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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


  • At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Giants have that quiet confidence about them again. They look like they did in the beginning half of 2016. I really hope it keeps up, but like you said we gotta start scoring some runs. Dodgers gave us some chances with all those errors. It shows what a difference a good defense can make. Time to break out the bats on Saturday, this winning stuff is fun!

  • At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Im going to be really curious to see how Holland does. I don't think it's gonna be another shutout by the Giants so hopefully those new hitters start hitting! If it weren't for Joe Panik they may still be playing that first game!

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