Four and Four

Let’s start with this!

Full disclosure: I was going to turn the game off. After Roberto Gomez (who really looks like the Giants just let some random guy be their 25th player) allowed the Dodgers 5th run, I was done. This was an all too familiar script: certainly this was a loss and a wasted Saturday afternoon/evening.

And then, baseball magic.

A couple global thoughts: do not change extra innings baseball. I appreciate some of the more innovative ideas being bandied about these days (the pitch clock for example), but don’t mess with extra innings. Extra innings are NOT the problem with pace of play and the time of games.

Second, 2017 really warped me (us). Again, the pattern of folding seemed all to obvious. This was a loss, there was no reason to hope. But, I think we all forgot how magical baseball is. It is magical.

Third, that was one of the best, maybe the best, at bat I have ever seen. Grant Brisbee gives a good run down here, but what I loved about the At Bat (other than the walk off home run part of it) was how it went from darkly ominous, to intriguing, to “we-all-know-what’s-coming” within the 12 pitch sequence. I can’t remember an at bat that changed directions so dramatically. After that dumb curveball for strike one, I thought for sure McCutchen’s great day was going to be a wash because of a strikeout in this big situation. By pitch 7 or 8, I thought we might get a sacrifice fly and tie the game. By pitch 10, I knew the game was over, it was just matter of when (pitch 11, 12, 15, 17, it was going to happen). It was amazing to watch the evolution and to physically see McCutchen gain the upper hand over the course of that sequence of pitches. Awesome.


Last weeks concern ranking:

  1. Starting Lineup
  2. Evan Longoria
  3. Andrew McCutchen
  4. Brandon Belt
  5. Bullpen
  6. Rotation
  7. New Coaches

This weeks concern rankings:

  1. Overall health of the team, and the 4 injured pitchers in particular
  2. Evan Longoria
  3. Starting Pitching
  4. Bullpen
  5. Center Field

For the record, I think Evan Longoria will be fine, and he should fade off these rankings in the next couple weeks. Some people are already clamoring for the Panda to take over: calm down. It’s been 8 games.

The offense had its moments, and is still a work in progress as different guys get going, but one VERY encouraging sign: Every position on the field has produced a home run. And the Giants are out homering their opponents 10-2, which is a supremely positive development.

It’s only 8 games, but I am starting to see some problems with the pitching staff. It’s been as good as one could hope for so far, and yet you can already feel the lack of depth creating a problem. The inability of any starter, other than Cueto, to pitch through a lineup 3 times is a problem. The extra strain that creates on a depleted bullpen is a problem. The four injured arms-men can’t get back soon enough!


The schedule has been weird so far, for everyone. Lots of repeat series in the early going for most team. Lots of days off. Rain outs, snow out, cold weather, it’s hard to get a read on the season given the lack of consistency thus far.

That being said, some teams are racing out ahead, and some are quickly racing to the bottom. That is no surprise because of the great disparity in 2018 between teams going for it and teams in rebuild/tank mode. I just didn’t expect it to show up so dramatically, so early.

Of course, the Giants are right in the middle with their 4-4 record. Is this a harbinger of things to come, or an aberration of a strange opening season schedule?

Who knows at this point, but one of those racing ahead teams now comes to AT&T for the next three days. Welcome your 7-2, first place, Arizona Diamondbacks. The pitching there is legit, so expect some low scoring affairs this week.

Thursday, the Giants head down to San Diego for a week four games, which means they will nearly double the number of games played by next Monday. We should have a slightly better read on this team by that point.


One last thing: Andrew McCutchen is so fun.

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The Good and The Bad #weekinreview

If I were to power rank my concerns about the Giants heading into the season it would have looked something like this:

  1. Starting Pitching
  2. Bullpen
  3. Bench
  4. New Coaches
  5. Starting Lineup

This was before the roster was set and before the last minute rash of injuries. Even after both of those realities, I would have given the same rankings.

Then the Giants played the Dodgers four times in LA. Before the season started I outlined a possible way for the Giants to get off to a fast start, primarily by going 3-1 in this opening series. I would have easily settled for 2-2, which is what we got.

Anyone paying attention though, knows that this 2-2 feels entirely unsatisfying. Or maybe, the better word is unsettling.

Yes, the season got off to about as good a start as possible, and yet it feels less than good. It feels like disaster may be looming.

And now, after this opening series, for most Giants’ fans, the ranking or concerns look something like this:

  1. Starting Lineup
  2. Evan Longoria
  3. Andrew McCutchen
  4. Brandon Belt
  5. Bullpen
  6. Rotation
  7. New Coaches

In other words, the offense has been bad.

I would argue, though, it hasn’t been that bad. The Giants actually out hit the Dodgers 25-24. The Giants hit two home runs, the Dodgers only hit 1. None of this means a whole lot because the season has been so short, but the problem for the Giants was not hitting per se, it was getting the right kinds of hits at the right times.

And that is the one thing I thought, and still think, this lineup will be able to do. There are enough good hitters now that they should be able to survive with 3-4 going well at a time. Last year, especially, the Giants seemingly needed everyone to hit if they were going to score, there was no one to carry the load. This team is still built like that to an extent. Gone are the Barry Bonds days, where there is a legitimate threat every day, in every at bat. But this is a more than competent unit that should be able to score runs.

I do wonder how long it will take McCutchen and Longoria to settle in. Neither guy has ever been traded, never played for another franchise, so it might take some time to get right. Plus, the Giants slow played a lot of their vets in Spring Training. To go from easing in to the Dodgers rotation is a jump.

But they are better than this. I expect many more runs this week.

On the bright side, the pitching has impressed. I was satisfied with each starter’s turn. Blach and Cueto probably can’t do much better than what they showed, and Holland and Stratton can give a bit more, but this is what we should expect and it should be good enough for a month or two.

The bullpen had a few rough moments, but showed that there are some dangerous pieces, some potential to be a real strength. Tony Watson is legit. Hunter Strickland can take this closer role and own it. And the Giants have enough other pieces to be very competitive at the ends of games.

Now, time to hit.

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?

Eeeeeevvaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

When I lived in Boston I won two Opening Day tickets to the Red Sox 2009 season. They did a lottery thing, and we lucked out and opening day at Fenway was as adorable and awesome as you might imagine. It was also really cold.

Anyway, the Sox opened that year at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox had won the World Series in 2007, and the Rays had knocked them out of the postseason in epic fashion in 2008 (on their way to losing to the Pat Burrell led Phillies in the World Series. Isn’t baseball amazing).

This was a showdown game on opening day.
James Shields versus Josh Beckett.
Dustin Pedroia hit a home run and Beckett struck out 10
and Jonathan Papelbon saved the game.

Also, a second year stud named Evan Longoria hit a 2-run double.

And every time he came to the plate this buzzed dude that sat near us screamed at the top of his lungs, in a sing-song voice: “Eeeeevvvvaaaaaa….Eeeeevvvaaaaaaa.” (Which is funny because of Eva Longoria who is super famous and a woman).

I can never think about Evan Longoria and not think about that drunk dude at that opening day game.

Fast-forward to today and Eeeeevvvaaaaa is coming to your San Francisco Giants.

Evan Longoria, overall, is a stud.
He’s been one of the best players in baseball,
an MVP candidate,
the first of the wave of modern, awesome third basemen,
and now he’s a Giant.

But he’s also old, and expensive, and that creates all kinds of questions and riskiness for the future of the Giants.

Do we like this trade?

Let’s start here with the positives:

  • He plays 3B, an area of tremendous need. The Giants used NINE third basemen last year who collectively tallied a .216/.268/.300 slash line. That is horrid. I think Madison Bumgarner could have bested that if they let him play 3B for the whole year.
  • Longoria’s won 3 gold gloves and the Giants have the potential to win a gold glove at every infield position in 2018 (yes, this will be hard to do with Nolan Arrenado being alive, but you get my point).
  • He hits right-handed. Hey, this is cool! An actual, legit right-handed hitter. What an idea!
  • He hits home runs too!
  • He doesn’t get hurt much and has played as many games as any player in MLB over the past 5 seasons. For a team that used the DL more often than I tell my son to lower the volume of his voice (this is a lot), a durable player is a true gift.
  • This trade allowed the Giants to get rid of Denard Span and his contract, which, among other things, creates some space to get another player or two.

Now for the negatives:

  • The Giants had a legit young, cheap alternative at 3B and not only does this move block him, he actually was part of the trade. I was in to the idea of Christian Arroyo being a big part of the 2018 Giants, but it was not to be.
  • The Giants do have a potentially great infield defense on paper, but they really needed to get better with the gloves in the outfield, especially since most of their pitchers are flyball/strikeout type guys. This infield would be awesome for a staff of sinkerballers, and maybe Ty Blach and Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede move the team in that direction. But it’s hard to see how infield defense really helps Bumgarner, Cueto, and especially Samardzija.
  • He does hit righthanded, but the bar here is really low as Todd Hundley was the only right-handed hitter on the team to hit more than 3 home runs at AT&T.
  • About those home runs. Longoria only hit 20 last year in a hitters division and league. Now he comes to a pitchers division and league and a tough home ballpark. Yikes. The good news is he hit 36 in 2016, so it wasn’t that long ago that he set a career high, but his power drop-off strangely mirrors the team he is joining.
  • Not getting hurt is a good thing and there isn’t any cavalry coming behind him, so the Giants need him to be in the lineup, but he is 32 and most iron mans start becoming less irony (haha) around this age (see: Pence, Hunter).
  • The good news here is that Longoria’s contract situation and the ability to shed Span are actually very helpful for 2018, the catch though is that Longoria’s contract is bad from 2019 until 2023. Gulp.

This trade perfectly captures the essence of the conundrum the Giants find themselves in. They purposefully and strategically went young and created the core of a team that won 3 championships. It was a master class in roster building in some ways.

But that success led to reward and commitment, a commitment that now threatens to strangle the franchise for years. There’s no getting away from the fact that Giants are all in on the Posey/Crawford/Belt/Bumgarner core (you could add Matt Cain to this list). That has led to long-term commitments to Cueto/Samardzija/Pence/Melancon.

In poker terms, the Giants are pot committed, and so it isn’t that big of a deal to add a Longoria.

But, oh does it smack of the opposite direction that led this team to the top in the first place.


2018 Opening Day Lineup as of right now:

  • Steven Duggar CF
  • Joe Panik 2B
  • Buster Posey C
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Hunter Pence LF
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Austin Slater???? RF

I throw this in here to show how the outfield is still a mess. The hot rumor now is that Jay Bruce is next. I would be for creatively packaging Pence for Andrew McCutchen in addition to Bruce. Imagine this:

  • Panik 2B
  • Posey C
  • McCutchen LF
  • Bruce RF
  • Longoria 3B
  • Belt 1B
  • Crawford SS
  • Duggar CF

While that is mildly exciting, it does seem like the Giants are going to have gamble at least one OF position on a young guy. Maybe its Duggar time. Maybe it’s Austin Slater. Maybe it’s Chris Shaw. I don’t know, I just don’t see another way around it.

One other thought here. I know the Giants like to act fast, but this market is going very slowly. I would love to see them lay low for a bit, and maybe catch some deals in the new year.


Our final topic for the day: could the Giants actually be good in 2018?

This has been the question floating around in response to today’s trade. Most writers and commentators seem to think it is totally out of the question for the Giants to think they could be good next year, and so this is a stupid move.

In a sense I agree. 2017 was about as all-encompassing a systematic failure as a franchise can have. I can’t think of a good comparison.

By all accounts the Giants were a decent bullpen, maybe even a decent closer away from beating the Cubs in 2016. They went from that to the second worst team in baseball in a year (and only because of a walk-off home run by Pablo Sandoval on the last day of the season. Again, what a world.)

A realist, I suppose, looks at all this and says there’s no way this team is anywhere close to contending.

But, I point to the pot commitment I mentioned in the last section, and to the, perhaps foolish, belief that last year was a kind of fluke.

Grant Brisbee breaks down this question in this article (I’d recommend looking at the WAR charts as a shortcut).

I do not think that what he proposes there is totally out of the realm of possibility (in terms of the improvement).

There is a long list of “well, if”s that need to happen.

Well, if: Belt stay healthy…Bumgarner bounces back…Cueto is good again…the defense improves…the bullpen gets sorted out…several players have a bounce-back year…etc, etc etc.

But, there’s also a ludicrously long list of things that had to go wrong last year to produce a 98 loss season. And THEY ALL HAPPENED.

The Giants still have moves to make, and we’re still months away from really getting to into predictions for 2018, but at least things got a little more interesting today.

That’s all I’m asking for at this point.