A Mess #sfgiants #midweekreview

I missed my deadline on Monday for the weekly review, and then a silly fight broke out, and then the Giants lost a couple more games. So here are some midweek thoughts on this dumpster fire of a season.

1) The Giants have been bad in general, but they’ve been especially bad against good teams. 

  • 3-4 vs Arizona
  • 1-6 vs Colorado
  • 1-3 vs Chicago
  • 0-2 vs Washington
  • 6-7 vs the Mets/Cardinals/Reds (teams hanging around .500 right now)

They have bucked this trend against the Dodgers, somehow, getting the best of that series to the tune of 6-4. But, the overall poor play against good teams does not bode well.

2) There are times when a good fight can catalyze a team. In a strange twist of events I was at the 2002 game in San Diego where Bonds and Kent got into it the dugout. Many people point to that moment as a catalyst for a team that went on to be a few out away from winning a championship.

This fight on Monday, though, had none of that kind of energy. If anything it highlighted how far this team has come from the band of misfits days of 2010. If the Giants do get hot and get back on the same page it will not be because of what happened on Monday.

3) As I’ve said, the goal for the Giants is to be at .500 by July 1. If they win tonight, they will need to go 18-9 in June to pull that off. If they lose (a likely scenario given the Scherzer vs Cain match up), they will need to go 19-8.

A cursory glance at the schedule would seem to give one hope (there are no Cubs or Nationals or Dodgers to be found in June). However, one of the stories of 2017 is the weirdness of the schedule. I highlighted how the Giants only played a handful of teams over the first month, and that circle has widened, but allow me to point out a few more quirks:

  • The Giants have 4 road series in June and three of those are 4 gamers. That’s odd, and while that cuts down a bit on travel, spending 4 days in a city can be a grind. Plus, one of those series is in Colorado. A four game series in Coors can be an eternity, especially for the pitching staff.
  • June will feature 16 road games (yikes), and only 11 home games. It also features a 5 game home series against AL Central teams. That’s four days in Milwaukee, 5 in SF, 4 in Colorado, 4 in Atlanta. Weird.
  • The month, and the season, will really come down to how the Giants do in the 7 games against Colorado. The bunching of NL West series continues, and they will need to go 5-2ish against the Rockies to turn this season around.

Let’s assume the worst, and say the Giants need to go 19-8 to get to 41-41 (that’s pretty much the middle of the season). How can they do it?

  • 7 game trip to Philly and Milwaukee: 2-1 against Phillies and 3-1 against the Brewers (who happen to lead the NL Central somehow, someway, right now). A 5-2 road trip would pull them to 27-34
  • 5 game home stand against the Twins and Royals: 2-1 against Minnesota and 2-0 against KC gets them to 31-35
  • Then comes the brutal 8 game trip to Colorado and Atlanta. Hope for a split in Colorado (2-2) and a split against the Braves (2-2). Treading water would put the Giants at 35-39.
  • The Giants then come home for three with the Mets and 3 with the Rockies. 2-1 against the mets and a sweep of Colorado would put the Giants at 40-41. They then head back on the road to Pittsburgh, and if they open that series with a win: 41-41.

The Giants could make this a whole lot easier on themselves with a great road trip to Colorado and Atlanta, but I just don’t see that happening. They also could accomplish this with a long winning streak (or a stretch where they win 12 of 15).

Once they get to July they get some more games against bad teams, plus the All-Star break to regroup. Then the end of the month to acquire help.

The silver lining is that there are only 5 teams in the NL currently with winning records. It seems very likely that the Cubs and Milwaukee will flip spots soon, and I don’t see anyone in the NL East challenging for the wild card. That means, the Giants are chasing 3 teams: St. Louis, Arizona, and Colorado. Two of those teams they still have many, many games against.

As bad as it has seemed, they still have a very good chance to get into this. The question is who is going to get them there?

Monday we’ll take a look at the lineup again, and which players are the keys to a resurgence.

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Giants Post-Mortem, Part 2 #NLDS #sfgiants

Here are some great dissections of last night’s fiasco: Pavs gives a rundown of the action, highlighting how a few inches here and there may have made all the difference in the world. Baggs responds to some of the questions emerging from the rubble. McCovey Chrons explains how things should have gone (agree with the Will Smith analysis in this article).

Instead of re-treading all that, I’m going to a bigger picture approach. I also want to begin with repeating two things I’ve said earlier: if you are a Giants fan, especially someone who has watched this team for many years, you should have nothing but gratitude in your hearts. The Giants have done more amazing things in the last 6 years than many teams and fans get to enjoy in a life time. We had an awesome week too of sweeping the Dodgers, winning the Wild Card, Conor Gillaspie, More MadBum magic, and two great starts from Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore against the best offense in baseball. Be grateful for what you’ve witnessed from 2009 to now.

Second, while the swiftness of the 9th inning collapse was stunning, nothing about what happened there can be surprising. This was not a 98 win team that suddenly wilted under the pressure. This was not a great bullpen getting Cubsed. This was not the 18-0 Patriots getting upset by the NY Giants. This was the very thing that has been killing this team all year making one final, resounding statement. There was a special messiness to this collapse, and there was of course the greater context of this being the NLDS, but there’s nothing about last night that can be objectively surprising to someone who had watched this team for 6 months.

Which leads to the question I want to try to answer here: who is at fault? More specifically who’s at fault for this not getting sorted out much, much earlier than game 4 of a playoff series?


  1. Jake Lamb: Which is to say Santiago Casilla. It feels terrible to be so hard on a guy who clearly cares a ton, but in some ways that may been the issue that led to all this madness. Early in the season Casilla gave up a game tying home run to Jake Lamb (April 18), a game the Giants would go on to lose (by the way, the Giants had some WEIRD series with the D-Backs this year). When faced with a similar situation on May 12, Bochy came out and pulled Casilla, and Santi did not like it. To me, that was the moment this all started. 2016 was always going to be a transitional year for the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt retired, breaking up the “core four,” who did so many great things for this team. Yusmeiro Petit: gone. A whole bunch of new guys (Josh Osich, Derek Law, Cody Gearrin) were ready to take over. The constant was supposed to be Casilla in the 9th, and the big questions were how would the other guys sort out. But something happened on May 12, and Casilla broke: mentally if not physically. While he was still good enough to get 31 saves, he was never the same. What’s such a huge bummer is that Bochy rightly pointed out several times this season that Casilla, despite his struggles, had a role to play and still had good stuff. The numbers back that up. Casilla had good strikeout ratios all year. The thought I had watching the 9th inning unfold was that no one Boch brought in had the full arsenal that Casilla has when he is on. Romo has the better slider (when it actually slides), Stickland the better fastball (although he doesn’t always know where it’s going), and Will Smith the better curveball, but no one has the full array of pitches and stuff that Casilla has. And so, one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball history (20 straight appearances with out a run allowed) sat in the dugout while one of the greatest postseason bullpen meltdowns occurred right in front of him. The instability caused by Casilla’s ineffectiveness had a ripple effect throughout the bullpen that was never solved.
  2. Which leads us to the next culprit: The Giants brass and Bruce Bochy. Now, the Giants front office realized the issues the bullpen had, and they did try to fix it. They went after Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller (the Yankees, though, said heck no), and they were close on Mark Melancon (even Bobby Evans has questioned this non-move). You can play would have/should have/could have here for years, but we can only hold them accountable for the move they did make: trading for Will Smith. When Smith was acquired you heard things like: “has closer stuff.” And, “can get lefties AND righties out.” When Smith got to the Giants he a couple rough appearances, but as many have pointed out, his final 19 appearances were scoreless. I don’t know what was going on here: maybe the early rough starts left a bad taste in Bochy’s mouth, maybe the adjustment from the going-nowhere-Brewers to the Giants was too much, but for some reason he never even sniffed a save opportunity, even though he was the closest thing to Santiago Casilla the Giants had (minus Casilla himself). Install Smith as the closer in early September and by the time game 4 rolls around he should have settled in and easily been able to convert a 3 run save.
  3.  All the Relievers. This is really a part 2 to point 2, but one of the weirdest parts of the Giants bullpen issues is just how many guys there were in the mix at any given time. This is partly why the 9th inning last night was so beautifully morbid and poetically just: there were just too many damn options. As it has been all season, the kept parading different guys out there and they all kept failing. I was hoping the reduced playoff roster would help with this, but there were too many guys involved, and Bochy kept trying everything at his disposal (not a bad idea per se), but there was so much at his disposal that no one could ever get in rhythm. Theoretically you want to have too many bullpen options, that seems like a good problem, but in this case no one was ever able to settle into “the 7th inning guy” or however you want to organize the bullpen. The flip side of this is that no one stood up and grabbed any particular role either. Derek Law came the closest and then he got hurt. Some guys had a nice week or two, but no one locked anything down.
  4. Which leads us to: Hunter Strickland. I drafted Strickland for my fantasy team as a speculative saves play. I was not being clever either, many fantasy “experts” touted the Giants bullpen as chaotic going into the year, and predicted Strickland would take over sooner than later. I was far from alone in this. But Strickland never pitched well enough to make himself a serious option. And when he did become the option he totally blew it. He remains a great enigma. He throws so hard, but makes way too many location mistakes and he does not have a nasty secondary pitch. His slider is effective in that it changes speeds, but it’s not Brad Lidge-esque or Rob Nenn-esque, AT ALL. It is a poor compliment to such a fine weapon, and he needs to figure that pitch out or add another one if he wants to be effective late in games.
  5. One final thought, back to the brass: Baggs mentions this in his article, but I thought it was weird that Steven Okert was left off the roster for the NLDS. I don’t know who you’d switch out (Kontos I guess), and the Giants had other lefties (Lopez and Smith, plus Ty Blach), but he was pitching so well down the stretch, how do you not go with the hot hand there?
  6. One final thought on Bochy: I understand the second guessing, but I don’t understand the anger being directed towards him. Yes, it’s fine to question his strategy, but there’s not much he could have done differently. He tried to play the cards he was dealt the best way he could, and sometimes you get crappy cards. I don’t have any real issues with how he ran the 9th inning last night. I do question the weird relationship with Casilla, and the inability to get this sorted out in the months leading up to October.

One last thought for now: as many, many writers have pointed out this bullpen was always going to be an issue and if it wasn’t game 4 of the NLDS, it probably would have been game 3 of the NLCS, or game 4 of the World Series.

I know many Giants fans are sick of Javier Baez and the upstarts Cubs, but let’s get real here: would you rather go down like this to the Cubs or:

  • Watch the bullpen implode in LA in Game 6 of an NLCS, where the Dodgers walk off to take the series?
  • Watch Bryce Harper hit a game winning grand slam in game in Game 3 of the NLCS?
  • Watch Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (even more egregious bat-flippers than Baez) pimp back to back home runs to take the World Series?
  • Or (this imaginary, of course), some team like the Cardinals or Red Sox or Yankees or whoever you really don’t like do the same thing as the Cubs.

My point: be grateful it was the Cubs. It could have been much, much worse.

Week [7] In Review (May 19-24) #SFGiants

What a week, what a weekend. First, the Giants swept the Dodgers again at home, this time never allowing them to score. Then they traveled to house-of-horrors Coors Field and split an annoying, rain delayed, 4 games in 3 days, sordid affair of a weekend. The Giants now sit 2 games behind the Dodgers (3 in the all important loss column), and are very much in the conversation as far as the division is concerned.

Second, there’s been a flurry of roster moves that deserves some consideration. On Friday the Giants called up the fiery Hunter Strickland. If you casually follow the team you may recall he gave up some home runs in the postseason last year, culminating in an emotional meltdown against the Royals in Game 2 of the World Series. He’s been downright dominant in AAA so far this season, and his 2 innings on Saturday continued that trend and helped save the bullpen during the brutal series in Colorado.

Strickland was so good in fact that the Giants chose to keep him around, and he continues on with the team as they head to Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the Giants finally made a call at third base. They cut Casey McGehee on Sunday (although if wants to he could accept a demotion to Sacramento and stay with the team…this may, in fact, be his best option). Our #FreeMattDuffy worked! The kid now has about 7+ weeks to show the team what he’s got before the trade deadline.

Finally, in an interesting move today, the Giants also released Travis Ishikawa, who may remember from that one home run hit against the Cardinals in the 2014 NLCS. Yeah, that was awesome. But, baseball is an unsentimental jerk sometimes. Ishikawa could also accept a demotion back to AAA and stay with the organization.

Something tells both guys will choose to stay and hope they can work their way back up. The most interesting move to me was Ishikawa. I thought that maybe the Giants would send one of their catchers down (probably Andrew Susac) and have Ishikawa around as a pinch hitter, especially since he’s shown he can handle the outfield, but the team made the right move for now. It seems they have the best combination of a players and roles lined up now that they’ve committed to Duffy. Stay tuned though, because more moves are likely to come in the near future.

One of those very well may be sending Chris Heston down and bringing Jake Peavy back into the rotation. Stay tuned.

Hitter of the Week:

Once again, the choices are plentiful. Brandon Crawford continues to make his All-Star case. Buster Posey actually had a better week than Crawford, hitting a home run, driving in 6, and hitting over .400. Joe Panik continues to impress and put to be any fears of a sophomore slump. He led everyday players with a .417 average, and 6 runs scored.

But, the HOW goes to Madison Bumgarner for his “big boy” home run off Clayton Kershaw. Awesome.

Pitcher of the Week:

Ryan Vogelsong is also awesome. May we never question him again. Tim Lincecum shut out the Dodgers. All hail the freak. Madison Bumgarner beat reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Clayton Kershaw FOR THE THIRD TIME THIS SEASON. But, we’re going to go with a relief pitcher for the second week in a row. Hunter Strickland really did come up huge for the Giants this weekend. More importantly, if he can prove himself to consistently get major league hitters out, he is a major weapon in the bullpen. We saw a foretaste of that in the playoffs last year. We also saw the Strickland dark side. But, he has the pure stuff to be a dominant bullpen piece, and on this team, with its amazing, but aging bullpen core, another strikeout arm in the pen would be a significant addition. Plus, no more Jean Machi. Go get ’em Hunter.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants will play three in Milwaukee and then head home for a nice home stand, starting with 4 against the Atlanta Braves. Hoping to see their momentum continue to build through the end of the month and possibly close the gap on the Dodgers by another game.

Go Giants! Happy Memorial Day!

-SB

3 Thoughts on The Game 2 Debacle #SFGiants #Royals #WorldSeries

1. Don’t Panik. Or is it panic? I forget now.

There are two ways to look at last night:

  1. THE SKY IS FALLING. EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE.
  2. The Giants won the game they needed to win, got a split in KC, and now have home field advantage in a best of 5 series.

I can tell you right now that the actual players on the San Francisco Giants share the perspective of point 2. There are some clear issues (see below), but if you take out the emotions you were feeling in the 6th inning last night, this is far from the worst case scenario heading back to SF (in fact, we more or less predicted this here).

One of the big keys for me was seeing how the Giants looked against the “Big 3” of the Royals pen. They all came in throwing gas and looking nasty, but the Giants looked far from overwhelmed. They had some especially good at bats against Kelvim Herrera. Greg Holland will blow a save in this series I am convinced of it. Hitting these guys is no easy task, but to quote Krukow: “one to measure, one to rake.” The Giants don’t look completely overmatched here, they can hit these guys.

The Giants walk away from round one impressed but not intimidated.

2. Let’s Freak Out For a Minute. Bochy has done so many great things in managing games and the bullpen over the years that he’s more than earned the right to have a mulligan. But, like Game 2 against St. Louis, I thought he made a critical mistake in how he handled Peavy, and in relying on Machi and Strickland.

Despite Jake’s low pitch count he should have had guys warming up at the start of the inning, and he should have had a “get outs/stay in…give up a baserunner/come out” policy for Peavy for all innings after the 5th. The only issue he’s had since coming over to the Giants come up the 3rd time through the order (astutely pointed out on the broadcast by Tom Verducci…Harold Reyonlds should be muted but listen to Verducci!). I would have liked to see Peavy come out when Cain singled. (Actually, I would have loved to see them start the inning fresh with Petit). Then you bring Lopez in for Hosmer and go from there.

The second mistake was bringing in Jean Machi. He has failed, again and again, down the stretch and in the postseason. He threw 2 balls that weren’t even remotely close to the strike zone and did nothing to set up the batter, and then he threw a fastball right down the middle of the plate that he was fortunate to only give up a single on.

In a moment I’ll share my thoughts on Stickland and Lincecum and all that, but for now, the game was really lost for me in the first 3 batters of the inning.

The real issue, underneath all of this, is that the Giants starters after Bumgarner just don’t have what it takes at this point to get deep into the ballgame. This is where the Giants really, really miss Matt Cain. Bochy should have been thrilled that Peavy recovered and got through 5.

The three guys most responsible for the loss against the Cards were the culprits again (Peavy, Strickland, Machi). Bochy learned his lesson and you never saw those guys again the rest of the way in the NLCS. I think the same applies here.

3. Oh, hello Tim Lincecum. Yesterday I broke down how Bochy used Hunter Stickland in Game 1 and what it revealed about Tim Lincecum. Five batters into Lincecum’s first 2014 postseason appearance I was ready to throw that out. Then Timmy tweaked his back. The word is that it’s probably not serious. He’s dealt with this before.

But, it is serious because can you really trust a guy who is a pitch away from tweaking his back? He was so close to being back in the circle of trust, especially with the next three game in SF. He may be fine and he may pitch again, and pitch well, but whatever air of confidence was building up around Lincecum late in the game last night, seems to have been let out rather quickly by his balky back.

Looking Ahead: The Giants have some serious issues with their bullpen moving forward. I don’t see how Hunter Stickland can be used again in a high leverage moment in this series. He may well be the Giants closer in 2016 (the next time we do go through all of this), but he can’t go out there again with the game on the line.

Neither can Jean Machi.

Which means, and it seems entirely impossible that this can be true, but Yumseiro Petit just got even more valuable. Bochy has to hope he can get 5 to 6 innings from Tim Hudson, use Petit as a bridge, and then go with the trusted 4 (Lopez, Affeldt, Romo, and Casilla) in the late innings. Maybe Lincecum works his way in there too.

But Petit can no longer be a caddy for the starters, he needs to be a primary bullpen weapon.

To reiterate, as ugly as things got last night, pull the camera back and the end result (1-1 tie heading home) is a good result. The Giants are experienced, know how to shake it off, and will play Friday loose and confident. The Royals lose Billy Butler, and loss of a DH allows Ned Yost to meddle, which is a good thing.

No reason to freak out yet, Giants fans. The biggest things to look for now: The Posey/Panda/Pence dingers and can the Giants bridge the middle innings?

Go Giants!

-SB