Crawford playing like an MVP candidate: 'He's not talked about enough'

Crawford playing like an MVP candidate: 'He's not talked about enough'

WASHINGTON D.C. — There was a time early in his career when Brandon Crawford was all too aware of the number .250. He batted .248 in his second full season, .248 the next year, and .246 the year after that. 

Hitting .250 is not what Crawford grew up dreaming of, but in a sport built on numbers, it’s an early milestone. From there, you can think of batting .275 as a big leaguer, or perhaps .300. Crawford, now in his eighth big league season, is skipping a lot of steps in the middle. With one of the hottest stretches in franchise history, he’s up to .338, and a legitimate contender for the batting title a season after batting .253. 

Crawford said he is not thinking about a batting title or individual accolades. “It’s June,” he pointed out, smiling. But when a player is going this hot, and when his team is on the kind of run that should keep it in contention, you can start to look at the big picture. 

After Crawford had four hits, three off of Max Scherzer, and provided the only runs in a 2-0 win over the Nationals, here’s where the paint has dried: The Giants have a shortstop who is a lock to return here for the All-Star game next month, a threat in the race for the batting title, and a legitimate MVP candidate as the season approaches the halfway point. 

“I think he deserves more credit than he gets,” said Derek Holland, Sunday’s winning pitcher. “He’s not talked about enough.”

There were a couple of players on the other side Sunday who annually get MVP attention and have been mentioned plenty already this season by the national media. Scherzer entered as the National League’s leader with 3.9 Wins Above Replacement, and he bolstered his resume by striking out nine over seven strong innings. Bryce Harper is a former MVP and annual candidate, and he hit his 19th homer during this series. 

But it is Crawford, not Harper — his former Fall League teammate — who finds himself near the top of the WAR lists that are so popular come voting time. Crawford entered play Sunday at 2.0 Wins Above Replacement, 10th in the National League, and he’ll wake up a couple ticks higher after a homer, two doubles and a single. He nudged his WRC+ to 150, which ranks him sixth in the league. Throw in his Gold Glove and you have one of the best players in the National League. 

This is where Crawford would tell you to take a deep breath. He is famous for rarely showing emotion on the field, and he wasn’t about to give anything away when asked about a scorching stretch that has reached six weeks. Since May 1, Crawford is batting .439 with 16 doubles, six homers and 27 RBI, but ... 

“A cliche is a cliche for a reason," he said. “It’s something I’ve at least always tried to do and done a decent job of, take every game one game at a time, whether it’s last year and we’re coming to the park late in the year and getting close to 100 losses, or this year, playing better. Every day is a new day.”

This day, the Giants admitted, was easy to pencil as a loss. Scherzer is the best pitcher in the league and struck out six straight at one point. He was facing a pitcher, Holland, who entered with a 4.91 ERA. But Crawford smacked a hanging cutter and Holland and a strong bullpen made the shot hold up. 

“It’s like he knew he had to be good,” Bochy said of Holland, “And he stepped up.”

Holland agreed with that, but only to a point. He gave all due respect to Scherzer, but then chastised himself for failing to go deeper in the game. Five shutout innings ended up being plenty. 

“I’ve got to go out and do my job,” Holland said. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”

That’s become a daily routine for Crawford. He took Gerrit Cole, an AL Cy Young contender, deep in May. On Sunday he repeatedly put Scherzer in his book, becoming the first Giant to get three hits off the hard-throwing right-hander. Crawford faced Matt Grace in the eighth, needing only a triple for the cycle. He smoked a double down the line that tapped the chalk and then briefly spun away from Juan Soto. It was then that Crawford made his only mistake of a day that otherwise could serve as a bullet point for an MVP case. 

“Right when I hit it I was thinking about (a triple) and I was running hard out of the box,” Crawford said. “I saw it curve and I was thinking it was going foul, so I slowed up a little, which might have cost me. I was a little disappointed (in myself) when I saw it got by him.”

As Crawford stood on second and stared in at the dugout, the scoreboard whirred. That average that once chased .250 climbed up to .338. Only Matt Kemp (.351), Scooter Gennett (.342) and Freddie Freeman (.340) have been better.

“It’s been impressive, to sustain the quality of at-bat that he has for this long,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s in one of those zones that good athletes get in and you ride it out. It’s been a long ride.”

Giants notes: On hot night in LA, McCutchen gets enough carry to tie the game

Giants notes: On hot night in LA, McCutchen gets enough carry to tie the game

LOS ANGELES -- Andrew McCutchen claims he's never really up at the plate looking for a home run. Even in the situation Wednesday, with the Giants trailing by three and two on ahead of him, he was just thinking about having a good at-bat. This one turned into a great one. 

The Giants fell 4-3 in extra innings, but McCutchen was the one who made sure this night got extended. He had one of his best moments as a Giant, smoking a three-run shot to center off Caleb Ferguson to tie the game in the eighth. The homer was McCutchen's 14th. He said he briefly thought it might be just a long fly ball. 

"I've played in San Francisco all year," he said. "You hit the ball pretty good sometimes and it doesn't go out. I was hoping it would carry out."

On a hot night at Dodger Stadium, this ball did, providing one of two big highlights on an otherwise sour night. The other came from Gorkys Hernandez, who threw Brian Dozier out at the plate with a 94.9 mph strike from center field. Dozier was initially ruled safe. 

"I saw Buster point to the dugout to try to review the play," Hernandez said. "When I saw the umpires go right to the side to see the replay, I said, we're going to have a good chance."

The Giants usually have it right in those situations. They're now 17-for-22 on replays, the best mark in the league. 

--- Here, in the game story, I wrote on a missed opportunity. 

--- If you're keeping track at home, the Giants are at .500 for the 23rd time. They have spent 72 days this season either .500, or one game above or below. 

--- In five second-half starts, Derek Holland has a 2.96 ERA, with 27 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. At some point, the focus will turn to bringing him back next season.

With a clean look at a sweep of Dodgers, Giants lineup comes up short

With a clean look at a sweep of Dodgers, Giants lineup comes up short

LOS ANGELES — About three hours before Wednesday’s game, Kenley Jansen jogged in from the visiting bullpen at a silent Dodger Stadium. He threw a simulated inning, the first step in his attempt to return from a heart scare. In the late innings, Jansen, for some reason, showed up on the steps of the press box, joking with team officials and local beat writers. 

Both times, his presence was a reminder of what the Dodgers were missing. Their closer, perhaps the best in the game, is on the sidelines, and their bullpen had no answers for three fascinating games with the Giants. The visitors took advantage twice, but on Wednesday, they fell short. 

The Dodgers once again tried to blow it, giving up three runs in the eighth, but in the 12th they prevailed on a sacrifice fly. After a 4-3 loss, Bruce Bochy turned to one of his favorite truisms. 

“Sure, you like to get greedy,” Bochy said.

The Giants very nearly finished off what would have been a standings-rattling sweep. On a night when the first-place Diamondbacks were idle and the second-place Rockies lost, they failed to pick up ground on all three teams ahead of them. Instead, for the 23rd time this season, they found the .500 mark. At 61-61, they are 5 1/2 games behind the Diamondbacks and four behind the Rockies and Dodgers. 

Bochy spun the 72 hours here as a positive, not so much because the Giants took two of three, but because of how they did it.

“The comebacks we had, the way we played, I’m good with it,” he said. 

The latest comeback came courtesy of Andrew McCutchen. He got a hanging curveball in the eighth and hit a high homer to dead center, erasing a three-run deficit with one swing. But on this night, McCutchen was just about alone in the production department. 

The Giants keep playing tense games in part because they have an inability to put opponents away early. Even a would-be blowout on Friday night ended with Will Smith in the game. Against Hyun-jin Ryu and a parade of Dodgers relievers, the lineup had just six hits in 41 at-bats. The 3-4-5 hitters — Evan Longoria, Buster Posey and Gorkys Hernandez — went a combined 0-for-15. The Brandons, together in the lineup for the first time in three weeks, had two hits in 10 at-bats. Hunter Pence had three hits, McCutchen the bomb. Otherwise, it was silent. 

Perhaps that will change in Cincinnati. McCutchen, the longtime Pirate, smiled as he talked of his many games at “the Great American SmallPark.” It’s a soft landing spot for hitters, and the Giants will need to take advantage. This was a road trip where they needed to make up ground, and while there was progress in Los Angeles, there’s still a long way to go. 

“We did what we were trying to do,” starter Derek Holland said. “We’re trying to gain some ground and being able to take two out of three is good. We’ve got momentum and we’ll try to take that to Cincinnati … this road trip can be big for us, so we’ll try to win as many games as we can and hope that these (other) guys beat up on each other.”

The Giants had a chance to strike one final blow on their way out of town, but other than one swing, they came up short.