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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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Giants move to 2-0 behind Panik, Cueto

If you would have told me that the Giants would have only scored 2 runs total in the first two ballgames of the season vs. the Dodgers, I would have for surely predicted an 0-2 start. However, 2 games into the 2018 season, and the Giants have a lot to be optimistic about after starting out 2-0.

I know it's way too early to be too optimistic about things, but two things that were a big mess for this team in 2017, the pitching and the defense, have looked great in the first couple of games of 2018. Johnny Cueto followed up Ty Blach's brilliant outing in the opener with an even better showing Friday night at Dodgers Stadium. The pivotal Giants arm, and their ace until Madison Bumgarner comes back, looked the part on Friday, keeping the ball down and where he wanted it throughout the night yielding only a little bloop single to Chris Taylor. That was the one and only hit the Dodgers would have on this night, as Cueto went on to go 7 strong, allowing just the one baserunner and striking out 4. He was hitting his spots, his changeup and slider had bite and he was hitting 93-94 with the heater when he needed crank it up a little. Tremendous start, despite taking the no-decision. And once again, the bullpen came through when called upon, as Tony Watson threw a perfect 8th and new closer Hunter Strickland struck out 2 in a perfect ninth to shut the door on LA.

I mean, you can basically take yesterday's game recap and place it in tonight's spot all-around. Once again, the offense had some baserunners on, thanks in large part to the Dodgers' 4 errors, but they couldn't capitalize with the small-ball approach. So for the second night in a row, they counted on the long ball to get them on the scoreboard, and for the second night in a row Joe Panik was the bat that provided it. I tweeted yesterday after the game that Panik looks like a different hitter this year, much like Strickland has looked like a different pitcher. Panik's swing looks as quick as ever and I don't think it's a fluke that he's hit two home runs in the first two games. This guy's always had some sneaky power and hit 10 jacks each of the last two seasons, but I really think he could have a breakout year at the play this year, especially run-production wise. He's going to be hitting either leadoff or second in every game, which places him in ideal spots now that the Giants have a more formidable middle of the order. The heart of the order hasn't done much yet in the first couple of games, but eventually they'll find their groove and when they do, it's going to result in even more pitches for Panik to hit.

As far as Strick's concerned, I talked yesterday about how he really looks like an improved and much more focused pitcher this year. His new pitch arsenal has definitely given the Dodgers fits so far, and to be completely honest, much like Panik, I could see him keeping this success up all season long. Now of course he's not gonna strike out 2 every night and have perfect innings, but I think 2018 is going to be a special year for him. In fact, if he does keep this up and Melancon misses significant time (like a month or more), I don't think it should just be an automatic removal of Strickland from the closer's spot in favor of the projected closer. Melancon has not yet looked very well at all in a Giants uniform, and while you never want to take away a job from a proven big leaguer because of injury, I think at the very least Melancon should need to earn that ninth inning back. Don't get me wrong, this bullpen needs both pitchers to be good in order to be clicking on all cylinders, but I would not mess with Strickland in the ninth. At least not until either he falters or Melancon comes back and shows he can be just as effective as the big right-hander has been since the beginning of spring.

As for Panik, I'm just gonna make this prediction now, and you may think I'm crazy but this guy, like I said, has a prime spot in the order and looks very good at the plate. It wouldn't surprise me to see him hit 15+ out this season and hit over .300 while also flirting with 100 runs scored. Brandon Crawford had his big 21 HR/82 RBI season at about the same age as Panik is now back in 2015 and Panik is a better hitter than Crawford. I was thinking it would be Brandon Belt who really breaks out this year, and were two games in so that's still entirely possible, but it definitely looks like Panik is going to be more pivotal and impacting than most had anticipated coming in!

Now, they aren't going to keep winning games 1-0, and Derek Holland (7-14, 6.20 ERA, 1.71 WHIP in '17) is not likely to be as good as Blach and Cueto have been. Most likely, 1 run isn't going to win game three, so if the Giants want to continue their winning ways and ensure they take this opening series from LA, they have to score some runs! It's not going to get much easier with Rich Hill slated for game 3, but he definitely is more hitter friendly than the first two guys the Giants faced. Again, it will be key to get on the board first, but more importantly, they're going to have to do it multiple times if they want to keep to indeed move to 3-0! 
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Opening Day 2018: Giants, Blach blank LA

Baseball is back ladies and gentlemen! And taking into account all the bad news the Giants have received regarding their starting pitchers and now their closer, Mark Melancon, it makes this victory that much sweeter.

Ty Blach, filling in for what should have been another Opening Day start from Madison Bumgarner, did his best Bumgarner impression, tossing 5 shutout innings, holding the Dodgers to just 3 hits and really staying in control of this game. In fact, on this night, Blach looked even better than Clayton Kershaw, who was on his game himself. The only difference in this game came on one swing of the bat from Joe Panik as he barely hooked a towering home run inside the right field foul pole off the Dodgers' ace for the games only run. The Giants were threatening in the first couple of innings with multiple base-runners and repeatedly were unable to cash in as Kershaw was doing what Kershaw does so well. So who knows how things would have shaken out had Joe Panik not inched that ball fair down the right field line? It doesn't matter, cause he did, and the team then did everything they had to from that point on in order to take this ball game.

This one very much had a special feel to it. It had the postseason-type atmosphere almost because it was opening day and because it was the revamped Giants vs. the Dodgers in LA who are coming off a big letdown in the World Series last fall. You know all they're thinking about is getting back to the postseason and figuring out how to take it all this time. All the Giants are trying to do is stay afloat until they get their three most pivotal pitchers back. In Bumgarner's spot though, as I said, Blach looked really, really good on Thursday. He was hitting his spots and even had some decent life on his fastball which was reaching the low-90's. Then, perhaps just as impressive as Blach's front-5 innings were, the Giants bullpen matched it over the final 4 frames, as Josh Osich came in for the 6th and showed why the Giants have always been so high on his left arm. He was hitting 96 and throwing that heavy sinker and essentially looking like a left-handed version of Hunter Strickland.

Speaking of Strickland, the right-hander has been thrust into the closer's role with Mark Melancon's unsurprising return to the DL to start the year. It could be a while before Melancon gets back so Stick is going to be as important as ever this year as he tries to make that leap into the ninth inning. I think this dude is ready though. After the incredible spring he had, not allowing a run, which is really saying something when pitching in the light spring air in Arizona, and the added slider to his arsenal, the 29 year-old flame thrower looks primed for a breakthrough year. Especially if he's closing a lot of games and proves he can do it regularly. As down as I am about losing Melancon again, he's the easiest loss of the three pitchers the Giants have lost to stomach, just because I think Strickland can close games and be nearly, if not just as effective as Melancon.

The big worry I have about Melancon hitting the DL is how it stretches the bullpen much thinner, but on Thursday, they showed reason for optimism. After Osich's dominant 6th, Cory Gearin, who was the teams most effective reliever a year ago, tight-roped out of the 7th inning stranding a runner on third, thanks to his Sergio Romo like slider. Finally, setting up Strick on Thursday night was lefty Tony Watson, who was such a big add to the staff at the start of spring and he showed why with his flawless 8th inning.

The Giants did everything they needed to do to beat Kershaw in the opener. They played solid D, and although they didn't cash in with RISP, they did get a clutch swing of the bat that put them in a lead they never surrendered. They're going to have to keep doing the small things well in order to keep surviving without their top arms too. I think this team has enough talent and veteran influence that nothing will get them too down, and they should have the moxie it takes in order to win the tough games like this one, and it was definitely re-assuring to see it happen in the opener. This win was such a big one for this team's confidence, to beat a guy like Kershaw behind and arm like Blach who's basically Kershaw's opposite. We talked before the season how every one's got to step it up for this thing to go right, and on Thursday, everyone did just that. I can't wait to see Johnny Cueto take the ball tomorrow night now coming off that promising final start he had in Oakland over the weekend!

There's not much else to say about this one. I just cannot keep stressing at how big of a W this was though and how beating Kershaw with Blach then seeing the bullpen do what they did almost makes it feel like a double-victory.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

2018 MLB preview/predictions: NL West

Spring Training is over everyone, and in about 24 hours from posting this, we/re going to see what the new look Giants will look like when games start counting for real!

I know we're all still reeling a little from the Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija news. Now there's a chance closer Mark Melancon starts the year on the DL, or at the very least will be on limited duty to start the year, which would add that much more pressure onto the pitching staff. However, if the Giants are truly a team built to win and play in October, they will find a way to survive until they get their two horses back.

Being a Giants site, I'm not gonna lie and say we're not a little biased in picking the Giants to clinch a wild card spot, but if they survive until they get their starters back and Melancon can comfortably throw when needed, then they'll be in position to do just that. Here's how we see the NL West breaking down in 2018.

1st Place, Los Angeles Dodgers

CF Chris Taylor (R)
SS Corey Seager (L)
LF Matt Kemp (R)
1B Cody Bellinger (L)
RF Yasiel Puig (R)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
3B Logan Forsythe (R)
2B Enrique Hernandez (R)
*3B Justin Turner expected to miss at least first 6 weeks of season

C Austin Barnes (R)
OF Joc Pederson (L)
OF Andrew Toles (L)
IF Chase Utley (L)

The Dodgers will be dealing with a tough injury loss as well to star the year, although at nowhere near the level of the Giants losses. Justin Turner could miss the season's first 2 months but there hasn't been an exact timetable set on his return. Still, the Dodgers have plenty enough depth within their lineup to overcome that loss for the time being, They have a nice mixture of youngsters and productive veterans in their starting lineup, with the return of veteran Matt Kemp but led by one of the leagues brightest young sluggers in Cody Bellinger as well as all-star shortstop Corey Seager.

LHP Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw
LHP Alex Wood
RHP Kenta Maeda
LHP Rich Hill
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

CL Kenley Jansen RH
SU Josh Fields RH
LHP Tony Cingrani
RHP Pedro Baez

Of course, we all know how strong their rotation is led by perennial Cy Young candidate and the consensus top starter in the game, Clayton Kershaw. Last year, we saw Alex Wood and Rich Hill also pitch at all-star levels so not only are they talented but they are deep. Their bullpen is just about as strong as their rotation too, led by ace closer Kenley Jansen who is essentially the Kershaw of closers. They have five relievers who finished 2017 with an ERA under 3, so if your going to beat them, your going to have to get to them early because not a lot of leads are going to be coughed up by that bunch.

The Dodgers are the head of the one of the best divisions in baseball, so they'll have some heat on them, but they have more than enough talent to outlast everyone in this division, and after finishing a game short a their first World Series ring since 1988, I expect them to be as motivated as ever in 2018.

2nd Place, Arizona Diamondbacks (NL Wild Card #1)

LF David Peralta (L)
CF A.J. Pollack (R)
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
3B Jake Lamb (L)
RF Stephen Souza Jr. (L) *(will start season on DL)
2B Chris Owings (R)/Ketel Marte (S)
C Alex Avila (L)
SS Nich Ahmed (R)

OF Jarrod Dyson
OF Chris Hermann (L)
UT Daneil Descalso (L)

The D-Backs could not retain free agent J.D. Martinez, who was instrumental in their success last summer and a primary example of what you want a trade deadline acquisition to do for your team. In his stead though, they still should have enough offense to keep pace with most teams in this league and they still have perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt to give opposing pitchers nightmares. The wild card for them could be Steven Souza, who was acquired in spring training coming off a 30-HR campaign with the Rays and potentially building off that in the offensive friendly environment that is Chase Field. They also have a dynamic top of the order with the steady David Peralta and A.J. Pollack as their table setters.

RHP Zach Grienke
LHP Robbie Ray
RHP Taijuan Walker
LHP Patrick Corbin
RHP Zach Godley

Key Relievers:
CL Archie Bradley RH
SU Brad Boxberger RH
RHP Randal Delgado
RHP Yoshihisa Hirano

The D-Backs pitching finally caught up to their offensive abilities last year and that, coupled with the fact that landed the biggest fish on the trade market at the deadline, clinched them a playoff birth. While their bullpen isn't quite on the Rockies' or Dodgers' level, their rotation is much better than Colorado's and right up their with LA's as one of the best in the league. Grienke is still a stud and a true ace heading into his age-35 season and 26 year-old Robbie Ray has emerged as a legit number two behind him. Really every arm in that rotation is live and is capable of shutting down an offense completely when their on. As a testament to their depth, they have Pat Corbin, who was their opening day starter just a couple years ago, in the 4th slot now and he's as good as he's ever been. If Archie Bradley can rise up in his first year as a closer, which all signs point to being a yes, and the guys fall in line behind him in the pen, then they should again be right in that wild card mix and one way or another will claim a spot in the postseason.

3rd Place, San Francisco Giants (Wild Card #2)

2B Joe Panik (L)
1B Brandon Belt (L)
New RF Andrew McCutchen
RF Andrew McCutchen (R)
C Buster Posey (R)
3B Evan Longoria (R)
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
LF Hunter Pence (R)
CF Austin Jackson (R)

UT Pablo Sandoval (R)
OF Gregor Blanco (L)
OF Gorkys Hernandez
C Nick Hundley (R)
IF Kelby Tomlinson (R)
*OF Steven Duggar could be up in April depending on how he starts in AAA

Now, this is the lineup that will likely be trotted out there vs. right-handed starters, which will be the majority of the games. When they face lefties, it will be Jackson and Pence in the 1-2 spot, unless of course Bruce Bochy finds a different formula he likes. He has no problem tinkering with things until he thinks he has the optimal lineup. The Giants reached their primary offseason goal though of revamping and upgrading their offense, not to mention they've gotten much better defensively in the process (assuming Pence can handle LF). Hopefully they've gotten all their big injuries out of the way with Bumgarner and Samardzija and in turn, their lineup can stay on the field and if they do they're going to be a strong team. If Pence can play in 140 games his numbers and void those nagging hamstring issues, his numbers will be there in the end. Jackson is coming off a .318/.387/.482 slasher last year in Cleveland and really rakes lefties, not to mention will provide a nice upgrade with the glove over Denard Span in center.

I think McCutchen and Longoria will make a huge impact in this lineup, and I could see each hitting 25 HR and driving in 85+ runs. If they get that kind of production in front of and behind Posey, then it should help increase his numbers as well. They're going to need this offense to be a strength too, at least until their pitching gets back into shape and if their offense can carry them the first month or so, then they should come out of it alright. In addition to Buster hopefully regaining his power stroke, they need Brandon Belt to avoid any more freak head trauma injuries and they need the 'Baby Giraffe' to sort of breakout this season. He's always had way more potential than the numbers have translated to, and hopefully this is the year he hits 25 jacks and, hitting atop the lineup with his OBP, should score a ton of runs. With the new additions and hopefully the returnees bouncing back, scoring runs should be the least of their problems/

RHP Johnny Cueto
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Chris Stratton
LHP Ty Blach
RHP Tyler Beede
*LHP Madison Bumgarner will miss the first 6-8 weeks
*RHP Jeff Samardzija will miss first 3-4 weeks

CL Mark Melancon
SU Hunter Stickland
LHP Tony Watson
RHP Cory Gearin
LHP Josh Osich
RHP Sam Dyson
RHP Pierce Johnson
RHP Roberto Gomez
*LHP Will Smith will start year on the DL

Now, obviously there's a lot of asterisks surrounding the pitching staff projections because they enter the season with a lot of injuries to some very key guys. However, if they can stay the course, and stick around .500 until they start getting these guys back, which isn't far fetched at all, but will take a collective team effort, then I think it will just give them that much more juice when Shark, Smith and Bumgarner eventually return. Johnny Cueto has to be the 2016 Cueto, Stratton needs to be the pitcher he was when he was moved into the rotation last year and Blach and Holland each need to be much better than they were a season ago. Blach had some nice starts early on but then became tough to watch as he struggled to get the same big league hitters out 2-3 times per game once the league figured him out. He gets by with his command and moxie and he'll need each to be at an all-time high at least through April.

As far as the pen is concerned, I know a lot of question marks surround closer Mark Melancon but I do believe he'll be OK. He may not be the 1.5 ERA guy he was in Pittsburgh but as long as he can stay healthy and be around a 3.00 ERA and a 1.2 WHIP or lower, then he should be just fine and those aren't outlandish goals. He could be much better, but he cannot be any worse. The rest of the bunch isn't top notch, they are good enough. Strickland can be untouchable at times, just has to keep it consistent, and Dyson, who's been a successful closer in this league, got back into his groove when he arrived in SF last summer. Again, at least until they get those three key guys back, they need everyone to perform up to their capabilities, and maybe a guy or two to exceed expectations. The surprises in the pen were Johnson and Gomez, although both really earned it this spring, with Johnson going unscored upon in 8 outings and Gomez punching out 13 batters in 8 innings.

Being a Giants site, and after the work they put in to make their lineup better, I'm probably a little overly optimistic and possibly just a tad biased with this placement and picking them to sneak away with a wild card spot, but hey, why the hell not? At the same time, if they are unable to stay afloat to begin the year and fall out of things by June, then obviously you can swap them with the Rockies, It sure would be fund to see this wild card race though if the Giants are in the mix as the Rockies, D-Backs, Brewers, Cardinals and Mets all have their eye on playoff spots as well and it really could come down to who can get and stay the healthiest..

4th Place, Colorado Rockies

CF Charlie Blackmon (L)
2B D.J. LeMahieu (R)
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
RF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
3B Nolan Arenado
LF Ian Desmond (R)
SS Trevor Story (R)
1B Ryan McMahon (L)
C Chris Iannetta (R)

OF David Dahl (L)
OF Raimel Tapia (L)
IF Pat Valaika (R)

The Rockies really did themselves a favor by bringing back Carlos Gonzalez. Without him they wouldn't have sufficient protection for Nolan Arenado, but he really makes his lineup work. The Rockies will always score runs no matter who they're trotting out there though, especially when they're at home. If Story and Desmond each stay healthy and hit like they can, then this lineup should be no exception to that, and they should be able to slug with most teams even on the road. They have two MVP-type players in Blackmon and Arenado and all-star level guys in Story and CarGo and maybe more. Ryan McMahon will get plenty of time to show his worth while Gerardo Parra recovers from surgery, but when Parra gets back, he'll likely slide into left and bump Desmond over to first base. At that point they're lineup will really be dangerous from 1-8 with proven guys and all of which are either 20- homer run per year guys and/or .300+ hitters.

RHP Jon Gray
LHP Tyler Anderson
RHP German Marquez
RHP Chad Bettis
LHP Tyler Freeland

Key Relievers:
CL Wade Davis RH
SU Jake McGee LH
LHP Mike Dunn
RHP Adam Ottavino
RHP Bryan Shaw

The Rockies again should have a pretty strong bullpen, headed up by newly signed closer Wade Davis as they were a big strength for last years playoff run. They don't have a real clear set-up man, but they have about 4 guys who could serve in the role with no problem which is a testament to their depth there. The rotation has some good, live arms, but they need some guys to take steps forward this year in order to really compete with the D-Backs and Dodgers or even the Giants if they can Samardzija back in April and Bumgarner back in May. Jon Gray, while a nice pitcher is more middle of the rotation than ace, and Anderson is more a #3 or #4 guy and the other 3 would be 4's or more likely 5's in better rotations. They can hit, and they can hold leads late in ballgames but they're either going to need that offense a driving force, or some of those guys in the rotation to take that leap forward. After all, they did get off to a great start last year, which is why they made that wild card birth, because they went just 46-52 in their final 98 ball games, and that, more or less, is the same team they're entering 2018 with.

Again, if the Giants cannot survive the injuries they suffered at the end of spring training, then the Rockies will easily overtake them and would then become neck and neck and neck with the Brewers, Mets and D-Backs for the two wild card spots (with St. Louis always a factor as well).

5th Place, San Diego Padres

CF Manuel Margot (R)
1B Eric Hosmer
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
1B Eric Hosmer (L)
RF Wil Myers (R)
LF Jose Pirela (R)
3B Chase Headley (S)
2B Carlos Asuaje (L)
C Austin Hedges (R)

UT Christian Villanueva (R)
OF Hunter Renfroe (R)
C A.J. Ellis (R)
IF Cory Spangenberg (L)

Much like their counterpart up north, the Padres added two bats to the middle of their order, including Eric Hosmer who, along with Wil Myers and youngsters Manuel Margot and Jose Pirela, will be the guys who help lead them out of obscurity and back into relevance. That lineup is definitely on the right track too. They have a true, talented leadoff man and a good centerfielder in Margot who's gonna be a 20-20 threat and the 23 year-old's average and on-base numbers should improve over time. Hosmer is a stud, and is only 28, Myers is the same age and similarly talented, although coming off a down year and the guy projected to protect the is Pirela, who has a ton of talent who slashed .288/.347/.490 with 10 jacks, 40 RBI and 25 doubles in about a half-season's worth of at-bats last year. I like the direction they're headed, but unfortunately for them, they're in one of the most talented divisions in baseball, and unless the Giants completely tank again then they will likely finish at the bottom of it. Their offense is the best aspect of their squad though heading in.

LHP Clayton Richard
RHP Dinelson Lamet*
RHP Luis Perdomo
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Tyson Ross
* Lamet will miss first month, LH Robbie Erlin could fill in

Key Relievers:
CL Brad Hand LHP
SU Kirby Yates RHP
RHP Craig Stammen
LHP Buddy Baumann
RHP Kazuhisa Makita

This is the area in which the Pads are still trying to put together. Richard is not an ace by any stretch, and is likely a four or five starter in a decent rotation. Lamet, the one guy with big potential and stuff, has a bum arm and will be out until at least May, which is a big hit to that rotation. The rest of the guys are either reclamation projects or guys who just aren't that good and would struggle to make nearly any other rotation in baseball. It's weird they threw $144M at Hosmer rather then adding a few much needed starters to their rotation, but they probably made that move with 2020 and beyond in mind.

As far as their pen, there not much better than the rotation, although I do like closer Brad Hand, who k'd over 100 batters last year and rocked an 2.16 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. I honestly would trade Melancon for him in a heartbeat, as he's entering his prime, has really come into his own since becoming a reliever full-time and I think he's only going to get better in his first full season as the club's closer. After him though, they have a few live arms, but they don't have a lot of depth, and once again, I don't think they're going to consistently be able to keep teams off the scoreboard nearly enough to be a winning ball club or even overtake the banged up Giants. Yes, the lineup is halfway decent, but this staff is just not nearly up to par, plain and simple.
The Giants Baseball Blog