Week [20] In Review/Week [21] in Preview #sfgiants

I am getting tired of trying to explain the buffoonery we’ve been watching since the All-Start break ended, so today we are going to focus on the future, and some keys to a critical week in the season.

One thought of hope to act as our week in review: it is getting better. Slowly and still painfully, but better.

This week is huge, obviously, because we get the first of the 3 remaining series with the Dodgers. That’s 9 more games where the Giants hold their destiny in their own hands. I don’t trust their hands right now with their destiny, but these games are happening whether we want them to or not.

One of the interesting things about the last 6 years is that for the most part both the Giants and Dodgers have been very good. They’ve spent money, made big trades, have stars and talent, and yet it hasn’t felt like a rivalry.

This is not a Giants’ fan making a dig at the fact that the Dodgers haven’t won a world series while the Giants have won three. There’s plenty of time for that.

It’s more just a statement of fact, and I think it has to do with the fact that both teams have been successful, but not really at each other’s expense. In 2010 the Giants crushed the Padres hopes, and in 2012 and even in the 2014 the Giants and Dodgers avoided knocking each other out contention.

This is really the first time where the stakes are high and these two teams stand in each other’s way. There’s still a very good chance the division loser makes the wild card, but for some reason that feels like a significant defeat. Perhaps it’s because the Giants have frittered away such a large lead.

Whatever it is, 2016 is shaping up as either an opportunity to further mock our LA friends, or really, really hate the Dodgers. And that makes it kind of fun!

Series Preview: The “big story” is the Giants are skipping the 5th starter spot to lineup Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore for this three game tilt. The other big story is that this allows the Giants to throw two left-handers against the Dodgers lefty heavy lineup.

Remember, also, this is part of the reason the Giants made the trade for Matt Moore. Matt Moore’s day of reckoning is Thursday. He can erase any questions about the trade by shutting the Dodgers down.

The Dodgers counter with Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill (finally making his debut), and TBD. Those first two are formidable opponents, but this sets up well in the Giants favor. Taking less than 2 of 3, even in LA, would be disappointing.

The Giants get to come home and beat on the Braves over the weekend, while the Dodgers have to do battle against the Cubs, so there’s good potential for this to be a big swing week.

Key Pitcher of the Week: I want to pick Santiago Casilla because the bullpen is going to be important and will need to be on against the Dodgers, but the key really is Matt Moore. He will be starting under one of the following conditions:

  • Pitching for a sweep (and a 2 game division lead)
  • Pitching for a series win (and to tie for first)
  • Pitching to avoid a sweep (and avoid falling, gasp, 4 games back)

Any one of those scenarios will be significant. He’s also pitching against a front office that knows him well, so he will need to make adjustments and bring his control of the strike zone with him to the office on Thursday.

Hitter of the Week: This may seem too obvious but Buster Posey needs to hit well against the Dodgers. A big Buster series takes the pressure off, and one big problem for the Giants right now is you can see Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Joe Panik trying to do too much in every at bat. Those dudes need to chill, and Buster going off will do wonders for their chill factors.

That’s all I got this week. It’s time to win games. Go Giants.

Week [2] In Review (April 13-19) #SFGiants

When trying to evaluate what you see on the field this year, it is important to revisit what happened this offseason. In many ways this was one of the more fascinating offseasons for the Giants, even if the end result was decidedly boring. To summarize:

  • The Giants wanted Pablo Sandoval back to play third base. They were even willing to pay him more than anyone else. But he didn’t want to be here. You can nitpick and say the Giants should have shown him more respect, and blah blah blah, but the ship sailed on Pablo when the Giants went all in with Buster Posey. Lesson: whatever you see happen at 3B this year, you cannot rightfully say “Pablo would have done this or that,” because it was never Pablo or Casey, or Pablo or Matt. There was never going to be a Pablo.
  • Speaking of third base when the Giants’ brass said “We have no internal candidates,” they were sort of telling the truth and sort of lying. Did they have someone in line to replace Pablo? No. Did they have someone who favorably compared to other top third basemen, like say Josh Donaldson? No. Did they/Do they have a better alternative to a Casey McGehee type player? Yes. Matt Duffy is Casey McGehee but younger, more athletic, a better base runner, more versatile, and most importantly right now: health. And also probably better. That is what you should think about when you see whatever happens with third base this year.
  • The Giants wanted Jon Lester/James Shields to help anchor the starting staff. Those guys, again, spurned the Giants better/more lucrative offers to go places they felt more comfortable. That is a bummer, but it is reality, and it’s why you are watching Jake Peavy give it a go every fifth day (when he comes off the DL).

This is really important to remember because the problem isn’t Nori Aoki, or Jake Peavy, or even Casey McGehee. The problem is the Giants front office did not get equal or comparable players to replace the guys they lost (Pablo, Michael Morse, etc). And that’s mostly because those guys didn’t want to come to San Francisco.

And, the truth is, in the long run, Giants fan will probably count their lucky stars that their team is not paying for the expensive declines of fat Pablo, or old Lester, or breaking down Shields.

Which leads us to the hardest of all truths: the Giants are firmly in transition year, but no wants to admit it. 2015 is not about defending a title as much as it basking in a great 5 year run and gearing up for another one (hopefully) by taking inventory.

2015 is about discovering if Matt Cain will be good again. It’s about learning if Chris Heston or anyone else in the high minors could be a helpful major leaguer. It’s about learning if Joe Panik is an every day second basemen of if he’ll need a platoon partner. It’s a make or break year for Brandon Belt.

And, it may be the year the Giants begin to decide if Buster Posey is going to be a first basemen.

This is not to say that you should throw in the towel. It’s still too early to do that. But, the writing looks like it is firmly on the wall. Don’t complain too much folks, we have a lot to be thankful for.

If you are the optimistic type rejoice in the fact that it probably can’t get much worse. When we looked at the best/worst case scenarios for this team, all the worst case scenarios have already come true. So, either it is doomsday, or it’s nothing but up from here.

If you are a pessimist, man you are having a field day! Everything that we imagined going wrong has/is, and this next week doesn’t hold out much hope. So, check out those golden rings and watch your recordings from last year’s postseason, because there is no relief in sight.

Hitter of the Weak Week:

Angel Pagan hit well over .300 this week, but it’s been a quiet .300. The lack of extra base hitting from the middle of the lineup is alarming. Brandon Belt and Crawford showed a few signs of potentially breaking out of their funks, but the team desperately needs more from them, especially Belt. Matt Duffy continues to be the superior option to Casey McGehee, and we even saw the BaseballMonk sponsored lineup (Susac at C, Posey at 1B, and Belt in LF) rolled out on Sunday.

I have to go with Joe Panik for this week, though, because he is finally showing up. Keep it up and get hot Joe.

Pitcher of the Week:

No debate here. For the second week in a row the brightest beam of light continues to be Chris Heston. I’m not too worried about Madison Bumgarner, and I like the way Hudson and Lincecum are battling. But right now, Heston is the closest thing to a sure bet in this rotation. Which is simultaneously frightening and encouraging. He may be back in AAA by the middle of May, but for now Long Live Chris Heston!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants get a merciful day off on Monday, and then, of course, the Dodgers come to town. And the Giants will have to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So, buckle up, friends, the road only gets bumpier!

-SB

3 Thoughts on the Winter Meetings #SFGiants

1. I meant to write about this during the playoffs, but didn’t get around to it. But, the Dodgers are scary. And we just saw why. They now have smart and savvy people calling the shots, along with boatloads of money. Imagine if the Yankees hired Billy Beane. That’s who the Dodgers are now. It’s the most special of all the sauces.

This is not to say that NL West race is over, or that the Giants are screwed. The Giants seem to have their own special sauce, and it takes great, thank you very much. And, as always, it’s important to remember that no one wins the World Series just because they made some moves in December.

But the Dodgers just got a lot better.

A lot.

2. On finishing second. It is frustrating that the Giants seem to be making a habit of being everyone’s second choice (see Lester, Jon, and Tomas, Yasmany, and Abreu, Jose). Every rumored name we keep hearing about (Brandon McCarthy, Ervin Santana, you name it) is getting snapped up by some other team.

Two points to make here: First, the Giants are thinking about the Jon Lester’s of the world, which means the team has resources and a willingness to spend. They didn’t lose out because they’ve had poor offers, they’ve lost because someone else was more appealing for whatever reason. Second, the Giants are very disciplined in this process, which is a really good thing. $120 million would have brought back Pablo and been a very stupid thing to do. They didn’t do it. Sometimes that no compromise attitude means losing the bid, but it also means staying within the game plan, and if I had one fear this off-season it is that the Giants would stray from the game plan.

3. What now? At the beginning of the offseason I wanted Pablo back and a couple of pitchers, primarily Ervin Santana. Both are gone. The hot rumors of the day seem to indicate that the Giants are pursuing James Shields. Also, Chase Headley is still available. If they get both of those guys for a combined total less than Lester’s money, that would be a huge win and represent an upgrade over my original hopes.

-SB

Thoughts and Predictions for the DS #MLBplayoffs

1. Tigers vs. Orioles. These teams are mirrors of each other. Baltimore hits home runs, plays great defense, and has a stellar bullpen. Detroit has the THE STAR and the starters. This is going to be the ultimate test of postseason theories: do you need strong starting, defense, bullpen, or home runs to win?

  • Prediction: Tigers in 4. The Tigers will not win the world series with that bullpen (we’ve heard this story before), but they have more than enough to get past an Orioles team that lacks dominant starting pitchers.

2. Angels vs. Royals. The Angels have the best record and offense in baseball. The Royals bunt and steal all the time and have the best bullpen in the postseason. Will this be bedlam in KC or Mike Trout’s national coming-out-party?

  • Prediction: I want to pick the Royals so badly. I really, really do. Oh, I want to pick them. In fact, a couple of months ago when I was sketching things out, I thought they might have the best path to the World Series in the American League. That, though, was based on them winning the division, which they did not do. Furthermore, that game against the A’s revealed just how clueless Ned Yost can be. Sometimes, and it is rare, a manager can help win a series, usually they are fairly neutral, and there are some times where they are an all-out liability, and I fear that is where Yost is. Yikes. Angels in 4.

3. Dodgers vs. Cardinals. Of course they are playing each other, which means, if the Giants get through they will have to play their long-standing mortal enemies (the Dodgers, just in case you didn’t know), or the team Giants’ fans have learned to hate in recent years (the Cardinals, mostly for being the Cardinals). And even if the Giants don’t make it through it means one of these teams will play the Nationals (who we will then hate) in an absolutely awful NLCS. This is the most detestable of all possible matchups.

  • Prediction: Mattingly is horrible, the bullpen is shaky, and the non-Kershaw/Greinke starters are a major liability. Plus Puig will do something stupid at some point. Otherwise the Dodgers are basically unbeatable. The Cardinals had a surprisingly bad offensive season, some shakiness in the rotation (that seems to have been shored up), and are here mainly because the Brewers faded so badly. And yet, they are the Cardinals, the team, other than the Giants, most likely to play flawlessly in October. I won’t be the least bit surprised if the Cardinals win this series, but I’m going with the Dodgers in 5.

4. Giants vs. Nationals. The Nationals are the best team, in my opinion, top to bottom in this tournament. So, of course, the Giants get them in a short series. Awesome. That being said, the only result here that would be shocking to me is a sweep by either team. Mostly, though I just don’t see the Giants laying down. It’s going to go 5 either way. I’ll have a bigger preview tomorrow morning, but for now a couple of silver linings for the Giants: the Nationals have a lot of right-handed starting pitching. They are really good, so that part stinks, but the right-handedness plays into the hands of a lineup that is heavy lefty right now. Second silver lining: Matt Williams is a rookie manager, and only 4 times has a rookie manager won a World Series. The last one to do it, of course, was another ex-Giant, Bob Brenly, whose team won in spite of him, not because of him. Loved Matt Williams as a third baseball in the black and orange, but he might be a liability.

  • Prediction: The Nationals are too deep to go down to a Giants team lacking Angel Pagan, Michael Morse, and Matt Cain. Nationals in 5.

-SB

Something About a Trade?

So, yeah, this.

A fascinating trade for a million reasons, but of primary importance is this: this trade is way more about the next five years than it is about this season. Nothing about this move dooms the Giants’ chances, they don’t need to do anything drastic, and when all the dust settles the most important development for THIS season that took place last night is that the Giants starters have now won five games in a row. Each starter won his turn through the rotation for the first time since 2007. That’s huge.

Now, thoughts on this blockbuster move:

  • Short Term: Replacing James Loney with Adrian Gonzalez is a huge upgrade for LA. I felt like Adrian not got his fair shake from the Boston fans/media, but he’s good and he’s back to torment the Giants. (That said, Cody Ross has hit 19 home runs this year to Adrian’s 15…just saying). The rest of the trade is pretty much a non-factor over the next 36 games. Becket will either take the place of Joe Blanton or fill in for Billingsley (if his elbow keeps him out). In either case, his addition is fairly negligible. He might show a few flashes of brilliance, but the other big move the Dodgers had pondered involved Cliff Lee, and that would have scared me. Beckett does not. Nick Punto fills in for Hairston and Carl Crawford is a long-term gamble who won’t play this year. The Giants are 7-5 against LA so far and even going 3-3 over the final 6 games will secure a winning record against their rivals.
  • Long Term: AGon is clearly the big catch. The Mexican-born, SoCal native will help mobilize the franchise and be a face as they move forward. Beckett has a Huff-like odd/even season thing going. He does well in the odd years, if healthy he could be a plus for LA in 2013…I also think he will do well in the NL West, but doing well and being an Ace, circa 2003/2007 is not going to happen. Nice guy to have next year, but would you take Beckett over MadBum or Vogelsong as your 3rd/4th starter. No. Crawford is interesting. He will likely take over for Victorino, but he is also going to miss 2 seasons worth of baseball, in his prime, when this is all said and done. And he still will be owed a ton of money. The Dodgers are essentially saying this: “we are willing to pay, for Adrian Gonzalez, the price (~250 mil) that the Angles are paying Pujols and the Reds, Votto, and if we get lucky we also get an All-Star left fielder out of the deal.” Interesting.
  • Big Picture: while the move does help, somewhat, the 2012 Dodgers, this trade is all about making a statement. The New Dodgers are here to play and to spend. Deal with it MLB.

The NL West really is shaping into Red Sox/Yankees. What is interesting, is that the Giants, through very different from the Red Sox, have a philosophy, a way. In the end, the trade the Giants may most regret in light of all this is the Wheeler for Beltran move last year.

In this new day and age, and with an extra wild card, the Giants don’t need to do anything different. Strong starting pitching, development of young players, and reasonable extensions for our own talent is the way to go. The Giants, if they stick with this plan, actually have the edge in my opinion. I will take the Giants strong pitching and Buster Posey over an All-Star lineup and a Cy Young award winner any day. Obviously, there’s more to the Giants line up than Posey and more to the Dodgers rotation than Kershaw, but that is essentially the story that is developing here. Moreover, the Giants must hope that the Gary Browns, and Joe Paniks, and Francisco Peguero’s of their system develop into good players.

If nothing else, the NL West is no joke anymore.

One final thought, the player who now matters more than anyone else to the remaining 36 games of 2012 is none other than Tim Lincecum. We’ve been saying this to one extent or another all season, but it is now more true than ever. He must pitch like vintage Timmy in his final 7+ starts to help the Giants nail this division down.

(-SB)

Sweet Sweepness

Nothing like a sweet sweep to wash away the taste of sour Melk (see what I did there). Seriously, though, that was huge, and here are the reasons why:

  1. The Giants, for the first time this year against the Dodgers, had the “big 3” lined up to pitch. Yes, Lincecum has had a terrible year. Yes, Vogelsong has beaten Kershaw twice. Yes, Zito has not killed us against the ‘Bums. But, there is something psychologically fortifying about sending out Madbum, The Freak, and Cainer and getting it done. 3 wins, a 0.87 ERA, 20.2 IP, and this is my favorite: 19 strikeouts and only 1 walk. The Dodgers are spending money and they have definitely improved their lineup over the course of the season, but the Giants have a better rotation and they showed it this week.
  2. The Giants swept the Dodgers in LA when by all accounts, at least nationally, they should have been folding in the wake of the Cabrara suspension. Losing Melky hurts, don’t get me wrong, but the Giants also won a World Series in 2010 without Pablo Sandoval. Yeah, he had a big hit against the Phillies, but he was not a significant part of that run at all. The key to that run was unbelievable starting pitching and having 2-3 guys in the lineup hot at any given time. Sometimes it was Burrell, sometimes it was Cody, sometimes it was Torres, and so it goes. The Giants still have enough firepower to get this done, IF they pitch up to their capabilities.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • Pagan is hitting great right now, Pence will be fine, Belt/Pill/etc will be adequate at first base, the real key to the Giants lineup right now is Marco Scutaro. He’s got second base and the second spot in the lineup on lock down and that makes so many other things fall into place. I think it’s helped Pagan in the lead off spot and it allows Bochy to use Arias/Crawfor/Theriot in spots where they can succeed.
  • Really, I think Hunter Pence is going to be fine.
  • I’ve never been so concerned about hamstrings in my entire life. Please hold up!
  • There is a part of me that desperately longs for Jeremy Affeldt to step and be the guy who can lock down the 9th inning. I don’t think it’s going to happen, which means let’s hope this Santiago Casilla resurgence is for real.
  • I also think it’s time to give the X-Man a shot at left field. He’s a poor man’s Pat Burrell. Let’s make this happen!

(-SB)

Catching Up

Since June 3rd:

The Giants have gone 10-9, and remain 3 GB of the Dodgers in the NL West. Note that Arizona has come on strong recently and is only 2.5 games behind the Giants!

Summary:

After a week off and another week away from the blog, we return to summarizing the action. No awards this week, just some thoughts…

So, Matt Cain is pretty good. I got back from vacation in time to turn on the game and see innings 3-9 of the perfect game. I kept saying: I’ll just watch one more and go to bed. But the perfection continued, and I stayed up, and it was totally worth it.

I have to admit this: I love Matt Cain, but I never thought he would get this good. He always seemed like the perfect #2 starter: innings, consistency, etc. But never the ridiculous, video game, fantasy stud kind of numbers that you expect from a Justin Verlander, or a Roy Halladay, or (dare I say) Tim Lincecum. Matt Cain was always good, but I didn’t think he’d jump to great, and this year he has been GREAT.

The other major development of the last couple of weeks: Brandon Belt. Looks like he’s got some freedom to just “be” now over there at first base and it seems to be paying off. Man was the turn around quick on that one. Now, obviously, he needs to keep this up for an extended period of time, but what an encouragement to see him get it going. The power, the on-base skills, the use of all fields. I’m a huge fan, so I’m probably a bit too giddy but I do wonder what the ceiling is? Votto lite? Carlos Pena with less power and better average? I’m not sure who he comps with, but I guess I don’t really care as long as he hits.

Looking Ahead:

Giants head home for a big time week: 3 with the Dodgers and 4 with the Reds. That’s three games with a chance to close the gap in the division and then 4 against the Central division leaders. Yeah, it’s at home, but that’s still a tough go. I’m not super excited about the Dodgers getting Zito, Vogelsong, and Lincecum again (same 3 as the only other series between these teams this year). Nonetheless, hopefully they can turn it around and take 2 of 3 this time to even out the season series.

(-SB)