News and stories from San Francisco Giants.

Boys by the Bay 08/21/17

AP Photo/Ben Margot

This weekend, the Giants were officially eliminated from contention in the NL West, and they’ll soon be eliminated from the NL wild card race as well. No surprise there. After all, they’re currently vying for the worst record in all of baseball, depending on how the White Sox and Phillies do the rest of the season.

 

But Sunday’s game was awful in its own right, and I’m talking about Hunter Strickland.

 

After winning the first two games of their latest series – against the hapless Phillies – the Giants lost the third game and were hoping to come away with an even series by taking Sunday’s matchup. In fact, they had a 2-1 lead, under Madison Bumgarner, going into the top of the 8th inning on Sunday when reliever Hunter Strickland came into the game and quickly lost it, allowing five consecutive Phillies hits on five consecutive fastballs.

 

A few minutes later, in the bottom of the eighth, catcher Buster Posey lost his cool (if you can call it that – it’s all relative) when he was hit in the back by Phillies pitcher Hector Neris and, on his way to first base, looked directly at Neris and asked him, “Did you do that on purpose? Did you do that on purpose?”

 

Granted, Posey had been beleaguered the entire game. He narrowly missed being beaned in the early innings, his hand was hurt on a tagout he made in the top of the eighth, and he was called out at the plate in the third on a hard and probably technically illegal tag by Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro. So he was already frustrated. And I’m sure the entire losing season has taken its toll on his patience.

 

But my theory is that it was more than that. My theory is that Buster had had it with Strickland.

 

Strickland is no slouch. He has four good pitches. But for some reason he didn’t use them in this game.

 

I don’t think anyone believes that Buster called for five consecutive fastballs.

 

I think that Hunter made that decision himself, for reasons no one can fathom. I guess he thought that he could make good decision about what to pitch – everyone else (including his catcher) be damned. Maybe he defiantly continued to throw fast balls, even after the fans started booing, out of a bizarre sense of pride or just plain arrogance.

 

I admit that I’ve had negative feelings about Strickland ever since Game 1 of the 2014

Division Series between the Giants and the Nationals. The Giants had a 3-0 lead going into the 7th when Bruce Bochy pulled pitcher Jake Peavy – who had a shutout going – and brought in Strickland, who allowed back-to-back homers by Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera.

 

That encounter was the catalyst for the ridiculous, childish incident in May of this year when Strickland deliberately slammed Harper with a fastball and the two hotheads got into a major brawl. Michael Morse’s career ended when he left the ensuing scrum with a concussion. Posey didn’t protect Strickland in the fight, which was so uncharacteristic of him that it made us realize that Strickland was not exactly a clubhouse favorite.

 

To sum it up, tensions rise when Strickland is on the field.

 

So he needs to go.

 

Strickland has been a moderately reliable reliever this year. His breaking balls have improved, which allows him to mix his pitches more and be a little more formidable on the mound. His ERA of 2.28 is better than last year’s 3.10 and his K’s-per-9 are up slightly, although his walks per 9 are way up this year (4.94 as opposed to 2.80).

 

But he has a tendency to lose focus when he gets rattled, and that’s simply not an asset.

 

If he’s going to ignore catchers, start fights, and lose his cool in crucial games, all because of his hubris, his stats are going to be meaningless when games are on the line.

 

Can we just run him out of town?

Boys by the Bay 08/09/17

Duane Burleson/Getty Images

If nothing else good comes out of the 2017 season for the Giants – and it appears, in fact, that there are few causes for optimism – there’s pitcher Ty Blach. He has got to be, hands down, the delight of the year. And also the promise of the year.

 

A rookie at the end of 2016, Blach started only two games for the Giants last season. He shut out the Dodgers in his eight-inning second start and got a couple of hits to boot. And he sported an ERA of 0.00 in two Division Series relief appearances.

 

This year, he started out as just a breath of fresh air and has turned into a godsend. He was initially slated for the bullpen as management was banking on Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, and Matt Cain as their starters.

 

But things happened. Bumgarner injured himself in a dirtbike accident. Cueto came down with a debilitating blister. Matt Cain pitched valiantly but ineffectively.

 

In came Ty Blach to save the day. He’s won seven of his last nine starts. In his last five home starts, he’s gone at least seven innings. Last Friday, the kid went eight and held the Oakland A’s to only two runs on six hits while the Giants went on a rare 11-run tear. He also raked his first home run in the majors – a three-run bomb that actually sailed 416 feet and cleared AT&T Park’s formidable center field fence. This Tuesday he beat the Cubs, pitching a shutout into the fifth, going seven innings again, and allowing only two runs. He’s not a strikeout king, but he has deep baseball smarts and racks up lots of weak groundouts as a contact pitcher.

 

Oh, and did I mention that on Tuesday he also smacked a two-out RBI single?

 

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Blach’s record is 8-7 – not exactly a sterling stat – but he’s got the most wins on the club. What the win-loss stats emphasize is only that the Giants offense, abysmal this year, has been unable to back him up. On July 29, for example, he allowed only two runs but took the loss.

 

Blach brings a couple of other things to the club, too. He wears black sanitary socks and keeps his pants just below the knee, like the days of yore, which for me always indicates a serious respect for the game. (See also Hunter Pence.) And he has a sense of humor to bolster a solemn clubhouse. A few days ago, Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija hit what he thought was a homer, began a leisurely trot around the bases, and then realized that in fact his ball was going to land well in front of the fence, at which point he had to scramble into second base. From the dugout, Blach began smiling and flexing his bicep while Madison Bumgarner – himself no slouch in the home run department – pointed laughingly at Blach, as if to taunt Samardzija with the concept that Blach can hit ’em farther. It was nice to see the boys having fun, for a change.

 

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this is Blach’s first full year in the majors. At 26 years old, the youngster should be a rotation mainstay for some years to come. With Moore faltering, Cueto rumored to split after this year, and Cain now relegated to the bullpen, it’s nice to know a guy with a name other than Bumgarner can be a dependable Giants pitcher. Oh, yes, and a dependable Giants hitter.

Boys by the Bay 07/25/17

Nhat Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Well, the San Francisco Bay Area is all-twitter these days – in both the old-fashioned and the modern sense – over the Giants’ recent re-signing of World Series Hero Pablo Sandoval. Or should I say of Pariah Pablo Sandoval.

 

Over the course of his 6+-years with the Giants, third baseman Sandoval kept up an average OPS of .811 OPS. He hit over .300 in three of those years, and he swatted 106 home runs. He seemed to have a playful, boyish disposition. He also clobbered three homers in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, so he’ll definitely be a part of Giants lore forever.

 

But he left the team bitterly after the 2014 season to sign a five-year, $95 million contract with the Red Sox. Over 2-1/2 seasons in Boston, though, he hit only a cumulative .237 amid multiple injuries that saw him playing in just 161 games. This year he was hitting only .212, with 4 homers and 12 RBIs, before the team jettisoned him for good.

 

Then the Giants picked him up.

 

If Sandoval returns successfully to the big leagues this year, the Giants have to pay him only the prorated portion of the major-league minimum (which is $535,000 in 2017).

 

And he may not even get back to the majors. As of this writing he is 1-7 at Class A San Jose, and the plan is for him to get to AAA Sacramento this week. Coach Bruce Bochy has said that the team hopes to get him 40 or 50 at-bats in the minors to see what he can do.

 

Pablo has been apologizing all over the place. He has no other choice, though. Let’s face it: most likely his career was summarily over. The Giants, probably out of nostalgia as much as anything else, are his only ticket back to the ballpark.

 

So he’s been reportedly apologizing to individual players, claiming that he has matured emotionally over the last few years, and publicly talking about things like fan support and team chemistry – whereas when he bolted for the Sox after the 2014 season, he whined that he was furious about his contract negotiations and that the only Giants he’d miss would be outfielder Hunter Pence and Bruce Bochy.

 

Still, he’s now saying that he regrets not having re-signed with the Giants back in late 2014. And maybe he’s sincere. He had to have been humbled – in the true sense of the word, not in the sense that the word has been over- and misused today – by his atrocious stint in Beantown.

And here’s the thing. The Giants have absolutely nothing to lose except for that prorated league minimum. The Red Sox, meanwhile, will eat the rest of Sandoval’s entire (overvalued) contract.

 

“This is pretty much a free look at a player who’s done some good things here, and if he could help us get on track, it’s a good thing,” says Bochy.

 

Getty Images

Many of us have been speculating for some time that current Giants third baseman Eduardo Nuñez will be traded before the impending deadline. That means the team will be left with rookie third baseman Christian Arroyo, who flamed out quickly in the majors after an auspicious start, was sent back down to the minors to hone his batting skills, and promptly injured his hand twice. The second injury was a broken hand that will shelve him for two months. Alternate third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang was just sent down last week. Until “third baseman of the future” Arroyo is ready for his big-league return (and he will be, but not anytime soon), the Giants will find themselves without a regular infielder at that position should Nuñez be traded.

 

So it all makes sense, really – certainly from a business standpoint. And maybe from a baseball standpoint, too. I’ve watched Pablo’s recent interviews and he really does appear to have lost weight, for once. Maybe he’s actually in decent shape. And since the Giants are not on track for a postseason of any sort, all they need is someone to fill in at the corner until next year. With Sandoval’s tendency to get injured, and his poor showing in the minors so far, our expectations are necessarily low. On the other hand, if the 30-year-old can hit the occasional home run (a rare sight for Giants fans this year), maybe that’s enough.

 

Last week the team’s streak of 530 consecutive sellouts finally ended. It was the longest sellout streak in National League history. The fans are getting restless.

 

So maybe his acquisition is also meant to get the fans excited – whether they love him or hate him.

 

Or maybe it’s superstition; after all, since he departed, the Giants have not returned to the World Series, and their domination (if you can call it that) appears to be over and done.

 

My take on the whole thing, as a fan, is that Giants management typically know what they’re doing, they can spot a bargain when it’s in front of them, and they have a sense of loyalty and history. They’ve undoubtedly noted Pablo’s contrition and his weight loss. He may well be a minor asset as we finish out the season.

 

But I personally can’t forgive him for the ways in which he skewered the ownership and his teammates. I wasn’t a Panda-hat wearer then, and I definitely won’t be one now. Besides, word is that not all of his teammates are thrilled with his potential return, and I’m not sure he’ll give a lift to the clubhouse.

 

This isn’t about me, though. This is about the business of baseball. And it certainly isn’t going to prevent me from going out to the Yard. Loyalty is loyalty.

 

Yes, loyalty is loyalty, Pablo. I hope you’ve learned that lesson.

 

Boys by the Bay 07/14/17

With the Giants about to emerge from the All-Star break like bats squinting out of a cave, it’s time to assess what the second half of the season could possibly have in store – both for the players and for the fans. The team has a 34-56 record and is 27 games out of first place, so the postseason is clearly not a possibility.

 

Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

For the fans, the most thrilling change will undoubtedly come this weekend, when ace Madison Bumgarner is announced as the starting pitcher. Bumgarner, who injured both his pitching shoulder and a number of ribs in an irresponsible dirt bike incident, has been out since April 20. Properly contrite, he is itching to return and, after some very sketchy rehab games in the minors, with 9.82 and 8.10 ERAs in AA and AAA, respectively, he threw six decent innings in AA San Jose on Monday. We need to keep in mind that he wasn’t exactly burning up the league with the Giants before his accident, something absolutely nobody has been talking about in the Bay Area; in fact, he was 0-3 in four starts. But his ERA was 3.00, and it helps to note that the Giants’ offense has been so lackluster that it would have been difficult for God himself to get a win with that lack of run support. So hope remains eternal.

 

To make room in the rotation, Coach Bruce Bochy announced on KNBR radio on Wednesday that starter Matt Cain would be moved the bullpen. Although there was some speculation that management could end up moving Ty Blach instead – for the sake of honoring Cain, the team’s workhorse who has been such an important component of Giants history and who will undoubtedly be gone after this year – overall no one was really surprised. Then again, considering the team’s abysmal misfortunes with injuries this year, Cain could be reinstated to the rotation at any moment, as soon as someone else tears a muscle. Or if Matt Moore or Ty Blach starts to falter even more. (Personally I’d rather see Moore replaced in the rotation; Ty Blach is young and hasn’t thrown a complete season’s worth of pitches yet.)

 

Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

Of course, there’s also the possibility that Cain could be back in the rotation if the Giants end up trading Johnny Cueto.

 

With the July 31 trade deadline coming up quickly, the assumption seems to be that Cueto will be first in line to go. Cueto can opt out after this year, and it seems to make sense that, with a losing year in the forecast, the Giants might want to jettison the last four years and $84 million of his contract and hand him off to a contending team.

 

I don’t know, though. Matt Moore has had an overall lackluster, if not bad, year, and with Bumgarner not an absolute guarantee, and Cain and Blach being inconsistent, I’m not sure management wants to give up one of its best pitchers and risk alienating its constant-sellout fan base. If they do decide to surrender the rest of the year for a team rebuilding, they would like to ensure that next year’s team is at least a contender. And the 33-year-old Cain really cannot adequately fill any starter void based on his most recent numbers: a 7.55 ERA, with eight home runs surrendered over his last six starts.

 

Willie McCovey, the former Giants first baseman and Hall of Famer, says that the Giants have considerable talent and that it is just bad luck that so many of the guys are having a “down” year. He might be right. After all, Willie understands that baseball is a whimsical game, and its vicissitudes mean that any given player can slump badly for long periods of time. If the odds aren’t in the team’s favor, a handful of slumping players can tank a team’s fortunes badly. Many of the players on the current roster are the same ones who got the Giants to the playoffs last year.

 

Still, I think making some judicious moves at the trade deadline might breathe some life into the remaining players and potentially make room for some major-league-ready youngsters who could end up surprising the team with talent and mental fortitude that is completely unexpected. Witness the emergence of Joe Panik, who after only two months in AAA came up with the Giants in June 2014 and played a decisive role in their World Series victory that year.

 

Prevailing wisdom says that homegrowners Bumgarner, catcher Buster Posey, and shortstop Brandon Crawford are the only Giants considered to be safe from the trade sword.

 

First baseman Brandon Belt will start raking in $17+ million a year next year, and he could conceivably end up on the block. He’s an excellent defensive first baseman, but his power numbers just have never reached his potential. Right fielder Hunter Pence has lost some of his defensive prowess but he’s a clubhouse spark, so his value is a tossup – but that includes to other teams, who may be wary of his age and his injury liability. Third baseman Eduardo Nuñes is due back on Friday and could conceivably be trade-bait considering his speed and versatility. With infielder Christian Arroyo still back in the minors nursing a hand injury, and clubhouse favorite Jae-gyun Hwang filling in at third, the Giants could certainly afford to let Nuñes go. Reliever and sometime closer Hunter Strickland could go, too. He’s got a wicked fastball but also a wicked temper, and generally the Giants don’t appreciate that kind of guy in the clubhouse. I say good riddance if he goes.

 

Blach and Moore will likely stay, mainly because they are cheap. I hope left-fielder Austin Slater stays, too. He was having a terrific year before his injury, and even though he was likely to cool off at some point, he had a certain mature baseball presence that his minor-league compadre Christian Arroyo was still too young to demonstrate. But with Slater an uncertainty, a trade for a decent left fielder would make the fans happy.

 

When you think about it, with this lineup the Giants would have an adequate squad with which to finish the season and possibly continue to build in 2018: Posey (c), Belt or trade (1B), Panik (2B), Crawford (ss), Nuñes or prospect (3B), Pence (RF), Span (CF), trade (LF).

 

We’ll see what happens over the next few weeks.

 

Boys by the Bay 06/29/17

Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

The Giants’ current .370 win-loss record – only the hapless Phillies are worse – and last-place standing at 23 games back in the NL West have shaken their fan base to the very core, and even the team’s years-long sellout streak appears to be in jeopardy.

 

By now we all know what the woes are about. Pitching ace and all-around confidence-enhancer Madison Bumgarner has been on the DL for two months. Shortstop Brandon Crawford continues his defensive dominance but he’s having a lackluster offensive season, hitting only .238. Brandon Belt, at .231, still hasn’t risen to the power levels that have been expected of him, and his reliance on walking rather than swinging the bat isn’t helping out a team that can’t seem to produce RBIs. Ty Blach, the promising young starter, has one win, one no-decision, and three losses in his last five starts. The best offensive left-fielder that the Giants have started this year, Austin Slater, promisingly hit .333 with a couple of homers and then injured himself, although he returned to the lineup today. At third base, the health of Eduardo Nuñes continues to be an intermittent issue while once-hot-hitting Christian Arroyo has been sent back to the minors to find his swing again. Hunter Pence, in right field, has made a number of mind-blowingly strange errors in defensive judgment. The bullpen has been a revolving door, and closer Mark Melancon has been a disappointment, culminating in a trip to the DL for him today with a pronator strain.

 

AP Photo

I’m in the middle of reading former Giant Aubrey Huff’s book Baseball Junkie, which is a chronicle of his struggles with mental issues and drug dependence, even while playing on a World Series team. What’s most fascinating about the book is Huff’s recounting of the ways in which baseball players – who in the minds of most fans should savor every minute on the field while they rake in their huge salaries – can be overcome by depression, boredom, and bitterness when they play for a losing team. In his own experience, he says he was “uninterested, unengaged,” and that pressure and performance anxiety can be debilitating. He talks about the fact that success at the major-league level rquires precision and razor-sharp focus. It demands total mental engagement. “Ask any pro,” he says, “and they’ll tell you the same thing. Regardless of how well any season starts, or how pure your intentions. Losing game after game starts to drag you down. You’ll soon find yourself not really firing on all cylinders. Going through the motions.”

 

From a fan’s perspective, that’s exactly what it appears some of the Giants are doing. There are even rumors of dissesnsion in the clubhouse. We’ve already seen the normally placid Buster Posey lash out at Brandon Belt.

 

Before the season started, the Giants hired their first full-time mental performance coach, Bob Tewksbury. He is undoubtedly working overtime these days, aiming to improve the gametime performance of the players by treating whatever mental challenges and attitude problems they’re experiencing.

The Giants most likely will not make it to the postseason – let’s be real – but for those of us who love baseball, there’s no question that there are plenty of reasons to continue those sellouts. In my book, those reasons lie in the youngsters.

 

The kids coming up from the minors are not going to be burned out. They’re not going to be unengaged. They’re going to do whatever they can do to keep themselves in the bigs, including staying keenly tuned in to everything happening on the field. (They may, in fact, overthink things.) They’re going to be too hungry to get disinterested.

 

Jae-gyun Hwang got his first MLB start today, at third base with the Giants. Last year was his sixth All-Star year with the Korean Baseball Association, during which he hit .335 with 27 home runs, 25 stolen bases, and 113 RBIs. He was hitting .287 in the minors with 7 homers and 4 triples before his callup, and the infielder smashed a home run for his first major league hit in his first major league game today, breaking a 3-3 tie with Colorado and injecting life into a game that the Giants would go on to win.

 

It was a jolt of youth, exuberance, and sheer power for the dugout.

 

With nothing to lose regarding an unattainable postseason, look for the Giants to try out other young talent as the season goes on, and to make some moves before the trade deadline, with trade-bait possibilities being pitcher Johnny Cueto or even someone like Brandon Belt. New players, and youth, may be what this clubhouse needs to at least play some respectable games in the second half of the season.

Boys by the Bay 06/18/17

I really want Mike Matheny to get a World Series ring.

 

And yes, I’m a Giants fan through and through.

 

the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Out here on the West Coast, we’ve heard rumors that Matheny’s job might be in jeopardy. As of this writing, the Cardinals are 31-36 in 2017, and a recent series of moves among the coaching staff has led to abundant speculation. It didn’t help, either, that General Manager John Mozeliak claimed that no one in the organization was completely secure.

 

I don’t follow the Cards as closely as I do the Giants, of course. I don’t even have a single Cardinal on either of my two fantasy baseball teams. Nevertheless, I love the team for two reason: 1) St. Louis, which is the best baseball town in America, and 2) Manager Mike Matheny.

 

Mike Matheny spent his last two seasons as a player in major league baseball (2005 and 2006) with the San Francisco Giants. He appeared in 181 games. In 2005 he won not only the team’s Willie Mac Award (for the most inspirational player) but also the NL Gold Glove (his .999 fielding percentage that year also set the Giants single-season record for a catcher). In 2005 he had career highs with 13 homers, 59 RBIs, and a .701 OPS. His three-year contract was cruelly shortened, though, when he was forced to quit baseball in 2006 after suffering multiple concussions. He’s a rugged guy, but he was told that another blow could endanger his long-term health.

 

Matheny always felt that it wasn’t as much the foul tips but the collisions at home plate that caused and exacerbated his post-concussion syndrome. When Scott Cousins severely injured Buster Posey in a takeout slide at home plate in 2011, Mike – who was a special advisor for the Cards at the time – emphatically condemned Cousin’s actions. Anyone coming to Buster’s defense, of course, immediately burrows himself a little further into my heart.

 

Although Matheny had absolutely zero managerial experience at the time, in 2012 he was awarded the Cardinals’ managerial job, succeeding the seemingly irreplaceable Tony LaRussa. And he took St. Louis to the playoffs for four straight years. No other managers had ever done that in their first four full seasons.

 

Despite his skills as a player and manager, though, I admire Mike Matheny most for other reasons. One of those reasons is the honest emotion he showed as a player after Cardinals Pitcher Darryl Kile died in 2002 of a heart attack at the age of 33. Matheny was the only pitcher to whom Kile ever wanted to pitch. I’ll never forget the moving photo of Mike pausing in grief one day and putting his hand on Kile’s jersey that was hanging in the dugout in remembrance. I recall thinking at the time that although it was a simple gesture on its face, there must have been an ocean of sadness behind that moment. And Mike didn’t care who witnessed his raw emotion.

 

I admire Matheny, too, for his leadership and character both on and off the field. Married for many years, with five children (and a recent new grandchild!), I know that he is a man of great faith who doesn’t hesitate to show it. He runs a nonprofit called the Catch 22 Foundation that serves disadvantaged children in the St. Louis area. He calls himself “old school.” He says he’s all about “respect, ownership, self motivation, and no-nonsense sportsmanship.”

 

Mike Matheny made what some consider to be a questionable pitching change in game 5 of the 2014 NLCS against the Giants. He removed pitcher Adam Wainwright after seven innings, and the Giants – who were behind at the time – went on to win the game. Who really knows what would have happened had Wainwright stayed in. Maybe Matheny still thinks about it. But the lasting image for me, from that series, is seeing him tip his cap to Giants coach Bruce Bochy from the visitors’ dugout after the game ended. Imagine a man showing that kind of class to an opposing coach who had just handed him one of his most painful defeats ever. Mike Matheny’s face in that moment was filled with sadness, regret, and resignation. I still tear up whenever I think about it.

The Cards are only 4-1/2 games back in the NL Central. All is not lost. Not only do I want Mike Matheny to keep his job, I want him to get that World Series ring. I want class and character to win out. Call me “old school.”

Boys by the Bay 06/04/17

I’m beginning to feel sorry for Buster Posey. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders this year.

 

USATSI

The Giants, who are currently tied for the cellar position in the National League West, have found themselves in a division that has surpassed expectations. It’s going to be difficult to crawl their way up in a division in which the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers all have winning percentages of .600 or more. Even a wild card scenario would appear, at this point, to be nearly impossible.

 

And unfortunately, most of the team’s burdens and responsibilities this year have been imposed on veteran catcher Buster Posey.

 

With right-fielder Hunter Pence still shelved with an injury, the outfield has been a complete mess – a revolving door of declining veterans and minor-league hopefuls who just haven’t had the ability to produce much offense. Center-fielder Denard Span, taken down by an injury himself when he collided with the wall earlier in the season, is back, but his .231 average and 0 stolen bases have been disappointing. In left field, after Jarrett Parker (himself a question mark) went down with a serious injury, guys like Mac Williamson just didn’t bring much to the table. Other outfielders like Drew Stubbs, Justin Ruggiano, and Gorkys Hernandez have been feeble as well. The Giants brought up Orlando Calixte last week, and Austin Slater this week and are hoping that these minor-leaguers can rise to the occasion. As of this writing, Slater is in the lineup for Friday night.

 

Slashing in the minors, though, is not necessarily an indicator of big-league success – at least, not right out of the gate. Look at the decline in production from third-baseman Christian Arroyo, who, as I predicted in my last blog, might well be headed back to the minors soon for a hitting tune-up. It’s likely that Eduardo Nuñez, the third baseman who has been spending time in left field (yes, along with the other cast of characters), will probably go back to his former position if the Arroyo demotion happens.

 

With nothing happening in the outfield, then, and with Arroyo possibly heading back down, the Giants have been depending more on Posey’s offensive output than they ever have.

 

Well, to clarify, they are depending on Posey and the Brandons (Crawford at SS and Belt at 1B), but Belt is hitting well below .250 and Crawford doesn’t have a ton of power.

 

So it’s been up to Posey to carry the team, and he’s met the challenge by hitting a whopping .348, although he’s slightly off his usual pace in the power department with 7 homers and the same number of doubles.

 

Buster also caught flak on Memorial Day when he stayed out of the now-infamous brawl that started when Giants reliever Hunter Strickland deliberately hit Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper with a fastball in retaliation for gamesmanship that happened between them in the 2014 postseason. The criticism of Posey is ridiculous. I know it’s not unheard-of for guys to carry grudges that last for years, and to take their shots when they get the first opportunity to do so, even if it’s a matter of waiting an eternity to do it. I don’t condone the practice, but it happens. One of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read – The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow – devotes a long chapter to “Retaliation” and recounts a story about how Bob Gibson, the phenomenal Cardinals pitcher, gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock of the Chicago Cubs in Gibson’s very last game before he retired. Now out of professional baseball, Gibson couldn’t get past his desire to plunk LaCock and he managed to do it 15 years later in an old-timers’ game!

 

I’m really happy that Buster stayed out of the fray. I don’t think he had an obligation to protect Strickland, who has a reputation for being an immature hothead anyway. “Well I mean after it happened, I kind of saw Harper’s point,” Posey said later. It was also a two-run game at the time, and Strickland’s actions put the game in more jeopardy. Buster also has a history of concussions as well as, of course, the gruesome leg injury in 2011 that most likely weakened his ankle ligaments for life. Players, unfortunately, can get severely injured in pileups. Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky, for example, famously broke his arm in a celebratory scrum.

 

In any case, Buster still is taking some heat, and when you pile that on top of his performance expectations, his leadership role on the team, and the responsibilities that simply come with being a catcher and piloting the field, I think the pressure has all taken its toll. The normally stoic Buster was visibly angry at Brandon Belt a couple of times in the last few weeks, and the cameras caught some, shall we say, unsavory verbiage coming out of his mouth. On one of the occasions, Belt ignored Posey’s signal to hold a runner close to the bag, and as a result the runner stole second. I’m sure Buster was thinking, Damn! If they’re gonna depend on me for everything, they need to at least pay attention to my signals!

 

I can only hope that Giants management makes some moves to rustle up some offense in the near future. The trade deadline is two months away and the season could be completely out of our grasp by then.

 

 

For now, rather than weep, I’m going to go play with my dog. His name, by the way, is Buster Posey.

 

Boys by the Bay 05/20/17

So, the Giants emerged from their most recent homestand with five consecutive victories under their belts. In San Francisco it’s being seen as something of a miracle, because before that the team had back-to-back wins only twice, and those two streaks had ended at, well, two games. So five games is giving fans some hope.

 

I was sitting in the stands at the game on Wednesday when the Giants finally surrendered their winning streak and lost to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. I was thinking about how my favorite new young Giant, Christian Arroyo, had gone 0 for 4 that day and as of the end of that game was sporting a fairly meager .209 batting average. His early-season home runs had stopped coming, too; two of his three homers were hit in April, and his last was on May 5.

 

Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group

The night before, Arroyo had made his first major-league start at second base (he’s a former shortstop, but with Brandon Crawford at that position for the foreseeable future, Arroyo mainly now plays third base) and still managed to immediately turn a double play in inning 1, fire home to get Justin Turner out in the fourth inning, and later make an athletic diving stop on a Joc Pederson scorcher.

 

The kid has great hands, and I began to realize that he reminds me of Matt Williams, one of my all-time favorite Giants.

 

In 1989, Giants third baseman Williams was really struggling. He’d had two abbreviated seasons in 1987 and ’88, during which he hit around .200 and lofted 8 homers in each year. Pitchers were on to him, and in May, when he was batting a whopping .130, the Giants sent him down to the minors to learn how to hit a curveball. He was particularly ineffective with making contact with balls that dropped into the dirt. So he grinded it out in the minors and came back in the summer of ’89. Working with then-hitting coach Dusty Baker, he somehow found his power, and the next year he raised his average to .277 and smacked 33 home runs.

 

The Giants really didn’t want to bring Arroyo up from the minors yet this year. He’s only 21, after all, and he doesn’t quite have full major-league strength. But management also didn’t bank on losing their most promising left fielder – Jarret Parker – to injury, and they didn’t imagine that they would ever be playing their regular third baseman, Eduardo Nuñez, in left field. Nuñez’s speed and athleticism have worked out well in left, though, and Arroyo’s stratospheric batting average at AAA Sacramento made him a gift the Giants couldn’t refuse.

 

After a hot start in the big leagues, Arroyo has cooled. In fact, he’s bogged down in a slump right now. But this happens to most young players fresh out of the minors. They start out like a house afire because opposing pitchers haven’t seen them yet. But once big-league pitchers figure them out – and it doesn’t take long – the rookies are suddenly faced with their own Achilles heel. The trick is to learn how to face their weaknesses.

 

The word is that because Arroyo showed immediately that he could hit the inside fastball, pitchers have begun to avoid the inside part of the plate completely and throw outside pitches that the youngster seems unable to connect with. Batting coach Hensley Meulens, who confirms that Arroyo is a quick study, has been working with him to move him closer in to the plate so he can reach – rather than flail at – those outside pitches.

 

I think Meulens will help Arroyo unlock his power again, as Baker did with Williams. If not, and if the rookie needs some further time in the minors to get his positioning down, that’s not the end of the world. After all, once Williams spent some time in Phoenix, he came back to lead the National League in RBIs (122) the next year. In 1994 he was on pace to break Roger Maris’s single-season home run record when the baseball strike ended the season. He was a five-time All-Star, a three-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove winner. After the 2003 season he left baseball with a .268 career average and 378 home runs.

 

In the meantime, Christian Arroyo is contributing to the team in a host of different ways. His defense is sterling. He isn’t making rookie mistakes. He’s moving runners along. He’s got a great eye and makes pitchers work during his at-bats. With experience and maturity, he’ll master the outside pitch and, with his power potential, may even become another Matt Williams. (Minus the steroid accusations, of course.)

 

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Buster Posey is suddenly red-hot, hitting an eye-popping .378 with seven home runs. Denard Span has come back from his injury with a vengeance, hitting .379 in May. Eduardo Nuñez is covering left field like a master, upped his .250 April average to .280 so far in May, and hit his first home run of the season on Wednesday. As for pitching, Matt Cain is looking like the workhorse he was four or five years ago, and Ty Blach has filled in just fine for an injured Madison Bumgarner, bouncing back with maturity from a trouncing by the Reds to pitch seven quality innings in his next start against the same team and then getting the win against the Dodgers in the game after that.

 

Now the Giants are facing the formidable Cardinals and Cubs on the road. But neither of those teams, surprisingly, is exactly running away with the NL Central. If this road trip yields at least a split, I’d say the Giants are back in business.

Boys by the Bay 05/07/17

I’ve always thought it was a strange practice to lay blame on a pitcher every time a batter gets a hit. That’s what baseball fans tend to do, especially in the latter innings of a ballgame, when a reliever who allows one or two well-timed hits is said to have essentially blown the entire game. This kind of thinking operates under the assumption that pitchers are expected to never “allow” a batter to get on base – that the norm is hitlessness. But that assumption essentially means that we should then expect a perfect game from every pitcher. I’m not sure why we can’t simply give credit to the batter. If every hit is a pitcher’s fault, then there are no good batters – only lucky ones.

 

AP Photo

As of May 6, San Francisco’s record is 11-19. The Giants have lost more games than any other team in the National League – a strange phenomenon for a team that has won three World Series over the last seven years. And Giants fans and critics have been quick to pin most of their frustration on the bullpen. But in truth, with some flagrant exceptions, the relievers have been decent.

And starting pitching has certainly exceeded expectations in many ways (this week’s meltdowns by the two Matts notwithstanding). Matt Cain was practically given up for dead before he started the season, with everyone presuming that it would be his farewell season because his contracts ends this year. But before last night, his 2017 2.30 ERA bested even what he was able to do in his great (pre-2012) years. (Last night’s debacle, however, shot his ERA up to 4.70.)

In those early years, Cain was one of the league leaders in quality start non-wins. In 2007-008, for example, he pitched 28 games in which he went seven innings or more and gave up three runs or fewer, with an overall ERA of 1.97. Yet his record was 9-9.

Last night’s loss notwithstanding, 2017 is shaping up like those early years when Cain would pitch sterling games and lose by scores like 1-0 because he had absolutely no run support. His last start in April was a gem in which he struck out seven and allowed only one run through five innings, but after he came out the game completely fell apart.

New starter Ty Blach, too, has been somewhat of a revelation. Originally groomed to be waiting in the wings as Matt Cain’s potential replacement, he’s now pitching in place of Madison Bumgarner, who looks to be out at least until a couple of weeks after the All-Star break with a Grade 2 shoulder sprain.

In his first game this year, Black gave up only 4 hits to the Dodgers in five innings – and added his own double against Clayton Kershaw to the mix – but he took the loss when the Dodgers won 2-1. In his second game, against San Diego, he threw seven shutout innings but the Giants lost in extra innings, unable to acquire more than two runs on the day. So far Blach hasn’t been a strikeout pitcher, netting only three K’s in the two games he started, but he’s had terrific control.

 

USATSI

Starter Jeff Samardzija has come through, too. In his most recent game, he pitched eight innings, allowed two hits, and struck out 11. He didn’t get the win, but at least the Giants scored three runs in the 11th inning to beat the Dodgers.

So the problem, as I said, isn’t with starting pitching, and to blame all the Giants losses on the bullpen would do the relievers a disservice.

I think the major challenge for the Giants is power.

In April, the team had the lowest number of home runs in the National League at 16. They also had two or fewer extra-base hits in 14 of their games last month.

 

Left fielder Jarrett Parker, who doesn’t necessarily hit for average but can put balls over the fence, was badly injured early in the regular season and isn’t going to come back anytime soon.

 

Catcher Buster Posey has, let’s face it, lost much of his power over the past few years. His average has held fairly steady, but his home run total has dropped from his high of 24 in 2012 to last year’s total of 14. So far this season he’s swatted two. And he’s hit only three doubles. (In 2016, he hit a total of 33.)

 

Right fielder Hunter Pence also has only two doubles this year.

 

At least second baseman Joe Panik, hitting .293, has smacked five doubles, a triple, and a home run. That’s something.

 

First baseman Brandon Belt has displayed the most clout. He has four homers, seven doubles, and a triple so far this year. Giants fans have been waiting for a power breakout from him for a few years now, and maybe 2017 will bring that hope to fruition.

 

Michael Morse, brought back from baseball’s limbo, swung the bat mightily in the Spring, got injured, and then hit a critical home run in his first regular game with the Giants. He looks like Babe Ruth out there, and he’s a real motivator, but so-so defense and a low batting average don’t make him much of a savior for the Giants.

 

That leads us to The Great Young Hope – rookie Christian Arroyo, who’s hitting only .239 but in 10 games already has three homers and six RBIs under his belt, along with some stellar defense at third base. He’s only 21 years old, but he already has great baseball smarts and can work a pitcher into the ground. Assuming he only improves in the big leagues, he might be a small part of what the Giants need – provided he begins to log the occasional double or triple.

 

But they need more guys with a big bat. Pitchers can only do so much.

Boys by the Bay 04/25/17

boysbybay

You certainly couldn’t count the Giants’ 2017 travails on one hand:

 

  • Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group

    Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group

    The team is in last place.

  • As of Tuesday morning they are 7-13.
  • Their opening-season record hasn’t been this bad since 1983.
  • Their pitching staff has the worst ERA in the major leagues.
  • Jarrett Parker – really their only hope in left field – broke his collarbone in an at-the-wall grab and won’t be back anytime soon.
  • Center fielder Denard Span sprained his shoulder, also in a collision with a wall, and ended up on the DL.
  • Backup infielder/outfielder Aaron Hill just went on the DL with a strained forearm.
  • Backup centerfielder Gorkys Hernandez is hitting .108.
  • Left-handed reliever Will Smith – possibly the best lefty in the bullpen – didn’t even make it out of spring training before he was diagnosed with a need for Tommy John surgery.
  • And horror of all horrors, Madison Bumgarner, their ace, was involved in a dirt bike accident and injured his ribs and his pitching shoulder badly enough that it may be months before he returns. Even then, his effectiveness could be in question.

 

I think, though, that someone wearing rose-colored glasses could find one positive aspect to Bumgarner’s absence.

 

Ty Blach gets a start on Tuesday.

 

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Initially, the 26-year-old left-hander was assumed to be a potential replacement for starter Matt Cain. Cain’s last good year was in 2012, when he went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and pitched a perfect game to boot. But since then “The Horse” has had four rough seasons battling a host of arm troubles including bone chips and cysts, and in 2016 he won only 4 games and finished with a 5.64 ERA. Still, because management wanted to accord him the respect they felt he deserved after 12 years with the Giants, the majority of which were solid, they named him as the fifth starter for the 2017 season and figured that Blach could well end up being a replacement if necessary.

 

Blach has been patiently sitting in the bullpen. He’s pitched 5.2 innings of relief and struck out two, with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.

 

Last year, he came up at the end of the year after a 14-7 season in AAA Sacramento and started two games for the Giants. In his second start, on the penultimate day of the season, he threw a shutout over eight innings against the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw, which of course endeared him firmly to Giants fans. And he topped off his triumph by getting two hits! He also allowed no runs in two relief appearances in the Division Series.

 

The thing is, Cain has not pitched badly in his four starts for the Giants this year. He has two wins and a 2.42 ERA – the lowest in the Giants rotation. His fastball may have decreased from 95 down to 89 or 90, but it’s still effective and he’s got a great changeup. Last night he had a terrific start against the Dodgers, exiting with hamstring tightness after throwing 70 pitches and allowing 1 run in 6 innings.

 

But whether Matt does or doesn’t falter at some point – ominously, that same hamstring sent him to the bench last year – there may be another need for Blach as a starter this year. Bunmgarner’s injuries might take a bigger toll than anticipated. Or Matt Moore or Jeff Samardzija, both of whom are prone to erratic outings, may stumble down the stretch. Or, with the way the Giants’ luck is going, Johnny Cueto might well sprain his lumbago during one of his trademark mound gyrations.

 

We need another starter in the wings.

 

So I, for one, am looking forward to watching Blach on the mound tonight. He’ll be facing Kershaw again. A repeat performance would be just delicious.