Giants pushed for right matchups in finale but came up short originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
As they tried to get one last win, the one that would put them in the postseason, the Giants knew there was a lot out of their control.
They couldn't guarantee a Milwaukee Brewers loss, although that happened. They couldn't be sure that San Diego Padres manager Jayce Tingler would prioritize rest, although he did end up pulling Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. early. Nobody had any way of predicting an injury that would cost the Padres their designated hitter and mean that two relief pitchers batted in the late innings.
All of that broke the Giants' way, and they tried to make their own luck as they have all year. Manager Gabe Kapler and his staff have prioritized the platoon advantage over just about everything else when making the lineup and in-game decisions, and in some big spots Sunday, they pushed the right buttons.
Darin Ruf started against a lefty and got a first-inning at-bat. When the Padres brought in righty Dan Altavilla, Alex Dickerson replaced Ruf with a runner on in the third. When Dickerson's spot came up against tough lefty Tim Hill in the seventh with two on, Donovan Solano pinch-hit.
"We thought we chose, if not the highest-leverage spot in the game to deploy Solano, it was pretty close, and a platoon advantage matchup for us," Kapler said. "Obviously Dickerson hit in a big spot early in the game and we were going to look to get him as many reps as possible in that game. Darin Ruf got a platoon advantage early in the game. Those are things that we're always looking for."
This is how the Giants built their offense in 2020, and it worked. They went from ranking 28th in the majors in runs in 2019, and 29th the two previous years, to eighth. The Giants averaged 4.98 runs per game, a massive increase from their 4.19 in 2019. At home, they scored 2.1 additional runs per game.
On the last day, though, in their home park, the advantage didn't pay off. Sometimes there's only so much prep work you can do. You still have to come through in the big moments.
Ruf struck out. Dickerson flied out. Solano, who hit .350 against lefties, swung through a 92 mph fastball to end the seventh. The Giants even came up short without making a move in the sixth, when the Padres let righty Austin Adams face Brandon Belt with two on, a one-run lead, and an open base. Belt grounded out to first.
It was an ironic way to go down. The Giants spent all season chasing the right matchups, and they got several of them in big spots Sunday. They couldn't cash in.
"Even when players are put in their absolute best position to succeed, that makes them a little bit better at their job, but baseball is still really hard," Kapler said. "You turn a .300 on-base percentage into .375 or .400 and you're still going to make a lot of outs. We just have to stay the course, keep with the process, and over the course of time that'll net us more at-bat victories and ultimately more wins.
"It's not going to work every time. I'm certainly glad we were able to create platoon advantages for our players, but we also know that doesn't ensure success."