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Friday, June 29, 2018

SF trying to put injury-plagued 1st half behind them for 2nd half run

We talked a lot a couple weeks back when Evan Longoria went down, Jeff Samardzija rejoined the DL, then Brandon Belt hit the the shelf that the Giants would need more and more players to continue to step up and keep them afloat

It seems like the theme of the season for the club has been a game of musical chairs of the Disabled list variety. Just as one guy comes off the DL, it seems like another one takes his place almost immediately. After getting Mark Melancon back earlier in the month, closer Hunter Strickland promptly broke his throwing hand by punching a clubhouse wall in anger after blowing a save, taking away one of the teams most potent bullpen arm until at least sometime in August and that's really how it's been going all season long.

Madison Bumgarner missed 2 months, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija each have missed about the same amount of time and still have yet to return for good. We then started to see the positional players go down as Brandon Belt missed 3 weeks at the end of May into June and now Evan Longoria is recovering from a fractured hand which will sideline him until at least after the All-Star break at the earliest. He's shooting to return soon after the break but the more realistic timetable for him, like closer Strickland will be sometime in early to mid August.

On a positive note, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have looked pretty good in their rehab appearances and the Giants are hoping each can make their return before the All-Star break, which would be a huge shot in the arm for the rotation. However, the rotation hasn't been all that bad in these guys' absence anyway. Derek Holland has really stepped up and exceeded expectations and Andrew Suarez has continued to grow to the point where he's on the verge of becoming a rotation mainstay. In his most recent outing coming in Arizona Friday, the 25 year-old held the D-Backs to just a run on a few hits over 6 innings, punching out 6 without any free passes. Holland and Suarez have been so solid that Bruce Bochy will have some tough decisions lying ahead when Cueto and Shark are indeed ready to make their return to the big club. Obviously Bumgarner, Stratton, Cueto and Samardzija will have their spots cemented in, so that leaves one remaining rotation spot left for Suarez, Holland and Derek Rodriguez to claim going forward. Holland has the experience and has been pitching his best ball since 2013, but Suarez is throwing just as effectively, if not more so, and at 25 years of age has upside that the 32 year-old Holland doesn't quite have.

My guess is that Holland and Rodriguez will be bumped out of the rotation when the full slate of starters are ready to go, at least that's what I would do if I were making those decisions. Holland should stay with the club though and move into long releif with Ty Blach's future uncertain. The thing is, with the way the Giants have been dropping with injuries left and right, they need to have Holland on the roster in the event somebody else gets banged up or the Giants are in need of a spot starter. It's possible Holland and/or Rodriguez could be used as trade bate as the Giants search for potentially another outfielder or another arm to help shore up the pen, but I think they'd really like to keep all these guys in the organization just in case they get bit by that injury bug in the rotation once again, which in this bizarre, injury-plagued season is not far fetched at all.


Now, I'm not going to talk too much about the bullpen because I want to finish up by talking about the lineup and what I think their best course of action should be as we approach the trade deadline, but the bullpen has been the unsung heroes of this team in my opinion. No matter what kind of injuries they're running into, or no matter who they're sliding into the closers job or asking to go multiple innings, the Giants bullpen is taking things in stride. The two lefties, Will Smith and Tony Watson have been the real mainstays down there along with Reyes Moronta. Sam Dyson had been started to be used in the closers role after Strick went down 2 weeks ago, but he's been up and down in that role and Bochy is now apparently leaning toward using his two lefties, Smith and Watson, as the closer by committee for the time being.

The wild card out of all these guys, and the guy the Giants paid over $60MM before the '17 season to be their closer, Mark Melancon, is finally healthy and is pitching pretty well but Boch is not quite ready to put him back in the ninth inning just yet. My guess is that as long as Melancon keeps improving, and gets to the point where he can go back-to-back days without losing much of his effectiveness then Boch will once again slide the veteran closer back into the role he's most comfortable. All in all though, the Giants bullpen is in pretty good shape and despite there not being a set closer at this very moment, they have options and I fully expect someone to have that role cemented by the All-Star Break.


Last but not least, we have the Giants offense, which if you look at them in comparison to many teams around the league in terms of run production, they're well below the rest of the pack of teams with playoff aspirations. I mean, their so-called biggest slugger and run producer, Buster Posey, is sitting at a modest .286 with 5 home runs and 26 RBI as we hit the official mid-way point. Instead of Posey, McCutchen and the guys you'd think would be leading this offense, it's really been the two Brandon's who've been indispensable for this team. Brandon Belt hasn't quite gotten back into the rhythm he was in the first couple months of the season in which he was hitting .316 with a 1.016 OPS to go along with 11 jacks and 31 RBI in under two full months of play. You project that out over a full 6 month season and your looking at 33+ HR, 93 RBI and of course those outstanding averages and percentages which all are career year-type numbers if he can keep it up. Even if he doesn't quite match that pace over the last three months, as long as he stays on the field, Belt should easily surpass his career high of 17 HR, 82 RBI especially if Posey and McCutchen get going ahead of him which will eventually happen.... I mean, I certainly hope that's the fcasde=p

Helping support Belt to make up for the lack of expected production to this point from Posey, Panik, Longoria and the whole outfield really, has been what's lining up to be a career year from shortstop Brandon Crawford. We've talked a bunch about BCraw in recent posts so I don't wanna keep repeating the same facts, but I don't know if all fans realize just how crucial 'Craw has been, not only because of his .313/.371/.496 slash line along with 9 jacks and 39 RBI, but the guys glove, as we all know, makes him so much more valuable than just his offensive numbers alone. Unfortunately for him, the NL is loaded at SS this year so he may not even make the All-Star team but that doesn't mean he's not deserving.

The Brandon's, as well as the stepping up of the starting pitching and the steadiness of the bullpen are reason the Giants have just moved up over 3 games above .500 and have the Giants playing their best baseball, really all season long, as they've won 8 of their last 10 ballgames heading into Saturday. The reason why they aren't in even better positioning and possibly even atop the division over Arizona, however, is due in large part to the injuries and ineffectiveness in the outfield which has been one of the worst groups, if not the worst in all of baseball. If Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean are going to add some reinforcements in the next few weeks before the trade deadline, my guess is that it will be an outfielder that can hit.

EXTRAS: These next few weeks though are very, very important as they should be getting Cueto and Shark back as well as hopefully getting a more concrete timetable for Evan Longoria's return and they'll have a better idea of who exactly will be that ninth inning guy for the stretch run. Will Melancon be deemed ready to close or will it be a closer by committee with Smith, Watson and Sam Dyson all getting looks until one maybe emerges (which is pretty much what Boch is doing right now with the ninth inning)? These are all questions the Giants have the next four weeks to assess and either act on or stand pat.

In our next post, we'll take a look at some possible trade options for the Giants if they do indeed need to go that route and add a player or two for outside in order to give them a boost for the stretch run. The goal from the beginnings of the season was to keep this team right around .500 until their core players got back from injury. What they weren't planning on is having a whole new wave of injuries keep hitting them just as they seem to be getting their guys healthy, so hopefully this is it. Ideally, Melancon takes back over the 9th inning role and is the pitcher the Giants were hoping they'd be getting when they inked him before last season and if that does happen then the bullpen will be set.
San Francisco's certainly still trying to get their foundation firmly under them, and the fact they're still winning games with all the uncertainties surrounding them is giving me reason for optimism. Do they look like they're going to cash in on their even year magic once again come October? As active roster currently stands now, probably not. However, if their key injuries iron themselves out, they avoid any other big ones in the second half and are able to add a big hitting left fielder before July 31st, then in my unbiased opinion I think they could become the top dogs in the NL West. Of course, if Arizona goes out and lands another J.D. Martinez-type bat like they did a year ago, or LA brings in some reinforcements which they have not problem doing when needed that could change the landscape.

Needless to say, it's going to be an interesting, exciting month of July and can't wait to see what Sabes and Evans have up their sleeves.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Unexpected players stepping up to keep Giants afloat

The Giants have played over 1/3 of their season now without Madison Bumgarner as well as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija for most part. They've also been without projected closer Mark Melancon and have gotten very little production out of the outfield trio they trotted out on opening day. Not to mention, Buster Posey hasn't come close to providing the run production the Giants are accustomed to from their all-star catcher.

Now after taking all that into consideration, and without looking at the standings, you'd probably assume the team would be one of the worst in baseball. However, that hasn't quite been the case, and the team has found a way to keep themselves in the mix and right around .500 despite all the hurdles they've had to overcome so far.

After Wednesday's victory over the D-Backs in San Francisco, the Giants improved their record to 31-31 and are just 1.5 games out of first place in a deep NL West. The Giants are technically in 4th place, however, being under two games behind Arizona shows just how jammed this division is at the top and also makes me wonder just where they'd be had they started the year with MadBum and Cueto hadn't gotten hurt after his terrific start to the season. They'd undoubtedly be atop this division and probably by a good margin. However, they sit right at .500 after the season's first couple of months, and the reason why they've been able to stay competitive is because of the way some of their younger and unexpected players have stepped up in a big way. The first guy that comes to mind, probably because he played a huge role in defeating Arizona Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park is Alen Hanson. The 25 year-old second basemen came out of nowhere when Joe Panik hit the DL and missed all of May by hitting .333 with 4 home runs and 14 RBI leading to an OPS of 1.061. Hanson hit his 5th jack of the year and drove in his 16th run of the season to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday in one of the most clutch at-bats on the Giants' season thus far.

What makes Hanson's season even more impressive is that he's put up all these big numbers in just 52 at-bats after Wednesday's game. Joe Panik made his return to the team last week, but his bat has quieted way down ever since his hot start where he hit 3 home runs in the season's first week. In fact, since that first week, Panik has zero home runs and just 3 RBI, although he did miss all of May. It's gotten to the point where Bochy has to seriously consider mixing some things up in order to get Hanson's bat into the lineup. Whether that's putting him out in left field a couple times a week or splitting the playing time at second between Panik and Hanson, this dude has done everything asked of him and some and deserves to be playing more often than not.

Speaking of the outfield, that's a group that just hasn't been getting the job done as a unit. Andrew McCutchen was a guy that many had hoped would be an anchor in this lineup, however, he's endured a rough couple of months to begin his tenure with the Giants hitting just .250 with 5 long balls and 26 RBI. However, he has shown signs of turning things around lately, hitting over. 300 with 2 HR and 7 RBI over his last 7 ball games. Aside from 'Cutch, the Giants other two outfielders that began the season in the starting lineup have sort of disappeared. Newly signed center fielder Austin Jackson hasn't done much of anything yet, hitting just .248 with a couple of stolen bases and only 10 runs scored. It's rare you see a player with a slugging percentage under .300, but Jackson's sits at .296 which is a testament as to how little of a threat he's been at the dish this year. However, much like Hanson has done in Panik's absence, the Giants have gotten the best baseball of Gorkys Hernandez's career when they've needed it the most. Gorkys has pretty much overtaken center field and has hit and fielded his way into an everyday role there thanks to his slash of .285/6/.327/.453 with 18 runs in just 127 at-bats.

With 'Cutch hopefully rounding into form and Gorkys taking over center for the time being, the only big question mark the Giants have in their lineup now lies in left field. The infield has done their job for the most part, but took a huge hit with the loss of Brandon Belt last week. Belt has been the team's MVP and is in the middle of a breakout campaign, so hopefully the he and the team luck out in terms of recovery time after having his appendix removed on June 2nd. There really is no exact time table for players coming off appendicitis and that surgery. Some players miss a couple weeks, some up to 4-6 weeks. Matt Holliday had the procedure done to him in the 2011 season but he miraculously avoided the DL somehow, so hopefully we see Belt back out there well before the end of the month so he can continue on his 30+ home run/100 RBI pace he was on at the end of May.

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, the bullpen has been very strong, and they just now have gotten their closer and top reliever back in Melancon. The 33 year-old reliever made his first appearance in what's felt like a year on Saturday, then threw an inning on Monday night as well and he's looked the best I've seen him since he became a Giant, striking out 5 of the 6 batters he's faced. The starting rotation also got their prized arm back this week, with Bumgarner making his long awaited season debut on Tuesday night and threw 6 strong innings allowing just 2 earned runs but unfortunately was outmatched on the night by Patrick Corbin. The important part of the start though was that Bumgarner made it as deep into the game as he did, pitching as well as he did and came out of it perfectly fine health wise. Now if only the Giants can get Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija each back and in top shape, their team could be back around 100% before the end of the first half. I think that has to be the goal as of now for the club.

Sure, this team has been hit with some terrible luck through the first couple of months, but in the end it could wind up being a blessing for them. It's forced these other players like Hanson and Hernandez and plenty of their young arms to step up and gain the experience that they otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity for. So once they do get everyone healthy, it's going to make the unit that much stronger and deeper. So much stronger and deeper in fact, that if they can get Cueto, Samardzija and Belt all back as soon as they possibly can, the Giants all of the sudden could find themselves in the catbird seat of the NL West. No, it's not the way anybody would have drawn it up or planned it out, but in this marathon of a baseball season, the Giants have found themselves a few hidden gems thanks to all of the injuries and it's only going to help them going forward.
The Giants Baseball Blog