Contender or pretender? One team looks the part in SF Giants’ romp over big-pocketed Padres

Jakob Junis tosses 4 no-hit innings, Mike Yastrzemski homers in second game back to lead Giants’ 7-2 win

SAN DIEGO — The last time the Giants came here, one team was in the thick of a playoff race and the other was not. It was obvious. The seats were all taken. The game was lopsided. It was especially sloppy on one side.

That was a year ago.

The tables had turned on their first and only visit to America’s finest city, an oddity of the balanced schedule and two games in Mexico City.

Despite their struggles, the Giants entered Thursday’s series opener against the Padres with the slimmest of leads on a playoff spot, while the star-studded opposition — with the game’s third-highest payroll — had the same record as the team that sent Juan Soto to them last season.

And on the first day of Labor Day weekend, in front of more than a few empty seats, one team went down with a whimper, committed mental and physical errors, and generally played uncompetitive baseball while the other squad poured it on. To put it another way, one team played like a playoff contender.

The Giants won the first of four games, 7-2, after appearing to rediscover their mojo during a series win over the Reds. The Giants (70-64) reaffirmed their hold on the third and final wild card spot, increasing their lead to a full game over the D-backs and 112 over the Reds, who were both off.

It dropped the Padres (62-73) to a season low of 11 games under.500.

“It seemed like there was a little lack of energy,” said outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, who went 2-for-4 with a home run in his second game back after missing a month. “You could see it from the other side. I can’t think of a better way to put it. They didn’t appear to be playing their best, and we were able to capitalize on some of their errors.”

Jakob Junis pitched four scoreless innings and used all of his pitches before allowing a hit. Yastrzemski homered to left field, eliciting louder cheers from Giants fans than Padres fans, who initially thought Soto’s leaping attempt at the wall had been successful.

However, the disparities between the teams were most evident in the third inning.

The Giants batted around and opened a 6-0 lead, helped by a pair of Padres errors and a couple more plays that could have been classified either way.

The inning began with an error by first baseman Matthew Batten and was extended by Manny Machado’s second errant throw of the game (also credited to Batten), with two more runs scoring on a safety squeeze beat out by Wade Meckler when Ha-Seong Kim failed to cover first and a double from Blake Sabol that made it all of 20 feet into the outfield after it glanced off Xander Bogaerts’ glove.

When asked to summarize the third inning and all of its mistakes, manager Gabe Kapler asked the reporter to be more specific.

“Well,” he admitted, “there’s a lot.”

It was the best inning for a struggling offense since the previous meeting in the third week of June. The Giants scored six or more runs in one inning for the sixth time this season, but only the second time since Memorial Day.

“Big innings are just so critical to winning baseball games,” Kapler explained. “One-run innings are fine; two-run innings are excellent.” But when you put up those skewed numbers, it makes it very difficult to return. You’ll get a small cushion. It boosts the pitcher’s confidence, allowing them to get through the innings more easily.”

Four of the Giants’ five hits in the inning came with runners in scoring position, while the Padres struck out both times they threatened — with the bases loaded against Sean Manaea in the sixth and runners at second and third against Ryan Walker in the eighth.

Junis and Manaea finished their redemption arcs from difficult starts to the season by tag-teaming the majority of a two-run effort.

Junis, who was making his fourth start since July 31, didn’t allow a hit and only had two runners on base — a walk that he stranded and a hit batsman that he erased with an inning-ending double play — over four innings. He has a 2.53 ERA in 15 appearances since the beginning of July, including 1223 innings as a starter without allowing a run.

“It’s definitely not in my mind to go out there and throw no-hit innings,” Junis explained. “I’m just trying to go out there and throw first-pitch strikes, get the first guy out of the inning, get quick outs, keep the ball in the ballpark, and when you look up later in the game, if there’s no hits, there’s no hits.”

Junis and Kapler attributed his recent success to better incorporating his changeup into his standard slider-sinker mix. He threw the pitch ten times on Thursday, resulting in three called strikes and three foul balls, but no Padre batter put it in play.

“The slider was really working, but one of the things that makes Jake good is when he’s mixing his pitches,” Kapler explained. “It’s a nice pitch mix and a really good job by (Blake) Sabol partnering with Jake today.”

Pitching with his bushy hair tied back in a ponytail rather than flowing out of his hat, Manaea wasn’t quite as sharp, walking five batters and striking out on only half of his pitches, but he was still effective. He has a 2.55 ERA in nine appearances dating back to July 29.

“They’ve both been pitching really well for a while,” Kapler noted, adding that Manaea “wasn’t as efficient as he could be.”

With two outs in the fifth, Batten singled to right to break up the Giants’ combined no-hit bid — the third time this week their pitchers have entered the fifth without allowing a hit — and Garrett Cooper doubled home a run in the eighth to end the shutout.

Junis had 58 pitches when he handed the ball to Manaea to start the fifth inning, and Kapler — who had previously allowed Kyle Harrison and Alex Cobb to push their pitch counts in no-hitter bids earlier this week — said, “that was about all Jake was ready for today.”

The Giants announced that Tristan Beck would start Friday’s game, but with rosters set to expand on Friday, another young arm could be on the way. Keaton Winn was scratched from his Triple-A Sacramento debut. While no official announcements had been made following the game, Kapler confirmed that Winn and catcher Joey Bart were held out of Sacramento’s lineup because they were competing for the two extra spots.

Brandon Crawford (forearm) and John Brebbia (lat) are also candidates for activation as soon as Friday.

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