The Giants Should Be Fine… But They’re in Trouble Right Now

San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto yells into his glove after Washington Nationals' Tanner Roark hit an RBI single during the second inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) Photo: Jeff Chiu, Associated Press
Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Some teams go into the MLB All-Star Break in need of a few days off to get themselves healthy and ready for the final 75 or so games of the season. For other teams, they would rather just keep playing through the break because they’ve been going so well as of late and don’t want to lose precious momentum. The San Francisco Giants definitely fall into the latter category.

The Giants continued their post-All-Star Game slide last night with a 4-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. With last night’s loss, San Francisco has now lost 10 of its last 12 games since the All-Star break. The Giants are really struggling, though: seven of those ten losses came to the Yankees, Padres, and Reds, three teams who are currently not in the playoffs of their respective leagues. For a team that held the best record in baseball heading into the break, the fast and precipitous decline of the Giants has been nothing short of shocking. But how can it be explained and is the team is serious trouble after its recent heel turn?

As for the first question, injuries have worked in the Giants’ favor until quite recently, when the team began experiencing a rash of injuries to key players. The team got to where it is because most of its players were healthy for basically all of the season. That has changed recently, though, with injuries to Hunter Pence, Matt Duffy, and Joe Panik. The good news for the Giants is that Panik returned last night after suffering a concussion and missing exactly one month of baseball. Duffy is slated to start his rehab assignment this weekend and his return from his Achilles injury is not too far off, either. Pence should be able to return from a hamstring injury within the next week. Some would say that getting these three players back is just as good as making a trade; some would even say that their return is better than a trade because the Giants don’t have to give up anything to get them back.

And the thing is, it’s not like the Giants aren’t making moves outside of the organization to improve their roster.

Last night, it was announced that the Twins had traded all-star shortstop and .300 hitter Eduardo Nunez to San Francisco. Twins reporter Daniel Morse had the details first:

Mejia is one of the Giants’ best prospects and a four-pitch pitcher who has struggled at AAA Sacramento this season. It’s safe to say that the Giants paid the price to get Nunez in giving up Mejia. However, Nunez is a proven hitter who can play shortstop and third base, the latter of which is a true position of need for the Giants. The acquisition of Nunez, along with the returns of Pence, Duffy, and Panik should help a Giants lineup that has scored just 3.3 runs per game since returning from the All-Star break.

But until all of these things happen, the team that once held the best record in baseball is in serious trouble and must do everything in its power to stay above water in the NL West.

For example, look at the team’s struggling lineup. While it’s one of the more well-rounded lineups in baseball, virtually every player in it has struggled since the All-Star break. Ironically, the Giants’ two best hitters since the break have been Conor Gillaspie and Mac Williamson, two players who will receive limited playing time with the added presence of Nunez and the return of the aforementioned players from the disabled list. Manager Bruce Bochy was so desperate for offense that he slotted Williamson, who has hit six career home runs in 129 at-bats, into the three-hole for two games against the hapless Reds earlier this week.

And then there’s the matter of Buster Posey. Posey, a four-time all-star and three-time world champion, would be the last person to be a question mark in the Giants’ lineup. I mean, he’s done all these great things, he’s only 29, and he’s even tried to deliver babies because he wears gloves and delivers in the clutch. Well, maybe that didn’t go so well, but Posey is one of the best hitters in the game. And he isn’t a question mark at all; in fact, he’s been one of the few constants in a Giants lineup that has had many moving parts as of late. The only question for Bochy is what to do if and when Posey needs a day off; Bochy has recently combatted this issue by putting him at first base every once in a while. That move, though, takes Brandon Belt, another very solid hitter, out of the lineup. It’s basically pick-your-poison for San Francisco, but it isn’t one of their more pressing issues right now.

What is a pressing issue for the Giants, and one they can do nothing about, is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even with Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, indefinitely out of commission with back problems, the Dodgers find themselves just two games back of San Francisco. The only reason the Dodgers are in this position in the first place is because of the Giants’ losing ways, but even with San Fran having dominated the division race all season long, the Dodgers are a very dangerous team with a deep lineup and solid, albeit fractured, starting pitching. The NL West race is far from over, and the Giants have themselves to blame for this. They’re clearly the better team and yet they now have a fight on their hands just to win their own division.

This weekend presents a big series for the Giants as they play the NL East-leading Washington Nationals. The Nats took the first game of the series last night and the two teams will play three more games this weekend. If the Giants can use their new acquisitions (both inside and outside of the organization) to their advantage, they could be able to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves in the second half of July. After all, the team has one of the best starting rotations in baseball and is one or two injury returns away from having one of the best lineups in the game, too. These returns and acquisitions should go a long way in helping the Giants win the NL West.

But so will the next couple of weeks in deciding how serious the division race will get.

Don’t Stop Believing: The San Francisco Giants Have a Chance

The year is 2015; you probably are keenly aware to this fact, unless you either have been living under a rock or are Andre Dawson.

Anyway, 2015 has been a pretty big year in our country to date. Marriage equality was legalized nationwide, American Pharoah won the Horse Racing Triple Crown, Brian Williams made up some things, and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup.  You want to know what else 2015 has been, and still is?  An odd-numbered year.

And odd-numbered years typically spell doom for the San Francisco Giants.

Here are the results for the Giants from the last three odd-numbered seasons.  The 2011 and 2013 seasons are those in which the Giants were coming off of World Series victories:

  1. 2009: 88-74, 2nd place NL West, missed Playoffs
  2. 2011: 86-76, 2nd place NL West, missed Playoffs
  3. 2013: 76-86, T-3rd place NL West, missed Playoffs

And here are the results from the last three even numbered years:

  1. 2010: 92-70, won NL West, won World Series
  2. 2012: 94-68, won NL West, won World Series
  3. 2014: 88-74, won NL Wild Card, won World Series

The Giants have become what is easily the most bizarre dynasty in sports.  They have been an October dynasty in even-numbered years and a middle-of-the-road team in odd-numbered years.

So how have the Giants done this year?  Not too badly, actually. They’re 47-43 after defeating the Diamondbacks 6-5 in 12 innings last night.  This, along with a Cubs loss to the Braves, leaves San Fran just one game back of the second and final Wild Card spot in the National League.  Statistically, they are not faring too badly, especially compared to last year.

They rank 11th in baseball in runs scored this season; interestingly enough, they only ranked 12th in the league in that category last year. As you are aware, I like to use a stat called BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) as a barometer of future hitting success.  The Giants’ BABIP this season is .319, which is third in baseball.  This may very well go down, as their BABIP last season was .304, which was 10th in baseball.  However, out of the nine teams ahead of them in this category, exactly zero of them got to their respective League Championship Series.

The Giants were not an overly impressive home run hitting team a year ago, hitting just 132 of them, short of the league average of 140. This season, they’ve hit 72 through 90 games, and they’re on pace for just 130 this time around.  Is being a below average home run hitting team a hindrance in October?  Not really.  Last season, the Orioles ranked first in the league in home runs, and made it to the ALCS doing so.  However, the Cardinals and Royals were 29th and last in the league, respectively, and they were both one of the last four teams standing, too.  It’s not a huge deal.

How they do win at the plate is with a high batting average.  They hit .255 as a team last season, and this is significant because all of the last four teams standing at the end of last season were above the league average of .253.  They’re hitting .272 this season, which is tied for second in the game.  Statistically, they stack up as a team that can make some noise in October… if they make it there.

Now, let’s take a look at their lineup on an individual basis.  While Buster Posey and Joe Panik have been the most consistent hitters on the team, the best offseason addition for the team has assuredly been outfielder Nori Aoki.  He’s hitting .317 with a .383 on-base percentage and a .333 BABIP.  He also has a 5.8% strikeout percentage, which is the lowest K% in baseball.  While Aoki has been valuable, he has also been out of the lineup since June 20 with an injury to his right fibula. Getting him back soon will be crucial to the Giants postseason hopes, and according to, he’s coming back in two weeks.

However, the obvious MVP of this team and one of the best players in the game today is Buster Posey.  He leads the team in all the major statistical categories and can be considered a National League MVP candidate.  He’s even been compared to Johnny Bench, writes Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee:

At age 21

Bench: Batted .293 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs for the Reds, finishing 13th in the N.L. MVP race and making his second All-Star team.

Posey: Won the Johnny Bench Award, given to college baseball’s top catcher, in his junior year at Florida State.

They catch and pitch

Bench: Longtime spokesman for Krylon paint: “No runs, no drips, no errors.”

Posey: Appears in recent Esurance commercial in full catcher’s gear, ready to help a woman deliver her baby: “I’m sort of your doctor. We both wear gloves, and we both deliver in the clutch.”

Bench comparisons aside, Posey is exactly what you think he is: the best catcher in baseball and the best player on the team.

But the part of the Giants lineup, and particularly their defense, that may very well be most important to their playoff aspirations is the middle infield.  With over .300 hitter Joe Panik at second and defensive ace Brandon Crawford at short, the combination has benefited both the team’s defense as well as its hitting.  They might be the most important players on the team, writes David Schoenfield of ESPN:

The middle infield pair made the All-Star team and deservedly so. Both have added power — Crawford ranks 11th in the NL in extra-base hits, while Panik has more than Troy Tulowitzki,Buster Posey or Justin Upton — to go with their excellent defense. The Giants’homegrown infield has been huge because the rotation has been a weakness.Matt Cain and Jake Peavy have returned from the DL, but you don’t know what to expect from them. The offense will have to lead the Giants back to the postseason.

The Giants are doing it differently this year, but with Crawford, Panik, Posey and a healthy Aoki, they could be back in the Postseason.

As for the rotation?  It hasn’t been quite as good as it was last season. Tim Lincecum had been pitching slightly better than he did last season, but he got hit on the arm with a line drive on June 27 and it is unclear when he will return to the team.  Madison Bumgarner’s numbers have been somewhat worse this season (his ERA has jumped from 2.98 to 3.33), but he’s still been very valuable to the team, and if his October performance from last season is any indication, he can really turn it on come playoff time.

Another solid pitcher in the rotation this season has been 27-year old rookie Chris Heston.  Heston was supposed to be simply a fill-in for injured starter Matt Cain, but he has performed more than well enough to stay in the rotation full-time.  His numbers are remarkably similar to MadBum’s this season, and he has really been the Giants’ 1-A pitcher in the rotation.  However, his emergence has caused issues in the rotation with the returns of Cain, Jake Peavy, and Tim Hudson.

As Andrew Baggarly of Giants Extra documents, Bruce Bochy has apparently made his decision in terms of who to take out of the rotation:

With Tim Hudson set to be activated to start Monday at San Diego and Chris Heston retaining his place in the rotation on Tuesday, Bochy said he intends to use Ryan Vogelsong in a long relief role.

That didn’t go so well for Vogelsong in April, when he allowed five runs and a whopping 19 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings over two relief outings.

“More than anything, he’s got to be patient,” Bochy said. “Learn from this last experience. Get that out of his head and be ready to go at any time.”

Vogelsong has been better than Hudson as a starter this season, with a better ERA, WAR, and K/9.  This is probably not the right decision even with Hudson in his last season, but who am I to doubt a manager who has won three out of the last five World Series?  He knows what he’s doing.  Most (future) Hall of Fame managers do.

The bullpen has been generally good and Santiago Casilla has performed well in the closer’s role.  If baseball history has taught us anything, it’s that closing out games is pretty darn important.

However, at the end of each World Series clincher the Giants have won, there has been a different pitcher on the mound to close it out (2010: Brian Wilson, 2012: Sergio Romo, 2014: Bumgarner).  But their bullpen is good enough to survive, and it will do so if it gets to October.

Here is the thing with the Giants: they probably still have a chance to win the division.  They’re only four games back of the first-place Dodgers, and while they only have three games left against Los Angeles, there is still a lot of baseball left to be played.  But, let’s say they are left to contending for the last Wild Card spot with the Cubs and Mets.  To be honest, I don’t think either team has enough to make the playoffs, especially in the superior National League.

So, if the Giants get the final spot, they will be locked in the Wild Card game with either the Pirates or Cardinals.  It’s fairly apparent that both of those teams are better than the Giants, but one of them will be stuck hosting the one-game playoff.  And, in a single game, to decide two teams’ playoff fates, with Bumgarner on the hill?  Anything can happen in that scenario.

The Giants have a chance, even in this, an odd-numbered year.  They may very well make the playoffs this year, and even if they don’t, we may be able to put the curse of the odd numbers to bed.

But hold on to that feeling, Giants fans: your team has a chance.

MLB Season Preview

NL East

Team W L
Washington Nationals 96 66
Miami Marlins 86 76
New York Mets 84 78
Atlanta Braves 78 84
Philadelphia Phillies 64 98


Discussion: The Nats win this division easily due to the ridiculous starting rotation and their above-average line-up.  The Marlins take a leap forward as Jose Fernandez returns from his Tommy John surgery to put forth a solid second-half of the season.  The Mets improve over last year with the solid addition of Michael Cuddyer and improvements to the bullpen as well.  The Braves stay around the same as they finished last year because their key gains match their key losses.  They are very similar to how they were last year.  And the Phillies are just going to be really, really bad and that’s that.  Their rotation, lineup, and bullpen are all terrible.  They will be the worst team in baseball.

NL Central

Team W L
Pittsburgh Pirates 89 73
St. Louis Cardinals 87 75
Chicago Cubs 81 81
Milwaukee Brewers 81 81
Cincinnati Reds 69 93


Discussion: The Pirates bring back many of the same players from last year, but the addition of Francisco Cervelli behind the plate will help its pitching staff take the next step.  Pedro Alvarez rebounds from a poor season in 2014, leading the Bucs to their first division title since 1992.  The Cardinals will be there; they always are.  They haven’t gotten much better, however, and the division around them has.  They will fall slightly.  The Cubs had a very solid offseason, and look for prospects Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant (when he comes up) to have good campaigns.  The Brewers stay where they were last season, and Jonathan Lucroy has an MVP-caliber season.  Finally, the Reds have a poor season, suffering as the division pushes forward around them.

NL West

Team W L
San Diego Padres 88 74
Los Angeles Dodgers 84 78
San Francisco Giants 81 81
Colorado Rockies 72 90
Arizona Diamondbacks 69 93


Discussion:  The Padres take a leap forward this season, as the additions of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, James Shields and others catapult the Pods to the division pennant.  The Dodgers take a step back with the losses of Hanley Ramirez and Dan Haren.  The Giants, in an odd-numbered year, take a step back as they lose Pablo Sandoval and, for the beginning of the season, Hunter Pence.  The Rockies and Diamondbacks, two rebuilding teams, round out the division basement, each losing at least 90 games.

AL East

Team W L
Baltimore Orioles 85 77
New York Yankees 82 80
Toronto Blue Jays 81 81
Boston Red Sox 80 82
Tampa Bay Rays 69 93


Discussion: This division only features one sure-fire basement team (the Rays).  The Red Sox improve off of last year, but weaknesses at pitcher and catcher will serve to hold them back.  The Blue Jays, besides the addition of Russell Martin, are not as strong as last year with the losses of Juan Francisco and Melky Cabrera.  The Yankees; who knows?  They could be anywhere from 60 to 90 wins, but on paper, they are an around .500 team.  And the Orioles, this year’s weakest division winner, will have just enough to win the division, along with the comeback of Manny Machado.

AL Central

Team W L
Cleveland Indians 89 73
Detroit Tigers 87 75
Kansas City Royals 83 79
Chicago White Sox 81 81
Minnesota Twins 69 93


Discussion: The Twins carry the bottom of this division, as they are still awaiting the development of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, who are starting the season at class AA.  The White Sox improve off of last year’s showing with additions of Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija help improve the team, but they are still weak at second base, right field and in the bullpen.  The Royals lose pieces from last year’s team, namely DH Billy Butler and ace James Shields; they take a small step back.  Finally, the Indians take a leap of faith to the top of the division, needing all-around solid seasons from Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn to do so.  The Tigers finish second, and have to be concerned over the plight of Justin Verlander.

AL West

Team W L
Seattle Mariners 95 67
Oakland A’s 86 76
Los Angeles Angels 84 78
Houston Astros 83 79
Texas Rangers 67 95


Discussion: The Mariners lead this division, as the addition of Nelson Cruz helps alleviate the pressure of Robinson Cano to produce.  Also, Felix Hernandez wins his second Cy Young leading one of baseball’s best pitching staffs.  The A’s are a mystery, but they will most likely be good enough for second in this division.  The Angels are also a mystery, but I have them behind the A’s because it remains to be seen if Josh Hamilton can figure himself out and if Albert Pujols can have another good season.  The Astros will be a surprise; they take a leap forward this year with the additions of Jed Lowrie and Evan Gattis.  Finally, the Rangers will easily finish last in the division after the season-ending injury to Yu Darvish.






Wild Card Game: Cardinals over Marlins





Wild Card Game: Tigers over A’s


(2)Pirates vs (3)Padres: Pirates in 5

(1)Nationals vs (4)Cardinals: Nationals in 4

(1)Nationals) vs (2)Pirates: Pirates in 7

Explanation: The Nationals easily dispose of the Cardinals in the first round, and the Pirates and Padres play a tightly contested series that goes the distance.  In a  7-game series, the pitching of the Pirates catches up to that of the Nats.  Also, their outfield (Marte, Polanco, and McCutchen) will be this year’s version of the Royals’ outfield last year.  The Pirates win the NL.


(1)Mariners vs (4)Tigers: Mariners in 4

(2)Indians vs (3)Orioles: Orioles in 5

(1)Mariners vs (3)Orioles: Mariners in 6

Explanation: The Mariners’ pitching coupled with enough offense gets them past the experienced Tigers.  The experience of the Orioles, along with the return of Manny Machado, leads them past the Indians.  Then, the Mariners defeat the Orioles in a solid championship series.  They take the pennant.

World Series: (2)Pirates vs (1)Mariners: This series will be tight.  However, the Mariners’ pitching, especially in a three or four-man rotation, allows few runs.  Also, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano have sold series, and the talent on each side in too much for the Bucs.  Mariners win in 6.

Most importantly, this season will be fun.  Your guess is as good as mine as to who wins.