The Tipping Point?

Boxzzzzzzz

by Dr Lefty

The Giants have sure been a streaky team so far this year. They started out sluggish, and by April 20 had bottomed out at four games below .500 and hadn’t yet even won a series. Then Hunter Pence went on the DL, and Mac Williamson and Jeff Samardzija made their 2018 debuts, and the Giants ripped off five series wins in a row, ending with an impressive road sweep of the first-place Atlanta Braves. During that stretch they won 9 of 12.

Since the sweep in Atlanta just under two weeks ago, the Giants have lost 9 of 12, and it’s gone like this: lose six, win three, lose three. And here we are, back to two games under .500, with another tough road trip in a couple days.

 

The past week

The Giants went 3-4 this past week, including three straight wins fueled mainly by some decent offense and solid bullpen work. Except for a fine stopper job by Derek Holland in Pittsburgh last Sunday, the rotation has been flat-out dreadful. How bad? Well, here are the team pitching stats for May. The Giants have a team ERA of 5.10 in 17 games. The worst starters have been Stratton (6.89) and Samardzija (7.16), and the best has been Blach (3.94). The rotation ERA for the season is 4.46, but that includes Johnny Cueto’s sparkling five starts (miss you, Johnny!).

Most galling in these two losses to the Rox is that they’ve pretty much kept Nolan Arenado from doing any damage, but guys hitting under .200 are driving in most of the runs. Holland’s two meatballs to Ian Desmond (hitting .166 before his fourth-inning three-run homer), leading to four RBIs were ridiculous. Yes, Bochy should have pulled Holland rather than letting him pitch to Desmond again in the sixth, but it didn’t end up mattering anyway.

Since the Rockies got to town, the bats have gone cold. The Rox do have some better pitching this year, but let’s not get carried away. These are not the Astros. The Rockies are 11th in the NL in team ERA. The main culprits have been McCutchen, who sure looks like he needs a day off (0 for 9 with six strikeouts), and Posey (1 for 7 with 2 walks and 0 RBIs since taking a very hard foul tip on Tuesday night).

 

Time for some urgency

The Giants are very, very fortunate that the rest of the NL West has been in a similar freefall, especially the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite losing nine of 12, the Giants still sit just 4 games back of the Snakes going into today’s play. But this can’t continue. And with two more games against the Rockies and the upcoming road trip to Houston, Chicago, and Colorado, the standings could ugly very fast if the Giants don’t snap out of it.  Hang on until Bum gets back?–More importantly, let’s make sure Bum’s return is still relevant, unlike last year.

 

The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference (h/t Malcolm Gladwell)

So the Giants have played badly this week, are still very much alive in the division standings–but things could get worse in a hurry if they don’t play better–or make some changes. Here are three points worth discussing:

  1. There is not much they can do to fix the rotation. Bumgarner will, hopefully, be back dealing and snot-rocketing in about two weeks. That’s something to look forward to. But in the meantime, the guys they have need to pitch better and/or the rest of the team needs to play better. (Dereck Rodriguez in AAA? Sure, maybe, whatever. But even so, he pitched last night and wouldn’t be available until Friday in Chicago, so he’s not a quick fix.)
  2. They can and should make some moves to try to jumpstart the offense. If Mac Williamson has a good weekend at the plate for the River Cats (he hit a two-run homer last night in his first game back), he should be on the charter to Houston, where there’s a nice short porch in left field for power-hitting righties. If they don’t think Mac is ready, they should bring Slater with them on the trip and let him play LF.
  3. The CF defense needs to be addressed, ideally before they go into Coors Field, where they really looked terrible last season. From Alex Pavlovic’s gamer:

At some point, the team that spent the offseason preaching improved outfield defense will also have to come to terms with the situation in center. The 6-1 loss did not swing on any one play, but it stood out a bit when Austin Jackson could not chase down an RBI double with the Giants down a pair. Ian Desmond’s knock to left-center had a hit probability of just 45 percent but Jackson came up seven feet short, per Statcast. He has been worth negative-8 defensive runs saved through a quarter of the season, and if he keeps that up for a full year, he’ll surpass Denard Span’s negative-27 from a year ago.

 

So again, we go down to the minors, for this catch from Steven Duggar. The Giants wanted their center fielder of the future to force his way up here, but Duggar has slumped to an OPS under .700. He won’t get the call until he finds his swing. In the meantime, an easier fix may be to move Gorkys Hernandez — who hit his third homer to provide the only offense — to center, with Gregor Blanco, and install Williamson back in left on a full-time basis.

 

I may be just a tiny bit biased because Duggar is MyGuy™ again this year, but I don’t care how much he’s slumped at the plate in AAA. In fact–aw heck, I couldn’t have said it better myself:

But anyway, if they won’t bring up Duggar, I agree with Alex: Put Mac in LF and have Gorkys/Blanco play CF. AJax can play off the bench for awhile.

I’m ignoring the Full Throttle Elephant in the Room: Hunter Pence. I have no idea what they’re going to do about him. He went 2 for 4 last night for Sacramento, and, since coming back from his hitting lesson with the Justin Turner/Mac Williamson guru, is 10 for 24 with four strikeouts and two doubles. Still, the Giants seem hesitant to make plans to bring him back soon, even raising the idea of him accepting a minor league assignment when his rehab time is up.

 

A few minor league standouts

I don’t know where Ryan has been lately, and I’m not going to do a full recap, but I thought I’d point out a few minor leaguers who are doing well:

  • Jason Bahr, Augusta: Got the win last night, pitching 6 innings, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, and 11 strikeouts. His ERA in 8 starts is 1.73, and his WHIP is 1.03, but here’s his most notable stat: 60(!!) strikeouts in 41.2 innings pitched.
  • Patrick Ruotolo, San Jose: This right-handed reliever is 3-0 with 5 saves/5 opportunities, an ERA of 1.56, and 25 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched. Oh, and no home runs allowed. Ruotolo was drafted in the 27th round in 2016 but has been stellar his entire pro career so far. The Giants may really have dug deep and struck gold with this guy.
  • Jordan Johnson, Richmond: A lot of us already follow Shaun Anderson, as we picked him for our AA Guy, and Anderson is having a nice year. But so is Jordan Johnson (4-3, 2.43 ERA, WHIP 1.16, 36 Ks in 40.2 innings).
  • Chase d’Arnaud, Sacramento: We all know Slater is raking and that Dereck Rodriguez is the only good starter on the River Cats this year and that Ray Black has 7 Ks in 3.1 AAA innings. But d’Arnaud, who’s mostly played shortstop for the River Cats, is sporting a current stat line of .295/.377/.543/.919 with 6 HRs, 8 doubles, 3 triples, and 9 stolen bases in 10 attempts.  Have you noticed the Giants are extremely thin in middle infielders, with Panik and Hanson out? I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’m not sure why they summoned Miguel Gomez from AA except that he was on the 40-man roster and d’Arnaud is not. Doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to me. Maybe d’Arnaud should be on that charter to Houston, too.

 

Today’s game

Rockies at Giants, 1:05 p.m., AT & T Park
Jonathan Gray (4-5, 4.85 ERA) vs. Chris Stratton (4-3, 4.88 ERA)

Lineups here:

 

The sfgiants.com headline says “Stratton looks to get Giants on track.” I’d say you could view it the other way around as well.

Thanks for reading. Lefty out.