Brandons and Other Things That Are Good #sfgiants #weekinreview

Thanks to exciting wins on Saturday and Sunday, the Giants turned a potentially disappointing week into something kind of awesome. They started off the week by taking the first 2 of a 3 game series from the lowly, lowly Reds. Then they botched up game 3 and subsequently fell flat in games 1 and 2 of a 4-gamer versus the Rockies.

But, again, those final victories gave the Giants a 4-3 home stand, kept their record at .500 and…wait for it…put them only two games behind Arizona for FIRST PLACE IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST.

What is happening?


First, the Giants strange schedule, along with baseball’s plethora of tanking teams, mixed together with some heavy favorites being banged up and struggling (looking at you Dodgers and Nationals), has meant that it is has been really hard to evaluate how good the Giants actually are.

At this point, though, it is fairly safe to say: the Giants have a good offense (a case made this week by Andrew Baggarly – subscription required), a decent bullpen, and they could use some help in the starting rotation.

Second, the Giants have been very inconsistent. It’s been a feast or famine season. Which means they’ll lose a few in a row, then win a few in a row. They’ll have stretches where they don’t score, and then stretches where they score in bunches. That makes the consistency we all crave hard to come by.

Third, the Giants are playing in a tight division race. Here’s where it gets really interesting. 6 games separate the first place Diamondbacks and the last place Padres. That is easily the closest division in baseball. The next closest has an 8.5 game separation (and note that this is the AL Central where the first place Indians aren’t even over .500 at the moment). Most divisions are 10+ games, and a few stretch into the teens already.

The Dodgers are starting to win more, but they are still massively hurt and, at the very least, it seems highly improbable that they run away from the pack. Meanwhile the Rockies and Diamondbacks are good, but flawed, teams just like the Giants.

Let’s face it: the 2018 Giants are going to be competitive.


Some reasons for hope: Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria have been good, but not great, and McCutchen in particular seems poised for some great to come soon (his “hard hit” #s are among the best in the game, he’s been pretty unlucky).

Joe Panik should return ahead of schedule. Mac Williamson is on his way back soon. (Also: what has gotten into Gorkys?!)

The Giants have a good lineup and a good bench, and it should all come together in early June.

The bullpen has been a nice surprise and should only get better as everyone settles into their roles. Will Smith and Tony Watson have been awesome. Hunter Strickland has taken a step forward. Moronta and Dyson seem well cast in their particular roles.

The rotation has been the weak link, but actually better than expected given the injuries to the “Big 3”. And speaking of that, Madison Bumgarner should be here before the month is out!

Things are looking up.


Which brings us to the Brandon’s. Brandon Belt was just named NL player of the week and Brandon Crawford is a candidate for player of the month.

I have long been a Belt apologist and Bruce Bochy has finally gotten in the game and is now hitting Belt 4th, which I believe maximizes the Giants lineup.

A lineup that gets fully maxed when Brandon Crawford hits. I’ll be honest, I was worried after April. Brandon Crawford feels like the Andre Iguodala of the Giants. He’s the guy you don’t think about when the team comes to town (you’re thinking about Steph and KD, etc), but then you watch him play and you’re like: “dang, they have that guy too.”

It’s kind of ridiculous what a luxury item both guys are. But, we forgot about Crawford during April. Forget no more. When Crawford is cooking with the bat, there are suddenly very few places for opposing pitchers to hide. It’s a beautiful thing.


Some reasons for concern: I have three big ones. First, the lack of quality from the starting rotation will have an impact on the bullpen at some point. I worry about guys getting worn out. It may not show up for months, but it will happen. Bumgarner will help, but the Giants need to get some length out of 1-2 more starters (looking at you Samardzija and Stratton).

Second, the weird schedule continues. The Giants finally have a day off today, but then go to Houston for two where they face the defending champions. And not only that they face their two best pitchers, the guys having maybe the two best years of any pitchers. (They get Justin Verlander in game 2, and if Bochy doesn’t start Pablo Sandoval I’ll lose my mind). After that gauntlet they play the Cubs three times in Wrigley and then end a brutal road trip in Colorado. The difficulty of the schedule has made it very hard to sink into any kind of rhythm.

Third, the injury bug looms. It is nice to see so many guys getting close to returning but I fear the next wave. Knocking on wood, that next wave never comes!

Fourth (I know I didn’t say four, but this is my blog), I am concerned about Buster Posey’s lack of power. It’s being well compensated for right now by Belt and several others, but I would really like to see Buster drive the ball again.


That’s it for now. Another interesting week in what has been a very interesting season!

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A Giant Mess? #sfgiants #weekinreview

Last Monday I bragged about how the Giants merely needed to go 2-5 to secure a .500 record on a tough/no-day-off east coast road swing. I wrote about how they were playing with house money, and a split in Philly and a series win in Pittsburg could actually produce a 7-3 trip.

Well, the Giants took one look at that, laughed, and had an absolute turd of a week, losing 6 of 7, and watching their run differential plummet to -28.

We are now at the quarter pole in the 2018 season, and so let’s examine a few trends:

  1. Feast or Famine…the top trend of the Giants season is that it seems like everything goes well or nothing goes well. They hit when they pitch, and when they don’t pitch, they don’t hit. There have not been many 2-1 losses, or even 8-7 losses. They have won their share of close games, but have also gotten blown out a ton. The offense either is clicking and hitting home runs, or nothing is happening. A turn through the rotation is pretty good, or everyone is terrible. This makes it very hard to analyze where this team is truly at.
  2. .500…Bill Parcells is famous for saying you are whatever your record says you are. Well, the Giants are a .500 team. There’s been some moments well below even and a few days with a bit of a cushion, but for the most part this a win-half, lose-half team so far. No getting around that. Now, what is interesting is that, given the spring training injury situation, this would have been very acceptable a few weeks before Madison Bumgarner’s return. However, it definitely feels like it could be/should be better.
  3. Injuries…some national commentators look at the Giants injury woes and go “oh, of course, it’s an old team.” However, the Giants have sustained injuries to their young guys at the same rate as old. (Panik, Hansen, Williamson, Bumgarner, etc. vs Cueto, Samardzija, Melancon, Pence). The “old” guys you would think of getting hurt does include Melancon, but Longoria, McCutchen, Posey, and others have all been very healthy so far. This trend started last year and continues into this year. Is there something go on here? Some of it is freaky (Williamson/Panik/Bumgarner), but some of it raises questions about the medical staff (Melancon and Cueto in particular).

All of which leads to this dramatic hot take: I still have no idea what to make of this team.

How’s that for a take? But seriously, the Giants are 3.5 games out of the wild card, 4.5 games out of the division. The Dodgers are broken and might not get fixed this year. Things are much more wide open in the NL than expected (and much more wide open than the AL for sure).

It feels like the Giants can, and will, get better. Bumgarner is not that far from a return. The bullpen has been pretty good and will probably get better as the season goes along. The offense has been horrible at times, but shown signs of life. It seems reasonable to assume that several hitters will produce at a higher level over the next 6-8 weeks.

But, do you feel confident? Is this doable for this version of the Giants? All I know, so far, is that I have no idea.

Next up: a 7 game home stand, 3 against the Reds and 4 against the Rockies. The Rockies sit ahead of the Giants in the standing and have not been good away from home. This is an important week to get back on track.

We might be on to something here… #sfgiants #weekinreview

Let’s see:

  • The Giants have won 5 straight series
  • They a wept a team for the first time in nearly a calendar year
  • Have a winning record at home AND on the road
  • Have a positive run differential again (+1!)
  • Only need to go 2-5 this week to have a .500 record on a 10 day east coast road trip
  • Are 19-15 and sit 4 games back in the NL West

Not all news this week is good news though:

Now, that is actually good news you’re seeing up there because the rumor earlier in the week was imminent Tommy John surgery which was going to mean curtains for Cueto in 2018.

IF you had of told me the Giants would lose Bumgarner and Cueto for 2 months of the season, I’d have said they would challenge the 98 loses of 2017.

Why does this feel different?

Well, the Giants actually did a good job this offseason of adding depth. Derek Holland, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Alen Hanson, and of course the bigger additions of McCutchen, Longoria, and Jackson, have all paid significant dividends. None of those names has been a difference maker the way tha,t say, Giancarlo Stanton would have been, but collectively they are allowing the Giants to not only tread water, but gain momentum.

The Giants obviously have a long way to go, and they can’t really afford to lose anyone else at the moment, but it’s been amazing to watch the reinforcements arrive and, in many cases, make the team better.

Two shout outs:

  • I really liked the Giants bench (Hundley, Panda, Kelby, Blanco, and Hernandez) heading into the season, but I never imagined it would be this good. Each of those guys has contributed significantly in their own ways to the solid start. In addition, the next wave of players (Mac Williamson and Alen Hanson) have been more than solid, they’ve been spectacular at times (get well Mac!).
  • The Giants would probably like to run these 5 guys out, once everyone is healthy: Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Stratton, and Suarez. In that scenario Blach would go the bullpen and take over for Pierce Johnson. Derek Holland would be the odd man out. But right now, they need all of them, and Andrew Suarez, specifically, has been a breath of cool, fresh air. That kid is soooo relaxed. Which is exactly what you want a rookie pitcher to be. I don’t know what his ceiling is, it’s probably not an all-star, but if he can be a solid 3rd starter that would be a huge blessing to this organization.

The rough road trip continue: 3 in Philadelphia and 4 in Pittsburg (aka: Andrew McCutchen home-coming weekend). The sweep of the Braves is house money at this point. If the Giants win the series in Philly and split in Pittsburg, they’d finish the trip 7-3 which is unreal. But that’s what we’ll be looking for this week!

The Weirdness Continues #sfgiants #weekinreview

Let’s get right to it.

The Good:

  • The Giants go 5-2 this week, they have now won 3 series in a row (I think I wrote something about this importance of this), and sit at .500 after, essentially, one month of baseball.
  • The Giants have already hit 30 home runs, just 4 behind league leading Colorado, a welcomed development.
  • Several surprising pitchers have shown signs of being significant contributors (Stratton, Blach, Moronta, Johnson, and Hunter Strickland)
  • Johnny Cueto has been great. Tony Watson has been great.
  • Brandon Belt is great (happy face emoji)
  • Evan Longoria is settling in quite nicely
  • Mac Williamson might be legit
  • And, we got treated to the magnificent sight of Pablo Sandoval on the mound!

The Weird:

  • Overall, the Giants offense is still in the bottom third in the league in most categories. We are still waiting for a few guys to show up.
  • The Giants did win 5 games this week, but both times they lost they gave up 15 runs! Those games were weird for a variety of reasons, but the blowouts really mess with the run differential numbers. The Giants are 14-14 but they sit at a -19 run differential. We are enough games in at this point for that to mean something (but not everything). The Rockies, who sit half a game ahead of them in the NL West standings are -24, and the A’s who also happen to be 14-14 are +3, so obviously it doesn’t mean that much. However, it would be much easier to be confident about the future if that number were positive.
  • The Giants also hit their first big rash of injuries this week. Hunter Pence went down with a sprained thumb, but that was good news as it allowed Mac Williamson to join the show. But then Mac hit his head and is in the concussion protocol. He should be back soon. Joe Panik, however, will not be back soon. He has a ligament tear in his hand, which means we may not see Joe again until July (sad face emoji).
  • All of this means, the Giants have had a parade of guys coming over from Sacramento. Things should settle down in a few days, and there is a looming decision about Hunter Pence and Mac Williamson, but chaos reigns for the time being.
  • Will Smith returns to getting jiggy with it, and so the Giants staff is at about as full strength as it will be until Bumgarner (and Melancon?) are back. Which leads to:

Confidence Power Rankings After One Month. Let’s start with the Starters:

  1. Johnny Cueto (no brainer here, Cueto’s been brilliant)
  2. Chris Stratton (we’ll give him a Mulligan for Saturday. I’m sympathetic to what we’ll call “new dad syndrome”)
  3. Ty Blach (he’s not going to dominate or go deep into games, but he competes and he beats the Dodgers all the time)
  4. Jeff Samardzija (the home run problems are still there, but something about him pitching every fifth day is mildly comforting)
  5. Derek Holland (has shown flashes, but he is quickly moving into long man territory as he can’t even get through a line up twice, let alone three times)

Relievers:

  1. Tony Watson (dude’s magical)
  2. Hunter Strickland (has had his moments but overall he’s been extremely effective)
  3. Reyes Moronta (had a bad outing on Sunday, but has been refreshing solid all season)
  4. Sam Dyson (seemed destined to get cut, but has turned it around. The sinker is sinking and he is getting big double plays)
  5. Pierce Johnson (very unremarkable and yet surprisingly effective. He’s the Ty Blach of the bullpen)
  6. Will Smith (not even active yet, but he beats out the rest of the list)
  7. Cody Gearren (feels like he should be so much better, but I have zero confidence in him in almost any situation right now)
  8. Other (Derek Law makes me sad. Roberto Gomez in intriguing. DJ Snelton is fun to watch. This is a revolving door, so not much to say, since these guys will all be gone by Wednesday).

Hitters:

  1. Brandon Belt (that’s right haters)
  2. Evan Longoria (he’s hot right now, sorry Buster)
  3. Buster Posey (hard to imagine him not being in the top 2 at any point this season, but the guys above him are hot)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (this is where it gets interesting…McCutchen probably doesn’t deserve to be in the top 5, but some of the other guys are not producing or are hurt, so I’d still rather watch Cutch bat than just about anyone else on the team right now)
  5. Alen Hanson/Austin Slater (again, this has nothing to do with how good they are, it’s just given the rest of the team they are the most interesting at bats to watch).

Looking Ahead. I’ve written quite a bit about the difficulty of the early schedule. Things do get a easier this month, however, the “easy teams” are also on the east coast, which makes them slightly less easy. May will also involve the Astros and the Cubs, and only 9 home games overall (18 road games), and a stretch of 17 games in 17 days.

So, the goal for May is to stay at .500 and hope that Arizona falls back, and then Bumgarner returns in June and the team gets rolling. The Giants will still need to get 5-8 starts out of Derek Holland and whoever else (and that assumes no gets hurt).

In the immediate future, root for another series win. The Padres have been annoying, so a minimum of 2 out of 3 would be a great way to start. They get a day off then head to Atlanta for three this weekend. Don’t sleep on the Braves, lots of talent there! I’m hoping for a 3-3 week and continued consistency throughout the roster.

It’s Not Over…Yet #sfgiants #weekinreview

Of course it’s not over yet, but what an interesting week in Giants-land. There was a little something for everyone: Bumgarner started the healing journey, the triumphant return of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, bad Brandon Belt and very good Brandon Belt, bullpen meltdowns, and some big home runs (and the arrival of Big Mac).

All of which boils back down to the damning-by-faint-praise tagline for the 2018 season: at least it won’t be boring!

In Praise

  • I named Johnny Cueto the most important player to the success of the 2018 Giants, and, so far, minus a short DL stint for a twisted ankle, he has not disappointed. One earned run in 26 innings! 23 strikeouts to four walks! He sure looks like vintage Cueto and that is VERY good news.
  • Jeff Samardzija returned and while he did not set the world on fire, he was good enough for the win, and it was certainly a start to build on. He’s got a tough assignment this week versus the Nationals and Max Scherzer, but it still feels good to have him back.
  • Chris Stratton has been awesome as well. In fact, the entire rotation had a nice showing this week. Stratton is demonstrating that the Giants were not foolish at all to trust his ability to easily replace Matt Moore’s “production” (by the way, it has been an ugly start to 2018 in Texas for poor Matt Moore).
  • Tony Watson continues to be the star of the bullpen, and while he did get touched for his first run this week, is there anyone else you trust as much coming out of the ‘pen right now? And, who was the last guy you trusted this much coming out of the pen? Affeldt in 2014? Romo in 2012? It’s an interesting thought experiment.
  • Evan Longoria is going to be just fine, thank you.
  • Brandon Belt is as streaky as they come, and yet there is something about this current streak that feels a bit more like a “finally” moment. I do believe that if he can stay on the field he will hit 30 home runs this year and put some of his doubters to rest.
  • The Giants won a series! I talked about this last week and I stand by it. This team needs to keep grinding 2 out of 3 and winning more series if they want to compete.
  • Finally, as much as we all love Hunter Pence, it’s going to be hard to deny Mac Williamson. I wrote, a while back, about his natural ascendance as the next system guy to make an impact, but injuries and lack of opportunity held him back. I love this comeback story and I am buying the new approach as being major league worthy.

In Critique

  • Is the Hunter Strickland show over? Folks will be pulling for Watson to take over the closer duties, but I do believe he is better suited coming into big situations like he did yesterday against the Angels. I think the best set up, for now, is to press on as is and hope Hunter can get back to the calmer innings we saw earlier. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any answer yet to when Mark Melancon may return. This will be an interesting week given Strickland’s history with the Nationals.
  • The offense continues to be sporadic and inconsistent. The positive signs are certainly the increased power, and they do continue to face some outstanding pitching. It would be great, though, to see more consistent 4-5 run games.
  • In particular, the Giants inability to get hits with runners in scoring position is very weird. They have the lowest production in the majors in that stat category, and I have to believe it will normalize. It may simply be a function of facing some of the top pitching staffs in the game, again that’s a task that doesn’t get easier this week, but one trend that has to level off at some point.

Looking Ahead

  • The Giants have another tough week, although all at home! They start off with 3 against the Nationals who are off to a similarly up and down start. The Giants will have to face Scherzer on Wednesday, but get to avoid Stephen Strasburg in this series. Again, it will be interesting to see what happens should there be a show down between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland. My prediction: Giants take 2 of 3, but lose the game in which Harper takes Strickland deep.
  • There’s a day off on Thursday, and then 4 games in 3 days against….wait for it…the Dodgers. It seems like that’s who the Giants play every other series this season. Here is a tremendous opportunity to do some damage in the division. The Dodgers have not been playing well, but have turned a bit of a corner recently, and are actually back to .500. This is a big week for them as they could build some serious momentum or continue to tread water. If the Giants can sweep or take 3 of 4 it could slow that train down significantly. My prediction: they split the series, which is a let down, but a 4-3 week would actually be quite welcome as the Giants wrap up a tough first month.

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.

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.