star Game Tuesday at Coors Field. It’s an honor he’s earned after making 18 starts in the first-half with a 1.65 earned run average, second in baseball to Mets ace Jacob DeGrom.
On the team chemistry, Gausman said:
“It’s been a lot of fun. I feel like I’ve said it every five days, you know, but a lot of fun to come to the ballpark. I think Farhan (Zaidi) said a couple days ago that just the combat atmosphere is great.”
With Buster Posey on the injured list with a left thumb contusion, the Giants have still found a way to produce recent success from the catching position. With two men on in the second, the red-hot Curt Casali ripped a three-run homer into the Giants bullpen against Washington starter Erick Fedde (4-6, 4.59 ERA) to push San Francisco out to a 3-0 lead.
In his last 34 at-bats against right-handed pitching, Casali has 17 hits including five doubles, a triple, and four home runs. He said:
“You know, fortunately, I’ve been given a lot of pitches that I am able to drive. I didn’t feel like I was about to hit a home run in that situation, I was just trying to put the ball in the air but I clipped it pretty good. And I’m just – like I’ve said before, I’m starting to sound old – but I’m just happy to contribute and it means the world to me. And I’m thrilled to be a part of this great team.”
Unlike Giants teams from their championship years in the early 2010s, the current group that leads the offense has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark and don’t have any issues with trailing in ballgames because of that. Casali’s shot was San Francisco’s 132nd homer, which leads the majors. To put things into perspective, the championship team in 2012 that won 94 games blasted 103 long balls all season.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford will also be heading to Denver for his third All-Star Game, and showed why the past few games as he notched his second straight three-hit game Sunday afternoon. The month of July has been kind to the 34-year-old; he’s now 20-for-36 since the calendar turned over.
Gausman’s only scare occurred in the seventh when he walked the first two hitters of the inning and allowed a seeing-eye single to load up the bases. That’s when Kapler had seen enough and removed Gausman, who departed to a thunderous ovation from the Oracle Park crowd of 26,639.
Gausman called the ovation “really cool,” but:
“You know, I wish I would have been able to kind of soak it in, but being that I was a little frustrated with the way that my outing ended and just the way that inning went. So I wasn’t as happy as I would have been, you know, if would have been scoreless coming off the field.”
Kapler confirmed after the game that Gausman was battling through a small blister late in the game when he struggled to throw strikes.
Dominic Leone (2-0, 0.98 ERA) entered and immediately rolled up what appeared to be a 6-4-3 double play ball, but LaMonte Wade Jr. – back in the lineup after fresh off a left hand sprain – couldn’t stay on the bag at first base and a run scored to make it 3-1. Leone impressively recorded a weak fly out and strikeouts to slam the door and avoid any more damage.
Leone, signed to a minor league deal before the season, is just one of a few excellent bullpen finds that have pitched well in the first-half of the season for the Giants’ organization. Tyler Rogers (1-0, 1.47 ERA) pitched a scoreless eighth and Jake McGee (SV, 3-2, 2.72 ERA) recorded his 19th save of the season. Since June 1, San Francisco has carried the second-best bullpen ERA in baseball (2.60).
Friday – Nationals 3, Giants 5: The Giants won the first game of the three-game series against Washington behind their core of complementary bench bats and elite defense from Crawford. The All-Star shortstop showed off his wizard-like ability with the glove, most notably making a diving stop to his left and glove-flipping to Donovan Solano to start a double play in the sixth. The Giants put up three runs in the first two innings when Darin Ruf – filling in for the last-minute scratch Wade Jr. – rapped an RBI single in the first and Casali deposited a two-run shot in the second. It was Ruf again who crushed a go-ahead moonshot to deep left-center (9) in the fifth. One inning later, Wilmer Flores went deep for his ninth of the year to add some extra padding.
Logan Webb emerged from the injured list and threw just three innings in the win, a prepared outcome due to his lack of innings from when he was on the shelf with a right-shoulder injury. The Nationals only scored in the fourth inning against lefty José Álvarez when catcher Tres Barrera tripled home two runs and was later driven in when Gerardo Parra doubled.
Saturday – Nationals 4, Giants 10: San Francisco had a loud day at the plate against veteran left-hander Jon Lester to ensure a series win and clinch themselves the best record in baseball heading into the All-Star break. Behind six scoreless innings from Anthony DeSclafani, the Giants scored at least ten runs for the tenth time this season. Thairo Estrada notched a three-hit afternoon and drove in three runs while Crawford continued his big first half with three hits and three RBIs of his own, including his 18th homer in the sixth. Righty Tyler Beede made his well-anticipated return from Tommy John surgery and allowed three runs, two hits, and punched-out two in his one inning of work out of the bullpen.
Now that the first-half is complete, San Francisco will head into the break with three All-Stars – Gausman, Posey, and Crawford – to represent them at the Midsummer Classic in Colorado. Crawford is the only Giant available to play, as Gausman’s start on Sunday held him back from being fully rested and Posey’s thumb contusion forces him to miss the game although. The Giants open the second-half in St. Louis Friday to begin a three-game set with the Cardinals. Gausman will start Game 1 with DeSclafani and Johnny Cueto taking the other two games of the series. First pitch is at 5:15 p.m.
Before Sunday’s finale against the Nationals, the Giants optioned Beede down to Triple-A Sacramento and recalled left-hander Caleb Baragar. Kapler said the plan with Beede is to have him starting every fifth day in Sacramento. … The Giants aren’t ready to announce their starting rotation plans for after the All-Star break. … Tommy La Stella started his rehab assignment with Sacramento on Saturday and played five innings at second base. Mike Tauchman has also been rehabbing with the River Cats and is scheduled to serve as their designated hitter on Sunday. … Top prospects Marco Luciano and Heliot Ramos represented the Giants organization on Sunday at the MLB Futures Game held at Coors Field. … The MLB Draft kicks off on Sunday afternoon and the Giants have the 14th overall selection.
Steven Rissotto has covered the San Francisco Giants for SFBay since 2021. He is the host of RizzoCast, a baseball interview show featuring players, coaches, media and fans. He attends San Francisco State University and will major in Journalism and minor in education.