All-Star Break Review

50-48

That’s where we stand at the traditional All-Star break evaluation point.

So, there’s that.

It does feel like the Giants missed a significant opportunity over the past three weeks. They are over .500, they are “only” 4 games out of first place, and the second half does not present the same travel/scheduling challenges that the first half did.

Yet, it seems like they should have won a few more games along the way.


100 games in and it is still really difficult to evaluate the team as a whole. Their top three starting pitchers have all missed significant time (and it looks more and more like Jeff Samardzija may not give them anything this year). That alone is a recipe for disaster. And yet it has not been a disaster.

It’s been the year of the broken pinkie, and even beyond that, nearly everyone of significance has been on the DL. The only exceptions to this: Crawford, McCutchen, and Posey, and Posey’s been dealing with a bad hip (more on this later).

Given all of that, it could be so, so much worse.

And yet it still feels like the Giants have left something on the table.

Do I have any confidence that they could surge in the second half and actually win this division, or sneak into a wild card spot? I do have any. Some. But this season just feels like it is destined to be fits and starts, resulting in a nice but unsatisfying 84 wins.

Let’s take a deeper look, and grade out the roster for the season so far.


Catcher: Giants’s catchers are slashing .270/.341/.421 and have an sOPS of +124 (which means they are 24 “points” better than the league average at this position). That’s pretty good!

The problem here though is that these numbers are skewed by a surprisingly strong first half from Nick Hundley. Andrew Baggarly wrote extensively this morning (subscription likely needed to read this article) about Buster Posey, his diminished production and how hard it is for catchers to age well. It will be fascinating to see what happens, because that article reveals that Giants brass believe a move to a different position would bring back the power. But then to get Buster to a different position would mean moving on from Longoria or Belt, both of whom are under contract for a while. So, not impossible but tough.

Here are some of the pertinent quotes:

Posey remains a brilliant hitter — watch him battle with two strikes to extend a rally or find a way to turn around a closer’s upper-90s heat in the ninth inning or, as he is doing once again this season, draw walks at the same rate he strikes out. But there is no disputing that his overall offensive impact has faded with each passing year. His home run swing has leaked air in each of the last five seasons, from 22 to 19 to 14 to 12 to five as he enters the break. His .774 OPS this season would be the lowest of his career.

Bochy and Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean are both bullish on Posey’s post-catching career.

“If anybody could transition up the line to become more like his younger self from a run production standpoint, you’d bet on him because of his bat-to-ball skills,” Sabean said. “Especially against above-average velocity, his swing is very true. It stays on the same plane. There aren’t many guys who can swing like that.”

My grade for the position is a B+. For most other teams this position would grade out as an A, but for the Giants with Posey, the standards are pretty high.

First Base: Ah the conundrum that is Brandon Belt. Overall he’s had a solid first half, been one of the Giants best hitters, and is well positioned to finish with the best stat line of his career. But, a random, wierd injury (appendicitis) once again slowed him down and since he’s been back he hasn’t quite been the same force of nature.

Overall, Giants first basemen have slashed .280/.371/.462 with an tOPS+ of 134. Not bad either, but not quite the world beater level that many teams are able to get out of this position (which is sort of the ultimate summary of Brandon Belt’s career to this point).

My grade: B+

Second Base: Here is where things start to get ugly. Joe Panik started the year on fire, settled into a nice groove, steadily declined into a miserable slump, and then severely pulled his groin (I have yet to hear when he might return). The Giants have gotten a bump in production from Alen Hanson, but I still think he is most effective coming off the bench and in spot starts (especially against right handers, his right-handed hitting has been so-so).

The numbers: .239/.289/.347 with an tOPS+ of 79, which is really bad.

My Grade: C- (only passing because this is 2B and the defense has been ok)

Shortstop: There is no shortage of superlatives for Brandon Crawford and the season he’s been having. He is a deserving All Star game starter, and he’s been the Giants best overall player. No slight to Brandon, but this is part of the problem. Any team where Brandon Crawford is your best player is a team that is going to struggle to score runs.

The numbers: an outstanding .297/.367/.470, tOPS+ of 135!

My Grade: A+

Third Base: Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval have passed the eye-ball test for the most part. But this speaks to how bad this position was in 2017. It was terrible. That’s part of why Longoria was brought in. The strategy for the Giants this offseason was to try to upgrade the black hole positions from 2017, and they have certainly upgraded third base, but this position is still a problem.

One reason this is still a problem is that there are a lot of good third basemen in the game these days. But even with that the numbers don’t lie: .254/.296/.440. The slugging has been ok, but that on base percentage (.296) is terrible. Plus, the defense from 3B has not been as good as advertised.

My Grade: C+

Left Field: Welcome to the vortex of suck. A small subplot to the Giants last decade has been the utter inability to replace Barry Bonds. The Giants have masked over their deficiencies with a couple hot streaks from Pat Burrell, Melky Cabrera, Gregor Blanco, Mike Morse, and Travis Ishikawa (!). Part of the interesting symmetry and irony of the Giants championships is that they had the greatest LF of all time and never won a World Series with him, and then won three with the aforementioned cast of clowns. Baseball.

But outside of a couple nice streaks here and there, they have been routinely terrible in LF, and this year is no different. Part of the problem here was so many ABs given to Hunter Pence who has been sadly awful. The other part of the problem is that the one guy who seemed to be primed to take this spot over, Mac Williamson, eternal BaseballMonk tease, had a GREAT week and then bonked his head on a wall and hasn’t been the same since. Sad face emoji.

The search for an answer in LF continues, 11 seasons and counting.

The numbers: .237/.291/.357 with an tOPS+ of 82 (eep).

My Grade: F

Center Field: Here is the most interesting evaluation for the team so far. Austin Jackson got a lot of starts here and was not very good, and then Gorkys Hernandez wrestled control away from the other contenders and he has put up some surprisingly awesome numbers. Now, Hernandez has been shifted to LF and Steven Duggar has taken over for the last week and he too has put up some pretty good numbers (while also bringing the best defensive presence the Giants have had in CF in a long time).

The numbers: .272/.329/.410 with a surprisingly great tOPS+ of 108.

My Grade: A surprising B+

Right Field: This position has been nearly completely held down by Andrew McCutchen. I have mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand, Andrew McCutchen is such a great dude, has been such an amazing player, and was someone all Giants fans always coveted. Seeing him in the orange and black is so cool.

And yet, he’s just not the player he once was. You want your RF to hit more than 10 home runs per 100 games. So while there have been some good moments and flashes of the old brilliance, you can’t help but wonder about Giancarlo Stanton, or dream about a future with Bryce Harper manning the expanses of triples alley.

The numbers: .262/.353/.410 with an tOPS+ of 115 (good, but not great).

What you have here is one positional stud (Brandon Crawford at SS), a few good but not greats (1B, C, RF, CF) and then a couple of really troublesome spots (3B, LF, 2B), which all comes out to be a pretty average lineup.

It’s also worth nothing (and I don’t have solid numbers to back this up) but the bench has been very, very good, while the pitchers (and I do have numbers to back this up) have been AWFUL. Like some of the worst hitting from any pitchers, ever.


Speaking of the pitchers, I will be quick here: at the risk of totally coping out, I am going to grade the pitching staff an incomplete. If I really had to give it a grade it would be a C+. It hasn’t been that bad, but the whole thing has gone so completely not according to plan who can even know which way is up at this point.

What I do know is this: We are still very much back where we started. If the Giants are going to erase a 4 game deficit and sneak in to the postseason Johnny Cueto is going to need to be very good.

Enjoy the All Star Break!

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.

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!

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.

Reflections, Thoughts, Memories, Heroes. #SFGiants #THREERINGS #WorldChampions

Where to start?

Let’s begin with second guessing:

1. Ned Yost was destined to cost the Royals a game at some point in this postseason. It was going to happen in one of three ways: (1) bunting, (2) stealing, (3) a rigid approach to his bullpen.

He did so well for so long, but the bunt in the fifth inning against Bumgarner was a gift for the Giants. If you watch Bumgarner you know his biggest struggles tend to come early. How much more so given the short rest and entering the game in an unfamiliar situation. Bum still needed a good play (and great positioning) from Juan Perez to get out of the inning, but that bunt changed everything in my mind.

2. Maybe the biggest second guess of the night, came in the ninth inning. Alex Gordon hit a single that the Giants turned into a disaster. [Side Note: this play, in my opinion, is the single greatest difference between the #THREERINGS Giants and previous iterations. In another life, the Giants blow this game thanks to that misplay. But not this team. Not Bochy’s Giants.]

There are many Royals fans, and baseball fans in general, who wished Gordon was sent/ran through the stop sign. I have to be honest, as that play was unfolding in seemingly the slowest of slow motions, I could see it happening: Buster Posey having to block home plate to win the World Series. Of course this crazy postseason would end that way.

But, Gordon didn’t run. There are couple reasons he didn’t go home. One is that he was slow out of the box, assuming the ball would be caught or drop in for a single. He didn’t kick it into high gear until he rounded first.

Also, Brandon Crawford. This is the time to sing the praise of Brandon Crawford. I know he made more than an acceptable amount of errors this year, but how is he NOT a gold glove finalist? He made three fantastic plays in this game that saved the game.

  • First, in the second inning he made a ridiculously smooth play on an Aoki chopper right after Affeldt came in to get a force at second. That play is really, really  hard to make, and he made it look easy. That’s part of the problem with Crawford, he makes hard things look too easy and I think that means he gets taken for granted sometimes.
  • Second, Panik deserves all the credit in the world for his amazing play on the Hosmer double play in the third. The range, the instincts, the flip, all incredible. But the flip was a bit of a rainbow and it threw the timing of the play off, which meant that Crawford had to make the throw flat footed. And he gunned it to barely nail a diving Hosmer at first. You have to have an incredible arm to make that throw.
  • Third, on that fateful ball that Gordon hit, the Royals didn’t send him because Crawford (a) make an incredible pick up on a bad short hop throw…if he muffs that throw Gordon scores easily, and (b) has that incredible arm. Most of the breakdowns of that play I’ve read have Gordon being thrown out easily. The only way he scores there is if Crawford throws the ball in the stands or if Gordon blows up Posey and knocks the ball out, which we all know is illegal now.

One more thought on this play. I know Royals fans will replay it again and again and debate whether Gordon should have gone, but I actually think he should have stayed at second base. In a weird way Juan Perez may have saved the game by bobbling the ball and allowing Gordon to go to third. That meant Bumgarner was able to stay in the wind up. The way he was pitching it may not have mattered, but he had only been in the stretch for a few pitches all night, and hadn’t thrown from the stretch since the 5th. If Gordon’s on second Bum’s in the stretch and maybe that makes a difference. We’ll never know.

3. One final second guess: Hosmer is getting a lot of flack for sliding into first base on that double play. And he should. I never like that play. But, what about Lorenzo Cain sliding head first into second!!! That is one of the dumbest plays I have ever seen. Slide in feet first and maybe he throws off Crawford, or makes him jump which takes something off the throw, anything but head first.

Reflections on 2014:

I posted this last night/this morning, but it bears repeating: The Giants just won the World Series for the third time in five years without:

  • Angel Pagan, leadoff man and starting center fielder (really think about that for a minute. Not only did they lose Pagan, but it meant relying on Blanco, who is an admirable fill in, and Ishikawa/Perez/Morse. It worked out, but a lot of us thought the Giants were done when Pagan had to shut it down).
  • Matt Cain. Again, who would have thought the Giants could survive this. This team can survive a lot, but not losing a key starting pitcher. It’s an interesting thought exercise to wonder how this all would have gone done with Matt Cain. It is easy to think they would have had an easier time. Certainly, they would have fared better against the Royals with another dominant starter. But, you never know.
  • A Buster Posey home run. Or extra base hit for that matter. In terms of the guys who were there and played, this is the most remarkable part of the story. In order for the Giants to overcome the aforementioned loses one would think the only way to do it was with an otherworldly display by Posey. Now, let me say that in many ways he was otherworldly. Just not with the bat. The dude was so tired. He caught all but 2 innings, including all of the 18 inning game (that game might be the biggest factor in the Giants winning it all and in Posey wearing down). He played great behind the plate and he guided the pitchers through. He doesn’t get enough credit for the way he calls games and handles pitchers. Also, huge hat tip here to Panda and Pence who were awesome. So awesome.
  • Tim Lincecum. Most Giants fans could have envisioned the Giants doing well this season without Lincecum. He was a huge question mark coming into the year and no one really batted an eye when he went to the bullpen. But, think back over the years and is there anyway you could see the Giants winning a third ring without Lincecum contributing in some significant way? Hard to imagine.

The Royals beat an Angels team that was missing it’s ace. They beat an Orioles team missing three All-Star components of it’s starting lineup. But, they could not beat a Giants team missing some key pieces. What a resilient group of guys.

Madison Bumgarner:

The most amazing thing I had ever seen in baseball prior to this October was Barry Bonds. I know Bonds is a polarizing figure, but I will defend him as the greatest hitter of all time to my death.

And here’s the reason why: it wasn’t the number of home runs or the great distances they traveled (although that was amazing).

Barry Bonds was a marvel because he might only see 1 hittable pitch per game, sometimes per series. And he’d crush it. To do that requires an incredible discipline and an ability to repeat flawless mechanics at any given moment.

I know Bonds was all hopped up on a variety of things (who wasn’t at that point in the game’s history), but no amount of HGH can help you do what Bonds did, which is crush the ONLY good pitch he saw over a period of hours or even days. It was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.

Until this October. Madison Bumgarner is good, I have no doubt about that, but I have never seen anything like that. No offense to Orel Hershiser, Dave Stewart, John Smoltz, Andy Petite, Roger Clemens, Josh Becket, Livan Hernandez, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Lester, and others.

The only thing I can compare it to is Curt Schilling and even he tweeted last night that Bum’s performance was the best ever. You shouldn’t be get people out that often. He did it. Unreal.

Not to be overly pessimistic, but the Giants relied heavily on Tim Lincecum in 2010 and he’s know a spot reliever. They relied heavily on Matt Cain and he had bone spurs removed from his elbow. They just relied more heavily on Madison Bumgarner than either of those guys, and so naturally I am worried about the long term effects.

If anyone is big enough and strong enough to bounce back it’s MadBum, but man that was a lot of innings/pitches.

On the Giants Good Fortune:

One of the redeeming qualities of Bumgarner’s dominance is that it seems to be taking away form the “Giants-are-lucky” narrative. It’s hard to call a team that wins #THREERINGS in five years lucky, but I’m still glad to not have to hear about it, at least not today.

Having said that it is worth reflecting on the Giants good fortune this postseason. Any team, no matter how talented, requires some good fortune to pull this off, so here we go:

  • I still think the biggest break the Giants caught came when Clint Hurdle chose to start Edinson Volquez in the Wild Card Game. He could have not started Gerrit Cole in game 162 and saved him for the WCG (his best/smartest decision). Or he could have gone with Francisco Liriano (a better matchup with all the lefties in the Giants line up). He went with option 3. It may not have mattered because MADISON BUMGARNER. But, still a big break for the Giants.
  • I think the second biggest break the Giants got was not having to face the Dodgers. They’d seen them so many times all year, and especially late in the season, and didn’t fare so well, especially against Zach Grienke. I think seeing a relatively unfamiliar foe in the Washington Nationals was important. Not having to face Clayton Kershaw (and Greinke) was a gift. The Nationals can pitch too, really well, but the psychology of facing the Dodgers in a short series would have been a huge challenge. So, thank you Nationals for having a better record than the Dodgers.
  • And thank you Cardinals for beating the Dodgers.
  • And thank you Matt Williams and Mike Matheny for the poor handling of your bullpens. (Although the pressure the Giants apply to teams had something to do with that).
  • Finally, the Giants caught a break by facing a very good Royals team that lacked the one thing they needed: an ace to match Madison Bumgarner. Now, the Royals may have one (Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy could be that guy as early as next season), and certainly James Shields was thought to be that guy, but they had no one to answer Bumgarner. Of course, there may not ever have been an answer to Bumgarner, but imagine this Giants team facing the A’s or the Tigers. There may have been other ways to beat those teams, but certainly their starting pitching would have been an overall advantage. Instead they got a team with just as many question marks in the rotation as they had, which allowed the room for Bumgarner to rise far above all.

Favorite Memories:

  • Crawford’s slam
  • Bumgarner’s first shut out
  • Strickland striking out Ian Desmond with the bases loaded
  • Yusmeiro Petit, 18 innings, and a Brandon Belt home run (h/t to Panda)
  • The worst intentional ball of all time
  • Santiago Casilla
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Ishikawa’s bases load double
  • The Bunt
  • Jeremy Affeldt, so many times, so many zeros
  • The comeback
  • Hunter Pence in the field, and at the bat
  • Ishikawa’s error
  • Michael Morse’s home run
  • Romo being nasty again
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Jeremy Affeldt running to first base
  • The Ishikawa Walk-Off
  • Pence’s homer
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • The Strickland meltdown
  • Second guessing game 3 (Posey vs. Hosmer)
  • The game 4 uprising
  • Joe Panik
  • Madison Bumgarner’s second shutout
  • Juan Perez taking Wade Davis off the top of the wall
  • The game 6 meltdown
  • Sacrifice flies, “runs-thrown-in”, Michael Morse’s cobra power
  • Crawford’s glove
  • I love Joe Panik
  • Panda wink’s
  • Jeremy Affeldt again
  • MADISON BUMGARNER
  • Buster crying
  • Sabean crying
  • Affeldt crying

In Conclusion:

Back in 2010 the Giants erased all the bad postseason memories that had haunted fans for decades. When they did it again in 2012 it lead me to think about correlations between past shortfalls.

In my mind, 2010 erased 2002. They were the closest comps I had at the time, and it seemed to be a cosmic baseball even out: every time tragedy could have struck they avoided it. 2012 made up for 2003, good teams that got themselves in holes. 2003 couldn’t dig out, 2012 did.

But, then this year happened, and at first I thought this was about 1993. An 88 win/second wild card team taking it all seemed to make up for a 103 win/no postseason tragedy.

But, now I’ve changed my mind:

  • 2010 was about the whole history, not any specific year. It was about an unlikely band of misfits doing what all the star powered offensive machines of years past could not do. It was a tiny pitcher filling the large shoes of Bonds, Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Clark, Williams, and reaching heights they never could in San Francisco.
  • 2012 was about 2003, 2000, 2004, 1997, 1998, 2009, etc. Any team that fell just short, erased by a team that should have/could have been put down 6 times.
  • 2014 is the one that heals the wounds of 2002. The parallels between the teams and the series were eerie. Young upstart vs. veteran experience. 2 Wild Card teams. Giants win game 1, Royals/Angels win 2 and 3, Giants come back at home and win 2 big games, Giants give away/blow game 6, and then a final game 7. Once again, the Bochy Giants are so different from the Dusty Baker Giants. No folding, no giving up, no backing down. Road teams were 0-9 in the last 9 games 7’s dating back to 1982. If you lose game 6, you lose game 7, or so it goes.

And so, of course, as they have so many times in the past 5 years the Giants defied the odds, bucked the trends, and emerged, unbelievably, victorious. Kings of the Mountain.

World Champions.

-SB