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!

Advertisements

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!

Signs of Blah #sfgiants

We’ve officially hit the doldrums. Maybe they hit you on opening day, maybe you are still, pathetically, excited about the 2017 SF Giants (I don’t know, there might be one of you). Chances are you are not even reading this because you moved on long ago.

One of the questions driving the season, since at least mid-May, has been: “who are you excited to get to see play?”

Many were excited about Christian Arroyo.
Austin Slater was a nice story.
Mac Williamson made an appearance for a minute.
A few of us got excited about Pablo Sandoval’s return.
I was looking forward to a couple of Tyler Beede starts.

But here we are, with 36 games yet to play, and what is there to look forward to?

Anyone remotely interesting is already here or not coming up (I would have loved to see Andrew Suarez, but it seems like the Giants don’t want to expose him at this point and I get that). Ryder Jones is here. Jarrett Parker is getting his shot (again). Kyle Crick is trying to make a case for future bullpener. Chris Stratton is in the conversation for future rotations.

But, there will be no Christian Arroyo show, part II.
No Tyler Beede debut.
No Austin Slater return.

What is there to look forward to?


This is not to say there is nothing worth watching or paying attention to. Madison Bumgarner is worth watching, period, but even more so because his ability to be great still is so important to the future of the franchise. So far so good.

Matt Moore has had two quality starts in a row and if he can keep it up it we will have the whole offseason to debate what it means. In the meantime, keep rooting for a Matt Moore resurgence. It’s only thing that makes sense.

Ty Blach and Matt Moore may have switched bodies, which would explain their last two starts, but what if Blach has turned into a pumpkin. He’s been one of the best stories of the season (the best?!), and a strong finish would secure him a spot in the 2018 rotation and make all of us feel just a little bit better about how this year has gone. A Ty Blach debacle to end the year would be a poetic ending to a terrible, terrible season.

We’re very likely to see a couple of Johnny Cueto starts before the end of the season and there might not be anything more important to the future of the Giants. At this point, I think we have to root for him to be really good when he comes back, good enough to tempt him to opt out. If he doesn’t I know I can make the case for why that is not the end of the world, but the fastest way to the Giants remaking their roster is through a Cueto opt out.

Beyond that I’d like to see Joe Panik and Brandon Belt come back clear of concussions and be good for a couple weeks before shutting it down. I’d like to see Brandon Crawford have one hot streak before this miserable campaign ends. I’d like to see Buster end the year with a .900 OPS.

There’s also Mark Melancon proving he’s healthy, a couple of guys in the bullpen making a case to be important to the 2018 team, and fringe players like Kelby Tomlinson establishing themselves as good role players.


We have a long dark winter to stare down, but may as well get started. I’m rooting for Cueto to go, and Justin Upton to arrive.

Week [19] In Review (8/8-8/14) #sfgiants #weekinreview

I have no idea what to say today. Part of me wants to write about the positive signs, because there were many this past week: better starts, better offense, better bullpen (until Sunday).

Part of my wants to burn AT&T to the ground, because this team should not be allowed to play baseball anymore.

The week highlights the fundamental issue with this team: each facet of the team is pretty good except when it isn’t.

At times the rotation has been outstanding, the backbone of success. But the Giants have given a lot of starts to Matt Cain, Jake Peavey, and Alberto Suarez. Jeff Samardzija has been brilliant AND horrible. Madison Bumgarner is having a career year but didn’t win a start for almost a month.

At times the lineup has been outstanding, even carrying the load during different swings. But it’s also been banged up, some guys have been mired in inexplicable slumps for extended periods, and certain guys (hey there Denard Span) can look great one day and then go 0-14 the next 3.

The defense has been, maybe, the most consistent force for good all year, but there have been some glorious meltdowns, and Angel Pagan still plays in the field on a regular basis (which is not a good thing).

And then the bullpen: oh sweet bullpen. Just when Bochy was starting to follow my advice (see last week’s post), just when roles and expectations were clarifying, just when it seemed like the ‘pen was taking the place of “most confidence inspiring,” yesterday happened.

And so, I just don’t know.

This is a good baseball team, except when it isn’t.

Week In Review: 2 of 3 in Miami, and 1 of 3 from Baltimore. 66-51, still, somehow 1 game up in the NL West.

Hitter of the Week: No question this award goes to Brandon Crawford who accumulated a week’s worth of hits (7) in one incredible game. Crawford’s name has come up several times in “overall best player in baseball” conversations. No one is saying he is the best, but who ever imagined that he would even be in the conversation. Remarkable.

Pitcher of the Week: Madison Bumgarner had a great start the other night, and finally got credit for a win, but we’re going with Jeff Samardzija. Shark had been struggling with control and the home run ball, but to hear some of the guys who follow the team closely, there were predictions of a turn around. It appeared to start in his last turn where two things happened: better control (still walked 3, but seemed to leave less pitches out over the plate), and the return of the curve ball (too much hard stuff was making life too easy for opposing batters). Keep it up Jeff!

Looking Ahead: the long home stand continues with 3 against Pittsburg and 4 against the Mets. Keep putting the positives together!

Oh, any maybe it’s time for Derek Law to take over the 9th?

First Half Recap #sfgiants #2016

If you had of predicted, at the start of the season, significant DL time for Hunter Pence, Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Matt Duffy, Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, and various other contributors from the bench and bullpen all by the All-Star Break, I would have thought that a recipe for mediocrity at best, and disaster at worst (especially if all those injuries were combined with poor performance.)

But, no, your 2016 SF Giants at the All-Star Break=Best Record in Baseball.
57-33.
.633 winning percentage.
Not near the best run differentially (+73, 66 runs behind the Cubs),
but better than almost anyone else in baseball.

Bottom line: this team has been really good (#analysis).

Let’s review some of our pre-season keys, and see how the Giants have fared:

  1. Health: hahahahahah…one thing I will say about this…with the exception of Pence, the Giants have not really lost time for any of what might be called the “core contributors.” This is not to take anything away from the Duffys and Cains and Pagans and Paniks, but the Giants haven’t lost any time from Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt, or Brandon Crawford. Four of those guys are on the All-Star team and the other (Crawford) should be. Not only have they not missed any time, they’ve all been pretty stinkin’ good, if not downright great this year. So, the health of the core has been steady, and this is very, very important.
  2. Matt Cain: I admitted my personal bias in this when the season opened, but Matt Cain hasn’t worked out so far. To be fair, he has pitched fairly well when he’s been out there, and his production, combined with Albert Suarez, has produced more than respectable 5th starter results. He also is back to start the second half, so this story is still far from finished.
  3. Brandon Belt: now we start to get into some “hits.” Belt has been awesome all year, far and away his best year, primarily because he’s been so consistent. Belt has been streaky, and injured, throughout his career, but so far neither of those have been true in 2016, and we are seeing the best we’ve ever seen from the Baby Giraffe. It will be great to watch what he can do too, once Pence gets back and there’s a little more lineup protection.
  4. Winning At Home: The Giants have been just as good at home (29-17) as on the road (28-16), a welcome development. That home record includes an inexplicable 4 game sweep at the hands of the helpless Diamondbacks, so it should/could be even better the deeper we get into the season.
  5. Integrating the New Guys: this could not be going any better. The pitchers in particular (Cueto and Samardzija) have not only been better than expected, but it seems like they’ve been around forever. Denard Span hasn’t lit the world on fire, but his chemistry with the rest of the guys seems great too. Chemistry is hard to quantify, for sure, but on a team as tight as the Giants it is important, and from this side of things it seems the integration process has been seemless.

Reasons to be Pessimistic:

  • Some of the advances stats show that the Giants have been playing above their heads. Even without those stats, it does seem remarkable that the Giants are the “best team in baseball” considering all the injuries and the bullpen struggles. Pessimists fear the regression to the mean in the second half.
  • The bullpen has been a mess…and there are concerns if it can get much better given the internal options (or lack thereof).
  • Too many innings for the starters. Funny how last year the concern was over the taxing of the bullpen and the lack of starters getting deep into games. Now we are wringing our hands over the number of innings and pitch counts. This is actually the one concern I do share with the pessimistic crowd.

Reasons to be Optimistic:

  • While there may be some regression to the mean, the Giants will also be fortified by most of their injured players returning no later than August 1. Undoubtedly it will take some time for all of them to find their rhythm, but the best team will become a far deeper team in the second half of the season.
  • The bullpen will get better. Sergio Romo’s return over the weekend was huge in and of itself, but his performance on the field was outstanding, and seems to have already begun righting the ship. Furthermore, if the Giants make a trade it will be for bullpen help. Pushing the Gearrins and others into lower leverage situations will go a long ways towards better overall pen work in the second half.
  • Matt Cain: I know, I know, get off the Matt Cain kick, Steve. Well, I just can’t. I think Cain’s strong second half will take some of the pressure off of Bum/Cueto/Shark, and allow Bochy to pace those guys a little bit more. Also, Cain in the rotation, means Suarez in the bullpen, which means a true long-man for the first time all season. Suarez could make a few spot starts if someone needs a breather, or he can provide some length to the bullpen, which has been sorely lacking. Think Yusmeiro Petit type work.

One Final Thought:

  • My first half MVP is Brandon Crawford. His offensive numbers are not quite as eye-popping as last year, but he’s gotten even better again, which is hard to believe. The defense continues to be outstanding, and one horrible game in Oakland aside, the defense is much a reason for the Giants’ success as anything else this year. He’s the quarterback out there, and it’s beautiful to watch. Meanwhile his clutch hitting has been fantastic, all those RBIs filling the gaps left by Pence and others.

Week [7] In Review (5/16-5/22) #sfgiants #weekinreview

The Giants are rolling now, although, in keeping with the oddness theme for the year, it’s been three weeks since they scored more than five runs! Nonetheless, they’ve won 10 of their last 11 and extended their NL West lead by 3.5 games.

The lack of offense continues to be head scratching, and the bullpen is worrisome (to put it mildly), but the starting pitching (excepting Jake Peavy) is a marvel to behold right now. That’s how you win 10 of 11 without scoring many runs.

Let’s talk about the troubling issues for a moment: the most significant issue with the offense is that injuries have caused the lineup to shuffle too much. There hasn’t been a consistency, and while no one has missed significant time, the constant in-and-out has worked against kind of rhythm.

If and when the Giants do get their main-8 back (get well Hunter Pence), I would also recommend hitting Duffy 7th (in front of the pitcher). My idea lineup would look like this:

  1. Span
  2. Panik
  3. Posey
  4. Belt
  5. Pence
  6. Crawford
  7. Duffy
  8. Pitcher
  9. Pagan

This lineup is more balanced (lefty/righty), and I like Duffy in the awkward spot in front of the pitcher. Crawford has a lot of experience there, but he’s one of the teams best power hitters and putting him in front of a pitcher robs him of a couple shots at a dinger a week.

Furthermore, Duffy is fast and the more athletic baserunner. It would help Duffy out to get on base more, and once there Bochy can steal, bunt with confidence, and do more creative things with Duffy on base versus Crawford.

I still have a lot of confidence that the bullpen will gel and not be an issue long term, but right now you can tell Bochy lacks faith in many of those guys. Two things to keep an eye: do all the innings for the “big 3” start to add up to fatigue? And, does Bochy throw Strickland into the closer gig?

Finally, the Jake Peavy horror show rolls on. Yes, he’s been better at times recently. Yes, he got beat up by the Cubs, the best offensive team in NL. Yes, we was starting against Jake Arrieta, so they might as well have forfeited and saved everyone time and money.

But, he sure looks terrible, and it also appears that the Giants are going to stick with him as long as they can, and even if they don’t there’s no one riding in on a white horse right now. That said, I’d be much more excited about a Clayton Blackburn start than any more Peavy starts.

To what’s good: there was some debate on talk radio this week about the big 3 (Bumgarner, Cueto, Samarzija) and if it’s the best 3 the Giants have had. The Giants have had many good pitchers (2010: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez; 2012: Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong, Bumgarner), but 2010 is probably the best comp, and even in that year I’d take the Samardzija we’ve seen so far over Jonathan Sanchez. Linecum and Cain at the top of their powers are a tough top 2 to dethrone, but this is a very talented and deep starting staff that we get to watch right now. Enjoy it!

Week in Review: Swept the Padres in San Diego, and took 2 of 3 from the Cubbies at home. 27-19 overall, 4.5 game lead in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: the best numbers of any hitters actually came from the pitchers this week, that should give you an idea about how the offense is going. So, I’m going with Brandon Crawford , because he hit two more home runs, and sits second on the team, behind Pence, with 6. His power continues to be a great surprise, supplementing his prowess on defense.

Pitcher of the Week: We’ve all been enthralled with Johnny Cueto and pleased with the continued development of Jeff Samardzija. I really thought Matt Cain was in trouble on Saturday, having to face the Cubs, but he impressed again.

But even with all that, Madison Bumgarner reminds us who the Ace is. He’s done so much already in his young career, it’s easy to forget that he’s still on the upward swing of a typical pitcher. Barring injury, most pitchers peak between the ages of 27-29, and MadBum’s only 26!

The question I have: is this the year he jumps from one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball to truly being in the conversation with Kershaw for BEST pitcher in baseball. So far, so good.

All he did this week: 2 wins, 16.2 innings!, 17 strikeouts, and only 10 baserunners. If you like ratios, that’s a 0.54 ERA, and 0.60 WHIP. Dang.

Looking Ahead: Hey look, the Padres again, starting tonight. (PS, the Padres played 17 innings yesterday). After 3 more with the Pads, the Giants get a day off and then head back on the road to face the annoying Rockies where they hope/need to exact some revenge.

Week [1] In Review (4/1-4/7) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Well…

Quite a lot has happened since I last posted, far too much to cover!

My goal is to keep this going for another year, so stay tuned.

Let’s start with a quick preview/keys to 2016. I’m not saying anything new here, but want it in writing before we get too deep into it. Here we go:

  1. Health: this goes without saying, and yet it must be said. The Giants have a nearly perfect roster right now. Most everything fits, it all makes sense. But, lose one or two or (gasp) more, for an extended period of time, and it quickly stops making sense. Guys are going to get hurt, of course, but let’s hope for nothing devastating.
  2. Matt Cain. This is both personal and logical. On the personal level, there’s an almost desperate longing for Matt Cain to be good again. And even if he’s not good, to be healthy and contributing in some way. To the logical: if Matt Cain is good again, the Giants go from pretty good to potentially great. Like one of the best Giants’ rosters of all time great.
  3. Brandon Belt. Belt is sort of the Cain of the lineup: a guy I root for on a personal level, but also a guy who could potentially transform this team. As it stands, the Giants’ lineup is very strong. There are no holes, and as I said, everything fits nicely right now. If Belt realizes his full potential (30 homers, 150 starts, .850+ OPS), then the team goes into elite status. The front office clearly has confidence in him too, given the extension he just signed this weekend.
  4. Winning at home.  The Giants have had a winning record at home every year since their recent run of success started in 2010. But they have not won 50+ games at home during that window (their highest total was 49 in 2010). That’s good consistency, but it’s not dominating in your home ballpark. Because the Giants’ pitching is so strong, they’ve traveled well and won a lot of road game, but this is a roster that could/should win 50-55 games at home.
  5. Integrating the new guys. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span sure do look good in the Orange and Black. And it’s great to have such quality reinforcements. But will they really integrate into a tight clubhouse culture? One good sign already: Samardzija was right in the middle of the scrum after Crawford’s walk off home run the other night. It’s one thing to be a good pro and show up and do your job, it’s another to fit into the chemistry and character of the team. We’ll see how they do.

I believe this is a 95 win team, and a team that can compete in the post-season. The five NL teams who make it into the tournament this year will be very quality teams, meaning this may be the most challenging post-season for the Giants ever, assuming they can get there.

On to the week in review: 2 of 3 from Milwaukee, and 3 of 4 from LA, and the Giants are 5-2 with an early season 1 game NL West lead.

Hitter of the Week: Every single opening day/regular starter hit a home run this week and two of the bench guys and one the pitchers chipped in with dingers too. It may be that this is the first year where picking this award is harder than the pitcher of the week. Kind of a fun new challenge!

I’m going with Matt Duffy this week. Every year Sports Illustrated comes out with its predictions for the season, and the last two years they’ve added a “Scout’s Thoughts” section in the preview. The scout is from a rival divisional team, and it’s anonymous. Last year the “scout” said Brandon Crawford would never be a good major league hitter and then he went out and had an incredible year, winning the silver slugger and cementing his reputation as the best SS in the national league.

This year the “scout” deemed Matt Duffy a fluke, in particular harping on his bat speed and lack of power. He went out and hit two home runs this week and leads the team with 7 rbi’s. Maybe there’s some weird SI voodoo at work here. I’ll take it.

Pitcher of the Week: Cueto and Bumgarner went twice, each turning in a vintage performance and then a gutsy-stick-it-out-and-save-the-bullpen-and-still-get-a-win start. Samarzija and Peavy left a lot to be desired, and Matt Cain turned in a quality start.

Given what I’ve already written, I’ll go with Matt Cain this week if no other reason than there had to be a moment on Friday, around the fifth or the sixth inning, where he thought to himself: “I’m back, I have good feel for my pitches, I haven’t been perfect, but I like the results, and, of course, our juggernaut offense is getting no hit by a rookie in his first game. Perfect.”

The more things change…

Looking Ahead: Two important things to keep an eye on. First, it will be wise for Giants’ fans to have some patience with Jeff Samardzija. He’s on his fourth team in three years. This means four different pitching coaches, four different organizational philosophies, four different sets of catchers. My sense is it will take at least 8 starts for him to fully absorb Dave Righetti’s message, and to get used to working with Posey. I would predict/hope that sometime around mid-May it starts clicking.

Second, the most interesting bullpen development of 2016 will be watching how Bruce Bochy handles Hunter Strickland. He should be the closer (and I’ve thought this before Saturday’s Casilla meltdown). But, he’s also the biggest weapon in the ‘pen and so there’s something to be said for using him in the most high leverage situations whenever they come. Let’s see how this all plays out!

Off to Denver and LA. I think we’ll be sick of the Dodgers by next weekend for sure.

Go Giants.