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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Giants getting boost from youngsters

A little over a month ago, the Giants were in desperate search for a halfway decent second basemen as they seemingly failed with every guy they trotted out there in Marco Scutaro's absence. Then all the sudden they found themselves in the need of a catcher after concussion issues with multiple players opened a major void behind the plate and Buster Posey.

Enter Joe Panik and Andrew Susac. The Giants top pick from the 2011 draft, Panik had a quiet start to his professional career before a solid season in AA Richmond last year and a torrid start at AAA Fresno this season. He's really been the story of the second half of the season and he just reached the 150 at-bat plateau making 2014 his official rookie year. It's not like his success has been a little 2-week lucky streak either, as he's shown he belongs. The 23 year-old second baseman has thrived in all aspects of the game since taking over the everyday job at second base August 4th. Since that date, he's hit .391 with 1 home run, 8 RBI, 11 runs and a .907 OPS in 87 at-bats. He's taken over the second spot in the order, finally allowing Hunter Pence to move back down into the middle, something I've been asking for since June. Panik's been a big reason why the offensive ship has seemed to right itself, and why the Giants are optimistic heading into September. After Saturday night's win over Milwaukee, they now sit atop the NL Wild card standings, and are now just 2.5 games back of the Dodgers in the NL West. What was once a black hole on the roster, and a spot that most assumed would go without a legitimate Major League caliber player the rest of the year not only has become a strength now, but a commodity for the future.

Andrew Susac, playing behind Buster Posey, hasn't had the chance to make quite the impact that Panik has, but he's made a strong impression on the Giants' staff himself. He's hitting .225 with 2 homers and 9 RBI in 60 at-bats, but has hit over .250 with both his HR and 8 RBI in the month of August. With Hector Sanchez likely out for the year due to concussion complications, and Brandon Belt still on the DL through at least mid-September with the same issue, the Giants will need Susac to avoid the rookie mishaps with a big role down the stretch. Michael Morse will continue to be the primary first basemen until Belt does return, and luckily Gregor Blanco is hitting a bit better out in left, but should things change and Blanco starts slumping and/or Belt doesn't return soon, it'll all lead to more playing time for Susac.

The Giants didn't make that blockbuster deadline deal, but they've gotten a shot in the arm from aforementioned rookies and the one deal they did make has slowly but surely begun to pay off. Jake Peavy took a no-hitter into the 8th inning Saturday night at AT&T Park vs. the Brewers. He did yield a one-out single to Mark Reynolds in the top of the eighth inning to lose the bid but put together his best outing in a Giants uni by far. He now sits at 3-4 with a 2.66 ERA in 7 starts since coming over from Boston and all of the sudden is looking like the San Diego Jake Peavy. With Tim Lincecum's move to pen likely permanent the rest of the year, the Giants will need everybody in the rotation to step it up and so far the results have been there. Lincecum did have that hot streak during his no-hitter where it did look like he was beginning to take that next step, but he's become a liability and a guy that's almost a guaranteed loss lately. Moving him from the rotation is addition by subtraction in itself, so if Petit pitches like he did vs. the Rockies Thursday, then this rotation will be much stronger down the stretch. Not to mention, Lincecum has shown to be brilliant in his short stints in relief during his career, so hopefully the Giants have an ace reliever to use in any situation down the stretch. A wild-card that Bruce Bochy could get real creative with.

Random Notes: The Giants offense as a whole seems to be heating up. Pablo Sandoval has been steadily warming up, Buster Posey has been hitting balls out of the ballpark and watching his average rise, and even Michael Morse is starting to drive in runs with more consistency. Brandon Belt isn't expected to start doing any baseball work for two more weeks, but this team may have enough to get into the postseason without him. At which point, they most definitely will need him, so they have to do whatever is necessary to get Belt healthy over the next month.... Besides the guys getting the headlines these days like the Peavy's and Panik's, there have been some unsung heroes as well. One of which has been Travis Ishikawa, who's finally given this team a professional bat off the bench and hopefully someone they can keep on the roster after Belt comes back (assuming Belt does come back)... We've hit the waiver trade deadline day, and unless the Giants get something done in the next 24 hours (highly unlikely), then they will be getting no more outside help the rest of the way, and if they do, that person won't be postseason eligible.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Giants must take advantage of schedule

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

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

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

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

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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, August 01, 2014

Giants banking on Pagan, Belt

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

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

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

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

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

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