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.”

Crawford does the heavy lifting, and the little things, in Giants win

Crawford does the heavy lifting, and the little things, in Giants win

SAN FRANCISCO — Quietly, Brandon Crawford spent much of his day saving teammates.

When Nick Hundley’s throw down to second in the fifth inning drifted, Crawford deftly moved a few feet off the bag, grabbed the ball and placed a nifty tag down on Manuel Margot to erase a runner in scoring position. In the seventh, Pablo Sandoval had trouble finding a two-out pop-up into the midday sun. Crawford, his glove shielding his eyes, kept creeping and creeping until he was standing in Sandoval’s place at third, and he gloved the ball to end the inning. An inning later, Tony Watson got what looked like a double-play ball back to the mound, but his throw to second was low. Crawford did well to scoop it, getting the lead runner out on a force play. 

Then there were the contributions that were impossible to miss. 

Crawford broke an 0-for-18 mini-skid with a scorched triple off the wall in the fourth inning. That brought Andrew McCutchen home with the game-tying run. Two innings later, the likely All-Star starter went the opposite way for a two-run double that would hold up in a 5-3 win over San Diego. 

On many days, Crawford might weigh the offensive and defensive contributions equally. But when you’re riding a mini slump … 

“I always want to make plays out there for sure, but when you’re 0-for…I don’t even know, I’m not going to lie, the triple and doubles felt better today,” he said, smiling. 

They were sorely needed, too. The Giants were caught off-guard when Jordan Lyles was a late scratch with elbow tightness, and they struggled against hard-throwing lefty Matt Strahm until Crawford broke through. He said he had seen signs in recent days that his swing from May and early June was returning.

“You just know him. You know it’s a matter of time,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “What a great game, and we needed it. We needed someone to come through. This guy was throwing well…when you’re in a game like this you need someone to deliver and Craw did it.”

The contributions backed Andrew Suarez, who continues to get better and better and show signs of his maturity on the mound. Suarez discovered early that his slider had abandoned him, so he teamed up with catcher Nick Hundley to go sinker-changeup heavy. That led to three double plays in the first four innings. 

Crawford was in the middle of those, and so much that went right on this day. But he’s a bit of a perfectionist, and the ending of this one stuck with him. Crawford was one of three Giants who couldn’t get under a high pop-up to center in the ninth that dropped for a sun-aided double. His throwing error on a tough roller led to some anxiety as the Padres tried to come back. 

“It’s frustrating, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I’ve always said I try to not take at-bats to defense of defense to at-bats. I try to separate things. Obviously I want to go 3-for-3 any day but I wanted to make those plays.”

They were minor blips on a day that otherwise showed all the reasons why Crawford very likely will be starting for the National League All-Star team next month, and they won’t cost him any sleep. Not during a week when his wife gave birth to the couple’s fourth child, a second Crawford son. 

“A little tiring for a couple of days,” Crawford said of his week, “But they’re still in Arizona, so I’m getting good sleep right now.”

Crawford's big day paves the way for Giants in win vs Padres

Crawford's big day paves the way for Giants in win vs Padres

SAN FRANCISCO — Padres starter Jordan Lyles was a late scratch Saturday because he felt the dreaded forearm tightness while warming up. The change happened so late that nobody even knew about the injury until lefty reliever Matt Sarah started warming up in the top of the first inning.

The Giants faced a steady stream of relievers, but that didn’t mess with Brandon Crawford. In his third game back from paternity leave, Crawford drove in the first three Giants runs in a 5-3 win over the Padres. The Giants have taken two of three in this series and four of six on the homestand.

--- Crawford sat in the high .330s with his batting average on the last road trip, but he was hitless in 18 at-bats when he strolled to the plate in the fourth. He smoked a triple off the wall, scoring Andrew McCutchen. The triple was Crawford’s second of the season. He was stranded on third. Crawford’s two-run double in the sixth put the Giants on top for good. 

--- Andrew Suarez did a nice job before being lifted with two on and two outs in the sixth. He scattered eight hits, getting out of trouble by inducing three double plays in the first four innings. Suarez was at just 76 pitches when Bruce Bochy came out and called for Reyes Moronta, who immediately gave up a rocket to center field. Gorkys Hernandez was there, making a running catch to end the inning. 

--- Reyes Moronta threw a 99 mph fastball to A.J. Ellis in the seventh inning that was the fastest pitch by a Giant this season. Moronta, of course, held the previous high, at 98.9 mph. 

--- In his return to the big leagues, Austin Slater got robbed of a double, but still got a sacrifice fly. He became the first Giants outfielder to drive in a run as a pinch-hitter this season. Really. 

--- File this one away for Sunday: Phil Maton came up-and-in on Andrew McCutchen and then hit him with the next pitch. McCutchen popped up with his arms outstretched, but then calmly took his base.