Such a Sad Day

by Dr Lefty

[Note: All photos in this post are courtesy of Mrs. Crawnik, who was on the spot in Scottsdale Stadium.]

 

OK, let’s get this out of the way. Nobody died. Injuries to star athletes are unfortunate but not tragic. The March for Our Lives event today is just one of many possible reminders of what “tragic” actually looks like.

But if you’re a Bay Area sports fan–yeah, yesterday was about the most awful day in memory. I’ve noted before the somewhat cursed history of May 25, the day Scott Cousins trucked Buster Posey (in 2011). Two years to the day later, Angel Pagan made a new, happier memory with his walk-off, inside-the-park home run–and then didn’t appear again in a game for three months. Two years to the day after that, Steph Curry took a horrifying fall on his head during the Western Conference Finals in Houston. (The only happy ending to all of those stories is that Steph was OK and the Warriors won the 2015 championship. The 2011 and 2013 Giants did not make the playoffs.)

But I can’t remember TWO iconic superstars going down to serious injuries within hours of each other, putting both of their teams’ seasons in jeopardy. That’s a lot to take in. I doubt I’m the only local sports fan who had a bit of trouble sleeping after watching both of those injuries happen in real time yesterday.

 

MadBum

We won’t know until we know, but it sounds like the best-case scenario has Bum back on the mound for the Giants sometime in June. He will have pins surgically inserted into his hand today, and they’ll be removed 4-6 weeks from now. He won’t be able to throw at all with the pins in, so he’ll need to start over with building his pitch count and arm strength. Worst-casing it, six weeks from today is May 5. If he needs another 4-6 weeks of bullpens and rehab starts after that, he’s back in early-to-mid June. That’s if all goes well.

Here’s a photo of Bum throwing earlier in yesterday’s game. In the photo at the top of this page, he’s leaving with the trainer after being hit by Whit Merrifield’s line drive. You can see from the photo that his pinky finger/knuckle are not right. (We should have had Mrs. Crawnik’s on-the-scene reporting instead of Amy G or Henry Schulman, who both turned out to be wrong.)

Madison Bumgarner pitching in his final Cactus League start, March 23, 2018

 

Samardzija

After hearing not-so-awful news about Samardzija’s shoulder injury–just a strained pectoral muscle–we learned that the prognosis is three weeks to a month. Again, he’ll need to rest the injury and build his pitch count back up in minor league rehab starts. I’m going to peg his return to the Giants for May 1, best case.

 

Where all this leaves the Giants’ rotation

Well…up s**t creek without a paddle, I’d say. They were already rolling the dice on two back-end starters, Stratton and Blach, who between them have 36 major league starts. That’s pretty green, and the minor league depth, top prospects Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez, are even greener, neither having pitched in the majors yet or even had a full AAA season. The cheap pickup of Derek Holland, who’s had a nice spring (18 strikeouts in 15 innings) is looking downright prescient and fortuitous about now, though I doubt they imagined him filling in for Bumgarner or Samardzija.

So they will need a fifth starter, but not immediately, thanks to a light April schedule (as to days off, that is, not opponents). Hard to say what they will do–pick up someone on waivers? Sign a free agent? Promote Suarez or Beede?  If you’re looking for any clues, I notice that on the rosters for tonight’s exhibition game in Sacramento (below), Beede is listed on the Giants’ roster and Suarez isn’t listed on either roster. Is Beede going to be promoted–but as a reliever? Is Suarez going to make a start for the Giants in the Bay Bridge Series? We shall see.

 

Is the Giants’ season over before it’s even started?

The tell-it-like-it-is SJMN columnist, Dieter Kurtenbach, sure thinks so. He points out that the Giants pretty much needed everything to go right to compete this season, and now that it obviously hasn’t, well…the logic is hard to refute. But I can’t go there yet, not when there are still 162 games to play. The negatives are obvious; you don’t need me to rehearse them any more than I already have. So here are some more positive ways to look at this.

 

The offense and defense are better and the bullpen is deeper

Yes, the rotation is presently in shreds. But there are ways to win games for awhile without a lights-out rotation. You can score some runs, limit the starting pitcher’s exposure, and judiciously mix and match bullpen resources to get through nine innings. Bochy has long had a reputation for being a master at managing bullpens. He’s about to have his most important regular-season test of that.

 

Maybe the starters will surprise us

This isn’t, of course, the first time a major rotation piece(s) has gone down with a lengthy injury. In recent years, guys like Yusmeiro Petit (2013-14), Chris Heston (2015), Albert Suarez (2016), and Ty Blach (2017) have done credible jobs of filling in. Yes, in a couple of those cases they ran out of gas later in the season. But, hopefully, the fill-ins just need to give the Giants a solid month or two, not six months. And by “solid,” I mean “keep them in most games, and give them a chance to win.” All of those guys did that for awhile in those previous seasons.

The most dramatic example of this, of course, was Ryan Vogelsong, stepping up for Barry Zito in 2011, making the All-Star team, and finishing fourth in the NL in ERA, earning Cy Young votes. It’s a good reminder that baseball can be full of surprises. (Ask the Dodgers about Chris Taylor and Justin Turner.)

Derek Holland has had success in the past, is still only 31, is healthy, and seems ready to go after a solid spring. Stratton was a great late-season story last year and looks good this spring. Cueto seems healthy. Andrew Suarez may be ready–he sure looked it to me in Sacramento late last season.

 

Model of resiliency: the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals

I’m sure in baseball’s long history, there are many great stories about teams that overcome adversity to triumph in the end. The 2012 Giants were one, but the recent one that really stands out to me is the 2011 Cardinals. The first week of spring training, their brilliant ace Adam Wainwright, then in his prime, needed Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season. Without looking it up, can you name any of the pitchers on the 2011 Cardinals? I could come up with one: 35-year-old Chris Carpenter, who was a postseason rock for the Cardinals like Bumgarner later would be for the Giants in 2014.

Now, the Cardinals did have an aging but potent offense that included Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and October hero David Freese. Freese was the only one of those four who was under 30, and Berkman was 35. And all four of those guys had injuries that sidelined them for substantial periods during the season. (They also had Yadi Molina, who was still more of a defensive wizard than an offensive threat, and a young Matt Carpenter, who only had 19 plate appearances and wasn’t even on the postseason roster.)

The Cardinals trailed the Atlanta Braves for the NL wild card–the last year there was only one–by 10.5 games on August 24. But a tremendous run by the Cardinals in September (and an epic collapse by the Braves) allowed the Cards to win the wild card on the very last day of the season. And from there, the rest is history: they knocked out the heavily favored Phillies in five games in the first round–the last being an epic 1-0 battle between Carpenter and his buddy, the late Roy Halladay–and went on to beat the Texas Rangers in a seven-game World Series that featured two late-inning comebacks in Games 6-7.

The Cardinals could have thrown in the towel when Wainwright was injured, when Pujols went out, when Freese and Holliday got injured, when they were down by double-digits in late August, when they were up against the mighty Phillies, and when they were down to their last strike multiple times in the World Series. Instead, they had a parade, with future Hall-of-Fame manager Tony LaRussa arguably saving his best job for the very last.

I’m not saying the Giants are going to be the 2011 Cardinals. But I’m hoping to see more fight and grit than we observed last year when things went south early. Bochy had the same reaction to Bumgarner’s injury (from Henry Schulman’s story):

 

“We saw (last year) what can happen when we don’t have him. We can’t let that happen again. It’s got to be up to us to keep our heads up and press on. There’s nothing else you can do. These are the bad things you’ve got to deal with in baseball.”

 

Closer to home, the Dodgers were without Clayton Kershaw for extended periods of the last two seasons–and didn’t miss a beat. And yes, they had more depth to withstand the loss of their ace, but the Giants have more roster depth than they did last year, too. And part of it really is mindset. Not all of it, but part of it.

 

Other odds and ends

  • Also in Schulman’s story linked above: goodbye for now to Jarrett Parker, who’s been told he won’t make the club and is on waivers. If he’s not claimed, he can either accept a AAA assignment or become a free agent. So the journey of the Giants’ 2010 second-round draft pick comes to a close, it would seem. A year ago, he was the Giants’ Opening Day left fielder.
  • Other Blanco, we hardly knew ya. Now we wait to see if Original Blanco, now the Only Blanco, makes the team as the fourth outfielder.
  • The injuries to Bumgarner and Samardzija may lead to some creative shuffling. Even before Bum went down yesterday, they were talking about a 13-man pitching staff and carrying only four outfielders; the fact that Belt played left field yesterday suggests that’s where they’re headed. The real question is who the 12th and 13th guys on the pitching staff might be. There are 11 healthy bodies left in camp.

 

Today’s exhibition game in Sacramento

Giants at River Cats, 6:05 p.m., Raley Field, Shaun Anderson vs. TBD, radio: KNBR (televised locally in the Sacramento area)

Yes, an A-ball pitcher is starting for the Giants vs. their AAA team. That’s how strange things are today.

Here’s are the rosters for tonight’s game.

We’ll be out at Raley Field (bundled up and hoping for no rain) and are looking forward to seeing the Sarcastics and the Cove Chatters. I’ll report tomorrow morning on the happenings.

Below is the final photo gallery from the Crawniks’ day at Scottsdale Stadium yesterday. It may not be the best memory of their trip, for obvious reasons, other than the Scottsdale crowd’s mad and somewhat random love for Jerry Sands.

Belt takes his position in LF(!)
Buster–playing 1B
The Original (and now Only) Blanco, batting

 

Duggar makes a nice catch while Blanco beams like a proud papa
Kelby Tomlinson, still battling for a roster spot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks again to both Crawniks for the great reports and photos this week. Safe travels back to NorCal!

Oh, and phooey on March 23, forever.