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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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Giants reportedly looking into adding starting pitcher

According to Jon Morosi of MLB Network and Fox Sports, the Giants are looking into adding another starting pitcher to their rotation, although it likely won't be via trade.

Obviously the Giants rotation is in disarray after the losses of both Bumgarner (out first two months of season) and Samardzija (out first month of season). And being in a year in which they're really trying to go for it, it's no surprise they'll be looking into adding another starter to their roster, possibly before opening day. Morosi said that his source says it's probably not gonna be through a trade. So either the Giants will take a look at the scrap heap that is released here in the final days before the seasons starts, or they'll take a look at some guys already on the market.

The two guys I see as the most logical fits, if they can get here and somehow be ready to go for the Giants in a couple weeks when they first will need to use a 5th starter, are Matt Garza and R.A. Dickey. The 34 year-old Garza was strong in his first 16 starts last season in Milwaukee, posting a 3.68 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and a .248 BAA but then suffered some sort of injury and wasn't the same pitcher for most of the 2nd half. Dickey, on the other hand, was pretty strong from start to finish last season, posting 10 wins (would have led Giants), a 4.26 ERA (would have been 2nd behind Bumgarner) and threw 190 innings at age 42, (which would have been good for 2nd behind Samardzija on the Giants). Yes, he is 43 now, but he showed last year he still can get guys out at a better rate than a lot of guys.

The thing about both pitchers too, is that I believe both would be willing to take minor league deals, as that's pretty much all the Giants can offer at this point anyway. If I had to chose between the two I'd probably go Dickey, just because of how solid he was last year, although either would look great as 5th starters at this point and provide the team with another veteran arm so they're not relying on a bunch of guys with limited or no big league experience.

John Lackey is the only other name that I know for sure is still floating out there, but he apparently is willing to hang em up and retire if he doesn't get the right offer, and he may not view a minor league deal from a team that lost 98 games a year ago as just that. However, if the Giants guaranteed him a rotation spot for the full season-as long as he pitched well enough to hold it- then he may remember that a lot of these guys have won multiple tittles, and they revamped this winter., He could see that, when they get healthy and everyone back with still hopefully 4+ months of baseball left, they've got something good going and that bringing him in would only improve the team that much more.

Anyway, we'll see where it goes, and if they are able to get anything done before the opener. Again, there also could be some names hitting the streets pretty soon too that don't quite make other teams rosters and are out of options or big league guys that get released instead of accepting a AAA role to see what else is out there. I wouldn't hold my breath for anyone bigger than the three names I mentioned, but you never know, I'm just trying to stay more optimistic than pessimistic at this point but it's challenging for sure.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, March 23, 2018

2018 MLB Previews/Predictions: NL Central

After the tough pill to swallow that is the Madison Bumgarner injury (more on that in this post), we have to tread forward and we're going to try and get our minds off it for a few minutes by continuing our season previews. Last week we started with the NL East and today we'll be dissecting the NL Central. Without further ado, let's get to it.

1st Place, Chicago Cubs

CF Ian Happ (S)
3B Kris Bryant (R)
1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
C Wilson Contreras (R)
MVP Candidate Kris Bryant
LF Kyle Schwarber (L)
SS Adison Russell (R)
RF Jason Heyward (L)
2B Javier Baez (R)

Key Reserves:
UT Ben Zobrist (S)
OF Albert Almora (R)

LHP Jon Lester
RHP Yu Darvish
RHP Kyle Hendricks
LHP Jose Quintana
RHP Tyler Chatwood

Key Relievers:
CL Brandon Morrow RH
SU Pedro Strop RH

The Cubs should skate to a relatively easy division tittle as they have the talent and experience others in this division do not, but they aren't quite the powerhouse they were a couple years ago. They were able to replace the loss of Jake Arrieta with Yu Darvish, which is essentially a wash, but they lost Wade Davis and are heading into the season with Brandon Morrow as their closer, a guy who's never closed on a regular basis. They have enough bullpen depth though to where they should be successful no matter who's getting their last three outs. The lineup should be just as strong as ever, although they are a little top heavy. As dangerous as Baez, Heyword and Russell can be, they also are guys who won't hit much higher than .250 and all three will strike out over 150 times if given 500+ at-bats. Still though, they have enough talent and depth in their rotation to be major players once again in National League and if any need arises in season, you can bet that they'll address it before the trade deadline as they have in recent seasons.

2nd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

RF Christian Yelich (L)
CF Lorenzo Cain (R)
LF Ryan Braun (R)
3B Travis Shaw (L)
1B Eric Thames (L)
C Manny Pina (R)
CF Lorenzo Cain
2B Jonathan Villar (S)
SS Orlando Arcia (R)

Key Reserves:
OF Domingo Santana
OF Keon Broxton
UT Eric Sogard

RHP Chase Anderson
RHP Zach Davies
RHP Jhoulys Chacin
LHP Brent Suter
RHP Junior Guerra
* RHP Jimmy Nelson expected back mid-season

Key Relievers:
CL Corey Knebel RHP
SU Josh Hader LHP
SU Jacob Barnes RHP

The Brewers have the most outfield depth in the game, as Broxton and Santana would be starters on most teams yet will begin the year, at least, as backups. Due to that fact, it's a little surprising they went after both Yelich and Cain this winter, but they ended up with both and now have a very imposing front-5 of their batting order. Their rotation isn't great, but it's solid, and they will be getting last years ace, Jimmy Nelson, back sometime around mid-season which will essentially be like trading for a front of the rotation starter without giving up anything. They have the proven closer, but their bullpen has a lot of young arms, but they are live arms and seem to be up to the task. The Brew crew should very much be in the wild card hunt and in my opinion have more talent than the Cardinals. They gave the Cubs a late season push there in the Central last September and they've now added Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yellich to a team that won 86 games last season and came just short of a Wild Card birth. They'll again be on the Cubbies heels in 2018, although not quite at the point to overtake them atop this division although I expect them ahead of St. Louis for the second straight season.

3rd Place, St. Louis Cardinals

CF Dexter Fowler (S)
RF Tommy Pham (R)
1B Matt Carperntar (L)
LF Marcell Ozuna (R)
3B Jedd Gyorko (R)
C Yadier Molina (R)
SS Paul Dejong (R)
2B Kolton Wong (L)

Key Reserves:
OF Tyler O'Neill (R)
UT Jose Martinez (R)

Ace Carlos Martinez
RHP Carlos Martinez
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Michael Wacha
RHP Luke Weaver
RHP Mike Mikolas

Key Relievers:
RHP Luke Gregorson
RHP Bud Norris

The Cardinals are definitely a flawed team. While they will run out a pretty strong everyday lineup, their rotation is relatively mediocre. Their bullpen though, has as many question marks as any bullpen in the game. They have no set closer and will likely use a few people in the role until they find someone who sticks out and is their best option. Luke Gregorson seems to be the most logical fit but has some injury issues heading into the season. I see them as the epitome of a .500 team. Certainly some talent there but not a lot of depth in any area of their roster. For instance, if Carlos Martinez goes down, they're about as worse off as the Giants are without Bumgarner, and they really can't afford to lose any of the veterans in that lineup for any length of time. If some of their younger players breakout though, and their bullpen rounds into form, they could be in the hunt for a wild card spot, but it would take a lot in Chicago to go wrong and even Milwaukee, as well as a lot in St. Louis to go right in order for them to even think about taking the division. I could be wrong about them but there;s just nothing about this team that jumps out at me. They're kind of a similarly built team to SF, though the Giants are a little more experienced and, if were healthy, I'd bet on them over St. Louis.

4th Place Cincinnati Reds

CF Billy Hamilton (R)
All-Star Joey Votto
SS Jose Peraza (R)
1B Joey Votto (L)
2B Scooter Gennett (L)
3B Eugenio Suarez (R)
LF Adam Duvall (R)
RF Travis Schebier (L)
C Tucker Branhardt (S)

Key Reserves:
C Devin Mosoraco (R)
OF Jesse Winkley (L)

RHP Homer Bailey
RHP Anthony DeSclafani
RHP Luis Castillo
LHP Brandon Finnegan
RHP Sal Romero

Key Relievers:
CL Raisel Inglesias RHP
SU Michael Lorenzan RHP

The Reds are still rebuilding, and have a lot of young players composing their 25-man roster. However, with a lot of youth comes a lot of potential, and the potential is there for the Reds to surprise some people in 2018. I still think there a few notches below the Cardinals heading in, but growth in the rotation and bullpen could help eliminate that space. We all know they can hit and will score plenty of runs, it's them keeping the other team off the board is what the real challenge will be. They're still a year or two away I think from really being competitive though, and will likely use 2018 as hopefully their last stepping stone before being competitive once again. I really like young closer Raisel Inglesias but they have too many unproven guys or question marks in the rotation and bullpen still. Again though, they're young, so if things click, they could be decent, but if they don't, they also could be very bad.

5th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

2B Josh Harrison (R)
1B Josh Bell
CF Starling Marte (R)
1B Josh Bell (S)
RF Gregory Polanco (L)
3B David Freese (R)
LF Jose Osuna (R)
C Francisco Cervelli (R)
SS Jordy Mercer (R)

Key Reserves:
IF Colin Moran (L)
UT Adam Frazier (L)

RHP Jameson Taillon
RHP Ivan Nova
RHP Chad Kuhl
RHP Trevor Williams
RHP Joe Musgrove

Key Relievers:
CL Felipe Rivero LHP
SU Daniel Hudson RHP

Unlike the two teams ahead of them, the Pirates are in their first full year of rebuild mode, dealing away their two most valuable assets this offseason, sending Gerrit Cole to Houston and Andrew McCutchen to the Giants. Needless to say, they are left without a lot of recognizable names, although they certainly have some young bright spots on their roster already, led by closer Felipe Rivero. Their rotation is full of unproven guys and led by someone who's a back-end starter on most squads, although like with any young team, there's a lot of room for growth. The Pirates aren't contenders though and it's likely going to be a few years before they are back in the mix.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Madison Bumgarner out 6-8 weeks with fractured hand

Well the Giants got just about the worst news they could have received on Friday afternoon, as the dark cloud of bad luck that has haunted this team since the second half of 2016 looks to continue, at least to start the 2018 season.

As most of you reading this already know by now, the Giants lost their ace for the foreseeable future in sadly, what was his tune-up start for his would be opening day assignment in LA. Granted, the news could have been worse and it could have been a season-ender, at this point it almost feels like one, and the season hasn't even started yet. We all saw how tough it was on the team last year when they lost their horse for 3 months in the middle of the season and things eventually spiraled out of control into the worst Giants' season in years. This one hurts even more though because of all the expectations that surrounded the club and the offensive makeover they went through in the offseason to provide the club with more depth in their lineup. It could all be for nothing if the team cannot find a way to survive without Bumgarner until most likely late-May or early June, and that's best case scenario. Being that the injury is to his pitching hand, it's any one's guess as to how it will effect the left-hander once he is able to start throwing again and exactly how long it will take him to get back into the form he was in prior to the injury.

Besides it being the start of a new year with a new revamped ball club, the news is especially hard because of the way Bumgarner has looked this spring. This guy came to camp with a chip on his shoulder after a disastrous 2017 season, by his standards. After missing half the year, he returned only to wind up going 4-9 with his second worst ERA of his career, albeit only at 3.32. Needless to say, the left-hander cranked up has offseason workout regimen, reporting to camp in top shape and it reflected in the way he was throwing.

Now with this injury, coupled with Jeff Samardzija's injury and Johnny Cueto not showing off his best stuff in just a few spring outings, the Giants starting rotation has gone from their foundation to a bigger question mark than their bullpen. I would expect Johnny Cueto to take the ball on March 29th in LA, but if that is indeed the case then he'd have to get in some work somewhere on Saturday as he's pitched only 9 1/3 innings in the Cactus League and, again, they haven't been all that pretty. Being that Jeff Samardzija is also slated to miss at least the season's first few weeks, he won't be in the mix either, so it would then likely fall on either Chris Stratton or Derek Holland. Stratton has been a bright spot since last September, but he's a far cry from a healthy, determined Madison Bumgarner. Holland has thrown pretty well this spring, but is coming off a season in which he posted a 6+ ERA and who knows what kind of pitcher you'll get when he starts facing nothing but big league bats and the games start mattering. The Samardzija and Bumgarner injuries now assure that Derek Holland will begin the 2018 season in the Giants rotation though, where exactly in that rotation is yet to be determined, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's their guy for game two if not the opener.

This is going to be a true test for the Giants. We're going to see just how for real this club is right out of the gate. If they can somehow manage to stay at .500 or slightly above it in the absence of their ace, then they'll be in pretty good shape when he returns, all things considered. However, if they stumble out of the gate and fall down in the standings then this very well could be an omen for the 2018 season. As the old saying goes, you cannot win a division in the first month or two of a season, but you sure can lose one. It's gonna take some people stepping up, unlike they were able to do last season, as well as a little bit of luck in order to avoid the latter.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 MLB Previews/Predictions: NL East

We're getting towards the end of spring training, with under two weeks left until the regular season gets underway. And while the Giants have improved their roster this winter and will be expected to return to their winning ways after losing 98 ball games last summer, their most likely path to the playoffs will be via the Wild Card route.

Of course, Major League Baseball is not the NBA, so although the Dodgers (barring some catastrophic injuries or under-performances) seem to have a strangle hold on the NL West heading into 2018, anything can happen in baseball. So, over the next few posts, we'll be breaking down each division in the National League and identifying the Giants biggest competition for those wild cards spots in-case they aren't able to dethrone LA from their pedestal atop their division.

We'll start by taking a look at the NL East, picking how we think the division will break down come October, providing each teams projected lineups and rotations as well as their primary relief pitchers. We'll also do that for the Central in the next post and finish off with a much more in-depth look at the NL West. If we have time, we'll delve a bit into the American League but I definitely want to focus on the NL to start with. So with that being said, let's jump right into it.

1st Place, Washington Nationals

LF Adam Eaton (L)
SS Trea Turner (R)
RF Bryce Harper (L)
3B Anthony Rendon (R)
RF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
2B Daniel Murphy (L)
CF Michael Taylor (R)
C Matt Wieters (L)

Key Reserves:
UT Howie Kendrick (R)
1B Matt Adams (L)

RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Tanner Roark
RHP Jeremy Hellickson

Key Relievers:
CL Sean Doolittle LHP
SU Ryan Madson RHP

In one of the weaker divisions in the league, the Nationals should cruise to a relatively easy division tittle in 2018. They have some questions in the bottom half of their lineup, but their top-6 are up there with pretty much any team in the NL as Daniel Murphy has re-invented himself in Washington. As far as their rotation is concerned, they essentially have two aces in Scherzer and Strasburg and a solid number 3 in Gonzalez, but Roark and Hellickson, presumably in the 4th and 5th spots, aren't lights out, but they could be a lot worse. Their bullpen is probably my biggest concern with them. Sean Doolittle is a steady arm in the closers spot, but hardly a shut-down guy like a Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman, and their set-up man, Ryan Madson, is 37 years old and he's going to run out of steam eventually (although he's been nails the last couple of seasons). So long as their bullpen does their job, and like with any contender, they keep their core guys healthy, they've pretty much got their playoff tickets printed already.

And just to give you a hint as to how much high-end talent this team has, I just had my fantasy draft and 4 of their players were taken within the top-30 picks, those being Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, each taken in top-10, then Steven Strasburg who I ended up drafting with the 26th pick.

2nd Place, New York Mets

CF Juan Lagares/Michael Conforto* (R)
2B Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
LF Yoenis Cespedes (R)
RF Jay Bruce (L)
3B Todd Frazier (R)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)\
C Travis d'Arnaud
SS Amed Rosario

Key Reserves:
IF Jose Reyes (S)
*OF Michael Comforto (R) -expected back in May
IF David Wright (R) -out until June

Ace Noah Syndergaard

RHP Noah Syndergaard
RHP Jacob deGrom
RHP Matt Harvey
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Zach Wheeler/LHP Steven Matz

Key Relievers:
CL Jeurys Familia RHP
SU AJ Ramos
RHP Anthony Swarzak
LHP Jerry Blevins

The Mets have one thing that a lot of other teams don't have and that positional depth and that depth grows even more when Conforto and Wright return. Much like the Nats, the Mets have a great 1-2 punch atop their rotation, but things get a little unclear after that. The potential is there, with guys like Harvey, Wheeler and Matz, to be very good if healthy, but all three have huge health question marks. Their lineup has gotten much better as well, with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Todd Frazier, two veteran bats who should help give them a formidable middle of the order. I like Conforto a lot, and they'll make a spot for him upon his return, most likely in center and probably leading off. Their bullpen should be a strength after adding Anthony Swarzak and also getting their closer, Familia back as well. I'll be curious to see if Familia returns to form after his injury-riddled and down 2017 season. If not though, AJ Ramos has shown to be a proven closer in the past, although his 1.68 WHIP after arriving in the big apple last season left plenty to be desired. Essentially, if they can avoid all the injuries that have plagued them the last couple of seasons, and get a strong year from Matt Harvey or another pitcher steps up to help their duo of aces at the top, then they could sneak into the Wild Card race. As you can see though, a lot that they've had trouble doing, mainly the health thing, has to go right.

3rd Place, Philadelphia Phillies

2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
CF Odubel Herrera (L)
1B Carlos Santana\(S)
LF Rhys Hoskins (R)
3B Maikel Franco (R)
RF Nick Williams (L)
C Jorge Alfaro (R)
SS J.P. Crawford (L)

Key Reserves:
OF Aaron Altherr (R)
C Andrew Knapp (S)

RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Aaron Nola
Ace Jake Arrieta
RHP Vince Velasquez
RHP Nick Pivetta
RHP Ben Lively

Key Relievers:
CL Hector Neris RHP
SU Pat Neshek RHP
RHP Luis Garcia

After roughly a half decade of turmoil and rebuilding, the Phillies look to at least finally have a foundation in place to build off of. The addition of Arrieta was huge, and is one of the reasons I have them ahead of Atlanta. The Phills have some bright young power bats in that batting order as I could definitely see Hoskins being a 40-HR guy and Nick Williams as well as young catcher Jorge Alfaro each look like cornerstones themselves. Michael Franco and Odubel Herrera have yet to reach their full potential and they also brought in veteran Carlos Santana which gives these young sluggers a veteran they can go to. They're still a year or two away from really being contenders, but I like what they're doing and the direction they're headed. At the very least this year, they should be an exciting team for their fans to watch.

Aside from a lineup full of potential, I do like the back-end of their bullpen, and their front-2 starters but they don't have enough pitching depth after those guys yet to really keep up with the Mets and Nats. If there's a breakout team in the NL in 2018 though, the Phillies have as good a shot as any to be that squad. More likely, they're looking at 2019 and beyond to be serious contenders but they have some pieces that may allow them to surprise some people.

4th Place, Atlanta Braves

RF Ender Inciarte (L)
2B Ozzie Albies (S)
1B Freddie Freeman
RF Nick Markakis (L)
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
C Tyler Flowers (R)
LF Preston Tucker (L)
SS Dansby Swanson (R)
3B Johan Carmargo (S)

Key Reserves:
OF Lane Adams (R)
C Kurt Suzuki (R)

RHP Julio Teheran
RHP Mike Foltynewicz
LHP Sean Newcomb
RHP Brandon McCarthy
LHP Scott Kazmir

Key Relievers:
CL Arodys Vizcaino RHP
SU Jose Ramirez RHP
LHP A.J. Minter

Much like the Phillies, the Braves are in rebuild mode and will be depending on a lot of guys who made their Major League debuts in 2017. I think the Phills have a little more talent than Atlanta heading in though. Freddie Freeman is still one of the best, most underrated first basemen in the game and I'd really like to see what he could do in a smaller yard surrounded with more proven, talented bats. Outside of Freeman and Inciarte though, the Braves have nobody who's going to keep opposing pitchers up at night prior to facing them, although they do have some guys in that lineup that could breakout in 2018. Ozzie Albies and Preston Tucker have really hit the ball well this spring and both could in in line for nice 2018 campaigns. And although their rotation is not the most intimidating on paper, they have some guys like Foltynewicz and Newcomb who could also establish themselves in 2018. As of now though, they haven't proven it yet and are at least another couple of years away from contending.

5th Place, Miami Marlins

LF Derek Dietrich (L)
CF Lewis Brinson (R)
2B Starlin Castro (R)
1B Justin Bour (L)
C J.T. Realmuto (R)
3B Brian Anderson (R)
RF Cameron Maybin (R)
SS Migeul Rojas (R)

Key Reserves:
Ace Jose Urena
IF Martin Prado (R) -will start year on DL
OF Magneuris Sierra (L)

RHP Jose Urena
RHP Dan Straily
LHP Justin Nicolino
RHP Sandy Alcantara
LHP Wei-Yin Chen

Key Relievers:
CL Brad Zieglar RHP
SU Kyle Barraclough RHP

The Marlins dealt away pretty much everyone of value this offseason, including Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Christian Yellich and Marcel Ozuna. All of which are All-Star caliber players and one being the reigning NL MVP. Even if they kept those 4 players though, they still wouldn't have had the pitching to overtake either the Mets or Nats, but they at least would have been interesting and would have clearly been above the Phillies and Braves. Justin Bour really broke out in 2017 and look for him to grow off that, but outside of him, Castro and Realmuto, that lineup has no proven big league hitters... Perhaps my favorite player on this team is their ace Jose Urena, who should get the ball over Dan Straily in the opener despite a rough spring. As far as their pen, they have a lot of young lively arms yet will start the year with the ancient, slow tossing, side-arm slinger, Brad Zieglar lined up to close games. If he gets off to a nice start though, I'd imagine his days in Miami would be numbered as I'm sure the Marlins would like to see if Barraclough is up to the task of getting the final 3 outs of their victories. 
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Over halfway through Spring, 25-man roster decisions will go down to wire

We're about halfway through the Cactus League schedule, with just over a couple weeks until the Giants open up their season in LA vs. the Dodgers on March 29th. After the mid-way point of spring training, teams start stretching out their starting players and pitchers a lot more as the season inches closer by the day, so expect to see roster competitions heat up over these last couple of weeks in the desert.

Players in competition for roster spots really make or break it down the stretch, and the Giants have a few of those battles currently in progress. They have a utility infield spot up for grabs, as Pablo Sandoval will likely be the backup guy on the corners, meaning the Giants would need the other guy to be able to play up the middle (man would Eduardo Nunez look awesome right about now), giving guys like Chase d'Arnaud, Josh Rutledge and Orlando Calixte a legit shot to snag that role. They also still have their other two outfield spots, assuming they carry 5 outfielders to begin the year with as expected, very much still up in the air after their main three of Austin Jackson, Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen.

As for the infield, d'Arnaud and Rutledge would seem to have the upper hand over Claixte because I believe Calixte still has options left whereas I don't think either d'Arnaud or Rutledge have any, but I'm not 100% sure about that and that could really come into play. Rutledge has been the better of the three though and has more experience than the other two. Anyhow, I like Kelby Tomlinson a lot too as a utility guy as he's a hustler and a gritty player who really fits well in this clubhouse and brings energy, but he hasn't performed as well as his competition this spring, and I don't think Bochy's as comfortable with him at short as he would be with Rutledge or d'Arnaud.

As for the outfield, if we were going off production and ability, Steven Duggar and Mac Williamson should be joining the three outfielders we just mentioned to start the year, but again, players options cloud things up a little. Despite quite possibly being the Giants best and most dynamic hitter in camp, and a guy that Bruce Bochy just a few days ago compared to a young Steve Finley, I think the only way Duggar makes the team is if Bochy's planning on getting the kid at least half the playing time in center, otherwise it would really be a waste to his development and keep him stagnant instead of giving him everyday reps in AAA (at least to star the year). Gregor Blacno's had a solid spring though, the organization really likes Gorkys Hernandez (for some reason cause he's never really impressed me much at all aside from a few nice rundowns in center) and Jarrett Parker, who's been terrible this spring, is out of options and despite his bad spring, the Giants may find it tough to just give away a guy that could go to another team and hit 20+ jacks with regular playing time (see Adam Duvall).

With the way things have gone thus far though, this is the lineup I'd expect to see on opening day in LA vs. Clayton Kershaw, as well as the bench, rotation and bullpen that will be active that game. Again, a lot can change over the next couple of weeks, but if spring were to end tomorrow, I really think this is who the Giants should take north with the big club\.

*Note: This particular lineup is only for opening day vs. Kershaw, as I'm sure Boch will do a lot of lineup experimentation early on to find out what he thinks is the best way to go. The Giants do face lefty's in three of their first four games so expect A-Jax to be the primary CF'er and leadoff guy in those scenarios. Duggar, who IMO should make the team and split time with Jackson until one or the other separates themselves, has proven he can hit lefties this spring too, but there's no doubt that Jackson will be the guy on opening day at least, due to his experience. Not to mention, that dude's tearing the cover off the ball this spring himself, granted in a much smaller sample size than Duggar has had.

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

This lineup will change a lot depending on who's hot and which type of pitcher they're facing. Bochy has already made it clear that, at least to start the year (starting on opening day actually), he's gonna go with Jackson and Pence in the 1-2 spots. The concern I would have in that case though is having all the lefties (Crawford, Belt and Panik) all back-to-back-to-back in the 6-7-8 spots. However, vs. right-handers, I'd expect the lineup to look like the one above. Then again, Gregor Blanco will get some time vs. RH pitching as well, and in that case he could either slot into the leadoff spot, or move down to the 8th spot with Joe Panik and Brandon Belt being the 1-2 guys (the more likely scenario from what we've seen in spring). At lest they have enough lineup depth now that will allow Boch some flexability, but it's always better to let players settle into roles if possible. I think the middle will stay Cutch-Posey-Longo in that order, no matter who they're facing, and that could be the only constant in the lineup until Bochy finds the one he's comfortable with.

LHP Madison Bimgarner
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Jeff Samardzija
RHP Chris Stratton
LHP Ty Blach

Pretty cut and dry here. Ty Blach was the one real question mark heading in, but he turned in another decent outing on Sunday vs. the Padres and netted a victory. Unless he completely tanks the rest of the way, and Derek Holland gets some starts and impresses, Blach will be in the rotation to start the year. Stratton, the only other young guy with some question marks, has been one of the teams bright spots this spring and has been untouchable at times as he's really refined that curve ball, giving him one of the better right-handed hooks in the league. In fact he, more than any other starter including Cueto and MadBum, is the guy I'm most excited to see take the ball in presumably the 4th game of the season and see what hos this kid kicks off his first full season in the bigs. The Giants are going to need him to be as good as he can be too, cause this team has always relied on pitching to be their cornerstone, and if Stratton can prove to be the next big arm the Giants develop (not saying to the level of Bumgarner, but becoming a better than average big league starter), and the guys ahead of him all stay on the mound and do their job to their abilities, the rotation should be OK. And if either Blach or Stratton don't work out, but the team is strong otherwise and in contention, then you can bet your bottom dollar that Bobby Evans and Bran Sabean will do whatever they possibly can to bring in the starting pitcher they need this summer.

C Nick Hundley (R)
1B/3B/C Pablo Sandoval (S)
2B/3B/SS Josh Rutledge (R)
OF Gregor Blanco
OF Gorkys Hernandez

So, as you can see in regards to the bench, I believe Rutledge has the upper hand with his age, ability to play three infield positions well, while also being at least somewhat of a threat with the lumber. He's been much better than d'Arnaud over the last 5 seasons with the bat, and I think d'Arnaud is his biggest competition right now. He's younger than d'Arnaud though and I think has more upside. He's hit .265 or better in 4 of 6 seasons and, again, has as decent glove whereas d'Arnaud has hit .190, .240 and .176 over his last 3 seasons (granted, in one of those seasons he did collect only 20 or so at-bats in the bigs). We'll see how things shake out down the stretch of spring and maybe Tomlinson gets back into it and ultimately takes it as we expected heading in, but right now, I want Rutledge aside Panda.

Circling back to the outfield again though as that area is a hot topic this spring (I know this post is sort of all over the place, but there's a lot going on and not much time left before Opening day). Gorkys Hernandez does not have any options left, and could get that spot, but in my opinion, carrying both Hernandez and Blanco would be redundant as both are the same style player with similar skill-sets. Gorkys is a little younger, yes, but Blanco is the better, more seasoned vet who's been an integral part of 2 of the Giants last 3 tittle runs. Mac should clearly be the 5th outfielder as he would provide right-handed punch off the bench that this team doesn't have. Pablo Sandoval is the big left-handed threat off the pine, but especially for that first month of the season, the Giants could use Mac's big right-handed bad on their roster. Austin Slater is another option, but hasn't come close to Williamson's production. I know it's just spring and it's much easier to hit in Arizona than it will be 90% of the other places they'll play during the season, but his .359/.375/.821 (1.196 OPS) line needs to be taken serious. He's collected 14 hits, 8 of which have been for extra bases, including 4 jacks along with a team-high 14 RBI (tied for 3rd in all of baseball this spring). So yes, Mac Williamson deserves a spot, and he deserves to play too, and not just rot on the bench, especially while he's hot.

We also could see some kind of trade before the spring ends. I wouldn't expect anything big by any stretch but if Gorkys Hernandez and Jarrett Parker are not going to make the team, the Giants could try and trade those guys to a team in need of outfield depth, possibly in exchange for some bullpen depth. I do like the bullpen's potential with everyone healthy, but with Smith's return date so unclear right now and Melancon possibly being on a restricted schedule or possibly starting on the 10-day DL himself, the Giants could certainly use some more experienced relief depth. Aside from Osich, who will probably keep Will Smith's seat warm until he's back in action, they haven't had any bubble guys assert themselves in that bullpen. One guy who has impressed big time in his 6 outings, giving up just a single and a few walks, is righty Pierce Johnson. He is a former first round pick and had some very nice seasons early on in the Cubs system but once he advanced past double-A ball the 26 year-old has not had the same kind of success. However, he's definitely a guy to keep an eye on over the next 10 days as they start to narrow down the roster further.

CL Mark Melancon RHP (hopefully he avoids DL to start year, and is back in pre-'17 form)
SU Hunter Strickland RHP (pivotal arm in this pen, SF needs him to be legit SU guy)
SU Tony Watson LHP
RP San Dyson RHP
RP Cory Gearin RHP
RP Josh Osich LHP* (LHP Will Smith will hopefully be ready by May 1st for this spot)
RP Derek Holland LHP

*LHP Will Smith has not and will not appear in any spring games and I haven't really heard much about him since February 13th when Alex Pavlovic said the Giants don't expect their top left-handed reliever to make his '18 debut with the team until May (and that's if everything goes well).

Josh Osich seems like the guy who will keep that seat warm until Smith returns but Osich, despite dealing this spring and having very strong stuff, has never been able to succeed with any consistency at the big league level despite numerous chances. With Derek Holland likely slated for the bullpen though too, and Tony Watson now in town, the Giants will have some other options to use in maybe more crunch time situations at the end of ballgames and Osich can pitch more in mid-relief in games that aren't 1 or 2 run ballgames (just to get his confidence going).

Bottom line is the Giants need Will Smith back and pitching like he can, and if we have to wait until May until he's ready to go to ensure that then by all means, keep him out until he's ready. No use rushing him back the first month of the season only to have him hurt himself further and cost himself more time down the line. Giants fans have yet to really see this guy really at his best because he wasn't quite 100% after the trade in 2016 that brought him over and was pretty mediocre for the club down the stretch. Then, of course, it was revealed the following spring that he needed Tommy John Surgery. I'm very much looking forward to finally seeing Will Smith in the form he was in during his time with the Brewers because between he and Watson, the Giants should have a couple of the top-end left-handed relievers in baseball and a duo that should produce in the way that Jeremy Affeldt and Javy Lopez performed for the Giants back in 2010-2014

The last guy I wanted to talk a little bit about in this post is Derek Law. The 27 year-old has really been an enigma in his brief Giants career, looking like a possible future closer as a minor leaguer but hitting some peaks and valleys since. He's likely destined to start the year in Sacramento, coming off a down year in 2017 and having a rough go of it during the spring thus far with an ERA in the mid-8's as of March 14th. I've not lost hope that Law will turn it back around though. He's still the same guy with the same stuff that rocked a 2.13 ERA and 0.96 WHIP while carrying the Giants dreadful bullpen on his back in 2016. He has an option year left though and unless he's lights out the rest of the way and bumps either Holland, Osich or Dyson out of there, then he would probably need a scenario in which someone else, possibly Melancon, would have to start the year on the DL in order for Law to sneak onto the roster.
The Giants Baseball Blog