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Saturday, April 28, 2018

New wave of injuries plaguing the Giants

Right as the Giants finally looked to have found a nice groove for the first time this season, they all of the sudden got hammered with some more bad injury news prior to Saturday's first game of a double-header vs. the Dodgers.

Before we get into the new injury news, the silver lining, I suppose, is that the Giants got both Shark and Cueto back quicker than expected. On another positive note, the big guy every one's waiting on to make his 2018 debut, ace Madison Bumgarner, had the pins removed from his surgically repaired left hand, and while it's obviously still to early to tell an exact date for his return, the Giants are hopeful it will be right around his May 28th eligibility date. Now, that could be a little optimistic as that's exactly one month from today and the big lefty hasn't begin to throw a ball yet.

Even with Shark back and Cueto looking as strong as ever, unfortunately it's not all roses and sunshine on the Giants' injury front. Outfielder Hunter Pence hit the DL once again with a thumb injury that he suffered way back on the home opener vs. the Mariners on April 3rd. He tried playing the next two weeks in pain but obviously it wasn't working as he just wasn't doing much of anything at the plate. As far as his return, the Giants haven't said much on the subject recently but my guess is that they won't be rushing him back. Now Joe Panik hurt his thumb when placing a tag attempt on Yasiel Puig in Friday night's game which has been diagnosed as a sprain. Panik will be joining Pence on the DL with a very similar injury, however, Bruce Bochy and the staff are not optimistic that Panik will be back after 10 days and this could sideline him multiple weeks then be something they have to monitor when he does return.

Granted, the second basemen has cooled off since his scorching hot start in which he homered 3 times in the first handful of games of the season, as his average has dipped below .300 down to .276 at the time he hit the DL. Even with that being said, Panik is always so key even if he isn't necessarily in the midst of a hot streak because he'll still give you good, professional at-bats and he also helps out the pitching staff with his gold glove defense up the middle.

Panik and Pence are not the only ones accompanying MadBum, Mark Melancon and Will Smith on the DL. One of their offensive saviors over the last 10 days or so and a guy who's had a huge impact in the club's rise back up to within a game or two of .500, Mac Williamson, hit the wall chasing down a foul ball in Tuesday nights game. It didn't appear to be anything too serious at first, however, the outfielder experienced concussion like symptoms which the league does not take lightly, and it forced the Giants to place their hottest hitter on the 7-day concussion DL. Mac and Panik are the real tough ones to swallow at the moment as the Giants have been playing their best ball of the season and both those guys have been instrumental in one way or another.

I had been waiting to write a piece on Mac Williamson all week because I said on twitter, after he hit that last go-ahead jack vs. the Nationals which ended up being the difference in the game that this guy, that he's made a bigger impact than any other hitter in the Giants lineup through this first month. Although Evan Longria is starting to make a case. Williamson was tearing it up all Spring Training long and while I really hoped he would have broken north with the big club, I think having him play daily in Sacramento allowed him to carry that momentum over and keep it going. Had he made the Giants out of spring, he would have wound up sitting and I'm sure that hot bat would have cooled off. Instead, he went over to Sacramento and put on an even bigger show there than he provided in Arizona. Hopefully he can get back out there as soon as his 7-day stint is up because the lineup certainly needs him. The 28 year-old has started his big league season with a .316/.316/.789 line to go along with 3 jacks (all of which were instrumental in Giants' victories) and 6 RBI in just 19 at-bats. 

The Giants went 4-1 with Williamson in the lineup and their record entering play Saturday was 12-13. On April 17th they were 6-10 so they're slowly getting back on the right track, now their challenge will be to stay on course without two of their hottest hitters. Kelby Tomlinson seems like the most logical choice to fill in for Panik at second base, but the Giants called up Alen Hanson who was absolutely tearing it up in Sacramento himself and I personally would like to see him provided with an opportunity. We all know what Kelby can do, and he's a good scrappy player who's an ideal utility guy who, if possible, should be kept in that role. Hanson's younger with a bit more upside and more importantly was shredding PCL pitching over the first month. The 25 year-old outfielder/second basemen was slashing .403/.479/.661 with 3 jacks, 9 RBI while also swiping 6 bags in 7 attempts. In his Giants debut Saturday, Hanson launched a 3-run bomb to right-center out in triples alley, which was extremely impressive. Hanson's never been a big power guy but that home run showed he's got the ability to do it and with Panik expected to miss at least a few weeks, I'd like to see Hanson given the first shot at picking up that slack.

Quick Hits
-At the time of publishing this, the Giants just got done falling in game one of their double-header vs. LA, so they won't be returning to .500 on Saturday. They still can reach .500 this weekend but they'll have to beat Alex Wood behind Cueto in game two, then ride Ty Blach to victory on Sunday.

-Austin Slater was recalled from Sacramento to take Williamson's spot. Much like Hanson, Slater was raking in AAA, slashing .358/.435/.642 with a home run and 13 RBI. Hopefully Williamson will be back by next weekend, but Slater will likely soak up the majority of the at-bats out there until he does. Gorkys Hernandez could get some looks as well. 

-In order to save some bullpen arms for game two of Saturday's double-header, Bruce Bochy went with Pablo Sandoval to pitch in the top of the 9th... He threw the only 1-2-3 inning the Giants had all game. 

-Mark Melancon has begun throwing a baseball again but has no scheduled bullpen sessions on the horizon yet and no timetable as to when he will begin throwing from a mound, let alone a target return date. I'd be surprised to see him in the first half though as the Giants have no reason to rush him back. Strickland has been solid in the 9th and the bullpen has been pretty decent overall. A healthy Melancon would certainly elevate things even more, but there's no telling if and when that will come to fruition. 

-It was starting to feel like this time would never come, but left-handed reliever Will Smith, who if healthy will immediately become one of the teams best relievers, is expected to make his long awaited return to the big club at some point next week. The tough question Boch will have to face is who to send down. With Josh Osich hitting the DL already, that leaves Roberto Gomez or Derek Law the most logical options... I do know rookies Reyes Moronta and Pierce Johnson aren't going anywhere
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SF battling, but coming up short most nights

The bad news for the Giants since their quick 2-0 start in LA is that they've gone just 3-6 over their last nine. On a positive note, the losses haven't been bad at all, and most of them have been 1-run ballgames. I mean had they come up with a couple of clutch hits in certain situations that were very doable, they could just as easily be looking at 7-4 instead of 5-6 as they heading down into San Diego for a four-game stretch.

The most impressive game they've played all season thus far, at least in my opinion, was not their huge offensive output in game two of the Mariners' series. It was that 14-inning victory over LA on Saturday night after not playing the previous two nights. We all saw Andrew McCutchen's game winning home run in the best pitcher/batter battle I've seen in 2018, and I really thought that would get them jump-started but they've gone just 1-3 since that game and have scored only 9 runs in their last 4 games games combined. You can't really blame the pitching though. Two of the last three losses were 2-1 ballgames, and if they aren't able to score more than one run most nights, they really have no business winning. So basically the main reason for their losses early on have been due to the inability to hit with runners on and in scoring position and offensive inconsistencies. The newcomers were supposed to help fix that issue, and although 'Cutch broke out in that game vs. LA with a 6-hit night, he has been very quiet over his last few games. Evan Longoria also homered in the home opener vs. Seattle, but aside from that jack and a 2-hit game vs. LA on Sunday, he's been virtually non-existent with the bat.

It's not surprising to see Longo off to a slow start though, as he's spent his whole career in the AL prior to this season, so it may take him a couple more weeks to get acclimated to the new league and pitchers he really hasn't faced much, if at all. So we can't panic quite yet about the .114 AVG and .396 OPS after 35 at-bats, but they're going to need this guy to start hitting. The same can be said for Austin Jackson as he really hasn't made much of an impact at the plate at all in the early going. Jackson has collected 29 at-bats, and despite hitting a reasonable .258, he's scored only 1 run in his 9 games which is extremely low for a leadoff guy. So far, Gregor Blanco has blown him out of the water production wise. Granted, you can't really blame Jackson for the lack of runs scored because they aren't stringing together a bunch of hits and knocking guys in that way. Still, I would like to see his average closer to .300 and I would also like to see Boch start using the steal more when he does reach base.

Not only did they lose the series to Arizona Wednesday, they also got the news that Johnny Cueto now joining Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Will Smith and Mark Melancon on the DL with a sprained right ankle. They now are essentially throwing a glorified Triple-A starting rotation at teams until Shark and Cueto get back on the hill. I haven't seen an exact timetable for Cueto's return yet but the fact that he didn't leave the game when he injured himself, and was close to avoiding the DL stint and making his start Wednesday, I'm hoping it won't be much longer than the 10-day minimum. I do remember the play in which he tweaked it trying to throw out Dee Gordon on a little dribbler in front of the mound and it didn't look terrible but it did bring the Dave Groeschner and Bruce Bochy out to check on him. The move was made retroactive to April 7th, so the earliest we could see Cueto back is April 17th. That's hopefully right around the time Samardzija will be re-joining the rotation too as he'll get his rehab assignment started this weekend in San Jose. Shark will likely pitch in two rehab starts, unless he comes out of this weekends outing crisply and pain-free. He hasn't pitched competitively in almost a month now though, so two rehab starts seems feasible but with the rotation in disarray, one solid one may suffice.

The Giants are still sort of looking for their identity here two weeks into the season. The only guy off to a really nice start is Buster Posey (.389/..439/.611 w/2 HR, 6 RBI). Posey will always hit for average, but his power has dipped the last two years and that's something they need to bounce back, and it looks like it's on the way to doing that. They've had some big home runs, and their pen  has been better than I expected as Dyson has been the only real weak spot. Unfortunately, so far, it's been a team bitten by the injury big as they keep getting bad break after bad break within their pitching staff. Yes, it's better you get this junk out of the way and have these things pop up in April if at all.  it will also give us at least a couple of starts in which we can see arms Suarez and Beede and see what the hype is about.  It would suck if all these guys hit the DL late in the season in a pennant race, so all they can focus on now is trying to get these guys as healthy as possible before getting them back out on the mound. Until then, we'll be seeing a rotation of Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Derek Holland, Tyler Beede and Wednesday's starter Andrew Suarez.

Speaking of the young pitchers, both Beede and Suarez made their MLB debuts this week. Beede looked a little over-amped in his debut Tuesday, as he only made it through 4 innings, allowing 8 base-runners but limiting the damage to only two runs and the Giants went on to win that game despite Beede not factoring into the decision.. Suarez was a little more impressive in his start Wednesday, as he really made two mistakes and unfortunately one of them was to Paul Goldschmidt with a runner on. Suarez ended his debut with a line of 5 1/3 innings pitched, 7 strikeouts, 0 walks and 4 runs on 4 hits. He pitched better than his line showed, and kept the Giants in the ballgame, which is all they could ask someone to do in their debut. And although the bullpen didn't pick him up in this one, with Sam Dyson looking like early 2017 Dyson and gave up 3 runs in his inning (raising his ERA to 8.31 and WHIP to 1.85). In fact, aside from 'Strick and Tony Watson, Reyes Moronta has been the pen's most reliable arm and Johnson isn't too far behind. Even after the Watson signing I still thought this team needed another reliever, but even with guys shelved right now, they've done better than I expected and I don't think a reliever at this point is a "must add".

I wouldn't mind seeing them grab another starter so they maybe aren't forced to use Holland and/or Blach every 5th day, but I don't think the Giants will risk making a move like that and going over the CBT without a more clear view as to what it will take to get them into October. For once, I don't see reliever being part of that list, at least if Melancon and Smith both come back strong soon. That in itself will almost be like trading for two veteran relievers without giving up a thing. The same can be said for getting Bumgarner back, hopefully in the second part of May at some point. If and when everyone is healthy, it will likely shift Blach or Holland back to the fifth spot.

Moronta has already earned the trust of Boch to be used in big games, and he delievered big time in the team's previous 2 wins (4 IP, 1 H, 9 K's,). Moronta's only blemish has been the BB category as he's averaging a walk per inning. Luckly his stuff has been electric and they haven't been hitting him all that hard and one of the unfortunate side-effects with live arms with movement is that you can sometimes lose command with pitches and allow base on balls. Luckily for the 25 year-old , those are the only types of base runners he's been allowing because he's just been too hard to hit (oh yeah, his BAA is down at 0.91 in 6 outings). It doesn't look like a fluke either cause Moronta is looking like he may be set-up for a breakout rookie campaign for this club. He reminds me a bit of a young Armando Benitez, stuff wise. Just wait until Smith and Melancon return. When those two do get back, your likely looking at a pen of Melancon and Stick in 8th/9th inning roles, not sure if Melancon starts as a closer upon his return but I do expect him to be closing again for this team this year.

After those two, they'll have Smith, Tony Watson, Moronta, Cory Gearin and Josh Osich. If they still are rocking an 8-man bullpen time then I would hope Johnson would get that final spot over Dyson but I almost can guarantee that won't be the case unless Dyson doesn't have another good outing between now and then. If it is the bullpen I envision, and Melancon/Smith get back in the next few weeks and are back at 100% then they will really have turned things around from the last couple of seasons.

The Giants are now over 10 games into the season, and I said at the beginning of the year that if they can stay right around .500 at least until they start getting a couple of the key pitchers off the shelf, they should be in decent shape. They've managed to do that so far, sitting at 5-6 heading into play Thursday in San Diego. However, now that Cueto will miss at least another start or two, it makes things that much tougher.

Injury Updates: As far as the other injured pitchers are concerned, I already mentioned Samardzija headed to San Jose this weekend and he won't be alone (more on that in a second), but Madison Bumgarner and Mark Melancon are both still too far out to have a more clear expected return date... Another injured thrower is set to start his rehab assignment quicker than many had anticipated, as Will Smith will be joining Samardzija in San Jose in the coming days. Smith has already thrown in extended spring training in Arizona and is said to be feeling well. The guy hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2016 though, so it may take him a couple of weeks in the minors until the Giants deem him ready for big league duty again... If things go as planned, the Giants could have both Cueto and Shark back in the rotation, as well as Will Smith back in the pen within the next two weeks.

Down on the Farm: The hot spring that Mac Williamson had in  Arizona has carried over into the PCL with Sacramento. The 27 year-old corner outfielder leads all PCL hitters with a 15 at-bat minimum, rocking a monstrous 1.638 OPS. He's second in the league in HR's with 3 and has 8 RBI. It's only been 6 games, but this guy is proving spring training was no joke and his new approach at the plate is working. Obviously McCutchen isn't going to removed from the lineup, but Hunter Pence may start to feel some pressure with Mac toying with AAA pitching, doing his best to stick out and get Bochy, Bobby Evans and co.'s attention... Don't be surprised if Pence hits the 10-day DL with something in order for the Giants to give Mac a look....Fellow River Cat, and one of the team's consensus top-5 prospects, Chris Shaw, has also looked good at the dish for Sac. He enters play Thursday with a .333 AVG, .988 OPS plus 2 HR and 7 RBI in 30 AB's....Steven Duggar, the bright young cetner fielder that was close to making the team out of camp hasn't quite torn the cover off the ball like Shaw and Mac have. The 24 year-old is hitting just .250 with a .618 OPS, 0 HR and only 1 RBI.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Giants' offense warms up in home opening loss

It's been a bit of a frustrating start for the Giants. Before Ty Blach was hammered for 10 hits and 6 earned runs in Tuesday's home opener, they had been getting solid starting pitching but the offense was not there. On Tuesday vs. Seattle, the starting pitching wasn't there, and the offense showed up a little too late.

Of course we don't want to get too down after the first five games, but if I said I wasn't a little worried about the squad right now it would be a lie. However, I really feel that, after that rough first inning, Tuesday was the best Giants' showing of the season. They scored the most runs they've scored all year long in one game, got at least one important bat going in Evan Longoria, and the bullpen continued to lock things down. As it really has since game 3 in LA, they've been having really one bad inning in the field/on the mound which has really cost them. If you take away that 4-run first the Mariners tagged Blach for, they likely come away with a W Tuesday. But the important thing in this long season is they did show some signs of life and some signs that the offense is on the verge of breaking out.

Joe Panik launched one into the arcade above the right field wall for the team's first run of the game, then Evan Longoria also knocked one out to bring the Giants to within 3 in the 7th inning. Panik had been the lone offensive bright spot coming into play Tuesday, and it looked like that would continue until the later innings when the Giants rallied a little. I'm trying to focus more on the positive today, as it was the home opener and it was a tremendous opening ceremony for the club in their 60th year in San Francisco. So on that note, I'm not going to delve too much into the starting rotation and my worries there, and instead, focus on what went right for them Tuesday. Getting Longoria going was huge and you could almost see that one coming as he just missed a couple in LA and then just got under one in either his first or 2nd at-bat Tuesday. I almost went on Twitter and predicted a Longo HR before it happened but I didn't quite make it in time. Hopefully Andrew McCutchen is the next one to really break out.

Aside from Longoria and Panik's home runs, Austin Jackson also drove in a run, Buster Posey looked good at the plate despite going 1-4 and Gregor Blanco continues to really impress offensively coming off the bench as he knocked a double down the left field line that stayed fair by about an inch. So, although it's coming together a little slower than hoped, it looks like the gears are starting to move on offense.

I also wanted to again, tip my cap to the bullpen, who did an excellent job in the 4 2/3 innings they picked up after Blach was knocked out. Rookies, Reyes Moronta and Pierce Johnson as well as veterans, Cory Gearin and Sam Dyson all combined to do their part to keep the Giants in the game and it was almost enough. They got their tying run to the plate in the bottom of the 8th but obviously couldn't quite come back from the 5-run deficit on this day.

So it definitely didn't go the way the Giants' drew it up but there were a few positives that hopefully carry over into Wednesday's ballgame. However, their back at the top of the rotation again and will face Felix Hernandez so they certainly have a tough assignment ahead. The Giants will counter with their best arm in their current rotation though in Johnny Cueto and I'm expecting the Giants to get back into the W column and even things up at 3-3.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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