Consistently Inconsistent #sfgiants #week2

There are a variety of oddities making the evaluation of the Giants start to the season difficult.

For one, while they’ve played 14 games, they’ve only seen 3 different teams. This week, they only play 5 games and they only add one new team to that list. And it’s a team from the American League Central. That’s odd.

Opening day saw the continuation of 2016’s bullpen woes, but the bullpen hasn’t really been the issue. The Giants are one of the top teams in terms of runs scored in the NL, but they’ve had some BAD games with the bats.

They’ve had some encouraging starts from all five guys in the rotation, and yet are only consistent winners when Johnny Cueto takes the hill.

They are 0-3 when Madison Bumgarner starts, and he’s off to one of his better starts. That’s really odd.

The school of cold hard facts would say: 5-9 and last place is a bad start. No bones about it, this is not how anyone would have wanted to come out of the gate.

However, they’ve already weathered a week without Buster Posey, are not going to go winless in Bumgarner starts, and the big problem with this team (the bullpen) seems to have found a sense of stability.

Back to the dark side: the Giants are on a weird road trip, which includes Colorado, and 6-13 would really be a bad start to the season.

Where do we go from here?

The big issue has been consistency. Certainly, a parade of quality starts from the rotation would go a long way to righting the ship.

But, the lack of quality from the lineup is the most troubling development so far. Consider this weekend: Saturday, the Giants were nearly no-hit, then followed that up with a 3 run out burst to start the game Sunday, and then proceeded to mail it in for the remainder of the game.

That’s 17 innings of nothing, and one 3-run outburst.

I know Posey’s been out and that changes things, but he seems set to come back this week, and so here’s the suggestion for the lineup:

  • Nunez 3B
  • Panik 2B
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Pence RF
  • Crawford SS
  • Marrero/Whoever LF
  • Span CF

This is the way forward for a variety of reasons. First, this brings balance to the L/R issues the Giants face at times. This lineup goes R/L/R/L/R/L/R/L/Pitcher.

Second, as much as I like the Belt at the 2-hole experiment, the Giants desperately need him in the middle of the lineup, there’s no getting around it. He’s paid to be a run producing first basemen, let him do it.

Third, Panik is the platonic ideal of a 2-hole hitter, and he seems to have put his post-concussion issues way behind him: release the Panik!

Fourth, Posey should hit third. I know Bochy likes him as the anchor and run producer/clean up hitter, but he’s a 3 hitter, and let’s all get on with it.

Fifth, Nunez is not the greatest leadoff hitter from an on-base standpoint, but he is the most athletic/dangerous guy they can put in this spot and when he does get on base it changes the game. Span get’s dropped.

Finally, not only does this balance left/right, I think this arrangement also gives the lineup more depth, especially 1-6.

Also, it would be awesome if we could get 4-5 quality starts in a row.

Go Giants.

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So Far, So Meh #sfgiants #2017

Hello friends!

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, and I expect to be blogging less this year, so our weekly recaps will probably look a bit different. But here we are, and away we go!

The Giants are, as of today, 3-5, and they have given us glimpses of hope and more than a few things to worry about.

Let’s start with the worry:

  • The bullpen. Hmmm, I seem to remember there was some sort of issue with the bullpen last year, let me check, um…OH SWEET JESUS…yeah, it was pretty bad. So far, it hasn’t been horrible, but it also hasn’t been great. The good news is that Mark Melancon is settling down into his new digs here and, my expert opinion is that with the 9th inning locked down, the other pieces should fall into place and this will prove to be a servicable ‘pen.
  • That being said, it was an odd thing to go with one lefty, and that lefty being Ty Blach. Why isn’t Ty Blach in AAA, starting every day, keeping himself sharp to take over for Matt Cain? Why no Josh Osich, no Stephen Okert? These are two guys who need to pitch in the big leagues and get the experience and build trust with Bochy. I know the Will Smith injury is all part of this, but still. This is odd!
  • Sometimes Matt Moore/Jeff Samardzija can suck and sometimes they can be great. Sometimes in the same game (looking at you Jeff). I’m still very bullish on both of them (more in a few)
  • Matt Cain sucks. I need to go vomit. I actually typed that. But it’s true. I’ve been as hyped about a Matt Cain resurgence as anyone in Giantsland, but I’m over it now. I just don’t see it happening. I would love to be wrong, but 2012 is now 5 years ago, and that was the last time we really saw good Matt Cain.
  • LF. Left field has produced 2 hits in the last 2 games, which is 2 more than the first 6. I still have to believe that Mac Williamson is the every day left fielder before this over, but what do I know. The Giants are taking a “throw the pasta against the wall and see what sticks” with Parker and Marrero, and now signing Melvin Upton and Drew Stubbs. LF will be weird for a while.
  • The lineup, overall, is nice, but there are not a lot of dingers. This worries me. Also, Posey took one in the head today.

Reasons to not worry/Reasons for Hope:

  • The bullpen (see the good news I shared above).
  • The starting pitching. Bumgarner and Cueto look as good as ever, and I am convinced Matt Moore is going to have a huge year. Samardzija is still a bit of a wild card in my mind, but I tend to be mostly positive that year 2 could be even better than year 1.
  • Brandon Belt is off to a great start.
  • Brandon Crawford is a stud.
  • Joe Panik is back.
  • Eduardo Nunez is off to a great start.
  • Seems like Posey should be fine.

Overall, a 3-5 is not how anyone wanted the year to start. I’m convinced, though, that this is a good team that will ride 4 above average starting pitchers to the postseason.

Let’s enjoy the ride together. See you next week!

Week [23] In Review (9/5-9/11) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Welcome back to the pennant race Giants.

The Giants got kicked in the gut big time twice in the last 7 days (Sunday, the 4th in Chicago, and then again on Wednesday night in Colorado), and after the second meltdown I thought it might be over.

It may yet be over, but it doesn’t feel like it today.

It feels like maybe, just maybe, they’ve unlocked something, and good baseball will start to flow once again.

What I want to do now is look at the remainder of the season and make a bit of a forecast (starting today where the Giants sit 77-65, 3 games behind the Dodgers):

  • 3 games at home against the Padres (It seems like perfect symmetry/baseball justice, for the Giants to sweep the Pads this week. After all it was the Padres series to start the second half and that launched the Giants into their funk. I hate predicting sweeps, but that’s kind of what needs to happen so…80-65. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way to New York to face the Yankees, they’ll drop 2 of 3, 82-63.)
  • 4 games at home against the Cardinals (This is a huge series in terms of the Wild Card race. The Giants could potentially put the Cardinals out of the race by the time this series is over…that’s being extremely optimistic, and on the other hand, the Cardinals could very much assert themselves here to the Giants demise. These are two proud teams, and with the Giants missing Madison Bumgarner in this series, I see a split coming: 82-67. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way back to the West Coast and play four in Arizona, where they too will split the series: 84-65.)
  • The Giants head back out on the road for the last time, starting with three games in LA. They should have Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore lined up to go for these big three games. Again, I hate predicting sweeps, but I want to stay positive: 2 of 3, 84-68. the Dodgers, obviously would drop 2 of 3, being a little tired after the travel of the week: 85-67).
  • The final road series takes the Giants to San Diego. Remember: the Giants were 9-0 against the Pads until the post-all-star fiasco. If they can continue the dominance they could potentially sweep this series. Weird things happen in San Diego and this is the end of a road trip and the end of a stretch of over two weeks without a day off. I’ll go conservative here and predict a spilt: 86-70. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finish their home season with four against the Rockies. This is the one place in the schedule where it seems the Dodgers are set up to make up ground. I’ll say they take 3 of 4: 88-68.)
  • The Giants close the season with six home games, and isn’t interesting that I stated the importance of asserting themselves at home as a significant theme for the year. They will need to go 5-1 to capture the division back, and I believe they’ll get off to a good start with a sweep of the Rockies. Meanwhile, the Dodgers will get ambushed by the Padres, losing 2 of 3. Both teams will sit at 89-70 to start the series. A series the Giants will win by taking two of three to finish 91-71.)

Let’s summarize: 20 games left, a 14-6 close to the season (17-6 if you include the sweep of the D-Backs this weekend). Why is this possible?

  • First, he offense is finally starting to get going. This may be too much to ask, but everyone contributed this weekend in Arizona: Span and Pagan homered, Posey had some great at-bats, Belt came up with a couple huge hits, Panik and Crawford continued to produce as normal rates, Nunez looks like he’s in the middle of hot streak, and there are no ends to the superlatives one could heap on Hunter Pence for the series he had. It’s been amazing that the Giants have gone such a long time essentially rotating one hot hitter at a time. The law of averages seems to say they are due for a stretch where multiple guys hit at the same time. Now is the time!
  • Second, the starting pitching continues to deliver, and Matt Moore, in particular, seems to have figured something out. The rotation has four more turns to keep this going. Meanwhile, the bullpen, sans Santiago Casilla, has actually been pretty good. Derek Law should return this week, setting up a nice little debate: who do you want closing games down the stretch, the guy who has been great all year (Law), or the guy who seems to have the hot hand right now (Strickland). Honestly, Strickland scares me a bit because he can give up a home run with the best of them, but his last couple turns have been dynamic, so let it ride I guess.
  • It’s a simple formula, but the Giants have been so good at losing games (bad pitching when they hit, and no hitting when they pitch, some bullpen implosions for good measure) that I believe it will continue to turn around, and translate back into winning games.

Hitter of the Week: No brainer here…hello Hunter Pence! 12 hits, 4 walks, a home run, and 8 runs scored! It’s the walks that are the most encouraging sign…when Pence is right, as he was several years ago back at the beginning of the season (that’s an intentional sentence) his eye was exceptional. He is locked in and playing with passion, and that’s the kind of thing that can propel this team in a positive direction (as we’ve seen several times over the past 4 years).

Pitcher of the Week: Matt Moore had an incredible game on Sunday, but that has to be balanced with his tough start on Monday. It was a Coors start, and he was undermined by Brandon Crawford missing a ball he catches 99% of the time, but he also walked the 8th and 9th place hitters (one of them was trying to bunt too), and so painted himself into a corner. It seems the only thing holding him back, though, is this occasional spell of wildness. I’m going to give the POW to Jeff Samardzija who continues to pitch incredible well down the stretch, something that seems to be under the radar. His last 5 starts he gone 31 innings, striking out 30, with a 2.90 ERA, and only one home run allowed.

This is going to be a great final three weeks. Buckle up. Who needs football?!

Week [22] In Review (8/28-9/4) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Once again, it is hard for me to come up with something to say about this stretch of the season. I will say this: the Giants are competing. They aren’t laying down. But they are coming up short more often than not.

If there is any encouragement from the last week, they hung with the Cubs. They could have easily swept the series, and they could easily have been swept. That’s the frustration of 1-run games. They’re in it, but right now they are just not doing enough to get wins, even in close games.

So, instead of getting into all that: two significant questions both for the rest of the season and moving forward into 2017.

1. A question about Buster Posey.

No one wants to go there and when the subject is broached it is usually quickly shot down, but this is the third straight year where Buster Posey has worn down as the season has gone on. This is not really a criticism of Posey. He’s a catcher, this is what happens. This is more a statement of reality.

One of the things that will always stand out to me about the 2014 postseason run was that Posey did very little with the bat. We’re seeing a similar thing right now. Again, can’t blame a guy for struggling to hit, and especially for power, when he’s so beat up, but it is a glaring issue.

The argument is that Posey is far more valuable as a catcher than any other position. And it’s true: what Posey brings in terms of defense, pitch framing, working with pitchers, and then being a middle of the order hitter is a rare gem of a quality. It’s what made the Giants lineup successful for the last 6 years.

But one has to wonder how much longer this can go on.

One other significant issue: first base is claimed by Brandon Belt for a while. That extension had as much to do with the Giants confidence in Posey as anything else.

But, now that Matt Duffy is off to Tampa, is there a spot for Posey over at third (he was a shortstop before moving behind the plate)?

2. A Question About the Closer

Obviously, many fans are ticked at Santiago Casilla for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was yesterday’s blown save.

The problem with moving on from Casilla now is that there isn’t a great option. I would have been all in with Derek Law by now if he was healthy, but alas, he is not.

Hunter Stickland was the presumed closer of the future, but the team doesn’t seem confident in him in that role, and neither do I. I like Strickland a lot, but he leaves far too many pitches in the fat part of the zone to inspire the needed confidence. He would also benefit from a nasty secondary pitch.

I have a feeling that if this season ends in tragedy the Giants will spend some money on the bullpen, and the closer slot in particular, something they haven’t done since Armando Benitez.

Looking Ahead: The long road trip from hell continue in Colorado today. Then off to Phoenix. This week scares me and yet these are beatable teams and winnable games. The Giants could really use a 4-2, 5-1 week, so go get ’em!

Week [20] In Review/Week [21] in Preview #sfgiants

I am getting tired of trying to explain the buffoonery we’ve been watching since the All-Start break ended, so today we are going to focus on the future, and some keys to a critical week in the season.

One thought of hope to act as our week in review: it is getting better. Slowly and still painfully, but better.

This week is huge, obviously, because we get the first of the 3 remaining series with the Dodgers. That’s 9 more games where the Giants hold their destiny in their own hands. I don’t trust their hands right now with their destiny, but these games are happening whether we want them to or not.

One of the interesting things about the last 6 years is that for the most part both the Giants and Dodgers have been very good. They’ve spent money, made big trades, have stars and talent, and yet it hasn’t felt like a rivalry.

This is not a Giants’ fan making a dig at the fact that the Dodgers haven’t won a world series while the Giants have won three. There’s plenty of time for that.

It’s more just a statement of fact, and I think it has to do with the fact that both teams have been successful, but not really at each other’s expense. In 2010 the Giants crushed the Padres hopes, and in 2012 and even in the 2014 the Giants and Dodgers avoided knocking each other out contention.

This is really the first time where the stakes are high and these two teams stand in each other’s way. There’s still a very good chance the division loser makes the wild card, but for some reason that feels like a significant defeat. Perhaps it’s because the Giants have frittered away such a large lead.

Whatever it is, 2016 is shaping up as either an opportunity to further mock our LA friends, or really, really hate the Dodgers. And that makes it kind of fun!

Series Preview: The “big story” is the Giants are skipping the 5th starter spot to lineup Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore for this three game tilt. The other big story is that this allows the Giants to throw two left-handers against the Dodgers lefty heavy lineup.

Remember, also, this is part of the reason the Giants made the trade for Matt Moore. Matt Moore’s day of reckoning is Thursday. He can erase any questions about the trade by shutting the Dodgers down.

The Dodgers counter with Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill (finally making his debut), and TBD. Those first two are formidable opponents, but this sets up well in the Giants favor. Taking less than 2 of 3, even in LA, would be disappointing.

The Giants get to come home and beat on the Braves over the weekend, while the Dodgers have to do battle against the Cubs, so there’s good potential for this to be a big swing week.

Key Pitcher of the Week: I want to pick Santiago Casilla because the bullpen is going to be important and will need to be on against the Dodgers, but the key really is Matt Moore. He will be starting under one of the following conditions:

  • Pitching for a sweep (and a 2 game division lead)
  • Pitching for a series win (and to tie for first)
  • Pitching to avoid a sweep (and avoid falling, gasp, 4 games back)

Any one of those scenarios will be significant. He’s also pitching against a front office that knows him well, so he will need to make adjustments and bring his control of the strike zone with him to the office on Thursday.

Hitter of the Week: This may seem too obvious but Buster Posey needs to hit well against the Dodgers. A big Buster series takes the pressure off, and one big problem for the Giants right now is you can see Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Joe Panik trying to do too much in every at bat. Those dudes need to chill, and Buster going off will do wonders for their chill factors.

That’s all I got this week. It’s time to win games. Go Giants.

Week [19] In Review (8/8-8/14) #sfgiants #weekinreview

I have no idea what to say today. Part of me wants to write about the positive signs, because there were many this past week: better starts, better offense, better bullpen (until Sunday).

Part of my wants to burn AT&T to the ground, because this team should not be allowed to play baseball anymore.

The week highlights the fundamental issue with this team: each facet of the team is pretty good except when it isn’t.

At times the rotation has been outstanding, the backbone of success. But the Giants have given a lot of starts to Matt Cain, Jake Peavey, and Alberto Suarez. Jeff Samardzija has been brilliant AND horrible. Madison Bumgarner is having a career year but didn’t win a start for almost a month.

At times the lineup has been outstanding, even carrying the load during different swings. But it’s also been banged up, some guys have been mired in inexplicable slumps for extended periods, and certain guys (hey there Denard Span) can look great one day and then go 0-14 the next 3.

The defense has been, maybe, the most consistent force for good all year, but there have been some glorious meltdowns, and Angel Pagan still plays in the field on a regular basis (which is not a good thing).

And then the bullpen: oh sweet bullpen. Just when Bochy was starting to follow my advice (see last week’s post), just when roles and expectations were clarifying, just when it seemed like the ‘pen was taking the place of “most confidence inspiring,” yesterday happened.

And so, I just don’t know.

This is a good baseball team, except when it isn’t.

Week In Review: 2 of 3 in Miami, and 1 of 3 from Baltimore. 66-51, still, somehow 1 game up in the NL West.

Hitter of the Week: No question this award goes to Brandon Crawford who accumulated a week’s worth of hits (7) in one incredible game. Crawford’s name has come up several times in “overall best player in baseball” conversations. No one is saying he is the best, but who ever imagined that he would even be in the conversation. Remarkable.

Pitcher of the Week: Madison Bumgarner had a great start the other night, and finally got credit for a win, but we’re going with Jeff Samardzija. Shark had been struggling with control and the home run ball, but to hear some of the guys who follow the team closely, there were predictions of a turn around. It appeared to start in his last turn where two things happened: better control (still walked 3, but seemed to leave less pitches out over the plate), and the return of the curve ball (too much hard stuff was making life too easy for opposing batters). Keep it up Jeff!

Looking Ahead: the long home stand continues with 3 against Pittsburg and 4 against the Mets. Keep putting the positives together!

Oh, any maybe it’s time for Derek Law to take over the 9th?

Week [18] In Review (8/1-8/7) #sfgiants #weekinreview

It’s hard to say what’s most frustrating about the Giants right now. Is it the mistakes in the field and on the bases? Is it all the runners left on base? Is it the bullpen implosions? Is it Jeff Samardzjia? Is it Denard Span? Is it wasting great Madison Bumgarner starts?

It is hard to be critical of Bruce Bochy after so many years of great decision-making and pushing the right buttons time and time again.

But, I have two beefs with Boch, and  they have to do with the starting lineup and with the bullpen. One disclaimer before I offer my humble suggestions: so much of writing a lineup or making bullpen decisions has to do with individual matchups. Given that fact, these suggestions are based on the “ideal,” game by game, and game tweaks are not considered here.

For the lineup…here’s what the Giants lineup should look like if everyone is producing at their normal capacity (based on what we saw earlier in the season):

  • Span CF
  • Panik 2B
  • Pence RF
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Crawford SS
  • Nunez 3B
  • Pitcher
  • Pagan LF

Now, certain guys are not producing at their normal capacity (Belt was in a horrible slump coming out of the break, and Pence and Panik have been struggling since coming off the DL), and so Bochy has been modifying a lot. But he’s yet to do this:

  • Nunez 3B
  • Pagan LF
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Pence RF
  • Crawford SS
  • Panik 2B
  • Pitcher
  • Span CF

One of the struggles with making out an ideal Giants lineup is that they are so left handed heavy, there’s almost no ideal way to slice it. Once everyone is “back”, here’s what I would do:

  • Nunez 3B
  • Panik 2B
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Pence RF
  • Crawford SS
  • Pagan LF
  • Pitcher
  • Span CF

The keys to me are: Nunez should lead off and Span absolutely should not. We’re deep enough in to this season to feel good about this move. It’s time.

Second, Posey/Belt/Pence/Crawford creates a nice R/L balance, and pushes Posey higher in the lineup, where he should be.

On to the bullpen: this is harder, because matchups are even more important here, but on the whole this is how I would want to use the guys who are presently active:

  • Starters for 6
  • 7th: Strickland
  • 8th: Smith or Law (or both)
  • 9th: Casilla
  • Romo/Lopez as specialists to get 1-2 right or left-handed batters in the 6th and 7th innings.

The bullpen has been doing much better recently, and Bochy is heading more in this direction, but far too often he’s been using guys either earlier (Law) or later (Romo/Lopez) than I would like to see.

In Review: 1 of 3 at Philadephia, and 1 of 3 at Washington; 63-48, 1 game lead in NL West

Hitter of the Week: After the Philly series it seemed a no-doubter that Denard Span would take this, but he reverted back to his meek ways against his former teammates in Washington, and so I deem Brandon Belt hitter of the week. One of the issues with the Giants right now is that they do not hit enough home runs. They have been far too reliant on the magical “big hit,” a dependence that is eased by home runs. Belt can hit home runs and he can hit them in bunches when he gets hot. He hit two this week, so hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

Pitcher of the Week: Matt Cain continues to battle. It’s not pretty, but he’s been very effective, and the more reps and confidence he can get in his new elbow and current stuff the better both for the finish to this season and to the future. I am encouraged.

But, the pitcher of the week goes to newcomer Matt Moore. Moore wasn’t perfect in his debut, he did walk 6, but it seems he was squeezed by the umpire, plus there was probably some adrenaline flowing in these new environs. Either way, a strong quality start, and he showed great stuff: 95 mph fastball, big-fall-off-the-table curve. So far, so great.

Looking Ahead: the Giants are still on the road, now in Miami, where they face more good pitching and another team fighting for the postseason. Then, a day off, and finally back home, where they need to continue dominating (a huge key to the season). Hopefully the can start building their lead back in NL West.