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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.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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2 Comments:

  • At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hanson's probably my favorite new player, wonder if he can play first?

     
  • At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Jason Billingsley said…

    Finally a Giants Blog post lol, been waiting on this for a month you've probably been busy, but good comeback. I agree 100% that Hanson is the hot hand right now and he needs to be playing daily at some position until he at least cools down.

    But how about BCraw man!? Always been such a big fan of his and watching him play right now the way he's playing is probably the best I've ever seen him play. If he's not starting SS for NL all-star team than it will be a shame. It's crazy because he didn't rkeally get going until well into May if my memory serves. Now he's raking the ball all over the park.

    The team is fun to watch right now and like you said, when they get these other guys back and healthy then they're gonna be better than I think we all expected. I just wanna see Andrew McCutchen get going and like you said, somebody step up and take LF. THought it was gonna be Mac Attack, but he's been pretty quiet after his long ass DL stint.... Fun times ahead though for the Giants I think.

    One more thing, hats off to the WARRIORS! CHAMPIONS AGAIN!!! Now Giants need to keep the parades coming1

     

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