Never Read Me Again #sfgiants #weekinreview

Welp. Pretty much everything I wrote about last Monday turned to mush this week in what has to go down as the most disappointing stretches of the season:

  1. The Giants were terrible in Miami, needing 16 innings on getaway day just to salvage a game. Not surprisingly, the bats were very quiet in LA until Sunday when they manage to avoid getting swept again on the final day of a series.
  2. The Giants bench is still good, but it gets stretched a bit now that Evan Longoria will miss extended time with a fractured hand.
  3. Which means that the offense may never be at full strength this season. By the time Longoria returns, who knows who will be out then.
  4. Brandon Belt is back, and so is Cory Gearrin. Not only is he not out of the organization he’s still on the major league team! Groans abound.
  5. Madison Bumgarner is back but he’s not in dominant form yet. I was excited for the quick return, but I guess we should not be surprised that he’s still shaking the rust off. I do expect much better from him soon.
  6. Brandon Crawford is still amazing and great, but he has cooled off a bit, and now will be gone for three days to attend the birth of his fourth child.
  7. Finally, the road issues continue as the Giants now fall to 16-26 away from AT&T.

There are reasons for hope. Somehow the Giants are still in it. They are only 4.5 games out of first in the NL West.

Finally, I’ve written in nearly every post about the weird schedule this year. Well, for the first time that weirdness tilts in the Giants favor. The Giants have 10 straight games at home (including a chance at redemption against the Marlins!). Then they go on the road for 6 games. Three of those are against the first place Arizona Diamondbacks. Then they go to Colorado, who, amazingly, has a terrible home record. That’s 6 in-division road games (i.e. no east coast swing, and games that directly impact the NL West standings). That is followed by a nine game home stand.

To summarize: 19 of the next 25 games are at home!

Now is the time!


In other news:

 

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A Quick Update #sfgiants #weekinreview

I’ve been in the midst of a move, staring a new job, and then also the Warriors have grabbed what little sports attention I’ve had recently (they are a good basketball team, but that’s not what we are here for).

Anyway, just a quick couple thoughts today and then I’ll try to be back in a normal rhythm soon.


First Thought: I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Giants “road woes” and the big split between record, home and away. It still exists (Home: 19-11, Road 14-21). However, the Giants are off to a good start on the current, and long, road trip, and they have the potential to make a dent in that record. They are 2-1 already, with 4 against the terrible Marlins, and then three in LA against the Dodgers whom they have played well so far.

I cannot stress enough how important these four games are in Miami. Anything less than 3-1 would be a let down, in my opinion. The Giants will throw out Madison Bumgarner and Chris Stratton (their two “aces”) to start the series, then the rookies get the second half. They should win the first two games and (AT LEAST) split the last two. Then, if they can get 2 of 3 in LA that would be an awesome road trip and push the road record to 19-23 (.500 is the magic # for a competitive team).

Second Thought: I liked the Giants bench to start the season, but it has really become a tremendous strength for this team. Pablo and Hundly have been great, Alen Hanson a revelation, and the Gorkys and Mac Williamson resurgences have pushed Hunter Pence and Austin Jackson into more appropriate super-sub roles. I like it a lot. (And I’d imagine they drop a pitcher when Brandon Belt returns this week).

Third Thought: Speaking of Brandon Belt, when he returns the offense will be at full strength for the first time in a while, and the team will be as healthy as it’s been in a long, long time (lacking only Cueto and Samardzija). If they can keep guys healthy up to the all-star break the Giants have a real chance to make this interesting.

Fourth Thought: It’s probably going to be interesting no matter what. The last two weeks have done nothing to “unbunch” the division. Arizona is hanging on to first place, the Dodgers have crawled back to contention but still aren’t their juggernaut selves, and Colorado and San Diego are very much hanging in/around. The in-division games this month are going to be very consequential.

Fifth Thought: the Giants released Cory Gearrin this week (and there was much rejoicing). No one picked him up and he may end up in Sacramento. That may not be all that interesting to you, but it should. The Giants really needed someone to take him on, as it would have opened up an opportunity to make a trade deadline move.

All of which is going to make for an interesting July. The Giants did some very creative (and actually pretty awesome) maneuvering this offseason to both improve the 2018 team and create space to go for it again in the offseason (by not going into the luxury tax the Giants give themselves the room to make big moves next year).

As of right now, if the Giants want to make a move at the deadline it’s going to require more creativity if they want to continue with their stated goal of staying under the tax. The obvious move would be getting someone to take on Hunter Pence (maybe an old NBA style bad contract swap?). Some other candidates might include Austin Jackson or Sam Dyson. Or, the Giants may just say “who care about the tax,” throw caution to the wind and go for it. The deadline will say a lot about the team they think they have and their plans for the future.

Sixth Thought: Speaking of Sam Dyson, the Giants bullpen has become everything I hoped for and more. They suddenly have a “big three” of Strickland/Watson/Dyson, while at the same time still having three excellent arms (Melancon/Smith/Moronta) to back those guys up with. Plus, Ty Blach makes so much more sense as a long reliever.

It’ll be interesting to see how the pecking order shakes out over the course of the year, but I cannot remember when the Giants had so many guys I had so much confidence in. They’ve had better “core” bullpens, but I don’t know about a 1-7 that matches this one.

Final Thought: An ode to Brandon Crawford. Get out there on the internet somewhere and check out his game logs (like this one). His season reminds me very much of Dustin Pedroia’s rookie of the year campaign. Crawford was hitting .189 with a .560 OPS on April 30th. I was definitely worried. Crawford does not need to hit a ton to be valuable to the Giants. His defense alone is an asset, and then any sort of league average hitting makes him a ++ player. But when he hits, this team can be deadly.

Since May 1 his average has steadily increased, up to .338 after yesterday’s 4-4 (most of that damage against Max Scherzer, the easy CYA front-runner in the NL). His OPS is .921, far and away the best mark of his career.

Dave Flemming mentioned several times on the broadcast yesterday that Crawford has to be considered among the leaders for MVP at this point.

We love Brandon Crawford and have thoroughly enjoyed his contributions to many great Giants moments over the years. But, to become an MVP candidate is truly amazing and ridiculous. He was an all-glove, no-hit sort of prospect who was simply seen as a stop-gap starter when he came up and who would hopefully turn into a nice utility player.

Now we’re looking at multi-gold gloves and a potential MVP finalist. Unreal. And it’s legit too, watching him yesterday, he does not look like a guy who is just hot, he’s hitting everything on rope all over the ball park. Beautiful to behold!

Road Woes #sfgiants #weekinreview

Well, as I said last post, this was always going to be a weird week. It was. It was not good or fun, at least in terms of baseball.

The Giants went 1-4, saw their run differential drop to -44 (oof), and showed that despite their improvements from last year, there is still a significant gap between themselves and MLB’s elite.

And yet, they are still only 3 games out of first place, and they have a 3 game series against the first place Rockies starting today. A sweep would leave them tied with Colorado, potentially in first place, and .500 heading back home for a 6 game stand.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking the about the Giants’ injuries, the weird schedule to start the year, and the lack of consistency roster-wide. They are still searching for cohesiveness, making another couple moves today to bolster the bullpen for Colorado’s thin air.

They remain without Joe Panik, Hunter Pence, Mark Melancon, Johnny Cueto, and Madison Bumgarner.

But, most of all, they are proving to be a very bad road team (11-18).

The good news is that they’ve been pretty good at home (14-10). But this is maybe the most obvious indictment of their starting rotation. For a team to be good on the road, in general, it must get good starting pitching. “Starting pitching travels,” is the old adage/cliché.

The stats are somewhat neutral. The Giants have a 4.32 home ERA vs. a 4.76 ERA on the road. Roughly half a run a game. Not great, but not that dramatic.

The one stat that does stand out, though: 19 home runs allowed at home, 33 on the road. And this will be significant in Colorado. Keep the ball in the yard to have a chance guys!


Today the Giants will trot out this lineup:

That’s not bad. And when Joe Panik returns it looks even better.

Andrew Baggarly has been talking up Gorkys Hernandez as the next Andres Torres, and that’s a fun comp. Let’s hope he can keep this up!


Finally, a reminder that all is not lost:

 

Brandons and Other Things That Are Good #sfgiants #weekinreview

Thanks to exciting wins on Saturday and Sunday, the Giants turned a potentially disappointing week into something kind of awesome. They started off the week by taking the first 2 of a 3 game series from the lowly, lowly Reds. Then they botched up game 3 and subsequently fell flat in games 1 and 2 of a 4-gamer versus the Rockies.

But, again, those final victories gave the Giants a 4-3 home stand, kept their record at .500 and…wait for it…put them only two games behind Arizona for FIRST PLACE IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST.

What is happening?


First, the Giants strange schedule, along with baseball’s plethora of tanking teams, mixed together with some heavy favorites being banged up and struggling (looking at you Dodgers and Nationals), has meant that it is has been really hard to evaluate how good the Giants actually are.

At this point, though, it is fairly safe to say: the Giants have a good offense (a case made this week by Andrew Baggarly – subscription required), a decent bullpen, and they could use some help in the starting rotation.

Second, the Giants have been very inconsistent. It’s been a feast or famine season. Which means they’ll lose a few in a row, then win a few in a row. They’ll have stretches where they don’t score, and then stretches where they score in bunches. That makes the consistency we all crave hard to come by.

Third, the Giants are playing in a tight division race. Here’s where it gets really interesting. 6 games separate the first place Diamondbacks and the last place Padres. That is easily the closest division in baseball. The next closest has an 8.5 game separation (and note that this is the AL Central where the first place Indians aren’t even over .500 at the moment). Most divisions are 10+ games, and a few stretch into the teens already.

The Dodgers are starting to win more, but they are still massively hurt and, at the very least, it seems highly improbable that they run away from the pack. Meanwhile the Rockies and Diamondbacks are good, but flawed, teams just like the Giants.

Let’s face it: the 2018 Giants are going to be competitive.


Some reasons for hope: Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria have been good, but not great, and McCutchen in particular seems poised for some great to come soon (his “hard hit” #s are among the best in the game, he’s been pretty unlucky).

Joe Panik should return ahead of schedule. Mac Williamson is on his way back soon. (Also: what has gotten into Gorkys?!)

The Giants have a good lineup and a good bench, and it should all come together in early June.

The bullpen has been a nice surprise and should only get better as everyone settles into their roles. Will Smith and Tony Watson have been awesome. Hunter Strickland has taken a step forward. Moronta and Dyson seem well cast in their particular roles.

The rotation has been the weak link, but actually better than expected given the injuries to the “Big 3”. And speaking of that, Madison Bumgarner should be here before the month is out!

Things are looking up.


Which brings us to the Brandon’s. Brandon Belt was just named NL player of the week and Brandon Crawford is a candidate for player of the month.

I have long been a Belt apologist and Bruce Bochy has finally gotten in the game and is now hitting Belt 4th, which I believe maximizes the Giants lineup.

A lineup that gets fully maxed when Brandon Crawford hits. I’ll be honest, I was worried after April. Brandon Crawford feels like the Andre Iguodala of the Giants. He’s the guy you don’t think about when the team comes to town (you’re thinking about Steph and KD, etc), but then you watch him play and you’re like: “dang, they have that guy too.”

It’s kind of ridiculous what a luxury item both guys are. But, we forgot about Crawford during April. Forget no more. When Crawford is cooking with the bat, there are suddenly very few places for opposing pitchers to hide. It’s a beautiful thing.


Some reasons for concern: I have three big ones. First, the lack of quality from the starting rotation will have an impact on the bullpen at some point. I worry about guys getting worn out. It may not show up for months, but it will happen. Bumgarner will help, but the Giants need to get some length out of 1-2 more starters (looking at you Samardzija and Stratton).

Second, the weird schedule continues. The Giants finally have a day off today, but then go to Houston for two where they face the defending champions. And not only that they face their two best pitchers, the guys having maybe the two best years of any pitchers. (They get Justin Verlander in game 2, and if Bochy doesn’t start Pablo Sandoval I’ll lose my mind). After that gauntlet they play the Cubs three times in Wrigley and then end a brutal road trip in Colorado. The difficulty of the schedule has made it very hard to sink into any kind of rhythm.

Third, the injury bug looms. It is nice to see so many guys getting close to returning but I fear the next wave. Knocking on wood, that next wave never comes!

Fourth (I know I didn’t say four, but this is my blog), I am concerned about Buster Posey’s lack of power. It’s being well compensated for right now by Belt and several others, but I would really like to see Buster drive the ball again.


That’s it for now. Another interesting week in what has been a very interesting season!

A Giant Mess? #sfgiants #weekinreview

Last Monday I bragged about how the Giants merely needed to go 2-5 to secure a .500 record on a tough/no-day-off east coast road swing. I wrote about how they were playing with house money, and a split in Philly and a series win in Pittsburg could actually produce a 7-3 trip.

Well, the Giants took one look at that, laughed, and had an absolute turd of a week, losing 6 of 7, and watching their run differential plummet to -28.

We are now at the quarter pole in the 2018 season, and so let’s examine a few trends:

  1. Feast or Famine…the top trend of the Giants season is that it seems like everything goes well or nothing goes well. They hit when they pitch, and when they don’t pitch, they don’t hit. There have not been many 2-1 losses, or even 8-7 losses. They have won their share of close games, but have also gotten blown out a ton. The offense either is clicking and hitting home runs, or nothing is happening. A turn through the rotation is pretty good, or everyone is terrible. This makes it very hard to analyze where this team is truly at.
  2. .500…Bill Parcells is famous for saying you are whatever your record says you are. Well, the Giants are a .500 team. There’s been some moments well below even and a few days with a bit of a cushion, but for the most part this a win-half, lose-half team so far. No getting around that. Now, what is interesting is that, given the spring training injury situation, this would have been very acceptable a few weeks before Madison Bumgarner’s return. However, it definitely feels like it could be/should be better.
  3. Injuries…some national commentators look at the Giants injury woes and go “oh, of course, it’s an old team.” However, the Giants have sustained injuries to their young guys at the same rate as old. (Panik, Hansen, Williamson, Bumgarner, etc. vs Cueto, Samardzija, Melancon, Pence). The “old” guys you would think of getting hurt does include Melancon, but Longoria, McCutchen, Posey, and others have all been very healthy so far. This trend started last year and continues into this year. Is there something go on here? Some of it is freaky (Williamson/Panik/Bumgarner), but some of it raises questions about the medical staff (Melancon and Cueto in particular).

All of which leads to this dramatic hot take: I still have no idea what to make of this team.

How’s that for a take? But seriously, the Giants are 3.5 games out of the wild card, 4.5 games out of the division. The Dodgers are broken and might not get fixed this year. Things are much more wide open in the NL than expected (and much more wide open than the AL for sure).

It feels like the Giants can, and will, get better. Bumgarner is not that far from a return. The bullpen has been pretty good and will probably get better as the season goes along. The offense has been horrible at times, but shown signs of life. It seems reasonable to assume that several hitters will produce at a higher level over the next 6-8 weeks.

But, do you feel confident? Is this doable for this version of the Giants? All I know, so far, is that I have no idea.

Next up: a 7 game home stand, 3 against the Reds and 4 against the Rockies. The Rockies sit ahead of the Giants in the standing and have not been good away from home. This is an important week to get back on track.

We might be on to something here… #sfgiants #weekinreview

Let’s see:

  • The Giants have won 5 straight series
  • They a wept a team for the first time in nearly a calendar year
  • Have a winning record at home AND on the road
  • Have a positive run differential again (+1!)
  • Only need to go 2-5 this week to have a .500 record on a 10 day east coast road trip
  • Are 19-15 and sit 4 games back in the NL West

Not all news this week is good news though:

Now, that is actually good news you’re seeing up there because the rumor earlier in the week was imminent Tommy John surgery which was going to mean curtains for Cueto in 2018.

IF you had of told me the Giants would lose Bumgarner and Cueto for 2 months of the season, I’d have said they would challenge the 98 loses of 2017.

Why does this feel different?

Well, the Giants actually did a good job this offseason of adding depth. Derek Holland, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Alen Hanson, and of course the bigger additions of McCutchen, Longoria, and Jackson, have all paid significant dividends. None of those names has been a difference maker the way tha,t say, Giancarlo Stanton would have been, but collectively they are allowing the Giants to not only tread water, but gain momentum.

The Giants obviously have a long way to go, and they can’t really afford to lose anyone else at the moment, but it’s been amazing to watch the reinforcements arrive and, in many cases, make the team better.

Two shout outs:

  • I really liked the Giants bench (Hundley, Panda, Kelby, Blanco, and Hernandez) heading into the season, but I never imagined it would be this good. Each of those guys has contributed significantly in their own ways to the solid start. In addition, the next wave of players (Mac Williamson and Alen Hanson) have been more than solid, they’ve been spectacular at times (get well Mac!).
  • The Giants would probably like to run these 5 guys out, once everyone is healthy: Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Stratton, and Suarez. In that scenario Blach would go the bullpen and take over for Pierce Johnson. Derek Holland would be the odd man out. But right now, they need all of them, and Andrew Suarez, specifically, has been a breath of cool, fresh air. That kid is soooo relaxed. Which is exactly what you want a rookie pitcher to be. I don’t know what his ceiling is, it’s probably not an all-star, but if he can be a solid 3rd starter that would be a huge blessing to this organization.

The rough road trip continue: 3 in Philadelphia and 4 in Pittsburg (aka: Andrew McCutchen home-coming weekend). The sweep of the Braves is house money at this point. If the Giants win the series in Philly and split in Pittsburg, they’d finish the trip 7-3 which is unreal. But that’s what we’ll be looking for this week!

The Weirdness Continues #sfgiants #weekinreview

Let’s get right to it.

The Good:

  • The Giants go 5-2 this week, they have now won 3 series in a row (I think I wrote something about this importance of this), and sit at .500 after, essentially, one month of baseball.
  • The Giants have already hit 30 home runs, just 4 behind league leading Colorado, a welcomed development.
  • Several surprising pitchers have shown signs of being significant contributors (Stratton, Blach, Moronta, Johnson, and Hunter Strickland)
  • Johnny Cueto has been great. Tony Watson has been great.
  • Brandon Belt is great (happy face emoji)
  • Evan Longoria is settling in quite nicely
  • Mac Williamson might be legit
  • And, we got treated to the magnificent sight of Pablo Sandoval on the mound!

The Weird:

  • Overall, the Giants offense is still in the bottom third in the league in most categories. We are still waiting for a few guys to show up.
  • The Giants did win 5 games this week, but both times they lost they gave up 15 runs! Those games were weird for a variety of reasons, but the blowouts really mess with the run differential numbers. The Giants are 14-14 but they sit at a -19 run differential. We are enough games in at this point for that to mean something (but not everything). The Rockies, who sit half a game ahead of them in the NL West standings are -24, and the A’s who also happen to be 14-14 are +3, so obviously it doesn’t mean that much. However, it would be much easier to be confident about the future if that number were positive.
  • The Giants also hit their first big rash of injuries this week. Hunter Pence went down with a sprained thumb, but that was good news as it allowed Mac Williamson to join the show. But then Mac hit his head and is in the concussion protocol. He should be back soon. Joe Panik, however, will not be back soon. He has a ligament tear in his hand, which means we may not see Joe again until July (sad face emoji).
  • All of this means, the Giants have had a parade of guys coming over from Sacramento. Things should settle down in a few days, and there is a looming decision about Hunter Pence and Mac Williamson, but chaos reigns for the time being.
  • Will Smith returns to getting jiggy with it, and so the Giants staff is at about as full strength as it will be until Bumgarner (and Melancon?) are back. Which leads to:

Confidence Power Rankings After One Month. Let’s start with the Starters:

  1. Johnny Cueto (no brainer here, Cueto’s been brilliant)
  2. Chris Stratton (we’ll give him a Mulligan for Saturday. I’m sympathetic to what we’ll call “new dad syndrome”)
  3. Ty Blach (he’s not going to dominate or go deep into games, but he competes and he beats the Dodgers all the time)
  4. Jeff Samardzija (the home run problems are still there, but something about him pitching every fifth day is mildly comforting)
  5. Derek Holland (has shown flashes, but he is quickly moving into long man territory as he can’t even get through a line up twice, let alone three times)

Relievers:

  1. Tony Watson (dude’s magical)
  2. Hunter Strickland (has had his moments but overall he’s been extremely effective)
  3. Reyes Moronta (had a bad outing on Sunday, but has been refreshing solid all season)
  4. Sam Dyson (seemed destined to get cut, but has turned it around. The sinker is sinking and he is getting big double plays)
  5. Pierce Johnson (very unremarkable and yet surprisingly effective. He’s the Ty Blach of the bullpen)
  6. Will Smith (not even active yet, but he beats out the rest of the list)
  7. Cody Gearren (feels like he should be so much better, but I have zero confidence in him in almost any situation right now)
  8. Other (Derek Law makes me sad. Roberto Gomez in intriguing. DJ Snelton is fun to watch. This is a revolving door, so not much to say, since these guys will all be gone by Wednesday).

Hitters:

  1. Brandon Belt (that’s right haters)
  2. Evan Longoria (he’s hot right now, sorry Buster)
  3. Buster Posey (hard to imagine him not being in the top 2 at any point this season, but the guys above him are hot)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (this is where it gets interesting…McCutchen probably doesn’t deserve to be in the top 5, but some of the other guys are not producing or are hurt, so I’d still rather watch Cutch bat than just about anyone else on the team right now)
  5. Alen Hanson/Austin Slater (again, this has nothing to do with how good they are, it’s just given the rest of the team they are the most interesting at bats to watch).

Looking Ahead. I’ve written quite a bit about the difficulty of the early schedule. Things do get a easier this month, however, the “easy teams” are also on the east coast, which makes them slightly less easy. May will also involve the Astros and the Cubs, and only 9 home games overall (18 road games), and a stretch of 17 games in 17 days.

So, the goal for May is to stay at .500 and hope that Arizona falls back, and then Bumgarner returns in June and the team gets rolling. The Giants will still need to get 5-8 starts out of Derek Holland and whoever else (and that assumes no gets hurt).

In the immediate future, root for another series win. The Padres have been annoying, so a minimum of 2 out of 3 would be a great way to start. They get a day off then head to Atlanta for three this weekend. Don’t sleep on the Braves, lots of talent there! I’m hoping for a 3-3 week and continued consistency throughout the roster.