San Francisco Giants: Step forward Luis Matos

Giants fans were thrilled when the club signed South Korean superstar Jung Hoo Lee in the winter. San Francisco had seemingly secured their leadoff hitter for the next decade, a guy who got on base, didn’t strike out, excelled defensively, and would be in the lineup every day. Six weeks into the season, all signs pointed towards Lee being a success. There were some growing pains, as expected with any rookie in MLB, but by and large the Giants were overjoyed.

Then, all of a sudden, the unstoppable Lee met the immovable Oracle Park outfield fence, resulting in a dislocated left shoulder that would require season-ending surgery to repair Lee’s torn labrum.

Understandably, the Giants faithful were devastated. The handsome and genial marquee signing would be gone for the year, just as fans were beginning to embrace him.

Who would fill the void left by the absent Lee?

Step forward Luis Matos.

The 22-year-old Venezuelan outfielder was immediately thrust into the lineup by manager Bob Melvin and delivered instantly. Within a week of his call-up, Matos had become the Giants’ RBI machine, bringing his teammates home with astounding regularity.

In fact, Matos has already surpassed his 2023 season total for RBI: over 76 sporadic appearances during his rookie campaign, Matos collected 14 RBI. With just one week of games under his belt in 2024, Matos recorded 17 RBI. Last week, he led all hitters in RBI and tied for the NL lead in extra-base hits (5) and total bases (19) along the way.

Matos inflicted a large chunk of the damage in back-to-back games during a homestand against the Rockies. He had a pair of doubles in a 3-hit performance during the Giants’ 10-5 victory on Friday night, collecting five RBI along the way, before he added six more RBI on Saturday during a 14-4 demolition of their NL West rivals. Matos had a particularly memorable home run to kick things off in the big win, a 3-run, first inning bomb off former-Giants pitcher Ty Blach.

According to the incomparable Sarah Langs, Matos’ 11 RBI over this 2-game span are tied for the most RBI by a 22-year-old (or younger) with the likes of Joe DiMaggio (1937) and Johnny Bench (1970). That’s some elite company Matos finds himself in.

Matos’ amazing week was deemed worthy of winning MLB’s National League Player of the Week award, and made Matos the first Giants winner since Brandon Belt in 2018. Naysayers will say hey, it’s only one week, but it’s important we celebrate these moments in a young player’s career. The Giants have had rotten luck with their prospects in recent years, with very few of them panning out. So when a guy starts to show early signs he might stick around for a while, Giants fans need to revel in this.

Matos isn’t just a hot bat either; he delivers with the glove too, and has made some seriously impressive catches in centre field (which is not an easy thing to do in the spacious expanse of Oracle Park).

There’s no doubt San Francisco will miss Lee’s unique talents during his recovery but Matos has already helped ease some of that pain, immeasurably so. The silver lining behind Lee’s absence is the platform it now creates for Matos; he doesn’t have immediate competition in centre field and can really make that position his own this season. If he continues to play well, it will only help cement his place in the outfield for years to come.

The Giants desperately needed someone to pick them up after Lee’s injury.

Matos did exactly that, and in some style. Long may it continue.

Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on X (Twitter) @AshDay29

Photo credit for featured image by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

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