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.

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Is It Turning Around? #sfgiants #weekinreview

The Giants survived week one of this tough section of their schedule, going 4-2 against the Dodgers and Cardinals. It feels like it could have been better since they won the first 2 games in each series. Nonetheless, this is exactly what they need to do: win each series on their quest to get back to .500 by July 1.

They need to go 22-15 over these next 37 games to get there.

How have they been succeeding?

  1. Quality Starts. The starting pitching hasn’t been brilliant, but the Giants got 4 quality starts this week: one from Cain, one from Blach, one from Moore, and one from Samardzija. They lost when they failed to get QSs in Cueto and Cain starts (although to Johnny Cueto’s credit, it would have taken far more than a quality start to beat Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday).
  2. Resilience. The offense has been much, much better. It hasn’t quite been 2000 level SF Giants (or pick your favorite juggernaut), but the Giants averaged 5 runs per win. That’s pretty much the formula: 4+ runs and a quality start, Giants baseball. The bigger issue, though, has been the toughness, especially on the road, to gut out big wins this week with timely at bats and strong situational hitting. Once again, Christian Arroyo’s stat line is not jumping off the page at anyone, but that 11 pitch at bat with the bases loaded in the 13th inning of a 0-0 game certainly grew his legend. He still has a lot of developing to do, but the foundation is there.
  3. Bullpen/Defense. The Giants have not been shooting themselves in the proverbial feet with bullpen meltdowns and dumb plays in the field. To the previous point, Christian Arroyo is proving he belongs with smart plays and versatility.

A couple of other things worth mentioning:

  • Jeff Samardzija just might be establishing himself as the ace of this staff. On the surface that sounds like an indictment of the state of the Giants rotation, and to a certain degree it is, but he has been outstanding of late. Over his last 6 starts: 42 innings (7 per start!), 47 strikeouts and only 4 walks (!), an ERA of 3.86, and a WHIP of 1.00. Those are strong numbers.
  • Eduardo Nunez has come back to life, Brandon Belt keeps hitting home runs (and getting in tiffs with Posey), and Brandon Crawford seems to be getting back into the groove. I also feel Joe Panik is due for a big week or two in the very near future.
  • Mac Williamson had a great start on Monday night and then has tapered off significantly. I still would love to see the Giants give him a long leash even if it means cutting into Nunez’s playing time.

Which leads us to: some tough decisions looming. Aaron Hill, Connor Gillaspie, and Hunter Pence should be returning soon. The easiest guys to demote would be Arroyo and Williamson, but it will be fascinating to see how the Giants make these decisions. In addition, there probably won’t be room for both Justin Ruggiano and Michael Moorse. What should the Giants do?

My vote would be to stay with the young guys, but I also understand the need for depth and the best way to preserve that is to keep the old guys on the roster and let the young guys go to Sacramento.

Stay tuned. Big week with four games agains the Cubbies, starting today. Go Giants.

Worst April Ever #sfgiants #weekinreview

There was a moment on Saturday afternoon/evening, where the Giants took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning.

Matt Cain was offering more evidence of a kind of resurgence.
The offense had come alive to score 3 (!) runs.
It wasn’t difficult to look into the future and see a sweep to end the home stand.

A sweep would have meant an 11-15 record, not a great start by any measure, but it would have been easy to write off the month as a bad first week, followed by some .500 ball, all setting up for a nice run in May.

But then, the bullpen, which had been a mild source of strength on this deeply flawed squad, began an epic weekend collapse (14 runs in 9 innings, including 4 home runs).

Suddenly, a 3-1 lead and visions of sweep,
turned into a blowout nightmare,
a 12-4 loss,
and an offensive hangover that lasted into Sunday.

Speaking of Sunday’s game. Some of the bad vibes from Saturday were erased by another impressive effort from Ty Blach. The offense was not outstanding, scrapping together 2 runs, but it felts like a solid lead, especially with Blach getting through the 7th. Law and Melancon were sell set up to close it out and for the Giants go home 10-16, and, hey at least they pulled out a series win.

Law did has part, shakily getting through the 8th.
But then Melancon blew it in the ninth.

Now, before we throw Melancon completely under the bus, do not forget that Eduardo Nunez made a costly error, allowing Hector Sanchez (yes, that Hector Sanchez) to represent the tying run. And remember that Nunez was playing short stop because the Giants golden gloved regular at that position is on the DL with a tweaked groin.

And therein lies what is, to me, the fatal flaw of this team: there is NO margin for error.

This is a team that cannot win games if it is missing certain key pieces,
chief among them: Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner.

This is a team that cannot win games if it makes errors
(and not just that, the defense has to make plays).

This is a team that cannot win slugfests because it does not hit home runs.

Which means it must win low scoring, well-pitched games in which it’s defense makes zero mistakes and a few great plays.

Any mistakes this team makes will be punished,
and they cannot be overcome,
and that is the sign of a bad team.

I also mentioned last week the lack of energy. The call up of Christian Arroyo and the return of Michael Morse did bring some life back into the dugout, and it is going to be fun, especially, to watch Arroyo grow up this year.

But I am afraid that it is these glimpses of the past and the future that may be the most compelling part of what is rapidly becoming a lost season.

One final thought: the numbers don’t completely bear this out, but the pitching is not really the problem. And to be honest, it never really was. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the Giants bullpen issues last year had to do with a mental breakdown and a lack of trust more than anything else (have you seen Santiago Casilla’s numbers so far with the A’s?).

And while there have been consistency issues throughout the rotation and the ‘pen, I see more than enough promise in what the Giants put on the mound most of the time.

But this offense truly stinks. There were no good answers this offseason, but it is abundantly clear that there will need to be some significant changes coming.

Too many empty at bats, and the lack of power is appalling.

My new suggestion for the lineup:

  • Nunez LF (he’s been in a terrible slump, and he’s probably a little rattled by Arroyo’s early promotion, but he is still the best option in this spot)
  • Panik 2B (has looked good leading off, but Panik is way more valuable as a 2 hitter)
  • Posey C (no more clean up)
  • Belt 1B (the 2 hole experiment has been cute, but Belt needs to be here for balance and to put the little power this team has in the center of the lineup)
  • Pence RF (hit home runs fool)
  • Crawford SS (when he returns, likely later this week)
  • Arroyo 3B (probably deserves to hit higher and will while Crawford is out, but this is a good spot for him. Lot’s of possibilities for RBI’s, and this will take the pressure off the kid and buffer his ups and downs as he makes the big league adjustment)
  • CF (a cesspool of suckiness. The Giants will probably need to address all three OF positions heading into 2018, starting here)

Wish I could be more positive today, but I can’t! Brisbee points out that the Giants will need to go 81-55 the rest of the way just to be a 90 win team, which would mean they will need to be the best team in baseball the rest of the season. Good luck!

Suck #sfgiants #week3

 

It’s hard to imagine things going any worse than they did this past week for our Giants. Last Monday we said that it was hard to evaluate this team for a variety of reasons: it was only 2 weeks in, they’d played the same teams over and over, and they had not won a Madison Bumgarner start.

Well, a week later: they still haven’t won a Madison Bumgarner start and they won’t for a while.

The supposed strength of the team, the starting pitching, has been terrible, worst in the majors (and that’s with 4 very good starts from MadBum).

They can’t hit, and the recent trend of no homers continues.

They can’t field.

The bullpen has been fine, but shaky.

Bruce Bochy’s been getting heart procedures done, various guys are hurt, and did I mention Madison Bumgarner?

It’s bleak, and it’s already spawning articles like this and this.

The pertinent numbers from Andrew Baggarly:

“the early returns aren’t good. They are 6-13, which matches their worst start through 19 games in modern franchise history. Taken together with their miserable second half last year, they are 36-55 since the All-Star break. And that projects to a 64-98 season.”

Which brings me to the point I want to make: this is a tired team.

That was the word that kept coming up again and again last year, and it continues to hold true this year.

It’s hard to look energetic when you are losing (even young teams look tired when they are losing). And it’s hard to look energetic when you are constantly behind (as the Giants have consistently been).

A couple good starts, a couple leads, a couple wins in a row and maybe the temperature changes, but this is a team that looks tired.

So, do they tank? Would you give away 2017 for more energy to be infused to the organization. Baggs thinks it would be a good idea. Brisbee is more pragmatic and suggests it won’t happen based on similar seasons of the past.

I’m of the opinion that it’s still too early to make that call. This is a proud team and proud players and they will rebound a bit.

But, it is time to start really paying attention to some key guys at the lower levels.

Much has been made about Christian Arroyo’s hot start at Sacramento. Barring a disaster he will be your 2018 opening day third baseman.

Tyler Beede seems primed to make a dozen or so starts at the major league level this year, especially if they shut down Bumgarner for the season.

Those are no-doubters in terms of guys we’ll see this year, and who are critical to the future. However, if things continue to go poorly, I’m all for shutting down Denard Span, any LF place holders, and Matt Cain in order to get a look at:

  • 1B/OF Travis Shaw (some who actually hits for power!)
  • Austin Slater (CF)
  • Mac Williamson (I know, I know, most Giants’ fans have moved on, but I still want to see him get 2-3 months of playing everyday in the big leagues)
  • Beede/Ty Blach
  • And, of course, Christian Arroyo

Grab bag of random thoughts:

  • I’m really surprised at how bad Gorkys Hernandez has looked so far. He’s been bad in every phase of the game, but especially defense, which was supposed to be his calling card. He looked so good last year when he came up late in the season, I can’t figure out what happened there, but he’s got to go.
  • I cannot believe that Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore are actually this bad. They’ve run into a little bit of bad luck in terms of where they’ve had to pitch so far, but these are guys who should be good no matter what park they are in. I expect both of them to turn it around.
  • Bochy got close to the lineup I was hoping/expecting, but didn’t go all the way. I wonder if we might see it this week?
  • The Giants at least are home for a week, but they get another full slate of divisional games. This feels like make or break, even though it is still early.

**NOTE: Christian Arroyo was called up about an hour after this post was first published.