Bob Melvin

Giants' worrisome stolen base disparity highlighted after being swept

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ST. LOUIS -- The Giants knew they would not be a fast team this season. They tried to add athleticism in free agency and open up lanes for young players to win jobs, but there's only so much overhauling you can do of a philosophy in one winter, and when Jung Hoo Lee went down to an injury, they lost their greatest infusion of speed.

What they did not expect was that the speed gap with their opponents would be so large on a daily basis, especially because they are building around a young catcher who might already be the game's best defender behind the plate.

The St. Louis Cardinals stole four bases Sunday while handing San Francisco a sweep, continuing an alarming trend. It was the third time on the 1-5 road trip that the Giants allowed opposing runners to steal at least three bases. They've done that themselves just twice all season. 

Through 78 games, San Francisco has allowed an MLB-leading 86 stolen bases, and the pace is headed in the wrong direction. Their pitchers have done a poor job of holding runners all season, and it didn't take long for the opposition to pick up on that and start punishing them. 

In June, baserunners have attempted 26 stolen bases on the Giants. They have been caught just once, a wholly unacceptable rate no matter who is behind the plate, but especially when you have a catcher like Bailey.  

"We have to be better about it, and I'm part of that as well as far as throwing over and putting in slide steps," manager Bob Melvin said on Sunday. "You have to kind of balance the enormity of a particular pitch versus you want a guy to be a little bit quicker. There's a lot to it, but we definitely have to be better about it. That's been one of our deficiencies this year, for sure."

It is one that is costing them dearly at a time when they have other flaws that will be much harder to fix.

The Cardinals stole three bases in the first two innings Sunday as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Alec Burleson got his biggest jump of the year in the first and swiped second without a throw, which allowed him to be sent home on a ground rule double later in the inning. In the second, Cardinals catcher Pedro Pages stole his first career base and scored two batters later on Burleson's two-out single to center. Burleson promptly took off for second and stole it easily. 

The Pages steal led directly to a run that wouldn't have scored otherwise. That hurt when the Giants cut the deficit to 4-3 in the top of the eighth. 

Logan Webb has always had trouble holding runners and it's something he worked on all spring, but he reiterated Sunday afternoon that he has "got to get better at it." Webb said he just got into a rhythm and St. Louis started taking off before he had even started his delivery. 

"I let a catcher steal on me today," he said. "It's just bad. Not good."

The problem is nearly universal for the staff, which ranks 28th in Baseball Savant's metric for tracking how well pitchers prevent runners from taking extra bases. Late-innings right-handers Camilo Doval and Ryan Walker have allowed 13 combined steals in as many attempts. Runners are perfect in nine attempts against Blake Snell and eight against Jordan Hicks, who was hit twice on Saturday. 

The two runners who stole on Hicks came into the game with five combined stolen bases. Both got huge jumps, and Melvin noted that the Cardinals might have had something on Hicks' delivery.

"There's a lot of information teams get now on maybe just a slight head tip or something that could turn a guy that's 1.3 (to the plate) into 1.6," he said. "With the two guys that ran (Saturday), I think it was more that they had something on him that they felt like they could early-break on him, and they did early-break on him."

San Francisco had a long and quiet flight home on Sunday to try and find some fixes. They have just 25 stolen bases of their own, eight fewer than the next-closest team, and as the season has started to spin away, it at times feels like their competitors in the Wild Card race are quite literally running away from them.

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