Hunter Strickland blows two-run lead in 'unacceptable' ninth inning

Hunter Strickland blows two-run lead in 'unacceptable' ninth inning

SAN FRANCISCO — The life of a closer is a brutal one. No matter how many games you save, no matter how many scoreless appearances you pile up, the bullseye will be squarely on your back when you falter and cost the team a game. 

For Hunter Strickland, there was always going to be an added degree of difficulty. Strickland has been one of the most durable and reliable relievers in the National League since a rough 2014 postseason, and he entered Monday’s game with a 2.01 ERA and 13 saves in 16 chances. He had converted 11 of his previous 12 chances, and the one misstep was more about the defense behind him. 

But many Giants fans have never forgotten 2014, or gotten over a fight with Bryce Harper. So when Strickland gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning and then exchanged words with the runner on third, the boos cascaded from the few left watching a Giants-Marlins game on a Monday night. Strickland, after a 5-4 loss was complete, was a harsher critic. 

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “(Andrew) Suarez went out and did a heck of a job. Sammy (Dyson) picked him up and obviously I let them down.”

A minute later, Strickland was more succinct. 

“It sucked in general,” he said. 

This was not the way the Giants wanted to return home. They spent three days in Los Angeles talking about how difficult the road schedule has been, but they did not take advantage of a cupcake on their first night back. Suarez was good, opposing lefty Caleb Smith lasted just four rough innings, and the Marlins kicked the ball around AT&T Park. But still, they were handed a win, once again coming back against the Giants, as they did all series last week while taking three of four in Miami. 

Strickland opened the ninth by walking Brian Anderson, a sin for a relief pitcher. 

“Can’t have that. That’s unacceptable,” he said. 

He hung a slider to J.T. Realmuto and the double cut a 4-2 lead in half. Justin Bour was walked and Reyes Moronta and Tony Watson started getting loose in a hurry. But Bruce Bochy stuck with Strickland, who had some easier matchups ahead of him. After a groundout, Lewis Brinson — hitting .179 at the time — lined a game-tying single into right. Miguel Rojas, another light hitter, curled the go-ahead hit down the line. 

Strickland’s night was done, but he was not. The first pitch to Brinson had been a heater up and in, and when the rookie responded with a base hit later, he joyously jumped his way down the line. Strickland took exception, and he chirped at Brinson, standing on third, as he walked toward the dugout. Strickland said he was just “in the moment.”

“I was not real happy with myself,” he said. 

The moment did not help Strickland’s cause, but he’s had them before, and he has pushed past them before. His job is to close, and for most of this season, he has done it very well. The Giants had been 31-0 when leading after eight. Bochy scoffed when asked if a change is needed in the ninth.

“You look at the job he’s done, there’s no reason to have a leash on him,” he said. “He’s really pitched well. The numbers show that.”

Manny Machado doesn't fit with Giants even if they clear infield space

Manny Machado doesn't fit with Giants even if they clear infield space

SAN FRANCISCO -- Around the country, MLB executives currently are having the debate. Is Manny Machado worth $300 million? Is he a better bet than Bryce Harper? Should we be wary of a player who had a postseason filled with questionable decisions, and openly admits that he isn't big on hustling?

The Giants won't have any of these discussions. 

They are one of the few big-market organizations out on Machado -- the star shortstop/third baseman -- from the start, and not because of financial concerns. 

Machado's preference is to play shortstop, and the Giants have a homegrown three-time Gold Glove Award winner who is signed through 2021 and is one of the franchise's cornerstones. Oh, and just in case you were tempted to try and get creative, Brandon Crawford has a full no-trade clause.

Machado probably should move back to third, where he was one of the best defensive talents the game has seen. At shortstop, he was simply passable, according to metrics and scouts. Even at third base, though, he is blocked in San Francisco. Evan Longoria had a down year, but he is signed through 2022, and that contract wouldn't be easy to move.

It's here that we should stop and acknowledge the most interesting part of the Machado/Giants conversation. He isn't a fit, but when the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi away from the Dodgers, multiple people familiar with his past work noted that one of his first orders of business will be to try and get out from under some contracts. One predicted outright that he will find a way to ultimately trade Longoria's contract. The more likely targets early on will be Brandon Belt and Jeff Samardzija, if the latter can prove he's healthy.

Sound unlikely? The Dodgers swapped bad salaries with the Braves a year ago and managed to stumble upon an All-Star season from Matt Kemp in the process. 

None of this makes Machado any more likely to wear orange and black. If Zaidi, who saw Machado firsthand last season, is able to find takers for some big contracts, he won't turn around and hand another player $300 million. He'll look for breathing room and flexibility. 

Machado will take up the biggest chunk of some team's budget, but even if the Giants had an open spot on their infield, Zaidi likely would back away. Don't forget what he said about the Giants' roster construction on the day he was introduced.

"The No. 1 thing that stands out to me is the importance of selfless play in baseball," he said. "We're in a baseball culture at an amateur level where there's a little bit of a showcase culture and a lot of emphasis on individual performance over the team. I think when you can create a culture where players put team over the individual, that can be a competitive advantage."

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Wednesday is dedicated to free agent infielder Manny Machado.
Why Machado's not worth it for the A's
Would Machado fit with rebuilding White Sox? 
Machado's talent worth betting on for Phillies
Yankees signing Machado would put pressure on Red Sox

MLB free agency debate: Where will Michael Brantley sign this offseason?

MLB free agency debate: Where will Michael Brantley sign this offseason?

Editor's note: Each day this week, Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross will debate where one of the top five free agents might land this offseason. Tuesday's free agent to discuss is Michael Brantley, an three-time All-Star outfielder who has spent his entire career with the Cleveland Indians.

ALEX: Ben, yesterday we went right to the top of the market and discussed Bryce Harper. If you're looking for outfield help -- and a lot of teams are -- it gets kind of sketchy after Harper.

Andrew McCutchen still is a good player, but he's no longer an MVP candidate. A.J. Pollock has had a ton of injury issues. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and others are really getting up there in age. But I'm intrigued by Michael Brantley, who has never really lived up to the hype because of his own injuries. If you're looking for a guy who has a moderate amount of pop and gets on base at a high rate -- hellooooo, Giants -- he could be your guy.

BEN: He might be a great fit for the Giants, but the A’s already have enough outfielders, for a fraction of the cost. What have you heard about the Giants’ interest in Brantley? Where else do you think he could end up?

ALEX: I haven't heard anything concrete regarding their interest, but I think he's an interesting case. On one hand, they've been burned over and over again by giving money to position players -- particularly outfielders -- in their 30s. But they also have two corner outfield spots open and desperately need established hitters.

Brantley, who has always been a good OBP guy, would fit in that respect. Perhaps Farhan Zaidi can pull a Chris Taylor or Max Muncy out of another organization, but if Brantley's price drops, he could be a fill-in for a couple of seasons.

I wonder if he'll end up with a team that missed out on Harper and still has that need. The Phillies could fit there. The Braves have been a rumored destination. Maybe the White Sox? Who am I missing?

BEN: I think he makes a lot of sense in San Francisco. As you mentioned, he has a great career OBP with decent power and speed. It looks like he'll probably get around $15 million per year, which is reasonable for a back-to-back All-Star.

I think the Phillies and Braves both make a lot of sense, especially if Philadelphia doesn't land Bryce Harper. Maybe the Nationals if Harper leaves? He also could be a nice A.J. Pollock replacement in Arizona, although Pollock plays center. How about the Rockies? Both Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra are free agents.

ALEX: It sounds like the Diamondbacks are rebuilding, and I think the Rockies need to spend that money elsewhere. This feels like a #MysteryTeam situation, but in the end, I'll go with a safe prediction.

I think Brantley ends up with the Braves as a Nick Markakis replacement, but the twist will be that it'll be a shorter deal. I don't believe the talk that last year's free agency dip was a one-year thing. I think the second tier of veterans again will struggle to get those long-term deals, so I'll put Brantley down for a two-year, $32 million deal. What's your call?

BEN: It sounds like the Braves are pushing hard for Brantley, so they're my prediction, too. As you said, they need a Markakis replacement. Brantley played his college ball at Coastal Carolina University, which isn't too far from Atlanta. While he's been a bit injury-prone, he's still just 31 years old. I'll say he gets three years, $45 million.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Tuesday is dedicated to free agent outfielder Michael Brantley.
How Brantley could help solve one of the Giants' biggest issues
Why the outfielder-rich A's should pass on Brantley
Does Brantley really fit the White Sox's long-term plan?
Brantley should be far down on Red Sox's free agent list
Phillies should pursue Brantley if they whiff on Harper
Could signing Brantley soften blow of Nats losing Harper?