Second Half Predictions

The Giants picked up the second half right where they left off: Johnny Cueto underwhelmed, they still can’t win a MadBum start, Samardzija is ever the enigma, and the offense kept sputtering right along.

There’s not much to review here, but it was great to see Madison Bumgarner back! That start was the best case scenario for all involved: several innings, quality performance, no high stress pitch counts…quite frankly it was a game a good team would have won.

Rather than dig any deeper into that, or into fantastical scenarios that will never happen, let’s make a few predictions about the second half:

  • Giants predictions: the only bold prediction that is mildly interesting to make here is that Brandon Belt will hit 30 home runs, the first to do it since some guy named Barry. Other than that: the Giants will make some trades and hope to get some bounce backs from the Crawford’s and Moore’s of the roster. On to the rest of baseball.
  • The Cubs will be fine. My big second half baseball prognostication is that the Cubs will win the Central. Then they went out and won 3 straight games by the combined score of 27-11. They’ll be fine. The NL postseason is going to be a blood bath.
  • The AL pennant race is going to be interesting with so many teams in play still, but it’s all a prelude to the Astros steamrolling their way to the World Series.
  • Aaron Judge is awesome, but he won’t hit 50 home runs to break Mark McGwire’s rookie HR record.
  • I should be picking the Dodgers to win it all, but I can’t do that and so I’m going to get all sentimental and pick the Dusty Baker National’s to win the whole thing.

A couple more thoughts on the World Series. MLB seems to obsess far too much over who gets into the WS and it’s impact on ratings. It’s stupid, but to close out this week’s post, here is what Rob’s crew has to be rooting for:

  1. Dodgers and Yankees (two iconic franchises and some serious star power).
  2. Cubs and Red Sox (the Epstein series)
  3. Dodgers and Red Sox (similar to 1)
  4. Dodgers and Astros (especially if they hold up their best records in each league)
  5. Cubs and Yankees
  6. Nationals and Yankees (especially as a potential preview to Bryce Harper’s future team)

What they are probably NOT rooting for:

  1. Milwaukee and Minnesota
  2. Colorado and Kansas City
  3. Arizona and Houston

Or some combination of those teams.

Baseball monk prediction: Nationals over Astros in 6


The 2016 Season Is Over (Grab Bag of Thoughts)

On the Cubs

  • Congrats, first of all! What a game last night, one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen.
  • Many Cubs fans are looking forward to the start of a dynasty, and there’s good reason to think that: this team is loaded with young talent, and the lineup in particular is full of guys who haven’t nearly peaked yet. They are going to be a beast in the NL for several more years.
  • I want to temper the idea of a dynasty just a bit with a couple of thoughts. First, the Cubs were extraordinarily healthy this year. The one significant injury they suffered (Kyle Shwarber) ended up being a blessing in disguise. Outside of that injury they were the most healthy team in the postseason, and once Schwarber returned in the World Series there was no better Cubs roster available. The Indians, on the other hand, made their postseason run without Carlos Carrasco (imagine the Giants without Cueto), Michael Brantley (the Giants without Hunter Pence), and with a limited Danny Salazar (Matt Moore only available out of the bullpen…hey, maybe that would have worked). All that to say, it may not be difficult for the Cubs to repeat as champions, but highly unlikely they stay as healthy next year.
  • Second, the sky is the limit for the Cubs lineup. But, keep an eye on the pitching, especially the rotation. I was not a believer in Kyle Hendricks coming into the postseason, and while he won me over, he still seems primed for a regression in 2017. Jon Lester and John Lackey will be a year older. Jason Hammel had a nice season, but is another regression candidate (and a free agent). And then there’s the curious case of Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had as good a season in 2015 as any pitcher, maybe ever, but some of the luster is wearing off. Are teams figuring him out? Did he get tired? Hurt? He’s still very good, but maybe not the Ace we all thought, especially long term. All of this to say, the Cubs may soon find themselves in a position to have to slug it out more often than not, as soon as next year.
  • Third, what about the bullpen? If you are a Cubs fan, do you want Chapman back for many, many millions of dollars? Do you want Carl Edwards Jr to take over as closer? And what about Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon? Those guys were Maddon’s 8th and 9th inning guys for a while but he barely used them.
  • All of which to say: the Cubs are going to be very, very good but they have questions just like anyone else.

On the New Golden Age of Baseball

  • MLB has enjoyed a decade of great parity. Different teams have it made it to and won the World Series. There hasn’t been a dominant franchise (sorry Cardinals), and many champions have failed to even make the postseason the year after their big wins (Giants’ fans know all about this). No one has repeated since the Yankees won three in a row in 2000. As exciting as the last 10+ years has been for hardcore baseball fans (and as beneficial as it was for the Giants), I think we are entering a new era of baseball excellence. And that is extremely good for baseball. I hated the old Yankees dynasty (and the Braves for that matter, from 1993 on), and I hated the argument that an evil empire was good for the game, but there is a lot of truth to that point. And I think we are going to see that again: the Cubs are going to make everyone better. It’s going to be harder and harder to win with flawed teams. The 2016 Giants are a great example of this. Maybe another year they get through with that bullpen, but not against a deep, talented team like the Cubs. But again, this is good for baseball.
  • In addition to the Cubs burgeoning dynasty, you have the NL West rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers. It felt like this genuinely got nasty this year, and it will get worse I think, moving froward. Good for baseball.
  • The Cardinals are still pretty dang good themselves, don’t forget about them!
  • The NL East is a growing beast. Washington is already good and should continue to be for a while. The Mets are smartly run, have the starting rotation equivalent to the Cubs lineup, and will have more and more financial resources at their disposal. The Phillies and Braves are sleeping powers, probably still a few years away, but the next five years of ball in the NL east is going to be bloody. Good for baseball.
  • Meanwhile, in the AL, the Astros are the Cubs: young, deep, and extremely talented. And several teams: the Red Sox, Yankees, Royals, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Mariners are a few moves, and better health, away from being pennant winners. The best player in baseball is still on the Angels, too.
  • All of this, good for baseball.

Back to the NLDS

  • Now that the Cubs are officially champions, let’s revisit the NLDS one more time. One storyline that didn’t come up much was Jon Lester’s fateful decision to sign with the Cubs over the Giants. The Giants were all in on Lester, and came in second (after winning the 2014 World Series). He wanted to be closer to family, and relished the idea of winning with the Cubs (call this the anti-Durant decision). How would things have been different? We’ll never know, but I would still take the rotation the Giants have now over Lester and spare parts.
  • IF the Giants get out of Game 4 alive, the popular sentiment seems to be that they would have taken Game 5 as well. Again, we’ll never know, but this Cubs team could have folded many times during the postseason and  never did.
  • I would have loved to have seen it though.

On Bullpens

  • 2016 is being called the year of the bullpen, both for the ways the winning managers used their pens, but also for meltdowns and poor decisions (the Orioles not using Zach Britton, the Giants disaster, the Joe Blanton dumpster fire, Francona as genius and then not-genius, and Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman).
  • This new role of “fireman” or using a top reliever in high leverage situations is not actually new, but the proliferation of these guys and managers eager willingness to use them in such ways is newish. It does make me think back to game 6 of 2002 (will we ever really get over this?). Dusty Baker took Russ Ortiz out in the 7th inning, needing only 8 outs from his bullpen to win the World Series. To this day any Giants fan will say: “Dusty should have left Russ in.” Russ was good, but he was not prime Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner good. Plus the Giants pen that year was very good…a strenght of that team. (In other words, at the time it made a lot of sense). It’s interesting to contrast that sentiment with what we watched this postseason. In games 5, 6, and 7 of this World Series, no starter went more than Lester’s 6 in game 5. I thought Maddon would live to regret taking Hendricks out in the 5th (up by 4 in Game 7), but in the end it worked out. It’s interesting how much things have changed in the last 15 years.


An Alternative History of the 2016 Post Season

A couple of articles are floating around that re-examane a trade deadline that saw two of the most important players in the World Series (Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) move from the Yankees to this year’s finalists.

In these articles (like this one from Jon Heyman…you have to scroll pretty far down, fyi) it’s mentioned how the Giants never got far on the Andrew Miller front because of a refusal to include Joe Panik in any deal.

Knowing what you know now, should the Giants have entertained the idea?

Here’s how it may have happened:

  1. Joe Panik, along with some combination of Tyler Beede, Christian Arroyo, Phil Bickford, and Adalberto Mejia get sent to the Yankees. Let’s say, for the sake of argument: Panik, Beede, and Mejia.
  2. In all likelihood, the Giants do not also make the trade for Matt Moore, and probably not for Eduardo Nunez either. They may have acquired some sort of utility infielder (ala Gordon Beckham).
  3. The Giants would likely have used Duffy at second and Gillaspie/Beckham at 3rd. They may have called up Arroyo as well.
  4. While the Giants still would have had Matt Duffy, let’s not forget that while he came back and had a nice couple weeks for Tampa Bay he needed surgery (and missed the end of the season to get that surgery). Would he have missed the end of the season for the Giants? Would he have played through the injury? Would he have been diminished? Would he have hurt himself worse?
  5. This also means the Giants would have relied heavily on Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samadzija. But then who else would have started? Cain? Peavy? Ty Blach? That’s a far more uncertain approach (and don’t forget Moore is also around for the next 3 YEARS).

It’s not difficult to imagine the Giants actually winning more games in this scenario and potentially even holding on to the division lead (and subsequently avoiding the Wild Card and the first round date with the Cubs).

But here’s one more reality to swallow. Miller is getting a lot of press for his “fireman” role: coming in whenever needed (including the 5th inning last night). He’s been outstanding in this role, no doubt. Would he have been in this role with the Giants?

My sense is no. Part of what makes Miller, Miller, is that Terry Francona has Bryan Shaw, and more importantly, Cody Allen to fill in behind him. Miller may come in and put out the fire early, but then the Giants would still have had to trust Romo/Lopez/Law/Strickland/Casilla for more outs.

Think about last night’s game (World Series Game 3, a 1-0 Indians win) from the Giants perspective). Samardizija gets the team through 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings in a pivotal game 3 against, say, the Red Sox. Jeff gets into trouble in the 5th and with Big Papi looming, Bochy goes to Miller. Miller gets out of the 5th inning jam, and gets through the 6th as well, but then has to come out for pinch hitter Conor Gillaspie who gets a big pinch hit to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

What then?!?!?!? There’s still 9 more outs! Francona used Shaw and Allen to get those 9 more outs. Is there anyway you could imagine Romo/Lopez/Santiago/et al holding that lead? Maybe. But given what we saw for the last 2+ months of the year that seems unlikely. Which likely means, Miller would never have been used in the scenario by Bochy to begin with.

Obviously this is all hypothetical, and no one can know all the subtle permutation and butterfly effects that may have occurred, but I’ve heard/read many Giants fans lamenting not getting Andrew Miller.

Yes, it would have been nice to have him. The bullpen would have been better.

But it’s not quite that simple. A lot of things would have looked differently in this scenario, and several of those things would have been weaker/worse .

Would you take Miller (and Matt Duffy), but have no Panik, no Moore, no top pitching prospect, and probably no Perez/Smith?

Final thought: when the Giants made the trade for Will Smith he was touted as a “poor man’s Andrew Miller.” We’ll never know what really happened: maybe those first few bad appearances led to a lack of trust on Bochy’s part. Maybe Smith wasn’t up for the challenge. Maybe the transition from Milwaukee was too much. Maybe the Casilla issues and 9th inning instability meant guys like Smith were not able to settle into these kidns of roles. But, Smith never got used as more than a lefty specialist, and I can’t help but wonder how things might have looked different if the Giants really used him as an Andrew Miller type “fireman”.

Early Thoughts on the Off-Season

Here’s a simple preview of your 2017 SF Giants (other previews here):
C (2)

INF (6)

OF (5)

SP (5)

RP (7)

Now, let’s analyze that a bit:

  • The Giants are getting rid of $50 million in payroll, but will see current players take $30 million in raises, so the general operating principle is that they will have approximately $20 million to spend. One way to think about next year is as simple as described above: Add a pricey, shiny new closer and call it good.
  • The top 3 closing targets are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon. Who do you want? It seems like Chapman will not be the target, as the Giants don’t like guys with major character issues. That leaves two elite options. The Dodgers will want to keep Jansen, so are you willing to get into a bidding war with LA? At what point do you walk away from that war? That leaves Melancon, who the Giants seemed to have really wanted at the trade deadline. He would be the cheapest (maybe? likely?). I like this option a lot, but I also lived in Boston when he had the worst year of career, so there’s that. But, after those 3 there’s not much else.
  • If the Giants sign Melancon at say, 4 yrs/$64 million (yeeps), what else do you do? I am most interested in seeing the Giants add veterans (ala Conor Gillaspie) to the bench. I could see them improving the backup catcher and infield position. In other words, a couple of the weak links are: Kelby Tomlinson, Ehrie Adrianza, and Trevor Brown. One example (not saying this is the right guy), would be signing Aaron Hill to take the Tomlinson roster spot. Hill doesn’t need to start, doesn’t need ABs, can passably play a few positions, and has some pop from the right side. These are not sexy moves, but they create organizational depth, which is desperately needed.

Well, that was pretty boring, now for some craziness:

  • Listening to John Smoltz this postseason has made me think: is there a potential starting pitcher out there who could transform into an elite closer? The Giants were rumored to be in the trade market for Andrew Cashner at the deadline, and he certainly has the pure stuff to be interesting? Two other names: James Shields, should he opt out, and Clay Bucholz. In no way, should this be a plan A, but if the Giants can’t get a deal done with one of the “Big 3” then they will have to get creative. All three of those guys would seemingly want to remain a starter, and Shields may not even opt out given he sucked so badly this year, and this is a thin starter market, so they may stand to make good cash as starters, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • It sure sounded in the postseason press conference like the front office is very intrigued by a Mac Williamson/Jarrett Parker platoon, or one of those guys winning the job outright. I am too, especially if it allows the Giants to spend the money to get one of those good closers. But I would also be open to the team bringing in a veteran to at least push them in spring training. Are you ok with this being plan A? If not, a plan B option: Matt Holiday!
  • I would love to see the Giants bring in Jared Saltalamaccia as Posey’s backup.

2017 Starting Lineup:

  1. Nunez 3B
  2. Panik 2B
  3. Posey C
  4. Belt 1B
  5. Pence RF
  6. Crawford SS
  7. Williamson LF
  8. Span CF (or do the flip here with the pitcher)

What I like about this lineup is the balance: Left, right, left, all the way through, and more power potential as well.

Finally, some thoughts on Matt Cain:

  • No matter what, the Giants are paying the man $20 million next year. As with 2016, you have to think they are going to give him every opportunity to take that 5th starter role. I know people are really excited about Ty Blach, and I am too, but I think the Giants will give each 8-10 starts (in the majors for Cain, in AAA for Blach) before deciding what to do. I think the Giants need to set, before the season starts, what the expectations are, what success means for Cain, and then stick to that: don’t jerk these guys around.
  • During Joe Blanton’s meltdown in Game 1 of the NLCS, I tweeted this:
  •  I got a little bit of heat in return. Here’s what I mean: I don’t have any problem with Matt Cain turning into a serviceable big league reliever. Nothing would make me happier than Matt Cain having a long, successful, final chapter to his career as a starter or reliever. Either way: don’t care. But, I don’t think it’s quite as simple for Cain as: become a reliever/become dominant again. Joe Blanton transformed his career by turning his slider into a devastating pitch. He doesn’t throw hard, he doesn’t have another nasty pitch. It’s all about the slider. Matt Cain’s success has been primarily related to his ability to command his fastball at the top of the strike zone. The weak contact he induced from that pitch was his secret sauce, a deep source of angst for many in the SABR community. Other than that fastball he’s never had a pitch that translates to obvious bullpen success. This is not saying he couldn’t figure it out. But Joe Blanton strikes me as a one trick pony. That trick is pretty good, but when it doesn’t work, there’s no where else to go, and it can get ugly as it did in the 8th inning on Saturday night. Maybe if Cain goes to the bullpen and he can get his velocity in the 93-95 mph range, and that fastball life comes back, then I will look pretty silly. However, Cain doesn’t profile to me as the kind of guy who automatically transitions well to the bullpen.

Giants Post-Mortem, Part 2 #NLDS #sfgiants

Here are some great dissections of last night’s fiasco: Pavs gives a rundown of the action, highlighting how a few inches here and there may have made all the difference in the world. Baggs responds to some of the questions emerging from the rubble. McCovey Chrons explains how things should have gone (agree with the Will Smith analysis in this article).

Instead of re-treading all that, I’m going to a bigger picture approach. I also want to begin with repeating two things I’ve said earlier: if you are a Giants fan, especially someone who has watched this team for many years, you should have nothing but gratitude in your hearts. The Giants have done more amazing things in the last 6 years than many teams and fans get to enjoy in a life time. We had an awesome week too of sweeping the Dodgers, winning the Wild Card, Conor Gillaspie, More MadBum magic, and two great starts from Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore against the best offense in baseball. Be grateful for what you’ve witnessed from 2009 to now.

Second, while the swiftness of the 9th inning collapse was stunning, nothing about what happened there can be surprising. This was not a 98 win team that suddenly wilted under the pressure. This was not a great bullpen getting Cubsed. This was not the 18-0 Patriots getting upset by the NY Giants. This was the very thing that has been killing this team all year making one final, resounding statement. There was a special messiness to this collapse, and there was of course the greater context of this being the NLDS, but there’s nothing about last night that can be objectively surprising to someone who had watched this team for 6 months.

Which leads to the question I want to try to answer here: who is at fault? More specifically who’s at fault for this not getting sorted out much, much earlier than game 4 of a playoff series?

  1. Jake Lamb: Which is to say Santiago Casilla. It feels terrible to be so hard on a guy who clearly cares a ton, but in some ways that may been the issue that led to all this madness. Early in the season Casilla gave up a game tying home run to Jake Lamb (April 18), a game the Giants would go on to lose (by the way, the Giants had some WEIRD series with the D-Backs this year). When faced with a similar situation on May 12, Bochy came out and pulled Casilla, and Santi did not like it. To me, that was the moment this all started. 2016 was always going to be a transitional year for the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt retired, breaking up the “core four,” who did so many great things for this team. Yusmeiro Petit: gone. A whole bunch of new guys (Josh Osich, Derek Law, Cody Gearrin) were ready to take over. The constant was supposed to be Casilla in the 9th, and the big questions were how would the other guys sort out. But something happened on May 12, and Casilla broke: mentally if not physically. While he was still good enough to get 31 saves, he was never the same. What’s such a huge bummer is that Bochy rightly pointed out several times this season that Casilla, despite his struggles, had a role to play and still had good stuff. The numbers back that up. Casilla had good strikeout ratios all year. The thought I had watching the 9th inning unfold was that no one Boch brought in had the full arsenal that Casilla has when he is on. Romo has the better slider (when it actually slides), Stickland the better fastball (although he doesn’t always know where it’s going), and Will Smith the better curveball, but no one has the full array of pitches and stuff that Casilla has. And so, one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball history (20 straight appearances with out a run allowed) sat in the dugout while one of the greatest postseason bullpen meltdowns occurred right in front of him. The instability caused by Casilla’s ineffectiveness had a ripple effect throughout the bullpen that was never solved.
  2. Which leads us to the next culprit: The Giants brass and Bruce Bochy. Now, the Giants front office realized the issues the bullpen had, and they did try to fix it. They went after Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller (the Yankees, though, said heck no), and they were close on Mark Melancon (even Bobby Evans has questioned this non-move). You can play would have/should have/could have here for years, but we can only hold them accountable for the move they did make: trading for Will Smith. When Smith was acquired you heard things like: “has closer stuff.” And, “can get lefties AND righties out.” When Smith got to the Giants he a couple rough appearances, but as many have pointed out, his final 19 appearances were scoreless. I don’t know what was going on here: maybe the early rough starts left a bad taste in Bochy’s mouth, maybe the adjustment from the going-nowhere-Brewers to the Giants was too much, but for some reason he never even sniffed a save opportunity, even though he was the closest thing to Santiago Casilla the Giants had (minus Casilla himself). Install Smith as the closer in early September and by the time game 4 rolls around he should have settled in and easily been able to convert a 3 run save.
  3.  All the Relievers. This is really a part 2 to point 2, but one of the weirdest parts of the Giants bullpen issues is just how many guys there were in the mix at any given time. This is partly why the 9th inning last night was so beautifully morbid and poetically just: there were just too many damn options. As it has been all season, the kept parading different guys out there and they all kept failing. I was hoping the reduced playoff roster would help with this, but there were too many guys involved, and Bochy kept trying everything at his disposal (not a bad idea per se), but there was so much at his disposal that no one could ever get in rhythm. Theoretically you want to have too many bullpen options, that seems like a good problem, but in this case no one was ever able to settle into “the 7th inning guy” or however you want to organize the bullpen. The flip side of this is that no one stood up and grabbed any particular role either. Derek Law came the closest and then he got hurt. Some guys had a nice week or two, but no one locked anything down.
  4. Which leads us to: Hunter Strickland. I drafted Strickland for my fantasy team as a speculative saves play. I was not being clever either, many fantasy “experts” touted the Giants bullpen as chaotic going into the year, and predicted Strickland would take over sooner than later. I was far from alone in this. But Strickland never pitched well enough to make himself a serious option. And when he did become the option he totally blew it. He remains a great enigma. He throws so hard, but makes way too many location mistakes and he does not have a nasty secondary pitch. His slider is effective in that it changes speeds, but it’s not Brad Lidge-esque or Rob Nenn-esque, AT ALL. It is a poor compliment to such a fine weapon, and he needs to figure that pitch out or add another one if he wants to be effective late in games.
  5. One final thought, back to the brass: Baggs mentions this in his article, but I thought it was weird that Steven Okert was left off the roster for the NLDS. I don’t know who you’d switch out (Kontos I guess), and the Giants had other lefties (Lopez and Smith, plus Ty Blach), but he was pitching so well down the stretch, how do you not go with the hot hand there?
  6. One final thought on Bochy: I understand the second guessing, but I don’t understand the anger being directed towards him. Yes, it’s fine to question his strategy, but there’s not much he could have done differently. He tried to play the cards he was dealt the best way he could, and sometimes you get crappy cards. I don’t have any real issues with how he ran the 9th inning last night. I do question the weird relationship with Casilla, and the inability to get this sorted out in the months leading up to October.

One last thought for now: as many, many writers have pointed out this bullpen was always going to be an issue and if it wasn’t game 4 of the NLDS, it probably would have been game 3 of the NLCS, or game 4 of the World Series.

I know many Giants fans are sick of Javier Baez and the upstarts Cubs, but let’s get real here: would you rather go down like this to the Cubs or:

  • Watch the bullpen implode in LA in Game 6 of an NLCS, where the Dodgers walk off to take the series?
  • Watch Bryce Harper hit a game winning grand slam in game in Game 3 of the NLCS?
  • Watch Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (even more egregious bat-flippers than Baez) pimp back to back home runs to take the World Series?
  • Or (this imaginary, of course), some team like the Cardinals or Red Sox or Yankees or whoever you really don’t like do the same thing as the Cubs.

My point: be grateful it was the Cubs. It could have been much, much worse.

Giants Post-Mortem, Part 1 #NLDS #sfgiants


That sucked.

And yet, it was sort of poetic and just in a way.

If this Giants team beat the Cubs, and somehow wriggled their way to another even year Championship, baseball, as we know it, may have ended.

A bitter loss is the 2015-2016 Warriors not scoring in the final 4 minutes of an NBA game.

A bitter loss is the Seahawks not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the 1 yard line in the Super Bowl.

When the Giants lost Game 6 of the World Series in 2002, and their bullpen melted it hurt for a million reasons, but the primary reason was the bullpen, which had been so good all year let them down at the worst possible time.

When the Giants lost to the Marlins the following season, it also hurt for a million reason, but the primary reason was the defense, which had been so good all season let them down at the worst possible moment.

Those were good teams, betrayed by their strength. And those were bitter losses.

This was not a bitter loss.

This was a good betrayed by its weakness.

Since the middle of July the questions has been: bullpen or lineup, bullpen or line up.

Final answer: bullpen.

Get ready for the Giants to spend an uncomfortable amount (I’m talking baseball-wise) on their bullpen for 2017.

There’s a lot of blame to go around here: one thing I want to highlight…the Giants did not hit a home run in this series. They were one inch away tonight, and they ended up scoring those runs, but no home runs.

The Cubs hit five.

On a positive note: Matt Moore was awesome. Absolutely awesome.

And he will be around for the next 3 years for only 9 mil a year. Just a reminder.

Lot’s of blame being heaped on Bochy for the 9th inning. Easy to do given the results, but let’s remember that this has been going on for months. Really all year, since Casilla started melting down in May.

If you want to blame Bochy, blame him for not committing to a 9th inning guy earlier.

They could not figure it out in September and they brought the unsettledness into October, and, of course, it burned them.

Bochy has been masterful at covering up the Giants’ weakness:

  • In 2010 the Giants had a third base problem. By the Phillies series, Bochy figured it out by reinserted Edgar Renteria into the starting lineup, and sliding Juan Uribe over to third.
  • In 2012 the Giants had a LF and Tim Lincecum problem, and Bochy figured it out with Gregor Blanco (and X Nady!), and put Lincecum in the bullpen.
  • In 2014 the Giants had a LF and Starting Pitcher Not Named Bumgarner problem, and he figured it out.

In each scenario, though, he did not have a bullpen problem.

One of the reasons Bochy is a bullpen whisperer is because he had great bullpens. This was not a great bullpen. The old guard looked old (Romo, Lopez…whose walk tonight was maybe the most egregious of the bullpen sins…Casilla), the young guys did not step up (Law and Strickland sort of did, and Law was derailed by injury, but no one made themselves indispensable), and I wonder if/why Bochy was never able to get over Will Smith’s early struggles.

Bottom line: this bullpen did not perform, and it will get a major overhaul this offseason.

My early prediction: Mark Melancon, 4 years, 70 million.

Jared Parker and Mac Williamson platooning in left to start the season.

Conor Gillaspie: hero.

Joe Panik is back. If nothing else, this postseason was worth it so that Joe could restore his confidence (and the team’s confidence in him).

Buster Posey: still awesome.

Time to start some odd year shenanigans!

3 Thoughts on Game 1 #nlds2016

  1. Game 1 nearly went exactly according to the script. The Giants put more men on base and more balls in play. Johnny Cueto was magnificent. The defense came to play. Joe Maddon got cute (it worked this time). The Giants put pressure on Aroldis Chapman. The only problem: the Giants lost. As frustrating as that reality is, there was nothing that happened in this game to change my overall perspective on this series…
  2. …However: when it is all said and done, if the Giants don’t win the World Series, it will not be because of the starting pitching. It won’t be because of the defense. It probably won’t be because of the bullpen (if they even get to pitch, knock on wood). It will be due to the offense, and in particular, to the lack of power. My issue is not with home runs per se (the 2012 Giants didn’t hit a lot of home runs). Previous iterations of the Giants have never been mashers like the 2016 Orioles/Blue Jays, but those teams had guys with pop up and down the lineup including doubles machines like Freddy Sanchez and Marco Scutaro. In other words they had extra base potential 1-8. This version has that potential, but it’s been so inconsistent and sporadic for months now, it leaves one wondering if it will ever show up. There are just too many holes in the current lineup, and that was the issue last night: they could not string together anything resembling a rally.
  3. Some people will be really upset with the check swing call, and for good reason. It was terrible. But the umpires (really balls and strikes) were kind of weird all night and you got the sense that somebody was going to walk away from that game disappointed with the umps. It’s a bummer that it had to be the Giants, but that’s the way it goes. I’m more upset with some of the base running mistakes and the lack of a big hit. Bad calls happen, good teams overcome them.

Bonus Thoughts on Game 2

  1. The pessimistic view first: Game 1 was the game the Giants needed to steal. They needed to take advantage of those early Lester wobbles, take the crowd out of the game, and insert doubt into the minds of Chicagoans. They blew their best chance to tilt this series in their favor. Game 2 represents a bigger challenge (or at least a larger unknown): Jeff Samardzija is a wild card. Will he get too amped up facing his former mates in front of his former crowd (like some feel he did back in September)? Will he revert to Bad Jeff and give up a big home run, or will he be the guy we saw in his last 10 starts (team best ERA during that time)? Kyle Hendricks is a dark horse Cy Young Candidate, who has been unhittable at Wrigley, and he is the exact kind of pitcher the Giants seems to struggle with the most. The Giants are doomed to go back to SF down 2-0.
  2. Now, the optimistic view: Samardzija got his Chicago clunker out of his system, and will be all business. The extra postseason adrenaline will make his stuff even nastier. The Giants will also get to play their (theoretical) best lineup. Going lefty heavy they will add Panik and Span into the lineup and allow Belt, Crawford, and Gillaspie to take their natural advantage back. Finally, Kyle Hendricks is the kind of starting pitcher the Giants used to trot out (Bill Swift, John Burkett, Russ Ortiz, Kirk Reuter, Shawn Estes, etc): good pitchers who benefit tremendously from a great defense and offense, but who don’t perform as well in the postseason crucible. He seems ripe to be had: the Giants are fine, they’ll get their split and have a shot to take care of business at home.

Game 2 Prediction

  • The Kendrick vs Giants lineup conundrum is the key to this game. A more vulnerable starting pitcher who relies on weak contact and doesn’t strike many people out seems like a gift for the Giants, but this team loves getting shut down by this exact type of pitcher. Once again, I am calling out Brandon Belt…good history against Kendrick, it’s time Brandon!
  • I do see the Giants breaking out of the funk a bit tonight. If they get early runs, 7 innings from the Shark, and 6 outs from the bullpen (be ready Hunter, Will, and Sergio), the Giants can sneak out a 4-3 or 4-2 win tonight, and tild the series back in their favor.

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.

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.