Consistently Inconsistent #sfgiants #week2

There are a variety of oddities making the evaluation of the Giants start to the season difficult.

For one, while they’ve played 14 games, they’ve only seen 3 different teams. This week, they only play 5 games and they only add one new team to that list. And it’s a team from the American League Central. That’s odd.

Opening day saw the continuation of 2016’s bullpen woes, but the bullpen hasn’t really been the issue. The Giants are one of the top teams in terms of runs scored in the NL, but they’ve had some BAD games with the bats.

They’ve had some encouraging starts from all five guys in the rotation, and yet are only consistent winners when Johnny Cueto takes the hill.

They are 0-3 when Madison Bumgarner starts, and he’s off to one of his better starts. That’s really odd.

The school of cold hard facts would say: 5-9 and last place is a bad start. No bones about it, this is not how anyone would have wanted to come out of the gate.

However, they’ve already weathered a week without Buster Posey, are not going to go winless in Bumgarner starts, and the big problem with this team (the bullpen) seems to have found a sense of stability.

Back to the dark side: the Giants are on a weird road trip, which includes Colorado, and 6-13 would really be a bad start to the season.

Where do we go from here?

The big issue has been consistency. Certainly, a parade of quality starts from the rotation would go a long way to righting the ship.

But, the lack of quality from the lineup is the most troubling development so far. Consider this weekend: Saturday, the Giants were nearly no-hit, then followed that up with a 3 run out burst to start the game Sunday, and then proceeded to mail it in for the remainder of the game.

That’s 17 innings of nothing, and one 3-run outburst.

I know Posey’s been out and that changes things, but he seems set to come back this week, and so here’s the suggestion for the lineup:

  • Nunez 3B
  • Panik 2B
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Pence RF
  • Crawford SS
  • Marrero/Whoever LF
  • Span CF

This is the way forward for a variety of reasons. First, this brings balance to the L/R issues the Giants face at times. This lineup goes R/L/R/L/R/L/R/L/Pitcher.

Second, as much as I like the Belt at the 2-hole experiment, the Giants desperately need him in the middle of the lineup, there’s no getting around it. He’s paid to be a run producing first basemen, let him do it.

Third, Panik is the platonic ideal of a 2-hole hitter, and he seems to have put his post-concussion issues way behind him: release the Panik!

Fourth, Posey should hit third. I know Bochy likes him as the anchor and run producer/clean up hitter, but he’s a 3 hitter, and let’s all get on with it.

Fifth, Nunez is not the greatest leadoff hitter from an on-base standpoint, but he is the most athletic/dangerous guy they can put in this spot and when he does get on base it changes the game. Span get’s dropped.

Finally, not only does this balance left/right, I think this arrangement also gives the lineup more depth, especially 1-6.

Also, it would be awesome if we could get 4-5 quality starts in a row.

Go Giants.

An Alternative History of the 2016 Post Season

A couple of articles are floating around that re-examane a trade deadline that saw two of the most important players in the World Series (Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) move from the Yankees to this year’s finalists.

In these articles (like this one from Jon Heyman…you have to scroll pretty far down, fyi) it’s mentioned how the Giants never got far on the Andrew Miller front because of a refusal to include Joe Panik in any deal.

Knowing what you know now, should the Giants have entertained the idea?

Here’s how it may have happened:

  1. Joe Panik, along with some combination of Tyler Beede, Christian Arroyo, Phil Bickford, and Adalberto Mejia get sent to the Yankees. Let’s say, for the sake of argument: Panik, Beede, and Mejia.
  2. In all likelihood, the Giants do not also make the trade for Matt Moore, and probably not for Eduardo Nunez either. They may have acquired some sort of utility infielder (ala Gordon Beckham).
  3. The Giants would likely have used Duffy at second and Gillaspie/Beckham at 3rd. They may have called up Arroyo as well.
  4. While the Giants still would have had Matt Duffy, let’s not forget that while he came back and had a nice couple weeks for Tampa Bay he needed surgery (and missed the end of the season to get that surgery). Would he have missed the end of the season for the Giants? Would he have played through the injury? Would he have been diminished? Would he have hurt himself worse?
  5. This also means the Giants would have relied heavily on Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samadzija. But then who else would have started? Cain? Peavy? Ty Blach? That’s a far more uncertain approach (and don’t forget Moore is also around for the next 3 YEARS).

It’s not difficult to imagine the Giants actually winning more games in this scenario and potentially even holding on to the division lead (and subsequently avoiding the Wild Card and the first round date with the Cubs).

But here’s one more reality to swallow. Miller is getting a lot of press for his “fireman” role: coming in whenever needed (including the 5th inning last night). He’s been outstanding in this role, no doubt. Would he have been in this role with the Giants?

My sense is no. Part of what makes Miller, Miller, is that Terry Francona has Bryan Shaw, and more importantly, Cody Allen to fill in behind him. Miller may come in and put out the fire early, but then the Giants would still have had to trust Romo/Lopez/Law/Strickland/Casilla for more outs.

Think about last night’s game (World Series Game 3, a 1-0 Indians win) from the Giants perspective). Samardizija gets the team through 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings in a pivotal game 3 against, say, the Red Sox. Jeff gets into trouble in the 5th and with Big Papi looming, Bochy goes to Miller. Miller gets out of the 5th inning jam, and gets through the 6th as well, but then has to come out for pinch hitter Conor Gillaspie who gets a big pinch hit to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

What then?!?!?!? There’s still 9 more outs! Francona used Shaw and Allen to get those 9 more outs. Is there anyway you could imagine Romo/Lopez/Santiago/et al holding that lead? Maybe. But given what we saw for the last 2+ months of the year that seems unlikely. Which likely means, Miller would never have been used in the scenario by Bochy to begin with.

Obviously this is all hypothetical, and no one can know all the subtle permutation and butterfly effects that may have occurred, but I’ve heard/read many Giants fans lamenting not getting Andrew Miller.

Yes, it would have been nice to have him. The bullpen would have been better.

But it’s not quite that simple. A lot of things would have looked differently in this scenario, and several of those things would have been weaker/worse .

Would you take Miller (and Matt Duffy), but have no Panik, no Moore, no top pitching prospect, and probably no Perez/Smith?

Final thought: when the Giants made the trade for Will Smith he was touted as a “poor man’s Andrew Miller.” We’ll never know what really happened: maybe those first few bad appearances led to a lack of trust on Bochy’s part. Maybe Smith wasn’t up for the challenge. Maybe the transition from Milwaukee was too much. Maybe the Casilla issues and 9th inning instability meant guys like Smith were not able to settle into these kidns of roles. But, Smith never got used as more than a lefty specialist, and I can’t help but wonder how things might have looked different if the Giants really used him as an Andrew Miller type “fireman”.

3 Thoughts on Game 3

Note: I’m tired. More later…

  1. We will never know the answer: lineup or bullpen. It is an endless debate, one that will torment Giants’ fans for eternity. The silver lining of losing 1-0 and 5-2 is that there was no 9th inning walk off win for the Cubs. But, an important story line tonight was that the Giants put together a bunch of great at bats. Some ended with great plays made by the Cubs. Some ended brilliantly. That’s baseball. Also, the bullpen, outside of a leadoff walk and a home run was great. Even Romo, who started off horribly, deserves credit for getting together and retiring the next 6 batters.
  2. Two things I felt strongly about this series (among others): the Giants could/would get to Aroldis Chapman. They did in a big way. The legend of Conor Gillaspie grows. I also felt that at some point Joe Maddon would get too cute. In some ways, you can’t blame him for bringing in Chapman for the last six outs of a potential series clinching game. But that move with the double switch, smacked a bit of cuteness. He’s got plenty of other good bullpen arms. Losing Hayward probably cost the Cubs on Gillaspie’s triple, but then Amlora made an unreal catch on Posey’s ball in the 9th.
  3. I said the Giants need to play with joy. Derek Law brought the joy.

Conor. Joe. Legends.

10 straight elimination games won.

#BeatJohnLacky

Week [21] In Review (8/22-8/28) #sfgiants #weekinreview

As with all things 2016 Giants, this is a hard week to recap. The cold, hard facts: the Giants fell another game back of the Dodgers (they start this week 2 in the hole, versus 1 at last week’s writing).

And yet, this feels better. I can’t totally explain it, but it feels like the corner has been turned.

In the end, the Giants may look back on this week, and in particular, on the 1-0 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday night, and wonder about that Brandon Crawford deep fly out in the 8th inning. If that ball goes 5 more feet, and the Giants win that game, how different does this year turn out?

Who can know, but we can say that the Giants got 4 quality starts, won 3 of them, and seem to be waking up with the bats. If nothing else they took some frustrations out on the hapless Braves and sometimes you need that to get it going.

Our two key players for the Dodgers series, Buster Posey and Matt Moore, did well. Buster didn’t hit any home runs, but hit over .400 for the week and is doing his best with all dings and bruises he’s dealing with.

And Matt Moore was magnificent. He was pitching under the worst case scenario we described last week (sweep prevention), and he nearly threw a damn no-hitter. Welcome to San Francisco, Matt.

I was at the game on Friday night: Samardzija pitched well, there was a home run (a lot more of those this week!), and the Braves looked every bit the last place team that they are, but the thing that stood out to me, and it was a repeated theme this week: the defense is back.

Brandon Crawford made several outstanding plays at the game I attended, and Panik, Belt, Span, and Nunez added their own gems throughout the week.

That is a very good sign.

Week in Review: 1 of 3 from the Dodgers in LA, 2 of 3 from the Braves in SF. 71-59, 2 games back in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: Posey hit .444 for the week, but Joe Panik welcome back to earth old friend. He hit .375 with 3 home runs, 8 rbi, and 4 walks. If Joe can turn this into an extended good run, the Giants are going to be in fine shape.

Pitcher of the Week: It’s nice to have some choices this week, but it’s a no-doubt tip of the cap to Matt Moore, who not only got a big win, but did it in dominant fashion. No one was asking for a no-hitter, but he nearly provided it.

There’s been a lot of rightful debate about leaving a post-tommy-john pitcher in for 130 pitches, and I do have my own concerns about that, but in Bochy’s defense, the team needed it. And Matt Moore needed it. And I always feel better about 130 pitches when a pitcher is locked in and repeating his mechanics, than 100 pitches on a day when it’s a struggle. To me those are different things.

Looking Ahead: Another weird week schedule-wise. It feels like I’ve written that several times this year. A day off today, at home, then two more in SF against Arizona. Strange to have a 2 game series with a divisional opponent. Then 4 in Chicago. Yikes. Especially, yikes, because they back that up with three in Colorado. The pitchers need to eat their Wheaties this week.

Go Giants, and Go Rockies (BEAT LA).

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!

Week [6] In Review (5/9-5/15) #sfgiants #weekinreview

There was more awe than odd this week (see last week’s week-in-review), as the Giants exacted some revenge against the Arizona Diamondbacks, sweeping them in Phoenix (in 4 games) having been swept in SF by the same D-Backs earlier in the season.

Many positives abound, most notably the marked improvement of Jake Peavy and Matt Cain. Cain, in particular, looks like he’s figured something out. He may never be vintage Matt Cain again, but we’ll take this version, especially as the fifth starter.

That said, the odd factor has not gone away. The defense continues to lapse at times, Posey went ice-cold for a while, and the bullpen perplexities persist. And the oddest story of the year, in some ways, came from the bullpen this week when Santiago Casilla and Bruce Bochy had a very public disagreement.

It hasn’t exactly been pretty, but the Giants are riding a five game win streak and now have a 1 game lead in the division. It still feels like they have much better baseball ahead of them, and if they continue to get good starts they could really put together a nice streak once some of these other issues get ironed out.

Time for a quick ode to Tim Lincecum. All signs are pointing to him signing on with the oh-so-detestable Los Angles Angels of Anaheim, which makes a lot of sense, but now that we are actually at the moment, it feels weird. And I am a little sad.

Timmy was always our Timmy, good or bad, and more than anyone else was at the forefront of the great Giants turnaround.

Over my years as a Giants fan I can remember Scott Garrelts taking a no-hitter to the 9th inning. I remember Big Daddy Reuschel and Dave Dravecky. I loved the emergence of Shawn Estes. I saw Livan Hernandez and Russ Ortiz spin some magic. I took Jason Schmidt in the first round of a fantasy draft, and I won that season. I watched him strike out 16 guys. We finally had an ace.

I lived and died with Barry Zito.

I remember well the debut of Matt Cain. The epic battle against Todd Helton. I watched Cain’s perfect game and Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter and all of the greatness of Madison Bumgarner.

But, for me, the best game I ever watched by a Giants pitcher was Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS when Lincecum dominated the Atlanta Braves. He gave up a leadoff double and at that point, right out of the gate, all the horrible playoff memories came flooding back: the Giants would turn into pumpkins…again. But then he got out of it, and at that point it was pretty much over. I will never forget that game because it was awesome, in and of itself, but it was also a foreshadowing of what was to come: this was not 1989 or 93 or 97 or 2000 or 02 or 03 or 04. This was something different.

And it was.

Thank you Timmy!

Week in Review: 1 of 3 against Toronto at home, and then the road sweep of Arizona in 4. 22-18 overall, 1 game lead in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: The Giants had a pretty poor week with the bats, which makes the 5-2 result a bit surprising, but there were some highlights. Denard Span got it going, and had, easily, the best average of any of the regulars. Buster Posey started to come out of his slump and actually had 2 significant moments this: walking in the game winning run on Wednesday, and then his big game winning double on Saturday.

But, the hitter of the week will go to Joe Panik. He only hit .222, but he is showing signs of heating up, and he his two home run week puts him at 5 for the season, a very interesting development. What if Joe Panik can hit for power?

Brandon Crawford grew into some power, and while we would still prefer to see Panik hitting .300 and getting on base a ton, the added pop is kind of nice.

Pitcher of the Week: I’ve been very forthright with my unabashed desire for Matt Cain to be good again, so I will stop apologizing for that, but ole’ Matt earned it this week:

  • 15 IP, only 15 baserunners allowed, to the tune of a 1.80 ERA, and, in true Matt Cain style, went 0-1 (the team went 1-1).

This is significant development, and it looks like Cain is starting to break through the 5 inning barrier as well. The big questions for Cain moving forward: is this the ceiling, and if so can he do this consistently, or can he continue to get better?

Looking Ahead: A much needed day off today, and then this becomes a week to curse the scheduling gods a bit: 3 games in San Diego (one of the worst offenses in baseball) where the Giants will send their 3 best pitchers to the mound, and then 3 games at home against the Cubs (the best offense in baseball) where the Giants will send Peavy, Cain, and Bumgarner to the bump. Imperative that the Giants keep the wins coming in SD.

See you next Monday.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hitter of the Weak Week:

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

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

Pitcher of the Week:

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

Looking Ahead:

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

-SB