Week [5] In Review (May 4-May 10) #SFGiants

I was hoping that the Giants could wrap up their excellent home stand and head out on the road with a 17-15 record, but 16-16 is still good, especially considering half their loses came during that one streak that we won’t mention anymore.

Despite a 7-3 home stand, and the general good vibes that accompany the team these days, there are two significant concerns that stand out to me. First, the Giants still have -23 run differential. Wins are wins, as they say, but the way the Giants are doing this, with so many walk offs and one-run affairs, is unsustainable and leads one to fear that another losing streak is right around the corner. The Giants have a lot of road games coming up, this is a precarious time.

As mentioned, the Giants are 7-3 in the last 10, but meanwhile the Dodgers have gone 8-2. So even though the overall record looks a lot better, the Giants have actually lost ground in the division and now sit 5.5 games out, which is as far back as they’ve been all year. We all know the Giants are fine with the Dodgers winning the division, and taking the Wild Card route to glory, but the Dodgers are at +53 right now, which is the best mark in baseball.

I know this is not how this stat works, but the Dodgers are 76 runs better than the Giants. And we’re only half way through May. This is not a good sign.

The Giants continue to win by getting out to an early lead and holding on for dear life. I think Sunday’s walk off was the first come from behind win of the year (at least that I can think of). The Giants need to score more runs. Bottom line.

Hitter of the Week:

The Casey McGehee grand slam was awesome. He then proceeded to ground into two more double plays, and his line for the week was still terrible: .167/.167/.417. That’s what you get with one home run and a lot of outs. Brandon Belt has been marvelous (.524/.600/.810), and hopefully some games in Houston and Cincinnati will translate into some home runs for him.

Pitcher of the Week:

I have a draft of a post that demonstrates how when (and if) the Giants ever get completely healthy it sure looks like Ryan Vogelsong is the odd man out. However, after this past week, that argument has gone out the window and that post remains stashed in the “draft” folder. Vogey had two starts this week and he threw 14 stellar innings: 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 hits, and 9 strikeouts. Hard to imagine anything better from him these days. He’s making the rotation conversation that much harder. Hat tip to Tim Lincecum who has now thrown 15 straight scoreless innings.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants are in Houston for a quick two games and then head to Cincinnati for four. They then come back to the Bay for a short three game home stand (all against the Dodgers), and then hit the road again. We’re looking for the G-men to stay around the .500 mark with a 3-3 effort this week and then make a dent against LA when they come back home.

Go Giants!

-SB

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April! #sfgiants

Here we are folks: days away from real, meaningful baseball games that count (for realz) in the standings. It is about time, and I cannot wait!

The two big themes to come out of the Spring are: the starting pitchers have been really bad, and the team is not hitting any home runs.

Pitching Thoughts:

This can’t be all that surprising. The Giants failed in their bid to land another big-name starter and the rest of the guys are old, and/or coming off injury/surgery.

So, the question is: Spring aberration or signs of impending doom. I think it’s both. I know this a wishy-washy position to take, but I think it’s the truth. I have no worried about Bumgarner. None. I think Cain will have some ups and downs out of the gate, but I think he will be fine in the long run and even quite good as the season goes along.

Peavy will be adequately average, but this is where the questions begin. The biggest concern with Peavy is can he get through an opponent’s lineup three times. The Giant’s can’t afford a 5 inning starter in the third starter position.

The Timmy’s (Hudson and Lincecum) have actually provided some of the more positive moments of the spring, but also seem the most likely to not finish the season in the rotation. Hudson wins “most likely to spend significant time on the DL,” while Lincecum seems destined for the bullpen.

The likely replacements: Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Vogelsong. It’s all about depth this year with the seven man rotation. The way the spring has gone, it may not be bad to see one or both getting starts.

The really big question is: what if it needs to go beyond the magnificent mediocre 7? Chris Heston has had a nice spring, but it’s slim pickins’.

Bold Prediction:

I’m sticking by my “Matt Cain” has a very good season prediction. But, I think the back-end of the rotation will struggle, and the Giants could get desperate and make a play for Cole Hamels in July.

Hitting Thoughts:

Again, the big concern here is lack of power. Can anyone be surprised? Even with everyone healthy, the Giants are expecting to start only three guys who could reasonably be expected to hit more than 15 home runs (Pence, Posey, and Belt). Of course, they will be starting the season sans Pence.

We’ve also heard all spring about Belt not playing the outfield. We’ve also heard about Baseballmonk’s favorite, Matt Duffy, starting the season at AAA. And then lo and behold today, the Giants started Belt in LF and Duffy at 3B, and it looks like the Duffman will make the team.

All of which communicates that the Giants are a work progress.

So how much of this is the plan, and how much is just winging it? Who can really know, but I think the answer, again, is both.

The Giants do have a general plan: high contact guys who can do a lot of different things. But they also are fearless about trying things on the fly (see: Ross, Cody; Burrell, Pat; Panik, Joe; etc). It just feels like there is more winging it being planned on this year.

Bold Prediction:

The Giants will struggle on offense, especially in the power department. If they experience more injuries things will get even more dicey. That’s not much of a bold prediction, but I also don’t know where the help will come from this year. Some of the best trading partners are in the Giants’ own division. And, do you really want Allen Craig? Shane Victorino? Didn’t think so. We may see more of Belt in LF and Posey at 1B than anyone expects.

(-SB)

Pitching, Trades, and Cliff Lee Rumors

I promise that next Monday we will bring back the week’s in review and hopefully establish a good rhythm again.

For now though, the Giants season has been a sort of bizarro world. The starting pitching has been poor. The hitter has been good, if not great. The comebacks have been awesome. Who saw that coming?

Good vibes aside, for the Giants to have a shot at repeating they need to get better starting pitching. No way around that.

Here is my assessment thus far:

  • Matt Cain has not been good, but the amount of home runs he has allowed do line up with his career averages. Some might argue that such an extreme fly ball pitcher is finally having the law of averages catch up with him, but I don’t see it continuing at this rate. More important, Cain’s control has been lacking. I see him righting the ship and being the ace. Level of Panic: low.
  • Madison Bumgarner has had 6 great starts and one not so great start. No worries here. Madbum doesn’t have the video game stuff to dominate every time, so there will be times when it doesn’t go well. That said not worried. Level of Panic: extremely low.
  • Tim Lincecum is the most maddening player in a Giants’ uniform since Barry Zito who is still in a Giants’ uniform. He can look so good on one pitch and so bad on another. Dominate a batter than watch the pitcher. Provide a ray of hope with a clean start and then dash it with another start ruined by the big inning. What do you do? I still hold out hope that he is smart enough, talented enough, and not injured enough to figure it out. Level of Panic: moderate.
  • Barry Zito: Barry Zito is Barry Zito. I really don’t know how else to say it. Here’s what Barry Zito does: for every 5 starts, he will give 2 great turns, 2 good turns, and 1 huge turd of a turn. And that all works out to a perfectly acceptable league average 4th starter. Barry Zito. Level of Panic: low (Giants’ fans left panic a long time ago in regards to Zito).
  • Ryan Vogelsong: Ryan Vogelsong is the baseball definition of house money. In 2011 he was around to do one thing and one thing only: provide rotation depth. He started the season in AAA and only came up because of Jonathan Sanchez (remember him). Then it was because of Barry Zito. He made the All-Star team and it was a great story, but it was never part of the plan. And then it got even better. Another good season and a post-season transformation into THE ACE. But, when does the clock strike midnight and the coach turn back into a pumpkin? It might have happened, in a way, last August. It sure seems like it is happening now. The problem is that Vogey is now part of the plan. So, where do we go from here if this is the end of the line? Level of Panic: Red Alert!

So, what happens now? The hot rumor of the week is the Giants should go after Cliff Lee should the Phillies continue their downward spiral (a spiral the Giants are not helping in this current series).

The Cliff Lee idea is not unlike an idea I proposed this offseason which you can read about here. (By the way, Anibal Sanchez is off to a GREAT start).

Do the Giants pursue this?

Here’s the case against Lee:

  • He is old. 35 in August. 
  • He has an injury history. Been on the DL at least once in each of the past four seasons.
  • He is expensive. $25 mil for the next 3 years (including 2013).

Here’s the case for Lee:

  • He is very good. He is even better in the post-season.
  • The Giants could move Lincecum or Vogelsong to the bullpen.
  • The Giants will lose some combination of Lincecum, Vogelsong, and Zito after this season. Their good young arms are probably not going to be ready for opening day 2014. They will need outside help at some point to fill out the rotation, so why not Cliff Lee.

A couple of other factors. First, would the Phillies even want to do this? Maybe, they could get financial relief and some prospects. Second, would the Giants have what it takes to pull this off? Maybe…but their thin system would essentially be depleted. Third, Cliff Lee has a limited no-trade clause. The Giants could be one of the 21 teams on that list.

If the Giants could pull this off by trading only 1 decent prospect, than I say do it. They can manage the expense (especially with Lincecum, Pence, and potentially Zito coming off the books at the end of the year).

If it requires 2-3 top prospects, I say no.

It’s a long season and we are still just getting started. While the early returns have not been great from this rotation, there is plenty of time to right the ship. As bad as it’s been, the Giants are only a half game out of first place.

So, true panic should not set in until June. Let’s hope this magical group of five, who have been so good the last several years, turn it around quickly.

(-SB)

Big Answers

Yesterday we posted 5 Big Questions the Giants face this offseason. Today we try to answer them.

1) What can we expect from Tim Lincecum:

  • a) He continues to suck, the Giants figure out something to do with him (bullpen?), and let him walk at the end of the year.
  • b) He bounces back fully and the Giants have a big decision to make next offseason about what to do with him.
  • c) The Giants try to sign him this offseason at a discount
  • d) The Giants trade him this offseason. His lowered value doesn’t get the same return as a few years ago, but it could a be a good return and it would resolve (a) and (b).

My opinion is that Tim Lincecum is going to bounce back in a major way next year. I think he will be in better shape, I think he will work out the kinks in his motion, and I think he will prove to be a better pitcher than ever (if not quite as dominant) in 2013.

Tim can’t just throw a 95 mph fastball at the top of the zone and come right back with an 84 mph change that drop off the table anymore. But he can be extremely effective by relearning his fastball and by getting his mechanics to a place where he has better control (if less velocity). He is too good, too competitive, and too young to be washed up as a starter.

  • What should happen: I think the Giants should try to sign Timmy this offseason and enjoy the bounce back at a discounted rate.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will stand pat, let the season play out, and make a Lincecum decision next offseason.

2) Can the rotation back up their performance:

A huge part of the answer to this question has to do with Lincecum finding himself. The Giants had their worst ERA+ as a staff this year (95) since 2006. And this was the first year with a below average ERA+ during this run of success. A lot of that was due to Lincecum posting the worst ERA+ of any starter in the big leagues. Like I said, a Timmy bounce-back is the biggest way the whole team improves in 2013.

I also think Madison Bumgarner will have a huge year next year. I’m a huge MadBum fan, and I think the kid just ran out of gas this year. But he’s a big strong kid who will learn how to build strength as the year goes on. I think he takes another step forward which only makes the rotation that much more solid.

I’m mildly concerned about Matt Cain. He threw 250 innings this year, and while the dude is a horse I think some fatigue showed up in the post-season: too many home runs. However, there’s no reason to suggest he doesn’t do what Matt Cain always does: pitch well.

Ryan Vogelsong is also a concern. Late bloomers tend to fall and fall quickly. I expect Vogelsong to be very effective next year, but I think we will see more ups and downs.

Barry Zito is Barry Zito. He’ll have some starts that make you wish you had never turned the TV on and he’ll have some starts that make you think he could win the CY Young again. In the end he will have an ERA just north of 4.00 and win double-digit games. (One caveat here: If Zito hits 200 innings his 2014 team option vests…I would guess they manage that pretty carefully next year).

  • What should happen: the Giants staff should continue to be the strength of this team and Madison Bumgarner will be in the conversation for the CY Award at season’s end.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will take a flier on a Vogelsong-like pitcher this offseason who will prove to be valuable because Vogelsong will miss time due to injury.

3) Can the lineup stay healthy: The real heart of this question, as I mentioned yesterday, is this…will this be the year we finally get to see Panda and Posey together, at full strength, in the middle of the lineup.

It is obviously impossible to predict health with any reasonable accuracy, but Panda and Posey will be in the 26-27 year old window the next two years, typically two of the most productive years for baseball players. If healthy I think we see a potent 1-2 combo in the middle of the lineup.

  • What should happen: Posey and Panda come to camp next year in shape and highly motivated for personal and team success.
  • What will happen: I think this is exactly what will happen with the addendum that the Giants sign Posey to a long-term deal this offseason.  

4) Will the Giants make the same mistakes from 2010: After the 2010 Championship the Giants just had to bring back Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez. Oops. Aubrey felt necessary because no one knew what to expect from Pablo and there were no other legitimate middle of the order hitters in the Giants lineup. But that was a frustrating signing as it seemed to block Brandon Belt. Freddy Sanchez was blocking no one and even though we all knew of his propensity for injury it seemed like a good idea.

The Giants are in a similar situation with Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt. It is hard to imagine a Giants team in 2013 without those guys on the roster. However, they are all going to be in demand this offseason, and they are not going to be cheap. And they are not exactly young (Pagan being the youngest at 31). I’ve already heard about a Rowand (5 ys/$60 mil) type deal for Pagan, and Affeldt’s market just shot through the roof (no thanks to the Dodgers) now that Brandon League signed a 3 year/$22 mil deal.

TradeRumors has the Giants bringing back all three. I would love to see the three return, but I do wonder if the Giants will end up signing contracts that they later regret. I can’t imagine Scutaro getting more than three years (it really should be 2, with an option at most), which I think is ok, but Pagan for 5? Yikes! Affeldt at $8-10 million a year? Whoa!

Complicating matters is that the Giants have top prospects at CF and 2B. Gary Brown and Joe Panik seemed locks to make at least an appearance in 2013 (if not the opening day roster) after 2011, but they both had years that raised some questions. They cannot be expected to make an impact in 2013. But by 2014? Sure. I’d hate to see them blocked.

Affeldt is a huge weapon, but the Giants have two other lefties coming back next year (Lopez and Mijares). They also have Dan Runzler who actually could fulfill the role Affeldt plays (lefty who can get righties out too) if he can stay healthy.

All of this shapes up to be quite fascinating.

  • What should happen: The Giants should bring them all back, but at reasonable deals. I’d be ok with Scutaro on a 2-year, $18 million deal (with an option for a third), Pagan for 3 years at $36 million, and Affeldt for 2 years at $15 million.
  • What will happen: The Giants will bring them all back, but overpay severely, especially for Pagan.

5) Will the Giants make a splash in Free Agency: Assuming the above happens, the Giants will only have one significant hole and that involves Left Field. (Amazing trivia note from Baggs: did you know the Giants biggest FA signing last year was Ryan Theriot at $1.75 million. They spent a ton of money on existing guys, but that still caught me off guard).

The Giants have come up in a few Josh Hamilton rumors and there is always the possibility that another Championship could lead to (over)confident spending.

The answer to this question really lies in what happen with Scutaro, Pagan, and Affeldt, especially Pagan. If Pagan goes elsewhere the Giants might jump in on someone like Michael Bourn or BJ Upton.

The bigger question here is this: do the Giants take a flier on Melky Cabrera? Do they utilize a Blanco/Nady platoon (or some other right-handed, power hitting outfielder)? Do they have another trick up their sleeve?

  • What should happen: Assuming the “big 3” return, I think the Giants should bring back Cody Ross and use him in a platoon with Gregor Blanco in left field.
  • What will happen: This is the hardest one for me to predict and so much of it has to do with the other impending free agents. I don’t think the Giants will spend big, especially on a left fielder, so I do see them considering some kind of a platoon here, but I honestly have no idea how this one shakes out. I also wouldn’t count out a Cabrera return.

There you have it. I’m sure this will all get revised and mixed up as things progress, but that’s my very early assessment of this offseason. Good luck Sabes!

(SB)

Week in Review (5/15-5/20)

Results:

4-3 (21-20, 7.0 GB in NL West)

3-2 W vs. Col; 5-4 L vs. Col; 4-1 L vs. STL; 7-5 W vs. STL; 8-6 W vs. OAK; 4-0 W vs. OAK; 6-2 L vs. OAK

On Sunday, after the third inning, I was mentally writing a post about how the Giants had turned a corner. They were not going to be an offensive juggernaut, but their situational hitting has improved tremendously. Timmy was cruising. A four game winning streak and 5-2 home stand was in the works. And then it all fell apart.

The most alarming thing to me about Lincecum’s struggles this season is the big innings. I don’t worry too much about his velocity or an injury. I think it’s mostly mental. I’m not sure why, but, for whatever reason, he has really struggled to shut the door when things are on the brink of getting out of hand. It’s been a huge disaster of an inning or a relatively easy 3 or 4 batter affair. Not much in between.

Here’s to hoping he figures it out soon.

Hitter of the Week:

Overall, the Giants had a pretty good week with the bats. It’s especially encouraging to see them walk more and to know the top three performances of the week belonged to Angel Pagan (.440/.548/.560), Melky Cabrera (.385/.393/.462), and Buster Posey (.381/.462/.476). They need those guys to do this with Pablo out.

The nod goes to Pagan because of all the walks. He’s really set the tone in that area and has helped lengthen the lineup by serviceably filling the 5 spot. Well done Angel.

Pitcher of the Week:

Ryan Vogelsong gets the nod for the second week in a row. He was fantastic in both turns…14 innings, 10 baserunners, 1 earned run. Nasty. Seems to have it all working and seems to know where it is going at all times. Lincecum should take note.

A tip of the cap as well to Jeremy Affeldt. He’s back and looks really good. A nasty Affeldt does a lot to restore order and dominance to the bullpen.

Looking Ahead:

A 7 game road trip against non-division teams we already saw this month. Giants need to get some revenge against Miami for the sweep they suffered at the beginning of May (3 1-run losses) and hopefully take another 2 of 3 from Milwaukee.

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/7-5/13)

Results:

9-1 L @ LAD; 2-1 W @ LAD; 6-2 L @ LAD; 5-1 L @ Ari; 5-2 W @ Ari; 7-3 W @ Ari

3-3 (17-17, 6.0 GB in NL West)

Kind of roller coaster week. After game one against the Dodgers it looked like the Giants might done for 2012…then a great recovery in game two…then collapse again, the defense and offense in shambles. Then Matt Cain restores order. Finally, the bats break out and, in the end, the Giants come home for seven games, fresh off a .500 road trip.

A couple of thoughts on the Brandon Crawford situation. The kid’s taken a lot of heat this week, and rightfully so. He is supposed to be amazing with the glove, and we’ll take what we can get with the bat. But when the defense is really bad, and he looks lost at the plate, it is impossible to watch.

Here’s the reality though. Yes, the defensive lapses have to stop, but everyone knew what we were signing up for having him play everyday. In essence, the Giants punted the shortstop/8th hitter spot in the lineup. We all knew this. What is completely unacceptable is to then also have a position, in this case second base, that is actually worse! Through 34 games the second base position has produced exactly one extra base hit. That is beyond awful. It’s almost impossible to do.

I think it is an inspired move to bring up Charlie Culberson. Is he the answer? Probably not. But there is no way the Giants can continue to roll out Crawford AND Emmanuel Burris. These guys should NOT be in the same major league lineup. With Culberson and Crawford you are a long way from Kent and Aurillia, but at least they can run into one every now and then (see Crawford’s double today). Who knows if, or when, Freddy Sanchez can play again. Until then I’m all for CC getting plenty of looks.

Hitter of the Week:

Melky Cabrera went 13 for 26 this week. That’s .500. 9 hits in the Arizona series. He now has 17 multi hit game this season. That’s half the Giants’ games. Jonathan Sanchez is on the DL where he continues to walk hitters. Melky is earning himself some money right now. Stay hot.

Pitcher of the Week:

Ryan Vogelsong didn’t have a pretty start against the Dodgers, but he gutted it out and helped the Giants salvage a game in LA. I have seen enough to be hopeful that he will be able to approximate what he did last year, and that is really good news. Once Timmy gets it all back together I can see this rotation putting together a nice streak (like an 8-2 or 9-1 run).

Looking Ahead:

7 home games this week: 2 vs. Colorado, 2 vs. St. Louis, and 3 with  Oakland. Take advantage Giants!

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/30-6/5)

Results:

5-2 (33-26, 0.5 game lead in NL West)

7-3 W @ STL; 4-3 L @ STL; 7-5 W @ STL; 12-7 W @ STL; 3-1 W vs. Col; 2-1 L vs. Col; 2-1 W vs. Col

Fun fact of the week: the 2010 Giants won 22 games by 5 or more runs. The 2011 Giants have only one 2 such games so far! Nonetheless, the offense broke out in St. Louis but the games were still close, then it was back to typical in the return to AT&T.

Hitter of the Week:

I posted a couple of days ago about Aubrey Huff and his four home runs this week surely are an awesome sign. But Cody Ross is my pick here because when he gets hot he is as good as anyone and can carry an offense (see the 2010 playoffs) and he is pretty hot right now. .407 average, 2 HR, 6 RBI and a stolen base this past week. Stay hot Cody Ross!

Pitcher of the Week:

No doubter here: Ryan Vogelsong has not only established himself in the rotation creating a full on Zito crisis, but he is also starting to raise the question of if he deserves an All-Star spot (remember Bochy gets the final say this year) and , dare I say, about who has been the Giants best pitcher this year. Here’s the Ryan vs Timmy line:

  • Vogelsong: 4-1, 8 starts, 53.2 IP, 42 K, 1.68 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 2.34 BB/9, 7.04 K/9, 211 ERA+ (before yesterday’s start)
  • Lincecum: 5-4, 12 starts, 83.1 IP, 88 K, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 2.59 BB/9, 9.50 K/9, 144 ERA+ (before tonight’s start)
Interesting…obviously Timmy is still the ace, but Vogelsong has been no slouch…a truly incredible story if he can keep this up in any way.
Coming up: how about 7 home games! Feels good to have the team home for so long. After the home stand, three in Arizona, which means the next 10 games will give a lot of shape to the division outlook. Also, the return of Pablo is right around the corner!
(-SB)