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Sunday, April 15, 2018

What have we learned about these 2018 Giants after two weeks?

So the 2018 season didn't start well for San Francisco. The Giants lost Madison Bumgarner on the last day of Spring Training after they had already lost Samardzija to a strained manboob a week earlier. Then there was more vagueness about Mark Melancon and it turns out his arm will likely need a Winter Soldier type remake (probably). Then Cueto went down after his 2nd start of the year because he slipped getting off his horse. Or something. Eesh. The good news is Will Smith hasn't had any setbacks. The bad news is that it still meant Josh Osich was our 2nd best lefty option  in the pen and it's already cost the Giants some runs in the middle and late innings. Regardless, missing your top 3 starting pitchers, your closer, and your set-up man the first month of the season is not a good way to come out of the gates.

As for the squad that actually lined up for Opening Day? Well, they're 6-9 after 15 games which is exactly where they were last year after 15 games. That left them 4 games back of the Diamondbacks then and it's left them 5 games back of the Dbacks now. The symmetry is beautiful. Fun fact: The Dbacks did NOT actually go on to win the division last year. That honor belonged to the Dodgers of course, who started last season out at 7-8 after 15 games. This year they're 5-9. So at least there's that? We're better than the Dodgers for now!

What's to be made of THIS year's 6-9 start though? Well, it's been a bumpy ride. The injuries are cause for optimism that the squad can start playing better ball when they get Cueto and Samardzija back soon. The team will have to wait on Bumgarner until Memorial Day at the earliest. Who knows about Melancon but Will Smith should kick Osich off the roster in the next couple weeks. These are all pretty sizable improvements. It deepens the rotation by having guys that can actually pitch past the 5th or 6th inning and it deepens the surprisingly okay bullpen by pushing one of the current starters into a pretty decent long reliever role (I'm kind sorta looking at you Ty Blach).

Now let's talk about that bullpen. The bullpen hasn't been all that good for a few seasons now. But there are signs of life. Pierce Johnson (he's my adopted Giant this year) and Reyes Moronta have been excellent contributors thus far. Who knows once the league gets a book on them but for now they're taking full advantage of their opportunity. Hunter Strickland has taken over the closer role and has thrived with confidence and new found slider command. He's been a beast. Tony Watson may go down as the best free agent signing EVER if he keeps doing what he's doing. However, the other half of the bullpen, the guys that the Giants were hoping would be better this year than last year, have been inconsistent at best (Gearrin, Law) and awful at worst (Dyson, Osich). The Giants don't have a true long reliever (yet) and Bochy is still feeling out roles for guys. It's safe to say that Osich, who has really struggled, may be sent packing to Sacramento soon to work on his mechanics and his confidence. Can the Giants afford to keep him up until Will Smith comes back? Probably not. They're in survival mode and Osich has already appeared in 9 games and has a 6.14 ERA and 2.18 WHIP so far. Not going to cut it. Dyson can't be sent down and it's doubtful the Giants would cut him this early in the season but Bochy can't rely on him right now. His numbers are ostensibly worse than Osich's. But so far the 'pen looks like it could become a strength. Could.

The rotation will rebound when the veterans come back and they've been pretty decent so far. The issue is the starters not going all that deep into games. Which is taxing a bullpen that could use some relief (see what I did there?). Chris Stratton has carried over his success from last season and he's having a good start to 2018. As a number 4 starter, he's looking like he may become the guy the Giants selected in the 1st round of the 2012 draft.

The biggest issue for this team is the offense. This is slightly concerning because the starting line-up is completely healthy. Unlike the rotation, the Giants are not waiting for any big bats to come back. What we see is what we got. And what we got isn't looking very good right now. The team is striking out a lot, not walking very much, and absolutely not hitting with runners in scoring position at all. They have hit a bunch of homers. That's somewhat surprising but after an offseason where Bobby Evans decided to focus on fixing the lineup it's the line-up that is the weakness right now. Sure, some guys are off to slow starts and will rebound. But there are some scary factors here. The K's, the stranding of multiple baserunners game after game when one hit would change the fortune of the game, the pressing that is tangible. It's all bad. It's not like this team has multiple ways to beat you. They're not fast, they're not all that powerful, and they're not a bunch of high average or high on-base types. They basically have to string together hits to score runs and just like last year, they're not playing good fundamental ball offensively. They're not moving runners over to make productive outs, they're not hitting sac flies with runners on third base and less than 2 outs, and they're just not hitting at all once a guy gets to second. Some of this will change. The law of averages. But I spent a lot of 2017 thinking that too and, well, it never changed. The offense will be better than it was in 2017 but after these first couple weeks, it hasn't been. It arguably has been worse.

The result is an identical 6-9 record just like last year with the Giants looking up at 3 other teams in the division again. They will need to start playing better soon before they wind up too far back and the return of Bumgarner is a footnote in another lost season. They have the pieces to turn it around. They just need to do it on the field and it starts immediately with the next series when they face the first place Diamondbacks.

As always, Beat LA (and the Snakes, Rocks, and Padres)...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

MLB Predictions 2018

In this winter of our free agent's discontent, we've finally seen the last significant free agent sign with a team just over a week to go before Opening Day. Congrats Alex Cobb on holding out for the contract you deserved. Now that the majority of rosters are set, it's time for my annual dart throw as to how the 2018 season is going to unfold. My 2017 predictions turned out to be all over the place. I got 4 division winners right (Astros, Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs) and got 6 out of 10 playoff teams (Nationals, Dodgers). My World Series prediction was mostly awful since I had the Indians beating the Giants and the Indians choked in the first round while the Giants were the worst team in baseball (technically they tied the Tigers but c'mon). I got all of the major player awards wrong. But just like the return of spring allows teams to dream of glory, I too can hope this will be the year all my predictions come true. Here they are...

(Division winners bolded, wildcard teams italicized)

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

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

ALWC: Red Sox over Angels
NLWC: Phillies over Cardinals

ALDS: Astros over Red Sox, Yankees over Indians
NLDS: Nationals over Phillies, Cubs over Dodgers

ALCS: Yankees over Astros
NLCS: Nationals over Cubs

World Series: Nationals over Yankees

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
AL CYA: Luis Severino, Yankees
NL CYA: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
AL ROY: Shohei Otani, Angels
NL ROY: Ozzie Albies, Braves

A look at the AL East: The AL East is looking like it's going to settle back into a New York/Boston showdown for the foreseeable future. The addition of Giancarlo Stanton to what was already a very powerful line-up is going to have the Yanks living up to their nickname as the Bronx Bombers. There's a chance, albeit slight, that every member of their starting line-up hits at least 20 home runs. That's stupid. Pair that offense with an above average bullpen and a capable rotation and you have arguably the American League's best team though they'll have to prove they're better than Houston come the playoffs. Boston added JD Martinez to counter the Stanton get by New York. Both of these teams should be vying for the division title though I think the Yanks power will push them over the top. The Jays are interesting because their rotation could be sneaky good but their line-up has really gone down the tubes from the days when they had Donaldson, Tulo, Bautista, and Encarnacion in their primes. Tulo and Donaldson remain but the rest of the Jays line-up leaves something to be desired. Tampa Bay is young. They gutted their team and even got rid of young guys that could play. However, they always have pitching and it'll carry them enough to avoid last place. The Orioles are a mess and will likely trade their tradeable vets by the deadline, including their superstar shortstop Manny Machado. Once the vets go, the O's will likely be competing for a top 5 draft pick in 2019.

A look at the AL Central: The Indians didn't do much this offseason which is somewhat shocking given they have a really good opportunity to go to the World Series. It would have been nice to do a little more to replace Carlos Santana aside from sign Yonder Alonso but the Tribe are still well rounded enough to take a weak division. The bullpen is still good enough with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller in the backend and the rotation should be above average with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco as the co-aces upfront. The Twins were surprise contenders last season and snuck into the wildcard game. Their line-up is talented and deep but there are some question marks surrounding their pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen. Anytime a team is relying on Fernando Rodney to close games, you can't quite take that team seriously. The Twins had a great chance in a ridiculously slow free agent market to make some solid additions to their rotation where they really could use upgrades. They signed Lance Lynn and traded for Jake Odorizzi but Twins fans have to be asking why couldn't they have done more? However, in a weak division, the Twins should be able to contend again for a wildcard. The Royals rebuild is in full swing and despite having some talent it would take a lot to go right for KC to become a legit contender. The more likely scenario is they trade some guys come the deadline and go for a full rebuild that will start in earnest in July. The White Sox and Tigers are equally bad but in different ways. The White Sox are in the middle of their rebuild and will have a lot of young talent on display this season. But they'd all have to breakout for the Sox to become competitive. The Tigers window has slammed shut but they also have some large contracts to veteran players they won't be able to move. Their rebuild is just beginning and they may sell off their best pitcher in Michael Fulmer for a king's ransom come July.

A look at the AL West: There's only one sure thing in the wild AL West and that is that the Astros will win their second consecutive division title. With a strong rotation, decent bullpen, and deep line-up the Astros are well equipped to defend their title and on paper seem to be the best team in the American League, if not all of baseball. The rest of the division, however, is a toss up. The Angels are a trendy pick to contend due to the signing of Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani, the free agent addition of Zack Cozart, and the re-signing of Justin Upton to pair with Mike Trout. But the Angels rotation is a patchwork of hype and health concerns and the bullpen is a question mark. They should be in the thick of the wildcard but it's also easy to see the pitching imploding and the Angels being the Marlins of last season - a good offense with little pitching to support it. The Rangers are fascinating. They could be really good. Or they could be a complete mess. They have a nice mix of vets and young guys but the pitching is a total gamble from top to bottom. Every year the Mariners seem like a team on the brink of contention yet every year they fall short. With question marks surrounding the rotation and a second baseman in centerfield, it'll be interesting to see where the M's wind up in the standings. They could be wildcard contenders or they could be a huge disappointment. Then there's Oakland. The A's could be surprisingly good this year. Alas, in this division, they are more likely another season away before truly being able to contend. Yet you can never count out a Billy Beane team. However, the A's are young everywhere and it probably is wishful thinking they'll be in the hunt this year.

A look at the NL East: The East has been the Nationals playground for the past few years except that one time the Mets forgot they were the Mets. This season the division is a bit more interesting with the Phillies sporting a nice blend of veterans and young kids looking to prove themselves and a rotation that has a strong 1-2 punch but has question marks in the back end. Throw in the Mets who are hoping their strong rotation can stay healthy while being complemented by an intriguing lineup and you got a division that is a little stronger than it has been the past couple of seasons. That being said, the Nationals are still the best team in the division and one of the elite National League teams. While the Phillies and Mets may be a bit annoying for Washington to deal with, they still should win the division. Bryce Harper is in his contract year which means he's going to be Mr. Bionic Man and hit 100 homers. The Nationals are going to take full advantage of it being Harper's last season as a National by going hard after the playoff success that has thus far eluded them. The Phillies and Mets will compete with each other for a wildcard berth but the Phillies have some breakout performers that may turn the tide. The Braves are not quite where they need to be yet to be a serious contender and the Marlins are a joke.

A look at the NL Central: The NL Central is quite the opposite of its AL counterpart. The NL Central has 3 teams that could be fighting for the division and even the Pirates, who got a lot of crap for trading away McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, aren't exactly devoid of talent. Even the hapless Reds have some potential, though it'd take a minor miracle for them to be relevant. That being said, there's no cakewalks here. The Reds line-up is still capable of scoring runs while the starting pitching is young and inexperienced but does have some guys that could be good, most specifically Luis Castillo (former Giant prospect, sigh). The Cardinals are always going to be the Cardinals, which means they'll find some no name prospect and he'll be a top 3 candidate for rookie of the year. The addition of Marcell Ozuna is huge. The only thing really holding back the Cards is surprisingly their pitching. Their rotation is iffy but has high ceiling arms. The bullpen has been begging for a Greg Holland signing and honestly I have no idea why that hasn't happened yet. But the Cardinals should be in the division and wildcard hunt because they're the Cardinals and that's what they do. The Brewers were sort of an enigma this offseason. They came up just short of making the playoffs last season (mainly because their front office didn't do anything at the deadline) and they had a lot of outfield depth and not so much starting rotation depth. So of course they went out and traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain. Now they have way too many good outfielders and still question marks in the rotation. Odd strategy Brew Crew. The Cubs still look to be the class of the division. Adding Darvish helps replace Arrieta and Chatwood is sneaky good... he's ChatGood. Like Chatwood is That Good. I don't know what that means but I'm rolling with it and the Cubs have my permission to use it. Morrow is a risky choice as closer but hey, Greg Holland is still out there. The Cubs have the best rotation in the division and that is why they should win it.

A look at the NL West: The NL West is a tough division. As a Giants fan, that kind of sucks. The Dodgers aren't as good as they were a year ago. Their depth is a little less this season and they're trying to stay under the luxury cap which means they might not actually go out and get all the players at the deadline like they did last season with Darvish and to a lesser extent Tony Watson and Curtis Granderson and Tony Cingrani. But they're still really good unfortunately. And unless they get the post World Series Runners-Up blues, they probably will win the division again. The Dbacks had a lot go right last season which helped them make the playoffs. One of the biggest pieces was getting JD Martinez. He has morphed into Steve Souza and I'm not quite sure everyone will be quite as good as they were last year for the Snakes. They still should be in the wildcard conversation but it may be hard for everyone to be quite as good as they were a season ago. Ditto the Rockies. The Rockies tried to part with Carlos Gonzalez this offseason but he just wouldn't go away so there he is, back again in their outfield. The Rockies last great chance at a run with their current group is this season. Blackmon is a free agent after the season and he'll be hard for the Rockies to replace. It's hard to take the Rockies seriously though with the rotation they're going to trot out most days. Everyone behind Jon Gray is a question mark. Given Coors Field, it's hard to see the Rockies making the playoffs two years in a row for the first time in franchise history. Then there's the Giants. Prior to Samardzija's strained pec and Bumgarner's devastating broken left hand (damn you Baseball Gods, it's an even year!!), I had the Giants as finishing 2nd in the division and taking the wildcard. Now? 2-3 months (or more) of no Bumgarner? Again? 3-4 weeks without Shark? The rotation going into the season is Cueto and 4 other guys. While the Giants imported Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson and Tony Watson while exporting Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, and Christian Arroyo (among some other names you won't remember), the key to their whole offseason was getting their Big Three to pitch as much as possible. That's Bumgarner/Cueto/Samardzija. Now that plan has burned up and the Giants just don't look deep enough to avoid another year finishing in the tail end of the division. Luckily, we still have the Padres who are young but boring and the Giants can probably finish ahead of them. (Checks last year's standings). OK, the Giants can HOPEFULLY finish ahead of them.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

We found out what the Giants would do with no Giancarlo Stanton

The Giants never were going to rebuild this offseason. They had too many guys getting paid too much money to initiate a successful sell off. They weren't going to take the publicity hit of trading Madison Bumgarner coming off a 98-loss season. So they did what they always do... they traded and signed some veteran players that should make the team better in the short term.

The interesting part about this is that they actually got some name players. This in and of itself isn't that surprising. The Giants are somewhat of a marketing team first and a sports franchise second. The Giants have always had bankable stars: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Will Clark, Barry Bonds, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner...

Now they've added Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen to that list. There's a catch though. McCutchen may only be here for one season (or half a season if the Giants don't get better fast). And Longoria, the face of the Rays for the entirety of his career, is here for five more years. That leaves him with the back 9 of his career left to go, which will now be played wearing a Giants jersey. It was an interesting way to go for the Giants. Third base was a pretty big hole once they traded away Eduardo Nunez. And signing Nunez back wouldn't have really improved the position. Sandoval is not the Kung Fu Panda anymore and Arroyo botched his first call-up by batting under .200 and then getting unlucky with bean balls. While some wanted Arroyo to get the job outright to see what he could do with 500 at bats, the Giants saw a position that could be upgraded. They decided not to pull a McCutchen by sending all of their farm system to the Orioles for Manny Machado. They decided to pass on consistent veteran free agent Todd Frazier who offers a lot of what Longoria does but without the name recognition and with an ugly batting average. No, they went with the "name" player. Longoria. A player casual fans would casually recognize.

Also, Bobby Evans performed some voodoo and somehow got Tampa Bay, a notoriously cheap franchise, to take Denard Span's contract off our hands while also throwing in money to offset some of Longoria's salary for the remaining 5 (Five!!!) years. And that's really the catch with Longoria. He had a very down year in 2017 in regards to his offensive performance. But his defense was solid enough where he won a third Gold Glove. And the Giants like defense. And they like ballplayers. And Longoria is a ballplayer. He's also under contract for FIVE MORE SEASONS when he'll be 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36. And it's not like we have flexibility to move him anywhere besides third base. I mean, where are the Giants going to put him if he declines at third base and needs to be moved off?First base? Belt is there until after 2021. And even if he wasn't, don't we think Posey might be manning 1B at that point? But those discussions are for a later time. In the meantime, the Giants upgraded at 3B with a former franchise star who should help the team this year.

So they didn't get Giancarlo Stanton. They did the ol' Vladimir Guerrero rope-a-dope. They went after the big money, big name guy then didn't get him then spread the money around for lesser guys that better filled out the roster. In this case however, instead of getting some Michael Tucker's and Dustan Mohr's they got Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. And Austin Jackson. And Gregor Blanco. That's not bad. They still have holes in their rotation and their bullpen. I mean, they're really putting their eggs in the young pitching basket with Beede, Suarez, Stratton, and Blach expected to man 2 spots in the rotation and they may be haphazardly putting way too much faith in a young bullpen that has failed to prove they belong so far. Yeah, I'm talking to you Derek Law, Josh Osich, Steve Okert, and kinda sorta Hunter Strickland.

That being said, for a team that wasn't going to rebuild and didn't want to blow their budget all to hell the Giants did a pretty good job. Spring Training is days away and while the Giants may continue to tinker and monitor the waiver wire or keep an eye out for a desperate free agent that somehow fits their budget in the weirdest offseason of all time they have a chance to be substantially better in 2018 than they were in 2017. In fact, if you look at all the mularkey that went on in 2017 and figure none of that mularkey happens in 2018 and the new guys upgrade what were downright woeful areas last season, you might even see the outline of a contender on this Giants roster sheet.

Regardless, according to me the Giants needed to get Stanton, they didn't get Stanton, and this is what they did after Stanton spurned them. All in all, not too bad. Now let's get ready for some preseason baseball!