3 More Days…

…until meaningful baseball. Something we have not experienced since, roughly, April 21 2017. That’s how bad it was last year.

And while things were looking hopeful this winter and spring, the events of the last couple days have left a dour pall over 2018. SI released their predictions today and not one writer picked the Giants to make the postseason.

While it seems virtually impossible to imagine the Giants remaining competitive without Madison Bumgarner (see 2017), every Championship Team the Giants have put together featured some aspect of the “they-could-never-win-without-that-guy-but-then-did” storyline.

If you had told me before the 2010 season the Giants would win the World Series without a significant contribution from Pablo Sandoval I would have laughed you out of the room. Partly because the Giants did not win World Series’ at that point, but also because the 2009 Giants were HORRIBLE with the bats, the Panda as the lone exception. There was no way they made the jump from mediocre to competitive without another big year from Sandoval.

In 2012, if you had told me the Giants would (a) lose Brian Wilson for the year, (b) have to send Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, and (c) rely on Barry Zito to pitch significant postseason games, I would have laughed you out of the room. (Not to mention, this team lost Melky Cabrerra half-way through the season, which, with the year he was having, seemed absolutely devastating at the time).

Finally, if before the 2014 season you would have told me the Giants would win the World Series without a major contribution from Matt Cain, essentially no closer, no Angel Pagan, and Travis Ishikawa starting meaningful games IN LEFT FIELD during the postseason I would have laughed you out of the building.

Please note that in each case you would have been exactly right.

In all three instances the Giants were able to overcome through some luck, their depth, timely acquisitions during the season that panned out well, and then the emergence of young studs (Posey and Bumgarner in 2010; Crawford and Belt in 2012; Panik in 2014).

So, crazy as it may seem, I am reaming hopeful to begin the season. The Giants are deeper than they were a year ago. There is still the possibility of mid-season aquisitions, and they are going to see if some young guys can emerge (looking at you Chris Stratton, Steven Duggar, and Tyler Beede).

The Giants need several things to break their way, but if they can stay a couple of games over .500 into June, they could be in good shape to make a push for the Wild Card.

I am also of the mind that the Dodgers are due for a regression. That may mean they “only” win 93 games, instead of 103, but they do not scare me the way some other teams do (namely the Astros and Yankees).

A massive key will be getting off to a strong start. I do wonder, again crazy as it sounds, how the Giants season would have been different last year if they had simply won that first game against Arizona. The way that they lost, with the bullpen meltdown, placed them too quickly back into the same conversation of the year before. I wonder, if they are able to hold on and win that game, how different things may have turned out. Probably not all that different with what we know now, but baseball is weird like that.

In the same way, if the Giants get off to a losing start in 2018, if the pitching is not sharp, and the defense kicks the ball around, and the offense sputters, the whispers of “nothing has changed” will turn to shouts and this thing could go into the tank before it ever gets off the ground.

Moving mast those mixed metaphors, let’s take a quick look at what a good start might entail:

  • Game 1, March 29th, at the Dodgers: Ty Blach vs. Clayton Kershaw…let’s be honest this is probably an L. But there are different kinds of L’s. Let’s assume the Giants score a few off Kershaw, maybe even take him deep a few times (Pence and Longoria, for example), and Blach is good enough to keep it close. That would be a good start in my opinion. Giants lose 3-2.
  • Game 2, March 30th, at the Dodgers: Johnny Cueto vs. Alex Wood…here’s where the Giants really need to make a statement. Alex Wood dominated them last year but I am still not impressed. They need to get to him early and often and Cueto needs to be on point. Giants win 7-2.
  • Game 3, March 31, at the Dodgers: Derek Holland vs. Kenta Maeda…Maeda is a nice pitcher, but the Giants know him and should be able to hit him. Derek Holland keeps the tradition of Giants’ lefties doing well against the Dodgers. This is the first game of the season the bullpen is really called on to seal a win. Giants win 5-4.
  • Game 4, April 1, at the Dodgers: Chris Stratton vs. Rich Hill…I’m not super excited about this matchup. It seems to favor the Dodgers in every way. But, here is where the Giants can really make hay to start the season well. Andrew McCutchen has a big day, Stratton’s curve ball is better than Hill’s curveball, and the Giants steal the series with a 5-2 victory.
  • Game 5, April 3, home against the Mariners…Ty Blach will get the opening day daily double, pitching the home opener too. I have no idea who will be starting for the Mariners, but again, here’s a significant opportunity for the Giants to make an early season statement. They skip the 5th starter position, and utilize a day off and the energy of their home crowd to get off to a 4-1 start.
  • Game 6, April 4, home against the Mariners…Johnny Cueto keeps the dominance going and the Giants move to 5-1.
  • Game 7-9, April 6-8, home against the Dodgers…yes, the Dodgers again. We will see them oh so much right out of the gate. Notice, there has been another off day, which again shields the Giants from using a 5th starter. The downside to this series: no Cueto. The upside, the Giants will throw two lefties, and potentially miss Kershaw! That being said, I feel like the Dodgers end up taking two of three, and the Giants fall back to 6-3. That is a fantastic start before they even have to call upon a Tyler Beede or Andrew Suarez.

The rest of April is no cake walk. The Giants will get the D-back six times, a 4 game series in San Diego (which always feels like a week), plus they see the Nationals and Angels, and THE FREAKIN’ DODGERS AGAIN at the end of the month. If they can go 10-10 over those games, they could be 13-10 by the time Jeff Samardzija returns.

If they can repeat a .500 month in May (27 games, so let’s say 13-14), they could be 26-24 by the time they can start expecting Madison Bumgarner back.

It may be a long shot, but something to root for!


Early Returns

We are a couple of weeks into the spring and so we have stats. Taken with a grain of salt of course…this is spring training and it’s still very early…but, SWEET, SWEET stats!

So, while we will attempt to not read too much into any of this there are a couple of interesting develops thus far:

  1. Steven Duggar is hot. It sure sounded like the Giants brass wanted Duggar to crack the lineup at some point in 2018, and it also sounded like the door was open to the opening day roster heading into Spring Training, and so in a great carpe diem moment Duggar has responded. The defense has been there. The bat has been there. He looks like the real deal so far. Slash line: .412/.474/1.000, plus 3 home runs. Pencil him in!
  2. Somewhat out of nowhere, Mac Williamson has reasserted himself into the conversation. I really thought after the 2016 season that he was well set up to join the Belt/Crawford/Panik/Duffy parade of homegrown lineup additions, but he never got a fair shake (in my opinion) and was always hampered by injuries. Now, he has tried to revamp his swing and reinvent himself, and if his early success continues there just might be a spot for him on the 25 man roster. Meanwhile, Jarrett Parker, who I thought had the inside track on the 5th outfield spot, has already struck out 14 times in 21 at bats, while walking 3 times and homering once. Compare that to Williamson’s .429/.429/.952 with 3 home runs (no walks and 6 ks is not great either, but not as alarming as Parker). Williamson will have to continue to rake: his addition to the 25 man roster would require some maneuvers to bring L/R balance to the force, and he may need some time in AAA to keep working on the swing change. But, I still love his ceiling far more than other options (i.e Parker/Hernandez/etc).
  3. Finally, it is too early to get excited about relief pitchers, but the contenders for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation have not disappointed with their early efforts. Ty Blach, in particular, has been outstanding, striking out 7 in 5 innings. If he could somehow take a step forward in his development, he may actually be the Giants 4th best starter. I’ve really been thinking of him as a bit of after thought (more of a long relief, spot starter role), but if this keeps up he could help steady the rotation significantly. Derek Holland has looked good, second only to Bumgarner in strikeouts with 8. Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede have not been as dominant, but very solid, and Stratton in particular seems to be approaching this camp with confidence.

This next week we will start to see more regulars ramp up, and it will be interesting to see if any of these early developments turn into substantial story lines.

Signs of Blah #sfgiants

We’ve officially hit the doldrums. Maybe they hit you on opening day, maybe you are still, pathetically, excited about the 2017 SF Giants (I don’t know, there might be one of you). Chances are you are not even reading this because you moved on long ago.

One of the questions driving the season, since at least mid-May, has been: “who are you excited to get to see play?”

Many were excited about Christian Arroyo.
Austin Slater was a nice story.
Mac Williamson made an appearance for a minute.
A few of us got excited about Pablo Sandoval’s return.
I was looking forward to a couple of Tyler Beede starts.

But here we are, with 36 games yet to play, and what is there to look forward to?

Anyone remotely interesting is already here or not coming up (I would have loved to see Andrew Suarez, but it seems like the Giants don’t want to expose him at this point and I get that). Ryder Jones is here. Jarrett Parker is getting his shot (again). Kyle Crick is trying to make a case for future bullpener. Chris Stratton is in the conversation for future rotations.

But, there will be no Christian Arroyo show, part II.
No Tyler Beede debut.
No Austin Slater return.

What is there to look forward to?

This is not to say there is nothing worth watching or paying attention to. Madison Bumgarner is worth watching, period, but even more so because his ability to be great still is so important to the future of the franchise. So far so good.

Matt Moore has had two quality starts in a row and if he can keep it up it we will have the whole offseason to debate what it means. In the meantime, keep rooting for a Matt Moore resurgence. It’s only thing that makes sense.

Ty Blach and Matt Moore may have switched bodies, which would explain their last two starts, but what if Blach has turned into a pumpkin. He’s been one of the best stories of the season (the best?!), and a strong finish would secure him a spot in the 2018 rotation and make all of us feel just a little bit better about how this year has gone. A Ty Blach debacle to end the year would be a poetic ending to a terrible, terrible season.

We’re very likely to see a couple of Johnny Cueto starts before the end of the season and there might not be anything more important to the future of the Giants. At this point, I think we have to root for him to be really good when he comes back, good enough to tempt him to opt out. If he doesn’t I know I can make the case for why that is not the end of the world, but the fastest way to the Giants remaking their roster is through a Cueto opt out.

Beyond that I’d like to see Joe Panik and Brandon Belt come back clear of concussions and be good for a couple weeks before shutting it down. I’d like to see Brandon Crawford have one hot streak before this miserable campaign ends. I’d like to see Buster end the year with a .900 OPS.

There’s also Mark Melancon proving he’s healthy, a couple of guys in the bullpen making a case to be important to the 2018 team, and fringe players like Kelby Tomlinson establishing themselves as good role players.

We have a long dark winter to stare down, but may as well get started. I’m rooting for Cueto to go, and Justin Upton to arrive.

Swoon #sfgiants #weekinreview

Well, not much to update from my last, midweek, post. Suffice to say, June is not off to a great start.

It seemed like it might be, though. Ty Blach was outstanding in Philly on Friday night, and the offense, somehow, scored 10 runs. But, then it was right back in the tank with a poor offensive showing on Saturday, followed by all kinds of ugly Sunday.

We said the Giants needed a 5-2 start to the month on the quest for .500. That would mean a sweep in Milwaukee. At this point, splitting the series and getting back home would seem to be a big huge step in the right direction.

I am going to continue focusing on how the Giants can get themselves back in position (i.e. .500) for a stretch run, and try as much as possible to avoid thinking about the future, but if things continue to go south there are some other subplots to root for. I won’t get into all of those, but a couple should be highlighted now because of their win-win nature.

  • The resurgence of Denard Span: root for this because (a) a good Denard Span helps the Giants win, and (b) he might become a trade piece if he keeps this up and stays healthy.
  • The Ty Blach story: he’s not getting traded anywhere, and it’s been a while since the Giants have produced a home-grown starting pitcher. The Giants could/should have some holes in the rotation to fill this offseason and Blach could make the future a bit more palatable.
  • Left Field: at this point I almost don’t care who it is, but Austin Slater seems like a nice guy, so root for him, really anyone, to take ownership of this position.

That’s about it for now.

Giants have 4 against the Brewers and then 3 at home against the Twins. We said they needed to go 3-1 in Mil and 2-1 against Min, so we’ll keep hope alive for the first series, and up it to a sweep against the Twins.

Worst April Ever #sfgiants #weekinreview

There was a moment on Saturday afternoon/evening, where the Giants took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning.

Matt Cain was offering more evidence of a kind of resurgence.
The offense had come alive to score 3 (!) runs.
It wasn’t difficult to look into the future and see a sweep to end the home stand.

A sweep would have meant an 11-15 record, not a great start by any measure, but it would have been easy to write off the month as a bad first week, followed by some .500 ball, all setting up for a nice run in May.

But then, the bullpen, which had been a mild source of strength on this deeply flawed squad, began an epic weekend collapse (14 runs in 9 innings, including 4 home runs).

Suddenly, a 3-1 lead and visions of sweep,
turned into a blowout nightmare,
a 12-4 loss,
and an offensive hangover that lasted into Sunday.

Speaking of Sunday’s game. Some of the bad vibes from Saturday were erased by another impressive effort from Ty Blach. The offense was not outstanding, scrapping together 2 runs, but it felts like a solid lead, especially with Blach getting through the 7th. Law and Melancon were sell set up to close it out and for the Giants go home 10-16, and, hey at least they pulled out a series win.

Law did has part, shakily getting through the 8th.
But then Melancon blew it in the ninth.

Now, before we throw Melancon completely under the bus, do not forget that Eduardo Nunez made a costly error, allowing Hector Sanchez (yes, that Hector Sanchez) to represent the tying run. And remember that Nunez was playing short stop because the Giants golden gloved regular at that position is on the DL with a tweaked groin.

And therein lies what is, to me, the fatal flaw of this team: there is NO margin for error.

This is a team that cannot win games if it is missing certain key pieces,
chief among them: Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner.

This is a team that cannot win games if it makes errors
(and not just that, the defense has to make plays).

This is a team that cannot win slugfests because it does not hit home runs.

Which means it must win low scoring, well-pitched games in which it’s defense makes zero mistakes and a few great plays.

Any mistakes this team makes will be punished,
and they cannot be overcome,
and that is the sign of a bad team.

I also mentioned last week the lack of energy. The call up of Christian Arroyo and the return of Michael Morse did bring some life back into the dugout, and it is going to be fun, especially, to watch Arroyo grow up this year.

But I am afraid that it is these glimpses of the past and the future that may be the most compelling part of what is rapidly becoming a lost season.

One final thought: the numbers don’t completely bear this out, but the pitching is not really the problem. And to be honest, it never really was. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the Giants bullpen issues last year had to do with a mental breakdown and a lack of trust more than anything else (have you seen Santiago Casilla’s numbers so far with the A’s?).

And while there have been consistency issues throughout the rotation and the ‘pen, I see more than enough promise in what the Giants put on the mound most of the time.

But this offense truly stinks. There were no good answers this offseason, but it is abundantly clear that there will need to be some significant changes coming.

Too many empty at bats, and the lack of power is appalling.

My new suggestion for the lineup:

  • Nunez LF (he’s been in a terrible slump, and he’s probably a little rattled by Arroyo’s early promotion, but he is still the best option in this spot)
  • Panik 2B (has looked good leading off, but Panik is way more valuable as a 2 hitter)
  • Posey C (no more clean up)
  • Belt 1B (the 2 hole experiment has been cute, but Belt needs to be here for balance and to put the little power this team has in the center of the lineup)
  • Pence RF (hit home runs fool)
  • Crawford SS (when he returns, likely later this week)
  • Arroyo 3B (probably deserves to hit higher and will while Crawford is out, but this is a good spot for him. Lot’s of possibilities for RBI’s, and this will take the pressure off the kid and buffer his ups and downs as he makes the big league adjustment)
  • CF (a cesspool of suckiness. The Giants will probably need to address all three OF positions heading into 2018, starting here)

Wish I could be more positive today, but I can’t! Brisbee points out that the Giants will need to go 81-55 the rest of the way just to be a 90 win team, which would mean they will need to be the best team in baseball the rest of the season. Good luck!