Fixing the Offense (Mission Impossible)

Quick review: the Giants went 4 and 3 this week. They actually won a series for the first time this year. And, they are 4 games out of first place (the first place Padres mind you…awesomely bad week for the Dodgers…haha).

There were a variety of positive signs: the Kevin Pillar trade looks pretty darn great so far. Don’t expect him to hit 4 bombs every week, but he can play, and really any kind of offense from him is a bonus to his defense. Speaking of that, the outfield is SO much better than the last couple of years. So much better.

Tyler Austin looks good so far and survived an injury scare, so we’ll continue to see him which is good news. The Giants are going to be creative in their usage with him. We’ve seen Belt in LF a bit and they will sub Austin out early and get Parra in there for the late innings. All of that seems smart to me.

Derek Rodriguez had a very nice bounce back start this week. Let’s chalk up his bad first inning against the Rays to opening day nerves. Jeff Samardzija has looked like an asset so far this season (no home runs given up yet!). And Madison Bumgarner is fine, everyone cool it.

But, there is context. There is always context. The Giants took 3 of 4 from the Colorado Rockies who are off to a historically, comically bad start. They also were missing two key lineup ingredients for this 4-game series. So, on the one hand, good on the Giants for taking the series from a struggling club. On the other hand, it sure wasn’t easy.

And now the Giants head out on the road, off to the east coast for over a week. In some ways this could be good for the bats. New hitting environments, better hitting environments, and the first time they’ll be away from the west coast.

However, they will be facing some teams with strong pitching (Nationals, Pirates), and then up to Toronto where they haven’t been in a while. It’s a weird trip, and this just doesn’t feel like a team that does well with weirdness.

At this early stage in the season, it’s hard to know what to make of the Giants. They can clearly pitch and their defense is improved. It feels like they should be better than 7-10.

But the the offense is offensive, and the question continues to be: is there any hope for improvement? It sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like they should be worse than 7-10.

The only hope, for now, is to tweak with the lineup, so here we go, a couple of fixes:

  • The big suggestion is to drop Steven Duggar back. At times, he’s looked like the Giants best player. And yet, there is no escaping the fact that he has struck out 23 times and only walked twice. That’s bad, and that’s especially bad at the top of the order. There’s clearly a ton of potential there, but he, and the team, would be better served stashing him lower in the order so that he can learn major league pitching.
  • The other big problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that there is no sun around which the other planets orbit. It’s so difficult to create a cohesive and dynamic lineup without an anchor.

Having said that, here’s my humble suggestion.

  1. Panik/Solarte
  2. Posey
  3. Belt
  4. Austin
  5. Longoria
  6. Crawford
  7. Pillar
  8. Duggar

There’s nothing particularly radical or amazing about this lineup, but it does two things, in my mind. It takes the pressure off Duggar, and it moves Posey out of the middle of the lineup.

[I know there’s debate around the two hitter these days. Some argue that this is the prime place to put your best power bat. Others like some speed there (not so much for stealing bases, but to not clog the base-paths, a potential problem with Posey). I like the relative balance, the OBP (such as it is) at the top of the lineup, rather than spread around, and then you have 4 guys who can run into a pitch in the 3-7 spots.]

There is no perfect solution as of right now. The fascinating thing, if you can call it that, will be watching how this team tries to squeeze 5 runs out of this lineup night in and night out.

Happy day off Giants, good luck on the east coast!

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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.

Bryce Harper

The hot rumor from yesterday is that the Giants are likely to make a run at Bryce Harper next off-season.

First, let’s temper any enthusiasm this might engender.

  • Several teams are going to go after Harper next winter.
  • All the big $ teams will be in play to some degree.
  • The frontrunner is currently the Cubs with the Nationals a close second.
  • This contract is going to be absolutely insane (I’m going with somewhere between 10 years, $350 million, and 12 years, $500 million. Insane).
  • Finally, John Heyman is not a Giants’ beat writer, comes from the national perspective, seems to enjoy linking the Giants to every free agent, and almost is never right (or always right because of his widely thrown nets).

Which raises an interesting question for me: do the Giants seem to fail at signing the big names because they aren’t really that interested (and the interest is manufactured by national writers like Heyman looking to fill column space and get some clicks), or is there a real issue here with not being able to close these deals?

That’s a question for another post. For now, let’s indulge some sweet, sweet Bryce Harper fantasies.


Could/Should/Would this happen?

Let’s start here: the Giants have worked really hard this offseason to get under the competitive balance tax (the “cap”). If they stick to this plan it will prove to be a very wise move when it comes to signing a Bryce Harper type mega-contract. The reset will allow them to go over the threshold again, but with a fresh start. The CBA will be redone in a few years and who knows what that will look like. At least the Giants will be in good shape for a couple of years, and potentially really good shape depending on how the next negotiation goes.

While much has been made of the amount of money the Giants already have tied up in future contracts, they might actually be in decent shape to do this deal and extend Bumgarner, and, here comes the real crazy part, continue to get younger! This is where this off seasons moves really begin to make sense.

Next winter the Giants will say goodbye to Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen. That’s almost $33 million in AAV (average annual value) contracts gone right there. They also will likely say goodbye to Nick Hundly, and a few other small contracts, so let’s say that’s another $3-5 million off right there.

So, saying goodbye to those 3-5 players more or less creates room for Bryce Harper. Since this is an entirely optimistic post, let’s say he signs for the 10 year/$350 million deal.

But then, the Giants also extend Madison Bumgarner for, say, 10 years, $300 million. The press conference would champion how the team has the most expensive player and pitcher together for the next decade!

If going $30 million into the tax is too much for the Giants to handle, they will be in a much better position to trade a couple of players next offseason.

If this is your preferred vision of the future, you need to root for Brandon Belt to be healthy and have a good year. Brandon Belt for 3 years and $45 million might look pretty good to a few teams after the winter of 2018 dust settles.

Also, root for Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon. They will both have 2 years left on their current deals, and again, those deals may look pretty good to some teams come January of 2019.

I’m going to say the Giants move Samardzija and Belt next offseason (thanks to the emergence of Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede), which would mean that they would still have flexibility to add a few other pieces if need be.

Now, here’s where I really want to go with this post. The Giants always get slammed for going after veterans and this offseason is no exception. But, if Harper is the long play, this offseason’s moves are quite brilliant in their ability to stabilize the franchise and make the team competitive in the short-term (and it is very important to the long con that the Giants have a good 2018…Harper is not coming to a non-contendor/rebuild), while enabling them the flexibility to go big and kick open another decade long window of competitiveness by getting better and younger at the same time.

For the sake of example: the 2018 opening day lineup vs 2019 opening day lineup by age:

  • Panik 2B…27                        Duggar CF…25
  • McCutchen RF…31              Posey C….32
  • Posey C…31                          Harper RF…26
  • Belt 1B…29                           Longoria 3B…33
  • Longoria 3B…32                 Shaw 1B…25
  • Crawford SS…31                 Slater LF…25
  • Pence LF…34                       Crawford SS…32
  • Jackson CF…31                    Panik 2B…28

Average age of 2018 starting lineup: 30.8 years old
Average age of 2019 starting lineup: 28.3 years old

Then there’s the potential, come 2020, for that lineup to get even younger with the addition of Heliot Ramos, who would be 20 years old for that season’s opening day.

Furthermore the pitching staff would get younger, most likely, with the subtraction of Jeff Samardzija.

This is obviously looking too far ahead, because who knows what will happen, but the main reason this rumor is interesting to me is not because I love Bryce Harper so much, but because if the Giants pull this off, it sheds a whole new light on the moves they’ve made in the past couple months.

What to Look For Over the Next 3 Weeks #sfgiants

June is not trending in the right direction (at all). My hope was that the Giants could get to .500 by July 1, and as of right now, they will need to go 15-2 to get there. Probably not happening.

Here’s the rundown of the next 3 weeks and what it would take to turn this around:

  • Sweep the Royals (28-39)
  • Take 3 of 4 in Colorado (31-40)
  • Sweep the Braves (35-40)
  • Take 2 of 3 from the Mets (37-41)
  • Sweep the Rockies (40-41)
  • Beat the Pirates (41-41)

No problem, right? =)


The Giants exploded for 13 runs yesterday (finally) behind an unusual lineup, but here is what I would like to see for the next 3 weeks (at least):

  • Nunez 3B (let the man lead off!)
  • Panik 2B (Joe is someone to watch closely the rest of the season…who is the real Joe Panik and what can the Giants expect from him moving forward?)
  • Posey C (should be hitting in the 3 hole from now until the skills really fade, years down the road)
  • Belt 1B (his all or nothing approach plays best in the cleanup spot)
  • Pence RF (looks like he might be getting it going which means this is right where you’d want him)
  • Crawford SS (I know he’s been one of the most reliable bats of the last 2+years, but any lineup where he’s hitting above the 6 spot is going to struggle over the long haul)
  • Slater LF (let the dude play…if not Mac, let it be Austin, and let it be for a while)
  • Span CF (my hope is that he gets shipped out in July)

MLBTradeRumors put out some interesting info on the Giants yesterday. Here are some thoughts:

There are essentially two kinds of trades the Giants can/should make. One is trading veteran guys away to open up spots for younger players to get time. A classic example of this would be trading Eduardo Nunez so that Christian Arroyo and/or Jae-gyun Hwang can play the last two months at the major league level to show what they got.

The other trade is cashing in whatever valuable assets the Giants may have to restock the shelves. There’s not a lot of options here, outside of a blockbuster involving players named Buster or Brandon (not going to happen).

The two that are most interesting to me: Mark Melancon and Jeff Samardzija. Now, both have 3 years to go on hefty contracts, and both have trade clauses (Melancon has a full no-trade clause), but these are the two options that could fetch something interesting in return.

Melancon, in particular, would have to give thought to waiving that clause to go back to Washington, right? That team is a closer away from being the most dominant team in the game (yes, even more than the Cubs and Astros), so you know they are going to be willing to pay.

Wouldn’t the Cubs prefer Samardzija to John Lackey? The Indians would take him over a few their own guys I’m sure.

We’re starting to get to the point where these things need to be considered.


A small silver lining: MadBum might return sooner than later!

Week [23] In Review (9/5-9/11) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Welcome back to the pennant race Giants.

The Giants got kicked in the gut big time twice in the last 7 days (Sunday, the 4th in Chicago, and then again on Wednesday night in Colorado), and after the second meltdown I thought it might be over.

It may yet be over, but it doesn’t feel like it today.

It feels like maybe, just maybe, they’ve unlocked something, and good baseball will start to flow once again.

What I want to do now is look at the remainder of the season and make a bit of a forecast (starting today where the Giants sit 77-65, 3 games behind the Dodgers):

  • 3 games at home against the Padres (It seems like perfect symmetry/baseball justice, for the Giants to sweep the Pads this week. After all it was the Padres series to start the second half and that launched the Giants into their funk. I hate predicting sweeps, but that’s kind of what needs to happen so…80-65. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way to New York to face the Yankees, they’ll drop 2 of 3, 82-63.)
  • 4 games at home against the Cardinals (This is a huge series in terms of the Wild Card race. The Giants could potentially put the Cardinals out of the race by the time this series is over…that’s being extremely optimistic, and on the other hand, the Cardinals could very much assert themselves here to the Giants demise. These are two proud teams, and with the Giants missing Madison Bumgarner in this series, I see a split coming: 82-67. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way back to the West Coast and play four in Arizona, where they too will split the series: 84-65.)
  • The Giants head back out on the road for the last time, starting with three games in LA. They should have Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore lined up to go for these big three games. Again, I hate predicting sweeps, but I want to stay positive: 2 of 3, 84-68. the Dodgers, obviously would drop 2 of 3, being a little tired after the travel of the week: 85-67).
  • The final road series takes the Giants to San Diego. Remember: the Giants were 9-0 against the Pads until the post-all-star fiasco. If they can continue the dominance they could potentially sweep this series. Weird things happen in San Diego and this is the end of a road trip and the end of a stretch of over two weeks without a day off. I’ll go conservative here and predict a spilt: 86-70. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finish their home season with four against the Rockies. This is the one place in the schedule where it seems the Dodgers are set up to make up ground. I’ll say they take 3 of 4: 88-68.)
  • The Giants close the season with six home games, and isn’t interesting that I stated the importance of asserting themselves at home as a significant theme for the year. They will need to go 5-1 to capture the division back, and I believe they’ll get off to a good start with a sweep of the Rockies. Meanwhile, the Dodgers will get ambushed by the Padres, losing 2 of 3. Both teams will sit at 89-70 to start the series. A series the Giants will win by taking two of three to finish 91-71.)

Let’s summarize: 20 games left, a 14-6 close to the season (17-6 if you include the sweep of the D-Backs this weekend). Why is this possible?

  • First, he offense is finally starting to get going. This may be too much to ask, but everyone contributed this weekend in Arizona: Span and Pagan homered, Posey had some great at-bats, Belt came up with a couple huge hits, Panik and Crawford continued to produce as normal rates, Nunez looks like he’s in the middle of hot streak, and there are no ends to the superlatives one could heap on Hunter Pence for the series he had. It’s been amazing that the Giants have gone such a long time essentially rotating one hot hitter at a time. The law of averages seems to say they are due for a stretch where multiple guys hit at the same time. Now is the time!
  • Second, the starting pitching continues to deliver, and Matt Moore, in particular, seems to have figured something out. The rotation has four more turns to keep this going. Meanwhile, the bullpen, sans Santiago Casilla, has actually been pretty good. Derek Law should return this week, setting up a nice little debate: who do you want closing games down the stretch, the guy who has been great all year (Law), or the guy who seems to have the hot hand right now (Strickland). Honestly, Strickland scares me a bit because he can give up a home run with the best of them, but his last couple turns have been dynamic, so let it ride I guess.
  • It’s a simple formula, but the Giants have been so good at losing games (bad pitching when they hit, and no hitting when they pitch, some bullpen implosions for good measure) that I believe it will continue to turn around, and translate back into winning games.

Hitter of the Week: No brainer here…hello Hunter Pence! 12 hits, 4 walks, a home run, and 8 runs scored! It’s the walks that are the most encouraging sign…when Pence is right, as he was several years ago back at the beginning of the season (that’s an intentional sentence) his eye was exceptional. He is locked in and playing with passion, and that’s the kind of thing that can propel this team in a positive direction (as we’ve seen several times over the past 4 years).

Pitcher of the Week: Matt Moore had an incredible game on Sunday, but that has to be balanced with his tough start on Monday. It was a Coors start, and he was undermined by Brandon Crawford missing a ball he catches 99% of the time, but he also walked the 8th and 9th place hitters (one of them was trying to bunt too), and so painted himself into a corner. It seems the only thing holding him back, though, is this occasional spell of wildness. I’m going to give the POW to Jeff Samardzija who continues to pitch incredible well down the stretch, something that seems to be under the radar. His last 5 starts he gone 31 innings, striking out 30, with a 2.90 ERA, and only one home run allowed.

This is going to be a great final three weeks. Buckle up. Who needs football?!

Week [19] In Review (8/8-8/14) #sfgiants #weekinreview

I have no idea what to say today. Part of me wants to write about the positive signs, because there were many this past week: better starts, better offense, better bullpen (until Sunday).

Part of my wants to burn AT&T to the ground, because this team should not be allowed to play baseball anymore.

The week highlights the fundamental issue with this team: each facet of the team is pretty good except when it isn’t.

At times the rotation has been outstanding, the backbone of success. But the Giants have given a lot of starts to Matt Cain, Jake Peavey, and Alberto Suarez. Jeff Samardzija has been brilliant AND horrible. Madison Bumgarner is having a career year but didn’t win a start for almost a month.

At times the lineup has been outstanding, even carrying the load during different swings. But it’s also been banged up, some guys have been mired in inexplicable slumps for extended periods, and certain guys (hey there Denard Span) can look great one day and then go 0-14 the next 3.

The defense has been, maybe, the most consistent force for good all year, but there have been some glorious meltdowns, and Angel Pagan still plays in the field on a regular basis (which is not a good thing).

And then the bullpen: oh sweet bullpen. Just when Bochy was starting to follow my advice (see last week’s post), just when roles and expectations were clarifying, just when it seemed like the ‘pen was taking the place of “most confidence inspiring,” yesterday happened.

And so, I just don’t know.

This is a good baseball team, except when it isn’t.

Week In Review: 2 of 3 in Miami, and 1 of 3 from Baltimore. 66-51, still, somehow 1 game up in the NL West.

Hitter of the Week: No question this award goes to Brandon Crawford who accumulated a week’s worth of hits (7) in one incredible game. Crawford’s name has come up several times in “overall best player in baseball” conversations. No one is saying he is the best, but who ever imagined that he would even be in the conversation. Remarkable.

Pitcher of the Week: Madison Bumgarner had a great start the other night, and finally got credit for a win, but we’re going with Jeff Samardzija. Shark had been struggling with control and the home run ball, but to hear some of the guys who follow the team closely, there were predictions of a turn around. It appeared to start in his last turn where two things happened: better control (still walked 3, but seemed to leave less pitches out over the plate), and the return of the curve ball (too much hard stuff was making life too easy for opposing batters). Keep it up Jeff!

Looking Ahead: the long home stand continues with 3 against Pittsburg and 4 against the Mets. Keep putting the positives together!

Oh, any maybe it’s time for Derek Law to take over the 9th?

Week [11] In Review (6/13-6/19) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Um, ok.

I think we all knew the Giants were doing well, but dang!

No June swoon so far, in fact everything is looking pretty rosy right now: Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are having historic seasons, Jeff Samardzija is the best(?) third starter in baseball, Jake Peavy has figured out how to be competitive again, and the Suarez/Cain combo is holding its own (though Matt Cain is out again with yet another hamstring issue).

The offense is starting to come to life, especially in the home run department (more on this in a moment), Pagan is back, and the lineup feels somewhat normal again.

The biggest positive sign, however, is the resurgence of the bullpen. It seems things have start to get sorted out. I don’t love Cody Gearrin as the 8th inning guy, but, hey, I’m not Bruce Bochy and he has a fairly good track record with bullpens. Whatever the combination, it is finally working, and could get even better once the irrepressible Sergio Romo returns (he struck out Yasiel Puig in a rehab game this week, which is pretty cool).

The Giants face an interesting week. Four games with Pittsburg and then the long flight back to the west coast for a three game weekender with the Phillies. This is a sneaky tough week. The Pirates aren’t playing well, but are still a talented bunch, and four games in Pittsburg feels like a lot. The Phillies are not great, but they are young and have a few good pitchers and they could be a tough matchup coming off the road trip.

Back to the positive vibes: the Giants have nearly caught the Cubs for the best record in the NL, something that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago!

Week In Review: Swept the Brewers in 3 at home; swept Tampa Bay in 3 in Tampa; 44-26 overall, 6.5 game lead in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: As surmised last week Buster Posey did in fact break out, hitting .522 while collecting 12 hits. Brandon Belt continues to affirm his new contract and make his case for the All-Star Team pounding two more home runs. But the hitters of the week are Matt Duffy and Joe Panik who came alive to the tune of  .409 and .346 averages, respectively. The Giants lineup is pretty devastating when these guys are hitting well. They also both homered, and Panik had a couple huge, clutch moments in the Tampa series.

Pitcher of the Week: You could throw a dart at a chart of the starting rotation and get a pretty good candidate this week. As mentioned above, Bumgarner and Cueto added to their legendary starts to this season. Cueto won his 10th! game of the season already, while striking out nine. Peavy pitched well, adding 8 punchouts of his own.

But, the POW goes to Jeff Samardzija for nearly throwing a shutout (a 2 out, ninth inning home run ruined it for him), and getting himself back on track after a few lesser quality starts.

Looking Ahead: I’ve already gone over the schedule for the week, and the challenge it presents, so now for the good news: this a 2 start week for both Bumgarner and Cueto. Get excited for that!