Is It Over Already?

Lots of tweets and commentary along these lines in the last 24 hours:

I’m not going into full-pessimistic mode yet, but the Giants finally got a full week to show who they were, and they did not show well.

One of the alarming stats to come out of 2017 is that the Giants only won 3 series away from home all season. Well, to start 2018, they have yet to win ANY series. They split with the Dodgers, split with the Mariners, split with the Dodgers again, and then lost series to both the Diamondbacks and Padres this week.

A 10 game win streak would be amazing and make us all feel better, but a more realistic quest is to put together a run where they split/win several series in a row. The challenge though, is they may be entering one of the toughest stretches of the season over the next two weeks:

  • In Arizona for 3 starting Tuesday
  • In Anaheim for 3 to face the Angels who are setting the world on fire right now
  • Home to face the Nationals 3 times
  • Home for 4 against the Dodgers (including a doubleheader)
  • Home for 3 against the Padres

16 games. Let’s play out a few circumstances:

  1. Best case scenario, based on what we’ve seen so far, is to go 8-8. That would put the team at 14-17, they would have Cueto, Samardzaija, and Will Smith back by then, and they’d be heading out on the road, but against “easier” competition.
  2. Really best case scenario, involving a vast improvement in at least a couple of areas, would be for the Giants to go 3-3 on the rest of the road trip, and then turn it on at home and actually win some series. Let’s 2-1 against the Nationals, 3-1 versus the Dodgers, and 2-1 against the Padres. That would put them at 16-15, and position them to stay alive until Bumgarner returns.
  3. Worst case scenario, and it feels like this is entirely possible, is for the Giants to continue losing series, especially on the road. 1-2 against LAA, 1-2 against Arizona, 1-2 against the Nationals, 2-2 against the Dodgers, 1-2 against the Padres. That sort of run would leave them 12-19 and in a world of trouble. That’s when the season might be over.

Power Ranking of Concerns

  1. Starting Pitching: The offense is getting a beating on twitter and talk radio. I get it. It hasn’t been pretty. But, it’s actually been better than last year and has shown signs. I still think they will be fine, but fine is consistently scoring 4-5 runs per game. That works if the starting pitching is on point, and it certainly has not been recently. There have been a few moments here and there, and Chris Stratton looks legit, but we are seeing the effects of having the 3 best starters spend time on the DL.
  2. Relief Pitching: The Giants could have a very good bullpen. Melancon at closer, Strickland and Watson for the 8th. Smith and Moronta (who has been a revelation) for the 7th. Gearrin to fill as needed. Blach as the long man. That could be an extremely effective pen. But, right now the depth is not there and so we are seeing too many innings from Dyson, Osich, et al. And one of the reasons we are seeing so many innings is the starters have not been good. These things are obviously connected.
  3. Brandon Belt: I know Belt gets the most heck from people of anyone on this team. But even Kruk and Kuip are on him these days, which is a bad sign. Dude needs to swing and miss at strike three at least.

The season is far from over, I’m not ready to burn the whole thing to the ground just yet. But the next two weeks are VERY critical.

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Four and Four

Let’s start with this!

Full disclosure: I was going to turn the game off. After Roberto Gomez (who really looks like the Giants just let some random guy be their 25th player) allowed the Dodgers 5th run, I was done. This was an all too familiar script: certainly this was a loss and a wasted Saturday afternoon/evening.

And then, baseball magic.

A couple global thoughts: do not change extra innings baseball. I appreciate some of the more innovative ideas being bandied about these days (the pitch clock for example), but don’t mess with extra innings. Extra innings are NOT the problem with pace of play and the time of games.

Second, 2017 really warped me (us). Again, the pattern of folding seemed all to obvious. This was a loss, there was no reason to hope. But, I think we all forgot how magical baseball is. It is magical.

Third, that was one of the best, maybe the best, at bat I have ever seen. Grant Brisbee gives a good run down here, but what I loved about the At Bat (other than the walk off home run part of it) was how it went from darkly ominous, to intriguing, to “we-all-know-what’s-coming” within the 12 pitch sequence. I can’t remember an at bat that changed directions so dramatically. After that dumb curveball for strike one, I thought for sure McCutchen’s great day was going to be a wash because of a strikeout in this big situation. By pitch 7 or 8, I thought we might get a sacrifice fly and tie the game. By pitch 10, I knew the game was over, it was just matter of when (pitch 11, 12, 15, 17, it was going to happen). It was amazing to watch the evolution and to physically see McCutchen gain the upper hand over the course of that sequence of pitches. Awesome.


Last weeks concern ranking:

  1. Starting Lineup
  2. Evan Longoria
  3. Andrew McCutchen
  4. Brandon Belt
  5. Bullpen
  6. Rotation
  7. New Coaches

This weeks concern rankings:

  1. Overall health of the team, and the 4 injured pitchers in particular
  2. Evan Longoria
  3. Starting Pitching
  4. Bullpen
  5. Center Field

For the record, I think Evan Longoria will be fine, and he should fade off these rankings in the next couple weeks. Some people are already clamoring for the Panda to take over: calm down. It’s been 8 games.

The offense had its moments, and is still a work in progress as different guys get going, but one VERY encouraging sign: Every position on the field has produced a home run. And the Giants are out homering their opponents 10-2, which is a supremely positive development.

It’s only 8 games, but I am starting to see some problems with the pitching staff. It’s been as good as one could hope for so far, and yet you can already feel the lack of depth creating a problem. The inability of any starter, other than Cueto, to pitch through a lineup 3 times is a problem. The extra strain that creates on a depleted bullpen is a problem. The four injured arms-men can’t get back soon enough!


The schedule has been weird so far, for everyone. Lots of repeat series in the early going for most team. Lots of days off. Rain outs, snow out, cold weather, it’s hard to get a read on the season given the lack of consistency thus far.

That being said, some teams are racing out ahead, and some are quickly racing to the bottom. That is no surprise because of the great disparity in 2018 between teams going for it and teams in rebuild/tank mode. I just didn’t expect it to show up so dramatically, so early.

Of course, the Giants are right in the middle with their 4-4 record. Is this a harbinger of things to come, or an aberration of a strange opening season schedule?

Who knows at this point, but one of those racing ahead teams now comes to AT&T for the next three days. Welcome your 7-2, first place, Arizona Diamondbacks. The pitching there is legit, so expect some low scoring affairs this week.

Thursday, the Giants head down to San Diego for a week four games, which means they will nearly double the number of games played by next Monday. We should have a slightly better read on this team by that point.


One last thing: Andrew McCutchen is so fun.

The Good and The Bad #weekinreview

If I were to power rank my concerns about the Giants heading into the season it would have looked something like this:

  1. Starting Pitching
  2. Bullpen
  3. Bench
  4. New Coaches
  5. Starting Lineup

This was before the roster was set and before the last minute rash of injuries. Even after both of those realities, I would have given the same rankings.

Then the Giants played the Dodgers four times in LA. Before the season started I outlined a possible way for the Giants to get off to a fast start, primarily by going 3-1 in this opening series. I would have easily settled for 2-2, which is what we got.

Anyone paying attention though, knows that this 2-2 feels entirely unsatisfying. Or maybe, the better word is unsettling.

Yes, the season got off to about as good a start as possible, and yet it feels less than good. It feels like disaster may be looming.

And now, after this opening series, for most Giants’ fans, the ranking or concerns look something like this:

  1. Starting Lineup
  2. Evan Longoria
  3. Andrew McCutchen
  4. Brandon Belt
  5. Bullpen
  6. Rotation
  7. New Coaches

In other words, the offense has been bad.

I would argue, though, it hasn’t been that bad. The Giants actually out hit the Dodgers 25-24. The Giants hit two home runs, the Dodgers only hit 1. None of this means a whole lot because the season has been so short, but the problem for the Giants was not hitting per se, it was getting the right kinds of hits at the right times.

And that is the one thing I thought, and still think, this lineup will be able to do. There are enough good hitters now that they should be able to survive with 3-4 going well at a time. Last year, especially, the Giants seemingly needed everyone to hit if they were going to score, there was no one to carry the load. This team is still built like that to an extent. Gone are the Barry Bonds days, where there is a legitimate threat every day, in every at bat. But this is a more than competent unit that should be able to score runs.

I do wonder how long it will take McCutchen and Longoria to settle in. Neither guy has ever been traded, never played for another franchise, so it might take some time to get right. Plus, the Giants slow played a lot of their vets in Spring Training. To go from easing in to the Dodgers rotation is a jump.

But they are better than this. I expect many more runs this week.

On the bright side, the pitching has impressed. I was satisfied with each starter’s turn. Blach and Cueto probably can’t do much better than what they showed, and Holland and Stratton can give a bit more, but this is what we should expect and it should be good enough for a month or two.

The bullpen had a few rough moments, but showed that there are some dangerous pieces, some potential to be a real strength. Tony Watson is legit. Hunter Strickland can take this closer role and own it. And the Giants have enough other pieces to be very competitive at the ends of games.

Now, time to hit.

3 More Days…

…until meaningful baseball. Something we have not experienced since, roughly, April 21 2017. That’s how bad it was last year.

And while things were looking hopeful this winter and spring, the events of the last couple days have left a dour pall over 2018. SI released their predictions today and not one writer picked the Giants to make the postseason.

While it seems virtually impossible to imagine the Giants remaining competitive without Madison Bumgarner (see 2017), every Championship Team the Giants have put together featured some aspect of the “they-could-never-win-without-that-guy-but-then-did” storyline.

If you had told me before the 2010 season the Giants would win the World Series without a significant contribution from Pablo Sandoval I would have laughed you out of the room. Partly because the Giants did not win World Series’ at that point, but also because the 2009 Giants were HORRIBLE with the bats, the Panda as the lone exception. There was no way they made the jump from mediocre to competitive without another big year from Sandoval.

In 2012, if you had told me the Giants would (a) lose Brian Wilson for the year, (b) have to send Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, and (c) rely on Barry Zito to pitch significant postseason games, I would have laughed you out of the room. (Not to mention, this team lost Melky Cabrerra half-way through the season, which, with the year he was having, seemed absolutely devastating at the time).

Finally, if before the 2014 season you would have told me the Giants would win the World Series without a major contribution from Matt Cain, essentially no closer, no Angel Pagan, and Travis Ishikawa starting meaningful games IN LEFT FIELD during the postseason I would have laughed you out of the building.

Please note that in each case you would have been exactly right.

In all three instances the Giants were able to overcome through some luck, their depth, timely acquisitions during the season that panned out well, and then the emergence of young studs (Posey and Bumgarner in 2010; Crawford and Belt in 2012; Panik in 2014).

So, crazy as it may seem, I am reaming hopeful to begin the season. The Giants are deeper than they were a year ago. There is still the possibility of mid-season aquisitions, and they are going to see if some young guys can emerge (looking at you Chris Stratton, Steven Duggar, and Tyler Beede).

The Giants need several things to break their way, but if they can stay a couple of games over .500 into June, they could be in good shape to make a push for the Wild Card.

I am also of the mind that the Dodgers are due for a regression. That may mean they “only” win 93 games, instead of 103, but they do not scare me the way some other teams do (namely the Astros and Yankees).

A massive key will be getting off to a strong start. I do wonder, again crazy as it sounds, how the Giants season would have been different last year if they had simply won that first game against Arizona. The way that they lost, with the bullpen meltdown, placed them too quickly back into the same conversation of the year before. I wonder, if they are able to hold on and win that game, how different things may have turned out. Probably not all that different with what we know now, but baseball is weird like that.

In the same way, if the Giants get off to a losing start in 2018, if the pitching is not sharp, and the defense kicks the ball around, and the offense sputters, the whispers of “nothing has changed” will turn to shouts and this thing could go into the tank before it ever gets off the ground.

Moving mast those mixed metaphors, let’s take a quick look at what a good start might entail:

  • Game 1, March 29th, at the Dodgers: Ty Blach vs. Clayton Kershaw…let’s be honest this is probably an L. But there are different kinds of L’s. Let’s assume the Giants score a few off Kershaw, maybe even take him deep a few times (Pence and Longoria, for example), and Blach is good enough to keep it close. That would be a good start in my opinion. Giants lose 3-2.
  • Game 2, March 30th, at the Dodgers: Johnny Cueto vs. Alex Wood…here’s where the Giants really need to make a statement. Alex Wood dominated them last year but I am still not impressed. They need to get to him early and often and Cueto needs to be on point. Giants win 7-2.
  • Game 3, March 31, at the Dodgers: Derek Holland vs. Kenta Maeda…Maeda is a nice pitcher, but the Giants know him and should be able to hit him. Derek Holland keeps the tradition of Giants’ lefties doing well against the Dodgers. This is the first game of the season the bullpen is really called on to seal a win. Giants win 5-4.
  • Game 4, April 1, at the Dodgers: Chris Stratton vs. Rich Hill…I’m not super excited about this matchup. It seems to favor the Dodgers in every way. But, here is where the Giants can really make hay to start the season well. Andrew McCutchen has a big day, Stratton’s curve ball is better than Hill’s curveball, and the Giants steal the series with a 5-2 victory.
  • Game 5, April 3, home against the Mariners…Ty Blach will get the opening day daily double, pitching the home opener too. I have no idea who will be starting for the Mariners, but again, here’s a significant opportunity for the Giants to make an early season statement. They skip the 5th starter position, and utilize a day off and the energy of their home crowd to get off to a 4-1 start.
  • Game 6, April 4, home against the Mariners…Johnny Cueto keeps the dominance going and the Giants move to 5-1.
  • Game 7-9, April 6-8, home against the Dodgers…yes, the Dodgers again. We will see them oh so much right out of the gate. Notice, there has been another off day, which again shields the Giants from using a 5th starter. The downside to this series: no Cueto. The upside, the Giants will throw two lefties, and potentially miss Kershaw! That being said, I feel like the Dodgers end up taking two of three, and the Giants fall back to 6-3. That is a fantastic start before they even have to call upon a Tyler Beede or Andrew Suarez.

The rest of April is no cake walk. The Giants will get the D-back six times, a 4 game series in San Diego (which always feels like a week), plus they see the Nationals and Angels, and THE FREAKIN’ DODGERS AGAIN at the end of the month. If they can go 10-10 over those games, they could be 13-10 by the time Jeff Samardzija returns.

If they can repeat a .500 month in May (27 games, so let’s say 13-14), they could be 26-24 by the time they can start expecting Madison Bumgarner back.

It may be a long shot, but something to root for!

2018 SF Giants Preview

Welp. I had a preview post outlined and ready to go for the 2018 Giants. It was about the improved lineup and defense, the potential for the bullpen to be decent, and it was especially focused on the massive year Madison Bumgarner was poised to have.

That was the formula in my head. A career best year from Mad Bum, Johnny Cueto back to his wiley ways, and then some league average performances from the rest of the rotation should have been enough to get the Giants to the Wild Card.

Then yesterday happened:

Well, shoot.

This, coupled with a Jeff Samardzija pectoral strain, has cast a dark shadow on the start of the season.

The good news is that there are still 162 games left to be played.
The bad news is they will lose 15-25 starts from 2 of their 3 best/most reliable pitchers.

So, what now? 5 Keys to Stay Competitive into June:

  1. Johnny Cueto, whom this site named the Most Important Giant for 2018, only becomes all that more important. He needs to pitch like a badass right out of the gate, and have a GREAT first half. We’re talking prime 2016 Cueto.
  2. Somebody else in the rotation needs to come out of nowhere and have a great 8-start run to begin the season. Derek Holland? Ty Blach? Chris Stratton? Don’t care who it is, but one of them needs a magic run to get the team off to a good start.
  3. The bullpen needs to go from serviceable to an absolute strength of the team. The Giants may be able to get through the lineup a couple of times with Holland and Blach and maybe the Tyler Beede’s of the world, but they are going to have several days where they need 10-15 outs from the bullpen. That’s asking a lot from a unit that has some question marks.
  4. Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, and Buster Posey need to earn their paychecks. No slow starts here. No “I’m just getting used to my surroundings” from the new guys. They need to mash, and they need to mash early and often.
  5. Finally, someone, and I’m looking at you Brandon Belt, needs to have a career year at the plate. If the 2018 Giants are going to be competitive, then this needs to be the long-awaited Belt breakout.

One interesting side effect to all this: the Giants will likely go with a 13 man pitching staff, and cut a position player (probably an OF), which makes the roster predictions a little different. So a final proposal:

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF (probably makes it since he could play OF in a pinch)
  9. Pence LF
  10. Jackson CF
  11. McCutchen RF
  12. Blanco OF (makes it as the ultimate backup guy…without the injuries I’m 100% Duggar makes the team to open the season)
  13. Cueto SP
  14. Stratton SP
  15. Blach SP
  16. Holland SP
  17. Beede SP (my guess is the Giants will stay in-house and see if they can get some starts out of Beede until Samardzija returns…it looks like there is not much room left with the addition of Blanco for another SP, and to be honest there is not a lot available anyway…my apologies to the Bartolo Colon lovers out there)
  18. Melancon CL
  19. Dyson R
  20. Strickland R
  21. Watson L
  22. Gearin R
  23. Osich L
  24. Fernandez R
  25. Law R (Now, here is where it gets interesting. The Giants could keep Gorkys Hernandez as a 5th OF, or they could go any number of ways with a pitcher: A guy they know well like Law, a guy the like such as Reyes Montoya, or a guy who could give them innings, like Andrew Suarez. My guess is they go with the guy they know well, hence Derek Law. Also, remember that at some point in late April/Early May Will Smith will return.)

One final note. I’ve heard some rumblings about a big trade for Chris Archer or someone like him. I’d be shocked by this for a few reasons. First, that kind of trade would officially rid the farm system of anything it has left. Second, I don’t see Tampa making that trade to start the season.

Finally, the Giants do have an opportunity here to stay somewhat competitive while finding out what they have in a lot of guys early: Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede, Josh Osich, and Julian Fernandez can all make the case that they are significant big leaguers. Gregor Blanco, Derek Holland, and Austin Jackson can prove they are indispensible pieces ready to help a good team.

We’ll see!

To add salt to our wounds: a tweet I completely agree with…

 

Early Returns

We are a couple of weeks into the spring and so we have stats. Taken with a grain of salt of course…this is spring training and it’s still very early…but, SWEET, SWEET stats!

So, while we will attempt to not read too much into any of this there are a couple of interesting develops thus far:

  1. Steven Duggar is hot. It sure sounded like the Giants brass wanted Duggar to crack the lineup at some point in 2018, and it also sounded like the door was open to the opening day roster heading into Spring Training, and so in a great carpe diem moment Duggar has responded. The defense has been there. The bat has been there. He looks like the real deal so far. Slash line: .412/.474/1.000, plus 3 home runs. Pencil him in!
  2. Somewhat out of nowhere, Mac Williamson has reasserted himself into the conversation. I really thought after the 2016 season that he was well set up to join the Belt/Crawford/Panik/Duffy parade of homegrown lineup additions, but he never got a fair shake (in my opinion) and was always hampered by injuries. Now, he has tried to revamp his swing and reinvent himself, and if his early success continues there just might be a spot for him on the 25 man roster. Meanwhile, Jarrett Parker, who I thought had the inside track on the 5th outfield spot, has already struck out 14 times in 21 at bats, while walking 3 times and homering once. Compare that to Williamson’s .429/.429/.952 with 3 home runs (no walks and 6 ks is not great either, but not as alarming as Parker). Williamson will have to continue to rake: his addition to the 25 man roster would require some maneuvers to bring L/R balance to the force, and he may need some time in AAA to keep working on the swing change. But, I still love his ceiling far more than other options (i.e Parker/Hernandez/etc).
  3. Finally, it is too early to get excited about relief pitchers, but the contenders for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation have not disappointed with their early efforts. Ty Blach, in particular, has been outstanding, striking out 7 in 5 innings. If he could somehow take a step forward in his development, he may actually be the Giants 4th best starter. I’ve really been thinking of him as a bit of after thought (more of a long relief, spot starter role), but if this keeps up he could help steady the rotation significantly. Derek Holland has looked good, second only to Bumgarner in strikeouts with 8. Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede have not been as dominant, but very solid, and Stratton in particular seems to be approaching this camp with confidence.

This next week we will start to see more regulars ramp up, and it will be interesting to see if any of these early developments turn into substantial story lines.

The Giants Keep Getting Better…

If the Giants have a repeat performance of their horrific 2017 season it won’t be because they did not try to improve.

They’ve already improved a great deal, and they did even more today with the signing of Tony Waton, a Jeremy Affeldt like addition to the bullpen.

And somehow they did this without screwing up their tax situation. To the tweets!

 

So, somehow the Giants signed a very good player, despite having very little room to do so, and still didn’t screw their cap situation. All of which is kind of amazing and perhaps related to this news.

As of right now, it’s very unlikely the Giants are able to make a deadline trade without dumping some significant salary. We have a long ways to go, but will be worth keeping an eye on once we get to June 1.

Let’s update our projected 25 man roster!

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF
  9. Pence LF
  10. Duggar CF
  11. Jackson OF
  12. McCutchen RF
  13. Parker OF
  14. Bumgarner SP
  15. Cueto SP
  16. Samardzija SP
  17. Stratton SP
  18. Suarez SP
  19. Melancon CL
  20. Watson LRP
  21. Dyson RRP
  22. Strickland RRP
  23. Gearin RRP
  24. Law/Fernandez RRP
  25. Black LRP
  26. Smith LRP

By all accounts, Will Smith won’t be ready until May 1, which means he starts the season on the DL. That probably allows the Giants a month to take a look at Andrew Suarez as the 5th starter, while keeping Ty Blach in the pen. If Suarez can’t cut it, Blach slides into the 5th starter role once Smith comes back.

There’s still a lot of fluidity here. Could Gregor Blanco sneak on to this roster? Will one of the other utlity infielders push Kelby Tomlinson aside? Who will really win the 4th and 5th starter roles? Does Derek Holland earn one of those spots? Who will take the Law/Fernandez spot at the end of the pen?

And, last but not least, will we see Timmy?