A Couple Quick Thoughts… #weekinreview #sfgiants

The Giants are on a roll right now and for the first time this season it feels real. They are two bullpen meltdowns away from being tied for first place.

So, a couple of quick accolades:

  1. Austin Slater: starting left fielder…may be it so for as long as it needs to be.
  2. Hunter Pence: master cheerleader/pinch hitter…never thought this day would come while he was a Giant, but I kind of love it.
  3. The Brandon’s continue to mash: Amen and Amen.
  4. Madison Bumgarner is a stud: duh.
  5. Rookies in the rotation: 100!
  6. Will Smith closer: getting jiggy with that.

That last one kind of hurts to be honest. I still think the Giants force a Game 5 against the Cubs if Bochy had of stuck with Smith in that infamous 9th inning. Maybe he was already hurt. Who knows. But now, it looks like he may take the 9th and run with it. So be it.

The Giants have three games in Colorado, and then a 10 game home stand before the All Star Break. Also, we may see Samardzija and Cueto soon. Also, the trade deadline looms. There is going to be a lot to talk about this July.

After 2017, I’m all for it.

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Half-Way There #sfgiants #weekinreview

After 79 games (nearly the half-way mark of the season) the Giants have sent out 9 different men to start games. Here is a list:

  1. Chris Stratton, 16 starts
  2. Derek Holland, 15 starts
  3. Ty Blach, 12 starts
  4. Andrew Suarez, 12 starts
  5. Jeff Samardzija, 8 starts
  6. Johnny Cueto, 5 starts
  7. Derek Rodriguez, 5 starts
  8. Madison Bumgarner, 4 starts
  9. Tyler Beede, 2 starts

If this is the only information I provided you on March 15, a couple of weeks before the season started, there are several conclusions you could have reasonably drawn, such as:

  1. Oh, crap, this season must be terrible.
  2. WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SWEET, SWEET MADISON BUMGARNER!
  3. Who is Derek Rodriguez?
  4. Johnny Cueto needed Tommy John didn’t he.
  5. 12 starts for Andrew Suarez, really?
  6. We must be about 40 games behind the Dodgers.

And yet, the reality is:

  1. Depends on how you define terrible (but mostly not).
  2. He’s fine. Just a broken pinky, which really sucked, but he’s fine.
  3. He’s Pudge Rodriguez’s son, NBD. And yeah, I had no idea he was in the Giants’ system either, but he’s really cool!
  4. Nope, not yet anyway. It’s complicated.
  5. Yeah, really! And he’s been pretty ok!
  6. Nope. Only 2.5. And they are not even in first place (Arizona is!).

A couple of other thoughts from this list. (A) Has Jeff Samardzija really started 8 games? It definitely doesn’t feel like it. I can remember, maybe, 2 of his starts. (B) Derek Holland has been a godsend (did not think I would ever type those words). (C) I’m not sure that the ceilings are super high for Suarez/Stratton/Rodriguez, but what a breath of fresh air to have so many guys from the farm system contributing. Remember when that was a fairly normal occurrence? (D) It would be really cool if one of those guys could have a Brandon Crawford type career where they just smash through the “low ceiling” label and become a stud. I’d put my money on Rodriguez being that guy. (E) If and when Cueto and Samardzija return, I’d like to see Rodriguez go the bullpen and replace Cory Gearrin, and send Andrew Suarez down so he can keep pitching every 5th day as a starter.


The Giants continue to be beasts at home, improving to 24-13. I’ve been writing for a couple of years now about how I’d love to see AT&T become more of a home field advantage. They’ve been a pretty even home/road team for most of the “dynasty” run but it hasn’t really mattered when they’ve been good because great pitching travels so well.

It’s interesting that it’s this team that has taken advantage of the home cooking so much. It’s got to be the combination of veteran bats and young arms.

If the Giants are going to stay in this race over the final 83 games, they need to continue the solid home play, and to finally start to win some games on the road.

That formula should help bring the +/- back into line as well (they are still -24 for the season).


Final thought this week: let Mark Melancon close. With Hunter Strickland on the shelf for a while, the Giants best bet is to let Bochy use Will Smith/Tony Watson/Sam Dyson/Reyes Moronta (and maybe Derek Rodriguez) as high leverage/match up guys from the starter on. Let Melancon pitch the 9th. He’s got the experience, you’re paying him A LOT to be a closer, and I guess what I am really saying is that I just don’t trust Sam Dyson enough. If I’m going down, I’m going down with Mark.


Important, and interesting, week ahead. A nice, within-home-stand, day off today, and then 3 against Colorado at AT&T. Here’s a chance to put some distance between themselves and the 4th place Rockies.

Then, off to Arizona. The Giants can start boosting their road record AND gain direct ground against the first place Diamondbacks.

Tentative Colorado pitching matchups:

  • Bettis vs. Holland
  • Freeland vs. Bumgarner
  • Gray vs. Stratton

Those are actually even matchups. Of course, if Bumgarner pitches like he did in his last start, advantage Giants. I like the G-men to take 2 out of 3.

Tentative Arizona pitching matchups:

  • Suarez vs. Bucholtz
  • Rodriguez vs. Miller
  • Bumgarner vs. Godley

Very interesting. This is not how these teams would line this up if it were a September series and they were both still fighting for the division. My initial reaction here is that this significantly favors the Giants since they miss both Zach Grienke and Patrick Corbin (who has dominated them recently). There’s also the chance that the Giants bring back Jeff Samardzija this week, but I would hope they wait until they get to Colorado (where Samardzija has done weirdly well as a Giant).

Anything less than 4-2 this week would be a disappointment. Go Giants!

Really…really?!?!

Hate to pile on a guy when he is down, but it appears that Hunter Strickland is still an idiot:

The frustrating part, beyond all the innings/saves/holds/strikeouts being missed over these 6-8 weeks, is that even when he is healthy enough to return it is hard to imagine the Giants actually bringing him back. Strickland has done some really dumb things over the years and this one may be a bridge too far. Which means that just when the Giants bullpen appeared to be rounding into a strength it is weakened.**

**I know some Giants fans can’t stand the guy and think he is and was and forever will be terrible, but before last night Strickland was having a good year. He had a good 2017, and he stabilized an area that was the definition of instability for this franchise for several seasons running. Even if he was “demoted” to a lesser role he was still going to be an asset.

But he may simply go down as an ass.

Never Read Me Again #sfgiants #weekinreview

Welp. Pretty much everything I wrote about last Monday turned to mush this week in what has to go down as the most disappointing stretches of the season:

  1. The Giants were terrible in Miami, needing 16 innings on getaway day just to salvage a game. Not surprisingly, the bats were very quiet in LA until Sunday when they manage to avoid getting swept again on the final day of a series.
  2. The Giants bench is still good, but it gets stretched a bit now that Evan Longoria will miss extended time with a fractured hand.
  3. Which means that the offense may never be at full strength this season. By the time Longoria returns, who knows who will be out then.
  4. Brandon Belt is back, and so is Cory Gearrin. Not only is he not out of the organization he’s still on the major league team! Groans abound.
  5. Madison Bumgarner is back but he’s not in dominant form yet. I was excited for the quick return, but I guess we should not be surprised that he’s still shaking the rust off. I do expect much better from him soon.
  6. Brandon Crawford is still amazing and great, but he has cooled off a bit, and now will be gone for three days to attend the birth of his fourth child.
  7. Finally, the road issues continue as the Giants now fall to 16-26 away from AT&T.

There are reasons for hope. Somehow the Giants are still in it. They are only 4.5 games out of first in the NL West.

Finally, I’ve written in nearly every post about the weird schedule this year. Well, for the first time that weirdness tilts in the Giants favor. The Giants have 10 straight games at home (including a chance at redemption against the Marlins!). Then they go on the road for 6 games. Three of those are against the first place Arizona Diamondbacks. Then they go to Colorado, who, amazingly, has a terrible home record. That’s 6 in-division road games (i.e. no east coast swing, and games that directly impact the NL West standings). That is followed by a nine game home stand.

To summarize: 19 of the next 25 games are at home!

Now is the time!


In other news:

 

A Quick Update #sfgiants #weekinreview

I’ve been in the midst of a move, staring a new job, and then also the Warriors have grabbed what little sports attention I’ve had recently (they are a good basketball team, but that’s not what we are here for).

Anyway, just a quick couple thoughts today and then I’ll try to be back in a normal rhythm soon.


First Thought: I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Giants “road woes” and the big split between record, home and away. It still exists (Home: 19-11, Road 14-21). However, the Giants are off to a good start on the current, and long, road trip, and they have the potential to make a dent in that record. They are 2-1 already, with 4 against the terrible Marlins, and then three in LA against the Dodgers whom they have played well so far.

I cannot stress enough how important these four games are in Miami. Anything less than 3-1 would be a let down, in my opinion. The Giants will throw out Madison Bumgarner and Chris Stratton (their two “aces”) to start the series, then the rookies get the second half. They should win the first two games and (AT LEAST) split the last two. Then, if they can get 2 of 3 in LA that would be an awesome road trip and push the road record to 19-23 (.500 is the magic # for a competitive team).

Second Thought: I liked the Giants bench to start the season, but it has really become a tremendous strength for this team. Pablo and Hundly have been great, Alen Hanson a revelation, and the Gorkys and Mac Williamson resurgences have pushed Hunter Pence and Austin Jackson into more appropriate super-sub roles. I like it a lot. (And I’d imagine they drop a pitcher when Brandon Belt returns this week).

Third Thought: Speaking of Brandon Belt, when he returns the offense will be at full strength for the first time in a while, and the team will be as healthy as it’s been in a long, long time (lacking only Cueto and Samardzija). If they can keep guys healthy up to the all-star break the Giants have a real chance to make this interesting.

Fourth Thought: It’s probably going to be interesting no matter what. The last two weeks have done nothing to “unbunch” the division. Arizona is hanging on to first place, the Dodgers have crawled back to contention but still aren’t their juggernaut selves, and Colorado and San Diego are very much hanging in/around. The in-division games this month are going to be very consequential.

Fifth Thought: the Giants released Cory Gearrin this week (and there was much rejoicing). No one picked him up and he may end up in Sacramento. That may not be all that interesting to you, but it should. The Giants really needed someone to take him on, as it would have opened up an opportunity to make a trade deadline move.

All of which is going to make for an interesting July. The Giants did some very creative (and actually pretty awesome) maneuvering this offseason to both improve the 2018 team and create space to go for it again in the offseason (by not going into the luxury tax the Giants give themselves the room to make big moves next year).

As of right now, if the Giants want to make a move at the deadline it’s going to require more creativity if they want to continue with their stated goal of staying under the tax. The obvious move would be getting someone to take on Hunter Pence (maybe an old NBA style bad contract swap?). Some other candidates might include Austin Jackson or Sam Dyson. Or, the Giants may just say “who care about the tax,” throw caution to the wind and go for it. The deadline will say a lot about the team they think they have and their plans for the future.

Sixth Thought: Speaking of Sam Dyson, the Giants bullpen has become everything I hoped for and more. They suddenly have a “big three” of Strickland/Watson/Dyson, while at the same time still having three excellent arms (Melancon/Smith/Moronta) to back those guys up with. Plus, Ty Blach makes so much more sense as a long reliever.

It’ll be interesting to see how the pecking order shakes out over the course of the year, but I cannot remember when the Giants had so many guys I had so much confidence in. They’ve had better “core” bullpens, but I don’t know about a 1-7 that matches this one.

Final Thought: An ode to Brandon Crawford. Get out there on the internet somewhere and check out his game logs (like this one). His season reminds me very much of Dustin Pedroia’s rookie of the year campaign. Crawford was hitting .189 with a .560 OPS on April 30th. I was definitely worried. Crawford does not need to hit a ton to be valuable to the Giants. His defense alone is an asset, and then any sort of league average hitting makes him a ++ player. But when he hits, this team can be deadly.

Since May 1 his average has steadily increased, up to .338 after yesterday’s 4-4 (most of that damage against Max Scherzer, the easy CYA front-runner in the NL). His OPS is .921, far and away the best mark of his career.

Dave Flemming mentioned several times on the broadcast yesterday that Crawford has to be considered among the leaders for MVP at this point.

We love Brandon Crawford and have thoroughly enjoyed his contributions to many great Giants moments over the years. But, to become an MVP candidate is truly amazing and ridiculous. He was an all-glove, no-hit sort of prospect who was simply seen as a stop-gap starter when he came up and who would hopefully turn into a nice utility player.

Now we’re looking at multi-gold gloves and a potential MVP finalist. Unreal. And it’s legit too, watching him yesterday, he does not look like a guy who is just hot, he’s hitting everything on rope all over the ball park. Beautiful to behold!

Road Woes #sfgiants #weekinreview

Well, as I said last post, this was always going to be a weird week. It was. It was not good or fun, at least in terms of baseball.

The Giants went 1-4, saw their run differential drop to -44 (oof), and showed that despite their improvements from last year, there is still a significant gap between themselves and MLB’s elite.

And yet, they are still only 3 games out of first place, and they have a 3 game series against the first place Rockies starting today. A sweep would leave them tied with Colorado, potentially in first place, and .500 heading back home for a 6 game stand.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking the about the Giants’ injuries, the weird schedule to start the year, and the lack of consistency roster-wide. They are still searching for cohesiveness, making another couple moves today to bolster the bullpen for Colorado’s thin air.

They remain without Joe Panik, Hunter Pence, Mark Melancon, Johnny Cueto, and Madison Bumgarner.

But, most of all, they are proving to be a very bad road team (11-18).

The good news is that they’ve been pretty good at home (14-10). But this is maybe the most obvious indictment of their starting rotation. For a team to be good on the road, in general, it must get good starting pitching. “Starting pitching travels,” is the old adage/cliché.

The stats are somewhat neutral. The Giants have a 4.32 home ERA vs. a 4.76 ERA on the road. Roughly half a run a game. Not great, but not that dramatic.

The one stat that does stand out, though: 19 home runs allowed at home, 33 on the road. And this will be significant in Colorado. Keep the ball in the yard to have a chance guys!


Today the Giants will trot out this lineup:

That’s not bad. And when Joe Panik returns it looks even better.

Andrew Baggarly has been talking up Gorkys Hernandez as the next Andres Torres, and that’s a fun comp. Let’s hope he can keep this up!


Finally, a reminder that all is not lost:

 

Brandons and Other Things That Are Good #sfgiants #weekinreview

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

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

What is happening?


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Things are looking up.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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