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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Giants must take advantage of schedule

With the way things are going, it's hard to imagine the Giants aren't more than five back in the West and still right near the top of the NL Wild Card race. Nevertheless, after they've failed to turnaround a miserable end to the first half, they're still very much alive in the playoff race and have plenty of baseball left.

First of all, if they're going to get things back on track, they have to start taking advantage of the soft schedule they have coming up. They wound up splitting the mini two-game set with Chicago, but now is the chance to really get going. Their next 6 games are against the sinking Phillies and rebuilding Cubs, and if they cannot manage to muster up a winning record vs. those two, then maybe it'll be a tell of what's to come. To finish off the month, things are going to get harder as they have a trip to Washington on tap and then a showdown with the NL Central leading Brewers to close out August. Obviously, in order for them take advantage of these next two series, they're going to have to start hitting the ball and scoring some runs. Jake Peavy was brilliant vs. the Sox Wednesday and was finally rewarded with a bit of run support in that 7th inning to avoid yet another tough luck loss due to run support. The win was Peavy's first as a Giant but hardly his first quality outing. That overturned call at the plate really shifted some momentum, otherwise, they may have not scored that day the way the offense was looking. Look no further than Buster Posey's lead-off triple in the fifth, after which the Giants' 4-5-6 hitters all failed to get the guy in, as a testament to the failures in the clutch for this team. When they hit they win, period. That simple.

Now, it's not all bad. They did manage to win Wednesday and avoid what was starting to look like it was going to be a frustrating two-game sweep at the hands of the ChiSox up until that seventh inning and have an off-day before the Phils come to town Friday. They've gotten Angel Pagan back now for a week, and he looks healthy and has started to contribute, coming up with the big two-RBI, two-out single to give them the lead Wednesday. They also seem to have found at least a semi-decent option at second base in young Joe Panik. The youngster had a couple of multi-hit games last week and has hit safely in seven of his last nine ballgames. In the last 10 days, his average has spiked 60 points and his OPS has gone up over 100 points. With Matt Duffy's demotion and the Giants abandoning their search for second basemen, it looks like they're going to roll with the rookie the rest of the way, and that's not a bad thing at all.  Now, if he can keep showing ability at the plate like he has been, maybe the Giants could move him up into the number two spot in the order and get Pence's bat back into the middle of the lineup. Even hitting mostly leadoff, he's led the Majors in RBI since the break. I think one of the major problems with this offense is not having Pence in the middle of the order where he can do the most damage. Of course, they need to have guys getting on ahead of him in order to do that, but Angel Pagan, and hopefully now Joe Panik, are showing the capability of doing that.

Speaking of the middle of the order, the Giants have to be concerned with what's going on with Brandon Belt, and it's something I've had a bad feeling about for a while. Something about this concussion just sounded like it may be something that hampers him the rest of the way and if that's the case, you can kiss his season goodbye. That's the big question mark at this point. They got Pagan back, they appear to have found a solution at second and now just have to get that one final link back in Brandon Belt for this team to be all systems go, but nobody knows quite when that will be. He's first eligble Friday, but there has been no indication of that or a return at all this weekend. My guess is the Giants will play it safe and give it at least two weeks this time before testing the big first basemen. They still have a big month ahead of them in September and if they need to rest Belt an extra week to insure he's ready to go full throttle next month then so be it.

_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Friday, August 01, 2014

Giants banking on Pagan, Belt

The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and passed Thursday afternoon, and although there were a flurry of moves in what was one of the busiest deadline day's in recent years, the Giants were one of the clubs that stayed quiet.

They did make the deal to bring in Jake Peavy just 5 days prior, so the sense of urgency to get something done wasn't there and apparently Brian Sabean didn't like any offers that were out there as he scoured for second basemen and outfield help. The Rays did end up dealing David Price, but there was no deal for Ben Zobrist, who was probably the most intriguing name linked to the Giants over the last week or so leading up to the deadline. The guy who I was monitoring as a plan B to Zobrist was Chicago's Emilio Bonafacio, but he was dealt to Atlanta for one of the Braves' lower level prospects instead. That being said, I'm not surprised at all the Giants ended up standing pat. I don't think they really loved any of the trade options out there, certainly not enough to part with someone like Kyle Crick or Andrew Sussac. Sabean apparently felt confident that Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt will both be back healthy and ready to contribute soon ( both expected back within the next 7 days) but I would have liked to get that one insurance guy like a Bonafacio for the bench.

The Giants' depth is sorely lacking, and if they suffer another injury in the outfield, or anywhere on the diamond for that matter, they're going to be in a tough spot yet again. It's not like this issue came out of nowhere either. I voiced my concerns over the lack of depth over the offseason as it crippled them last year and they failed to address it before the start of this season. I haven't done research on this particular area but I'd venture to guess that there aren't many (if any) teams has gotten worse production out of their bench than the Giants. It's made it so even when players do get back and healthy, it's going to be next to impossible for Boch to rest any of his prominent bats down the stretch.

Nevertheless, we'll have to hope that Jake Peavy is enough for now and if a second basemen becomes available in the next few weeks, maybe they'll be able to do something through waivers. The only good part about being behind the Dodgers in the standings for the time being is that they'd have first access to available players through waivers, meaning they cannot be blocked by LA. The Peavy deal is not looking too shabby now at all though, as Matt Cain is looking more and more likely to need surgery to repair some bone fragments that have been causing discomfort in his elbow. The good news is it's not Tommy John Surgery, which would likely shelve Cain for 12 months, but rather a lesser procedure that requires a 2-3 month recovery time. If he gets that done before the end of the season as expected, he should be good to go by Spring Training. So it appears like the Giants will need Peavy in that spot the rest of the way and probably in the playoff rotation as well should they make it. A free agent to be, Peavy knows a good final two months and helping push the Giants into postseason could put him back on the radar in terms of next winter's free agent starting pitching class and negate some of the lack of success he had in Boston. He wasn't bad in his Giants' debut Sunday with a quality 6 innings and really only had one inning in which he was in trouble. I think he's going to be sturdy down the stretch for this club and become another positive reclamation story as long as he gets some run support.

What the Giants are really banking on now is a strong return from Pagan and Belt, which if happens, will be like trading for two impact bats in a way. The Giants haven't had these guys in the lineup together since early May, at which time the Giants had the best record in baseball and really had none of the offensive problems they've been going through now. So long as both avoid setbacks, both should be back with the club by next weekend, and that's when the Giants can really start to analyze things and see if they need to make one or two final tinkers through waivers. Also, while they can't be blocked by the Dodgers in their current standing, they may find themselves in a situation where they need to claim a player in order to keep him from LA themselves. In 2010 they ended up with Cody Ross for exactly that reason, and look how well that worked out for them down the stretch. I would be surprised if the Giants don't do something through waivers between now and the end of August. I do think they're good enough to win the division with a healthy Belt and Pagan, but again, I have my concerns with their depth as well as their issues at second base. They shouldn't be complacent with their roster as is and should certainly be looking to upgrade in anyway possible.

Notes: The Giants have been busy with call-ups and send downs recently, as they try to search for in-house candidates to give this offense a shot in the arm. They released Dan Uggla Wednesday and brought up AA Richmond standout Matt Duffy to give him a try at second base. Andrew Sussac has taken over as Buster Posey's backup with Hector Sanchez out and they recalled Juan Perez to take Tyler Colvin's roster spot as Colvin was DFA'd Wednesday. You can see them trying to mix things up and just hope something clicks with somebody. I have to admit I was a tad surprised by the Uggla release, but his rope was going to be short all along and his 3-error game mixed with lackluster results at the plate closed the book on that experiment before it could really hurt them. Now, it looks like second base will belong to Panik and Duffy unless of course they get something done through waivers.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Giants add Peavy, may not be done

With under a week to go until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Giants urgent needs have become apparent. On Saturday, they made a move to attempt to tackle one need, but they shouldn't be done quite yet.

With Matt Cain's uncertain health status and off year to this point, another veteran starter that can be used in the rotation while Cain is on the mend was something Brian Sabean felt was a necessity. The one guy that was linked to them early and made some sense was Boston's Jake Peavy and on Saturday evening, the Giants went out and obtained him from the Red Sox for two of their more prominent minor league arms. He's no stranger to the NL West either and a move to the spacious AT&T Park  should probably work wonders for the 33 year-old. Just look how well it's worked out for Tim Hudson. Peavy certainly hopes it boosts his production, because his season to this point in Boston has been downright dreadful (1-9, 4.79 ERA). That's where there's some cause for concern with this move. Peavy didn't come cheaply as the Giants had to part with Edwin Escobar (the organizations top left-handed starter) and one of their top relief prospects, Heath Hembree. Granted, these two aren't necessarily "can't miss" elite level prospects, but in a system as baron as the Giants', they were each in the organizations top-10 prospect list for 2014. The veteran right-hander has been better over his last month, sporting a sub-4 ERA and 29 K's in just 25 innings. He was solid for the Red Sox down the stretch last season after they acquired him from Chicago, and the Giants are hoping he delivers much of the same for them the final two months of the season and (hopefully) into October.

They're wasting no time with their newest acquisition either as Peavy will make his Giants debut Sunday evening vs. the Dodgers at AT&T Park. What a way to make your debut with a new team, vs. the rivals on the national stage of Sunday Night Baseball, and Peavy can definitely win his way into Giants' fans good graces right off the bat with a victory. Beyond that though, Peavy's going to have to throw well down the stretch in order for this deal to pay off. I'm curious as to how much more they would have had to part with in order to get Ian Kennedy as he was at the top of my list (even though it was a long shot). The expectations will be there for the former Padres ace. Much better than trotting Yusmiero Petit out there every fifth day, but it'll be quite interesting to see what Bochy does if Matt Cain does come back strong in late August or September. This deal signifies the Giants aren't banking on that though.

So, with 3+ days until the deadline, the Giants can scratch starting pitcher off the list, but Sabean may not be done. At least he shouldn't be. The Giants have made their search for an outfield bat well known, preferably someone who can hit towards the top of the order. Angel Pagan appears to be on the mend at the moment, and could be back within 10 days. However, with his nagging injuries over the last two season, having a backup plan on the roster may not be a bad idea. They did just call-up Dan Uggla, who made his debut in Friday night's game. They've had success with players in similar situations like Uggla in the past and are hoping to strike gold again. With all the options they have lined up at second now, they have to be banking on one of Uggla, Panik, Arias, Abreu, Hicks or Adrianza to emerge there (not expecting anything else from Scutaro this year). My guess is Uggla and Panik (when he gets back) will get most of the run there. If not, they very well could re-visit second base options later down the line in August. I was monitoring the closer market a few weeks back, but with Santiago Casilla's emergence in the closer spot it's made the bullpen one area that's locked down. If something unforeseen happens in August, relievers are always the easiest thing to come by before the waiver deadline of August 31st.

As far as outfielders are concerned, there are two guys that stick out to me that have been rumored to have the Giants' interest. The one guy that would seem to make all the sense in the world for this team, and some, is Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist, who's been linked to the Giants by a few different publications. He can play second base or the outfield, whatever the team needs, and can hit at the top of the order, which again, is what this team needs. He'd probably cost a pretty penny to obtain from Tampa, but could make enough impact to warrant it. Alex Rios is another option that's out there, albeit not a very intriguing one. Chris Denorfia and Justin Ruggiano a couple of the 4th outfielder-type options they could look at as fall backs. Unless the Giants feel Pagan will come back strong the rest of the way and Michael Morse will finish off the last two months of the year the way he started the first two, they're going to need to get another impact player out there and preferably at top of the order guy. Then there's Brandon Belts issues as well to take into account, as concussions are no small matter and can linger longer than expected in some cases. Even if it's not a big name, starting caliber guy, there are tons of upgradeable options to the Blanco's, Perez's and Colvin's they've been trotting out there in Pagan's absence and/or when Morse shifts to first.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Giants' mid-season report card

As a team limping into it, the all-star break couldn't have come quick enough for the Giants after their downward spiral that started in early June.

Over the last several weeks, they've demoted their closer, lost their leadoff hitting center fielder and have gotten next to nothing offensively from the second base, shortstop, center field and left field positions over the last 4-6 weeks. That's 1/2 your lineup vastly underachieving so it's easy to see where the chunk of the Giants' downfall blame should lay. Hunter Pence has been about as steady as they come after a quiet week or two to start the year, and he earned himself a trip to Minnesota because of it. I'd say, that despite his major slump and lack of production since the team started losing, Michael Morse has been a plus. His surge early in the year helped the Giants build that record and lead in the NL West, so I'd say when all things are considered, you have to  be happy with what you got from Morse (overall) in the first half. Posey has been decent but far from the superstar he can be. Pablo Sandoval had a tale of two quarters, as he was downright dreadful the first 1/4 of the year, but bounced out of his funk in a big way in May and has gotten his numbers to a respectable spot. Other than that though, there hasn't been much to hang your hat on for the Giants offense. Pagan has been great when out there, but has only played 63 games. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt have each had some hot spots, but neither of their numbers impress you too much at the break. Now if Belt stayed healthy and didn't hit the DL for 6 weeks, he very well could have been a representative in Monday's Home Run Derby, but unfortunately it wasn't the case.

As for the pitching, the rotation had it's bumps early and some along the way, but they've really been about as good, if not better than expected. Madison Bumgarner had an all-star half with 10 wins, a 3.47 ERA and 127 K's. Giants newcomer Tim Hudson also made the team as a replacement with his 2.87 ERA and 7 wins over 119 innings. I think the real surprise though, even more than Huddy, has been the recent re-emergence of Tim Lincecum. Even before his no-hitter, Lincecum was making waves towards consistency, and it's like that second no-no snapped him back into his groove for good. Over the last 30 days, he's gone 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 25 K's over 36.1 innings of work. Although his K's are down slightly, his WHIP and ERA are lower than they've been since '11, so he'll gladly take it. At 9-5 with a 3.66 ERA, he's more than capable of reaching 16-17 wins with a sub-4 ERA and 175 K's if he keeps up his new found consistency. Another Giants' starter who's got their swagger back this year is Ryan Vogelsong. Although his first half ended in 4 straight loses where the Giants scored a total of ONE run for the man (posted a 3.27 ERA in that span), he's been giving the Giants solid outings and their certainly their money's worth. Despite the frustrating lack of run-support, he's kept his head straight and will look to build off his tough luck, 5-7/3.84/1.28 line over the last 11 weeks of the year. Now that Lincecum and Vogey have gotten going, the Giants really hope big things lay ahead in the second half for Matt Cain as they need him to be himself down the stretch. He hasn't been as bad as his 2-7 record indicates, but this is definitely one of the worst seasons of his career all around.

As a whole, the Giants rotation is sporting an ERA of 3.67 which isn't bad by any stretch, but not as good as some of the front-runners in the NL, and certainly not up to par with their SoCal nemesis LA Dodgers (3.08). The Brewers are the only first or second place team in the league with a higher rotation ERA, but they also have one of the better offenses in all of the league to help make up for the difference. So, in short, the rotation has done enough to win but if they're going to ensure their spot in October, it wouldn't hurt to see that rotation get that ERA maybe down to 3.50 or below to help for the inconsistent offense.

The other part of the pitching staff, the bullpen, has really been a strength. Take away Sergio Romo's recent hiccups during this losing streak, and the Giants have had one of the deeper, more effective bullpens in the league. Giants' relievers hold a 2.82 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Juan Gutierrez (3.11) and Sergio Romo (4.86)
are the only two with 20+ games that don't have a sub-3 ERA. Jean Machi (1.64/0.99) and Santiago Casilla (1.02/0.79) have been flat out stars and Jeremy Affeldt is having the best year of his career at 35 (1.64/0.99). Javy Lopez, Yusmiero Petit and Goerge Kontos can't go unmentioned, as Lopez continues to be the left-handed destroyer he's always been. Petit has quietly put together a nice half too after a slow start. He leads the Giants staff with a 10.6 K/9 rate, and gives the Giants an ideal spot starter or fill in when someone needs a breather or gets hurt down the stretch. I really like the way the bullpen has shaped up, and I like the depth they have with guys like Kontos, Dave Huff and Jake Dunning proven and ready to contribute when need be. However, as good as they are as a unit and even though Casilla seems to have righted the ship in terms of the closers spot, I think this is one area the team could definitely still build on by the trade deadline or possibly the waiver-deadline.

As far as the grades, the offense started out so hot and had this team playing so well which got them to the point they were at the 1/3 point. It has allowed them to take on water without completely drowning and they can't go completely unnoticed. The pitching has clearly been the foundation of the 2014 squad though, both the pen and the rotation. The rotation sports 4 guys who are on pace for double-digit wins, and the one who isn't is Matt Cain, who's capable of being an ace again at any given moment. He did finish off the first half well, throwing three consecutive quality starts, including one 7-inning shutout. Hopefully it's a sign of things t come over the next couple of months. Overall, I give the Giants rotation a B for the first half, and the bullpen a B+. Both solid, but neither perfect by any stretch.

Now, onto the offense. Had I done this at the quarter point after May, your looking at quite possibly a high B, maybe even low A. They were hitting for power, average, stealing bases, getting the 2-out hit and production all over the lineup (including from a seldom known second basemen). However, things have gone in the opposite direction the last month and a half. All things considered, I give the Giants offensive performance a letter grade of C- for the first half. The defense has really been a non-issue for the most part, which is a good thing. Michael Morse has been less of an adventure in left field than I thought he'd be so far, and even though the Giants haven't gotten any offense out of second base, the defense there has been stellar.

Looking Ahead: As we look toward the second half, there are both things that we have to look forward to, and questions that still need to be answered. Hopefully the return of Marco Scutaro yields positive results and allows the Giants to erase second base as one of their areas of concern. Hopefully we have Angel Pagan to look forward to returning before the end of the month, because as good as this pitching can be, I don't think the Giants are a Wold Series contender without a legit leadoff man. If that means they need to venture into the trade market should Pagan not be ready in time, so be it. As I've said here before, the Giants have 3 main question marks right now. One is hopefully being answered in the form of Marco Scutaro, but is very much still in question at the moment. The other two are the center field spot and the closers spot. The Giants don't have the trade ammunition to go out and take their pick of available 9th inning guys or all star outfielders, but they may be able to pluck one useful piece from somewhere if they play their cards right. Again, time will tell as to what exactly they need, but I do expect the Giants to do whatever they can to make a push towards another World Series ring, if that means making another deal or two, so be it. It also wouldn't surprise me to see Scutaro start hitting, Pagan come back and Sabean stand pat. Either way, it'll be a telling couple weeks ahead as we prepare to hit the stretch.

First Half MVP: Hunter Pence  (.300, 12 HR, 67 Runs, 8 SB)
Top Starter: Tim Hudson (119 IP, 7 W, 2.87 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)
Top Reliever: Santiago Casilla ( 31 G, 1.01 ERA, 0.82 WHIP
Biggest Surprise: Jean Machi (41 G, 5 W, 1.64 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Biggest Disappointment: Matt Cain (2-7, 4.18 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

*Cain gets disappointment both because his number of losses and lack of impact he's had. Romo is a close 2nd though. Bumgarner and his 10 wins make a case for top starter, but I don't think you can't forget Huddy's impact early on when MadBum started a bit slow.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Giants counting days until All-Star break

For a club with the recent struggles the Giants have had and the way they're banged up and in need of a rest right now, the All-Star break cannot come soon enough.

Last week, we discussed at length some of the issues with the pitching staff, both relief and in the rotation, but right now the team's offense looks tired and are in the midst of a prolonged slump. This offense went through the first 2 months of the season hitting for both power and average, making run-scoring pretty much a non-issue. It helped them get out to that huge lead in the West and to the best record in all of baseball. However, injuries have struck, and some of the guys that started out the year on a tear have mellowed out a bit, and all of the sudden the offense is looking like it's 2013 all over again. OK, not quite that bad, but not certainly not good. The Giants are hoping to get Angel Pagan back soon after the All-Star break, but an exact date has yet to be determined. Losing him really has caused a ripple effect as it's left the team without a true leadoff hitter, forcing Hunter Pence into duties with Gregor Blanco struggling. The Giants need Pence in the middle of the order in a run-producing role. He's been successful in the number 2 hole for most of the season and would probably do fine in the leadoff spot, but it's best for the team when this guy is somewhere towards the middle. Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse each had hits in Tuesday's loss in Oakland, but they've been cold over the last couple of weeks and haven't been driving in runs in the limited opportunities they've been given and moving Pence down would be a huge boost.

The move may not be far off either, as the Giants could be getting some real good news in the next week to ten days. Marco Scutaro, who's been MIA all spring and throughout the season to this point, started a rehab assignment with Fresno Monday and had a hit in three at-bats. The veteran second basemen says he feels very good, and at this point it's just getting him back up to game speed and building his endurance to handle the 9 inning game day after day. So long as he avoids and set-backs though, which as we know is no certainty, he could be back soon after the all-star break himself. Assuming he does come back and can play nearly everyday, he very well could assume the leadoff role until Pagan returned, at which time they'd each go back to their regular spots. Again, it's a big if, but if they can get Pagan and Scutaro back in the next two weeks, this team will be at full strength for the first time all year. I'd imagine Belt would stay in the third spot, Posey fourth, Pence fifth, Sandoval sixth and Morse seventh. It would finally give the Giants and Bochy the lineup they envisioned this winter after they inked Morse.

I'm gonna stay optimistic on Scutaro just because he sounds optimistic about his health for the first time since before last season. Also because Giants' second basemen are hitting a combined .179 this season and they desperately need that steady bat back in the lineup. Pagan is still worrying me a bit because he's now being sent to where Scutaro spent the first 3 months of the year in Arizona at extended spring training but Bochy's expecting him back soon after the break so I guess it can't be too bad. It's just that leadoff role is so crucial and Pagan has been so good there and makes such a difference in this lineup when he's healthy that he'd be tough to replace. Hopefully they won't have to.

Notes: Brandon Crawford is one of the guys who is in desperate need of the all-star break. The Giants have been unable to rest him much in the first half and his production both at the plate and in the field has taken a hit lately... Santiago Casilla (1.08 ERA) is a perfect 2 for 2 in save opportunities since being named closer last week. He hasn't allowed a run since April 27th and if the Giants don't add a closer before the deadline, appears to be the main man down the stretch... As further testament to the team's offensive struggles, they mustered just one run in the two-game set across the bay vs. a strong Oakland pitching staff. On top of that, All-Star Madison Bumgarner got raked hard for the third consecutive start on Tuesday, giving up 6 runs on 10 hits over 7 innings.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Changes on horrizon after rough June?

One Month ago today, pretty much everything was going in the Giants favor. They were the ones getting the big hit late in games and getting the excellent starting pitching which led to the best record in baseball and a comfortable led in the West.

Fast forward four weeks, however, and all of the sudden they're neck and neck with the Dodgers for a stranglehold on the division with the All-Star break quickly approaching.

It hasn't just been one area of the team that caused the 10-16 June and a 1-6 stretch over their last 7 games. The lineup has been struggling majorly as they try and endure some missing components and I'm not going to rip them too much in this one. The starting five is fully in tact and apparently healthy and need to be setting the tone for this team right now. The rotation has had each guy (sans Tim Lincecum) has been hit hard in recent outings. Even Tim Hudson, who's essentially been "Mr. Perfect" since dawning the orange and black, had a losing month and has been shelled in two of his last three outings. The real concern in the starting rotation though has to lie with Matt Cain, dreadful start to 2014 (now 1-6 with a 4.38 ERA through June) may be on the way towards getting branded the rotation's new whipping boy. Especially if "The Freak" keeps throwing the way he has been. Opposite to Cain's struggles, Timmy's been peaking lately, following up his no-hit effort vs. San Diego last week with 8 shutout innings against a much more challenging St. Louis club on Tuesday. Lincecum struck out 6 and allowed just 4 hits and 2 walks. His stuff has been live and most importantly, he's been in command of it. He was throwing crisp breaking balls in the 8th inning of Tuesday's game, and I saw him hit 93 on the radar gun a few different times, which is another good sign. His ERA has dropped to 4.06 and WHIP to 1.29 with his solid showing over the last few weeks (4 out of 5 quality starts) and he's carrying a winning record at 7-5. It's the first time he's had a winning record this deep into a season since 2011. Not to say the 2009 "Franchise" Lincecum is back, but he's showing he's still got the ability to be a good, even dominant at times, starting pitcher in this league and it'll be huge if he can sustain it.

Getting back to Matt Cain though real quickly, he did have a nice start his last time out vs. Cincinnati and didn't get any run support, but the Giants have to be somewhat concerned about him after going this long into the season without finding a groove yet. Especially when you factor in last season's mediocre end results. Unfortunately for the Giants over the last several seasons, their most expensive pitcher has been turning out to be their weakest link. I know that has mostly been because of Barry Zito, let's just hope Cainer doesn't fall into a similar rut now that he's $20 million man on the staff for the next half decade.

Now, although the starting pitching get's most of the the noise and attention, the bullpen hasn't fully been pulling it's weight and has done their part in contributing to the team's rough play, in large part due to Sergio Romo's struggles. The right-hander has given up 15 runs in his last 15 innings of work with his latest blown save coming Saturday vs. Cincinnati and has simply become way too inconsistent to be used in save situations. As good as he was down the stretch in 2012 and for most of 2013, I've always had the feeling that Romo wasn't the long-term answer at closer. I feel he's at his best being used more as a set-up guy and someone who can come on to get those tough right-handers out, almost like a right-handed version of Javy Lopez but more versatile. I like the idea of my closer being able to throw one by a hitter when they have to, and Romo just didn't have that kind of fastball. Eventually, guys are going to see the slider enough that they're going to figure it out. Now, Boch has made the decision to go with more of a two-headed closer with Casilla and Affeldt for the time being. They aren't ruling out the possibility of Romo returning to that role, but if he has success back in the set-up role and the Giants start winning again, I don't think they'll move him.

That leaves the question as to what to do down the stretch with the closer's role as we rarely see any team succeed into October with the closer-by-committee approach. It's possible one of the two guys takes the job and runs with it, but both have had their shot numerous times in the past and have never been able to fully seize the job. As we inch closer to the July 31st Trade Deadline, the Giants pressing needs are appearing much more clearly. Obviously, they're going to be keeping their eyes and ears open on the possibilities at second base, and they now should also be very much in the market for a closer or someone with ample closing experience. There certainly should be no shortage of potential options. Huston Street is one guy that immediately comes to mind, although significant inner-division deals can be tricky to get done sometimes. Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon and Joakim Soria in addition to Street are guys who may be available if their respective teams drift further out of the race by the end of the month. Papelbon may be the most attainable, and may not be a bad choice for the Giants either. He's under contract for next year and wouldn't just be a rental. Plus he's having one of the better seasons of his career right now with a 1.39 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 18 saves at the mid-way point. He could provide a Hunter Pence-like lift for the bullpen and solidify it as one of the premiere units in all of baseball.

As far as who their number one priority will be come deadline is still to be determined. If Angel Pagan's bulging disk decides not to go away and he has to get surgery (very much a possibility), then finding a leadoff hitter would probably immediately take priority over the other two. We'll just have to wait and see, hopefully Pagan's back and proving strong and dependable before the All-Star break and make it a non-issue. We all know how much better that offense goes when Pagan's out there and it's no big surprise this offense endured Brandon Belt's absence almost seamlessly, but really hit a wall when Pagan departed a few weeks back.

Medical Watch: Speaking of hurting Giants, we talked a bit about Pagan, who's been shelved since June 15th with a bad back, and now has been diagnosed with a bulging disc in his lower back, pushing back his expected return date of July 1st at least a few days, possibly even a week or more. At the moment, Pagan expects to be able to heal on his own with some more time, but no concrete timetable has been given yet... Brandon Belt, out since early May with a fractured left thumb, has been tearing it up to the tune of a 10-17 line with 3 big flies in his rehab assignment in Fresno. He's still at least a few days off though as well, as he's working out some soreness with the thumb. He could be back as early as Friday, or as late as Tuesday next week, depending on when Boch feels he's ready. Once these two return (hopefully within a few days of each other), the offense should get a major boost and hopefully start putting up runs like they were back in April.
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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pitching, untimely hitting has Giants in rut

Entering play about 10 days ago on June 9th, the Giants had the best record in baseball and sat nearly 20 games above .500. However, a 1-8 run since that date has dropped them back down to earth and has shrunk their lead on the 2nd place Dodgers to just 4 games.

A big reason for the Giants rut has been because of some unstable pitching, from the top of the rotation through the back end of the bullpen. Tim Hudson had his worst outing as a Giant this week in Chicago vs. the White Sox, giving up 7 runs on 12 hits in just 4 1/3 innings. Matt Cain followed up Hudson's outing with his worst outing of the 2014 season as well, giving up 8 runs om 10 hits in 5 innings. All those short outings have caused the bullpen to be called upon quite frequently, and while they've done an admirable job, the workload may be takings it's toll on the most important arm in that pen. The starting pitching has shown it'll have some downs here and there, but for the most part, they're going to do their job and provide quality outings. I'm not too worried there. As we inch toward the halfway point in the season however, the Giants' energetic closer sits at a pedestrian 3-3 with a 5.04 ERA and 20/24 in save opportunities. While the save ratio isn't terrible, he was nails up until about the last month, when he's seen his ERA balloon from 2.21 up to where it stands now. As of now, Sergio Romo's job is not in any kind of jeopardy, but one has to think that if his ERA hovers around 5 and his ineffectiveness continues through the All-Star break, talk of change will certainly surface.

I've always liked the idea of being able to use Romo freely anyway, and not tying him down to the ninth inning only. As we all know, the saves don't necessarily always take place in the 9th inning, and Romo was as good as any in those situations. Not that I'm abandoning hope of him rebounding though. In fact, if I were to bet, I'd expect him to bounce back and I doubt anyone else but #54 will be getting consistent save opportunities anytime soon in San Francisco. It is worth keeping an eye on nevertheless.

Elsewhere with the squad, the Giants have gotten some good news in regards to Brandon Belt's rehabilitation, as the first basemen is on track to rejoin the team sometime in the next two weeks. I've been hearing the end of June as a target date, but My guess would be sometime in that first week of July. Either way, it'll be great to get the big first basemen back, as it will significantly deepen this lineup and allow Bochy to start using a more consistent day-in and day-out lineup like he prefers to do. While Belt is on the mend, the Giants leadoff hitter and center fielder, Angel Pagan, had to leave the team earlier this week to get has back looked. Pagan's ailment is being labeled as "lower back stiffness" but the fact that he had to leave the team to get a second opinion does raise some red flags. Already without their steady #2 hitter Marco Scutaro for what could be the entire season, they absolutely cannot afford to lose their leadoff guy for any long period of time, so expect the Giants to be cautious with Pagan. We've seen the Giants do a good job in being able to fill Brandon Belt's shoes while he's been down, but Pagan is almost like Posey in a way that nobody comes close to doing what he does as well as he does. That's how important Pagan is to this lineup and hopefully we see him back out there this weekend without missing a beat.

Giants All-Star Watch: I'm about to fill out my All-Star ballot, and although I'm a die-hard Giants fan, I don't sit there and punch in all Giants to start the game. This game means something now, and it should be treated as such. There really is no Giant that is worthy of starting this years game, not even Buster Posey, but there are a handful of guys deserving to represent the NL at Target Field next month. Although plenty can change in the 4 weeks before the game, as of now, I'd say their are four players that should make the cut with one on the fence. Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence, Tim Hudson and Jean Machi all should be virtual locks with the way they've played and the impact they've had on the Giants great start. I'd put Michael Morse right their on the fence as he's put up big numbers and seems to always put them up when they really count.

2nd Base Watch: Despite Brandon Hicks' abysmal slump and Ehire Adrianza's in-ability to get anything going with the bat, the Giants don't have any immediate plans to bring up either of their two most logical in-house replacements, Adam Duval or Joe Panik. The 25 year-old Duval has a better chance since he's on the 40-man and can also play some first base. Plus he's having a monstrous season in Fresno, leading the PCL with 22 jacks, a .293 average, 64 RBI and a .983 OPS. Panik, a first round selection in 2011, is finally playing up to his capabilities in Fresno and the Giants aren't likely to disrupt the 23 year-old at the moment (.313/5/43/.811).
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