The 5 Most Important Players on the 2018 Giants

It’s still a little early for this type of post: we’ll need to see if there are any more moves and who comes out of nowhere during Spring Training. But for now, I am pretty cool with this 25 man roster:

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF
  9. Pence LF
  10. Duggar CF
  11. Jackson OF
  12. McCutchen RF
  13. Parker OF
  14. Bumgarner SP
  15. Cueto SP
  16. Samardzija SP
  17. Stratton SP
  18. Suarez SP
  19. Melancon CL
  20. Smith LRP
  21. Dyson RRP
  22. Strickland RRP
  23. Gearin RRP
  24. Blach LRP
  25. Law/Okert/Fernandez

I know the Giants have a stable of utility infielders coming in this spring, but I don’t know that they can do much better than Kelby Tomlinson. I like Tomlinson’s speed and familiarity (and glasses), and couple him with some left-handed power from Pablo and Jarrett Parker and that could be a nice bench. Let Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, and others lend depth from the farm system.

In terms of pitchers, I would love for Andrew Suarez to get the 5th starter nod, and I also would love to see Derek Law return to form. But, the most interesting pitching situation might be Julian Fernandez. The Giants rule 5 draft pick, he has to pitch for the big league team or he goes back to Colorado. The dude throws over 100 mph and seems pretty nasty, but has control issues and hasn’t pitched in the higher minors yet. He is a total gamble, but maybe an interesting one!

Ok, so assuming that is the team, let’s name the five most important Giants in 2018.


The most important Giant in 2018 is Johnny Cueto. I am assuming that Madison Bumgarner is going to have a huge year. He will be highly motivated to put the dirt bike incident of 2017 behind him, and prove he is healthy, strong, and ready to GET PAID. I am also assuming that Jeff Samardzija does exactly what he did last year but now with a better defense behind him. All Chris Stratton has to do is be better than Matt Moore (not a high bar at all). If Stratton is league average, the Giants are in good shape.

If those three things happen, then the two big question marks for 2018 in the Giants rotation are Cueto and the 5th starter. Every team (except, I guess, the Astros) has a question at 5th starter, so this does not make the Giants unique at all. One of the quiet story lines of this offseason is that for the first time since 2008 (2007?) the Giants have more concerns about their starting pitching than they do about their lineup. The formula, for the better part of a decade, has been excellent starting pitching, a solid and versatile bullpen, and then hope the offense can score at least 4 runs. But this 2018 team, all of a sudden, has flipped that formula, and the Giants have a lot of questions about the pitching.

Which is why Johnny Cueto is the most important player for the upcoming season. In 2016 Johnny Cueto had 144 ERA+, started the All-Star Game, garnered Cy Young and MVP votes, and I would sacrifice a baby goat to spend a day in the alternative universe where the Giants close out game 4 in the NLDS and Cueto gets a shot at the Cubs in game 5.

2017, Cueto came to camp late because he was caring for his ailing dad. He was out of shape, dealt with blisters and injuries, and saw his ERA+ plus drop 50 points down to 92, all of which “froced” him to pick up his option and now serve the next 4 years with the Giants.

I don’t believe Cueto needs to be as good as he was in 2016, but he needs to be way closer to that than what he produced last year. A very good Johnny Cueto makes everything about the 2018 Giants more stable and competitive. He takes pressure off the bullpen, off the back end of the rotation, and once again gives the Giants a 1-2 punch in their rotation to go up against anyone else’s best.


The second most important player on the 2018 Giants is Buster Posey. It’s unfair to single Posey out for anything that went wrong in 2017. He was easily the Giants’ best player.

But much like Cueto, great Posey (vs. good Posey) is what will move this Giants’ lineup from good to really good.

The magic number, for me, for Buster is 20 home runs and an OPS+ of 140. I have him (finally) hitting third in this lineup, and if Posey is hitting the ball with authority all over the field, everything opens up for everyone else.

Plus, there’s the symbolic nature of: this is Posey’s team. He needs to play that way.


The third most important player for the Giants this year is Mark Melancon. It’s generally not a good sign for a closer to appear to so high on a list like this, but so it goes for the Giants.

Melancon is critical because as we all know far too well, the primary issue with the Giants’ bullpen the last two seasons has been rampant instability. When Melancon has been healthy he has been the physical embodiment of a stability. From 2011 to 2016 he pitched in over 70 games 5 of 6 seasons. His ERAs from 2013 through 2016: 1.39, 1.90, 2.23, 1.64.

Giants fans have no idea how good this guy really is. Melancon’s strength has never been that he was the nastiest guy in the 9th inning. There’s always been someone who threw harder or had a better slider or whatever. But, for calm, clean 9th innings, Mark Melancon is your guy.

If he comes anywhere close to his 2013-2016 form the Giants bullpen gets better by leaps and bounds.


Which leads us to MIP #4: Will Smith. Melancon is one notch higher because his stabilizing impact has farther reaching impact, but the Giants will need one more guy in their bullpen to really step up. Smith’s injury early in the spring last year was the first bad omen of 2017.

(I also believe that if Bochy had of taken the training wheels off him in 2016 we’d have made it to that mythical game 5. But then, maybe the reason Bochy wasn’t feeling so good about Smith is that his elbow was barking.)

Smith will be ready for Spring Training, and will likely to be ready to go full-bore by May 1st. If Smith can establish himself as a versatile bullpen weapon (ala Jeremy Affeldt) by June 1, the Giants will really be on to something. A steady Melancon and a weaponized Smith takes so much pressure off Bochy and the rest of the bullpen amrs in ways that are difficult to quantify.

Let’s put it this way, if the Giants are going to have to lean on Hunter Strickland and Sam Dyson in the late innings in 2018, things are not looking good.


I’ve struggled with this 5th spot. At this point you can almost throw a dart at the rest of the roster and make a pretty good argument for whoever you hit.

I’d like to say Brandon Belt because if he has a good year, suddenly the Giants lineup gets longer and deeper and much more dangerous. Plus there are some long-term benefits to a big Belt season (see my post on Bryce Harper).

I’d also like to say Steven Duggar, because his emergence at the big league level as a solid contributor will go a long way towards allowing several guys (namely Austin Jackson) to settle into their ideal roles.

Don’t forget about Brandon Crawford who needs to be healthy for the Giants defense to be at its peak.

Finally, a good argument can be made for Andrew McCutchen because he probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the lineup. If he recaptures his MVP level performance the Giants will have pulled another one over on the Pirates.

But, I think, at the end of the day, Evan Longoria gets this final spot.

For one, Longoria is here for a while. There’s a very good chance that McCutchen is a one and done player. If McCutchen flames out, oh-well-moving-on. If Longoria flames out, gulp!

Two, Longoria will most likely serve as the “protection” in this lineup. He’ll hit behind Posey and Belt and those guys have never had someone like Evan Longoria hit behind them. At least not vintage Evan Longoria. His presence should make life so much easier on them.

Finally, one of the selling points of Longoria was his glove (gold glove last year) and his durability. If all the Giants get from Longoria is that (glove and an everyday presence) they will make up significant ground from last year.

But, if he can approximate even 2016 production levels the Giants will have their best third basemen since Matt Williams.


So there you have it. The 5 most important players for 2018. What would your top five look like?

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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.

A Streak of Winning! #sfgiants

So, um, yeah, we all saw this coming, right? A nice little six game winning streak after the wheels completely fell off the wagon. Baseball.

I was going to spend this week’s post on evaluating the pitching, but the streak, plus holiday travel, will not make that possible, so just a couple quick observations, and we’ll get back to the pitchers during the All-Star break.

  1. Denard Span and Hunter Pence obviously read this blog, and took it personally when I said they were clearly the problem with the offense. Span slashed .417/.481/.667 this week, and just looked like a good major league baseball player. He lifted his WAR total from -0.6, to -0.1, which essentially puts him back at league average. If he keeps this up he will blast right back into positivity. Pence had a far less impressive line, but played good defense (finally) and was a significant part of the 13 run outburst on Friday night.
  2. Overall, the Giants scored 38 runs this week, and played much, much better defense.
  3. As important as that is, the Giants’ formula begins and ends with starting pitching. This week the Giants got two more excellent starts from Jeff Samardzija who quickly becoming untradeable, a quality start from Matt Cain, a very quality start from Ty Blach (considering how the first inning of that game went), and good enough starts from Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore. There are still too many question marks here for this streak to carry on much longer, but while the offense is humming like this, quality starts will keep the club competitive.
  4. One final note. No one should get overly giddy about Sam Dyson’s first two saves. Not in the sense of “new closer” or anything like that. But a good Sam Dyson will go a long way towards stabilizing the bullpen of the future. His positive performance is a good, good thing.

If the good times continue to roll, how do you evaluate the 2017 Giants? It seems the brass consider the core to be good enough to keep together, tweak a bit, and hope for better luck next year. Since that is the case, there’s nothing to root for here other than the team to keep playing like this. If these are the guys we are going to ride and die with, they may as well be good.

Speaking of good, Buster Posey: starting All-Star!

Under Performing/Over Performing #sfgiants

As the Giants continue to perform the inverse of the path back to competition I described a few weeks ago, the search for answers continues. The Giants suckiness is starting to catch the attention of the larger baseball world and Ken Rosenthal weighs in today (arguing that the Giants are boring and lack chemistry).

While I admit to being a sucker for the chemistry argument, winning is always the best chemical ingredient in any team sport. The 2010 Giants were a long losing streak from becoming a dumpster fire. Can you imagine Brian Wilson’s schtick on a 95 loss team?

No, the problem here is not that the Giants are boring or that they don’t stretch together and make corny jokes or have a team catch phrase. The problem is that, nearly across the board, the team has underperformed. Let’s take a look:

Opening Day Lineup:

  • Denard Span: Span started the season with a minor injury, missing 3 of the team’s first 4 games, and then spent April 23 to May 10 on the DL. Not that anyone expected Denard to be a dominant presence, but his absence and suckiness has led to far more at bats for Gorkys Hernandez than anyone would have liked. There’s also the fact that Hernandez made the club essentially as a Span caddy (a damning reality all by itself). Overall: -0.6 WAR (remember that a 0 score is essentially an average player).
  • Brandon Belt: why was Brandon Belt ever hitting second???? This continues to drive me crazy, but at least Bruce Bochy gets credit here for creativity. Anyway, the #BeltWars continue (this is the raging difference of opinion about Belt that takes place on-line on a nightly basis). The haters look at the average and the strikeouts and the gumby shoulders and lose their minds. The lovers look at the giraffe pics and the 1.7 WAR for 2017 and say “see, he’s actually good.” And the numbers don’t lie, Belt’s been a productive player all year. I lean towards the Belt love, but because of his streaky nature, Belt is never a guy you want to build an offense around. Also, he should be HITTING CLEANUP. I will not stop staying this.
  • Hunter Pence: Pence continues to get hurt. He hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2014 (also the last time the Giants won the World Series). Weird to think that at that time he had played every day for over two full seasons and had developed an iron man reputation. But the injuries have made it hard for him to produce consistently, and this year it really looks like he can’t handle right field anymore. The other day I told my wife I thought he was done and then he hit a game tying home run off Jim Johnson. Baseball. Still, he’s at -0.5 WAR for the season.
  • Buster Posey: Buster is great. The end. 2.7 WAR. Also, HE SHOULD HIT THIRD. (Before we move on, though, Buster’s WAR ranks him 34th in MLB…that means there is essentially at least one player on every other team with a higher WAR than Posey. Another way of saying it: the Giants never face a team in which they have the unquestioned best player on the field).
  • Brandon Crawford: The fact that Crawford opened the season as the 5th hitter, and Buster Posey’s main protection, is (a) a testament to how much Brandon has grown as a hitter, and (b) a sign that we should have seen more clearly the reality that this team might struggle to score runs. Despite missing time on the DL, he’s still a positive 0.2 WAR, although that’s mostly due to his defense.
  • Eduardo Nunez: Eddy’s another somewhat divisive internet figure. He’s at 0.1 WAR, a figure depressed by his bad LF defense. But he also started this season off in a terrible slump, and while the 17 steals are nice, his “power” has diminished compared to his career high totals from last year. This is a major problem for the Giants, and a reason Ryder Jones is a getting look right now. The Giants have too many lineup spots where a home run is a lucky bonus, not an expected result. Outside of Belt and Posey, there’s almost no one else hitting for regular power.
  • Jarrett Parker: 0 WAR. This score is obviously due to the small sample size (21 ABs) and a long DL stint, but again, here we have foreshadowing. At his best, Parker was a so-so defender, who would hopefully hit around .250 and blast a few home runs. Good for a slightly positive WAR if everything fell right. It did not fall right, and the Giants have had a vortex of negative WAR all season in left field.
  • Joe Panik: Another curiosity…why was Joe hitting 8th? Why is he not hitting second every day? Panik is at 1.1 WAR for the season, a number that is depressed by his depressing month of May. Panik hit .301 in April, and is hitting .361 in June, but struggled to a .192 average in May. I can’t wait to see where he is at by the end of the year. My sense is that WAR should increase significantly.
  • Assessment: Underperforming. Some of this is injury related. Some of this is bench related (more in a moment). But a good portion of this is due to some redundancies and bad roster construction. No team should employ both Denard Span and Joe Panik as their regular 1-2 punch. This has more to do with Span than with Panik (who I love). The Giants need a far more athletic, powerful option in CF to get this lineup back to contention. Speaking of athletic, the other glaring issue is the corner outfield spots. That’s where the upgrade needs to happen.

The Bench: the Giants bench has been a mess of injury and under performance, just like the lineup, but worse in many ways. Nick Hundly who was supposed to be a nice source of veteran power at the back up catcher spot: -0.3 WAR and only 2 home runs. Gorkys Hernandez is at -1.2 WAR which seems high. Aaron Hill was at -0.9 WAR before getting cut. It goes on and on. The Giants, for so long, have been so good at creating a bench out of nothing, but this year the thing has failed miserably. Part of this is due to the strain that injuries have put on the roster, but the other problem is just gross underperformance.

We’ll tackle the pitching next week.

Consistently Inconsistent #sfgiants #week2

There are a variety of oddities making the evaluation of the Giants start to the season difficult.

For one, while they’ve played 14 games, they’ve only seen 3 different teams. This week, they only play 5 games and they only add one new team to that list. And it’s a team from the American League Central. That’s odd.

Opening day saw the continuation of 2016’s bullpen woes, but the bullpen hasn’t really been the issue. The Giants are one of the top teams in terms of runs scored in the NL, but they’ve had some BAD games with the bats.

They’ve had some encouraging starts from all five guys in the rotation, and yet are only consistent winners when Johnny Cueto takes the hill.

They are 0-3 when Madison Bumgarner starts, and he’s off to one of his better starts. That’s really odd.

The school of cold hard facts would say: 5-9 and last place is a bad start. No bones about it, this is not how anyone would have wanted to come out of the gate.

However, they’ve already weathered a week without Buster Posey, are not going to go winless in Bumgarner starts, and the big problem with this team (the bullpen) seems to have found a sense of stability.

Back to the dark side: the Giants are on a weird road trip, which includes Colorado, and 6-13 would really be a bad start to the season.

Where do we go from here?

The big issue has been consistency. Certainly, a parade of quality starts from the rotation would go a long way to righting the ship.

But, the lack of quality from the lineup is the most troubling development so far. Consider this weekend: Saturday, the Giants were nearly no-hit, then followed that up with a 3 run out burst to start the game Sunday, and then proceeded to mail it in for the remainder of the game.

That’s 17 innings of nothing, and one 3-run outburst.

I know Posey’s been out and that changes things, but he seems set to come back this week, and so here’s the suggestion for the lineup:

  • Nunez 3B
  • Panik 2B
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Pence RF
  • Crawford SS
  • Marrero/Whoever LF
  • Span CF

This is the way forward for a variety of reasons. First, this brings balance to the L/R issues the Giants face at times. This lineup goes R/L/R/L/R/L/R/L/Pitcher.

Second, as much as I like the Belt at the 2-hole experiment, the Giants desperately need him in the middle of the lineup, there’s no getting around it. He’s paid to be a run producing first basemen, let him do it.

Third, Panik is the platonic ideal of a 2-hole hitter, and he seems to have put his post-concussion issues way behind him: release the Panik!

Fourth, Posey should hit third. I know Bochy likes him as the anchor and run producer/clean up hitter, but he’s a 3 hitter, and let’s all get on with it.

Fifth, Nunez is not the greatest leadoff hitter from an on-base standpoint, but he is the most athletic/dangerous guy they can put in this spot and when he does get on base it changes the game. Span get’s dropped.

Finally, not only does this balance left/right, I think this arrangement also gives the lineup more depth, especially 1-6.

Also, it would be awesome if we could get 4-5 quality starts in a row.

Go Giants.

Week [22] In Review (8/28-9/4) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Once again, it is hard for me to come up with something to say about this stretch of the season. I will say this: the Giants are competing. They aren’t laying down. But they are coming up short more often than not.

If there is any encouragement from the last week, they hung with the Cubs. They could have easily swept the series, and they could easily have been swept. That’s the frustration of 1-run games. They’re in it, but right now they are just not doing enough to get wins, even in close games.

So, instead of getting into all that: two significant questions both for the rest of the season and moving forward into 2017.

1. A question about Buster Posey.

No one wants to go there and when the subject is broached it is usually quickly shot down, but this is the third straight year where Buster Posey has worn down as the season has gone on. This is not really a criticism of Posey. He’s a catcher, this is what happens. This is more a statement of reality.

One of the things that will always stand out to me about the 2014 postseason run was that Posey did very little with the bat. We’re seeing a similar thing right now. Again, can’t blame a guy for struggling to hit, and especially for power, when he’s so beat up, but it is a glaring issue.

The argument is that Posey is far more valuable as a catcher than any other position. And it’s true: what Posey brings in terms of defense, pitch framing, working with pitchers, and then being a middle of the order hitter is a rare gem of a quality. It’s what made the Giants lineup successful for the last 6 years.

But one has to wonder how much longer this can go on.

One other significant issue: first base is claimed by Brandon Belt for a while. That extension had as much to do with the Giants confidence in Posey as anything else.

But, now that Matt Duffy is off to Tampa, is there a spot for Posey over at third (he was a shortstop before moving behind the plate)?

2. A Question About the Closer

Obviously, many fans are ticked at Santiago Casilla for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was yesterday’s blown save.

The problem with moving on from Casilla now is that there isn’t a great option. I would have been all in with Derek Law by now if he was healthy, but alas, he is not.

Hunter Stickland was the presumed closer of the future, but the team doesn’t seem confident in him in that role, and neither do I. I like Strickland a lot, but he leaves far too many pitches in the fat part of the zone to inspire the needed confidence. He would also benefit from a nasty secondary pitch.

I have a feeling that if this season ends in tragedy the Giants will spend some money on the bullpen, and the closer slot in particular, something they haven’t done since Armando Benitez.

Looking Ahead: The long road trip from hell continue in Colorado today. Then off to Phoenix. This week scares me and yet these are beatable teams and winnable games. The Giants could really use a 4-2, 5-1 week, so go get ’em!

Week [21] In Review (8/22-8/28) #sfgiants #weekinreview

As with all things 2016 Giants, this is a hard week to recap. The cold, hard facts: the Giants fell another game back of the Dodgers (they start this week 2 in the hole, versus 1 at last week’s writing).

And yet, this feels better. I can’t totally explain it, but it feels like the corner has been turned.

In the end, the Giants may look back on this week, and in particular, on the 1-0 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday night, and wonder about that Brandon Crawford deep fly out in the 8th inning. If that ball goes 5 more feet, and the Giants win that game, how different does this year turn out?

Who can know, but we can say that the Giants got 4 quality starts, won 3 of them, and seem to be waking up with the bats. If nothing else they took some frustrations out on the hapless Braves and sometimes you need that to get it going.

Our two key players for the Dodgers series, Buster Posey and Matt Moore, did well. Buster didn’t hit any home runs, but hit over .400 for the week and is doing his best with all dings and bruises he’s dealing with.

And Matt Moore was magnificent. He was pitching under the worst case scenario we described last week (sweep prevention), and he nearly threw a damn no-hitter. Welcome to San Francisco, Matt.

I was at the game on Friday night: Samardzija pitched well, there was a home run (a lot more of those this week!), and the Braves looked every bit the last place team that they are, but the thing that stood out to me, and it was a repeated theme this week: the defense is back.

Brandon Crawford made several outstanding plays at the game I attended, and Panik, Belt, Span, and Nunez added their own gems throughout the week.

That is a very good sign.

Week in Review: 1 of 3 from the Dodgers in LA, 2 of 3 from the Braves in SF. 71-59, 2 games back in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: Posey hit .444 for the week, but Joe Panik welcome back to earth old friend. He hit .375 with 3 home runs, 8 rbi, and 4 walks. If Joe can turn this into an extended good run, the Giants are going to be in fine shape.

Pitcher of the Week: It’s nice to have some choices this week, but it’s a no-doubt tip of the cap to Matt Moore, who not only got a big win, but did it in dominant fashion. No one was asking for a no-hitter, but he nearly provided it.

There’s been a lot of rightful debate about leaving a post-tommy-john pitcher in for 130 pitches, and I do have my own concerns about that, but in Bochy’s defense, the team needed it. And Matt Moore needed it. And I always feel better about 130 pitches when a pitcher is locked in and repeating his mechanics, than 100 pitches on a day when it’s a struggle. To me those are different things.

Looking Ahead: Another weird week schedule-wise. It feels like I’ve written that several times this year. A day off today, at home, then two more in SF against Arizona. Strange to have a 2 game series with a divisional opponent. Then 4 in Chicago. Yikes. Especially, yikes, because they back that up with three in Colorado. The pitchers need to eat their Wheaties this week.

Go Giants, and Go Rockies (BEAT LA).