Week [25] In Review (9/19-9/25) #sfgiants #weekinreview

This is the last week of regular season baseball. Is this the last week for our Giants? 6 games to finally put an end to a miserable collapse? Or is this the prelude to another unexpected October of joy?

More on that in a moment, but first: the question for the offseason. I won’t answer this question now, we’ll get to it once the season is actually, truly over, but right now, on September 26th, thinking about this season and the next one, what do you trust more:

  • The “depth” in the bullpen, and the Giants’ ability to find an internal solution to one of the team’s great weakness?
  • Or, the “depth” in the organization, and the Giants’ ability to find an internal solution to the hole in the left field? (A hole they’ve had, really, since 25 retired).

The reason this is the question is because the Giants don’t have many spots to fill for the 2017 roster and they don’t that have as much money to spend this offseason. My guess is that they can afford to make one splash in free agency. So, what do you do? Go get a closer, or go get a left-fielder?

Two realities that complicate this question.

  1. It has been the organization’s philosophy to not spend a lot of money on the closer position. They’ve won 3 world series with three different closers. Now, if Brian Wilson had stayed healthy this might be different conversation, but that didn’t happen and so the MO has been: spread the wealth throughout the pen and go with the hot hand. And it’s worked until this year. It’s a good philosophy. Overpaid closers who have crippled their teams can be found all over baseball, and throughout history (see: Papelbon, Jonathan and Benitez, Armando). It makes a lot more sense to spend money on a player who will contribute everyday and who could enhance the other significant weakness on the team: POWER!
  2. The other complicating reality, however, is that there are three great closer options hitting free agency this year, and there are no similarly viable options for left field. Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman would all be significant upgrades and bring order to the Giants bullpen chaos. They are going to be expensive, and they are going to be THE move if the Giants sign them. Everything else will be small potatoes: minor league invitees, maybe a trade, maybe an unexpected propsect call up. The outfield options get interesting if Yoenis Cespedes opts out of his contract, but after that its old guys (like Jose Bautista or Carlos Beltran), injury risks (like Josh Reddick), and a whole lot of uninspiring choices. All that to say, the best bang for the buck is actually the bullpen, but that contradicts both conventional wisdom and organizational wisdom.

To further simplify (and assuming Cespedes does, in fact opt out), would you rather sign one of the big 3 closers (and going with some combination of Mac Williamson, Jared Parker, Gorkys Hernandez, cheap/old vet in LF), or sign Cespedes and let Bochy and company figure out the bullpen?

I go back and forth on this daily, but hope to have an answer once we get to the postseason. Onward.

Looking Ahead: despite everything that has happened, the Giants control their destiny. Win out and they will get to play bonus baseball. I have a hard time believing anyone, Giants/Cards/Mets, win out, so let’s play through some scenarios:

  • First, the Giants: 6 games at home, 3 against the Rockies and 3 against LA. In some ways this looks easy, both of these teams are done, essentially, in terms of the regular season. The Rockies are working on vacation plans, and the Dodgers will be prepping for Washington. But, nothing has been easy for the Giants, plus these are two teams that would delight and find motivation in sending SF packing for the year. The Giants will (likely) start: Moore, Samardzija, Cueto, Bumgarner, Someone, and Moore one more time. My sense is they need to win 4 games to get in, and there’s no way they should not get four wins this week. That being said, a 1-5 week and a quiet drift into the night wouldn’t surprise me at all. One final thought here: I wrote a lot this year about establishing a strong home record. If they go 6-0 they will finish with 46 home wins, about 5 wins short of what I was looking for. The lack of home dominance continues.
  • For the Cardinals: They have the slightly more “difficult” task of playing every day this final week. It may not actually be more difficult (they have 4 games against the Reds), but it does require an extra start and more work for their bullpen. They play the Reds and then close with the Pirates, all at home. Nothing especially difficult there. Once again the Giants missed an opportunity: the Cards played 4 games at Chicago and lost 3 of them this weekend, and yet the Giants could not separate themselves at all. If the Giants go 4-2, the Cardinals will need to go 5-2 to keep pace.
  • Finally, the Mets: the Mets finish the season on the road, the only of these 3 teams to play on the road this week. They get the grieving Marlins for 3, starting today, a day off on Thursday, and then 3 more with the Phillies against whom they just finished a wild series. If the Giants go 4-2, and the Cards go 4-3, then the Mets simply need to play .500 ball this week to host the Wild Card Game.

Prediction: There is nothing in the Giants’ recent track record to suggest they go any better than 4-2 this week. They haven’t won more than 3 games in a row all second half, and a 3-3 week seems like the most likely, honest, assessment of how things will go. If they do any worse than 4-2 , though, they likely won’t make it to the Wild Card, and they really wouldn’t deserve it anyway. A lot has been written about the potential of a 3-way tie. I find it far more likely that the Giants and Cardinals actually tie for the second Wild Card spot. My prediction is everyone goes 4-2/5-2, the Mets take the first wild card spot, and the Giants and Cards tie.

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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!