Welcome to the 7th Czar’s blog of 2016.
Even though the Warriors are in the NBA Finals after an epic comeback in the Conference Championships (shades of 2012 and watching Steph Curry channel Marco Scutaro – without the rain – after 5 elimination games), and even though the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time ever, we can never ignore or forget our real true love – The Giants!
First Place with the Second Best Record in Baseball – How are they doing it?
In the last blog I gave the G-Men at B+/A- when they were only 2 games up in the NL West. Well, they were clearly stung by the grade because since then the boys in Orange and Black have been on a tear that looks like a 4th quarter Warriors scoring run and are 4.5 games in front of the division, and 12 games over .500. OK, A+.
Only the Cubs have a better record in baseball, and the G-Men took the last series from the Cubs 2 to 1.
The streak over the last month has been beautiful, and the reason is balance and smart hardnosed baseball.
The pitching isstrong (5th in MLB with a 2.51 ERA) and has been the main reason for the streak. The starters are going deep and the bullpen (with its weaknesses and the loss of Romo) as a result isn’t tested night after night. However we could do with a little less drama from Casilla – blowing a save is one thing but getting pissed at his fielders, or his manager, and showing it, is a ticket to Brian Wilson land.
The defense is 2nd in MLB with a .989 fielding percentage. On that note, can you believe that we get to watch Brandon Crawford every day? The man is a genius with the glove and he has an arm like a cannon. His infield mates Panik, Duffy, Belt and Posey may be one of the best infields to ever play the game. Right now they get my vote. Defense wins games.
While the hitting (without power mind you) is middle of the pack (14th in MLB, .256 BA), the G-Men have won more one run games than any team in either league. That shows grit and doing a lot of little things right. The coaching staff (especially Bochy but don’t forget Rags and Wotus) is doing a tremendous job of managing games. No false moves, always a plan and never panic. We are watching history in every Bochy managed game.
Perhaps best of all is the fact that the streak has been built on victories over the NL West. That bodes well for September when the division lead will be on the line. Right now it looks like the Dodgers are the real opposition, although their hitting has been pretty pathetic so far (team BA of .235), but maybe not much longer as Cory Seager is getting hot.
The upcoming series against the Dodgers will be really critical in solidifying the Giants early jump on the NL West. One interesting note about the Dodgers is that they just released Carl Crawford on waivers and are eating his $20 million contract. See below about injuries. I suspect that a lot of teams will be looking at a free-agent left fielder with his credentials whose salary is already paid.
Doom and Gloom over injuries? Maybe yes, maybe no
Right now most of the outfield is on the DL. Pence is out at least 8 weeks with a torn tendon that needs surgery. He is currently the team leader in average (.298) and RBI’s (36) and second in dingers (7) behind Buster. His production will be seriously missed. Pagan is also out and but is due back in about a week. He has on-going hammie issues also, and a history of getting hurt when needed the most (although this is a contract year). That leaves Span (with an injury history himself), Blanco (who gets worn down from regular duty it seems) and the new guys from AAA (Parker and Williamson), who are both batting below the Mendoza line. That’s outfield trouble.
There is a lot of speculation that the Giants are looking for a trade. They might take a look at Carl Crawford (why not, in his prime he was a hell of a player) but the rumors are that they are looking for something more stable and long term. Names that have been mentioned are John Jay from the Padres, Jay Bruce from the Reds and Ryan Braun from the Brewers. Each has issues but could be available considering how far back in the standings their respective teams are; I’ve even heard (shudder) Carlos Beltran mentioned because the Yankees are tanking.
Personally I would put Kelby Tomlinson in left field and promote another back-up infielder from the minors until Adrianza is back off the 60-day DL at the end of June (Is Christian Arroyo ready?)
The pitching side of the equation is a little better (not much mind you) from an injury perspective. Matt Cain finally finds hisgroove and then he goes on the DL with a hamstring sprain. We will see Peavy tonight in St. Louis. This is a test for him. The biggest loss is Sergio Romo, who is desperately needed to stabilize the bullpen in the late innings. However who am I to argue with the success that Rags has had with turning around Peavy (at least in the last two starts), letting Cueto be Cueto (isn’t he a hoot!), and getting the most out of Samardjiza (although the 4 HR’s he gave up yesterday in 9 batters to the Cardinals was not very much fun to watch).
Suarez looks like a keeper and Stratton also looks good in a very small sample size. Finally, do not forget that Bumgarner really is the best pitcher in baseball (Kershaw is OK but Bum is the real thing, and he hits better than Kershaw). A recent stat going around the league notes that Bum has the same number of home runs in the same number of at-bats this year as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. He should be the DH when the G-Men play interleague. Remember that Babe Ruth started as a pitcher and won 94 games. MadBum currently has 92 career wins. Just saying.
The Upcoming Games
This slightly unusual 8 game series (sandwiched around two off-days at home, which is rare and probably very welcomed) includes two games with the AL East leading Red Sox. Question: will they activate Panda from the 60-day DL for the series? I don’t think so but it would be fun to see him come off the DL (which he is on for being too fat) to take a bow at home.
Then a three game series at home against the Dodgers which, for the Dodgers anyway, is perform or die because they are getting buried in the NL West. The G-Men have a serious opportunity to put a lot of daylight between themselves and Chavez Ravine.
Finally, the home stand closes off against the Brew Crew which is 14 games back of the Cubs in the NL Central. There is nothing that the Brewers (which have some awesome bats and some not so awesome pitching) and their rabid west cast fans would like more than to take a couple ofgames from the G-men. We will see but those games will be a lot of fun regardless. I always save my bratwurst ration for the Brewers games, somehow they just taste better then.
May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always.
Ciao, and GO GIANTS!