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!

Bring on the Cubs #sfgiants

I’m at a conference and exhausted and doubly exhausted by that baseball game, so I’ll have more to say before Friday’s game, but for now I want to highlight three guys:

  1. The forgotten hero: Joe Panik. The at-bat Panik had right before the home run was amazing. He somehow fouled off a pitch he never should have swung at, stayed alive, and drew a walk. A walk that created an opportunity for…
  2. The former Giant, turned current Giant hero: Conor Gillaspie. Let’s not forget that the opening day 3B for the Giants was Matt Duffy. Beloved Matt Duffy. Matt Duffy who became the key piece in the Matt Moore trade. Matt Duffy who became expendable when the Giants traded for Eduardo Nunez. Let’s not forget that Nunez got off to a rough start after all the trades, but quickly became the most reliable presence in the Giants lineup. Let’s not forget that many of us thought the season was finally, officially doomed when Nunez pulled his hamstring a week ago. And yet, let’s not forget that Conor Gillaspie had a great week, very quietly, during the final week of the season. Let’s not forget that the Giants broadcast team has been raving about Conor all season. Let’s not forget Gillaspie was drafted with Posey, came up before Posey, disappeared and then came back this season mainly because of injuries. He was never supposed to be here, but like Travis Ishikawa and Ryan Vogelsong before him, here he was and he was amazing exactly when the Giants needed him to be.
  3. And then, Madison Freakin’ Bumgarner. There’s nothing else to say:

I’m just grateful to be alive.

And I get my wish…we’ll get to see this rotation go up against the best team in baseball. We got a series. Bring on the Cubbies.

First Half Recap #sfgiants #2016

If you had of predicted, at the start of the season, significant DL time for Hunter Pence, Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Matt Duffy, Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, and various other contributors from the bench and bullpen all by the All-Star Break, I would have thought that a recipe for mediocrity at best, and disaster at worst (especially if all those injuries were combined with poor performance.)

But, no, your 2016 SF Giants at the All-Star Break=Best Record in Baseball.
57-33.
.633 winning percentage.
Not near the best run differentially (+73, 66 runs behind the Cubs),
but better than almost anyone else in baseball.

Bottom line: this team has been really good (#analysis).

Let’s review some of our pre-season keys, and see how the Giants have fared:

  1. Health: hahahahahah…one thing I will say about this…with the exception of Pence, the Giants have not really lost time for any of what might be called the “core contributors.” This is not to take anything away from the Duffys and Cains and Pagans and Paniks, but the Giants haven’t lost any time from Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt, or Brandon Crawford. Four of those guys are on the All-Star team and the other (Crawford) should be. Not only have they not missed any time, they’ve all been pretty stinkin’ good, if not downright great this year. So, the health of the core has been steady, and this is very, very important.
  2. Matt Cain: I admitted my personal bias in this when the season opened, but Matt Cain hasn’t worked out so far. To be fair, he has pitched fairly well when he’s been out there, and his production, combined with Albert Suarez, has produced more than respectable 5th starter results. He also is back to start the second half, so this story is still far from finished.
  3. Brandon Belt: now we start to get into some “hits.” Belt has been awesome all year, far and away his best year, primarily because he’s been so consistent. Belt has been streaky, and injured, throughout his career, but so far neither of those have been true in 2016, and we are seeing the best we’ve ever seen from the Baby Giraffe. It will be great to watch what he can do too, once Pence gets back and there’s a little more lineup protection.
  4. Winning At Home: The Giants have been just as good at home (29-17) as on the road (28-16), a welcome development. That home record includes an inexplicable 4 game sweep at the hands of the helpless Diamondbacks, so it should/could be even better the deeper we get into the season.
  5. Integrating the New Guys: this could not be going any better. The pitchers in particular (Cueto and Samardzija) have not only been better than expected, but it seems like they’ve been around forever. Denard Span hasn’t lit the world on fire, but his chemistry with the rest of the guys seems great too. Chemistry is hard to quantify, for sure, but on a team as tight as the Giants it is important, and from this side of things it seems the integration process has been seemless.

Reasons to be Pessimistic:

  • Some of the advances stats show that the Giants have been playing above their heads. Even without those stats, it does seem remarkable that the Giants are the “best team in baseball” considering all the injuries and the bullpen struggles. Pessimists fear the regression to the mean in the second half.
  • The bullpen has been a mess…and there are concerns if it can get much better given the internal options (or lack thereof).
  • Too many innings for the starters. Funny how last year the concern was over the taxing of the bullpen and the lack of starters getting deep into games. Now we are wringing our hands over the number of innings and pitch counts. This is actually the one concern I do share with the pessimistic crowd.

Reasons to be Optimistic:

  • While there may be some regression to the mean, the Giants will also be fortified by most of their injured players returning no later than August 1. Undoubtedly it will take some time for all of them to find their rhythm, but the best team will become a far deeper team in the second half of the season.
  • The bullpen will get better. Sergio Romo’s return over the weekend was huge in and of itself, but his performance on the field was outstanding, and seems to have already begun righting the ship. Furthermore, if the Giants make a trade it will be for bullpen help. Pushing the Gearrins and others into lower leverage situations will go a long ways towards better overall pen work in the second half.
  • Matt Cain: I know, I know, get off the Matt Cain kick, Steve. Well, I just can’t. I think Cain’s strong second half will take some of the pressure off of Bum/Cueto/Shark, and allow Bochy to pace those guys a little bit more. Also, Cain in the rotation, means Suarez in the bullpen, which means a true long-man for the first time all season. Suarez could make a few spot starts if someone needs a breather, or he can provide some length to the bullpen, which has been sorely lacking. Think Yusmeiro Petit type work.

One Final Thought:

  • My first half MVP is Brandon Crawford. His offensive numbers are not quite as eye-popping as last year, but he’s gotten even better again, which is hard to believe. The defense continues to be outstanding, and one horrible game in Oakland aside, the defense is much a reason for the Giants’ success as anything else this year. He’s the quarterback out there, and it’s beautiful to watch. Meanwhile his clutch hitting has been fantastic, all those RBIs filling the gaps left by Pence and others.

Week [7] In Review (5/16-5/22) #sfgiants #weekinreview

The Giants are rolling now, although, in keeping with the oddness theme for the year, it’s been three weeks since they scored more than five runs! Nonetheless, they’ve won 10 of their last 11 and extended their NL West lead by 3.5 games.

The lack of offense continues to be head scratching, and the bullpen is worrisome (to put it mildly), but the starting pitching (excepting Jake Peavy) is a marvel to behold right now. That’s how you win 10 of 11 without scoring many runs.

Let’s talk about the troubling issues for a moment: the most significant issue with the offense is that injuries have caused the lineup to shuffle too much. There hasn’t been a consistency, and while no one has missed significant time, the constant in-and-out has worked against kind of rhythm.

If and when the Giants do get their main-8 back (get well Hunter Pence), I would also recommend hitting Duffy 7th (in front of the pitcher). My idea lineup would look like this:

  1. Span
  2. Panik
  3. Posey
  4. Belt
  5. Pence
  6. Crawford
  7. Duffy
  8. Pitcher
  9. Pagan

This lineup is more balanced (lefty/righty), and I like Duffy in the awkward spot in front of the pitcher. Crawford has a lot of experience there, but he’s one of the teams best power hitters and putting him in front of a pitcher robs him of a couple shots at a dinger a week.

Furthermore, Duffy is fast and the more athletic baserunner. It would help Duffy out to get on base more, and once there Bochy can steal, bunt with confidence, and do more creative things with Duffy on base versus Crawford.

I still have a lot of confidence that the bullpen will gel and not be an issue long term, but right now you can tell Bochy lacks faith in many of those guys. Two things to keep an eye: do all the innings for the “big 3” start to add up to fatigue? And, does Bochy throw Strickland into the closer gig?

Finally, the Jake Peavy horror show rolls on. Yes, he’s been better at times recently. Yes, he got beat up by the Cubs, the best offensive team in NL. Yes, we was starting against Jake Arrieta, so they might as well have forfeited and saved everyone time and money.

But, he sure looks terrible, and it also appears that the Giants are going to stick with him as long as they can, and even if they don’t there’s no one riding in on a white horse right now. That said, I’d be much more excited about a Clayton Blackburn start than any more Peavy starts.

To what’s good: there was some debate on talk radio this week about the big 3 (Bumgarner, Cueto, Samarzija) and if it’s the best 3 the Giants have had. The Giants have had many good pitchers (2010: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez; 2012: Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong, Bumgarner), but 2010 is probably the best comp, and even in that year I’d take the Samardzija we’ve seen so far over Jonathan Sanchez. Linecum and Cain at the top of their powers are a tough top 2 to dethrone, but this is a very talented and deep starting staff that we get to watch right now. Enjoy it!

Week in Review: Swept the Padres in San Diego, and took 2 of 3 from the Cubbies at home. 27-19 overall, 4.5 game lead in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: the best numbers of any hitters actually came from the pitchers this week, that should give you an idea about how the offense is going. So, I’m going with Brandon Crawford , because he hit two more home runs, and sits second on the team, behind Pence, with 6. His power continues to be a great surprise, supplementing his prowess on defense.

Pitcher of the Week: We’ve all been enthralled with Johnny Cueto and pleased with the continued development of Jeff Samardzija. I really thought Matt Cain was in trouble on Saturday, having to face the Cubs, but he impressed again.

But even with all that, Madison Bumgarner reminds us who the Ace is. He’s done so much already in his young career, it’s easy to forget that he’s still on the upward swing of a typical pitcher. Barring injury, most pitchers peak between the ages of 27-29, and MadBum’s only 26!

The question I have: is this the year he jumps from one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball to truly being in the conversation with Kershaw for BEST pitcher in baseball. So far, so good.

All he did this week: 2 wins, 16.2 innings!, 17 strikeouts, and only 10 baserunners. If you like ratios, that’s a 0.54 ERA, and 0.60 WHIP. Dang.

Looking Ahead: Hey look, the Padres again, starting tonight. (PS, the Padres played 17 innings yesterday). After 3 more with the Pads, the Giants get a day off and then head back on the road to face the annoying Rockies where they hope/need to exact some revenge.

Week [4] In Review (4/25-5/1) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Over the last seven days the Giants won 4 games, all of them started by pitchers named Madison, Johnny, and Jeff. They lost two, started by Jake and Matt.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, this is how things look: positivity with the first three pitchers in the rotation taking the hill and closed-eyes/wishful thinking with the last two.

Between Peavy and Cain, I still hold out far more hope for Matt Cain. There’s a lot to suggest, just from the visuals, that he can still be a very effective pitcher, if not the dominant front-line starter he once was. The velocity is good, the movement is there, we are simply watching a guy relearn how to pitch. He lacks the touch and finish and polish that a pitcher his age and experience would normally have. I think this is due to his “new” elbow. I can’t predict when, but I do sense he will figure it out.

Peavy, though, I have far less hope for. McCovey Chronicles point out that it wasn’t that long ago that Peavy was good and producing well for the Giants. It’s a fine point, but the writing seems to be on the wall that end of the line is not too far off for this proud veteran. I lived in Boston when Peavy was pitching there and when he was traded to the Giants Red Sox fans thought he was done then. His reunion-with-Bochy inspired renaissance has been nice, but if the Giants want to make a change in the rotation it needs to be here.

Now, there are two significant challenges: both Cain and Peavy are getting paid very well this season, whether they perform or not. The notion of sunk costs dictates giving them more time to figure it out. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that no one in the minors is really setting the world on fire right now. The veteran loving front office isn’t going to turn it’s back on an old warrior unless someone is knocking loudly on that door, and no one is doing that right now.

All of this has led to wild speculation about Tim Lincecum, and while that might sound nice, do we really want to go down that road again?

One final note here: the Giants are tied for first place, and another good week could see them alone atop the division. There’s no rush, no reason to panic.

My entirely boring conclusion then is that Giants fans need to hope Peavy and Cain figure it out. Even if you don’t look forward to the days they pitch, they are the best option for the foreseeable future. Get used to it.

Week in Review: swept three games from the Padres (which helped salvage a .500 h0mestand), and then took one of three in New York. 13-13 overall, tied for first in the NL West.

Hitter of the Week: Hunter Pence put up a monster slash line this week .421/.500/895 with a double, triple, two home runs, and 10 runs driven in. Seemed like he had been quiet early on, but he’s actually having an extremely good season. Projecting out: he’d finish with a .293 average, 30 home runs, and 120 rbi if he keeps up this pace. That’s a BIG year.

Pitcher of the Week: Madison Bumgarner has “struggled” early on, but he’s also pitched once with the flu, and faced off against Kershaw (twice), Grienke, and then young phenom Noah Syndergard on Sunday. All to the tune of a 3-2 record, a 3.03 ERA, and 45 strikeouts in just 35 innings. He is allowing too many baserunners, and he continues to say he hasn’t found his good mechanics, but he still had a great week wining both of his starts in commanding fashion.

Looking Ahead: The Giants don’t have a day off again until May 16th, which means a couple of full weeks. This week they have three in Cincinnati, then it’s back home for four with Colorado. Theoretically, there are a lot of winnable games this week with 2 Cueto and 2 Samardzija starts to look forward to.

Week [1] In Review (4/1-4/7) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Well…

Quite a lot has happened since I last posted, far too much to cover!

My goal is to keep this going for another year, so stay tuned.

Let’s start with a quick preview/keys to 2016. I’m not saying anything new here, but want it in writing before we get too deep into it. Here we go:

  1. Health: this goes without saying, and yet it must be said. The Giants have a nearly perfect roster right now. Most everything fits, it all makes sense. But, lose one or two or (gasp) more, for an extended period of time, and it quickly stops making sense. Guys are going to get hurt, of course, but let’s hope for nothing devastating.
  2. Matt Cain. This is both personal and logical. On the personal level, there’s an almost desperate longing for Matt Cain to be good again. And even if he’s not good, to be healthy and contributing in some way. To the logical: if Matt Cain is good again, the Giants go from pretty good to potentially great. Like one of the best Giants’ rosters of all time great.
  3. Brandon Belt. Belt is sort of the Cain of the lineup: a guy I root for on a personal level, but also a guy who could potentially transform this team. As it stands, the Giants’ lineup is very strong. There are no holes, and as I said, everything fits nicely right now. If Belt realizes his full potential (30 homers, 150 starts, .850+ OPS), then the team goes into elite status. The front office clearly has confidence in him too, given the extension he just signed this weekend.
  4. Winning at home.  The Giants have had a winning record at home every year since their recent run of success started in 2010. But they have not won 50+ games at home during that window (their highest total was 49 in 2010). That’s good consistency, but it’s not dominating in your home ballpark. Because the Giants’ pitching is so strong, they’ve traveled well and won a lot of road game, but this is a roster that could/should win 50-55 games at home.
  5. Integrating the new guys. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span sure do look good in the Orange and Black. And it’s great to have such quality reinforcements. But will they really integrate into a tight clubhouse culture? One good sign already: Samardzija was right in the middle of the scrum after Crawford’s walk off home run the other night. It’s one thing to be a good pro and show up and do your job, it’s another to fit into the chemistry and character of the team. We’ll see how they do.

I believe this is a 95 win team, and a team that can compete in the post-season. The five NL teams who make it into the tournament this year will be very quality teams, meaning this may be the most challenging post-season for the Giants ever, assuming they can get there.

On to the week in review: 2 of 3 from Milwaukee, and 3 of 4 from LA, and the Giants are 5-2 with an early season 1 game NL West lead.

Hitter of the Week: Every single opening day/regular starter hit a home run this week and two of the bench guys and one the pitchers chipped in with dingers too. It may be that this is the first year where picking this award is harder than the pitcher of the week. Kind of a fun new challenge!

I’m going with Matt Duffy this week. Every year Sports Illustrated comes out with its predictions for the season, and the last two years they’ve added a “Scout’s Thoughts” section in the preview. The scout is from a rival divisional team, and it’s anonymous. Last year the “scout” said Brandon Crawford would never be a good major league hitter and then he went out and had an incredible year, winning the silver slugger and cementing his reputation as the best SS in the national league.

This year the “scout” deemed Matt Duffy a fluke, in particular harping on his bat speed and lack of power. He went out and hit two home runs this week and leads the team with 7 rbi’s. Maybe there’s some weird SI voodoo at work here. I’ll take it.

Pitcher of the Week: Cueto and Bumgarner went twice, each turning in a vintage performance and then a gutsy-stick-it-out-and-save-the-bullpen-and-still-get-a-win start. Samarzija and Peavy left a lot to be desired, and Matt Cain turned in a quality start.

Given what I’ve already written, I’ll go with Matt Cain this week if no other reason than there had to be a moment on Friday, around the fifth or the sixth inning, where he thought to himself: “I’m back, I have good feel for my pitches, I haven’t been perfect, but I like the results, and, of course, our juggernaut offense is getting no hit by a rookie in his first game. Perfect.”

The more things change…

Looking Ahead: Two important things to keep an eye on. First, it will be wise for Giants’ fans to have some patience with Jeff Samardzija. He’s on his fourth team in three years. This means four different pitching coaches, four different organizational philosophies, four different sets of catchers. My sense is it will take at least 8 starts for him to fully absorb Dave Righetti’s message, and to get used to working with Posey. I would predict/hope that sometime around mid-May it starts clicking.

Second, the most interesting bullpen development of 2016 will be watching how Bruce Bochy handles Hunter Strickland. He should be the closer (and I’ve thought this before Saturday’s Casilla meltdown). But, he’s also the biggest weapon in the ‘pen and so there’s something to be said for using him in the most high leverage situations whenever they come. Let’s see how this all plays out!

Off to Denver and LA. I think we’ll be sick of the Dodgers by next weekend for sure.

Go Giants.

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