Week [2] In Review (4/11-4/17) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Week 2 was not as fun as Week 1, but sometimes trips to Colorado tend to have that effect.

There were highlights. Jeff Samardzija got the trip off to a great start with a great start in Colorado. Johnny Cueto looked like a 130 million dollar man on Saturday night against the Dodgers. Brandon Belt continues to mash. Matt Cain was pitching great again, until he wasn’t. Trevor Brown was/is a great story.

There were plenty of lowlights. Two injuries (Romo and Adrianza) weaken any sense of depth the team has. Jake Peavy continues to struggle. Madison Bumgarner can’t get Kike Hernandez out. The bullpen was less than awesome. The defense had a few lapses. Most significantly, the vaunted offense is not looking so vaunted right now.

In particular, Matt Duffy, Denard Span, and Joe Panik are struggling. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford are fine, but not lighting the world on fire. There are some signs of life (Panik homered yesterday), but it would be encouraging to see a few of those guys (Span in particular) get it going soon.

Week in Review: 1 of 3 at Colorado, and 1 of 3 at the Dodgers. 7-6, 3rd place in NL West, 1 game behind LA.

Hitter of the Week: Brandon Belt had a very nice week, but let’s talk about Angel Pagan for a moment. He was the forgotten man, a guy many fans wanted to be replaced by a Mac Williamson this spring, a proud player “demoted” to hitting ninth and playing left field after a solid career in center and at the top of most lineup cards.

As long as he was somewhat serviceable at the plate and didn’t embarrass himself in left, it seemed fine that he would start the season there. Over time the Giants would inevitably make the move to Williamson, and Pagan would ride into the sunset, always to be remembered for his key role in the 2012 championship.

It’s early, but so far, Pagan looks fresh, healthy, and dynamic. If everyone else is doing their thing, he makes this lineup extremely dangerous. He’s been running so hot, you have to wonder if Bochy doesn’t hit him leadoff while Span tries to get it going from the nine spot.

Pitcher of the Week: I feel tempted to put Samardzija here because he pitched twice and one of those starts was a dominant effort in Colorado. I still think it will take him a little time to settle down in SF, but it may happen faster than I anticipated.

I have to name Johnny Cueto for the incredible effort he turned in on Saturday night. The Giants had lost 3 in a row, their 6 -2 sprint out of the gate, ground to a halt. They were Kershawed the night before. They’d had some tough games in Colorado.

They needed a pick-me-up and they got one in a huge way from Cueto.

It’s always interesting to me to see how a pitcher does when he has back to back starts against the same team. In Cueto’s week 1 start again the Dodger’s he got nailed for 5 first inning runs. Since then: 13.1 IP, 9 H, 3 BB, 2 ER, 15 K. Awesome. He figured it out and then he backed it up, and it was exactly what the team needed.

Plus he’s so much fun to watch.

Looking Ahead: The Giants begin a 10 game home stand tonight, which brings us back to one of our keys for the season: dominating at home. During the week we’ll see Arizona 4 times, and then the Marlins this weekend for 3.

The Giants need to see a few guys get it going with the bats, and a quality start from Jake Peavey would be a welcomed development. Going 5-2 and taking back first place would be pretty great as well.

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More Pagan!

Today the Giants signed Angel Pagan. He’ll be back, leading off and roaming around center field.

Love the signing for a couple of reasons:

  1. The money: only $40 million. To me, this is a deal. BJ Upton just signed for $75 million, Michael Bourn wants way more than that, and I would guess the Nationals extend Denard Span (who they just traded for) for more money than this. Plus, considering how many other teams (Reds, Phillies, etc) want a top of the order/CF type, it feels like the Giants stole this. Most fans were hoping the contract would not resemble Aaron Rowand’s 5 yr/$60 million deal and this is not even close.
  2. The structure: A $5 million signing bonus, which might as well be tacked on to last year. This a “thanks for that World Series” bonus. The rest of the $35 million will be spread over the four years like this: 7, 9, 9, 10. What this means is there is a small chance that Pagan ever prevents the Giants from doing something else they want to do (like extend a player or get a free agent).

What I don’t love:

  1. The years. I really do hope Gary Brown turns out to be the All-Star, top of the order, dynamo many have predicted. I’d hate to see Pagan block that. I also don’t think 35-year-old Angel Pagan will be an everyday CF. Could be wrong, but I also hope I am right, because then Gary Brown can do his thing. Either way, not stoked about that fourth year.

Bottom Line: Good move Giants. Other than a three-year deal, I do not see how this could have turned out any better. Let’s hope Pagan stays healthy and continues to do his thing for the Giants.

(-SB)

Big Answers

Yesterday we posted 5 Big Questions the Giants face this offseason. Today we try to answer them.

1) What can we expect from Tim Lincecum:

  • a) He continues to suck, the Giants figure out something to do with him (bullpen?), and let him walk at the end of the year.
  • b) He bounces back fully and the Giants have a big decision to make next offseason about what to do with him.
  • c) The Giants try to sign him this offseason at a discount
  • d) The Giants trade him this offseason. His lowered value doesn’t get the same return as a few years ago, but it could a be a good return and it would resolve (a) and (b).

My opinion is that Tim Lincecum is going to bounce back in a major way next year. I think he will be in better shape, I think he will work out the kinks in his motion, and I think he will prove to be a better pitcher than ever (if not quite as dominant) in 2013.

Tim can’t just throw a 95 mph fastball at the top of the zone and come right back with an 84 mph change that drop off the table anymore. But he can be extremely effective by relearning his fastball and by getting his mechanics to a place where he has better control (if less velocity). He is too good, too competitive, and too young to be washed up as a starter.

  • What should happen: I think the Giants should try to sign Timmy this offseason and enjoy the bounce back at a discounted rate.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will stand pat, let the season play out, and make a Lincecum decision next offseason.

2) Can the rotation back up their performance:

A huge part of the answer to this question has to do with Lincecum finding himself. The Giants had their worst ERA+ as a staff this year (95) since 2006. And this was the first year with a below average ERA+ during this run of success. A lot of that was due to Lincecum posting the worst ERA+ of any starter in the big leagues. Like I said, a Timmy bounce-back is the biggest way the whole team improves in 2013.

I also think Madison Bumgarner will have a huge year next year. I’m a huge MadBum fan, and I think the kid just ran out of gas this year. But he’s a big strong kid who will learn how to build strength as the year goes on. I think he takes another step forward which only makes the rotation that much more solid.

I’m mildly concerned about Matt Cain. He threw 250 innings this year, and while the dude is a horse I think some fatigue showed up in the post-season: too many home runs. However, there’s no reason to suggest he doesn’t do what Matt Cain always does: pitch well.

Ryan Vogelsong is also a concern. Late bloomers tend to fall and fall quickly. I expect Vogelsong to be very effective next year, but I think we will see more ups and downs.

Barry Zito is Barry Zito. He’ll have some starts that make you wish you had never turned the TV on and he’ll have some starts that make you think he could win the CY Young again. In the end he will have an ERA just north of 4.00 and win double-digit games. (One caveat here: If Zito hits 200 innings his 2014 team option vests…I would guess they manage that pretty carefully next year).

  • What should happen: the Giants staff should continue to be the strength of this team and Madison Bumgarner will be in the conversation for the CY Award at season’s end.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will take a flier on a Vogelsong-like pitcher this offseason who will prove to be valuable because Vogelsong will miss time due to injury.

3) Can the lineup stay healthy: The real heart of this question, as I mentioned yesterday, is this…will this be the year we finally get to see Panda and Posey together, at full strength, in the middle of the lineup.

It is obviously impossible to predict health with any reasonable accuracy, but Panda and Posey will be in the 26-27 year old window the next two years, typically two of the most productive years for baseball players. If healthy I think we see a potent 1-2 combo in the middle of the lineup.

  • What should happen: Posey and Panda come to camp next year in shape and highly motivated for personal and team success.
  • What will happen: I think this is exactly what will happen with the addendum that the Giants sign Posey to a long-term deal this offseason.  

4) Will the Giants make the same mistakes from 2010: After the 2010 Championship the Giants just had to bring back Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez. Oops. Aubrey felt necessary because no one knew what to expect from Pablo and there were no other legitimate middle of the order hitters in the Giants lineup. But that was a frustrating signing as it seemed to block Brandon Belt. Freddy Sanchez was blocking no one and even though we all knew of his propensity for injury it seemed like a good idea.

The Giants are in a similar situation with Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt. It is hard to imagine a Giants team in 2013 without those guys on the roster. However, they are all going to be in demand this offseason, and they are not going to be cheap. And they are not exactly young (Pagan being the youngest at 31). I’ve already heard about a Rowand (5 ys/$60 mil) type deal for Pagan, and Affeldt’s market just shot through the roof (no thanks to the Dodgers) now that Brandon League signed a 3 year/$22 mil deal.

TradeRumors has the Giants bringing back all three. I would love to see the three return, but I do wonder if the Giants will end up signing contracts that they later regret. I can’t imagine Scutaro getting more than three years (it really should be 2, with an option at most), which I think is ok, but Pagan for 5? Yikes! Affeldt at $8-10 million a year? Whoa!

Complicating matters is that the Giants have top prospects at CF and 2B. Gary Brown and Joe Panik seemed locks to make at least an appearance in 2013 (if not the opening day roster) after 2011, but they both had years that raised some questions. They cannot be expected to make an impact in 2013. But by 2014? Sure. I’d hate to see them blocked.

Affeldt is a huge weapon, but the Giants have two other lefties coming back next year (Lopez and Mijares). They also have Dan Runzler who actually could fulfill the role Affeldt plays (lefty who can get righties out too) if he can stay healthy.

All of this shapes up to be quite fascinating.

  • What should happen: The Giants should bring them all back, but at reasonable deals. I’d be ok with Scutaro on a 2-year, $18 million deal (with an option for a third), Pagan for 3 years at $36 million, and Affeldt for 2 years at $15 million.
  • What will happen: The Giants will bring them all back, but overpay severely, especially for Pagan.

5) Will the Giants make a splash in Free Agency: Assuming the above happens, the Giants will only have one significant hole and that involves Left Field. (Amazing trivia note from Baggs: did you know the Giants biggest FA signing last year was Ryan Theriot at $1.75 million. They spent a ton of money on existing guys, but that still caught me off guard).

The Giants have come up in a few Josh Hamilton rumors and there is always the possibility that another Championship could lead to (over)confident spending.

The answer to this question really lies in what happen with Scutaro, Pagan, and Affeldt, especially Pagan. If Pagan goes elsewhere the Giants might jump in on someone like Michael Bourn or BJ Upton.

The bigger question here is this: do the Giants take a flier on Melky Cabrera? Do they utilize a Blanco/Nady platoon (or some other right-handed, power hitting outfielder)? Do they have another trick up their sleeve?

  • What should happen: Assuming the “big 3” return, I think the Giants should bring back Cody Ross and use him in a platoon with Gregor Blanco in left field.
  • What will happen: This is the hardest one for me to predict and so much of it has to do with the other impending free agents. I don’t think the Giants will spend big, especially on a left fielder, so I do see them considering some kind of a platoon here, but I honestly have no idea how this one shakes out. I also wouldn’t count out a Cabrera return.

There you have it. I’m sure this will all get revised and mixed up as things progress, but that’s my very early assessment of this offseason. Good luck Sabes!

(SB)

Oh Glory! (or the Immortality of Buster Posey)

I’ll be honest: after the Giants were bamboozled by Bronson Arroyo in Game 2 I figured it was over. Nice season Giants, thanks for the ride, loved it, but not every year is like 2010.

Not that many would have predicted the Giants could come back on the Reds, BUT this team has been overcoming adversity all year:

  • Their best player was coming off a career threatening injury. No one knew what exactly to expect from Buster this season.
  • They get swept in the first series of the season by the team everyone picked to win the division.
  • They lose their closer two weeks into the season, leaving huge bullpen questions to be answered.
  • Their ace has an awful first half and the worst season of his career.
  • They lose their All-Star left fielder (and first half MVP) to a season ending drug suspension.
  • They had offensive black holes at second base, shortstop, and first base for most of the season.
  • There were questions about Bumgarner and Vogelsong and the closer-by-committee approach and shouldn’t Hunter Pence be better and can they really win with a Blanco/Nady platoon in left field and on and on I could go.
  • The were the Dodgers making huge moves that were supposed to bury the Giants.
  • And then those first two games of this series…

Of course, they come back and win this thing. I agree with Joe Lemire…through it all Posey and Bochy stood tall and calmly led this team. I know the Hunter Pence pre-game speeches are getting a lot of press, but it is the calm hand of those two dudes that define the character of this team.

So, we move on…and they move on with confidence.

Some other thoughts:

  • It isn’t often that a player of Posey’s caliber gets a moment to do the kind of damage he did in game five. There are too many ways to mitigate a stars influence in baseball (see Bonds, Barry) and even if the moment presents itself this is still a game where a 30% success rate is awesome. But Buster came through. Someone, a while back, said the guy Buster is most like is Joe Montana. I only believe that more.
  • Remember when I wrote that the demise of this team would be the shortstop position. Well, Arias and Crawford are huge reasons the Giants live on. Crawford’s game 5 was particularly impressive given the pressure on Bochy to play Arias. Huge defensive plays, an RBI triple, and that at-bat against Chapman. That’s big-boy stuff.
  • Angel Pagan, I’m a believer.
  • Who would have thought the Giants could win a five game series in which Lincecum made no starts and no starter last through six innings. Both of those things need to change in the next round.
  • The key to the NLCS, in my opinion, is Madison Bumgarner. He needs to step up and dominate.

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/21-5/27)

Results:

4-3 (25-23, 7.5 GB in NL West)

4-3 W @ MIL; 6-4 W @ MIL; 8-5 L @ MIL; 14-7 W @ MIA; 7-6 L @ MIA; 5-3 L @ MIA; 3-2 W @ MIA

Giants go on a seven game road trip, and a weird one at that (Milwaukee to Miami), right at the end of playing 20 games in 20 days and win a three game series and split a four gamer. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? And yet, there is something unsatisfying about this week. Maybe it was Lincecum giving the game away on Friday or the offense, which was potent most of the week, getting shut down by Mark Buerhle, but is sure felt like this should have/could have been a 5-2, or even a 6-1 trip. Which is kind of how the whole season feels: we’re doing ok, but it really seems like we should be doing better. More on that later this week…

Hitter of the Week:

There are actually a number of great performances to highlight: Posey hit two home runs and had 8 RBI, Pagan hit .348 and drove in 7, Arias hit .345 and smashed his first home run, and, of course, Melky did it all this week batting .452, hitting 2 home runs (plus 3 doubles and 2 triples), driving in 8 runs, stealing 3 bases, and scoring 12 times (with a nice little 1.371 OPS).

But, I am giving hitter of the week to Gregor Blanco for two reasons: one, I’ve talked about Melky enough, and two Gregor’s pretty darn good! It’s like Andres Torres all over again. He gets hits, walks a ton, steals bases, and sees a lot of pitches. That’s what you ask for from your leadoff hitter. He’s made the lineup deeper and stronger by allowing Pagan to hit down in the order. Can’t wait for Pablo to get back because this team might actually have a good offense when all the pieces are together!

Pitcher of the Week:

Matt Cain went 2-0 with a 3.29 ERA this week, and is generally pretty awesome, but check out the bullpen numbers for the week. Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, Edlefson, Loux, and Hensley combined to pitch 20 innings this week. They allowed 21 baserunners (a 1.05 WHIP) and had a collective 0.00 ERA! They struck out 22 batters and walked 9. The only blemish on the bullpen all week were the 4 runs Javier Lopez gave up in the blowout win against Miami (no harm, no foul). He came back strong yesterday, striking out Logan Morrison in a big spot. Hats off to the bullpen for their dominance!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants have three at home against Arizona (Arizona again!) and then, mercifully, have a day off before starting a four game home series against the Cubs. Hopefully they can hang in there against the snakes, and beat on the Cubs…still waiting for that 5-2/6-1 week of dominance.

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/15-5/20)

Results:

4-3 (21-20, 7.0 GB in NL West)

3-2 W vs. Col; 5-4 L vs. Col; 4-1 L vs. STL; 7-5 W vs. STL; 8-6 W vs. OAK; 4-0 W vs. OAK; 6-2 L vs. OAK

On Sunday, after the third inning, I was mentally writing a post about how the Giants had turned a corner. They were not going to be an offensive juggernaut, but their situational hitting has improved tremendously. Timmy was cruising. A four game winning streak and 5-2 home stand was in the works. And then it all fell apart.

The most alarming thing to me about Lincecum’s struggles this season is the big innings. I don’t worry too much about his velocity or an injury. I think it’s mostly mental. I’m not sure why, but, for whatever reason, he has really struggled to shut the door when things are on the brink of getting out of hand. It’s been a huge disaster of an inning or a relatively easy 3 or 4 batter affair. Not much in between.

Here’s to hoping he figures it out soon.

Hitter of the Week:

Overall, the Giants had a pretty good week with the bats. It’s especially encouraging to see them walk more and to know the top three performances of the week belonged to Angel Pagan (.440/.548/.560), Melky Cabrera (.385/.393/.462), and Buster Posey (.381/.462/.476). They need those guys to do this with Pablo out.

The nod goes to Pagan because of all the walks. He’s really set the tone in that area and has helped lengthen the lineup by serviceably filling the 5 spot. Well done Angel.

Pitcher of the Week:

Ryan Vogelsong gets the nod for the second week in a row. He was fantastic in both turns…14 innings, 10 baserunners, 1 earned run. Nasty. Seems to have it all working and seems to know where it is going at all times. Lincecum should take note.

A tip of the cap as well to Jeremy Affeldt. He’s back and looks really good. A nasty Affeldt does a lot to restore order and dominance to the bullpen.

Looking Ahead:

A 7 game road trip against non-division teams we already saw this month. Giants need to get some revenge against Miami for the sweep they suffered at the beginning of May (3 1-run losses) and hopefully take another 2 of 3 from Milwaukee.

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/30-5/6)

Results:

2-1 L vs. Mia; 3-2 L vs. Mia; 3-2 L vs. Mia; 6-4 L vs. Mil; 5-2 W vs. Mil; 4-3 W vs. Mil

2-4 (14-14, 4.0 GB in NL West)

By all accounts it was a horrible week for the Giants: Pablo Sandoval to the DL, a sweep at the hands of Marlins, 4 loses in a row, another bad Lincecum start, a bad Zito start, more injuries, slumps…I could go on. Somehow, in the middle of all that, the Giants are .500, 4 games out of first, in second place, and facing a 3 game series against the Dodgers with a chance to cut that lead down. It’s not all roses and puppies, but it could be worse.

That said, losing 3, 1-run, games in a row to the Marlins hurts. Really not good. Painfully reminiscent of last season. Let’s not do that again.

Hitter of the Week:

As if to mock us, Pablo Sandoval had the best average (.400) and only home run of the last week. So glad I just looked that up. Outside of that Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera had great weeks (collectively hitting .345). They both leave something to be desired (Pagan never walks), but so far the two big off-season moves (trades) are paying off. Melky, in particular, has impressed. (As I write this Jonathan Sanchez just gave up another run, 7 now, to the Red Sox).

Pitcher of the Week:

All Matt Cain did this week was pitch 15 innings, strike out 14 batters, give up 14 baserunners (0.93 WHIP), and 4 earned runs (2.40 ERA). What does he have to show for it? An 0-1 record. I am not an apologist for the statistic of wins. But it really ticks me off when east coasters scratch their heads and laugh at the Giants for giving Cain the largest contract in baseball history for a right-handed pitcher. The dude’s good. Don’t look at his record. His win/loss record might be the greatest example of sports injustice known to man.

Looking Ahead:

Huge series with the Dodgers, obviously. Despite my positive spin earlier, the Giants are not set up well in this series with their two best pitchers (Cain, MadBum) being the only two guys who won’t start in LA. Instead we get Zito, Vogelsong, Lincecum. And the Dodgers have their three best guys going (Lilly, Kershaw, Billingsley). Not excited about that. Here’s to hoping they can find a way to pull 2 out of 3 out of a hat. After that, back to Arizona for three more (didn’t we already go there?).

Get it together quick boys!

(-SB)