Week [4] In Review (April 27-May 3) #SFGiants

Well, friends, just like that our beloved Giants are out of the cellar and have won 6 straight games at home.

I have a post brewing about what to do with Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum, but that may have wait another day after Timmy’s nice outing this afternoon. Tim didn’t get the week off to a strong start with a poor outing in LA against the Dodgers. Madison Bumgarner made the bad feelings go away by outdeuling Clayton Kershaw for the second week in a row. Vogelsong brought all the sadness back with a homer fest on Wednesday night.

But, the Giants then returned home and all is well with the world again. They started to play down hill, jumping to three leads against the Angels and hanging on for dear life in the first two games, and then putting the Angeles away for good today. All in all, a 4-2 week is great at this point, and the Giants will look to keep it going against the Padres tomorrow.

Two big things stand out right now: first, the Giants are finally starting to hit some home runs, and it feels like more should be coming (looking at you Brandon Belt). That is a wonderful sign. Second, the Giants just enjoyed three straight games in which their starting pitcher lasted into the 7th inning or beyond. After a series in Colorado, and two short-start games in LA, this is great sign for the next week as there are no days off until the end of the home stand.

Finally, it was good to see Casey McGehee do something good! I still stand at the forefront of the #FreeDuffy campaign, but if he’s going to play, I’m going to root for Casey to be mighty with that bat.

Hitter of the Week:

So far I’ve given this award to Aoki, Panik, and Maxwell. Interestingly enough, Aoki and Panik were in the mix of the homer brigade this weekend. I’d love to give this again to Panik for his walk off ways as well, but we’re going with Buster Posey because it finally looks like Buster is heating up. Two home runs, including one off of Kershaw, and a .318/.400/.737 slash line for the week locks up the first HOW for Posey.

Pitcher of the Week:

In so many ways I want to give this to Bumgarner for another ace-like effort. The temptation with the 2015 team, though, is going to be to give this to him every time out. I also want to hand a second award out to Christ Heston who bounced back from his Coorsing with another impressive effort. Kudos to Tim Lincecum for his big rebound start today, after the poor showing against the “other” LA team. However, this week I hand out hardware to the old man, Tim Hudson, for nearly throwing his 27th career complete game.

It feels like Hudson is the easiest guy to over look in the rotation. Every Bumgarner start is a highlight, every Lincecum start produces some sort of conversation. Heston’s been the revelation and there’s plenty of ink spilled over Cain and Peavy and what to do while they are out.

But for today, let’s honor Hudson who’s been doing this for years now, quietly mowing down hitter after hitter. Well done, sir.

Looking Ahead:

3 against the Pads to start the week, and then 4 against the Miami Marlins as the Giants finally get a look at other teams in the NL.

Go Giants.

-SB

Advertisements

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)

How the Giants Can Win Game 7 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

Score more runs than the Royals. The end.

Ha ha.

Take 2: Score a bunch of runs early off of Jeremy Guthrie. The end.

Ok, ok, seriously though. Here the best and worst case scenarios:

Ultimate Worst Case:

This would essentially be a repeat of last night where Hudson goes down in flames early and the game gets away from the Giants before anything can really be done about it. Chances of this happening 1%.

Worst Case Scenario:

Let’s face it. No matter what this is the LAST game of a WEIRD season. This game is going to be close and it’s going to be weird. It’s going to make you feel things. Bad things like your worst break up, and good things like the birth of a child (or the last time the Giants won the World Series).

Tim Kawakami posited his theory on how the bullpen will shake down today. Check it out.

Along those lines, the worst case scenario is that Bochy has to start thinking about replacing Hudson early. The chances are good that this will happen. A sinkerballer usually needs to throw about 20 pitches to really get it going. It might take even more for Hudson to get that “good tired” thing going given that this is FREAKING GAME 7 OF THE WORLD SERIES and the adrenaline will be pumping. If he can get through the first 20 pitches without damages, he could go 5 or 6 innings. But the first part of the game will make you barf so many times.

The question of this game is when will Madison Bumgarner make an appearance. Best case scenario is that he never has to come in, but Bochy’s got a dilemma here. Put him in too early, and you might be left with a MadBum shaped vacuum when he comes out. Wait too long and the game might have already gotten away from you. Have I ever mentioned that I am glad I’m not the manager.

Ok, back to the worst case scenario:

  • Hudson for 2+ innings.
  • Bumgarner to clean up a mess and get through the 4th (I think this is too early for this night to end well)
  • Petit/Lincecum to get through the 6th (If Lincecum is in this game something went really wrong)
  • Affeldt for the 7th
  • Romo/Lopez for the 8th
  • Casilla for the 9th

The problem with this scenario is two-fold: Bumgarner is in the game too early, and too much rides on Petit and Lincecum to get big outs in the 5th and 6th.

Chances of this happening: 49%

Best Case Scenario:

Again, the ultimate best case scenario is the Giants jump all over Guthrie, Hudson cruises through 7 and we all breathe easy and go to bed early (chances of this happening 1%).

The more likely best case would look like this:

  • Hudson for 5
  • Bumgarner for 2
  • Affeldt/Romo/Lopez/Casilla to get the final 6 outs

Chances of this happening: 49%.

Final Thoughts:

The Giants need 2 home runs. That’s what I’m calling right now. Hit 2 home runs and they win.

The Giants need Posey’s moment of greatness.

You are going to hear, ad naseum, about how road teams can’t win game 7’s. Here are Grant’s thoughts. One interesting insight from that article: the road team usually got out to lead and still lost. Don’t read too much into that. The Giants need to get a lead.

The Giants really don’t want to be down once the game turns over to the final third. BUT, they’ve more than held their own against Kelvin Herrera. They’ve made him throw a lot of pitches. He’ll come in throwing gas and just try to throw it harder and harder if he gets in any trouble. Patience will pay off here. Let him get frustrated. A 102 mph fastball outside of the zone is just a really fast ball (ha).

Furthermore, the Giants finally got to Wade Davis in Game 5, and he’s the one guy of the big 3 I really fear. That’ll boost their confidence. Finally, Greg Holland is one of the 5 best closers in baseball, but he’s been wild and he hasn’t pitched much recently. Again, patience is the key. They can get to him. I’d feel so much better if those guys were pitching to keep the game close and not to protect a lead, but they aren’t invincible.

I’ll say it again: they can do this. They’ve done this. Not in the World Series, but they’ve done this.

They can do it again.

Score more runs than the Royals.

-SB

4 Thoughts Leading Into Game 3 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

I started composing a hopeful post looking ahead to Game 3, and then I read this and this and they both make points I was mulling over. Credit where credit is due, head on over there for more on these 4 thoughts:

1. Homefield Advantage. The Giants are 4-0 at AT&T in the World Series during this window of success and 6-1 if you go back to 2002. I don’t think we think about AT&T being a huge home field advantage because the Giants have won so many big postseason games on the road, but it has been a boon in the World Series since it opened. The Giants are also 4-1 there this postseason and so all of that bodes well.

One way to view the Giants success at home is to look at the starting pitchers in those games: the Giants have started vintage 2010 Lincecum and Cain, and then 2012 lefty heroes Barry Zito and Bumgarner. So, essentially that’s the big 3 making 75% of the starts at home. Of course they are 4-0.

But consider their opponents. In 2010, the Giants were up against Cliff Lee and whatever reputation Bumgarner has right now it pales in comparison to Lee at that moment in history. He was considered to be unbeatable, and even with Lincecum starting when he was really, really good the Giants were not favored to win that game.

Cain pitched against CJ Wilson which was an advantage for the Giants, but still a lot of pundits felt the Rangers would roar back in Game 2. They did not.

In 2012, Zito faced off against Justin Verlander, the greatest mismatch of all time. And the Giants won that game. In Game 2 Bumgarner who was broken and busted went 7 shutout innings. He beat Doug Fister, one of the only starters to dominate the Giants this postseason.

All that to say: these were extremely difficult matchups, in which the Giants were only favored to win 1 (Cain), and they won them all. Thank you, home cooking.

The pitching matchups, at least in Games 3 and 4, are not nearly as intimidating for either side, which in some ways makes it even more important that they take place in San Francisco.

Finally, with the games being held in the NL park, the Royals will have to make decisions about pitchers and pinch hitters in ways they have not had to so far this postseason. So, not only do they lose the bat of Billy Butler, but they also have to decide whether to let, say, Herrrera hit for himself or not in certain situations.

Ned Yost, despite his flaws, has done a great job all postseason, and deserves credit for what the team has done. But he’s been doing algebra and now has to do calculus. He may be up to the task, but he’ll have to earn it and prove it over the weekend.

2. Clarity. One way to look at last night is to say, “wow, the Giants essentially lost 3 of their 8 bullpen options, all in the matter a few innings.” That’s certainly the glass-half-empty view.

If you prefer the glass to be half-full, you can look at this way: Bochy knows now who he can trust, and there is clear path and pattern to use from here on out. He more or less did this against the Cardinals after the NLCS Game 2. With Strickland and Machi reduced to emergency only roles, and with Lincecum being iffy due to his back, Bochy now has a big five: Petit as a two inning bridge, Lopez and Romo to get out of big matchup moments (Romo for righties like Cain and Perez, Lopez for lefties like Hosmer), Affeldt for the 8th, and Casilla for the 9th. What’s beautiful about that clarity is Bochy has some guys there who can do different things: Petit can get anywhere from 3-9 outs and still be available the next day. Affeldt and Casilla can both be used for 4-5 outs, and Romo can do an inning by himself if the matchups look right.

In some ways Game 2 might turn out to be a gift, just like it was in the NLCS, where now Bochy has a better idea of who to go to and how to use them. Again, Grant’s article hits the nail on the head: this is his greatest challenge yet.

3. Old Guys Rule. The Giants have, for years, been mocked for their reliance on old guys. No where are they doing that more than on their pitching staff. It’s not just the starters, 3 of the big 4 bullpen guys are in their mid-30’s as well.

Glass-half-full: my gut tells me that Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong are going to rise to the occasion and pitch well. Probably not dominant but well. These guys are at the end of the road, but have demonstrated they can still bring it (especially against the Nationals). They are well-rested, and sensing that this might be their last opportunity on this stage, I think they will come through.

Glass-half-empty. As Tom Verducci pointed out, this series really does remind me of the Angels and Giants in 2002. Different eras of course, but the fact that they are both wild card teams, and the lack of dominant starting pitching and reliance on the bullpens is eerily similar.

This is where I get deeply concerned for the Giants. If this series goes long it is not the starting pitching old guys, but the bullpen old guys I get worried about. 2002 ended Rob Nenn’s career. The story of that series, in so many ways, is that the Giants bullpen which had been so great all season, just ran out of gas. Dusty Baker went to the well one too many times and paid the price.

As much as I hate to say it, a long series does not favor the Giants and their potentially tired pen, especially if it has to be a 5 man pen. This is partly why I predicted the Giants in 5, if they are going win this thing they need to do it in San Francisco.

(Of course, the big difference between the 2002 Giants and the 2014 Giants is Madison Bumgarner.Can they get it back to him with a chance to win it all? That’s the question of Friday and Saturday.)

4. Posey. The longer this postseason goes the more noticeable Buster Posey’s lack of home runs becomes. If the Giants are to win, they need him to contribute a big dinger at some point in the next 3 games. Get it Buster.

Go Giants.

Timmeh, Part 2

All sources seem to indicate the Giants will be signing Tim Hudson to a 2-year, $23 million deal. We can argue for days about whether this is a better baseball move than, say, signing Josh Johnson, but it’s a solid move for two reasons:

  1. Length of deal
  2. Relative expected production

In other words, we aren’t going to be cursing Hudson’s lengthy contract in a few years when the team is trying to figure out what to do with him (ala Rowand and Zito), he won’t be blocking any young, fresh arms, and while a healthy and productive Josh Johnson is a better pitcher than a healthy and productive Tim Hudson, the certainty that Hudson is healthy and productive is greater than that of Johnson.

So, you know what you’re getting and you are not married to it forever. Hopefully that’s not damning by faint praise. Hudson should be a great number 4 starter for a major league team competing for the playoffs in 2014, and if Cain and Lincecum are good, he will.

One other thought on this move. The Giants are never thought of as money-ball/market inefficiency exploiting organization, but over the past couple of years they have done two things relatively well compared to other teams:

  1. Find gems on the non-roster invitee lists. From Chad Gaudin to Juan Uribe to Ryan Vogelsong, they have exploited this no other team.
  2. Act quickly. This is either a stroke of genius or foolish impatience, but it sure looks like genius from where I sit right now. The Giants jumped the market on their biggest needs: outfield/power and the rotation. I think when it is all said and done the deals cut for Pence, Lincecum, and Hudson are going to look pretty good. Those guys still need to come through and produce, but when compared to what a Ricky Nolasco or a Sin Soo Choo will get this offseason, it will be tough to argue the Giants could have done much better.

Time will tell of course, but good moves Giants.

(-SB)