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Friday, June 10, 2016

Giants' external options should be assessed

About this time each year is when the contenders separate themselves from the "pretenders" as many teams can tell by mid-June whether or not they're a serious contender or not. Obviously, the Giants fall into the contender category, and with injuries popping up left and right all over their 25-man roster, they could be forced to look at some external trade options sooner than later.

The July 31st non-waiver deadline is still quite a ways away, 7 weeks to be exact, but it doesn't mean that the Giants will wait if they see a good opportunity to add to their roster. Over the first couple months of the season they've already lost key cogs Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan to DL stints. Pagan is hopefully on his way back within the next couple weeks but Hunter Pence, arguably the team's second most important offensive piece, looks to be out until at least August with his torn hamstring ligament. Cain has resumed throwing and assuming he doesn't hit any road blocks, he could be back in the rotation within a week or two. Aside from those four who've missed, or are set to miss significant time, the Giants also have battled nagging injuries with second basemen Joe Panik as well as catcher Buster Posey recently. Panik's primary backup (Kelby Tomlinson) had been doing a solid job spelling Panik when needed but he himself just went down with sprained thumb and will be out a few weeks.

I mean, for all the injuries and the caliber of players they're seeing get sidelined, it's pretty impressive to see the Giants still standing strong in first place atop the NL West at 36-25 and it's a testament as to how strong their starting pitching has become as a unit and not just a two man show between Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. However, although they seem to be treading water with some of their key players out, with the expectations they have this year, the Giants aren't going to sit around and just wait for guys to get back and hope it all works out by the end of the season. They've always been an agressive team regarding in-season trades and I expect this season to be no different.

A big question remains however. If they are going to make a deal for one player or one area of the team to upgrade, which seems most imminent at the moment? With Pagan's injury history and Pence out until the ladder part of the season, the outfield obviously becomes a good choice. Also, with the inconsistency they've seen out of the 4th and 5th rotation spots (although they've been much better in recent weeks), they could decide to add another arm. Finally, this bullpen is far from bullet proof. Santiago Casilla, while being a guy who's gonna get the job done more than not, isn't a front-line closer and he doesn't have a whole helluva lot of depth leading up to him with Romo down.

So, yes, the team has been winning, and things are still cruising along fairly nicely, but this team has not yet reached their full potential, and with Pence down for the next two months, it's going to be a while before they will be back at full strength. Should they make a deal for an outfielder to come in and hold down Pence's spot until he returns then possibly share time with Angel Pagan in left? Should they find another mid-rotation guy like they did with Mike Leake last season, as someone else who can give them 6-7 solid innings more times then not or just ride it out with Cain and Peavy? Or, do they go out and revamp the bullpen and bring in a more legit, prime time closer and/or a few solid set-up guys to really help shorten the game, as they just don't have that lights out 7th/8th inning guy right now with Romo out? This team always tends to lean towards pitching, so my guess is they'll prioritize adding another arm or two, whether it be a late reliever or starter or both. If they do add an outfielder I don't see it being anyone of any significance as they simply won't have anywhere to play come August (assuming Pence stays on schedule with rehab).

There are plenty of names to target out there and I'm sure we'll be discussing them over the next several weeks, but I think this is the dilemma the Giants front-office is currently facing and will so up until that trade-deadline. Luckily for them they're winning and in first place, but if they were .500 and behind the Dodgers 5 games then I'm sure urgency would be higher. Right now, I expect them to wait and see with Romo before deciding on the bullpen (unless guys just start crumbling in the next couple weeks). They also will give Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson some time to see if they can be viable options in Pence's spot over the next 8 weeks. Parker showed flashes at the end of last season but consistency has always been an issue with him cause he has the talent to overtake left field from Pagan if the really put it together.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Giants hoping to have found their groove

The Giants have had some interesting stretches already through the season's first five weeks, but they're going to have to put together some form of consistency, sooner than later, if they want to keep atop the NL West. And it looks as though they may have found some!

It's just been such a strange pattern of events that this team has been going through. Generally, through much of April, scoring runs wasn't a problem for this team. Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence have anchored the middle of the order while Buster Posey, Matt Duffy (although he's been much better in May) and Co. sort of coast along looking to find their grove. Over about the last week though, it looks like they may have finally done just that. I mean, nobody in the lineup has been particularly bad to this point. None of them are hovering down near .200 or anything and everyone has had at least a handful of games in which they've helped contribute to victories, but they just haven't been able to get one the same page together as a unit, at least until lately.

All of the sudden, the offense appears to be heating up just a little bit, although still plenty of room for improvement. Joe Panik, despite currently carrying an average in the .250's, has come up with some big hits time and time again. And then there's Denard Span, who is showing the value of a true leadoff hitter, even though his average isn't quite up where he'd like it to be yet. Buster still hasn't hit his hot streak and while Pence has been steadily solid, he himself hasn't gone on a week's long tear where he hits .500 and knocks 5 balls out of the ballpark, which shows the upside of this offense. I mean, imagine if Buster and Span were up at or around .300 and Duffy wasn't invisible at the plate for much of April, we're probably looking at a team 10+ games above .500 (rather than a squad barely trying to stay afloat at that mark). Their problem has been getting all their big hitters on track at the same time. They'll have Pence and Belt heat up for a week, then cool down just as Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey find their stroke. Lately though, they've started getting more guys going at the same time and if that keeps up they should start creating separation between them and the .500 mark.

Now, I'm completely aware of the pitching situation; both what's going in the 4th and 5th rotation spots as well as they musical chairs they've been playing in the bullpen, both in mid and late relief. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are still anchoring down the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation and while each has shown a minor glimmer of bouncing back into form from time to time, neither have been major league caliber starters since the beginning of the year, period. I mean, these two have not been struggling since spring, but Cainer's struggles really date all the way back to before he went down in 2013. Seeing how the Giants had a stretch at the end of April/early May in which they went 10-2 and were both hitting the ball and pitching successfully, shows that they can still be successful with Cain and Peavy in the mix, but they're gonna have to strengthen up and become almost perfect in every other aspect. That being said, if one or both don't shape up by the end of May, changes are going to be made. They did bring up a minor league starter Friday, re-calling RHP Clayton Blackburn from AAA Sacramento. Not surprisingly, they kept Alberto Suarez and the 13-man staff, rather optioning Jarrett Parker back to Sacramento instead.

The Giants' pitching, outside of Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija and Casilla, as well as Josh Osich and Cory Gearrin (also Derrick Law has been impressive) at times, has been extremely hit or miss. Even notoriously tough Javier Lopez has an ERA up in the north 4's here in mid-May. Obviously, the bullpen and staff has drastically missed Sergio Romo and hopefully his return isn't that far off (he's started throwing off flat-ground again but still no concrete timetable, which likely means 2nd half or later). They've also missed the veteran influence and consistency from recently retired Jeremy Affeldt. I think that's why Bobby Evans has been so adamant about the team seeking relief help at the moment, despite 2/5 of their rotation performing well below league average.

With Sunday's win, the Giants moved into sole possession of 1st plate in the West at 21-18 and are playing particularly good baseball, winning their last four in a row. I think the highlight of the last few games though has to be Jake Peavy's performance Saturday, by far his best start of the season. The veteran right-hander who's come under so much scrutiny in the early season for ineffectiveness, threw 6 strong innings Saturday, giving up just 3 base hits and a couple walks to go along with 5 strikeouts. With that quality outing, Peavy has bought himself some more time and now puts Matt Cain primarily on the hot seat heading into his start Sunday, although he is coming off a nice start last week, he's still 0-5 with an ERA north of 6. So, despite him making 20+ million dollars this season and being an untouchable in this rotation as recent as early 2014. he just hasn't been that good for a while now and the ice is getting thinner. Eventually, if things don't turn around, the Giants will have to do what they did with Zito for Cain's last couple seasons under contract. They may need to DL him with a phantom injury to give him time to work on things, or move him into the bullpen. Whatever they decide to do, we're 1/4 way through the season and somethings gonna have to give. Lets just hope he follows up Peavy's solid outing for now.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Giants should seriously consider Lincecum

As many of you know, Tim Lincecum finally threw for scouts on Friday, and apparently had an impressive session. With the Giants struggling in the back-end of their rotation and looking desperately for relief help, they should strongly consider returning one of the most popular Giants of the last decade.

There were scouts from nearly every team in the league on hand to check out the former Cy Young winner's mound session, and all reaction coming from those on hand indicate Lincecum getting a shot redemption. The bulked-up right-hander was sitting right around 90-91 with the heater, and from the few pitches I saw, his breaking ball looked to have a big snap. So, with the positive showing and the problematic hip that he's blamed his struggles the last few seasons on supposedly all healed up he could very well get his wish and be back in a big league rotation at some point in June. He's made it clear his first choice would be to return to being a starter, the Giants should be of major interest because of their need in both the bullpen and starting. I mean, could Lincecum really be any worse than Jake Peavy or Matt Cain have been over the season's first month? It would take him probably about a months worth of time in the minor leagues, basically his version of spring training, before he'd likely be ready to appear at the big league level. That would give Cain and Peavy time and incentive to improve or Timmy could come in and bounce the weaker link to the bullpen. Otherwise they use Lincecum there, where he was a key part of their 2012 postseason run.

Judging by the fact that they wouldn't need to part with any of their own talent to obtain Lincecum, as well as the fact that he'll likely sign a cheap, one-year incentive laden deal, makes him that much more appealing. Also, looking at it from his end, he has to view the Giants as one of his better options for himself. He's obviously familiar with the team, city and ballpark and knows what the expectations are for the team this season. He has to be seeing both Cain and Peavy struggling and figure he could have a shot at one of their spots and if he does come in and put up a sub-4 ERA and pitches well, he'll land himself a multi-year deal over the winter. It just seems like a good fit on both ends as the Giants are a contender that needs pitching anyway they can get it and Timmy needs opportunity anywhere he can get it. The only team that I've seen to have serious interest in Timmy are the Yankees, but that would put him, a fly-ball pitcher, in a smaller yard and one of the tougher offensive divisions in the league. It's not likely to be money that decides where Linceum goes, rather than where he feels his best opportunity to succeed individually in 2016 is, and I still think that should put the Giants right near the top of the list.

The drop-off from after Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardiza has been what's kept the Giants from being up there with the likes of the Cubs and Nationals, although the injuries to the bullpen haven't helped things too much either. This offense, as it showed in Friday night's comeback victory, is set right now. They're healthy, they're deep and they're one of the stronger units in the game. They're certainly championship-caliber there, but I think we all know that they're going to have to add pitching at some point in order to solidify their spot atop the NL West.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Giants end April in rough way

After the Giants had the bases loaded with nobody out in the top of the 8th in that 6-3 ballgame on Saturday in New York, I had one last glimmer of hope. However when Brandon Belt, then Brandon Crawford proceeded to miss giving the team the lead by a few feet for the next two outs, I knew it just wasn't gonna be their day.

What's been the theme for all of April continued on it's final day, as Jake Peavy on Friday, then Matt Cain on Saturday, just couldn't provide quality enough starts to give the Giants a chance to win. When your facing young flame-throwing strikeout artists like the Giants have the last few days you know your going to have little room for error if your pitching against them, and Peavy and Cain both were just too hittable. Now, I'm not going to turn this into a Peavy and Cain roasting, and I'm actually gonna keep it pretty short and simple because everyone who's watched this team to start the year know what they're capable of and they know where their weaknesses lie at the moment. About 1/6 through the season is hardly time to toss your proven veterans off the ship, but it's certainly not too early to start thinking of some backup plays just in case May doesn't go much better. Of course most teams aren't going to start dealing their top players this early in the year but it's never too early to dial up Atlanta and check in on Julio Teheran or maybe reach out across the bay and try to snag the rejuvenated Rich Hill.... Still plenty of time before anything needs to be done, but again, never to early to start planning.

As for everything else, the Giants seem to be pressing a little bit and it can't all be blamed on Matt Cain and Jake Peavy. Buster Posey isn't hitting like Buster Posey is used to hitting and it's showing. Matt Duffy has picked it up somewhat as of late, but still is down about 50 points lower in average than he should be. Span could be hitting better as well. Pence, Belt and Pagan all seem to be doing about as expected but just about everyone else has to step it up a notch. Not that they're doing terribly, but they certainly aren't preforming at a championship caliber level.

On a positive I wanted to point out Brandon Belt. This guy just missed giving the Giants a lead in Saturday's game by about an 1/8 of an inch on the bat, and he just keeps seeming to make loud contact. It seems like every year people say "this is the year Belt hits 30/100" and while I know Belt's streakiness enough to make any concrete predictions, April was the most consistent month, form start to finish, I've seen the big first basemen have. No concussions or little nagging injuries to keep him out of the lineup and he seems to be seeing the ball out of lefties hands well too. He and Hunter Pence have certainly helped offset Posey and Duffy's slow start but if the Giants wanna be more than a .500 team, they need more than just 2 or 3 guys hitting the baseball. Their pitching, especially in the back-end of their rotation and even their bullpen now, is nowhere near good enough to win 2-1 on most nights so this team has got to hit!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, April 29, 2016

Giants arrive in New York on a roll

The Giants started out the season 6-2, at which point I think many of us felt like this team was already clicking and probably would be a +.500 team pretty much from start to finish. However, the Giants offense hit a major funk while also running into some pitching problems and it caused them to lose 8 of 11 ballgames and before you knew it, they were a few games below .500.

Well, much like that first 10 days of the season, the Giants look like they've somewhat gotten their grove back. They've finally gotten back over the .500 mark, now sitting at 12-11 (after sweeping the Pads this week), heading into Friday night's series opener with the Mets. I'm really looking forward to this weekend's series as it's the Giants first big test outside their division and they're having to go into Flushing Meadows to take on the reigning NL Champions. Luckily for the Giants, they won't have to face Mets ace Matt Harvey while getting to sport their two aces Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in games two and three. However, they're not going to avoid Noah Syndegaard (who in my opinion is better than Harvey anyway) nor Jacob deGrom, one of the most underrated young arms in the game. Games two (MadBum/Syndegaard) and three (Cueto/deGrom) should be outstanding pitching match-ups in the spacious Citi Field and we may see a grand total of about 5 runs scored in those two ballgames.

Where the Giants have the upper hand on New York is their much deeper lineup, however, a lot of guys, including their star Buster Posey, are still looking to really get into their grooves. Pence and Belt have been helping pick up the slack, and Joe Panik looks like he's rounding into his .300 form with that sneaky extra-base power. They really just have to get Buster Posey, who, whether it  takes until May 1st of June 15th, is gonna get it going at the plate and in a big way, to start pitching in. Also, Brandon Crawford, the all-star shortstop who hit 20 jacks last year and drove in 84 runs while sporting an OPS just shy of .800, needs to show more of that BCraw rather than the .236/2/5 line he's put up the first month. Granted, his patience at the plate still has his OBP around .350 and OPS up over .700 which are still respectable for a shortstop with his defensive caliber, we've seen him grow a lot the last 2 seasons and eventually he's gonna round into shape. Denard Span is another guy who should see his average start spiking here sooner or later. He's always been a .285+ hitter  (.302 combined the last 2 seasons) and although he's driving in runs at a high rate, scoring runs and still getting on base at a decent clip, he's still got some offensive upside he's yet to fully tap into.

The Giants have a good squad people. Better than they did entering any of their Championship seasons, in my opinion. They're up there with the Mets, Cubs and Nationals, better than LA, Arizona, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and they/'ve finally started looking it the last week. Most likely, the team that stays the healthiest out of the first four, more elite squads I mentioned will end up representing the National League in the World Series this October, barring some unforeseen fall-off, injury or something along those lines. The Giants, with the experience and depth they have, are going to have as good a shot as any, but they gotta get that consistency going. No more losing 7 of 9. If they can avoid those prolonged losing streaks, they have a good enough squad to win 95 as they're currently composed. Now if Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean go out and get another starter and/or lights out closer (or whatever need may present itself over the next two months), they the Giants could become clear favorites. Again, they have to keep up the way they've played the last week though, and not that team we saw in the middle of the month.

The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Johnny Cueto.. The Savior!

After a red hot first week-plus to start out April, the Giants hit about a 2-week rough stretch, but it looks like they're finally breaking out of it. Oh yeah, that Johnny Cueto guy looks like he's going to be pretty good too!

San Francisco has won four of their last five ballgames to get back to the .500 mark at 11-11, and they did it behind the best pitching performance we've seen to start the 2016 season, hands down! Johnny Cueto dazzled the San Diego Padres Tuesday night at AT&T Park, and while the Pads don't exactly supply the most imposing offensive lineup, it was impressive nonetheless. The Giants' 30 year-old prized off-season signing threw the team's first complete game of 2016, allowing 7 hits and a walk while using 11 K's to help get him out of any trouble he ran into, which wasn't much at all. This was the exactly what the Giants had in mind when they gave Cueto that big deal in December, and this is exactly why I was all for his 2-year opt-out. This guy looks motivated and focused here in the early season. Look no further than his 4-1, 2.65 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 33 K's to just 5 walks in 37 innings of work thus far as a testament to that. Some players hit that comfort zone after they get a really large deal like Cueto's as they know they're set for the next 5+ years, but Johnny knows that two big seasons in San Francisco could land him a Zach Grienke-type deal.

So yes, a lot of people worried about that two-year opt-out but not I and it's being shown why early on here. Dude looks focused! It was a good thing Cueto had his A-stuff on this night too because the Giants just couldn't get anything going against Padres ace James Shields. The tall right-hander held the Giants to just 3 hits in his 7 innings of work, but luckily one of those hits was a double off the bat of Denard Span with a runner on to provide the only run of the game and Johnny made it stand. The hitting, after that slow start and then horrible couple weeks in mid-April, looks like it's slowly but surely coming around (sans Tuesday obviously), as we all knew it would. As the weather heats up, so do the bats usually and I really expect this team to start clicking at the plate sooner than later on a consistent level.

MadBum, Cueto, Samardzija have all been just about as advertised and Jake Peavy's coming off his best start of the year, so right now, that staff really just needs to get Matt Cain going and then they'll start clicking on all cylinders as well. With the shuffling going on in the bullpen right now, the starters are going to be pushed a little harder to try and get into that 7th inning and so far, Matt Cain is the only one yet to do so. Cainer had that solid outing to start the year in LA, but has had three rough outings since and the theme for him seems to be struggling in the middle innings, which tells me it may be time to explore using him in relief where he can go hard for an inning or two.

I wouldn't expect to see any drastic changes like that anytime soon though and Cain is the fifth man after all so the Giants don't need him to be great, but he's hardly appeared Major League-caliber over his last three starts. Problem is, the closest guy the Giants have in-house to taking that fifth spot should Cain need a replacement is Clayton Blackburn and a lot of scouts don't see his stuff transpiring as well at the Major League Level and they certainly aren't making a trade of any kind this early.... Anyway, as I said in my last post, I have complete faith the offense is going to be just fine and we're already seeing signs of it. I'm not as sure about their 4th and 5th starters although Peavy has shown a little more ability than Cainer, especially when you take the second half of last year into account as well.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Back-end of rotation raising concern?

Sure it's just halfway through April, but each Giants' starter has had a chance to take the hill a couple of times now and thus far the main concern lies in the back-end of the rotation. Two rough starts by Jake Peavy and Matt Cain cost the Giants a chance at winning a series they really should have and those two have to be better going forward, especially Peavy.

We all kinda know what to expect from the front-three guys (Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija), however, the two that follow those three horses have been far less than spectacular their first two times out. Now, to his credit, Matt Cain looked very good in his first outing vs. the Dodgers at AT&T last week throwing 6 innings of 2-run ball and I think that was a breath of fresh air for all of us. However, his second start of the year, granted it came in Coors Field, was a rough one. He cruised through the first four innings of the game looking like the Matt Cain of 2010, but all the sudden, like he did so many times in '15, seemed to just hit a wall in the fifth inning. Although he didn't allow all 6 runs to cross the plate while he was on the mound, he went just 4 2/3 and was charged with 6 runs on 6 hits. He did strike out 7 though and had he gotten a few lucky breaks maybe he mirrors his first start and things don't get as bad, but that wasn't the case. Now Kruk and Kuip made it sound like Cain was brilliant regardless, but when you can't make it through 5 innings, it's not a good start, period. All in all though, I'm not too worried about him, yet, not the case for Jake Peavy though.

After a rough spring, Peavy has started the year off with two rough outings which has his ERA at an even 10.00 while allowing an eye-popping 21 hits in just 9 innings, and that's the really scary part. He's getting roped and his stuff has not looked very good at all. With him being in the final year of his contract, it seems like he'd be the guy to have the shorter leash between he and Cain should the Giants feel they do need to upgrade that back-end of the rotation eventually. I mean, nothing will happen anytime soon, but if Peavy's still got his ERA up over 5 or 6 come June then the Giants are going to have to start exploring some options. A couple guys that come to mind if they do decide to venture outside the organization is Philly's Jeremy Hellickson and San Diego's Andrew Cashner (along with plenty more as he season wears on), but again, trade talk in mid-April is a tad premature. Just thinking longer term over next couple months as possible options should they be needed.

Other than these last two rough outings from Peavy and Cainer the last two games, things have gone about as good as you could ask for as a Giants fan these first couple 10+ days of the '16 season. Big money signings Samardzija, Cueto and Denard Span have all looked good and primed to contribute plenty to the Giants run this year. It's been the offense, as a whole, that has really been the treat to watch thus far. We all knew this offense was deep and could get to you in a variety of ways but what's impressed me is their ability to just never be out of a game. After Cueto had that rough first vs. the Dodgers Sunday, it looked like it was gonna be a long day, however, Cueto buckled down and showed why he's a top starter in this game after that 1st inning and the offense did picked him up in a big way to give him the W. The starting eight have all been contributing but the guy who's been the biggest surprise with the bat isn't even a regular. Rookie back-up catcher, Trevor Brown, leads the team with 3 HR and is second with 7 RBI and he's had only 12 at-bats! Not that Buster Posey's job is in any kind of jeopardy of course, but Brown has certainly made Andrew Sussac expendable and a possible key trade chip should the Giants need to swing a deal this summer, like they usually do.

Romo's Elbow Hurting: Aside from Buster Posey having some minor health issues that held him out of the first two games in Colorado, the Giants have ran into their first real injury scare with reliever Sergio Romo, who was flown back to San Francisco Wednesday to have his elbow looked at and it must not have went well as the Giants placed him on the DL Thursday. We all know with Romo's whip like delivery and slider-heavy repertoire, his elbow is always a sensitive area, so hopefully it's just some a minor little flexor strain and he's good as new in a couple three weeks. If he does indeed need surgery and they lose him for an period of time then the Giants lose arguably their best reliever (closer or not). I mean Romo's their security blanket for Santiago Casilla, who occasionally needs one, and I just don't know Hunter Strickland's ready to take on that role yet. My guess is either Mike Broadway or Derek Law get the call-up, with Jake Dunning a dark horse candidate
The Giants Baseball Blog