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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What's Up With This Lackluster Giants Offseason?

Pablo Sandoval is now a Bostonian.  Jon Lester is a Lovable Loser.  Yasmany Tomas got lost in the desert.  If there's any truth to all these insane MLB rumors floated by everyone and anyone, those 3 players were the focus of our San Francisco Giants.  The Giants went 0 for 3.

And if it's true that they planned on landing at least one of those players, it looks like they didn't really have any back up plans in case they missed out on ALL of them.

Here it is, mid-December, and the free agent list has thinned to the point where we're now looking at guys like Emilio Bonifacio and Chris Denorfia to be the Giants big splashy signings.  That is, if they're willing to sign with San Francisco.

It's been a weird offseason so far for the reigning World Champions.  They went after their star third baseman pretty hard but he opted for a new experience.  They kinda tried for Yasmany Tomas and reports say they came in 2nd for the bidding but if they REALLY wanted the guy, you think they could have trumped the final contract he wound up signing with Arizona (6yrs/68.5M).  They then turned their full attention to Jon Lester, the 2nd best starting pitcher on the market and a guy that would have been a great complement to Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain for the next several seasons.  Except Lester wasn't oohed and awed by Tim Hudson and Buster Posey's sell jobs, nor the chance to play for a 3-time championship team with a ton of history and tradition, or a Hall of Fame manager, or in an awesome pitcher's park with great defenders to play behind him.  No, he picked the Cubs.  Why?  Well, they're up and coming, they haven't won a World Series in a lifetime, and... um... familiarity with Theo Epstein?  Not to mention the Cubs infield isn't very good defensively and the ball flies out of that yard like it's being shot out of a rocket launcher.  But hey Jon Lester, good for you man.  Chicago is a pretty cool city and since California's income tax has all of a sudden become an issue for super rich athletes, I guess you made a wise choice.

However, after being spurned by Lester, the Giants seemed to go into a haze from which they have yet to emerge.  Right now, their biggest offseason move has been to tender all their arbitration eligible players.  Aside from that?  Nada.

Meanwhile, Lester's signing caused all the other dominoes to start to fall.  There was a flurry of trades at the Winter Meetings that made the July 31st deadline look tame and all the remaining free agents have been flying off the shelf.

The Giants have a gigantic hole at third base (see what I did there?), a need for another starter, and for now, Gregor Blanco looks to be the starting left fielder.  If the season opened today (and thank goodness it doesn't), it'd be Arias at 3B, Blanco in LF, and Petit in the rotation (alongside Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, and Lincecum).   Not quite what you'd expect from a team that just won the World Series for the third time in five seasons.

I actually do not mind that the Giants have not been aggressive with the mid-tier free agents.  I like the strategy of not giving up a draft pick unless it's for a game changer (Max Scherzer).  But at some point, the Giants have to get some new bodies.  And with the free agent market for third basemen down to the likes of, well, no one - it's hard to see who our 3B in 2015 will be.  Seriously, the list for available third basemen is really down to converting second basemen:  Emilio Bonifacio, Asdrubal Cabrera, Gordon Beckham... yuck.  At this point, would they be any better than letting Matt Duffy have the job?  I'm not sure.   The outfield situation is equally bleak.  The front office is talking about finding a platoon mate for Blanco as opposed to an everyday type of guy.  Maybe Andres Torres is available... that worked out the last time they tried this experiment.  NOT.

The truth is, the Giants can afford to be patient.  They are coming off a World Series Championship, the ballpark will be sold out for nearly every game before the season even starts, and they haven't really won in the past by throwing a bunch of money around on the free agent market.  Let's face it, Brian Sabean is a master trader (minus that whole AJ deal) but he and his staff are less good at playing the free agent game (see examples: Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, Aubrey Huff (the 2nd time), Edgardo Alfonzo, Marco Scutaro, etc etc).  While I would have liked to see Chase Headley replace Pablo or a return of Melky Cabrera because he is totally suited for our ballpark, I'm not exactly upset we didn't give them the deals they wound up receiving.

And while the free agent market now looks like Costco (save for Max Scherzer and James Shields), I am oddly confident the Giants will find a few guys that will help keep the team in contention.  Who those guys will be?  I have no idea.  Looking at the free agent lists and who's available in trade it's almost impossible to predict what the Giants can and will do.

I's hard to believe that this could have been the plan going into the offseason - that they were pinning their entire winter hopes on signing either Pablo or Lester or Tomas.  But since all 3 came off the board, it does seem the Giants have been acting dazed and confused while their counterparts in the NL West have been completely revamping their squads both in the front office and on the field.  The Dodgers have made a ton of moves but I can't actually figure out if it makes them any better.  They shipped out Kemp to the Padres in exchange for Yasmani Grandal.  They sent Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to the Marlins which in turn got them Howie Kendrick from the Angels.  They signed talented but health-adverse pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to fill out their rotation.  And they traded for Jimmy Rollins to replace Hanley Ramirez.  Does that make them better or worse than the team that won 94 games last season?  Hard to tell.  The Padres are shooting for the stars by trading for offense to go along with their solid starting pitching.  Kemp may only be the first piece.  The Dbacks got Tomas.  The Rockies?  Well, the Rockies are the Rockies.  They'll sign some no name that will hit 20 bombs and trade for a talented pitcher that will get routinely shelled.  Meanwhile, the Giants are playing chicken with everyone (and pretty much losing... or actually winning if these big contracts don't pan out).

It'll be interesting to see how the next month shakes out.

I just hope it doesn't shake out to a 5yr/100M signing of James Shields.  We don't need a 33 year old pitcher that we just lit up in the World Series who will also cost a draft pick.  I like Shields.  He's a great innings eater in the regular season.  But he's too old to invest heavily in and the draft pick shouldn't be wasted on him.  If anything, the Giants should target Scherzer.  A Bumgarner, Scherzer, Cain trio would keep the Giants championship window open likely for the rest of the decade.  Then again, Scherzer is asking for 200M and is represented by Boras, the same guy who pawned Zito off on us.  And speaking of Zito, he's looking to make comeback.  Maybe him? I kid, I kid.  But it IS starting to sort of feel like 2007 all over again when the Giants had a lot of money that came off the books and couldn't wait to throw it at someone not named Bonds.  They tried to throw it at Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano and Gary Matthews Jr and none of them would take it.  Eventually they wound up with both Bonds AND Zito towards the end of the offseason.  Maybe we'll be seeing the same thing - this time with Scherzer.

Then again, sometimes it's better to go with the devil you know.  Jake Peavy, anyone?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adios Pablo - A Giant Chapter Has Closed

Pablo Sandoval, the beloved Kung Fu Panda, is now a Boston Red Sox.

And Giants fans are PISSED.

Ok, at least a lot of vocal Giants fans on various social media outlets.  Which is their right, of course. They feel betrayed, angry, hurt.  I get it.  He was a homegrown player.  He, in a lot of ways, served as the face of the franchise alongside Tim Lincecum during the post Bonds dark years.  Back when we had Bengie Molina batting clean-up.  Back when he was "Little Money" to Molina's "Big Money". Before he was "The Panda".

But why all the hate?  Why all the taunts?  Why so quick to the "we hope you get really fat and suck from here on out" type of messages and angst?

Pablo Sandoval is a professional athlete.  Key word there: Professional.  Pro Sports is first and foremost entertainment.  More importantly, it's a business.  It's an entertainment business.  How many of these angry Panda fans have ever left one job for another job for higher pay?  Have they ever made a lateral career move when another company has offered more dough?  How can we be mad at Sandoval for securing his future and the future of his daughters and eventual grandchildren?  He essentially took a new job at a different company for higher pay to do the same things he was doing at his previous place of employment.  Except at this company, he has the option to go on sabbatical when he can't perform his daily tasks in the field (i.e. DH).

There's literally no reason to be mad at the Giants or Sandoval for the way things went down.  The Giants may have acted like they wanted Pablo back but let's be honest, they didn't want him back at the dollars and years he got from Boston (unconfirmed thus far, but alleged to be 5yrs/102M).  They didn't really want to pay him "Hunter Pence Money" (5yrs/90M) because, let's be honest, Pablo isn't Hunter Pence.  Pence is a workout fiend, keeps in shape all year round, is the definition of consistent, and truly loves San Francisco, the Giants, and the fans.  Pablo struggles with his weight on and off, hasn't had a truly great year since 2011, and expected to be paid AT LEAST as much as Hunter Pence.  That's the disconnect.  The Giants saw an athletic yet out of shape bad ball hitter who hadn't quite lived up to his potential the past few seasons but absolutely shined when it counted in 2012 and 2014 and weighed (see what I did there?) whether or not they should bow to the public pressure of extending an offer close to what was rumored he was being offered by other teams.  Especially coming off another World Series victory where he was a key ingredient.  So what did the Giants do? They offered a fair deal that was likely a bit lower than what Sandoval eventually accepted.

They did it full well knowing he'd likely pass on it.  And they probably are relieved that he did.

Did the Giants really want to pay 20M per season to Sandoval for the next 5 seasons?  Doubtful. Posey, Cain, and Pence are already making big time coin for the long term.  Bumgarner is on a steal of a deal but both Brandon's need to be extended in the near future and the Giants still need starting pitching not only for 2015 but beyond.  By signing Sandoval to a big contract, their budget would be constricted not only for this offseason but for the foreseeable future.  Sure, Hudson, Lincecum and Scutaro are coming off the books next season and Pagan the season after that but the Giants still need to budget for future needs. Unless Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, and Ty Blach turn into the next Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner the Giants will need to spend decent money to fill some holes.  A Panda re-signing would have made that more difficult.

With Pablo now going to Fenway, this offseason has gotten much more exciting for the Giants.  The possibilities open up to a much larger degree.  Had they re-signed Sandoval, Giants fans could have pretty much put the rest of the offseason on the backburner.  Sure, they may have signed a middling starting pitcher and some sort of left fielder but it would have been underwhelming.  Maybe a Vogelsong re-sign and Torii Hunter.  Now?  Everyone is in play.  Yasmany Tomas?  Sure.  Jon Lester?  A pipe dream but why not?  Nick Markakis?  Chase Headley?  Yoan Moncada? Max Scherzer?  Throw 'em all into the mix.  The Giants now have funds they had earmarked for Sandoval available to other players.  Yasmany Tomas is the hot name and he makes a lot of sense.  A 24 year old power hitting outfielder rarely hits the free agent market.  Yes, he's a complete unknown but others like him have thrived - Puig (ugh), Cespedes, Abreu... these are all young Cuban players that have made immediate impacts on MLB teams and by all accounts Tomas is of their caliber.  But the point is, the offseason is now wide open.  The Giants can be in on anyone or everyone.

Now, the Giants Way typically isn't to sign free agent pitchers to large deals.  They've toyed with the idea of Lester but let's be honest, Sabean and company have been scarred by the Barry Zito deal (and to a lesser extent, the Cain and Lincecum extensions).  They also seem to throw out any free agent that comes with draft pick compensation.  A strategy I can get down with.

What I foresee for the Giants moving forward is essentially what the Cardinals did in the 2011-2012 offseason.  The Cards also had a very popular free agent leave.  His name was Albert Pujols.  What did St. Louis do?  They took the money earmarked for Pujols and immediately extended Yadier Molina, picked up 2 team options on Adam Wainwright, and signed Carlos Beltran.  They won the World Series in 2011 with Pujols.  They reached the NLCS in every season since his departure (including a World Series appearance in 2013).  The Giants can smartly allocate Panda's funds to several other players and be contenders again in 2015.  I suspect that is what they will do.  It's what they have to do.

Sandoval was a great, albeit frustrating, Giant.  San Francisco had zero World Series championships before he came up and have 3 rings as he departs.  He had a heavy hand in two of those championships.  I, for one, am not bitter at him for departing.  Nor am I mad at the Giants for not going above and beyond to retain him.  There are a lot of theories as to how and why Pablo is leaving and who is to blame.  They may be accurate.  They may be inaccurate. Sometimes, a relationship has just run its course.  Pablo may have just wanted a bigger stage to display his talents.  San Francisco is not Boston.  Or maybe Pablo knew in time he'd be better served as a DH.  Maybe he really likes David Ortiz.  Who knows?  All I know is that I appreciate his contributions as a Giant.  We got 3 championships with him which is 3 more than we had before.  Now, the exciting part begins.  How do we replace him?

And you know what?  Sometimes change is good.  When the Giants won in 2010 and 2012, they retained large chunks of those rosters.  Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan... all of those players were re-signed after helping win a World Series.  It's hard to say now that any of those deals worked out all that well.  Maybe Boston is doing the Giants a huge solid.  I hold no ill will.  I hope Pablo goes to the Red Sox and has a great time and continues to produce.  He has done nothing to garner a "boo" from me if and when he returns to AT&T Park.  All his stats show he's on a decline but playing in Fenway may help him return to the great offensive player he showed glimpses of in this past postseason.  Let's just hope the Giants can replace his production and upgrade the team.  I believe the Giants can and will.  Adios Pablo.  It's been quite a ride.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Giant Dynasty

They did it.  Again.

The San Francisco Giants are your 2014 World Series Champions.  I'll go out on a limb and say that THIS Giants parade, this Giants trophy, this Giants championship may be the unlikeliest of them all. In 2010 and 2012 (2010 in particular), the Giants had amazing pitching from top to bottom. Lincecum was pitching like Cy Young Timmy, Cain was Cain, Bumgarner was a ridiculously talented and unflappable rookie, and even Jonathan Sanchez was awesome.  The bullpen was lights out and featured 3 relief arms that all eventually would be closers for the Giants in the playoffs (Wilson, Romo, Casilla).  The Giants had the pitching, they just had to make the playoffs.  And when they did, trophy #1 came a calling.

In 2012, the Giants again relied heavily on their pitching.  Lincecum was NOT Cy Young Timmy but Cain was having arguably his best season and was the definitive ace.  Bumgarner had proven he was a stud.  And Ryan Vogelsong, after re-establishing himself as an MLB starter in 2011, was at times so dominant that it could have been argued he was actually our #1 starter at some points in the season. The wildcard to that magical run of elimination games was Barry Zito, who took the mantle from Jonathan Sanchez as the lefty we totally didn't expect would be a stud but then was (though Sanchez was more a stud in the regular season in '10 whereas Zito decided to stud it out in the NLCS and World Series).  Again, the bullpen was damn near untouchable, especially with Lincecum used as a x-factor out of it.

2014?  It was the Madison Bumgarner show.  That's really how this postseason will be remembered. The coronation of Madison Bumgarner.  The insertion of Madison Bumgarner in the discussion of best pitcher in the game.  Madison Bumgarner: the most clutch pitcher in modern baseball history perhaps.  Let's recap his postseason.

NL Wildcard game.  Complete game shutout.  Winning pitcher.
NLDS Game 3:  7 IP, 3 R, 2 ER.  One costly error that led to a loss.
NLCS Game 1:  7.2 shutout innings and another win.
NLCS Game 5:  8 IP, 3 ER and a no decision in a game the Giants won on a walkoff.
WS Game 1:  7 IP, 1 ER in garbage time.  Another win.
WS Game 5:  Complete game shutout and the win.
WS Game 7:  5 IP of no run relief, on 2 days rest, and the save.

Cumulatively?  That's a 4-1 record with a save, a 1.03 ERA, and a 0.65 WHIP.  Un. Believable.

And he was at his absolute best in the World Series where he now has the lowest ERA of any starter in the Fall Classic in the history of baseball at 0.25 for his career in 5 World Series games.

So yeah, if Reggie Jackson is Mr. October and Pablo Sandoval was being called Senor Octubre than Madison Bumgarner might be the President of October.

His performance was historical.  He now will be a legend in baseball forever.  And he brought the Giants with him.  With San Francisco winning 3 of the past 5 World Series, it's not a question.  They are a dynasty.  This is baseball.  There is more roster turnover from year to year in baseball than there is in any other sport.  To win 3 championships in a sport where only 1/3 of the teams qualify for the postseason over a grueling 162 game schedule is prolific no matter how some people may try to spin that it's not a dynasty.  The Giants were not, statistically, the best team in baseball in 2010, 2012, or 2014.  Yet at the end of the season, they carried home the trophy.  That, by rule, makes them the best team of the season.

The Giants didn't have the pitching staff in 2014 that they did in 2010 and 2012.  Their rotation wasn't as strong.  Bumgarner was a true ace but Hudson, Peavy, and Vogelsong all were mid-rotation starter types.  The bullpen had only 4 dependable and trustworthy arms in Affeldt, Lopez, Romo, and Casilla.  And it's no coincidence that those 4 have been an ingredient in all 3 championships.  As Kansas City taught a lot of people this postseason, sometimes having a lights out bullpen is as good as having a lights out starting staff.  The Giants and Royals were evenly matched (a Game 7 seemed to be a foregone conclusion 2 games into the Series) and actually mirrored each other in a number of ways.  The Royals and Giants play the game right.  They play the game fundamentally.  It's not flashy or as exciting as hitting monster home runs to casual fans but seeing Lorenzo Cain run and Kevin Dyson running around making ridiculous plays or watching Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik turn one of, if not THE best double play in World Series history is exciting.  The Royals were a worthy opponent and the Giants were up to the task.  In the end, the Giants barely out-gritted KC.  The rest of the starting staff faltered but the pen stepped up when it absolutely had to and no bullpenner was more amazing than the last one:  Madison Bumgarner.  5 innings to save the World Series.  5 innings that permanently will put him in World Series lore forever.  5 innings that etched him team into the history books of Major League Baseball and gave the National League its first dynasty in a very very long time.

This post has the word "history" in it a lot.  It's because baseball fans just witnessed it.  A historical performance by a ridiculous pitcher.  And his franchise will forever be remembered for it.

2010. 2012. 2014.

The Giants ARE a dynasty.  And they couldn't have done it without Madison Bumgarner.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A League Championship Series Devoid of Stars

Well, the Giants did it.  I don't really know how, but they backed into the playoffs, immediately got hot and beat the Pirates in the one game Wildcard playoff, outlasted the Nationals, the best team in the National League (and my NL Champion preseason pick) in the Division Series and after a wacky walkoff win today, lead the Cardinals 2-1 in the NLCS, leaving them two wins away from their third National League pennant in 5 seasons.

Just the way everyone drew it up, right?  Yeah... right.

So how did it happen?  How did THIS team get back to the NLCS?  I'm not a big believer in the whole postseason experience thing.  The 2010 Giants didn't have postseason experience and they didn't face a single elimination game en route to their championship. The Kansas City Royals haven't lost in the postseason yet and the last time they were here was 1985.  That being said, you HAVE to chalk at least some of the Giants success up to their experience!!  They haven't gotten rattled.  They have forced other teams into mistakes.  They have essentially played flawless baseball en route to a 6-2 postseason record thus far.  One of their own losses came from making an error (the poor decision by Posey/Bumgarner to go for an out at third base on a sacrifice bunt in Game 3 of the NLDS) and the other loss came from a baffling bullpen implosion in Game 2 of the NLCS.  The Giants hopefully got their bullpen implosion out of the way and will now pitch effectively the rest of the way.  They did today.  That's the thing about this Giants bullpen... they're pretty good.  But when they're bad, they all go bad at once.  But typically it's only for one game.  Then they right the ship.  But really, the Giants have had a combination of things go right for them: the other teams have made boneheaded errors, the Giants have put the pressure on their opponents, and they've made the most of their opportunities.  It hasn't been pretty but it has been getting the job done thus far. There always is an element of luck involved in any playoff run and the Giants have had some of that as well.

Aside from luck, the biggest reason the Giants are where they are is because their starting pitching has showed up when the lights have turned brightest.  In 2010 and 2012, the Giants had one of the top rotations in the league.  In 2014, not so much. Consider this, the Giants started 7 guys regularly this year:  Bumgarner, Peavy, Hudson, Vogelsong, Lincecum, Cain, and Petit (I'm excluding the season finale start by Chris Heston).  Out of those 7 guys, only Bumgarner and Lincecum (!) had winning records. Technically, Peavy was 6-4 for SF but overall he was 7-13.  So it wouldn't have been unfair to say it would be highly unlikely the Giants would be the squad in the postseason to put together a dominant string of starting pitching, not when the postseason featured the likes of Kershaw and Greinke, Scherzer and Price, Strasburg and Zimmermann, and potentially Lester and Gray.  Except that's exactly what has happened.  Bumgarner has pitched like a man possessed.  He was excellent in 2010.  He was shaky then spectacular in 2012.  But in 2014 he has shown the baseball world that he has become one of the best big game pitchers in the sport.  One game playoff on the road in a hostile environment in Pittsburgh?  No problem - he'll just throw a complete game shutout.  He had a brain fart in Game 3 of the NLDS that allowed the Nationals to steal a game but that was a fielding error. His pitching line still looked good:  7 innings, 2 ER.  He had a postseason scoreless streak of 22 innings.  And all he did in his next appearance was shutout the Cardinals for 7+ innings to take Game 1 of the NLCS, give home field back to the Giants, and set a record for most consecutive scoreless innings on the road.  All this at 25 years old.  At 25 years old, I was blacking out at bars and figuring out what I was going to do in life.  Madison Bumgarner has 2 World Series rings and chugs 5 beers after clinching postseason series games and is essentially the best pitcher left in the postseason.  He is the undisputed ace of the San Francisco staff and has been one of, if not THE most impressive starting pitcher this October so far.  Clayton Kershaw?  Yeah, he may take home the NL Cy Young award AND the MVP (just as Justin Verlander did in 2011) but it very well could be Madison Bumgarner that brings home the bling that really matters - another World Series ring.  When talking postseason left-handers alone, chances are Bumgarner was considered 4th best among a group consisting of Kershaw, Lester, and Price.  Not anymore.  Bumgarner has outlasted all of them and has the most impressive stats (and credentials) out of any of them.

Bumgarner hasn't done it alone.  Jake Peavy got his first career postseason victory in the NLDS and kept the Giants in Game 2 of the NLCS.  Tim Hudson helped create the longest postseason game of all time by stymying the Nationals for nearly 8 innings and matching Jordan Zimmermann pitch for pitch in a game the Giants eventually won in 18 innings.  Hudson couldn't hold a 4-0 lead in today's NLCS Game 3 but he did give the team 6+ innings in his first career LCS start and the Giants were able to win it in extras. Vogelsong kept up his postseason voodoo (3-0, 1.19 ERA postseason career) in the clinching Game 4 of the NLDS and will try to give the Giants a 3-1 NLCS series lead tomorrow night.  In short, a rotation that had a ton of question marks going into October has shown to be one of the best staffs in this second season.  That's how the Giants got to where they're at.

But you look around this MLB postseason as a whole and the 4 teams remaining (the Royals, Orioles, Cardinals, and Giants) all have something in common: a lack of superstar power.  I've touched base on the pitching side in regards to the Giants, but it's the same for all the remaining teams.  Bumgarner is underrated and not a name casual baseball fans would recognize (though he's changing that start by start).  Neither is Yordano Ventura, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Lance Lynn, or Jason Vargas.  Like I mentioned, the postseason started off with some of the biggest names in pitching but all the guys remaining are relative unknowns.  The biggest names left may very well be Tim Lincecum and Adam Wainwright. Lincecum hasn't thrown a single pitch in the postseason thus far (a sad state of affairs in an otherwise thrilling Giants postseason) and Adam Wainwright hasn't been right at all, yielding a ton of runs in 3 starts while murmurs of an injury linger.  Right now, aside from Lincecum and Wainwright, the most recognizable names may be Madison Bumgarner and James Shields and even then it's a stretch to call either of those guys superstars.

This bleeds into the position players as well.  Stars are made in October but gone are such names as McCutchen, Kemp, Cabrera, Harper, Ramirez, Puig, Trout, and Pujols. The games biggest and most marketable stars are now sitting at home watching the likes of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Steve Pearce, JJ Hardy, Kolten Wong, and Brandon Belt. Sure, Buster Posey is a former MVP.  And the Kung Fu Panda is definitely recognizable. But largely, the NLCS and the ALCS feature teams that don't have superstars.  Buster Posey didn't even make the All Star team this year.  Yadier Molina was on the shelf for the All Star Game as well and he's on the shelf again for the NLCS.

Regardless, the postseason has been thrilling.  There have been six (6!) extra inning games.  Most of the games have been decided by 2 runs or less.  The teams remaining in the National League have won the last 4 NL Pennants between them while the teams remaining in the AL haven't won a pennant since the early-mid 80's.  There's no New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.  The highest payroll in baseball (LA) will not be spraying World Series celebration champagne.  There are no superstars left. But there's good baseball. Crazy baseball. Walkoffs.  Stressful innings.  Games coming down to making that one play (or not).  Players that are close to being stars or are edging their way to superstardom but aren't quite there yet.

It's been a ridiculous ride.  And unless the Royals have some sort of historic collapse, they'll be representing the American League in the World Series.  How many experts had the Royals in the playoffs, let alone the World Series?  Hopefully, it'll be these plucky Giants as their opponent.  An epic October showdown featuring a team in blue and white playing against a team in orange and black.  Giants fans can pretend the Royals are the Dodgers to add edge to a World Series, no?  Or, if the Giants can't close it out, there's a chance at a rematch of the 1985 World Series where the Cardinals faced off against the Royals and lost (which coincidentally was the Royals last playoff appearance).  Or maybe the Orioles storm back and win 4 in a row to force an all orange and black World Series.  There are a variety of ways this postseason can end.  But one thing is for certain, when it started there were not many that thought it'd be THESE 4 teams duking it out in the end.

That's baseball.  And it's great.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Giants Are Limping to the Finish

Well, things are looking bad aren't they?  I mean, as bad as they can be for a team that is almost assuredly going to the playoffs.

Yes, barring a total collapse this final week of the season, the Giants will be playing October baseball.  Granted, that October baseball looks almost certain to be a date with the Pirates for the one game wildcard play-in game.  And the way the Pirates are going (super hot) and the way the Giants are going (not so hot), San Francisco's October baseball appearance could be one and done on October 1st.

Has there been a more enigmatic San Francisco Giants team?

The Giants shot out to MLB's best record in baseball the first 2 months of the season.  They did so mostly by beating up on the NL West in April (inclusive of those Dodgers) and by having a 20 win May against some good teams.  They started June off well and swept the Mets and had a 43-21 record.  Then the wheels fell off.  They seemingly couldn't beat anyone the rest of June and July.  The Giants blew all of their 9.5 game lead in the NL West to the Dodgers until righting the ship a bit in August and September to lead the wildcard and keep the Dodgers in striking distance.

We've seen Matt Cain's elbow go AWOL, Marco Scutaro make a cameo just long enough to concuss Brandon Belt, Pagan's back issues way too much, and Morse's injury history finally rearing its head when arguably we need his power bat the most.  Not to mention we've seen Lincecum turn into Zito and Hudson go incognito when, like Morse, we really can't afford to not have him be on his game. Yusmeiro Petit could legitimately be our #3 postseason starting pitcher.  Yusmeiro. Petit.

The bench was revamped on the fly and has actually gotten better as the season has gone along mostly thanks to rookie Andrew Susac and polishing off Travis Ishikawa as a shiny, new, and effective pinch hitter.  Joe Panik has been a life saver at second while Jake Peavy apparently only needed to be reunited with his old Padres manager to remember he was a Cy Young pitcher once.

It's been a wild ride.  A season truly full of up and downs.  As October looms, the Giants are not in the best position.  They're losing games to teams they really ought to beat and their offense has pulled its Houdini act again.  The starting pitching has been inconsistent outside of Bumgarner and Peavy which is not a recipe for October success.  Pagan and Morse can't stay healthy and Brandon Belt is taking real MLB at-bats but he's essentially in Spring Training mode.

The Giants lead going into the Petco finale (I hate that stadium) is miniscule over Pittsburgh for home field advantage for that one game wildcard playoff.  The Giants record home and away is about equal so playing on the road isn't daunting but the Pirates have one of the best home records in baseball. Regardless, whether they play at AT&T or play at PNC, the Giants have a lot of issues and don't have the look of a team about to run the table and win its third World Series championship in 5 years.

Of course, they still need to MAKE the playoffs.  The way they're playing, they could miss out completely if the Brewers decided to make any sort of move in the wildcard standings the past week. Luckily for the Giants, the Brewers and Braves showed a lot of disinterest in making a final run for the wildcard meaning the Giants may very well back into October while playing uninspiring ball with a spate of injuries and little depth.  You can practically pen in Pirates vs Giants on October 1st with Bumgarner facing either Gerrit Cole or Francisco Liriano (who won the Pirates play-in game last year).  And remember, Giants hitters have all sorts of issues hitting left handed pitching so Liriano would make sense on Clint Hurdle's part, especially if Angel Pagan can't play.

While it's hard to see this current group making much noise (getting past Pittsburgh would be an accomplishment in and of itself), you never know.  That is what makes baseball great.  The only thing that we can say for certain is that we'll be rooting for whomever is playing the Dodgers almost as hard as we're rooting for the Giants to somehow advance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Are the Giants Playoff Contenders or Pretenders?

I haven’t written an entry for several weeks because I’m still staggered at how Brian Sabean and his staff looked at this 2014 team they put together, looked at the pool of NL contenders, and decided that standing pat at the Trade Deadline was an amazing idea. 

I get that it wasn’t a buyer’s market and all that.  What I do know is that a lot of teams made a lot of moves at the deadline and the Giants (and thankfully the Dodgers) were not one of them.

I wanted Ben Zobrist but at least I understand why the Giants did not get a second baseman.  Joe Panik has caught fire since being given the every day job and the Giants don’t have the budget (chuckle, they have it, they just don’t want to spend it) to have an All-Star at every position like the Dodgers aspire to have.  Panik is a cheap option now and hopefully into the future.  He doesn’t need to be a bopper, he just needs to be an adequate #2 or #7 hitter.  I think he can be.  He strikes out rarely, handles the bat well, and can take a walk.

So I can see passing on getting a second baseman.

What I can’t understand is not upgrading the pitching or the bench.  This team has shown it has zero depth.  Zero.  Pagan has returned but if another outfielder goes down we’re back to Blanco and/or Juan Perez every single day.  That’s not good.  I like Blanco as a bench guy.  I don’t like him being counted on to be Angel Pagan, Mike Morse, or Hunter Pence.  Because he can’t be those guys no matter how hard he swings.  I also look at the bench and see a bunch of guys that were playing every day in the minors and are now being asked to assume a very tough role of being pinch hitters and playing sporadically against Major League pitchers they have never faced.  Sabean mentioned winning and developing at the same time?  This isn’t the way you do it. However, the other bench members have been terrible all year.  Joaquin Arias?  Hector Sanchez?  Joe Panik and Andrew Susac have come up and outplayed them in less opportunities.  What's that say about the bench?  

Then there's the pitching.  Casillla was removed from the closer’s role in 2012 when the team opted to go with Sergio Romo.  Sergio Romo was removed from the closer’s role in 2014 when the team opted to go with Santiago Casilla.   If the team wasn’t going to make a big move for a starting pitcher, then solidifying the bullpen would have made sense.  I mean, it’s the bullpen.  Brian Sabean’s speciality is finding bullpen arms at the deadline.  Bruce Bochy’s strength is molding a bullpen.  Huston Street would have been a great get.  There were other guys out there that could have helped this staff.  Instead, Sabean saw a team that was flawed and wasn’t sure what to make of it so he sat on his hands.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  He saw a flawed team that was contending and didn’t do anything to increase the chances of them actually making the playoffs.  Why?  The asks were too high?  The farm wasn’t that good?  Sabean made it clear that he got nibbles on a variety of his minor leaguers which he said was like “free scouting” which should be sort of concerning.  If your GM has to rely on other teams to know the value of his own prospects, what exactly does he know about his prospects?  And what’s the difference in trading those prospects at the deadline as opposed to the offseason.  Because if you read in between the lines when Sabean was asked about his lack of moves, he insinuated that due to this new found value in his prospects he apparently didn’t know he had, he could make some moves to fill some holes in the offseason with those prospects.

That’s the offseason.  Where is the sense of urgency for a team that is actually playing for a playoff spot RIGHT NOW?  Sabean said he didn’t see much from this team that told him one way or another if it had the pieces to be a championship caliber club.  So if that’s true, shouldn’t he have gone out and got the pieces?  


Pagan is back.  But Belt and Hector Sanchez are concussed.   Pagan’s return hasn’t resulted in the spark that the Giants thought they’d get from his return.  The offense is still maddening and has trouble scoring at home.  Beating the Phillies for their first home series win in forever is nice and all, but the Giants need to start winning consistently to get to October.  They need to regain the swagger at home.  They need to re-learn how to beat teams that are actually good (i.e. above .500).  And they need to pitch.  Lincecum has become a mess again.  Hudson has not been as sharp.  Bumgarner finally had a nice start at home for once but his bullpen blew it.  This team has bad timing.  When the starting pitching shows up, the offense goes cold.  When the offense and starting pitching shows up, the bullpen decides to go into the shitter. 

So how do you evaluate this team?  The Dodgers, contrary to popular belief, are NOT running away with the division.  The Giants somehow are only 3.5 games back and only 2 games back in the loss column.  The good news for us Giants fans is that September is mostly going to be against NL West teams.  That means playing a bunch of games against some not so good teams minus that one team that plays in Chavez Ravine.  The Giants can beat those teams.  What they need to figure out is how to beat the good teams.  Fortunately for them, both they and the Dodgers seem to have this problem.  Which means the Dodgers/Giants series in September should play out relatively evenly.  But the Giants still have the likes of the Nationals, Brewers, and Tigers to deal with as well.  They need to be competitive against those teams. 

Regardless, Sabean and his cohorts are not bringing in reinforcements.  If they didn’t make a move at the end of July, it’s hard envisioning them pulling the trigger at the end of August.  They won't spend what it takes to get the best player out there for them (Cuban export Rusney Castillo) so Giants fans will have to hope that the run of sub .500 teams they play the remainder of the schedule will be enough to keep them ahead of the Braves, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals and Marlins.  And maybe those Dodgers as well.  Because shockingly enough, if the playoffs ended today, the Giants would be in them.  No thanks to Brian Sabean and his lack of moves at the deadline. 

Go Giants.  Beat LA. And, ya know, all those other teams...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

MLB Deadline 2014: What should the Giants do?

The Giants began the 2nd half with plenty of question marks as to what they needed to get better and after the opening series with the Marlins, the needs are still muddled.

The Giants are horrific against left handed pitching.  In the final game of the Marlins series, they got shut down by Brad Hand, a guy who had 2 career wins in 39 career games and a lifetime ERA and WHIP of 4.73 and 1.54 respectively.  Tomorrow they get some dude named Cliff Lee.  The Giants have a lot of lefties in their line-up.  Surprisingly, Giants lefty hitters actually have been holding their own against lefty pitchers this season.   But that doesn't mean Bochy trusts those match-ups so that means more Hector Sanchez and more Joaquin Arias (or if we're lucky Ehire Adrianza).  That's bad news for whomever is the starting pitcher that day for the Giants.

So does Sabean improve the bench to limit that exposure?  Does he get an everyday 2B he can trust and Bochy can plug in to the line-up daily?  Does he get bullpen help or a closer?  Does he get a starting pitcher in case Matt Cain's cranky elbow gets really cranky?

The Giants have been linked to all sorts of names thus far.  One name that got crossed off that list was Huston Street.  I would have loved to get Street.  Casilla has done a fine job since filling in for Romo but Juan Gutierrez, Sergio Romo, and Jean Machi have been shaky middle relief.  By acquiring a closer, the Giants could push Casilla back to his 8th inning duties and have more bullpen depth overall. This seems like the most likely scenario in Sabean's world since Sabean always seems to get a bullpen arm or two when the Giants are in contention.  Since the Street option has been closed (thank you, I'm here all week) my new bullpen acquisition target is Joakim Soria of the Rangers.  Soria was once an elite closer for the Royals and now is putting up elite numbers for Texas.  He has a 2.59 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and an absolutely ridiculous 10.5 strikeout to walk ratio.  The best part is he has a 7M team option for 2015 which was something that made Huston Street also attractive.  A 7M closer?  That's a relative bargain these days.  The Angels gave up some decent value for Street but it was a package the Giants likely could have matched or exceeded had they really gone after him.  Street and Soria likely have equal value so the perimeters of a deal have been outlined.  Sabean now knows what a package for Soria would cost.

Soria is my pipe dream.  There are other names out there on the bullpen market.  Notably, Jonathan Papelbon (too expensive) and a few other lesser names (Chad Qualls?).  Sabean has a knack for picking up bullpen arms that are not exciting in name but are quality pieces.  He likely has a list of names that he and his lieutenants are scouting.

Aside from the bullpen, the names linked for 2B are Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Aviles, Gordon Beckham, and some others.  Zobrist would be a great fit for the Giants and if you believe the media, the Rays and Giants have been scouting each others games.  We can pipe dream about David Price, who's name continues to be peripherally linked to the Giants, but it's more likely the Giants are zeroed in on Zobrist.  Recent rumors have the Giants and Blue Jays the heaviest pursuers of Utley.  If Sabean is not convinced a Panik/Scutaro platoon is the answer at 2B for 2014, he may make a move to acquire one of these names.

At this point, an outfield bat seems like a more logical need.  While Hunter Pence has done a great job filling in at the leadoff spot, he's not a true leadoff hitter.  The Giants can't and shouldn't rely on Angel Pagan's return to stabilize leadoff and centerfield because Pagan has had all sorts of injury issues the past season and a half.  Pence is better suited in an RBI slot (he had 99 RBI's last season).  Getting a leadoff hitter would allow Pence to move down the order and provide another bat in the middle of the line-up.  Meanwhile, Panik has done well in the #2 spot in the order and Marco Scutaro is one of the best #2 hitters in the game when he can play so that slot in the line-up seems to have been rectified with Panik's play and Scutaro's return.  The Giants have been linked to a few outfield names like Chris Denorfia, Ben Revere, and Dayan Viciedo.  Revere would be an interesting stop gap.  Denorfia could thrive on a contending team and would be great off the bench if/when Pagan returns.

Finally, there's starting pitching.  Cain's elbow issues can't be downplayed.  He hasn't pitched like he's capable the first half of the season and the grumbling about the bone chips he has grew louder with the recent acknowledgement that his elbow hasn't felt 100% all season.  The Giants simply can't afford to lose a starter.  Yusmeiro Petit has done okay in several starting cameos but aside from him the Giants don't have an answer if a starter were to go down for an extended period of time.  Edwin Escobar has scuffled all year at AAA and he was the guy the Giants were counting on for depth.  Starting pitching is usually the most costly acquisition this time of year.  Would the Giants make a big trade just for depth?  With all the other needs it's hard to say.

It's clear that the Giants have their work cut out for them in the next two weeks.  They need to identify the ONE area they really feel they need to improve and then go out and find the best piece that plugs that hole.

It's always interesting leading up to July 31st.  This season is no different.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sabean's Conundrum as the Trade Deadline Approaches

Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are both now Oakland Athletics.  I guess it's better than them both being Dodgers or Cardinals or any other competitor of the Giants for a playoff spot.  However, it does basically price out David Price (a pun!) from the Giants shopping cart. Did you see the names that went to the Cubbies for Samardzija and Hammel?  Legitimate, top tier prospects.  The Rays, if they even choose to move Price, will look for a similar package.  Do you know what top tier prospects the Giants have to offer?  None.  Zilch.  Zero.

Hence the problem with our Gigantes and the trade deadline at the end of the month.

Last season the Giants prospect cupboard was a quasi barren wasteland.  All our "real" talent was in the low minors we were told.  It was relatively accurate.  Kyle Crick, our top prospect, was in Single-A ball.  So was Clayton Blackburn.  And Ty Blach.  Edwin Escobar was making a name for himself first in Single-A and then later Double-A.  Joe Panik was in Double-A and no one really knew who Adam Duvall was yet.  No, the names that were close to MLB "ready" were Chris Heston and Mike Kickham.  Sort of Heath Hembree.  And kind of Nick Noonan.  Oh and a mid-twenties Roger Kieschnick.  Giants fans will remember these guys because most of them got promoted to our lousy baseball team in 2013 and, aside from Hembree, were god awful.   Brian Sabean did something he rarely has ever done that season - he sat on his hands and did not make a trade.  He didn't trade away his veterans to gain prospects and he didn't trade his prospects to gain a veteran.  He stayed the course.

And why did he stay the course?  Because it was evident the Giants were not really contenders last year and he didn't see a fix out there that could get the team on track.  He also didn't see enough value from other teams for any of our veterans.  So he kept everyone, prospects and veterans alike.  I assume his thought process was that in 2014, our "better" minor league prospects would have more value and that he could retool the 2014 squad and shape them into a contender.

Well, he was half right.  He DID retool the 2014 squad and make them contenders.  Despite a June that would have made the 2008 Giants cringe, the Giants ended the first weekend of July only a half game behind the Dodgers for first place.  Sure, they were UP 9.5 games on LA at one point, but the only standings that matter are the ones at the end of the regular season.  The Giants survived what we can only hope was their worst stretch of the season and they have finally been showing signs of coming out of it.  Sabean was right on that front; he could retool the disappointing 2013 team and make them contenders in 2014 but he was wrong about our prospects.  At least, at the moment, he appears to be wrong. Why? Because at this time our top 20 prospects are all doing miserably in the minors.  That's not an exaggeration.  I think Andrew Susac is the only Giants top prospect that can say he's having a solid season.  Everyone else?  Ugh.  Yuck.  Edwin Escobar is getting soul crushed at AAA.  Derek Law and Mac Williamson are out for the year recovering from Tommy John.  Adalberto Mejia?  Chris Stratton?  Joan Gregorio?  Martin Agosta?  They all have ERA's over 5.   The Giants continue to think Juan Perez is a better use of a roster spot on the 25-man than Gary Brown which tells you all you need to know about Gary Brown.  Joe Panik is the only prospect that has made good (so far) by coming up and actually providing usefulness.  Heath Hembree hasn't been throwing well and has a bad WHIP.  Kyle Crick, our consensus #1 prospect, has a nice ERA (3.22) but has been allowing all sorts of baserunners (a 1.50 WHIP).

The Giants prospects theoretically have LOST value instead of gaining some with more experience. While it's true that scouts and ballclubs don't just look at stats when it comes to evaluating young players, stats DO play a part.  Now, the good news for the Giants is that sometimes other squads covet players for different reasons.  In 2012 the Giants got Marco Scutaro for Charlie Culberson.  You can't tell me with a straight face that the Giants ever thought Culberson was actually an MLB starting infielder.  To trade Culberson, who is likely at his highest ceiling an okay utility guy, for an established veteran second baseman is highway robbery.  And it paid off handsomely for the Giants that year.  In 2010, the Giants got Cody Ross for NOTHING because the Marlins just wanted his salary to go away.

So the Giants are not screwed.  But as the A's just showed, you get splashier names when you have splashier prospects.  The Giants do NOT have splashy prospects so it's safe to say the David Price's of the world are not coming to SF.  But the Giants don't necessarily need an impact trade to improve.  As they begin clawing their way out of the wretched baseball they had been playing, their needs continually shift.  For awhile, it looked like Sabean would need to get a starting pitcher because Lincecum looked lost, Vogelsong was hot and cold, and Cain forgot he once was a really good pitcher. Now the rotation has stabilized.  Bumgarner is an All-Star, Hudson might be one as well, Lincecum has given up 1 run in his past 3 starts COMBINED, and Cain made a mechanical tweak and looks better, though not fixed quite yet.  Vogelsong has pitched better as well.  Would the Giants do well to get another "ace" pitcher?  Sure, what team wouldn't?  But the only ace pitcher out there now is David Price and it's not even a given he'll get traded since Tampa Bay is making a run up the standings.  Any other pitcher available is not going to be a big upgrade over what the Giants currently have in their rotation.  So if there isn't a clear upgrade, why make a trade that would require the Giants to essentially empty their farm system?  Well, there are other areas where the Giants need help...

Second base is the obvious one.  Can the Giants entrust second to Joe Panik for the rest of the year? Panik has looked better as he's settled into life as a major leaguer but the Giants would be taking a big gamble that he'll continue to look good the rest of the year because second base is by far the easiest position to identify as a weakness.  Even if Scutaro comes back in a platoon role, there is a lot of "ifs" going on there.

With Romo's meltdown, the bullpen could use stabilizing as well.  Not only has Romo unraveled but Jean Machi has become hittable.  The Giants bullpen was a strength in April and May.  They looked mediocre in June.  The Giants are using Santiago Casilla as their closer at the moment and he does have the stuff to be a full time closer.  But Sabean loves making his bullpens better at the deadline and if he makes ANY move, it likely will be for additional set up men or an actual proven closer.

The bench has been pretty bad all season long.  Sabean and Bochy are big fans of veterans.  It would make sense if they looked into some additional bench options that could potentially displace Brandon Hicks,  Joaquin Arias, Juan Perez, and Ehire Adrianza on the roster.  Tyler Colvin, Hector Sanchez, and Gregor Blanco appear safe at this point but it's not like they're setting the world on fire either.  The whole bench could use some tweaking but it's realistic Sabean is looking for another outfielder especially with Pagan being such a question mark.

Lastly, the rotation.  Sabean could be looking at starting pitching just because the old adage is that you can never have enough starting pitching.  But the truth is that starting pitching is usually hard to acquire and we've already covered why the Giants can't really put together a package to acquire an upgrade. So while Sabean is no doubt kicking the tires on some starting pitchers, his needs are more acute elsewhere.

If the Giants could make just one deal, what do you think is the most pressing need?  The bench, the bullpen, the rotation, or the line-up?

My guess is Sabean will acquire a tried and true closer.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Giants Are the Best Worst Team in Baseball or Something

On June 8th, after completing a 3-game sweep of the New York Mets, the Giants were standing as the best team in baseball.  They were 42-21, had a 9.5 game lead over the Dodgers, were dominant at home (22-9), and could seemingly do no wrong.  The bench was a problem but everything else was effing great.  Fans were not just asking if this team was really a 100+ win team, but if this was the best Giants team in the history of ever.

Well, it was fun to dream.

With the final game in the books for the Giants in June, they have erased that entire 9.5 game lead they built, they no longer look frightening at home (24-21), and they seemingly can't do anything right.  The bullpen has fallen apart with the biggest move being Sergio Romo losing his closer's job.  The starting pitching had an ERA of about a billion in June which didn't help things.  Then Tim Lincecum threw his 2nd career no-hitter and turned the starting staff around a bit.  But then the bats completely fell silent. Defensively, things have been shaky.  The Giants kept saying they didn't want to bring up Joe Panik or Adam Duvall and then they turned around and called up Joe Panik and Adam Duvall.

It's not like the Giants are playing behemoths of the sport either.  The Giants losing (they have now lost 11 of the past 15 games) has come against the Nationals who are a good team and the Reds who are (pun intended) red hot.  Aside from that?  They've lost to the Rockies, White Sox, and Padres.  All of those teams are well under .500 and the only series they've won since sweeping the Mets has been against Arizona, a team that is looking to sell off it's entire roster.  They've lost a 4-game series to the Nationals at home and got swept in a 4-game series AT HOME for the first ever at AT&T Park.

It is all very depressing and frustrating and angering and disappointing.

When the team was the best in baseball, no one could point fingers (except you bench) because everyone was doing their job.  The starters were keeping the team in ball games, the bullpen was pretty much unhittable, the offense was getting clutch hit after clutch hit, and the fielders were fielding cleanly.

So how and why did they fall apart?  It seems pretty simple actually.  The starters kept putting the team in holes early, the bullpen became unreliable, the offense stopped knocking in runs, and the fielders had some lapses in the field.  Oh, and the Giants finally started feeling the loss of Brandon Belt who broke his thumb on May 9th.  It didn't help that Angel Pagan tweaked his back and missed a handful of games before joining Belt on the DL as well.  And then there's been the merry-go-round at second base.  Brandon Hicks stopped hitting homers which basically nullified his value.  Joaquin Arias has been awful all season and Adrianza wasn't the answer either (and now also on the DL).  So the Giants turned to Panik and you can see why the Giants weren't really thrilled about calling him up.  He's been shaky in the field and aside from a couple hits early, hasn't provided much at the plate.  The Giants probably realize they need to make a trade for a 2B at this point even with the possibility Scutaro could return at some point in some capacity.

So the Giants stopped doing everything they were doing great and also had a slew of guys get injured. Meanwhile, the Dodgers found their groove, got healthy (for the most part), and have basically decided not to lose ever again.  That's a recipe for losing 9.5 games in a blink of an eye and feeling all doom and gloomy.

But if you're looking for that ONE thing to point to for these failures, look no further than Pagan.  It's hard to believe that one player can have such an effect on a team but with Pagan that seems to be the case.  The 2013 season went down the tubes when Pagan hit the DL for 2 months.  The 2014 season? Two major blunders in the outfield by Pagan led to the tide turning Rockies series where the Giants collapse really got going.  Instead of winning perhaps one, two, or even 3 games the Giants got swept at home by the Rockies and they haven't stopped losing since.  That also coincided with Pagan missing games and going on the DL.  Blanco has been awful in the leadoff spot as a replacement and the Giants have had trouble getting any sort of offensive rhythm without him.  There are many reasons the Giants are scuffling but Pagan's absence has to be right up there as a primary one.

So how do they fix it?  And what team are they?  The team that was on track to win 105 or so games or the team that has the worst record in baseball the past 3 weeks?  The answer is neither.  They're a happy medium of the two most likely.  Right now, the Giants are going the internal route to fix their issues. They're trying out Panik at 2B because they need to see if they need to trade for an established 2B (they do, preferably Ben Zobrist if you ask me).  Romo's struggles are even more of a headache because the Giants didn't see it coming.  Tacking on another need at this stage when they already have needs at 2B, the rotation, and the bench puts Sabean in a tough spot.  He has limited resources despite the fact the Giants sell out every game.  Adding to those needs is not ideal.  Do the Giants really plan on having Casilla and Affeldt close games the rest of the way?  Are they going to audition Hembree soon like they're auditioning Panik?  With Derek Law on the shelf after Tommy John surgery (joining Mac Williamson, another Giants top prospect losing a season due to TJ surgery) you'd think the Giants will have to see if Hembree can be a legitimate relief option sooner rather than later especially if they plan on letting Romo walk after this season.  So trading for help is one way this will get better and Sabean WILL make a move in the next 30 days.  The question is, what move will he make?

The other way they fix it is to play better.  The calendar is flipping to July and that in and of itself is good news for the "June Swoon" Giants.  Baseball players are weird.  It could be this whole June Swoon business actually got into their heads.  Not likely, but possibly.  With a new month, maybe they turn the corner.  They also are going to get healthier.  Belt should be back shortly.  Pagan even sooner. The rotation, starting with Lincecum's no-hitter, seems to be turning the corner.  Now it's the offense's turn to get better.  Once this happens, the Giants should start winning again and winning more than they're losing.  But the waiting has been real frustrating during this stretch.  But such is baseball.   Reinforcements are coming this month, be it current Giants getting healthy or new players coming via trade.  The good news is the Giants still share first place.  This awful stretch hasn't cost them the division lead.  If they get hot again or even just start playing closer to .500, they'll be fighting Los Angeles the rest of the way for the rights to the West title.  Hopefully the worst is behind them.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is Yasiel Puig the new Barry Bonds?

Yeah, I said it.

Barry Bonds was hated by most baseball fans.  He was hated by some IN baseball.  You would never hear anyone deny his talent however.  Even his harshest critics claimed Bonds was a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer before all the steroid nonsense came about.  But boy, did Bonds get it from every direction.  Fans, the media, teammates, ex-players... Bonds was always a hot topic.  He was vilified and respected.  Hated and beloved.  But no matter what view you had of Bonds, you simply had to watch.

Bonds was a circus attraction.  From the beginning of his career when he was getting in yelling matches with Jim Leyland in Pittsburgh to his final season in San Francisco where he broke the all time home run record, Barry Bonds was THE main event.  During the peak of Bonds's career, the Giants were a huge draw in road stadiums.  How could a man so hated bring so many to the park?  Well, he did.

AT&T Park was built practically by and for Bonds.  While other teams fans hated everything about him, Giants fans (and previously Pirates fans to a certain extent until he left) showered him with nothing but adoration.  The bleacher creatures often did the Wayne's World "We're not worthy" any time #25 stepped out to left field.

It was with good reason.  Bonds produced like no other player when he was between the lines.  For most of his career, that was in San Francisco.  Most non-SF fans loathed Bonds but none more than Los Angeles Dodgers fans.  I mean, could you blame them?

That little dance above was against the Dodgers, as many of you will remember.  Bonds was never short on flare.  He was the best in the game, he knew it, and he acted like it.  He always put on a show and he wasn't afraid to hot dog it to prove it.  In other words, he didn't give anyone outside his home fans a reason NOT to hate him.  He even rubbed some teammates the wrong way.  

Which leads me to the subject of this blog entry.  Is Yasiel Puig the new Barry Bonds?  

It's a legitimate question.  Puig, as far as I can tell, is universally despised by everyone that is not a Dodgers fan.  Well, except for ESPN, who seems to love the guy almost as much as they love(d) Brett Favre.  Like Bonds, Puig seems to have detractors within his own organization, namely his manager Don Mattingly and Dodgers broadcast icon Vin Scully who at times can't seem to fathom the antics he's seeing on the field daily by the young Cuban.  He's allegedly already had to apologize to teammates multiple times for his transgressions and let's not forget he was scratched from the Opening Day line-up this year because he was late to the ballpark.  On Opening Day.

But like Bonds, no one can deny his talent.  In his rookie season he hit .319 with a near .400 OBP and a .925 OPS.  He chipped in 11 steals and had 8 outfield assists.  His arm has already been compared to one of the best recent right fielding arms of this generation in Vladimir Guerrero and he loves to show it off.  So far in 2014, Puig is hitting a cool .340 with a .430 OBP and a 1.036 OPS.  And oh yeah, he was named player of the month for May after batting .398 with a .492 OBP and setting the Los Angeles record for hits in a month (43) during that period.  

Now, Bonds played 22 seasons and put up extraordinary numbers in almost all of them.  He finished his career with 14 All Star appearances and 7 MVP's.  Not to mention he's the all time home run king and is the only member of the 700/500 club.  Puig barely missed the All Star game in his rookie season but undoubtedly will be named to the squad this year.  Regardless, he has a long ways to go to even come close to what Bonds accomplished.

With that being said, Puig seems to be the best candidate out there to become MLB's next great villain. He has all the makings:  the attitude, the talent, the showmanship, and the ego.  ESPN loves him now but if he blows off the media or makes enemies with them, it wouldn't be so hard to imagine them turning on him.  Baseball hasn't had a supervillain since Bonds retired.  Ryan Braun REALLY tried to become that guy but gosh darn it, the guy just seems too likable no matter how many times he gets caught cheating or throwing innocent people under the bus to try to save his own skin.  Albert Pujols definitely had the talent but he was way too boring.  Modest.  Hard to root against a guy like Pujols.  

But now there's Puig.  On Twitter, I use #DouchePuig to refer to anyone or anything that is douchey. Kind of seems fitting.  Douchebag and DouchePuig sound kinda sorta similar, right?  And I'm a Giants fan.  So of course I can't stand him.  Especially not when he and our ace pitcher seem to hate each other as well.  

So after years and years of Dodgers fans having to endure Barry Bonds, the tables may have turned.  It is now Giants fans who must endure Yasiel Puig.  Hey, what goes around comes around, right?  

And I guess the silver lining here is that with Bonds, the Giants never won a World Series.  So despite all the angst he brought Dodgers fans that we, as Giants fans, reveled in we never truly got the last laugh because we never won.  Not until 2010 and 2012 of course.  So let the Dodgers have their Puig. I mean, he was the player of the month for May.  But the Giants had the perfect complement... the pitcher of the month for May:  Mr. Madison Bumgarner.  And oh yeah, the best record in baseball to boot.  

So sure, Puig may terrorize us for seasons.  But as long as he truly follows in Bonds footsteps and doesn't produce a ring for Los Angeles, then in the end, the Giants still come out on top.  Especially if we can add on to that San Francisco 2-ring total.  


Monday, May 12, 2014

The Giants Need A Bench

It's mid-May and the Giants are in first place.  They are tied with Milwaukee (!) for the best record in the National League.  They are still hitting home runs all the time which is completely new.  Their starting pitching has turned the corner save for the consistently inconsistent Lincecum.  The bullpen has been a strength all season thus far.  And they're 17-12 against their NL West brethren, including a beautiful 7-3 mark against the Los Angeles Dollars, er, Dodgers.

So what's wrong with the Giants?

Well, they're about to get tested and here's why:  Their bench has been ridiculously awful.  To put into perspective how bad the bench has been, Hector Sanchez is hitting .236 with a .262 OBP and a .662 OPS and he's been San Francisco's best bench player.  Granted, Sanchez has had some big hits.  But those overall numbers are bad bad bad.  Like Neifi Perez bad.  And that's the BEST our bench has to offer.

The rest?  Yikes.

Mr. Utility Joaquin Arias is hitting a robust .164 with a .207 OBP and a shockingly bad .371 OPS. Madison Bumgarner can hit better than that in his sleep.

Gregor Blanco, the White Shark, is hitting .100!!  If you threw ME up to the plate 10 times... okay, I wouldn't get a hit.  But that means Gregor Blanco is only getting 1 more hit than I would every 10 AB's.  Let that sink in.

Ehire Adrianza is batting .176 with a .194 OBP and a .430 OPS.  I keep wondering why Adrianza is even still on the team until I realize he's been our SECOND BEST BENCH PLAYER!!  How depressing is that?

Finally, we have Juan Perez.  Nevermind that Gary Brown is actually hitting in Fresno this year.  Or that there's about a dozen guys wearing Grizzlies uniforms that couldn't possibly do any worse.  What does Juan Perez add to the Giants 25-man roster?  Speed and defense?  Well he's speedy.  And he plays good defense.  But Bochy has Blanco for that role.  And what good is speed if you can't get on base? Also, if somehow you find yourself on base, you should probably be able to steal.  Juan Perez is 0 for 1 in steal attempts.  There's two things wrong with that stat.  One, he only has 1 attempt meaning he hasn't even attempted to use his one solid tool (speed) to steal when he's miraculously found himself on base.  Two, he wasn't successful when he DID try.  He is batting .050 with a .095 OBP and an amazing .145 OPS.  In the history of baseball, there may never again be such an ugly slash line.  It's so astoundingly bad that part of me has to believe Bochy and Sabean are keeping Perez up in the bigs just as some sort of joke.  Like how ugly can the numbers get?  And I don't even think Perez sucks.  He was one of our better prospects in 2013.  He's likely never going to be an every day outfielder but he at least was putting up some numbers that suggested he could maybe be a decent 4th or 5th outfielder. Not at the moment.  He needs to go down and get AB's every day.  His rhythm is completely off and he's lost at the plate.

So the Giants need some bench help.  Sabean made it a point to mention the bench as one of his offseason priorities last winter.  He didn't really accomplish that particular goal.  While it looks like he hit a home run with his free agent signings (Morse and Hudson) he neglected re-tooling the bench.  The thought was that Blanco as a 4th outfielder would instantly make the bench better as opposed to Blanco the every day player.  And sure, if/when Scutaro comes back (I don't think he will, at all, but IF) then Hicks moving to the bench would likely help.  But the Giants need to do something soon.  Right now it hasn't been a huge issue because the Giants have been winning.  But Bochy loves to play matchups and he loves resting his regulars early on in the season so they're more fresh down the stretch.  In order to do that without sacrificing games is to make sure you have enough depth where the downgrade isn't akin to falling off a cliff.  Right now, any time a regular sits, it's like falling off a cliff.

I mentioned the Giants are about to get tested and that's because Brandon Belt is out 6 weeks at least. That's a big hit.  It's not quite losing-Pagan-in-2013 catastrophic but it hurts.  The team was already missing its starting second baseman.  Now it's missing its starting first baseman.  A guy who, while streaky, has been a solid middle of the order bat so far this season.  Given the state of the bench, a couple things NEED to happen right away:

Pablo needs to start hitting.  It looks like the Panda finally got it going in the series finale against Los Angeles.  But he has to prove it wasn't a one game reprieve.  With Belt out, the Giants NEED Pablo to be Pablo.  He needs to start crushing baseballs.  Aside from Pablo, the Giants have to make a move and call in some reinforcements for the bench.  Arias isn't going anywhere.  He has a guaranteed contract and he's a veteran.  Bochy and Sabean don't cut those guys loose too often.  Neither is Blanco for the exact same reasons.  That leaves Adrianza and Juan Perez.  Perez has options and he should be sent down immediately or, at the very latest, when David Huff is ready to come off the DL.  Adrianza should be cut loose as well.  Adrianza is tougher for the organization to swallow because he is out of options, which means the Giants would have to be okay with the risk of losing him to another team potentially for nothing.  But at this juncture, I think they can.  The only reason Adrianza has lasted this long in my opinion was as insurance for Brandon Crawford.  If Crawford went south, the Giants wanted to have a shortstop that was solid defensively who possibly had some offensive potential.  I think while that potential is still there for Adrianza, the Giants no longer need it.  Not only did they lock up the underwhelming Arias for this year and next, but Joe Panik is hitting the ball well in Fresno.  If Crawford had to be replaced for any reason, the Giants at least could get by even if they sacrificed Adrianza.  Thankfully, Crawford has been playing out of his mind both offensively and defensively which further detracts any solid reasoning for keeping Adrianza around.

The Grizzlies roster has a number of players that are actually doing good things at the moment.  Any one of them would be an upgrade over what Juan Perez and Ehire Adrianza are currently doing at the MLB level.  The Giants brought Tyler Colvin up when Belt hit the DL so there's a chance the bench might already be slightly improved.  But they need to do more.  A baseball season is full of ups and downs.  Right now, the Giants are on an "up" streak and the complete lack of a bench has not yet really been a factor.  But there will come a time where SF will need production from its reserves and when that time comes, the Giants quite simply need better options.

Regardless, as always, and as the Giants have been doing so far this season:  BEAT LA