Week [7] In Review (May 19-24) #SFGiants

What a week, what a weekend. First, the Giants swept the Dodgers again at home, this time never allowing them to score. Then they traveled to house-of-horrors Coors Field and split an annoying, rain delayed, 4 games in 3 days, sordid affair of a weekend. The Giants now sit 2 games behind the Dodgers (3 in the all important loss column), and are very much in the conversation as far as the division is concerned.

Second, there’s been a flurry of roster moves that deserves some consideration. On Friday the Giants called up the fiery Hunter Strickland. If you casually follow the team you may recall he gave up some home runs in the postseason last year, culminating in an emotional meltdown against the Royals in Game 2 of the World Series. He’s been downright dominant in AAA so far this season, and his 2 innings on Saturday continued that trend and helped save the bullpen during the brutal series in Colorado.

Strickland was so good in fact that the Giants chose to keep him around, and he continues on with the team as they head to Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the Giants finally made a call at third base. They cut Casey McGehee on Sunday (although if wants to he could accept a demotion to Sacramento and stay with the team…this may, in fact, be his best option). Our #FreeMattDuffy worked! The kid now has about 7+ weeks to show the team what he’s got before the trade deadline.

Finally, in an interesting move today, the Giants also released Travis Ishikawa, who may remember from that one home run hit against the Cardinals in the 2014 NLCS. Yeah, that was awesome. But, baseball is an unsentimental jerk sometimes. Ishikawa could also accept a demotion back to AAA and stay with the organization.

Something tells both guys will choose to stay and hope they can work their way back up. The most interesting move to me was Ishikawa. I thought that maybe the Giants would send one of their catchers down (probably Andrew Susac) and have Ishikawa around as a pinch hitter, especially since he’s shown he can handle the outfield, but the team made the right move for now. It seems they have the best combination of a players and roles lined up now that they’ve committed to Duffy. Stay tuned though, because more moves are likely to come in the near future.

One of those very well may be sending Chris Heston down and bringing Jake Peavy back into the rotation. Stay tuned.

Hitter of the Week:

Once again, the choices are plentiful. Brandon Crawford continues to make his All-Star case. Buster Posey actually had a better week than Crawford, hitting a home run, driving in 6, and hitting over .400. Joe Panik continues to impress and put to be any fears of a sophomore slump. He led everyday players with a .417 average, and 6 runs scored.

But, the HOW goes to Madison Bumgarner for his “big boy” home run off Clayton Kershaw. Awesome.

Pitcher of the Week:

Ryan Vogelsong is also awesome. May we never question him again. Tim Lincecum shut out the Dodgers. All hail the freak. Madison Bumgarner beat reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Clayton Kershaw FOR THE THIRD TIME THIS SEASON. But, we’re going to go with a relief pitcher for the second week in a row. Hunter Strickland really did come up huge for the Giants this weekend. More importantly, if he can prove himself to consistently get major league hitters out, he is a major weapon in the bullpen. We saw a foretaste of that in the playoffs last year. We also saw the Strickland dark side. But, he has the pure stuff to be a dominant bullpen piece, and on this team, with its amazing, but aging bullpen core, another strikeout arm in the pen would be a significant addition. Plus, no more Jean Machi. Go get ’em Hunter.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants will play three in Milwaukee and then head home for a nice home stand, starting with 4 against the Atlanta Braves. Hoping to see their momentum continue to build through the end of the month and possibly close the gap on the Dodgers by another game.

Go Giants! Happy Memorial Day!

-SB

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Week [6] In Review (May 11-May 18) #SFGiants

Well, last week I wrote about the Giants run differential issues and how that left a sense of doom in regards to the future. They must have read my post. The Giants went to work with the bats this week and turned that -23 on its head: they now are dead even in runs scored and allowed for a run differential of ZERO.

Aside from all the good vibes around the Giants bats right now (and a good part of that might have to do with the Reds being bad at pitching), when you look at the bigger picture of the season go back to that fateful early spring training day when Hunter Pence broke his arm. When you heard about that and how long he might be out, I think we all hoped the Giants could just survive and maybe be at .500 when he came back.

Well, lo and behold that’s exactly how this all worked out. A lot has not gone right in 2015, but the Giants managed to keep from drowning, got one of their best players back and now have an opportunity to dig into the Dodgers lead in the division. The news does not get much better than that.

Hitter of the Week:

Statistically, several guys had great weeks. Last Monday I predicted we might start to see some home runs from Brandon Belt and sure enough the power flood gates opened up. Posey had the 9th best average and he hit .321 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs. Brandon Crawford had a huge week, knocking in 10. Matt Duffy hit .462 (couldn’t help myself), and even Gregor Blanco got in on the action. But I have to give the HOW to Hunter Pence for not just getting back in the lineup, but returning with mad style: 4 for 8 with a double, a home run, 2 RBI, and 5 runs scored!

Pitcher of the Week:

Madison Bumgarner had a great start in Cincinnati. Chris Heston had a great start in Houston and a bad start against the Reds. Ryan Vogelsong continues to make me feel back for ever questioning him. But the pitcher of the week goes to Santiago Casilla. First, Santi pulled off an incredible feat, striking out the side on the minimum 9 pitchers (aka the “immaculate inning”). But what is amazing to me is that those were the only 9 pitches he threw all week! Not a bad week.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants are off today and then it gets busy. Three huge games against the Dodgers start off the week. If the Giants could pull off another sweep they could close the gap in the division to 1.5 games. Crazy! Included in this series is yet another Bumgarner vs. Kershaw death match. Amazing to think this is the third time already this year they’ve faced each other. After all that the Giants head to Colorado for a regularly scheduled three game visit, with the added bonus of a make up game on Saturday. Four in Colorado isn’t usually fun, but the Rockies have been terrible lately and this could be a great opportunity to keep the bats cooking. I’m hoping for 2 of 3 against LA, and 3 of 4 in Colorado.

Go Giants!

-SB

Week [5] In Review (May 4-May 10) #SFGiants

I was hoping that the Giants could wrap up their excellent home stand and head out on the road with a 17-15 record, but 16-16 is still good, especially considering half their loses came during that one streak that we won’t mention anymore.

Despite a 7-3 home stand, and the general good vibes that accompany the team these days, there are two significant concerns that stand out to me. First, the Giants still have -23 run differential. Wins are wins, as they say, but the way the Giants are doing this, with so many walk offs and one-run affairs, is unsustainable and leads one to fear that another losing streak is right around the corner. The Giants have a lot of road games coming up, this is a precarious time.

As mentioned, the Giants are 7-3 in the last 10, but meanwhile the Dodgers have gone 8-2. So even though the overall record looks a lot better, the Giants have actually lost ground in the division and now sit 5.5 games out, which is as far back as they’ve been all year. We all know the Giants are fine with the Dodgers winning the division, and taking the Wild Card route to glory, but the Dodgers are at +53 right now, which is the best mark in baseball.

I know this is not how this stat works, but the Dodgers are 76 runs better than the Giants. And we’re only half way through May. This is not a good sign.

The Giants continue to win by getting out to an early lead and holding on for dear life. I think Sunday’s walk off was the first come from behind win of the year (at least that I can think of). The Giants need to score more runs. Bottom line.

Hitter of the Week:

The Casey McGehee grand slam was awesome. He then proceeded to ground into two more double plays, and his line for the week was still terrible: .167/.167/.417. That’s what you get with one home run and a lot of outs. Brandon Belt has been marvelous (.524/.600/.810), and hopefully some games in Houston and Cincinnati will translate into some home runs for him.

Pitcher of the Week:

I have a draft of a post that demonstrates how when (and if) the Giants ever get completely healthy it sure looks like Ryan Vogelsong is the odd man out. However, after this past week, that argument has gone out the window and that post remains stashed in the “draft” folder. Vogey had two starts this week and he threw 14 stellar innings: 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 hits, and 9 strikeouts. Hard to imagine anything better from him these days. He’s making the rotation conversation that much harder. Hat tip to Tim Lincecum who has now thrown 15 straight scoreless innings.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants are in Houston for a quick two games and then head to Cincinnati for four. They then come back to the Bay for a short three game home stand (all against the Dodgers), and then hit the road again. We’re looking for the G-men to stay around the .500 mark with a 3-3 effort this week and then make a dent against LA when they come back home.

Go Giants!

-SB

Week [4] In Review (April 27-May 3) #SFGiants

Well, friends, just like that our beloved Giants are out of the cellar and have won 6 straight games at home.

I have a post brewing about what to do with Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum, but that may have wait another day after Timmy’s nice outing this afternoon. Tim didn’t get the week off to a strong start with a poor outing in LA against the Dodgers. Madison Bumgarner made the bad feelings go away by outdeuling Clayton Kershaw for the second week in a row. Vogelsong brought all the sadness back with a homer fest on Wednesday night.

But, the Giants then returned home and all is well with the world again. They started to play down hill, jumping to three leads against the Angels and hanging on for dear life in the first two games, and then putting the Angeles away for good today. All in all, a 4-2 week is great at this point, and the Giants will look to keep it going against the Padres tomorrow.

Two big things stand out right now: first, the Giants are finally starting to hit some home runs, and it feels like more should be coming (looking at you Brandon Belt). That is a wonderful sign. Second, the Giants just enjoyed three straight games in which their starting pitcher lasted into the 7th inning or beyond. After a series in Colorado, and two short-start games in LA, this is great sign for the next week as there are no days off until the end of the home stand.

Finally, it was good to see Casey McGehee do something good! I still stand at the forefront of the #FreeDuffy campaign, but if he’s going to play, I’m going to root for Casey to be mighty with that bat.

Hitter of the Week:

So far I’ve given this award to Aoki, Panik, and Maxwell. Interestingly enough, Aoki and Panik were in the mix of the homer brigade this weekend. I’d love to give this again to Panik for his walk off ways as well, but we’re going with Buster Posey because it finally looks like Buster is heating up. Two home runs, including one off of Kershaw, and a .318/.400/.737 slash line for the week locks up the first HOW for Posey.

Pitcher of the Week:

In so many ways I want to give this to Bumgarner for another ace-like effort. The temptation with the 2015 team, though, is going to be to give this to him every time out. I also want to hand a second award out to Christ Heston who bounced back from his Coorsing with another impressive effort. Kudos to Tim Lincecum for his big rebound start today, after the poor showing against the “other” LA team. However, this week I hand out hardware to the old man, Tim Hudson, for nearly throwing his 27th career complete game.

It feels like Hudson is the easiest guy to over look in the rotation. Every Bumgarner start is a highlight, every Lincecum start produces some sort of conversation. Heston’s been the revelation and there’s plenty of ink spilled over Cain and Peavy and what to do while they are out.

But for today, let’s honor Hudson who’s been doing this for years now, quietly mowing down hitter after hitter. Well done, sir.

Looking Ahead:

3 against the Pads to start the week, and then 4 against the Miami Marlins as the Giants finally get a look at other teams in the NL.

Go Giants.

-SB

Quick Thoughts About Trades #SFGiants

It’s way to early to get into trade talks, but it seems many Giants’ fans want to go there already. Which is understandable. Eight game losing streaks will cause fans to go seeking for hope in any corner of any room, no matter how dusty and dim.

A quick look around major league baseball reveals that two teams have been bigger disappointments thus far than the Giants: come on down Miami Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers. Plus, there’s another team we all anticipated being bad that is keeping up its end of the bargain: hello Minnesota Twins.

Even thought it is early it does seem likely these teams will be selling sooner than later. The Giants biggest need as of right now is probably at third base, so let’s see what these teams have to offer (for the record BaseballMonk remains firmly in the Pro Matt Duffy camp):

  1. The top 3B any of these teams has to offer is Aramis Ramirez. He’s been rumored to the Giants at least a dozen times since he’s been in the league. No doubt we will continue to hear rumblings as the summer unfolds. Ramirez is off to bad start, but tends to start cold. He’s a free agent at the end of the year so if he wants to play beyond 2015 he should be motivated to get it going. He would offer some power, a little glove, a lot of RBI gamer-toughness that Sabean loves, and he should come fairly cheap.
  2. The Miami Marlins are 3-11 and had hoped to be in some kind of contention this year. However, their best pitcher isn’t back until June and that’s the best case scenario. If things continue to go this way they will sell what they have and reload for 2016. Martin Prado is another guy who fits the Sabean profile to a T. High contact, line drive hitter, who can play multiple positions. He’s also past his prime. He has one more year on his contract, which could drive his price down if the Giants offer salary relief. Nothing would surprise me about his presence on the Giants.
  3. The Minnesota Twins have a fairly bright future with some of the game’s best prospects waiting in the wings. However, their lack of ability to develop anything remotely resembling an above average major league pitcher is alarming. They might be more than willing to take a middling Giants arm for Trevor Plouffe, a guy who has aged out of prospect status and is now a fringe every day player with some pop, who probably shouldn’t be anyone’s everyday third basemen. While he would bring the most home run potential and be the youngest and cheapest of these three gentlemen, he leaves a lot to be desired.

I hope to do this same exercise with pitchers soon. Meanwhile: BEAT LA!

-SB

Week [2] In Review (April 13-19) #SFGiants

When trying to evaluate what you see on the field this year, it is important to revisit what happened this offseason. In many ways this was one of the more fascinating offseasons for the Giants, even if the end result was decidedly boring. To summarize:

  • The Giants wanted Pablo Sandoval back to play third base. They were even willing to pay him more than anyone else. But he didn’t want to be here. You can nitpick and say the Giants should have shown him more respect, and blah blah blah, but the ship sailed on Pablo when the Giants went all in with Buster Posey. Lesson: whatever you see happen at 3B this year, you cannot rightfully say “Pablo would have done this or that,” because it was never Pablo or Casey, or Pablo or Matt. There was never going to be a Pablo.
  • Speaking of third base when the Giants’ brass said “We have no internal candidates,” they were sort of telling the truth and sort of lying. Did they have someone in line to replace Pablo? No. Did they have someone who favorably compared to other top third basemen, like say Josh Donaldson? No. Did they/Do they have a better alternative to a Casey McGehee type player? Yes. Matt Duffy is Casey McGehee but younger, more athletic, a better base runner, more versatile, and most importantly right now: health. And also probably better. That is what you should think about when you see whatever happens with third base this year.
  • The Giants wanted Jon Lester/James Shields to help anchor the starting staff. Those guys, again, spurned the Giants better/more lucrative offers to go places they felt more comfortable. That is a bummer, but it is reality, and it’s why you are watching Jake Peavy give it a go every fifth day (when he comes off the DL).

This is really important to remember because the problem isn’t Nori Aoki, or Jake Peavy, or even Casey McGehee. The problem is the Giants front office did not get equal or comparable players to replace the guys they lost (Pablo, Michael Morse, etc). And that’s mostly because those guys didn’t want to come to San Francisco.

And, the truth is, in the long run, Giants fan will probably count their lucky stars that their team is not paying for the expensive declines of fat Pablo, or old Lester, or breaking down Shields.

Which leads us to the hardest of all truths: the Giants are firmly in transition year, but no wants to admit it. 2015 is not about defending a title as much as it basking in a great 5 year run and gearing up for another one (hopefully) by taking inventory.

2015 is about discovering if Matt Cain will be good again. It’s about learning if Chris Heston or anyone else in the high minors could be a helpful major leaguer. It’s about learning if Joe Panik is an every day second basemen of if he’ll need a platoon partner. It’s a make or break year for Brandon Belt.

And, it may be the year the Giants begin to decide if Buster Posey is going to be a first basemen.

This is not to say that you should throw in the towel. It’s still too early to do that. But, the writing looks like it is firmly on the wall. Don’t complain too much folks, we have a lot to be thankful for.

If you are the optimistic type rejoice in the fact that it probably can’t get much worse. When we looked at the best/worst case scenarios for this team, all the worst case scenarios have already come true. So, either it is doomsday, or it’s nothing but up from here.

If you are a pessimist, man you are having a field day! Everything that we imagined going wrong has/is, and this next week doesn’t hold out much hope. So, check out those golden rings and watch your recordings from last year’s postseason, because there is no relief in sight.

Hitter of the Weak Week:

Angel Pagan hit well over .300 this week, but it’s been a quiet .300. The lack of extra base hitting from the middle of the lineup is alarming. Brandon Belt and Crawford showed a few signs of potentially breaking out of their funks, but the team desperately needs more from them, especially Belt. Matt Duffy continues to be the superior option to Casey McGehee, and we even saw the BaseballMonk sponsored lineup (Susac at C, Posey at 1B, and Belt in LF) rolled out on Sunday.

I have to go with Joe Panik for this week, though, because he is finally showing up. Keep it up and get hot Joe.

Pitcher of the Week:

No debate here. For the second week in a row the brightest beam of light continues to be Chris Heston. I’m not too worried about Madison Bumgarner, and I like the way Hudson and Lincecum are battling. But right now, Heston is the closest thing to a sure bet in this rotation. Which is simultaneously frightening and encouraging. He may be back in AAA by the middle of May, but for now Long Live Chris Heston!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants get a merciful day off on Monday, and then, of course, the Dodgers come to town. And the Giants will have to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So, buckle up, friends, the road only gets bumpier!

-SB

Week 1 [In Review] #SFGiants #WeekInReview

Heading into opening week, hoping for a 4-3 start seemed reasonable. Even with the rotation uncertainty right out of the gate, it still felt like the Giants could steal 2 out of 3 in Arizona and then split in San Diego. The San Diego split was predicated on the Giants being able to win the Hudson and Bumgarner starts. The only game it appeared that the Giants would be overmatched in was Sunday’s tilt between Peavey and Tyson Ross.

Welp.

The plan was holding true to form through Friday. In fact the Giants nearly stole the first two game in San Diego, and were a few outs away from racing out to a 4-1 start. However, they fell short, and then Bumgarner laid an egg on Saturday night, and even though Peavy got off to a strong start, he’s overmatched again someone as nasty as Tyson Ross. 4-1 quickly turned into 3-4.

Meanwhile, the Giants continue to be the walking wounded. In addition to the negative opening day news surrounding Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, Brandon Belt pulled a groin, Casey McGehee strained a knee, Hector Sanchez got bopped on the head, and even the affiliates were afflicted as prized prospect Andrew Susac sprained a finger this weekend.

However, none of the worst case injury scenarios have come true. Belt and Peavy are back already. Cain should only miss a little time, not the whole season. And McGehee got a shot in his knee and should avoid the DL.

Other silver linings appeared as well: Chris Heston looked pretty good in his start. The Timmy’s fared well, even if they didn’t dominate. Nori Aoki has impressed. Angel Pagan looks spry. Buster Posey finally hit a home run, and then he hit another.

But, when you pull the camera back, it’s not hard to look at the first of the season as a microcosm of all our worst fears: injuries and lost velocity taking its toll on the starting staff. The lack of starting innings impacting the bullpen. And, the lack of power in the starting lineup continues to be alarming. Any time anyone hits a home run (just 4, by 3 players, through 7 games) it sure seems like a surprise.

This week might be more cheery. The Giants will unveil another World Series Champion banner. They will be home for the next 10 games. Four of those are against Arizona! Every day is a day closer to the return of Hunter Pence and Matt Cain. And McGehee’s injury means that we may see something resembling my ideal Giants’ lineup:

  • Aoki LF
  • Panik 2B
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Pagan CF
  • Crawford SS
  • Duffy 3B
  • Blanco RF

Although, it will probably look more like this:

  • Aoki LF
  • Panik 2B
  • Pagan CF
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Crawford SS
  • Blanco RF
  • Duffy 3B

Either way: MATT DUFFY!

Hitter of the Week:

I have to give this Nori Aoki. I’m still not in love with the signing, but if he hits like this consistently it does make the Giants lineup deeper, even if he has zero chance of hitting a home run anywhere other than Colorado. That aside, a great debut from a guy who needed to start strong to win some fans over.

Pitcher of the Week:

I’m tempted to give this to Lincecum. Although he wasn’t dominant he did the very thing we’ve all been longing for: he pitched efficiently and wisely. This is the great and on-going question: can he evolve and whether or not his stuff and velocity “recover”? He seemed to pitch on Friday like a guy who had some peace with that. However, that was just one start, and we’ll have to see if he can keep it up.

The award, though, goes to Chris Heston for his great start in place of Matt Cain. I’ll defer to this article by Grant, but I agree with his premise: he threw like a good who could be good. The movement in particular has got to be pleasing to the Giants, and his velocity puts him right behind Bumgarner. (Side note for another post: the Giants used to have some of the best velocity of any starting rotation. Remember when Bumgarner was on the “slower” side. Those days are gone, and it has to be alarming to the team to see so many mid to high 80’s fastballs).

Looking Ahead:

As I said, the Giants are finally home and have a week full of games against the Rockies and Diamondbacks. That’s as favorable an opening two series as you could ask for. However, the Rockies have been tearing the cover off the ball and while the Giants pitching is in disarray it seems like rough roads ahead. Furthermore, Arizona has played well since the Giants left town. They even defeated Clayton Kershaw. There won’t be any cake walks in this division this year.

Go Giants!

-SB