The Only Solution to the Giants Bullpen Question

Ha ha, there is no answer to this question fool.

Possible answers, though, include:

  • This is the perfect even year destruction, created by the baseball gods for all the even year shenanigans the Giants have enjoyed.
  • This is all Taylor Swift’s fault for not releasing an album this year.
  • This is the biggest SF Giants troll of all time, and we’ll really be laughing about this at the end of October while watching another parade.

Jokes aside, there is no rational explanation for the 9th inning curse, and therefore no rational solution. These are 9th inning meltdowns turned into performance art. A theater of the absurd.

Last night, no one on the Dodgers did anything that amazing. Cory Seager had a good at bat against Javy Lopez, but hit a double play ball to no man’s land. Most of the meltdown is a strange combination of unfortunate luck and timing.

And yet, no one recorded an out in the 9th inning of last evening’s ball game. Which is to say: there was bad pitching involved.

But don’t try to understand it, don’t try to figure it out. Doing so will only send you to the brink.

Since there’s nothing rational about any of this, there’s only one possible solution and that solution is Joe Nathan.

Rationally, he would be my 5th or 6th choice to close games for this Giants team, but desperate times, man, desperate times.

Joe Nathan will forever represent one of the worst decision in Giants history. Joe Nathan’s absence (and subsequent ascent to top-5 closer) coincided with the last dark moment in Giants’ closer history. There’s a symmetry involved here.

Joe Nathan is the perfect reclamation story, taking the mantle up from Ryan Vogelsong and Travis Ishikawa.

Joe Nathan is the perfect, no-one-saw-that-coming, answer to the question that has no answer.

It’s poetic and beautiful and makes no sense, and therefore is the only thing makes sense.

Joe Nathan for closer, 2016.*

 

 

 

 

*or maybe Matt Cain.**

 

 

 

 

 

**or maybe…

Week [24] In Review (9/12-9/18) #sfgiants #weekinreview

The official autopsy of the 2016 SF Giants will reveal several causes of death:

  • There will be questions about the Peavy/Cain (remember those guys!) combo
  • There will be questions about the deadline trades (I’m still all in favor, but there will be questions)
  • There will be questions about fatigue and moral and chemistry and Buster Posey’s stamina
  • There will be questions about the ways the defense disappeared at times
  • There will be questions about the lack of power
  • There will be questions about the injury proneness of Joe Panik, Hunter Pence, and others
  • There will be questions about organizational depth (especially in light of the mid-season deals)

And there will be questions about the bullpen.

It’s impossible to blame (or credit, for that matter) a team’s failure or success to one phase of the game, and yet it is easy to write the epitaph of the 2016 Giants thusly:

  • They stunk in the 9th inning

Here’s the Giants 2016 record when trailing heading into the 9th inning: 0-57 (or something close to that, I’ve lost track)

Here’s how many leads the Giants have blown when taking a lead into the 9th: 9 (the most in franchise history).

This is highly unusual as even bad teams have a few come-from-behind-in-the-9th wins each season, and (as we already pointed out) no SF Giants has blown as many 9th inning leads.

There’s your story. There’s your season.

All the other stuff (the back-end of the rotation, the lack of power, etc) is true, but there’s no way around the 9th inning part of the conversation.

Here’s the other issue with the 9th inning meltdowns: they usually lose the next game too. Here’s a recent sampling just from September:

  •  9/4 in Chicago, Casilla blows 2-1 9th inning lead, Giants lose in extra inning, get shut out next day in Colorado.
  • 9/7 Giants blow 5-3 lead in 9th in Colorado, have off day next (PTL).
  • 9/13 Giants blow 4-1 9th inning lead against San Diego, lose the next day 3-1 (wasting a good Bumgarner start).
  • 9/17 Giants blow 2-1 9th inning lead against Cardinals, lose next day 3-0.

That’s 4 blown leads/games/wins, followed by 3 loses (and a day off).

Now, it’s impossible to say the Giants win all those games if they simply close the deal in the 9th.

But, let’s say they still drop the Labor Day game (that was always going to be tough coming off 4 draining games against the Cubs, flying to Denver, and playing early on Monday).

If they get those 4 saves, and win 2 of the next day’s games, they have a 1 game lead in the Division right now.

Just saying…

Looking Ahead: 13 games left, 6 against the Dodgers, plus the Giants are close to squandering the Wild Card Opportunity. There is very little room left to mess around. The only good news coming out of this week: the Dodgers played a long, frustrating (for them) game Sunday and may be a bit tired heading into today’s series opening. Of course, Kershaw starts for them, so there’s that.

Just for Fun: 

  • If the Giants go 13-0, the Dodgers can finish no better than 7-6 for the Giants to take back the division
  • If the Giants go 12-1, then 6-7 for LA
  • 11-2, 5-8
  • 10-3, 4-9
  • 9-4, 3-10
  • 8-5, 2-11
  • 7-6, 1-12
  • 6-7, 0-13
  • 5-8 or worse and the Giants have no mathematical chance

Hitter of the Week: Posey and Pence get mad props for coming to play all week. Both guys brought their A games, and put the Giants in a position to win most of the games the team played, but, oh well.

As an aside: Gorkys Hernandez should get a look at a 25 man roster spot next year. Not saying he should play every day, but he could be a nice, right-handed version of Gregor Blanco.

Pitcher of the Week: one question no one should ask this offseason is if the Giants did the right thing in signing Johnny Cueto. He’s been better than Zack Grienke. He’s been better than David Price. He’s been totally worth it, and he was again this week in his brilliant start against the Cardinals.

Final Thought: I almost don’t care if the Giants go 0-7 this week (oh, who am I kidding, that will make very grumpy). If they do, though, may they simply be blown out. May none of the loses be the result of 9th inning buffoonery.

Week [23] In Review (9/5-9/11) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Welcome back to the pennant race Giants.

The Giants got kicked in the gut big time twice in the last 7 days (Sunday, the 4th in Chicago, and then again on Wednesday night in Colorado), and after the second meltdown I thought it might be over.

It may yet be over, but it doesn’t feel like it today.

It feels like maybe, just maybe, they’ve unlocked something, and good baseball will start to flow once again.

What I want to do now is look at the remainder of the season and make a bit of a forecast (starting today where the Giants sit 77-65, 3 games behind the Dodgers):

  • 3 games at home against the Padres (It seems like perfect symmetry/baseball justice, for the Giants to sweep the Pads this week. After all it was the Padres series to start the second half and that launched the Giants into their funk. I hate predicting sweeps, but that’s kind of what needs to happen so…80-65. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way to New York to face the Yankees, they’ll drop 2 of 3, 82-63.)
  • 4 games at home against the Cardinals (This is a huge series in terms of the Wild Card race. The Giants could potentially put the Cardinals out of the race by the time this series is over…that’s being extremely optimistic, and on the other hand, the Cardinals could very much assert themselves here to the Giants demise. These are two proud teams, and with the Giants missing Madison Bumgarner in this series, I see a split coming: 82-67. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way back to the West Coast and play four in Arizona, where they too will split the series: 84-65.)
  • The Giants head back out on the road for the last time, starting with three games in LA. They should have Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore lined up to go for these big three games. Again, I hate predicting sweeps, but I want to stay positive: 2 of 3, 84-68. the Dodgers, obviously would drop 2 of 3, being a little tired after the travel of the week: 85-67).
  • The final road series takes the Giants to San Diego. Remember: the Giants were 9-0 against the Pads until the post-all-star fiasco. If they can continue the dominance they could potentially sweep this series. Weird things happen in San Diego and this is the end of a road trip and the end of a stretch of over two weeks without a day off. I’ll go conservative here and predict a spilt: 86-70. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finish their home season with four against the Rockies. This is the one place in the schedule where it seems the Dodgers are set up to make up ground. I’ll say they take 3 of 4: 88-68.)
  • The Giants close the season with six home games, and isn’t interesting that I stated the importance of asserting themselves at home as a significant theme for the year. They will need to go 5-1 to capture the division back, and I believe they’ll get off to a good start with a sweep of the Rockies. Meanwhile, the Dodgers will get ambushed by the Padres, losing 2 of 3. Both teams will sit at 89-70 to start the series. A series the Giants will win by taking two of three to finish 91-71.)

Let’s summarize: 20 games left, a 14-6 close to the season (17-6 if you include the sweep of the D-Backs this weekend). Why is this possible?

  • First, he offense is finally starting to get going. This may be too much to ask, but everyone contributed this weekend in Arizona: Span and Pagan homered, Posey had some great at-bats, Belt came up with a couple huge hits, Panik and Crawford continued to produce as normal rates, Nunez looks like he’s in the middle of hot streak, and there are no ends to the superlatives one could heap on Hunter Pence for the series he had. It’s been amazing that the Giants have gone such a long time essentially rotating one hot hitter at a time. The law of averages seems to say they are due for a stretch where multiple guys hit at the same time. Now is the time!
  • Second, the starting pitching continues to deliver, and Matt Moore, in particular, seems to have figured something out. The rotation has four more turns to keep this going. Meanwhile, the bullpen, sans Santiago Casilla, has actually been pretty good. Derek Law should return this week, setting up a nice little debate: who do you want closing games down the stretch, the guy who has been great all year (Law), or the guy who seems to have the hot hand right now (Strickland). Honestly, Strickland scares me a bit because he can give up a home run with the best of them, but his last couple turns have been dynamic, so let it ride I guess.
  • It’s a simple formula, but the Giants have been so good at losing games (bad pitching when they hit, and no hitting when they pitch, some bullpen implosions for good measure) that I believe it will continue to turn around, and translate back into winning games.

Hitter of the Week: No brainer here…hello Hunter Pence! 12 hits, 4 walks, a home run, and 8 runs scored! It’s the walks that are the most encouraging sign…when Pence is right, as he was several years ago back at the beginning of the season (that’s an intentional sentence) his eye was exceptional. He is locked in and playing with passion, and that’s the kind of thing that can propel this team in a positive direction (as we’ve seen several times over the past 4 years).

Pitcher of the Week: Matt Moore had an incredible game on Sunday, but that has to be balanced with his tough start on Monday. It was a Coors start, and he was undermined by Brandon Crawford missing a ball he catches 99% of the time, but he also walked the 8th and 9th place hitters (one of them was trying to bunt too), and so painted himself into a corner. It seems the only thing holding him back, though, is this occasional spell of wildness. I’m going to give the POW to Jeff Samardzija who continues to pitch incredible well down the stretch, something that seems to be under the radar. His last 5 starts he gone 31 innings, striking out 30, with a 2.90 ERA, and only one home run allowed.

This is going to be a great final three weeks. Buckle up. Who needs football?!

Week [22] In Review (8/28-9/4) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Once again, it is hard for me to come up with something to say about this stretch of the season. I will say this: the Giants are competing. They aren’t laying down. But they are coming up short more often than not.

If there is any encouragement from the last week, they hung with the Cubs. They could have easily swept the series, and they could easily have been swept. That’s the frustration of 1-run games. They’re in it, but right now they are just not doing enough to get wins, even in close games.

So, instead of getting into all that: two significant questions both for the rest of the season and moving forward into 2017.

1. A question about Buster Posey.

No one wants to go there and when the subject is broached it is usually quickly shot down, but this is the third straight year where Buster Posey has worn down as the season has gone on. This is not really a criticism of Posey. He’s a catcher, this is what happens. This is more a statement of reality.

One of the things that will always stand out to me about the 2014 postseason run was that Posey did very little with the bat. We’re seeing a similar thing right now. Again, can’t blame a guy for struggling to hit, and especially for power, when he’s so beat up, but it is a glaring issue.

The argument is that Posey is far more valuable as a catcher than any other position. And it’s true: what Posey brings in terms of defense, pitch framing, working with pitchers, and then being a middle of the order hitter is a rare gem of a quality. It’s what made the Giants lineup successful for the last 6 years.

But one has to wonder how much longer this can go on.

One other significant issue: first base is claimed by Brandon Belt for a while. That extension had as much to do with the Giants confidence in Posey as anything else.

But, now that Matt Duffy is off to Tampa, is there a spot for Posey over at third (he was a shortstop before moving behind the plate)?

2. A Question About the Closer

Obviously, many fans are ticked at Santiago Casilla for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was yesterday’s blown save.

The problem with moving on from Casilla now is that there isn’t a great option. I would have been all in with Derek Law by now if he was healthy, but alas, he is not.

Hunter Stickland was the presumed closer of the future, but the team doesn’t seem confident in him in that role, and neither do I. I like Strickland a lot, but he leaves far too many pitches in the fat part of the zone to inspire the needed confidence. He would also benefit from a nasty secondary pitch.

I have a feeling that if this season ends in tragedy the Giants will spend some money on the bullpen, and the closer slot in particular, something they haven’t done since Armando Benitez.

Looking Ahead: The long road trip from hell continue in Colorado today. Then off to Phoenix. This week scares me and yet these are beatable teams and winnable games. The Giants could really use a 4-2, 5-1 week, so go get ’em!

Week [21] In Review (8/22-8/28) #sfgiants #weekinreview

As with all things 2016 Giants, this is a hard week to recap. The cold, hard facts: the Giants fell another game back of the Dodgers (they start this week 2 in the hole, versus 1 at last week’s writing).

And yet, this feels better. I can’t totally explain it, but it feels like the corner has been turned.

In the end, the Giants may look back on this week, and in particular, on the 1-0 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday night, and wonder about that Brandon Crawford deep fly out in the 8th inning. If that ball goes 5 more feet, and the Giants win that game, how different does this year turn out?

Who can know, but we can say that the Giants got 4 quality starts, won 3 of them, and seem to be waking up with the bats. If nothing else they took some frustrations out on the hapless Braves and sometimes you need that to get it going.

Our two key players for the Dodgers series, Buster Posey and Matt Moore, did well. Buster didn’t hit any home runs, but hit over .400 for the week and is doing his best with all dings and bruises he’s dealing with.

And Matt Moore was magnificent. He was pitching under the worst case scenario we described last week (sweep prevention), and he nearly threw a damn no-hitter. Welcome to San Francisco, Matt.

I was at the game on Friday night: Samardzija pitched well, there was a home run (a lot more of those this week!), and the Braves looked every bit the last place team that they are, but the thing that stood out to me, and it was a repeated theme this week: the defense is back.

Brandon Crawford made several outstanding plays at the game I attended, and Panik, Belt, Span, and Nunez added their own gems throughout the week.

That is a very good sign.

Week in Review: 1 of 3 from the Dodgers in LA, 2 of 3 from the Braves in SF. 71-59, 2 games back in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: Posey hit .444 for the week, but Joe Panik welcome back to earth old friend. He hit .375 with 3 home runs, 8 rbi, and 4 walks. If Joe can turn this into an extended good run, the Giants are going to be in fine shape.

Pitcher of the Week: It’s nice to have some choices this week, but it’s a no-doubt tip of the cap to Matt Moore, who not only got a big win, but did it in dominant fashion. No one was asking for a no-hitter, but he nearly provided it.

There’s been a lot of rightful debate about leaving a post-tommy-john pitcher in for 130 pitches, and I do have my own concerns about that, but in Bochy’s defense, the team needed it. And Matt Moore needed it. And I always feel better about 130 pitches when a pitcher is locked in and repeating his mechanics, than 100 pitches on a day when it’s a struggle. To me those are different things.

Looking Ahead: Another weird week schedule-wise. It feels like I’ve written that several times this year. A day off today, at home, then two more in SF against Arizona. Strange to have a 2 game series with a divisional opponent. Then 4 in Chicago. Yikes. Especially, yikes, because they back that up with three in Colorado. The pitchers need to eat their Wheaties this week.

Go Giants, and Go Rockies (BEAT LA).

Week [20] In Review/Week [21] in Preview #sfgiants

I am getting tired of trying to explain the buffoonery we’ve been watching since the All-Start break ended, so today we are going to focus on the future, and some keys to a critical week in the season.

One thought of hope to act as our week in review: it is getting better. Slowly and still painfully, but better.

This week is huge, obviously, because we get the first of the 3 remaining series with the Dodgers. That’s 9 more games where the Giants hold their destiny in their own hands. I don’t trust their hands right now with their destiny, but these games are happening whether we want them to or not.

One of the interesting things about the last 6 years is that for the most part both the Giants and Dodgers have been very good. They’ve spent money, made big trades, have stars and talent, and yet it hasn’t felt like a rivalry.

This is not a Giants’ fan making a dig at the fact that the Dodgers haven’t won a world series while the Giants have won three. There’s plenty of time for that.

It’s more just a statement of fact, and I think it has to do with the fact that both teams have been successful, but not really at each other’s expense. In 2010 the Giants crushed the Padres hopes, and in 2012 and even in the 2014 the Giants and Dodgers avoided knocking each other out contention.

This is really the first time where the stakes are high and these two teams stand in each other’s way. There’s still a very good chance the division loser makes the wild card, but for some reason that feels like a significant defeat. Perhaps it’s because the Giants have frittered away such a large lead.

Whatever it is, 2016 is shaping up as either an opportunity to further mock our LA friends, or really, really hate the Dodgers. And that makes it kind of fun!

Series Preview: The “big story” is the Giants are skipping the 5th starter spot to lineup Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore for this three game tilt. The other big story is that this allows the Giants to throw two left-handers against the Dodgers lefty heavy lineup.

Remember, also, this is part of the reason the Giants made the trade for Matt Moore. Matt Moore’s day of reckoning is Thursday. He can erase any questions about the trade by shutting the Dodgers down.

The Dodgers counter with Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill (finally making his debut), and TBD. Those first two are formidable opponents, but this sets up well in the Giants favor. Taking less than 2 of 3, even in LA, would be disappointing.

The Giants get to come home and beat on the Braves over the weekend, while the Dodgers have to do battle against the Cubs, so there’s good potential for this to be a big swing week.

Key Pitcher of the Week: I want to pick Santiago Casilla because the bullpen is going to be important and will need to be on against the Dodgers, but the key really is Matt Moore. He will be starting under one of the following conditions:

  • Pitching for a sweep (and a 2 game division lead)
  • Pitching for a series win (and to tie for first)
  • Pitching to avoid a sweep (and avoid falling, gasp, 4 games back)

Any one of those scenarios will be significant. He’s also pitching against a front office that knows him well, so he will need to make adjustments and bring his control of the strike zone with him to the office on Thursday.

Hitter of the Week: This may seem too obvious but Buster Posey needs to hit well against the Dodgers. A big Buster series takes the pressure off, and one big problem for the Giants right now is you can see Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Joe Panik trying to do too much in every at bat. Those dudes need to chill, and Buster going off will do wonders for their chill factors.

That’s all I got this week. It’s time to win games. Go Giants.

Week [19] In Review (8/8-8/14) #sfgiants #weekinreview

I have no idea what to say today. Part of me wants to write about the positive signs, because there were many this past week: better starts, better offense, better bullpen (until Sunday).

Part of my wants to burn AT&T to the ground, because this team should not be allowed to play baseball anymore.

The week highlights the fundamental issue with this team: each facet of the team is pretty good except when it isn’t.

At times the rotation has been outstanding, the backbone of success. But the Giants have given a lot of starts to Matt Cain, Jake Peavey, and Alberto Suarez. Jeff Samardzija has been brilliant AND horrible. Madison Bumgarner is having a career year but didn’t win a start for almost a month.

At times the lineup has been outstanding, even carrying the load during different swings. But it’s also been banged up, some guys have been mired in inexplicable slumps for extended periods, and certain guys (hey there Denard Span) can look great one day and then go 0-14 the next 3.

The defense has been, maybe, the most consistent force for good all year, but there have been some glorious meltdowns, and Angel Pagan still plays in the field on a regular basis (which is not a good thing).

And then the bullpen: oh sweet bullpen. Just when Bochy was starting to follow my advice (see last week’s post), just when roles and expectations were clarifying, just when it seemed like the ‘pen was taking the place of “most confidence inspiring,” yesterday happened.

And so, I just don’t know.

This is a good baseball team, except when it isn’t.

Week In Review: 2 of 3 in Miami, and 1 of 3 from Baltimore. 66-51, still, somehow 1 game up in the NL West.

Hitter of the Week: No question this award goes to Brandon Crawford who accumulated a week’s worth of hits (7) in one incredible game. Crawford’s name has come up several times in “overall best player in baseball” conversations. No one is saying he is the best, but who ever imagined that he would even be in the conversation. Remarkable.

Pitcher of the Week: Madison Bumgarner had a great start the other night, and finally got credit for a win, but we’re going with Jeff Samardzija. Shark had been struggling with control and the home run ball, but to hear some of the guys who follow the team closely, there were predictions of a turn around. It appeared to start in his last turn where two things happened: better control (still walked 3, but seemed to leave less pitches out over the plate), and the return of the curve ball (too much hard stuff was making life too easy for opposing batters). Keep it up Jeff!

Looking Ahead: the long home stand continues with 3 against Pittsburg and 4 against the Mets. Keep putting the positives together!

Oh, any maybe it’s time for Derek Law to take over the 9th?