Winter (Meetings) Are Coming…

The Winter Meeting promise to be a busy time where we will really be able to gauge what our new Giants’ overlord Farhan is up to. For now, though, today’s post will be an interaction with Andrew Baggarly tweets.

1.

Not much to add to here, but this sort of sets up the rest of the post so here we go…

2.

One of the hot rumors, or at least as close to hot as we’ve gotten so far, was that the Giants would non-tender Joe Panik and dip into what is a fairly deep free agent pool at the second base position. However, they kept sweet Joe in the fold, signing him to a one-year, $3.8 million contract.

I love Joe Panik, but he has not materialized as an everyday player the way it once appeared back in 2014-2015 when he burst on the scene and helped the Giants win a World Series. He followed that up with an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove, but has had a hard time staying on the field.

In particular, it seems like he hasn’t been the same since getting hit in the head back in 2016, which totally makes sense but is incredibly sad.

Baggs suggest that keeping Panik may set up a future trade. Once all the FAs are off the board, someone with a need may come calling. I wonder, though, if the Giants will try to find a platoon parter (hello Jonathan Schoop) and limit Panik’s usage, or even try him out at some other positions and use him as a super utility player.

3.

The other big non-tender news comes here. First, Gorkys damn near led the team in home runs last year, which says way more about the Giants than about Gorkys. You can seemingly pick 15-homer-a-year outfielders off of trees these days, so he is the definition of expendable.

Second, the big story is moving on (finally) from Hunter Strickland. On the surface this is an odd move: he was a decent closer in the first half of 2018, and one of the few Giants’ pitchers with good velocity.

BUT, he was a hot head, caused all sorts of chaos, and never turned that velocity into the type of dominance that deserved investment. He was the ultimate tease, and I’m glad he will be someone else’s problem.

4.

Yeah, not happening.

5.

Finally, here’s a bit of front office news. J.P Ricciardi is someone I respect, even though he tried to fleece Brian Sabean for Tim Lincecum at one point (also, Tim Kawakami gets a lot of stuff right, but he really blew this one).

I don’t know that I trust J.P. to run a team, but his thinking could be a good foil to Farhan. Ricciardi seems more aggressive and so maybe they bring a nice balance to each other. Anyway, I think it would be a good get for the Giants and another move away from the Bobby Evans era.

Thank you Andrew Baggarly for being awesome, and next week’s post should have some interesting stuff to chew on as the meetings get started!

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Really…really?!?!

Hate to pile on a guy when he is down, but it appears that Hunter Strickland is still an idiot:

The frustrating part, beyond all the innings/saves/holds/strikeouts being missed over these 6-8 weeks, is that even when he is healthy enough to return it is hard to imagine the Giants actually bringing him back. Strickland has done some really dumb things over the years and this one may be a bridge too far. Which means that just when the Giants bullpen appeared to be rounding into a strength it is weakened.**

**I know some Giants fans can’t stand the guy and think he is and was and forever will be terrible, but before last night Strickland was having a good year. He had a good 2017, and he stabilized an area that was the definition of instability for this franchise for several seasons running. Even if he was “demoted” to a lesser role he was still going to be an asset.

But he may simply go down as an ass.

It’s Not Over…Yet #sfgiants #weekinreview

Of course it’s not over yet, but what an interesting week in Giants-land. There was a little something for everyone: Bumgarner started the healing journey, the triumphant return of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, bad Brandon Belt and very good Brandon Belt, bullpen meltdowns, and some big home runs (and the arrival of Big Mac).

All of which boils back down to the damning-by-faint-praise tagline for the 2018 season: at least it won’t be boring!

In Praise

  • I named Johnny Cueto the most important player to the success of the 2018 Giants, and, so far, minus a short DL stint for a twisted ankle, he has not disappointed. One earned run in 26 innings! 23 strikeouts to four walks! He sure looks like vintage Cueto and that is VERY good news.
  • Jeff Samardzija returned and while he did not set the world on fire, he was good enough for the win, and it was certainly a start to build on. He’s got a tough assignment this week versus the Nationals and Max Scherzer, but it still feels good to have him back.
  • Chris Stratton has been awesome as well. In fact, the entire rotation had a nice showing this week. Stratton is demonstrating that the Giants were not foolish at all to trust his ability to easily replace Matt Moore’s “production” (by the way, it has been an ugly start to 2018 in Texas for poor Matt Moore).
  • Tony Watson continues to be the star of the bullpen, and while he did get touched for his first run this week, is there anyone else you trust as much coming out of the ‘pen right now? And, who was the last guy you trusted this much coming out of the pen? Affeldt in 2014? Romo in 2012? It’s an interesting thought experiment.
  • Evan Longoria is going to be just fine, thank you.
  • Brandon Belt is as streaky as they come, and yet there is something about this current streak that feels a bit more like a “finally” moment. I do believe that if he can stay on the field he will hit 30 home runs this year and put some of his doubters to rest.
  • The Giants won a series! I talked about this last week and I stand by it. This team needs to keep grinding 2 out of 3 and winning more series if they want to compete.
  • Finally, as much as we all love Hunter Pence, it’s going to be hard to deny Mac Williamson. I wrote, a while back, about his natural ascendance as the next system guy to make an impact, but injuries and lack of opportunity held him back. I love this comeback story and I am buying the new approach as being major league worthy.

In Critique

  • Is the Hunter Strickland show over? Folks will be pulling for Watson to take over the closer duties, but I do believe he is better suited coming into big situations like he did yesterday against the Angels. I think the best set up, for now, is to press on as is and hope Hunter can get back to the calmer innings we saw earlier. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any answer yet to when Mark Melancon may return. This will be an interesting week given Strickland’s history with the Nationals.
  • The offense continues to be sporadic and inconsistent. The positive signs are certainly the increased power, and they do continue to face some outstanding pitching. It would be great, though, to see more consistent 4-5 run games.
  • In particular, the Giants inability to get hits with runners in scoring position is very weird. They have the lowest production in the majors in that stat category, and I have to believe it will normalize. It may simply be a function of facing some of the top pitching staffs in the game, again that’s a task that doesn’t get easier this week, but one trend that has to level off at some point.

Looking Ahead

  • The Giants have another tough week, although all at home! They start off with 3 against the Nationals who are off to a similarly up and down start. The Giants will have to face Scherzer on Wednesday, but get to avoid Stephen Strasburg in this series. Again, it will be interesting to see what happens should there be a show down between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland. My prediction: Giants take 2 of 3, but lose the game in which Harper takes Strickland deep.
  • There’s a day off on Thursday, and then 4 games in 3 days against….wait for it…the Dodgers. It seems like that’s who the Giants play every other series this season. Here is a tremendous opportunity to do some damage in the division. The Dodgers have not been playing well, but have turned a bit of a corner recently, and are actually back to .500. This is a big week for them as they could build some serious momentum or continue to tread water. If the Giants can sweep or take 3 of 4 it could slow that train down significantly. My prediction: they split the series, which is a let down, but a 4-3 week would actually be quite welcome as the Giants wrap up a tough first month.

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.

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.

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