Welcome to Czar's Blog #6 of 2018

The Mid-Year Review - overall

The 45 and 42 G-Men are performing as we had hoped at the mid-year point; considering the injuries in the first half and the travel schedule from hell with the team bouncing back and forth to the east coast and playing 8 more away than home games. The advantage here is that in the second half the almost completely healthy Giants will be home (where they dominate - 24 and 14) more than away.

Right now the Giants are three games over .500 in 3rd place in the NL West, 3 ½ games behind the Snakes (who we just swept in AZ) and 2 games behind the surging Dodgers. This is striking distance for the division and well positioned for a wild card bid in the NL if it comes to that in September.

The team is jelling with an infusion of young talent (super sub Alen Hanson and Austin Slater the prime examples, but Derek Rodriguez deserves mention), strong veteran performances (Crawford is having a HOF year and will probably be the starting SS in the All-Star game on the 17th, Belt has the best WAR rating of any First Baseman in MLB and Posey is a rock) and a pitching staff that keeps getting better and better every week.

The G-Men are ranked as the number 6 team in all of baseball in the Power rankings this week.  After last year that is real progress.

The Starting Pitching

Starting pitching has been a major issue ever since Bum went down at the beginning of the season, and then we lost Cueto to a tendon injury (that could have meant Tommy John) and Samardjiza was lost to a bad shoulder. That was a bad time. Bum is now back (with a 2.58 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and a nasty attitude), Cueto gets back tomorrow (after a very good outing at Sacramento) and we are all still trying to figure out what is going on with The Shark (whose ERA is in the stratosphere).

There is not much to say about Holland (5 and 7, 4.36 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) except that he has been a serviceable 4th starter.

In the absence of the big three, Bochy kept throwing out the Giants young talent to see who stuck. That crucible produced good results and gave us a good sense of the next generation of Giants pitchers. Most impressive were Rodriquez (Pudge’s son, a true rookie with a 3.16 ERA, a live arm and a good bat) and Suarez (he has a devastating slider, and a good fastball), both of whom might stick after the pitching staff gets back to full strength.

As we go into the second half we should have a rested, angry, Bumgarner, a dramatic Cueto, the flame throwing rookie Rodriguez and a combination of Holland, Suarez and maybe the Shark. 

I predict that Stratton, Beede and Blach go back to the River Cats and maybe come back up in September with Williamson and Duggar; unless Duggar comes up earlier.

The Relief Pitching

This is where real drama has been playing out. 

The relief core is firming up and we are starting to know what we have. Dyson, looking good but then giving up big hits, Melancon, almost healthy and looking dependable but not yet with closer stuff, Will Smith and Tony Watson, both looking more comfortable every day and both pitching great.

Moronta (who throws in the high 90’s and looks like the second coming of Fernando Valenzuela) has been in long relief and looks like a force on the mound. Pierce Johnson deserves a mention. He has a live arm and has pitched a lot, but gives up a lot of runs. Johnson is on the bubble and probably knows it.

Strickland, he of the bad attitude and the broken pitching hand that is his own fault, was having a great year at closer until he lost his cool and took it out on a wall that couldn’t hit back (unlike when he took on Bryce Harper for the crime of bat-flipping). Maybe when Strickland heals up he will have learned his lesson. That he picked up an off-speed out pitch to go with his blazing fastball was a real eye-opener. Regardless, Strickland is good (not Rob Nen good, but maybe Brian Wilson good) as long as he keeps his temper under control. He should be the closer.

My guess is that we will see Moronta in long relief (maybe with Stratton or Johnson), Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the late innings and Will Smith closing until Strickland returns. 

It’s too bad that Javier Lopez is calling games on the road rather than warming up for that one bad-ass, left-handed batter. I miss him.

No blog, however, would be complete without noting that the best ERA and WHIP on the team belongs to Pablo Sandoval, who closed out the first game of the double-header against the Dodgers with a perfect inning (I was there, it was entertaining). Be comforted by our always having the Panda ready to go in the bullpen when times get tough.

The Offense

The G-Men rebuilt the offense in the off-season and the results are good.

Crawford (.311 BA, .880 OPS, 39 RBI’s 10 dingers), Belt (.298BA, .906 OPS, 39 RBI’s and 13 dingers) and Posey (.291 BA, .794 OPS, 30 RBI’s) are the studs. Not far behind them are Gorky’s Hernandez (a career year at .281 BA, .803 OPS and 25 RBI’s), Alen Hanson (.287 BA, .862 OPS), and McCutchen (.258 BA, .768 OPS, 47 runs scored, 28 RBI’s and a team leading 22 doubles). Honorable mention goes to Hundley with a .265 BA, 24 RBI’s and 8 dingers, and the Panda (.256 BA, .712 OPS, 28 RBI’s and 6 dingers).

The newest starter (Slater) is coming in with a bang (.330 BA and .880 OPS in 13 games). Look for him to stick.

This is a team with the ability to score a lot of runs. That is what they must do to climb as the summer heats up and more teams come into AT&T to play in the fog and duck the late inning seagulls.

The Defense

No one who has ever watched Posey (or Hundley) throw out a runner, Crawford at SS, Panik (he’s smooth enough to give Duane Kuiper a run for his nickname when he played  - “Smooth”) at 2B or Belt at 1B has any doubt about this infield. Crawford keeps making highlight plays and going to a ball game just to watch him play short is worth the price of a ticket.

3rd base is a crapshoot though. The Longoria experiment is not paying off. Yes, he can hit dingers but he no longer gets to balls he got to earlier in his career. He is injured right now but has been ably replaced by the Panda, who has been welcomed back home from his personal Siberia (Boston) by a forgiving fan base. Panda is playing like he did when he left and his infectious enthusiasm carries over to everything he does. I don’t know what happens with Longoria but the fact that the Rays are paying part of his contract is a good thing.

And Alen Hanson, our super sub, can play any position on the infield and the outfield it seems. He runs like he will never play again. He is a joy to watch. He loves the game, plays it well, hits like crazy and has a good arm.

The outfield is a still a work in progress. McCutchen is a fixture in right field (how can you not love him?), and Gorky’s is a dependable glove in center. Left has been a problem all season but now that Slater is there it might settle down.

The problems are Austin Jackson, who isn’t performing and whose signing was a mistake, and our beloved Hunter Pence, who will undoubtedly retire at the end of the season. It’s been a good run Hunter, and you will be on the wall outside of AT&T, but its time. The only question is whether his spot on the roster is needed for one of the young guys. August will tell that tale if Duggar forces the issue at Sacramento.

This 11 game home series – the Cards, Cubs and A’s - - and then no real travel for the rest of July

The G-Men start off against the Cardinals, 43 and 41 and 6.5 games behind the red-hot Brewers in the NL Central. Look for JD Martinez (the hottest hitter on the Cards) to make a statement. He’s may be on the bubble for the All-Star game.

Then the 48/35 Cubs come into town for the annual Chicago love fest. While I’m not a Cubs fan I am a Joe Maddon fan and watching him and Bochy go head to head in managing is always a joy. We will be looking at two of the best managers in the game today.

The series closes out against the A’s before the All-Star break. Look for Matt Olson to hit dingers, and for the 47/39 A’s to come into town with their usual Oakland chip on their shoulder. 

We have good reason to be optimistic. This is the time of year to pay close attention to baseball. Every game is an adventure, every series is meaningful and every at-bat is riveting entertainment

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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