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Friday, October 14, 2016

Giants' needs for 2017 quite apparent

I didn't really have the heart (or the time) to muster up a reaction post to Tuesday's heartbreaking loss to the Cubs, but I'm sure we all had the same sort of reaction and thoughts. It was a sadly poetic ending to what was an epic second-half collapse by a team that, outside that starting pitching, had no business being in the postseason. Most importantly though, it leaves the Giants and Bobby Evans with a clear "to-do list" for the winter.

A lot has been said about how Bruce Bochy handled that ninth inning Tuesday. Many people, including myself, would have liked to see Matty Moore go out there and at least start the ninth inning. I know the pitch count was way up, but he was pitching on 10 days rest and threw north of 130 pitches just 2 months prior while chasing a no-hitter with the Giants. Plus Moore mowed through the 8th inning and was looking as strong as he was all night. Once the move was made though, I wish he would have had the guts to go with one guy and ride him out. Whether it was Sergio Romo to start the ninth, Derick Law or Will Smith, I would have liked to see Boch go with a reliever and stick with him rather than go into that inning with the idea of playing the match-up game the whole time. In a sense, you can't really blame him, the Giants don't have a true closer, but I can't help but think that had he just left Law out there, maybe the next guy grounds into a double play. As soon as I saw the musical chairs being played with the bullpen I knew it was bad news, and that's all I can say about that game really.

Now, the game is done, the series is over, we've had a few days to mourn and it's time to move on. First off, Matt Moore was awesome in that game. He looked like MadBum 2.0 and in my mind justified the Matt Duffy trade with that outing and showed us that the 2017 starting rotation is going to have an extremely strong front-3, probably as good as any team's in the game. My guess is the 2017 rotation is pretty much set in stone with MadBum your ace, Johnny Cueto the two, Moore the three, Jeff Samardzija the four and Ty Blach the five. Matt Cain is still under contract and may be given a shot at the fifth spot but Blach not only finished the season with some strong outings, he threw very well in two NLDS outings as well which should cement his 2017 status on the roster. So, unless the Giants find some amazing bargain and get a quality starter to take a discount to come pitch for a contender. Maybe they add a lower level third wheel to the fifth starter competition (C.J. Wilson or Jaime Garcia would be interesting on one-year type prove yourself deals) but my guess is they won't even look at the starting pitching market. It's a good thing too cause the only FA starter that's maybe better than current Giants' fourth starter Samardzija is Jeremy Hellickson.

Instead, all of their attention will lay in the relief market as well as the outfield market. The Giants will be losing Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez and will need to replace those three with upgrades. They certainly need a closer and there are going to be some intriguing ones out there this winter. They also need to look at ways to upgrade their offense. Despite their starting rotation being a strong one, they can't bank on winning games 2-1 and 3-2 every night and they need to lengthen that lineup.

Luckily for them, they have upwards of $50M coming off the books and probably won't be retaining any of their own free agents. I could possibly see Romo returning if he takes a discount on a one-year deal but it won't be as a closer and probably not even as an 8th inning guy. He'd be a situational right-handed reliever to face predominantly right-handed batters and I don't know if the Giants will have a strong enough pen to carry one of those. As of now, the only people I'd say guaranteed spots in the 2017 bullpen would be Derick Law, Will Smith and Hunter Strickland. Everyone else will probably have to earn their way on, and that includes Matt Cain (despite his $20M price tag). As far as their outfield, the only two guys they have under contract are Hunter Pence and Denard Span, so they'll need a starting left fielder and hopefully an upgrade to Gregor Blanco as the fourth outfielder. I hope to never see Gorkys Hernandez forced into the starting lineup in a playoff game for this team ever again. I think their infield is pretty much set, with Nunez and Gillaspie both under team control and likely to return to shore up third base. Some are worried about Joe Panik's collapse but they'll keep rolling with him and maybe look to change only if Panik's hitting below .250 again through mid-season.

As far as the guys they could target, it's pretty early to say as we don't know who's going to re-sign where yet and who will or won't opt out of their contracts. Mark Melancon seems to be a popular choice amongst Giants' fans and pundits to be their next closer, but Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland (despite missing all of 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Francisco Rodriguez are out there as well. Aroldis Chapman is also hitting the market but my guess is he'll be at the top of every team's list and will end up getting the largest contract for a relief pitcher in the history of baseball and the Giants may not want to get into that bidding war. Jansen most likely returns to the Dodgers on a deal similar to what Chapan gets, and Holland is still sort of a crap-shoot because he hasn't thrown since September 2015. This is why the 31 year-old Melancon seems like the best fit. If I had my way, I'd love to see Melancon signed to close and K-Rod brought in as the set-up man, though he probably will still be looking to close, coming off a 44-save season. It would be expensive to get two guys of that caliber but they have the money and the overwhelming need for quality at the back-end of that bullpen.

As far as the outfield market is concerned, that is much more thin and the Giants may need to go the trade route in order to fill that need. Yoenis Cespedes is the name that keeps getting tossed out, but he's going to want something the 3-year, $75M he signed last winter. He's the best all-around outfielder on the market and could easily get a deal similar to the one Jason Hayward signed with the Cubs last December. I wouldn't really want to go more than five years with the 31 year-old but I don't think the Giants would do 5/$150M. As bad as the Giants need one, I don't know that an outfielder with a career slash of .272/.325/.494 and has avoided the DL in just 2 out of 5 seasons in the big leagues is necessarily worth $25-30M per year but in this market he may get that. However, his big arm and bat and gold glove defense in left are pluses and his feel of the strike zone is improving. Also, he's coming off his two best years at the plate, is right in the middle of his prime (turns 31 this month), and his growing feel for the strike zone could mean his best is yet to come (look at how Jose Bautista thrived after turning 30). Add all these things up and you see why he'd be such in intriguing option and fit for the Giants.

Jay Bruce (though the Mets likely retain him), Bautista and Mark Trumbo are the only other big time hitting corner outfielders potentially hitting the market but their value really only comes through their power whereas Cespedes is far better in the outfield and will hit about 20-30 points higher than all of them. Bautista would be the main man if we're talking 4/5 years ago, but he's turning 36 this month and is coming off a very unproductive season. His best bet at this point in his career is to stay in the AL.

It's going to be a big winter for the Giants though, as they have the core guys still here and playing well and that starting rotation set for the foreseeable future, but they need that big bat, another decent role player and somewhat of a bullpen overhaul in order to get back to their championship-caliber level. Had they had a legit closer this year, they probably don't melt down in the second half like they did and probably are still playing right now, so that's certainly where you start if your Bobby Evans. This winter though, they need to cover all facets of the team or else next year it maybe it won't be the closer/bullpen that melts down, maybe Pence gets hurt again and their lack of depth and ability to score runs bites them in the rear. That's why I say never just assume your bench and bullpen will fall into place in spring. If your a team with Championship aspirations, you have to go into the year fully confident in all areas of your squad, from player 1 through 25.

We'll be on a short hiatus here at the Giants Baseball Blog, as there isn't likely to be any Giants' related news until after the World Series ends, but if something does pop up we'll be here. Otherwise, we'll be back in November once the offseason gets rolling and we can really delve into the free agent class and guys who could fit onto this team aside from the big names you've already heard. So enjoy the rest of the postseason if your still up for watching baseball after that. Hopefully the Cubs dismantle the Dodgers and go on to win it all to give us some justification to losing to them. The only way this season gets a little worse for Giants' fans is if the Dodgers are crowned 2016 Champions so I guess there is still something to kind of root for over the next couple weeks. Until then, it was a roller coaster ride in 2016 and I very much look forward to what the offeason has in store for this club with plenty of money to work with.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Legend of Bumgarner grows in New York

This isn't the first time we've seen Madison Bumgarner pull out all stops in an elimination game, and hopefully it won't be the last. The Giants rode a MadBum complete game shutout and a Connor Gillaspie 3-run jack in the top of the 9th inning to victory and an NLDS match-up with MLB's favorite to win it all this season, the Chicago Cubs.

First off, let's talk about the game that transpired tonight. As I suspected, it was a well pitched game, but both pitchers lasted a little longer than I was expecting. I was hoping Bum would at least get through 7, but he went 9, and I was thinking the patient Giants' bats would have Sydergaard's pitch count up and out after the 6th, but he wound up carrying them through the 7th. Fortunately, the Giants didn't have to delve into their bullpen as MadBum was so economical with his pitches for the games first three innings (21 pitches total) and that, in the end, made all the difference in the World. Not that things would have been as tight for Sergio Romo had he went out in the 9th after they just took the three-run lead, but at least we didn't need to go there this time. MadBum did it all, including almost putting the Giants on the board in the 3rd with a jack himself, knocking it to the warning track in left center only to be ran down by Yeonis Cespedes. As far as his mound work though, he was his typical "Big Game" self, allowing just 6 base runners and using 119 pitches to send the Mets home for 2016!


As amazing as he was, Bumgarner doesn't get all the spotlight for Wednesday's victory though, as perhaps the most unlikely guy in the Giants lineup came up with the biggest hit of their season. Connor Gillaspie's a guy who wasn't even on the big league roster for much of the 2016 season, but he took over for an injured Eduardo Nunez the last week of the regular season and ended up finishing the season strong at the plate and it carried over into this Wild Card game as he not only came up with the deciding big fly, but was the only Giant to collect multiple hits in Wednesday's showdown. Brandon Belt was robbed on a great play by Curtis Granderson on a ball that would have knocked in a run and put Belt in scoring position for Buster Posey and at that point I have to admit, I felt like the luck may be leaning toward the home team. Also that non-reverse on that steal by Denard Span in which it was clear he was safe and there was no hard evidence of him coming off the bag. So the Giants had to keep their heads up through a few tough breaks, but they stayed in it and Gillaspie made all the hard work pay off in the ninth. It was eerily similar to the Travis Ishikawa jack back in the 2014 postseason in the NLDS game clincher.

So, before we talk about the Cubs and what great series' both NLDS match-ups have in store, the Giants will have a couple days to figure out how they want to configure their roster for said series. The big wild card will be Eduardo Nunez. He was not well enough to make this roster, and my guess is that not much will change over the next 48 hours with his hammy to the point where Bochy and co. feel comfortable trotting him back out there. So, it wouldn't surprise me to see Gillaspie as the third basemen for the upcoming NLDS as well and Nunez once again excluded from the roster. Gillaspie may get the starting nod there (at least vs. right-handers) anyway if Nunez does make the roster as I think he's playing better than Nunez right now and is certainly more healthy.

Anyhow, I do expect there to be changes to the NLDS roster. Obviously Matt Moore will be back on there and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Giants roll with another right-handed bat off the bench like Mac Williamson, just to be ready for any potential Aroldis Chapman appearances. Other than that, I expect much of the same as we got today. One thing Boch will have to figure out is the order of his rotation. It's pretty clear Cueto will get game one and MadBum game three but it's not clear whether Samardzija or Matt Moore get that game two start in Chicago. If I were to guess I'd say Moore gets the nod with Samardzija saved for a possible home start in game four. Some food for thought for Bochy; in his one start at Wrigley this year, Samardzija went just 4 innings, giving up 3 runs and 8 base-runners while the Cubs have never faced Matt Moore.

What a game though guys, as the Giants improved to 11-0 in elimination games under Bruce Bochy in the postseason. That's pretty impressive and hopefully that streak keeps growing over the next few weeks. Not sure if I'll get a chance to do a preview post for the upcoming series as work will have me tied up through the weekend but I will check in periodically throughout the NLDS with short reaction posts. Also, if you aren't doing so, please follow us on twitter for our in-game banter and analysis.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

NL Wild Card Game Preview

Well, the day that most Giants fans have been anticipating since late August when we pretty much knew the NL West was out of the picture has arrived. And sure, it's a team sport and there will be numerous factors at play, it really all comes down to two people: Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard.

First off, both pitchers going have had very strong seasons, as we know by watching MadBum all year what he's been up to, but young Noah Syndergaard has matched him nearly number for number despite the amount of innings pitched. Sydergaard strikes out a ton of batters, doesn't walk many and doesn't give up the long ball, mostly because he brings a nasty sinker that can hit the upper-90's when he's on along with an array of other above average pitches. The Giants, however, are no strangers to facing big pitchers in big games and certainly won't be intimidated by any stretch traveling into New York and what will be a rowdy Citi Field. In fact, I think the Giants thrive on these underdog type scenarios. Not saying they're the underdogs necessarily, most people over at Yahoo Sports have the Giants walking away from this one victorious but they're gonna have to figure out a way to get to the young Mets' righty early, or else their in for trouble.

One area in which the Mets have the clear upper hand is in the bullpen. The Giants' pen have been dreadful in the second half and although multiple factors have been at play, the bullpen has been the epicenter of their second half meltdown. They just couldn't manage to keep leads after the 7th inning of ballgames or else we're not even talking about this game and talking about an upcoming NLDS vs. the Washington Nationals.

For MadBum it's not going to be anything new, and we all know he thrives on the big stage like this, but Bumgarner hasn't quite been the dominant MadBum we're used to recently. Not that he's been bad but he's carried an ERA around 4 for the last two months of the regular season and gave up 8 runs over his two starts to end the season. Nevertheless, I expect Bum on his game tomorrow, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him help himself at the plate. In fact, I could see it being a 0-0 game into the middle innings and having an unlikely person from either side put the first run(s) on the board like a big hit from one of the starters or a big defensive mishap that opens the door for the opposing team. I can definitely see a game where runs are scored late in the game and that's when it could be decided, which would be bad news for the Giants. They're best case scenario is to have MadBum get it at least to the 8th inning with a lead, therefore Boch won't be forced to go to the pen often at all. If we're seeing the bullpen in the 6th inning (even if it's happening with the Mets as well), the odds sway heavily in New York's favor.

The Giants have the experience and the big game pitcher, however their bullpen is a crap-shoot and they could be without their starting third basemen. The Mets have the home field advantage, which is big in a one-game playoff like this, and are coming in on a roll, having won four of their last five ballgames to close things out (and pitching terrifically in the process). Lets not forgot that this is pretty much the same team that represented the NL in the World Series last season too, so their bunch is far from timid in the October spotlight. One positive for MadBum and the Giants though is that most of the Mets' big "thumpers" (Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda) are left-handed, but two of their other top hitters, Jose Reyes and Yeonis Cespedes, both feast on lefties and have been hot.

All that said, this is such a tough one to predict, and I don't know that I can make a guess as to who will win this ballgame, I think it's that even. The Mets are hungry and finished strong, they also came within three victories of a World Championship last fall. These Giants sort of just wound up in the postseason based on their incredible first half because if you just saw their second half alone, you'd think they'd have no business being in the playoffs whatsoever. Being completely objective and based on the lineups being thrown out by both squads, I'd say the needle leans ever so slightly in the Mets favor, but until I see him fail, I can't bet against MadBum in October. So I say the Giants squeak it out, 5-4. Either way, I think it's going to be a tight, 1-run game that's going to undoubtedly have us all on the edge of our seats through the ninth inning.

We'll be back tomorrow with the reaction and I gotta say, even with the three championships the last 7 years, and covering the team through all it's success, I'm just as nervous for this game as I've been for any other early round playoff elimination game. As well all know, if the Giants do make it through, they're in pretty good shape for five and seven game series', just because of that starting pitching and the way they're all throwing the ball. Of course, they get the best team in baseball if they do make it through tomorrow, but let's just take this one day at a time! Good luck getting any sleep tonight Giants faithful!
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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