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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)...