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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Is it 2018 yet?

To say this season hasn't gone according to plan would be an insult to all poor planners out there in the history of planning. The Giants season hasn't just NOT gone according to plan, it essentially was replaced by a stink bomb gag season that came wrapped in glorious wrapping paper and pretty bows but was unveiled to be what it truly was: a foul smelling piece of crap.

We are halfway through this 2017 season, the Giants have nearly 60 losses already (and about half as many wins) and the only thing that Giants fans care about right now are what aging declining veterans might get traded just to trim the fat off a roster that has monstrously underperformed. The Giants are sellers, they are a bajillion games behind the first place Dodgers, and are vying with the atrocious Phillies for the worst record in baseball. That's a pretty crazy turnaround for a team that a year ago had the best record in baseball. Granted, the very very poor 2nd half of 2016 maybe should have served as a warning sign. But the Giants still made the playoffs and gave the Cubs all they could handle so if anyone said they saw this downward spiral coming, ask them for the weekend's lottery numbers.

Are we witnessing Murphy's Law? Whatever can go wrong will go wrong? Because very little has gone right for the Giants this season. Aside from Buster Posey having another All Star season and putting together what might be his 2nd best season overall as a major leaguer, the Giants aren't seeing many positives. Let's go through the laundry list:

Madison Bumgarner made 4 starts and then severely injured himself dirt biking on an off day. Bumgarner may only pitch once every 5 days but he's a monster piece of the team in terms of swagger, attitude, and confidence. Losing him for months (hey, he's back today!) may have deflated an already seeping air Giants balloon. It was the straw that broke the Giants backs.

Brandon Crawford has struggled offensively and had a personal tragedy. Players are human and have emotions and feelings. Losing a sister-in-law unexpectedly and then having to go out and play baseball like nothing's wrong could have a toll on a man who values family so much. Crawford hasn't been the B-Craw we've gotten used to the last few seasons. Is he just having an off year, is he declining, or is he just grieving? Who knows but his offensive decline has impacted a line-up that needs its cogs to click.

The LF experiment was DOA. Look, we all know the Giants are pretty antsy about their budget and the luxury tax. They signed Melancon and decided they were done retooling the team hoping someone would be able to play LF capably at some point. Well, that plan was questionable at the start anyways and it was exposed when the rest of the line-up struggled. It has essentially been an open tryout all season long. It was solved briefly when Austin Slater came up and, unlike all the others, decided to NOT suck, but as the season has gone, he got injured and will now miss most of the 2nd half. Maybe there's a reason the Giants are being mentioned in Giancarlo Stanton talks. It'll never happen but it's fun to dream of once again having one of the best power hitters in the game playing left field.

The Mark Melancon signing had an ominous beginning and never got better. Last year's Giants bullpen was a mess and the closer role was definitely one of the culprits. So the Giants went out, signed the closer everyone thought they'd sign, and called it a day. Never mind the rest of that awful bullpen from 2016, if you gave them a leader, they'd for sure fall in line and perform. Right? Wrong. The bullpen is equally as bad this season with not one of the incumbents showing any sign of real improvement. Hunter Strickland has probably been the best reliever all said and done and he got suspended for a week for hitting Bryce Harper because Hunter Strickland never forgets. The fact that Strickland is your best reliever says all you need to know about the bullpen. Maybe we should have known this year was going to be terrible when Melancon blew his very first save opportunity on Opening Day. That should have been an ominous sign that the pen had NOT been fixed. Or that we were going to get punished for whatever reason. Regardless, the pen has been awful and Melancon was not the stress-free closer the Giants thought they were getting. He also may be damaged goods as he's now on the DL for the second time this season with no return date set.

The bench? What bench? The Giants spent the rest of the offseason after signing Melancon trying to find lightning in a bottle. They signed a bunch of veterans and probably hoped one or two would turn out to be an okay bench piece. None have. Michael Morse has been out with a concussion since Jeff Samardzija inadvertently tackled him in the Bryce Harper/Hunter Strickland title match. Jimmy Rollins never made the team. Melvin Upton Jr was probably close to getting a look-see from the minors then got his hand broken on a hit by pitch. Nick Hundley has been okay as the backup catcher but has he really been any better than Trevor Brown would have been? 2016 Postseason Would-Be Legend Conor Gillaspie has been mostly a ghost and has himself seen more DL time than playing time. The bench has no scary bats on it and is just another example of the Giants failed plan.

The rotation is pretty bad. The rotation was supposed to be NOT pretty bad. The rotation wasn't even supposed to be average or good. The rotation was supposed to be great. One of the best in the game. Two aces in Bumgarner and Cueto. A solid number 3 in Matt Moore who once had number 1 stuff who looked good down the stretch and in the playoffs in 2016. A reincarnated, reinvented Jeff Samardzija as your number 4? A 200 innings horse who could give you quality starts? And then, a blackhole in the 5th slot where Matt Cain was going to reside as a farewell tour but with hope and promise waiting in the wings in Beede, Andew Suarez, and Joan Gregorio. Well, Bumgarner got hurt, Cueto became ordinary at best, Matt Moore morphed into the worst starter in the National League, and Matt Cain, well, he's been the same Matt Cain from the past few seasons... a not very good starting pitcher. The only bright spot has been Samardzija who's peripherals look really good but who's classic stats look mediocre (E.R.A. and wins and losses). Beede has struggled in AAA, Joan Gregorio got suspended for PED's, and Andrew Suarez... well, he's actually doing okay so we might see him after the Giants trade Bumgarner (kidding!). Ty Blach actually took Bumgarner's spot when he got injured and he's actually pitched like a serviceable MLB starter so that is a positive as well. But it doesn't offset all the other rotation issues. The Giants will need to figure out what they want to do here moving forward. Cueto's opt out looms despite him having a mediocre season and now's on the DL with blister problems which probably means he doesn't get traded at the deadline. So the Giants will either watch him opt out for nothing or be stuck with him for 4 more seasons and 84M. That's not bad if he goes back to being the Cueto of old. But who knows?

Bright spots keep getting dimmed. In a season where the only thing Giants fans can really look forward to is seeing glimpses of the future, the brightest futures have already been shelved. As noted, Austin Slater is out for most of the 2nd half due to injury. And top prospect Christian Arroyo, after getting a cup of coffee for a couple weeks, went back down to the minors, got hit by a pitch that put him on the DL, then on the day he returned to the line-up got hit by a pitch again that broke his hand. He's out for most of the 2nd half now as well. What this means is that, in a lost season, the Giants lost two of their players that had the best chance of having an impact now and into the future. It's been that kind of year.

The worst of all of this is that it's not just that the Giants are boring, terrible, awful, and literally one of the worst teams in baseball. It's that the DODGERS are the exact opposite. The Dodgers are the best team in the National League and have all the makings of a true World Series contender. They're having amazing comebacks, they're having fun, they have a rookie that came out of relatively nowhere to go bonkers on the league...

It would be fitting for this crap season to end with those bums in blue winning a title. So I guess we can really only hope some other team can knock them off. The Giants won't have that opportunity this season. And yes, I'm STILL annoyed we didn't get a Dodgers/Giants NLCS in 2016 (damn you bullpen!!). So the Giants play now for 2018. What can they do and who can they take a look at to make 2018 not suck like 2017 has sucked. We'll find out in the coming weeks as the trade deadline looms. But as each Giants loss mounts, the only question is...

Is it 2018 yet?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MLB Predictions 2017

The time is now. Opening Day is upon us. With rosters set and most of the free agents in new homes (sorry Pagan, can't believe you're still unemployed dude!) it's time to take a gander at all 30 teams and the 6 divisions to see how SFGiantsGuy sees them shaking out. In my 2016 predictions, I got 6 out of the 10 playoff teams correct (though not necessarily right in terms of their place in the standings) and the NL Rookie of the Year and NL Cy Young Award winner pegged. My World Series prediction of Rays vs Giants however did not com to fruition. No worries! New season, new guesses! Here we go - may the 2017 season shake out almost exactly like this...

(Division winners bolded, wildcard teams in italics)

AL East: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees, Rays
AL Central: Indians, Royals, Tigers, White Sox, Twins
AL West: Astros, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Athletics

NL East: Mets, Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Marlins
NL Central: Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds
NL West: Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, Dbacks, Padres

ALWC: Rangers over Jays
NLWC: Dodgers over Nationals

ALDS: Indians over Rangers, Red Sox over Astros
NLDS: Dodgers over Cubs, Giants over Mets

ALCS: Indians over Red Sox
NLCS: Giants over Dodgers

World Series: Indians over Giants

AL MVP: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
AL CYA: Chris Sale, Red Sox
NL CYA: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
AL ROY: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
NL ROY: Hunter Renfroe, Padres

A look at the AL East: The East has been a hard division to predict the past few seasons but with the Yankees committed to a youth movement and the Rays continuing to be a farm system for other teams (thanks for Matt Moore!) the cream rising to the top is much easier to see. The Red Sox had a great offense last season and it's hard to imagine it being any less stellar in 2017 despite the retirement of Big Papi. The Red Sox got the best starting pitcher available in the offseason in Chris Sale to pair with David Price and their Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and having those arms to support their powerful offense should clear a path to the top of the division. The Blue Jays let Edwin Encarnacion go and that may come back to haunt them in October but Toronto is still plenty good and should be in the running for the wildcard. The Orioles continue their strategy of having a powerful line-up with really questionable starting pitching. It worked for them last season in terms of getting into the wildcard playoff game but Buck Showalter inexplicably decided a one-game playoff was not a good time to use his best pitcher (closer Zach Britton). Not sure it'll work this season but I've written the O's off plenty of times only to see them defy logic. I'm usually a Rays supporter as I always think they'll contend considering their pitching depth but not this time. The Yankees will be interesting to watch and may surprise but they probably need one more year of their rebuild before they're ready to be serious contenders.

A look at the AL Central: The Indians were missing their #2 and #3 starters down the stretch last season, not to mention one of their most dynamic offensive players in Michael Brantley who missed almost the entire season and yet Cleveland wound up one win away from winning the World Series. Since that tough loss, they added power hitting clutch RBI guy Edwin Encarnacion, will get back Brantley, and have Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar back in their rotation. Oh yeah, they'll also have Andrew Miller for a full season. The Indians were some peoples sleeper last season. Not this season. They should be one of the AL's best teams and in a weak division, should easily make it back to October. The Royals window has all but closed but there's still talent there to give the wildcard a run. They may want to make one last run at it given the Royals of 2018 will look a lot different than the World Series bound teams of 2014 and 2015. The Tigers are another year older and they're not doing much to get younger. While they have a lot of talent still, they may have too many miles on the core group to sustain a playoff run. Fulmer and Castellanos may be part of the next great Tigers teams but Verlander, V-Mart, Kinsler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Miguel Cabrera all can't defy father time forever. The White Sox are in full blown tear down and rebuild mode so the only questions will be where does Jose Quintana wind up, how many vets get traded during the season, and when does Yoan Moncada get called up? The Twins have some intriguing young guys but their pitching is a disaster and the only thing they'll contend for in 2017 is the worst team in the American League.

A look at the AL West: The AL West could be the battle of Texas. The Rangers and Astros should be competing amongst themselves all year for the AL West crown. The Rangers have a top heavy rotation with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish and a decent line-up while the Astros have a very strong line-up and some starting pitching that is hard to gauge. They are constantly mentioned as suitors for Jose Quintana which would help them a lot but they need to get Dallas Keuchel right too. If they can do that, they will be very tough. The Mariners are searching for that magical year where they break their playoff drought. This year could be the year if things break right. But Felix Hernandez needs to be King Felix and the rest of the rotation has to keep the team in games. The Mariners could be a solid sleeper this season. They eventually will see October again one of these years. The Angels and Athletics will likely sit at the bottom of the standings in 2017. The Angels are not in an enviable position. They have the best player in the game but can't surround him with talent. It's sad to see Mike Trout waste away in Anaheim but that is what he'll be doing this season. The A's have some intriguing prospects and young pitchers (Jharrel Cotton, Sean Manea) that could make them fun to watch, but they won't be challenging for a playoff spot.

 A look at the NL East: The East is a battle between the Nationals and Mets. The Marlins aren't sure what they are doing and it was an impossible task for them to fill the void left by Jose Fernandez's sad departure from this life. The Phillies and Braves are working on being relevant in a season or two and don't have real plans for contention. They both have interesting players littered all over their rosters but it would be a surprise if either contended for a wildcard slot. The Mets have their Big 5 intact. Their starting rotation may be the deepest in the game, even if it starts off missing Steve Matz. The offense should be good enough to support their starters and establish the Mets as one of the NL's best teams. But they're going to have a dog fight with the Nationals who's line-up and rotation is on par with New York's. It'll come down to health most likely as whichever team stays healthiest likely wins the division. The other should be right there for a wildcard spot.

A look at the NL Central: The NL Central used to be the Cardinals nest but there were always good teams nipping at their heels. The Cardinals are still a well run franchise but they no longer are the darlings of the division. The World Series Champion Cubs (still weird) are the new hotness. They have youth, attitude, and a ton of talent. They had the best record in baseball in 2016 and the scary part is their offense should keep getting better. However, it's realistic to believe the pitching may take a step back but Chicago should still be deep enough to conquer all division rivals. The Pirates are in an interesting spot. They have a lot of young talent emerging but will they be consistent enough for Pittsburgh to challenge for the playoffs? Here's thinking McCutchen will rebound from a bad 2016 and will lead the Pirates to a winning record that will have them fighting for a wildcard spot in September. The Cardinals are always going to contend but the Cubs and Pirates have likely passed them by unless Adam Wainwright returns to form, a tall order for an aging veteran. The Brewers and Reds will provide fodder for wins for the other 3 teams as they are both in rebuilds.

A look at the NL West: The Giants and Dodgers have owned this division for several seasons now and that won't really change in 2017. The Dodgers have won 4 consecutive division titles and the Giants once again should be their main threat for the NL West crown. The Dodgers depth helps them continue to win but the Giants rotation may be the 2nd or 3rd best unit in the National League if they all stay healthy. The division should come down to the September divisional games. The Rockies do seem interesting at the very least given that they seem to be thinking they can contend. Their pitching staff will always be strained due to the altitude in Denver but if they can keep games close, the Rockies line-up should be able to score some runs. They should be a wildcard contender this season. The Dbacks, like the Rockies, have a good line-up that can score plenty of runs. But their pitching will have to improve if they want to avoid a losing season. They have the ingredients to be a decent team but they also are essentially returning the same cast of characters that only won 69 games last season. The Padres completely have gutted their MLB talent to restock a farm system that may start producing players in a couple seasons. They will likely combat the Reds for the number one pick in the draft next season.

And dem's the picks for the 2017 season to be revisited in November or December!

Welcome back baseball. You've been missed.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wait, is it time for the 2017 baseball season already?

What the hell happened to 2016? There I was, getting all giddy about the free agent additions of Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span and making my preseason predictions!

And then?

And then I totally didn't write one post about the 2016 season. Not during it. Not during the playoffs. Not after. I didn't do my year in review. I didn't do anything! It's like the 2016 season didn't happen. But it did! And it was nuts! The Giants were the BEST TEAM IN BASEBALL at the All Star break. Johnny Cueto was everything we hoped he would be and started the All Star Game! Samardzija was pretty decent too. Span was mainly a bust but still useful. The Giants were 24 games over .500 and had a 6.5 game lead over those SoCal Devils in Los Angeles by July 12th. Things were terrific.

And then? 

And then the 2nd half happened where the Giants bullpen couldn't get outs and the Giants offense couldn't score runs. That led to a 30-42 2nd half record that nearly cost them the playoffs. It cost them the division and it forced them into the 2nd wildcard spot, where they were lucky that all the other wildcard contenders also didn't really seem to want to make the playoffs. That 2nd half provided many a consternation to Giants fans and a lot of mutterings anytime Bochy came out to remove a starting pitcher. But due to their amazing first half, they were able to squeak into the playoffs. And anytime you have Madison Bumgarner going in a one game NL Wildcard Game, you feel pretty good about it. Even if the guy opposite him is the mighty Thor (or, ya know, Noah Syndergaard). 

Of course, the Giants biggest bugaboo showed up at the worst time. The Giants had the eventual World Series champion Cubs (how weird does that sound!?) on the ropes. Yeah, they were down 2-1 in a 5-game series but the Giants had so clearly taken the momentum in the NLDS and were up 5-2 going into the 9th inning of a game they clearly had won. They were ready to send Johnny Cueto to the mound (with the Mighty Bumgarner ready to relieve him) for an epic Game 5 at Wrigley where all the pressure and awful history was going to go against the Cubs and the Giants even year magic was going to whisk them to another World Series title, their 4th in 7th seasons. I mean, the bats were coming alive, everything was starting to click.

And then?

And then the bullpen happened. Matt Moore (who cost the Giants the beloved Matt Duffy and his oversized cat) had spun an 8 inning gem. All he needed, all the Giants and their fans needed, was the pen to get 3 little outs. And of course, they didn't. Derek Law, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Will Smith, and Hunter Strickland combined to give up 4 hits and a walk that led to 4 Cubs runs to lose the lead and the series. I mean, yeah, I guess they got those 3 outs eventually. But by the time the Giants went into the batter's box for the bottom of the 9th, we all knew it was over. It was deflating. Like 2002 Game 6 of the World Series deflating. And it was a harsh way to end a season. It wasn't just that we lost in the playoffs. It was that we lost so quickly, so abruptly... right after being on the verge of continuing on to the parade (or so it felt). Baseball man. Baseball.

And then?

And then it was time to turn the page. The Cubs went on to beat the Indians in the World Series in a great showdown and the Giants were ready to pick up the pieces. As pitchers and catchers report to Arizona and Florida and full squads are about to get underway, now's the time to renew optimism. Put that painful 2016 end to the back of our minds and start thinking about vengeance in 2017!

We got Mark Melancon now. He was magnificent as a National against the Dodgers in their own NLDS series. He was magnificent all season. He's been pretty magnificent for the past several years come to think of it. And now he's the Giants closer! No more Romo (have fun in LA bruh), no more Casilla (we'll see you in the Bay Bridge Series, hermanuh), no more Lopez (enjoy golf!). We now have steady Eddie for the 9th. Melancon could be the most stress-free closer the Giants have had since Rod Beck. Think about that for a moment. 

What else? Well, I guess there really isn't much else. The Giants didn't really do much else. They did all their big lifting in 2016 when they signed Cueto, the Shark, and Span and extended Belt and Crawford. This offseason? Melancon and then... a backup catcher (Nick Hundley) and a lot of high risk medium reward signings like bringing back Mike Morse, signing the ageless Jimmy Rollins, and finally nabbing Justin Ruggiano who I feel like SabEvans has wanted forever. They somehow got David Hernandez on a minor league deal (the one time Dbacks closer) and they have some interesting other guys in camp (That Hwang dude from Korea? Could he be a thing?). But the Giants were already a good team. Despite their awesome 1st half followed by them completely forgetting how to hit and relieve in the 2nd half of 2016, the Giants were and are a very good team. They didn't need much so they didn't do much. They addressed their biggest weakness (the bullpen, duh) and are sort of playing it by ear in left field... an interesting approach when you realize the Dodgers look really effing good. But hey, it's spring time and the time for optimism is here. I mean, like, all we need is Clayton Kershaw to go on the shelf for like... months and we'll run away with the division right? Oh wait... he did that last year and somehow our team was the one that fell apart.

Well, forget about that. It's a new season. And besides, Mike Morse is back. He's Hunter Pence's real good friend, not that Posey fella. So I expect a lot of good things. If anything, at least I know I can boo Romo and Casilla now and not feel too guilty about it... because they're actually wearing opponent jerseys instead of Giants ones and coughing up games. Loved those guys by the way... but excited to see a new guy named Melancon out there closing games.

Beat LA.