A Mess #sfgiants #midweekreview

I missed my deadline on Monday for the weekly review, and then a silly fight broke out, and then the Giants lost a couple more games. So here are some midweek thoughts on this dumpster fire of a season.

1) The Giants have been bad in general, but they’ve been especially bad against good teams. 

  • 3-4 vs Arizona
  • 1-6 vs Colorado
  • 1-3 vs Chicago
  • 0-2 vs Washington
  • 6-7 vs the Mets/Cardinals/Reds (teams hanging around .500 right now)

They have bucked this trend against the Dodgers, somehow, getting the best of that series to the tune of 6-4. But, the overall poor play against good teams does not bode well.

2) There are times when a good fight can catalyze a team. In a strange twist of events I was at the 2002 game in San Diego where Bonds and Kent got into it the dugout. Many people point to that moment as a catalyst for a team that went on to be a few out away from winning a championship.

This fight on Monday, though, had none of that kind of energy. If anything it highlighted how far this team has come from the band of misfits days of 2010. If the Giants do get hot and get back on the same page it will not be because of what happened on Monday.

3) As I’ve said, the goal for the Giants is to be at .500 by July 1. If they win tonight, they will need to go 18-9 in June to pull that off. If they lose (a likely scenario given the Scherzer vs Cain match up), they will need to go 19-8.

A cursory glance at the schedule would seem to give one hope (there are no Cubs or Nationals or Dodgers to be found in June). However, one of the stories of 2017 is the weirdness of the schedule. I highlighted how the Giants only played a handful of teams over the first month, and that circle has widened, but allow me to point out a few more quirks:

  • The Giants have 4 road series in June and three of those are 4 gamers. That’s odd, and while that cuts down a bit on travel, spending 4 days in a city can be a grind. Plus, one of those series is in Colorado. A four game series in Coors can be an eternity, especially for the pitching staff.
  • June will feature 16 road games (yikes), and only 11 home games. It also features a 5 game home series against AL Central teams. That’s four days in Milwaukee, 5 in SF, 4 in Colorado, 4 in Atlanta. Weird.
  • The month, and the season, will really come down to how the Giants do in the 7 games against Colorado. The bunching of NL West series continues, and they will need to go 5-2ish against the Rockies to turn this season around.

Let’s assume the worst, and say the Giants need to go 19-8 to get to 41-41 (that’s pretty much the middle of the season). How can they do it?

  • 7 game trip to Philly and Milwaukee: 2-1 against Phillies and 3-1 against the Brewers (who happen to lead the NL Central somehow, someway, right now). A 5-2 road trip would pull them to 27-34
  • 5 game home stand against the Twins and Royals: 2-1 against Minnesota and 2-0 against KC gets them to 31-35
  • Then comes the brutal 8 game trip to Colorado and Atlanta. Hope for a split in Colorado (2-2) and a split against the Braves (2-2). Treading water would put the Giants at 35-39.
  • The Giants then come home for three with the Mets and 3 with the Rockies. 2-1 against the mets and a sweep of Colorado would put the Giants at 40-41. They then head back on the road to Pittsburgh, and if they open that series with a win: 41-41.

The Giants could make this a whole lot easier on themselves with a great road trip to Colorado and Atlanta, but I just don’t see that happening. They also could accomplish this with a long winning streak (or a stretch where they win 12 of 15).

Once they get to July they get some more games against bad teams, plus the All-Star break to regroup. Then the end of the month to acquire help.

The silver lining is that there are only 5 teams in the NL currently with winning records. It seems very likely that the Cubs and Milwaukee will flip spots soon, and I don’t see anyone in the NL East challenging for the wild card. That means, the Giants are chasing 3 teams: St. Louis, Arizona, and Colorado. Two of those teams they still have many, many games against.

As bad as it has seemed, they still have a very good chance to get into this. The question is who is going to get them there?

Monday we’ll take a look at the lineup again, and which players are the keys to a resurgence.

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Is It Turning Around? #sfgiants #weekinreview

The Giants survived week one of this tough section of their schedule, going 4-2 against the Dodgers and Cardinals. It feels like it could have been better since they won the first 2 games in each series. Nonetheless, this is exactly what they need to do: win each series on their quest to get back to .500 by July 1.

They need to go 22-15 over these next 37 games to get there.

How have they been succeeding?

  1. Quality Starts. The starting pitching hasn’t been brilliant, but the Giants got 4 quality starts this week: one from Cain, one from Blach, one from Moore, and one from Samardzija. They lost when they failed to get QSs in Cueto and Cain starts (although to Johnny Cueto’s credit, it would have taken far more than a quality start to beat Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday).
  2. Resilience. The offense has been much, much better. It hasn’t quite been 2000 level SF Giants (or pick your favorite juggernaut), but the Giants averaged 5 runs per win. That’s pretty much the formula: 4+ runs and a quality start, Giants baseball. The bigger issue, though, has been the toughness, especially on the road, to gut out big wins this week with timely at bats and strong situational hitting. Once again, Christian Arroyo’s stat line is not jumping off the page at anyone, but that 11 pitch at bat with the bases loaded in the 13th inning of a 0-0 game certainly grew his legend. He still has a lot of developing to do, but the foundation is there.
  3. Bullpen/Defense. The Giants have not been shooting themselves in the proverbial feet with bullpen meltdowns and dumb plays in the field. To the previous point, Christian Arroyo is proving he belongs with smart plays and versatility.

A couple of other things worth mentioning:

  • Jeff Samardzija just might be establishing himself as the ace of this staff. On the surface that sounds like an indictment of the state of the Giants rotation, and to a certain degree it is, but he has been outstanding of late. Over his last 6 starts: 42 innings (7 per start!), 47 strikeouts and only 4 walks (!), an ERA of 3.86, and a WHIP of 1.00. Those are strong numbers.
  • Eduardo Nunez has come back to life, Brandon Belt keeps hitting home runs (and getting in tiffs with Posey), and Brandon Crawford seems to be getting back into the groove. I also feel Joe Panik is due for a big week or two in the very near future.
  • Mac Williamson had a great start on Monday night and then has tapered off significantly. I still would love to see the Giants give him a long leash even if it means cutting into Nunez’s playing time.

Which leads us to: some tough decisions looming. Aaron Hill, Connor Gillaspie, and Hunter Pence should be returning soon. The easiest guys to demote would be Arroyo and Williamson, but it will be fascinating to see how the Giants make these decisions. In addition, there probably won’t be room for both Justin Ruggiano and Michael Moorse. What should the Giants do?

My vote would be to stay with the young guys, but I also understand the need for depth and the best way to preserve that is to keep the old guys on the roster and let the young guys go to Sacramento.

Stay tuned. Big week with four games agains the Cubbies, starting today. Go Giants.

A Glimmer of Hope in a Sea of Sadness #sfgiants #weekinreview

The Giants started this past week off with two miserable losses at the hands of the New York Mets (themselves a mess). This was coming off a weekend drubbing in Cincinnati, and it also involved the news that super-expensive closer/savior Mark Melancon was hurt (a 10 day DL stint with an elbow issue).

It is not hard to say this was the low point in the season.

And it lended itself to the ongoing conversation about what was the most surprising/disappointing element of the season thus far:

  • The injuries? Consider the Giants lost to DL time already: Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Will Smith, Denard Span, and Jarrod Parker. Not to mention Aaron Hill and Michael Morse.
  • The timing of the injuries: Posey getting beaned on the head during the home opener. Madison Bumargner getting hurt on a dirt bike during a short road trip. Jarrod Parker getting hurt running into a wall. Both Crawford and Melancon gowing down after tough loses (literally adding injury to insult).
  • The horrendous nature of LF. One of the answers to LF is now out of baseball (Chris Marrero), and the lot of blokes trotted out there already has been amazing and laughable.
  • The maddening inconsistency of the starting pitching (especially Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija who should know better).
  • The ongoing woes of the bullpen. (Meanwhile Santiago Casilla was putting together a nice little season on the other side of the Bay).
  • The feckless performance and weird nature of the lineups Bruce Bochy has been cobbling together.

Whatever it was that topped your list, Tuesday May 9th was a dark day.

Then the Giants went out and won on Wednesday. And they won in a totally 2017 Giants way. The game was inappropriately close for a long time, only broken open in the top of the 9th by Christian Arroyo (bases clearing double!), who hasn’t set the world on fire but certainly has a sense of timing sorely lacking by the rest of this team.

The Giants gave Derek Law a very comfortable first save opportunity, an opportunity he nearly blew, but hey, a 6-5 win is still a win.

The Giants then returned home and summarily lost the opener of another series with the Reds, 3-2, a game “blown” by the bullpen.

But then some things started to turn around. The news on Mark Melancon wasn’t so bad. Brandon Crawford and Denard Span returned from the DL. Even Santiago Casilla blew a save for the A’s in a totally Santiago Casilla way.

It is probably too much to read into this, and the next two weeks could easily seal the Giants’ fate as a bad team, but there was something to that 17 inning game on Friday night.

When Buster Posey hit the game winning walk off home run he reacted in a very un-Buster like manner: his shrug of relief felt bigger than the moment itself. It felt like “screw this sucking we’ve been doing, we’re better than this.” Certainly it was relief after squatting for 17 innings, but, again it looked cathartic beyond even the context of that particular game. Who can know.

What we do know is the Giants backed that win up with two more victories, for the first 3 game win streak of the year (a damning statement in and of itself).

So what do we make of this, if anything?

First, the is the closest thing the Giants have had to their “real” lineup in a while (I know Pence has been out, but I said close). In particular, Denard Span has returned like a man on a mission. We all love the results, but he just looks better/happier/livelier.

Second, the Giants got 3 straight quality starts (including 2 from Moore and Samardzija).

Third, they hit some home runs (PTL!).

Fourth, the bullpen was quietly outstanding all weekend.

Finally, they made a few plays with the gloves as well.

I wrote this earlier in the year: winning always makes a baseball team look more energetic, but it certainly feels like that 17 inning game injected new life into this club in a paradoxical way.

Who knows what lies ahead? The next two weeks are full of good teams and tough match ups. This week alone is the Dodgers and Cardinals, two long time nemeses who will not show the least bit of mercy. This week could bring more positive vibes. It could just as easily bring an 0-6 disaster.

One can hope the Giants are able to win two series. 4-2 would put them at 19-26. If they can follow that up next week by splitting with the Cubs and winning the series over Atlanta they’d be 23-28.

If they are going to make 2017 a competitive year, they need to be .500 by July 1. That’s what we all need to hope for at this point.

#BEATLA

More Suck #sfgiants #weekinreview

I’ve completely lost any ability to creatively title these posts. What else is there to say about the 2017 SF Giants? All evidence seems to indicate that this is one of the worst teams, not just in baseball this season, but in Giants’ history.

Who saw that coming?!

I have a few thoughts on this, but first about this week:

We ended the last week with a challenge to Posey and Pence to start hitting for power. And lo and behold Pence and Posey hit home runs in the same game last Monday, off Clayton Kershaw nonetheless, and the Giants won!

Matt Moore followed that happy day up with one of the worst starts by a Giants pitcher in years, and then the Giants pulled out a series victory behind a stunningly great turn from Jeff Samardzija.

Despite the Tuesday shellacking, going 2-1 against the Dodgers on the road, including a Kershaw game win, seemed like a massively positive turn of events.

And then Cincinnati happened. The Giants got beat this weekend 31-5, and Matt Cain and Ty Blach, two of the bright spots in an all together dim season, had their lunch handed to them.

The weekend wrapped up with a sliver of hope that Johnny Cueto would make a triumphant return to the city where he started his career and salvage a .500 record (which, all things considered, wouldn’t have been that bad of a week). It was not to be as the offense once again went AWOL, and Cueto continued to be good but not great.

Now, mercifully, the Giants move on to New York to wrap this trip up. (Of course they will have to face Cincinnati again this coming weekend, because this is the weirdest schedule of any season I can remember.)

There you have it: a bunch of suck. To rub salt in my wounds, I tried to make the case last week that the Giants had hope because there was no way the starting pitching could be as bad as it had been. I was sooooooo wrong. It was quite worse.

So where does this leave us? Why is this so bad? How did we go from expecting competitive baseball and a possible postseason run to being the worst team in baseball?

The immediate answers include the following: A Madison Bumgarner injury, slow starts by several bats, inconsistent starting pitching, ongoing instability in the bullpen, a surprisingly unsteady defense, and a black hole in Left Field.

A slightly deeper analysis involves asking the question: has the game passed the Giants by?

The 2010 Giants were, in some ways, the prototype for what we are seeing all across baseball today. That team played solid, if not spectacular defense, had home run hitters all across the lineup (sans Freddy Sanchez…more on him later), and a cadre of power/strike out arms through the starting rotation and bullpen.

The 2012 Giants were, in many ways, the most successful of the Giants championship teams, but a bit of an inverse of the 2010 version (which again serves as a sort of proto-type for the rest of baseball now). The 2012 Giants had a super star in the middle of the order (Posey) and they surrounded him with a lot of high contact, low strike out hitters (Freddy Sanchez is the poser boy for this type of player, and his career ending injury led to the acquisition of the other boy on that poster: Marco Scutaro). Sure, the 2012 Giants could hit a home run when needed, but for the most part they killed teams with balls in play. Meanwhile their pitching was still excellent and could get strikeouts when needed, but had started to rely more on a bend-but-not-break approach. Led by Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and Sergio Romo, this staff would nibble on the corners, even conceding walks when necessary, but never giving up the big hit by making location mistakes.

The 2014 Giants continued this trend to an extreme, only this team it had a not-so-secret weapon in Madison Bumgarner.

All of that to say: the Giants took the bend-don’t-break model of pitching, and the just-put-the-ball-in-play philosophy of hitting to their logical ends. Meanwhile the rest of baseball, maybe even in response to the Giants, went in a different direction: power, power, and more power.

In some ways this is a return to the steroid era of baseball, although it is fueled more by metrics like spin rates of pitches and exit-velocity/exit-angle of balls off of bats than by drugs. The essence is: your hitters need to be able to hit home runs, and your pitchers need to suppress home runs via the strikeout. It’s not pretty, but it is where the game (and all the data) has led us.

Unfortunately for the Giants, it appears the game has passed them by. They are no longer doggedly outliers, and they are running the risk of being left in the dust.

One example: Buster Posey, former 2012 NL MVP, is “on pace” to hit 10 home runs and drive in 25 runs. Yikes.

Do the Giants have any hope? A couple of possibilities:

  1. Madison Bumgarner returns healthy and can pitch as he always has. This is a dangerous hope. I know the perilss of shoulder injuries intimately. It seems unlikely, but a healthy Bumgarner is uniquely suited to succeed in this modern age.
  2. The Giants still have 3 pitchers, behind Bumgarner, who can succeed in the strikeout age (Moore, Samadzija, and Cueto), especially if they fully subscribe to the Righetti school of “bend-don’t-break.” Moore, in particular, seems primed to benefit from this, but has failed to translate it into reality.
  3. The Giants need to develop more power bullpen arms. This is the one area where they cannot afford to go in a different direction than the rest of the game. The lack of power arms coming through the system into the ‘pen is alarming.
  4. Teams can win in this era by not hitting tons of home runs (see: 2012 and 2014 SF Giants, and 2015-2015 KC Royals), and the Giants are committed to an infield full of nice hitters and ball players (Arroyo, Crawdford, Panik, Belt, Posey), but they must address the lack of power in the OF. I don’t know what the answer is here. Maybe it means going nuts in free agency, maybe it means a trade, maybe it means committing to a few guys in the system, even if it involves growing pains. But the power and athleticism that is flooding the game of baseball needs to be adopted by the Giants, particularly in the outfield.

Back to 2017, let’s hope this week produces a slightly more encouraging title!

Worst April Ever #sfgiants #weekinreview

There was a moment on Saturday afternoon/evening, where the Giants took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning.

Matt Cain was offering more evidence of a kind of resurgence.
The offense had come alive to score 3 (!) runs.
It wasn’t difficult to look into the future and see a sweep to end the home stand.

A sweep would have meant an 11-15 record, not a great start by any measure, but it would have been easy to write off the month as a bad first week, followed by some .500 ball, all setting up for a nice run in May.

But then, the bullpen, which had been a mild source of strength on this deeply flawed squad, began an epic weekend collapse (14 runs in 9 innings, including 4 home runs).

Suddenly, a 3-1 lead and visions of sweep,
turned into a blowout nightmare,
a 12-4 loss,
and an offensive hangover that lasted into Sunday.

Speaking of Sunday’s game. Some of the bad vibes from Saturday were erased by another impressive effort from Ty Blach. The offense was not outstanding, scrapping together 2 runs, but it felts like a solid lead, especially with Blach getting through the 7th. Law and Melancon were sell set up to close it out and for the Giants go home 10-16, and, hey at least they pulled out a series win.

Law did has part, shakily getting through the 8th.
But then Melancon blew it in the ninth.

Now, before we throw Melancon completely under the bus, do not forget that Eduardo Nunez made a costly error, allowing Hector Sanchez (yes, that Hector Sanchez) to represent the tying run. And remember that Nunez was playing short stop because the Giants golden gloved regular at that position is on the DL with a tweaked groin.

And therein lies what is, to me, the fatal flaw of this team: there is NO margin for error.

This is a team that cannot win games if it is missing certain key pieces,
chief among them: Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner.

This is a team that cannot win games if it makes errors
(and not just that, the defense has to make plays).

This is a team that cannot win slugfests because it does not hit home runs.

Which means it must win low scoring, well-pitched games in which it’s defense makes zero mistakes and a few great plays.

Any mistakes this team makes will be punished,
and they cannot be overcome,
and that is the sign of a bad team.

I also mentioned last week the lack of energy. The call up of Christian Arroyo and the return of Michael Morse did bring some life back into the dugout, and it is going to be fun, especially, to watch Arroyo grow up this year.

But I am afraid that it is these glimpses of the past and the future that may be the most compelling part of what is rapidly becoming a lost season.

One final thought: the numbers don’t completely bear this out, but the pitching is not really the problem. And to be honest, it never really was. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the Giants bullpen issues last year had to do with a mental breakdown and a lack of trust more than anything else (have you seen Santiago Casilla’s numbers so far with the A’s?).

And while there have been consistency issues throughout the rotation and the ‘pen, I see more than enough promise in what the Giants put on the mound most of the time.

But this offense truly stinks. There were no good answers this offseason, but it is abundantly clear that there will need to be some significant changes coming.

Too many empty at bats, and the lack of power is appalling.

My new suggestion for the lineup:

  • Nunez LF (he’s been in a terrible slump, and he’s probably a little rattled by Arroyo’s early promotion, but he is still the best option in this spot)
  • Panik 2B (has looked good leading off, but Panik is way more valuable as a 2 hitter)
  • Posey C (no more clean up)
  • Belt 1B (the 2 hole experiment has been cute, but Belt needs to be here for balance and to put the little power this team has in the center of the lineup)
  • Pence RF (hit home runs fool)
  • Crawford SS (when he returns, likely later this week)
  • Arroyo 3B (probably deserves to hit higher and will while Crawford is out, but this is a good spot for him. Lot’s of possibilities for RBI’s, and this will take the pressure off the kid and buffer his ups and downs as he makes the big league adjustment)
  • CF (a cesspool of suckiness. The Giants will probably need to address all three OF positions heading into 2018, starting here)

Wish I could be more positive today, but I can’t! Brisbee points out that the Giants will need to go 81-55 the rest of the way just to be a 90 win team, which would mean they will need to be the best team in baseball the rest of the season. Good luck!