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by Dr Lefty

This was not how 2018 was supposed to go.

All anyone could talk about during the last offseason was how old the Giants were. So they went out and got even older, trading young prospect Christian Arroyo for 32-year-old Evan Longoria, more prospects for 31-year-old Andrew McCutchen, and signing 30-something free agents Austin Jackson and Tony Watson. In other words, Brian (“I never met a veteran I didn’t like more than any rookie”) Sabean’s Happy Place.

Last night’s Giants lineup included only three of the Opening Day starters (Joe Panik, Longoria, and Brandon Belt)–and those three have all spent substantial time on the DL. Two of the three Opening Day outfielders (Jackson and McCutchen) have been traded (in fact, Jackson was in CF for the Mets last night), the catcher, Buster Posey, just had hip surgery, and Ty Blach and Hunter Pence have since been demoted to bullpen/bench roles (both appeared in last night’s game). The other guy from Opening Day, Brandon Crawford, was given the night off.

Sabean was interviewed before last night’s game, and you could see it in his face and hear it in his voice. Even though national pundits think the Giants did reasonably well in their prospect return for one month of McCutchen’s services (more on that below), Sabean was bitterly disappointed and frustrated to have waved the white flag on August 31 by trading McCutchen to the Yankees. It was killing him. Andrew Baggarly wrote that the trade of McCutchen left the Giants “in a dark place.”

What’s the old saying? The darkest hour is just before dawn?

The Giants’ starting lineup last night included four rookies–Andy Suarez, Austin Slater, Aramis Garcia, and Chris Shaw. Two of them, Garcia and Shaw, were simultaneously making their big league debuts. The last time that happened for the Giants was April 8, 1986, when the Giants’ #2 pick from the year before, a 22-year-old with the sweetest lefty swing named Will Clark, took Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan deep in his first major league at-bat. The other rookie, second baseman Robby Thompson, was much less heralded, the Matt Duffy of his day, jumping right from AA to the Opening Day starting lineup, a spot he would not relinquish for eleven years. One of those two rookies finished second in the 1986 Rookie of the Year voting. (Hint: Did I mention that Thompson was Matt Duffy before Matt Duffy was even born?)

Nobody expected that much from the debuts of Aramis Garcia or Chris Shaw. Though they were top draft picks (Shaw was a first-round compensation pick in 2015 and Garcia was the second-round pick in 2014), they’ve had good (Shaw) or OK (Garcia) minor-league careers, nothing that had anyone salivating for their arrival. Garcia in particular was shoved off the map by the June draft of the Next Buster Posey, Joey Bart, at #2–the first time the Giants have had a #2 pick since…well, you know.

So the game started, with McCutchen and his new clean-shaven look on his way to join the Yankees, bright-spot rookie centerfielder Steven Duggar setting a date for shoulder surgery, and Posey chatting with Pablo Sandoval, Posey on crutches after his hip surgery earlier this week and Sandoval still in a leg brace after hamstring surgery in early August. Brian Sabean was moping somewhere, and Bruce Bochy said “Oh, what the hell” and started ALL his rookies, plus Alen Hanson instead of Brandon Crawford at shortstop. To add to the gloom, the Giants’ 2009 top-ten draft pick, Zack Wheeler, was starting against them, having resurrected his career this season after years of battling injuries.

Somewhere in all of that darkness, a really fun game broke out. Let’s break it down a little further.


Rookie #1: Andy Suarez

Suarez, along with fellow rookie starter Dereck Rodriguez, has been one of the fun surprises of this season. The Giants have the best ERA in baseball dating back to June 1, three full months now, and those two young pitchers have been right at the center of things. But Suarez hit a wall around the middle of July and had a bunch of rough outings in a row, then gritted out six scoreless at Dodger Stadium on August 14, but then was absolutely pounded in the Giants’ disastrous weekend in Cincinnati. In his last two starts, though, Suarez has gone 14 innings and given up no runs, no walks, five hits, and tallied ten strikeouts. He seems to have dug deep and found a second wind.

In last night’s start, maybe the best of his career, Suarez had the added fun of throwing to the catcher, Garcia, he’d worked with in high school when both were on the same travel ball team.

Suarez looks to be locked into the 2019 (and beyond) rotation. He is definitely one (of several) happy developments this 2018 season.


Rookie #2: Chris Shaw

According to Andrew Baggarly, Giants GM Bobby Evans went to Sacramento on Thursday to have a private word with all of the AAA players who might be expecting a call-up, either congratulating them or offering an explanation as to why not. Chris Shaw got a “maybe,” but while he was still talking to Shaw, Evans got a phone call confirming that the McCutchen trade to the Yankees was happening. So now there was playing time available in the outfield. As Baggarly tells it:


A few hours later, as the Sacramento players boarded a bus to the airport for a flight to Las Vegas, River Cats manager Dave Brundage told Shaw that he needed to get over his disappointment and pull his focus together, because there was a game to play and his team needed him.

The team in San Francisco.

The decision to promote Shaw was so sudden that his parents couldn’t get there from Boston in time. Early on, it looked like all of the doubts about Shaw were justified. Shaw is a slugger who has hit 48 homers between AA and AAA in the last two seasons, but he strikes out a lot. In his first two ABs against Wheeler, he saw six pitches–six swinging strikes.

Meanwhile, Suarez and Wheeler were dealing, and the two teams went into the bottom of the seventh in a scoreless tie. Brandon Belt, whose bat finally seemed to come back to life last night, hit a leadoff double and took third with some savvy baserunning on a slow-rolling grounder to shortstop. Up came Shaw, with the go-ahead run on third and one out–and darned if he didn’t get it done against Wheeler this time.

Here Shaw talks after the game about getting to contribute.

Rookie #3: Aramis Garcia

I saved the best for last. Watching a rookie’s family in the stands, living and dying with every pitch, can be agonizing sometimes. (I still remember how brutal it was when Mike Kickham made his debut in 2013. Yeeeeeesssshhhh.) But last night was amazing. In the bottom of the eighth, Garcia, already catching a shutout but having (like Shaw) struck out twice in his major league debut, led off and launched a solo homer to the left field bleachers. The Giants then batted around, and Garcia got a second hit, an RBI single, in the same inning. The homer is great, but the best part is watching his family react.

After the game, Garcia talked about his emotions as he crossed the plate and saw his family celebrating, up on the video board. From Alex Pavlovic’s gamer:

“It’s everything,” he said. “I’m here because of them. Seeing their reactions was awesome. My dad reacted just how I thought he would. To see the rest of my family in tears, it was emotional.”


So Bruce Bochy, how did you enjoy your rookies’ debuts?

Answer: a lot.

It was just one game. The clock may strike midnight, and Garcia and Shaw may turn back into their respective pumpkins. But for one night, just as on Opening Day in 1986, a beaten-down fan base and organization got to experience some youthful joy and have some fun.


Other odds-and-ends

The other rookie in the game, Austin Slater, had two hits and managed to cover right field reasonably well. We can assume he’ll get more reps there in September. It would have been five rookies in the lineup had Steven Duggar not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on Tuesday night, but we shouldn’t wrap up this rookie celebration without mentioning his contributions this past week. On Sunday, he hit a two-run triple (likely the first of many in his career) that broke a 1-1 tie in a game the Giants won 3-1. On Monday, he hit a two-run homer off lefty Patrick Corbin, leading to a 2-0 Giants win. And on Tuesday, with the game in a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth (thanks in part to his great outfield assist in the eighth), Duggar drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on Nick Hundley’s single, but as he rounded second and had to dive back into the bag, he suffered the shoulder injury that would prematurely end a promising rookie season…but not quite yet. He argued to stay in the game (I’m imagining he said “My legs still work”), and he raced home from second on Gorkys Hernandez’s first-pitch single for a 1-0 Giants walk-off win. It would be his last act of 2018, but he was a huge contributor in the Giants’ four-game win streak this week.

The Giants received two prospects from the Yankees in the McCutchen trade, reportedly choosing to take better prospects by splitting Cutch’s remaining salary with the Yankees. The two prospects, Abiatal Avelino and Juan DePaula, were in the 20s on the Yankees’ top-prospects list, but they slid into #17-18 on the Giants’ quickly revised list. Pavlovic has a breakdown, with video, of the two new guys in this article. Avelino is a middle infielder with a good arm and glove, some speed, and some recently developed pop (15 homers this year between AA and AAA). He’s someone who could help the team right away, as they’re thin on middle infield depth. DePaula may turn out to be the prize of the trade. He’s a 20-year-old righthander playing short-season A ball (same level as the Giants’ Salem-Keizer team), and he can go 94-97 with the fastball and has a strikeout per inning this season and an ERA in the 1s. We’ll see if these two guys end up out-producing Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds (the two prospects the Giants sent to the Pirates for five months of McCutchen), but for a last-minute, short-term rental of McCutchen, this seems like a pretty nice return. It’s very reminiscent of last year’s trade of Eduardo Nunez, another likable fellow who was having a nice year for a bad Giants team. The two pitchers obtained for Nunez are now the Giants’ #3 (Shaun Anderson) and #13 (Gregory Santos) prospects. So the two trades of expiring contracts have resulted in four of the Giants’ top-20 prospects.

Finally, warm best wishes to Andrew McCutchen, a delightful ambassador for the game. I hope he’s a hero in New York. It’s sad to see him go, and he was a good Giant, just not for long enough.


Today’s game

Short turn-around today with a 1:05 start (about when my Trojans kick off their season opener with their very young new QB, J.T. Daniels).

Mets and Giants, 1:05 p.m. at AT & T Park
Steven Matz (5-11, 4.36 ERA) vs. Derek Holland (7-8, 3.65 ERA)


Sorry for such a long post today, but it was fun to have such a nice game to write about!  Lefty (finally) out.