Week [16] In Review (7/18-7/24) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Last post I covered the pessimistic and optimistic views of the Giants situation entering the second half. Well…

It’s been a horrible stretch for the Giants since the All-Star Break ended. They were swept by the Padres last weekend. The same Padres they had beaten in all nine previous contests this year. They followed that up with a 1-4 east coast swing against the Yankees and Red Sox.

There are many culprits right now: the starters haven’t been great, the offense has been terrible, and the bullpen and defense have had a few untimely meltdowns.

It seems as if the lack of depth, with all the injuries that have piled up, has finally caught up to them.

The covering grace of that lack of depth had been the middle of the order combo of Belt and Posey and Crawford, but that tandem has struggled mightily out of the second half gate (Belt especially).

The other grace has been the starting pitching, but even that has hit the skids.

To top it all off, it looks like the Cubs just got even more scary.

The Giants return home, get out of the heat, and have soft-landing with a 3 game series against terrible Cincinnati. But then it gets more serious with four games against the Nationals this weekend.

Hitter of the Weak:

All hail Mac Williamson who continues to make a case for himself both as a legitimate starter when Hunter Pence returns, and as a future fixture in the Giants’ outfield. His two home runs and 6 rbis accounted for the majority of the offensive output over the last 8 games.

Pitcher(s) of the Weak:

Here’s the crazy thing: despite all the angst about the bullpen, despite all the rumors the Giants are involved in, despite all the cries for heads, 6 of the top 7 performances this week came from the bullpen (Cueto was the only starter to sneak in there). Casilla had a huge outing in the lone win, Javier Lopez and Hunter Strickland are quietly back in good grooves, Derek Law has been a revelation (my new top candidate for closer duties), and Sergio Romo has been great since his return.

By far the biggest issue right now, in my opinion, is that the Giants are not getting out in front in games. They’ve been behind almost every game post-break and that’s just not how they are built to play.

Looking Ahead: We already previewed the schedule above. The Giants need to enjoy and take advantage of this home stand, because it’s right back out to the humid east coast to start August. The Giants will also be playing a lot of contending teams over the final two months, so this series against the Reds is must win/sweep scenario.

There is a lot of hand wringing about the Cubs acquiring Aroldis Chapman. While he certainly makes them even more formidable, in some ways I find this kind of exciting for the Giants. Every even year run they’ve had to take down the “impossible,” whether that’s been the 2010 Phillies, the 2012 Cardinals, or the 2014 Nationals/Royals. They’ve never been favored to win a series in any of those post-seasons, so  why not add another behemoth to that list?

First things first though, and that’s righting the suddenly off kilter ship.

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First Half Recap #sfgiants #2016

If you had of predicted, at the start of the season, significant DL time for Hunter Pence, Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Matt Duffy, Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, and various other contributors from the bench and bullpen all by the All-Star Break, I would have thought that a recipe for mediocrity at best, and disaster at worst (especially if all those injuries were combined with poor performance.)

But, no, your 2016 SF Giants at the All-Star Break=Best Record in Baseball.
57-33.
.633 winning percentage.
Not near the best run differentially (+73, 66 runs behind the Cubs),
but better than almost anyone else in baseball.

Bottom line: this team has been really good (#analysis).

Let’s review some of our pre-season keys, and see how the Giants have fared:

  1. Health: hahahahahah…one thing I will say about this…with the exception of Pence, the Giants have not really lost time for any of what might be called the “core contributors.” This is not to take anything away from the Duffys and Cains and Pagans and Paniks, but the Giants haven’t lost any time from Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt, or Brandon Crawford. Four of those guys are on the All-Star team and the other (Crawford) should be. Not only have they not missed any time, they’ve all been pretty stinkin’ good, if not downright great this year. So, the health of the core has been steady, and this is very, very important.
  2. Matt Cain: I admitted my personal bias in this when the season opened, but Matt Cain hasn’t worked out so far. To be fair, he has pitched fairly well when he’s been out there, and his production, combined with Albert Suarez, has produced more than respectable 5th starter results. He also is back to start the second half, so this story is still far from finished.
  3. Brandon Belt: now we start to get into some “hits.” Belt has been awesome all year, far and away his best year, primarily because he’s been so consistent. Belt has been streaky, and injured, throughout his career, but so far neither of those have been true in 2016, and we are seeing the best we’ve ever seen from the Baby Giraffe. It will be great to watch what he can do too, once Pence gets back and there’s a little more lineup protection.
  4. Winning At Home: The Giants have been just as good at home (29-17) as on the road (28-16), a welcome development. That home record includes an inexplicable 4 game sweep at the hands of the helpless Diamondbacks, so it should/could be even better the deeper we get into the season.
  5. Integrating the New Guys: this could not be going any better. The pitchers in particular (Cueto and Samardzija) have not only been better than expected, but it seems like they’ve been around forever. Denard Span hasn’t lit the world on fire, but his chemistry with the rest of the guys seems great too. Chemistry is hard to quantify, for sure, but on a team as tight as the Giants it is important, and from this side of things it seems the integration process has been seemless.

Reasons to be Pessimistic:

  • Some of the advances stats show that the Giants have been playing above their heads. Even without those stats, it does seem remarkable that the Giants are the “best team in baseball” considering all the injuries and the bullpen struggles. Pessimists fear the regression to the mean in the second half.
  • The bullpen has been a mess…and there are concerns if it can get much better given the internal options (or lack thereof).
  • Too many innings for the starters. Funny how last year the concern was over the taxing of the bullpen and the lack of starters getting deep into games. Now we are wringing our hands over the number of innings and pitch counts. This is actually the one concern I do share with the pessimistic crowd.

Reasons to be Optimistic:

  • While there may be some regression to the mean, the Giants will also be fortified by most of their injured players returning no later than August 1. Undoubtedly it will take some time for all of them to find their rhythm, but the best team will become a far deeper team in the second half of the season.
  • The bullpen will get better. Sergio Romo’s return over the weekend was huge in and of itself, but his performance on the field was outstanding, and seems to have already begun righting the ship. Furthermore, if the Giants make a trade it will be for bullpen help. Pushing the Gearrins and others into lower leverage situations will go a long ways towards better overall pen work in the second half.
  • Matt Cain: I know, I know, get off the Matt Cain kick, Steve. Well, I just can’t. I think Cain’s strong second half will take some of the pressure off of Bum/Cueto/Shark, and allow Bochy to pace those guys a little bit more. Also, Cain in the rotation, means Suarez in the bullpen, which means a true long-man for the first time all season. Suarez could make a few spot starts if someone needs a breather, or he can provide some length to the bullpen, which has been sorely lacking. Think Yusmeiro Petit type work.

One Final Thought:

  • My first half MVP is Brandon Crawford. His offensive numbers are not quite as eye-popping as last year, but he’s gotten even better again, which is hard to believe. The defense continues to be outstanding, and one horrible game in Oakland aside, the defense is much a reason for the Giants’ success as anything else this year. He’s the quarterback out there, and it’s beautiful to watch. Meanwhile his clutch hitting has been fantastic, all those RBIs filling the gaps left by Pence and others.