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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Constant injuries too much for SF to overcome

It's been a very tough year, injury wise, for the San Francisco Giants in 2018, probably more so than any other season in recent memory. Still, they've managed to stay relatively in the mix in the NL West but with just over a month left and the waiver trade deadline approaching, they once again have some decisions to make as they look towards 2019.

While they've played .500 baseball for most of the year, they've done it without ever really having the 25-man roster they envisioned having when they arrived in Scottsdale in February. Starting off the year without Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Will Smith and Mark Melancon, to then losing Brandon Belt, Johnny Cueto (multiple times), Joe Panik, Hunter Strickland and Evan Longoria, all for significant amounts of time in-season never allowed them to really come together as a full unit. When they would start to get momentum and start getting guys back from injury, someone else would go down. The biggest losses, obviously, were Bumgarner for the first 2+ months and then Cueto. If Bum starts the season healthy, the Giants would have been in a much better positioning through the season's first 2 months and maybe would have had a cushion to help overcome the nagging injuries that followed. Cueto, who started out April looking like he was in for another 2016-type campaign. However, after making multiple stints to the DL after that hot start, the Giants number 2 starter went down for good with a blown out right elbow that required Tommy John surgery. That was a gut punch to not only this years chances but will also hurt the team next season as well as the Giants probably won't be counting on anything from Cueto in 2019 and certainly not before, possibly, the very end of the season.

Then, there were the next two being the loss of Brandon Belt and third basemen Evan Longoria. Now I know Belt only ended up missing a few weeks, but what really hurt is that before the injury, Belt was clearly having his best season of his career and was looking like he was finally in for that 30+ HR season that we've been waiting for, as well as a very solid OPS and a .300 average. Unfortunately though, after his comeback, he hasn't quite been that same impact bat that he was prior to the injury. As far as Longoria, he wasn't having the best of seasons before fracturing his hand being hit by a pitch, but he was an anchor in the middle of the Giants lineup and was producing runs despite a less than stellar average in the .240's. Had Belt and Longo not hit the DL this season, I think that would have certainly impacted where the team currently sits. Now, add that scenario to the one in which Bum and Cueto didn't get hurt and miss months of baseball, then I'd be willing to bet that the Giants would be right up there with the Dodgers and D-Backs, possibly even above them.

The reason why I think that is because even when they were dropping like flies with injuries, and all that they've had to overcome, they're still a .500 ball club and still have a very, very long shot at making a final 6 week push to try and overcome the 8.5 games that separate them from the top of the NL West.

The one positive that you can take away from all the injuries though, is that the Giant found
themselves some nice talented young pieces that should certainly be huge influences on next years club and are the reason why the Giants feel optimistic that they still won't need a full on makeover this winter. They have solid young pieces in place, most notably on the pitching staff. Dereck Rodriguez has been one of the best rookie pitchers in baseball this year, and has looked like a top end of the rotation starter. Now even he suffered an injury last week when the Giants and Dodgers had an on-field scuffle in a game that D-Rod wasn't even playing in. Luckily for the Giants, Rodriguez will be making his return this week and will have the opportunity to further improve on what's been a terrific rookie season. He's been the most consistent starter on the Giants ever since he joined the rotation and will be a key part of it going forward.

Another couple of guys who've broken through in 2018 are starter Andrew Suarez, reliever Reyes Moronta and utility man, Alen Hanson. Suarez hasn't quite been as impressive as fellow rookie Rodriguez and if you look at his numbers at the moment they don't do him proper justice as to how well he was throwing from late May to late July when he and D-Rod were basically holding the staff down in June and July with Cueto and Samardzija both out and Bumgarner a little rusty upon his return.

In the pen, Moronta has arguably been the Giants best reliever, not named Will Smith, throughout the season. His one and only flaw that once he improves, will make him one of the best set-up men, and possibly future closer in baseball, and that's to cut down a bit on the walks. The guy is extremely tough to hit though. allowing just 27 knocks in 56+ IP (less than a hit per each 2 innings of work), good for a BAA of .136.

Then on the field, Alen Hanson has been the breakout Giants rookie with the stick. While he's cooled off considerably from his first 100 at-bats, he still is second on the team in batting average, third on the team in OPS and 2nd in stolen bases, despite having about half the at-bats of an average starting position player on the team. His solid play and ability to play all over the diamond, including 2nd and 3rd base, shortstop and even LF in a pinch have made him a key player heading into 2019 and beyond. So much so that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Giants shopped Joe Panik this offseason to open up 2nd base for Hanson everyday. That's a long shot though, as the Giants really like Panik, despite his off-year, and probably wouldn't get a whole lot in return for him after what's been a hugely disappointing year. I mean, take away that brilliant first few games of the season where he looked like he was locked in for a huge season, and the 27 year-old is having the worst season of his career to this point.

Hunter Strickland's injury mid-season after punching a wall in anger after a blown save, certainly wasn't a positive, but it didn't hurt the team as much as some anticipated, thanks to Will Smith providing an even better closing option that Strick since then. Mark Melancon is another one who missed a lot of time to start the season and was brought back extremely slowly. However, he's now back and has clearly pitched his best baseball as a Giant since his return. He still hasn't reclaimed the closer spot though, and it should be interesting to see what Boch does in September as he tries to get an idea of what kind of bullpen roles will be penciled in for 2019. Will Melancon take back over as the closer? Will Melancon be dealt and it's going to be Will Smith and potentially Reyes Moronta's job going forward? I think we have to see Melancon get a few save opps before the season's done as I believe it would be best for the team if he can retake that role in 2019. The Giants need to be able to flexibly use Smith as he's their ace left-handed reliever, and the same can be said for Moronta as far as being the main RH set-up man.

While the chances of a Giants playoff push is dim, there is still plenty to watch and assess for next season. Beside from figuring out the bullpen roles, they'll be losing Andrew McCutchen and Hunter Pence from their outfield and will likely be looking at filling both the corner spots somehow. Then of course you have the pitching staff, with Cueto likely missing all of next season and Samardzija's future an unknown at this point. They'll have Bumgarner, Rodriguez and Suarez as the only ones guaranteed rotation spots heading into 2019.

We'll talk a lot more about that stuff though later on and after the season. Right now, as I said, the Giants aren't mathematically out of the NL West and a good couple of weeks to close out August/open up September, could move them up under 5 games out by early September and we've seen a lot crazier things happen. If they can't gain any ground between now and the August 31st non-waiver deadline, then we could see them try and get something for McCutchen as they aren't about to offer him the qualifying offer of $15M+ with their payroll situation, so they may try and get a prospect or two for him rather than letting him walk in free agency. Granted, if he can finish up halfway decent, I don't think Cutch would take the offer and should still get multi-year offers in the $15M/year range. They could also subject Hunter Strickland to waivers as well as I think a lot of Giants management and players have had enough with his antics.

No, it hasn't been a great season for the Giants, but it's been much better than 2017 was and the development of some young guys and performance from guys who've missed significant time with injury are giving fans some optimism moving forward.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Big trade deadline decisions looming for Giants

The Giants have essentially been floating around the .500 mark for much of the last month, getting as many as 6 games above at one point but consistently staying above it for much of the last few weeks.
Add that to the fact they're 4 games back of the first place Dodgers in the NL West and 5 games back in the Wild Card race and it's really giving the Giants' brass a lot to mull over between now and the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, now just a few short weeks away.

Now, I know Giants fans would like to hear that the Giants are going to be active and be buyers at the deadline, swooping up a power hitting left fielder they've needed since Pence, Mac Williamson and everyone else they've put out there this year have collectively provided the league's worst production. Couple that with the fact that they haven't gotten top-end production from center or right field either and you can obviously see where the Giants primary focus will be if they are indeed buyers at the end of the month. Andrew McCutchen is the only outfielder locked into an everyday role right now, and the right fielder's play has been picking up a little bit too.

Over in center, it seems like Gorkys Hernandez has become the primary guy there and has been thrust into practically an everyday role despite Bochy ideally preferring to use him as a the teams fourth outfielder. With their lack of outfield depth and none of young players stepping up and taking the bull by the horns, Hernandez is stuck in a starting position and while he's certainly not a star, he's done a pretty admirable job in comparison to what he's done throughout his career up to this point. Also, despite not playing nearly everyday for much of the season, he still leads all Giants' outfielders in home runs (11), batting average (.276) and OPS (.783).

So, that leaves left field as the most logical place to add a slugger if they find one they feel would be both good enough to push them into the mix for a deep run into October and can be obtained without going over the CBT. Of course, if they feel like a center fielder would more so fit what they're looking for offensive wise, they could go that route and slide Gorkys Hernandez over to left to possibly platoon with Austin Slater/Steven Duggar.

Now, the CBT situation changes things a lot this year, making things very tricky and more complicated than in years past. If they so choose to be buyers this summer, there aren't a whole lot of true difference makers they'd feel compelled going over the luxury tax mark for. So in order for them to land a hitter, unless maybe they can miraculously land Bryce Harper in the Bay or Manny Machado (who'd have to move out to left or possibly even over to second), would be by having the opposing team eat the players contract, which in turn would increase their asking price from SF, prospect/player wise.

Of course I'm not going to name every singe possible outfielder on the trade market, but aside from Machado and Harper, there are a handful of guys that could provide upgrades to this teams current outfield group. There's another big name on the trade market and one of Machado's teammates in Baltimore. Adam Jones would certainly fit the prototype of an offensive tool that could come in and fill into an everyday role in either center or left field. He'd be my first choice amongst the outfield options not named Harper or Machado (assuming the Giants could find a spot for him), as he does have the ability to carry a team on his back when he gets hot. The thing is, he's not having a very good season and has been ice cold lately. He's rocking only a .278/.303/.427 slash line with 10 long balls and 38 RBI. Despite the mediocre line thus far, he's averaged just shy of 30 HR/year since 2011 and he's collected 4 gold gloves over that time period making him a star in center. He's similar offensively to Andrew McCutchen and would provide a marginal upgrade and stability in center on both ends, but not if it meant going over the CBT. So in that case, the O's would have to eat most, if not all of his salary and just take prospects back in return. Seems unlikely but you never know.

Another potential option, and someone who would likely be much easier to obtain, although he too would still cost a few top-end prospects, is a guy who's playing right across the bay in Oakland. Khris Davis is on pace for another 40 HR season along with 100+ RBI. He won't bring a high batting average, hovering around .230-.240, but with his run production the Giants could easily overlook that one flaw. The one they may not be able to overlook though is Davis' lack of defense in the outfield. Corey Dickerson and Shin-Soo Choo would lead the next level of outfield trade options, but Dickerson has been up and down this year, and if continues down the path he's played at the last month. Choo has been a DH or right fielder for much of his career, playing just 10 games in LF since 2014. Don't get me wrong, if the Giants could nab any of those guys for a reasonable minor league package and the luxury tax wasn't an issue, I'd be much more inclined to jump at one of these guys but really the only two who really would be worth going over the tax, assuming they're don't fall out of it over the next three weeks, would be Harper and maybe Jones.

Now, if they have a dreadful three weeks leading up to the deadline and they find themselves below .500 and possibly 8+ games out of a playoff spot, they need to seriously consider being sellers for the first time time in a decade plus. Yes, it would be unfamiliar waters for Giants fans to see them deal away veteran big name players for prospects that may or may not pan out, but if they aren't going to make a serious run this fall, it would be wise for them to try and free up some payroll for another potential re-tooling next winter when guys I already mentioned, like Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, Manny Machado plus many more will be free agents. It's not really the Giants style to be sellers when they even have an inkling of hope at making a postseason run, so I would bet against them dealing away players come July 31st, but they have some guys who they could deem expendable and other teams may very well want. With the emergence of Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez, the Giants could listen to offers for Samardzija and maybe even Johnny Cueto, although both players contracts and recent injury issues this season may detour teams from them. Still if Cueto dominates over the next few weeks and/or Shark comes back strong but the Giants still find themselves 8+ games back in the West and multiple teams ahead of them, then a whole slew of teams between them and a wild card spot, then all bets are off.

Extras: Coming out of Friday night's victory, in which Dereck Rodriguez provided another gem and led the Giants to victory over the Cardinals, the Giants got some injury news regarding Joe Panik. The 2nd basemen who was the talk of the town over the first couple of weeks of the season, however has really disappeared ever since, has hit the DL for the second time in the last 6 weeks with a strained groin. The last time Panik went on the DL, Alen Hanson emerged as one of the bright young talents on the Giants and although his play has declined a bit since being moved around and not having an everyday role, he'll be back at second base until Panik is back and hopefully that bat that was hitting .350 when at second base returns as well.

It looks like the Giants closing situation may have finally been settled. Bruce Bochy has rolled with the same closer over the last 3 save situations without playing the "match-up game". Will Smith has been the Giants most lights out reliever really ever since he returned and has been especially tough lately and it looks like he's going to be the guy manning the ninth inning moving forward. That is at least until Mark Melancon is deemed ready to retake his role in that spot or Hunter Strickland comes back and proves healthy and effective enough to retake that role. For the time being though, it's gonna be Smith and while I think Smith is ideal in the "Andrew Miller role", the Giants need someone consistent in the ninth inning and Smith is the guy who makes the most sense. Reyes Moronta was someone I thought would get more of a look but he's too valuable in the 7th/8th innings and the same can be said for Tony Watson and neither of those guys are as dominant as Will Smith is when he's one.

So, there's a lot going on within the Giants roster. Just as we get some clarity with Will Smith being anointed the closer, they also lose another player to injury and detract from the overall depth of the squad.

I've been saying it the last couple of posts and I'll say it once again. These next few weeks are really going to make or break the Giants season and I really have no idea what to expect. It wouldn't surprise me to see them take off with Cueto and Shark back and wind up 10 games over .500 come late June. However, they're just about as likely to see Cueto and Shark struggle in their return and take time to get back into rhythm while the offense continues to try and overcome injuries leaving the team a handful of games below .500 and their playoff hopes dying out as the season's fourth month comes to an end. So stay tuned Giants fans, and really hope for the best. I think this team has enough drive and enough talent to keep themselves in the mix and avoid being sellers come July 31st, but at the same time, unless they really take off between now and the 31st to where management deems them a likely World Series contender, I'd be surprised if the Giants made any noteworthy addition.

So my consensus on July 7th, with 24 days until the deadline is that the Giants will have to figure things out with the players they have on their current roster and in their farm system as I don't see them going over the CBT with hopes it keeps them in the Wild Card or NL West race. Still, it's going to be a fun 3+ weeks to watch as their rotation gets healthy and they have some sort of order in their bullpen. If only they could find that set lineup that could churn out 5+ runs on a consistent basis.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, June 29, 2018

SF trying to put injury-plagued 1st half behind them for 2nd half run

We talked a lot a couple weeks back when Evan Longoria went down, Jeff Samardzija rejoined the DL, then Brandon Belt hit the the shelf that the Giants would need more and more players to continue to step up and keep them afloat

It seems like the theme of the season for the club has been a game of musical chairs of the Disabled list variety. Just as one guy comes off the DL, it seems like another one takes his place almost immediately. After getting Mark Melancon back earlier in the month, closer Hunter Strickland promptly broke his throwing hand by punching a clubhouse wall in anger after blowing a save, taking away one of the teams most potent bullpen arm until at least sometime in August and that's really how it's been going all season long.

Madison Bumgarner missed 2 months, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija each have missed about the same amount of time and still have yet to return for good. We then started to see the positional players go down as Brandon Belt missed 3 weeks at the end of May into June and now Evan Longoria is recovering from a fractured hand which will sideline him until at least after the All-Star break at the earliest. He's shooting to return soon after the break but the more realistic timetable for him, like closer Strickland will be sometime in early to mid August.

On a positive note, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have looked pretty good in their rehab appearances and the Giants are hoping each can make their return before the All-Star break, which would be a huge shot in the arm for the rotation. However, the rotation hasn't been all that bad in these guys' absence anyway. Derek Holland has really stepped up and exceeded expectations and Andrew Suarez has continued to grow to the point where he's on the verge of becoming a rotation mainstay. In his most recent outing coming in Arizona Friday, the 25 year-old held the D-Backs to just a run on a few hits over 6 innings, punching out 6 without any free passes. Holland and Suarez have been so solid that Bruce Bochy will have some tough decisions lying ahead when Cueto and Shark are indeed ready to make their return to the big club. Obviously Bumgarner, Stratton, Cueto and Samardzija will have their spots cemented in, so that leaves one remaining rotation spot left for Suarez, Holland and Derek Rodriguez to claim going forward. Holland has the experience and has been pitching his best ball since 2013, but Suarez is throwing just as effectively, if not more so, and at 25 years of age has upside that the 32 year-old Holland doesn't quite have.

My guess is that Holland and Rodriguez will be bumped out of the rotation when the full slate of starters are ready to go, at least that's what I would do if I were making those decisions. Holland should stay with the club though and move into long releif with Ty Blach's future uncertain. The thing is, with the way the Giants have been dropping with injuries left and right, they need to have Holland on the roster in the event somebody else gets banged up or the Giants are in need of a spot starter. It's possible Holland and/or Rodriguez could be used as trade bate as the Giants search for potentially another outfielder or another arm to help shore up the pen, but I think they'd really like to keep all these guys in the organization just in case they get bit by that injury bug in the rotation once again, which in this bizarre, injury-plagued season is not far fetched at all.


Now, I'm not going to talk too much about the bullpen because I want to finish up by talking about the lineup and what I think their best course of action should be as we approach the trade deadline, but the bullpen has been the unsung heroes of this team in my opinion. No matter what kind of injuries they're running into, or no matter who they're sliding into the closers job or asking to go multiple innings, the Giants bullpen is taking things in stride. The two lefties, Will Smith and Tony Watson have been the real mainstays down there along with Reyes Moronta. Sam Dyson had been started to be used in the closers role after Strick went down 2 weeks ago, but he's been up and down in that role and Bochy is now apparently leaning toward using his two lefties, Smith and Watson, as the closer by committee for the time being.

The wild card out of all these guys, and the guy the Giants paid over $60MM before the '17 season to be their closer, Mark Melancon, is finally healthy and is pitching pretty well but Boch is not quite ready to put him back in the ninth inning just yet. My guess is that as long as Melancon keeps improving, and gets to the point where he can go back-to-back days without losing much of his effectiveness then Boch will once again slide the veteran closer back into the role he's most comfortable. All in all though, the Giants bullpen is in pretty good shape and despite there not being a set closer at this very moment, they have options and I fully expect someone to have that role cemented by the All-Star Break.


Last but not least, we have the Giants offense, which if you look at them in comparison to many teams around the league in terms of run production, they're well below the rest of the pack of teams with playoff aspirations. I mean, their so-called biggest slugger and run producer, Buster Posey, is sitting at a modest .286 with 5 home runs and 26 RBI as we hit the official mid-way point. Instead of Posey, McCutchen and the guys you'd think would be leading this offense, it's really been the two Brandon's who've been indispensable for this team. Brandon Belt hasn't quite gotten back into the rhythm he was in the first couple months of the season in which he was hitting .316 with a 1.016 OPS to go along with 11 jacks and 31 RBI in under two full months of play. You project that out over a full 6 month season and your looking at 33+ HR, 93 RBI and of course those outstanding averages and percentages which all are career year-type numbers if he can keep it up. Even if he doesn't quite match that pace over the last three months, as long as he stays on the field, Belt should easily surpass his career high of 17 HR, 82 RBI especially if Posey and McCutchen get going ahead of him which will eventually happen.... I mean, I certainly hope that's the fcasde=p

Helping support Belt to make up for the lack of expected production to this point from Posey, Panik, Longoria and the whole outfield really, has been what's lining up to be a career year from shortstop Brandon Crawford. We've talked a bunch about BCraw in recent posts so I don't wanna keep repeating the same facts, but I don't know if all fans realize just how crucial 'Craw has been, not only because of his .313/.371/.496 slash line along with 9 jacks and 39 RBI, but the guys glove, as we all know, makes him so much more valuable than just his offensive numbers alone. Unfortunately for him, the NL is loaded at SS this year so he may not even make the All-Star team but that doesn't mean he's not deserving.

The Brandon's, as well as the stepping up of the starting pitching and the steadiness of the bullpen are reason the Giants have just moved up over 3 games above .500 and have the Giants playing their best baseball, really all season long, as they've won 8 of their last 10 ballgames heading into Saturday. The reason why they aren't in even better positioning and possibly even atop the division over Arizona, however, is due in large part to the injuries and ineffectiveness in the outfield which has been one of the worst groups, if not the worst in all of baseball. If Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean are going to add some reinforcements in the next few weeks before the trade deadline, my guess is that it will be an outfielder that can hit.

EXTRAS: These next few weeks though are very, very important as they should be getting Cueto and Shark back as well as hopefully getting a more concrete timetable for Evan Longoria's return and they'll have a better idea of who exactly will be that ninth inning guy for the stretch run. Will Melancon be deemed ready to close or will it be a closer by committee with Smith, Watson and Sam Dyson all getting looks until one maybe emerges (which is pretty much what Boch is doing right now with the ninth inning)? These are all questions the Giants have the next four weeks to assess and either act on or stand pat.

In our next post, we'll take a look at some possible trade options for the Giants if they do indeed need to go that route and add a player or two for outside in order to give them a boost for the stretch run. The goal from the beginnings of the season was to keep this team right around .500 until their core players got back from injury. What they weren't planning on is having a whole new wave of injuries keep hitting them just as they seem to be getting their guys healthy, so hopefully this is it. Ideally, Melancon takes back over the 9th inning role and is the pitcher the Giants were hoping they'd be getting when they inked him before last season and if that does happen then the bullpen will be set.
San Francisco's certainly still trying to get their foundation firmly under them, and the fact they're still winning games with all the uncertainties surrounding them is giving me reason for optimism. Do they look like they're going to cash in on their even year magic once again come October? As active roster currently stands now, probably not. However, if their key injuries iron themselves out, they avoid any other big ones in the second half and are able to add a big hitting left fielder before July 31st, then in my unbiased opinion I think they could become the top dogs in the NL West. Of course, if Arizona goes out and lands another J.D. Martinez-type bat like they did a year ago, or LA brings in some reinforcements which they have not problem doing when needed that could change the landscape.

Needless to say, it's going to be an interesting, exciting month of July and can't wait to see what Sabes and Evans have up their sleeves.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Unexpected players stepping up to keep Giants afloat

The Giants have played over 1/3 of their season now without Madison Bumgarner as well as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija for most part. They've also been without projected closer Mark Melancon and have gotten very little production out of the outfield trio they trotted out on opening day. Not to mention, Buster Posey hasn't come close to providing the run production the Giants are accustomed to from their all-star catcher.

Now after taking all that into consideration, and without looking at the standings, you'd probably assume the team would be one of the worst in baseball. However, that hasn't quite been the case, and the team has found a way to keep themselves in the mix and right around .500 despite all the hurdles they've had to overcome so far.

After Wednesday's victory over the D-Backs in San Francisco, the Giants improved their record to 31-31 and are just 1.5 games out of first place in a deep NL West. The Giants are technically in 4th place, however, being under two games behind Arizona shows just how jammed this division is at the top and also makes me wonder just where they'd be had they started the year with MadBum and Cueto hadn't gotten hurt after his terrific start to the season. They'd undoubtedly be atop this division and probably by a good margin. However, they sit right at .500 after the season's first couple of months, and the reason why they've been able to stay competitive is because of the way some of their younger and unexpected players have stepped up in a big way. The first guy that comes to mind, probably because he played a huge role in defeating Arizona Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park is Alen Hanson. The 25 year-old second basemen came out of nowhere when Joe Panik hit the DL and missed all of May by hitting .333 with 4 home runs and 14 RBI leading to an OPS of 1.061. Hanson hit his 5th jack of the year and drove in his 16th run of the season to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday in one of the most clutch at-bats on the Giants' season thus far.

What makes Hanson's season even more impressive is that he's put up all these big numbers in just 52 at-bats after Wednesday's game. Joe Panik made his return to the team last week, but his bat has quieted way down ever since his hot start where he hit 3 home runs in the season's first week. In fact, since that first week, Panik has zero home runs and just 3 RBI, although he did miss all of May. It's gotten to the point where Bochy has to seriously consider mixing some things up in order to get Hanson's bat into the lineup. Whether that's putting him out in left field a couple times a week or splitting the playing time at second between Panik and Hanson, this dude has done everything asked of him and some and deserves to be playing more often than not.

Speaking of the outfield, that's a group that just hasn't been getting the job done as a unit. Andrew McCutchen was a guy that many had hoped would be an anchor in this lineup, however, he's endured a rough couple of months to begin his tenure with the Giants hitting just .250 with 5 long balls and 26 RBI. However, he has shown signs of turning things around lately, hitting over. 300 with 2 HR and 7 RBI over his last 7 ball games. Aside from 'Cutch, the Giants other two outfielders that began the season in the starting lineup have sort of disappeared. Newly signed center fielder Austin Jackson hasn't done much of anything yet, hitting just .248 with a couple of stolen bases and only 10 runs scored. It's rare you see a player with a slugging percentage under .300, but Jackson's sits at .296 which is a testament as to how little of a threat he's been at the dish this year. However, much like Hanson has done in Panik's absence, the Giants have gotten the best baseball of Gorkys Hernandez's career when they've needed it the most. Gorkys has pretty much overtaken center field and has hit and fielded his way into an everyday role there thanks to his slash of .285/6/.327/.453 with 18 runs in just 127 at-bats.

With 'Cutch hopefully rounding into form and Gorkys taking over center for the time being, the only big question mark the Giants have in their lineup now lies in left field. The infield has done their job for the most part, but took a huge hit with the loss of Brandon Belt last week. Belt has been the team's MVP and is in the middle of a breakout campaign, so hopefully the he and the team luck out in terms of recovery time after having his appendix removed on June 2nd. There really is no exact time table for players coming off appendicitis and that surgery. Some players miss a couple weeks, some up to 4-6 weeks. Matt Holliday had the procedure done to him in the 2011 season but he miraculously avoided the DL somehow, so hopefully we see Belt back out there well before the end of the month so he can continue on his 30+ home run/100 RBI pace he was on at the end of May.

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, the bullpen has been very strong, and they just now have gotten their closer and top reliever back in Melancon. The 33 year-old reliever made his first appearance in what's felt like a year on Saturday, then threw an inning on Monday night as well and he's looked the best I've seen him since he became a Giant, striking out 5 of the 6 batters he's faced. The starting rotation also got their prized arm back this week, with Bumgarner making his long awaited season debut on Tuesday night and threw 6 strong innings allowing just 2 earned runs but unfortunately was outmatched on the night by Patrick Corbin. The important part of the start though was that Bumgarner made it as deep into the game as he did, pitching as well as he did and came out of it perfectly fine health wise. Now if only the Giants can get Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija each back and in top shape, their team could be back around 100% before the end of the first half. I think that has to be the goal as of now for the club.

Sure, this team has been hit with some terrible luck through the first couple of months, but in the end it could wind up being a blessing for them. It's forced these other players like Hanson and Hernandez and plenty of their young arms to step up and gain the experience that they otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity for. So once they do get everyone healthy, it's going to make the unit that much stronger and deeper. So much stronger and deeper in fact, that if they can get Cueto, Samardzija and Belt all back as soon as they possibly can, the Giants all of the sudden could find themselves in the catbird seat of the NL West. No, it's not the way anybody would have drawn it up or planned it out, but in this marathon of a baseball season, the Giants have found themselves a few hidden gems thanks to all of the injuries and it's only going to help them going forward.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, April 28, 2018

New wave of injuries plaguing the Giants

Right as the Giants finally looked to have found a nice groove for the first time this season, they all of the sudden got hammered with some more bad injury news prior to Saturday's first game of a double-header vs. the Dodgers.

Before we get into the new injury news, the silver lining, I suppose, is that the Giants got both Shark and Cueto back quicker than expected. On another positive note, the big guy every one's waiting on to make his 2018 debut, ace Madison Bumgarner, had the pins removed from his surgically repaired left hand, and while it's obviously still to early to tell an exact date for his return, the Giants are hopeful it will be right around his May 28th eligibility date. Now, that could be a little optimistic as that's exactly one month from today and the big lefty hasn't begin to throw a ball yet.

Even with Shark back and Cueto looking as strong as ever, unfortunately it's not all roses and sunshine on the Giants' injury front. Outfielder Hunter Pence hit the DL once again with a thumb injury that he suffered way back on the home opener vs. the Mariners on April 3rd. He tried playing the next two weeks in pain but obviously it wasn't working as he just wasn't doing much of anything at the plate. As far as his return, the Giants haven't said much on the subject recently but my guess is that they won't be rushing him back. Now Joe Panik hurt his thumb when placing a tag attempt on Yasiel Puig in Friday night's game which has been diagnosed as a sprain. Panik will be joining Pence on the DL with a very similar injury, however, Bruce Bochy and the staff are not optimistic that Panik will be back after 10 days and this could sideline him multiple weeks then be something they have to monitor when he does return.

Granted, the second basemen has cooled off since his scorching hot start in which he homered 3 times in the first handful of games of the season, as his average has dipped below .300 down to .276 at the time he hit the DL. Even with that being said, Panik is always so key even if he isn't necessarily in the midst of a hot streak because he'll still give you good, professional at-bats and he also helps out the pitching staff with his gold glove defense up the middle.

Panik and Pence are not the only ones accompanying MadBum, Mark Melancon and Will Smith on the DL. One of their offensive saviors over the last 10 days or so and a guy who's had a huge impact in the club's rise back up to within a game or two of .500, Mac Williamson, hit the wall chasing down a foul ball in Tuesday nights game. It didn't appear to be anything too serious at first, however, the outfielder experienced concussion like symptoms which the league does not take lightly, and it forced the Giants to place their hottest hitter on the 7-day concussion DL. Mac and Panik are the real tough ones to swallow at the moment as the Giants have been playing their best ball of the season and both those guys have been instrumental in one way or another.

I had been waiting to write a piece on Mac Williamson all week because I said on twitter, after he hit that last go-ahead jack vs. the Nationals which ended up being the difference in the game that this guy, that he's made a bigger impact than any other hitter in the Giants lineup through this first month. Although Evan Longria is starting to make a case. Williamson was tearing it up all Spring Training long and while I really hoped he would have broken north with the big club, I think having him play daily in Sacramento allowed him to carry that momentum over and keep it going. Had he made the Giants out of spring, he would have wound up sitting and I'm sure that hot bat would have cooled off. Instead, he went over to Sacramento and put on an even bigger show there than he provided in Arizona. Hopefully he can get back out there as soon as his 7-day stint is up because the lineup certainly needs him. The 28 year-old has started his big league season with a .316/.316/.789 line to go along with 3 jacks (all of which were instrumental in Giants' victories) and 6 RBI in just 19 at-bats. 

The Giants went 4-1 with Williamson in the lineup and their record entering play Saturday was 12-13. On April 17th they were 6-10 so they're slowly getting back on the right track, now their challenge will be to stay on course without two of their hottest hitters. Kelby Tomlinson seems like the most logical choice to fill in for Panik at second base, but the Giants called up Alen Hanson who was absolutely tearing it up in Sacramento himself and I personally would like to see him provided with an opportunity. We all know what Kelby can do, and he's a good scrappy player who's an ideal utility guy who, if possible, should be kept in that role. Hanson's younger with a bit more upside and more importantly was shredding PCL pitching over the first month. The 25 year-old outfielder/second basemen was slashing .403/.479/.661 with 3 jacks, 9 RBI while also swiping 6 bags in 7 attempts. In his Giants debut Saturday, Hanson launched a 3-run bomb to right-center out in triples alley, which was extremely impressive. Hanson's never been a big power guy but that home run showed he's got the ability to do it and with Panik expected to miss at least a few weeks, I'd like to see Hanson given the first shot at picking up that slack.

Quick Hits
-At the time of publishing this, the Giants just got done falling in game one of their double-header vs. LA, so they won't be returning to .500 on Saturday. They still can reach .500 this weekend but they'll have to beat Alex Wood behind Cueto in game two, then ride Ty Blach to victory on Sunday.

-Austin Slater was recalled from Sacramento to take Williamson's spot. Much like Hanson, Slater was raking in AAA, slashing .358/.435/.642 with a home run and 13 RBI. Hopefully Williamson will be back by next weekend, but Slater will likely soak up the majority of the at-bats out there until he does. Gorkys Hernandez could get some looks as well. 

-In order to save some bullpen arms for game two of Saturday's double-header, Bruce Bochy went with Pablo Sandoval to pitch in the top of the 9th... He threw the only 1-2-3 inning the Giants had all game. 

-Mark Melancon has begun throwing a baseball again but has no scheduled bullpen sessions on the horizon yet and no timetable as to when he will begin throwing from a mound, let alone a target return date. I'd be surprised to see him in the first half though as the Giants have no reason to rush him back. Strickland has been solid in the 9th and the bullpen has been pretty decent overall. A healthy Melancon would certainly elevate things even more, but there's no telling if and when that will come to fruition. 

-It was starting to feel like this time would never come, but left-handed reliever Will Smith, who if healthy will immediately become one of the teams best relievers, is expected to make his long awaited return to the big club at some point next week. The tough question Boch will have to face is who to send down. With Josh Osich hitting the DL already, that leaves Roberto Gomez or Derek Law the most logical options... I do know rookies Reyes Moronta and Pierce Johnson aren't going anywhere
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SF battling, but coming up short most nights

The bad news for the Giants since their quick 2-0 start in LA is that they've gone just 3-6 over their last nine. On a positive note, the losses haven't been bad at all, and most of them have been 1-run ballgames. I mean had they come up with a couple of clutch hits in certain situations that were very doable, they could just as easily be looking at 7-4 instead of 5-6 as they heading down into San Diego for a four-game stretch.

The most impressive game they've played all season thus far, at least in my opinion, was not their huge offensive output in game two of the Mariners' series. It was that 14-inning victory over LA on Saturday night after not playing the previous two nights. We all saw Andrew McCutchen's game winning home run in the best pitcher/batter battle I've seen in 2018, and I really thought that would get them jump-started but they've gone just 1-3 since that game and have scored only 9 runs in their last 4 games games combined. You can't really blame the pitching though. Two of the last three losses were 2-1 ballgames, and if they aren't able to score more than one run most nights, they really have no business winning. So basically the main reason for their losses early on have been due to the inability to hit with runners on and in scoring position and offensive inconsistencies. The newcomers were supposed to help fix that issue, and although 'Cutch broke out in that game vs. LA with a 6-hit night, he has been very quiet over his last few games. Evan Longoria also homered in the home opener vs. Seattle, but aside from that jack and a 2-hit game vs. LA on Sunday, he's been virtually non-existent with the bat.

It's not surprising to see Longo off to a slow start though, as he's spent his whole career in the AL prior to this season, so it may take him a couple more weeks to get acclimated to the new league and pitchers he really hasn't faced much, if at all. So we can't panic quite yet about the .114 AVG and .396 OPS after 35 at-bats, but they're going to need this guy to start hitting. The same can be said for Austin Jackson as he really hasn't made much of an impact at the plate at all in the early going. Jackson has collected 29 at-bats, and despite hitting a reasonable .258, he's scored only 1 run in his 9 games which is extremely low for a leadoff guy. So far, Gregor Blanco has blown him out of the water production wise. Granted, you can't really blame Jackson for the lack of runs scored because they aren't stringing together a bunch of hits and knocking guys in that way. Still, I would like to see his average closer to .300 and I would also like to see Boch start using the steal more when he does reach base.

Not only did they lose the series to Arizona Wednesday, they also got the news that Johnny Cueto now joining Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Will Smith and Mark Melancon on the DL with a sprained right ankle. They now are essentially throwing a glorified Triple-A starting rotation at teams until Shark and Cueto get back on the hill. I haven't seen an exact timetable for Cueto's return yet but the fact that he didn't leave the game when he injured himself, and was close to avoiding the DL stint and making his start Wednesday, I'm hoping it won't be much longer than the 10-day minimum. I do remember the play in which he tweaked it trying to throw out Dee Gordon on a little dribbler in front of the mound and it didn't look terrible but it did bring the Dave Groeschner and Bruce Bochy out to check on him. The move was made retroactive to April 7th, so the earliest we could see Cueto back is April 17th. That's hopefully right around the time Samardzija will be re-joining the rotation too as he'll get his rehab assignment started this weekend in San Jose. Shark will likely pitch in two rehab starts, unless he comes out of this weekends outing crisply and pain-free. He hasn't pitched competitively in almost a month now though, so two rehab starts seems feasible but with the rotation in disarray, one solid one may suffice.

The Giants are still sort of looking for their identity here two weeks into the season. The only guy off to a really nice start is Buster Posey (.389/..439/.611 w/2 HR, 6 RBI). Posey will always hit for average, but his power has dipped the last two years and that's something they need to bounce back, and it looks like it's on the way to doing that. They've had some big home runs, and their pen  has been better than I expected as Dyson has been the only real weak spot. Unfortunately, so far, it's been a team bitten by the injury big as they keep getting bad break after bad break within their pitching staff. Yes, it's better you get this junk out of the way and have these things pop up in April if at all.  it will also give us at least a couple of starts in which we can see arms Suarez and Beede and see what the hype is about.  It would suck if all these guys hit the DL late in the season in a pennant race, so all they can focus on now is trying to get these guys as healthy as possible before getting them back out on the mound. Until then, we'll be seeing a rotation of Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Derek Holland, Tyler Beede and Wednesday's starter Andrew Suarez.

Speaking of the young pitchers, both Beede and Suarez made their MLB debuts this week. Beede looked a little over-amped in his debut Tuesday, as he only made it through 4 innings, allowing 8 base-runners but limiting the damage to only two runs and the Giants went on to win that game despite Beede not factoring into the decision.. Suarez was a little more impressive in his start Wednesday, as he really made two mistakes and unfortunately one of them was to Paul Goldschmidt with a runner on. Suarez ended his debut with a line of 5 1/3 innings pitched, 7 strikeouts, 0 walks and 4 runs on 4 hits. He pitched better than his line showed, and kept the Giants in the ballgame, which is all they could ask someone to do in their debut. And although the bullpen didn't pick him up in this one, with Sam Dyson looking like early 2017 Dyson and gave up 3 runs in his inning (raising his ERA to 8.31 and WHIP to 1.85). In fact, aside from 'Strick and Tony Watson, Reyes Moronta has been the pen's most reliable arm and Johnson isn't too far behind. Even after the Watson signing I still thought this team needed another reliever, but even with guys shelved right now, they've done better than I expected and I don't think a reliever at this point is a "must add".

I wouldn't mind seeing them grab another starter so they maybe aren't forced to use Holland and/or Blach every 5th day, but I don't think the Giants will risk making a move like that and going over the CBT without a more clear view as to what it will take to get them into October. For once, I don't see reliever being part of that list, at least if Melancon and Smith both come back strong soon. That in itself will almost be like trading for two veteran relievers without giving up a thing. The same can be said for getting Bumgarner back, hopefully in the second part of May at some point. If and when everyone is healthy, it will likely shift Blach or Holland back to the fifth spot.

Moronta has already earned the trust of Boch to be used in big games, and he delievered big time in the team's previous 2 wins (4 IP, 1 H, 9 K's,). Moronta's only blemish has been the BB category as he's averaging a walk per inning. Luckly his stuff has been electric and they haven't been hitting him all that hard and one of the unfortunate side-effects with live arms with movement is that you can sometimes lose command with pitches and allow base on balls. Luckily for the 25 year-old , those are the only types of base runners he's been allowing because he's just been too hard to hit (oh yeah, his BAA is down at 0.91 in 6 outings). It doesn't look like a fluke either cause Moronta is looking like he may be set-up for a breakout rookie campaign for this club. He reminds me a bit of a young Armando Benitez, stuff wise. Just wait until Smith and Melancon return. When those two do get back, your likely looking at a pen of Melancon and Stick in 8th/9th inning roles, not sure if Melancon starts as a closer upon his return but I do expect him to be closing again for this team this year.

After those two, they'll have Smith, Tony Watson, Moronta, Cory Gearin and Josh Osich. If they still are rocking an 8-man bullpen time then I would hope Johnson would get that final spot over Dyson but I almost can guarantee that won't be the case unless Dyson doesn't have another good outing between now and then. If it is the bullpen I envision, and Melancon/Smith get back in the next few weeks and are back at 100% then they will really have turned things around from the last couple of seasons.

The Giants are now over 10 games into the season, and I said at the beginning of the year that if they can stay right around .500 at least until they start getting a couple of the key pitchers off the shelf, they should be in decent shape. They've managed to do that so far, sitting at 5-6 heading into play Thursday in San Diego. However, now that Cueto will miss at least another start or two, it makes things that much tougher.

Injury Updates: As far as the other injured pitchers are concerned, I already mentioned Samardzija headed to San Jose this weekend and he won't be alone (more on that in a second), but Madison Bumgarner and Mark Melancon are both still too far out to have a more clear expected return date... Another injured thrower is set to start his rehab assignment quicker than many had anticipated, as Will Smith will be joining Samardzija in San Jose in the coming days. Smith has already thrown in extended spring training in Arizona and is said to be feeling well. The guy hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2016 though, so it may take him a couple of weeks in the minors until the Giants deem him ready for big league duty again... If things go as planned, the Giants could have both Cueto and Shark back in the rotation, as well as Will Smith back in the pen within the next two weeks.

Down on the Farm: The hot spring that Mac Williamson had in  Arizona has carried over into the PCL with Sacramento. The 27 year-old corner outfielder leads all PCL hitters with a 15 at-bat minimum, rocking a monstrous 1.638 OPS. He's second in the league in HR's with 3 and has 8 RBI. It's only been 6 games, but this guy is proving spring training was no joke and his new approach at the plate is working. Obviously McCutchen isn't going to removed from the lineup, but Hunter Pence may start to feel some pressure with Mac toying with AAA pitching, doing his best to stick out and get Bochy, Bobby Evans and co.'s attention... Don't be surprised if Pence hits the 10-day DL with something in order for the Giants to give Mac a look....Fellow River Cat, and one of the team's consensus top-5 prospects, Chris Shaw, has also looked good at the dish for Sac. He enters play Thursday with a .333 AVG, .988 OPS plus 2 HR and 7 RBI in 30 AB's....Steven Duggar, the bright young cetner fielder that was close to making the team out of camp hasn't quite torn the cover off the ball like Shaw and Mac have. The 24 year-old is hitting just .250 with a .618 OPS, 0 HR and only 1 RBI.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Giants' offense warms up in home opening loss

It's been a bit of a frustrating start for the Giants. Before Ty Blach was hammered for 10 hits and 6 earned runs in Tuesday's home opener, they had been getting solid starting pitching but the offense was not there. On Tuesday vs. Seattle, the starting pitching wasn't there, and the offense showed up a little too late.

Of course we don't want to get too down after the first five games, but if I said I wasn't a little worried about the squad right now it would be a lie. However, I really feel that, after that rough first inning, Tuesday was the best Giants' showing of the season. They scored the most runs they've scored all year long in one game, got at least one important bat going in Evan Longoria, and the bullpen continued to lock things down. As it really has since game 3 in LA, they've been having really one bad inning in the field/on the mound which has really cost them. If you take away that 4-run first the Mariners tagged Blach for, they likely come away with a W Tuesday. But the important thing in this long season is they did show some signs of life and some signs that the offense is on the verge of breaking out.

Joe Panik launched one into the arcade above the right field wall for the team's first run of the game, then Evan Longoria also knocked one out to bring the Giants to within 3 in the 7th inning. Panik had been the lone offensive bright spot coming into play Tuesday, and it looked like that would continue until the later innings when the Giants rallied a little. I'm trying to focus more on the positive today, as it was the home opener and it was a tremendous opening ceremony for the club in their 60th year in San Francisco. So on that note, I'm not going to delve too much into the starting rotation and my worries there, and instead, focus on what went right for them Tuesday. Getting Longoria going was huge and you could almost see that one coming as he just missed a couple in LA and then just got under one in either his first or 2nd at-bat Tuesday. I almost went on Twitter and predicted a Longo HR before it happened but I didn't quite make it in time. Hopefully Andrew McCutchen is the next one to really break out.

Aside from Longoria and Panik's home runs, Austin Jackson also drove in a run, Buster Posey looked good at the plate despite going 1-4 and Gregor Blanco continues to really impress offensively coming off the bench as he knocked a double down the left field line that stayed fair by about an inch. So, although it's coming together a little slower than hoped, it looks like the gears are starting to move on offense.

I also wanted to again, tip my cap to the bullpen, who did an excellent job in the 4 2/3 innings they picked up after Blach was knocked out. Rookies, Reyes Moronta and Pierce Johnson as well as veterans, Cory Gearin and Sam Dyson all combined to do their part to keep the Giants in the game and it was almost enough. They got their tying run to the plate in the bottom of the 8th but obviously couldn't quite come back from the 5-run deficit on this day.

So it definitely didn't go the way the Giants' drew it up but there were a few positives that hopefully carry over into Wednesday's ballgame. However, their back at the top of the rotation again and will face Felix Hernandez so they certainly have a tough assignment ahead. The Giants will counter with their best arm in their current rotation though in Johnny Cueto and I'm expecting the Giants to get back into the W column and even things up at 3-3.
The Giants Baseball Blog