Happy 4/20 Day and Happy 31st Birthday to Brandon Belt. (On this day in 2011, Belt was demoted to AAA on his 23rd birthday. Cold.)
This was a very bad week for the Giants. Really bad. After winning three in a row from the Rockies last weekend, they went for the sweep on Sunday and got skunked and almost no-hit. Still, a 5-5 homestand was better than the 2-5 road trip the Giants had started the season with, and then they won the first game in Washington behind some actual hitting (Home runs! Three of them!) and a strong-enough start by Dereck Rodriguez. In the meantime, while the Giants were traveling to the East Coast, top prospect Joey Bart was hit by a pitch and will be out 4-6 weeks with a fractured left hand.
Since that nice win on Tuesday night, which put the Giants just 2.5 games out of first in the NL West, they’ve lost three straight. And it’s how they lost that’s the biggest bummer. So far in this early season, the pitching has been a bright spot. But in these last three games, the starters (Samardzija, Pomeranz, and Bumgarner, in that order) have gotten the team into an early hole, and the hitters have continued to, well, mostly not hit. There were a couple of those torture teases in Washington where there was a late-ish rally and the Giants brought the tying run to the plate in the eighth or ninth inning, but that should probably be chalked up to the Nationals having the worst bullpen in baseball, not the Mendozas actually fightin’.
Steven Duggar hit a two-run homer. It's 9-6. The Nationals bullpen is the worst I've ever seen, and I covered the 2016 Giants.
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) April 18, 2019
I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple days and was going to do a “who’s hot/who’s not” or “bright spots” angle on things. But honestly, I can’t think of any bright spots. Maybe Steven Duggar hitting two homers in Washington? Evan Longoria warming up at the plate a teeny-tiny bit? Buster Posey getting his second RBI of the season to avoid yet another skunking last night? I’m reaching here. I’m struggling.
So after going 2-4 this past week, the Giants are back in the NL West cellar, now 5.5 games behind the streaky Dodgers (lose 6! win 6!). Their team batting average going into today is .206, so they’re not quite Mendozas at the moment.
How about this for a bright spot. It’s 4/20 Day. April 20. As in still very early in the season. As in maybe somehow, some way, things could get better.
Bochy is threatening us with Mark Melancon again
Things could also get worse. For reasons that completely escape me, Bochy again is chirping about making Melancon the closer. You might recall that he was doing this at the beginning of spring training, saying it was going to be a “competition” between Will Smith and Melancon for the closer spot and refusing to name Smith as the closer literally until Opening Day. And you can’t even blame the front office for that one because it was Bobby Evans, not Farhan Zaidi, who threw all the money at Melancon after the 2016 season. I can’t imagine in a million years that Zaidi is/was pressuring Bochy to reinstate Melancon as the closer.
So then Melancon had such a terrible spring that even the beat writers were speculating he could get DFA’d in a roster crunch and Bochy stopped talking about making him the closer again. Temporarily, it turns out. Melancon is off to a good start in 2019. He has given up no runs in 10 innings so far and his WHIP is a very good 1.00. Since Will Smith is struggling in the closer role, it makes sense that Bochy would…
Will Smith is not struggling in the closer role. He’s 4 for 4 in save opportunities, has an ERA of 1.35 (one run allowed), a WHIP of 0.75, and he’s struck out seven in 6.2 innings pitched. It’s Smith’s walk year, so it might be to his financial benefit to remain the closer as long as he’s on the Giants. Melancon already has his payday and his Mexican mansion. And if Smith does get traded, it’s not like Melancon needs “experience” to step in as closer. He’s been a closer for many years, not to mention that Tony Watson and Sam Dyson have substantial closer experience and that many see Reyes Moronta as the Giants’ closer of the future.
Overall, the Giants’ bullpen has been great, despite a couple of rough appearances by rookie lefty Travis Bergen this week in D.C. They lead the majors in ERA. The Giants have lots of other problems, such as shaky appearances from the starters this week, a team batting average of .206, being tied for 13th in the NL in runs scored, and a top prospect with a cast on his left hand. The one thing that is not a problem right now is the bullpen.
Yeah, I don’t get it. I don’t even get why it was in the conversation yesterday. Weird. (And for the record, I’m not really convinced Melancon is “back,” either. Part of that is trust issues from 2017-18, but part is the eye test. The stats are good, but there have been a lot of hard-hit balls, too. I will be happy to be proven wrong, but that’s my opinion here on 4/20 Day.)
Any good news in the minors?
We know about Joey Bart, and that’s a huge bummer because he was off to a very good start in San Jose and because the injury likely means we won’t see him in the majors before 2020. However, there are a few other bright spots here and there.
- Heliot Ramos: The other top prospect at San Jose, the Giants’ 2017 first-round pick, is off to a nice start especially considering he’s in his age-19 season, making him over three years younger than the average player in the California League. Ramos is currently hitting .250/.394/.538/.932 with four homers and two doubles in 66 plate appearances. Most notably, he has 11 walks to just 16 strikeouts, and since breaking in as a pro in 2017, his strikeout percentage has dropped steadily while his walk percentage has gone up. We always knew he had power, but now it looks like he’s developing into an all-around good hitter.
- Some good starts in Richmond: The Giants’ AA affiliate in the Eastern League has been where good stats go to die, but several young players are off to really nice starts. “The wrong brother” duo of Jonah Arenado and Jacob Heyward both have OPS over .900, and Heyward has a ridiculous .500 OBP. Jalen Miller, a third-round pick in 2014 out of high school, has a .956 OPS with three homers in 36 plate appearances and only three strikeouts. Keep an eye on Miller in particular. On the pitching side, starters Logan Webb and Conner Menez are off to excellent starts, with Menez’s stats being especially eye-popping: ERA 0.61, WHIP 0.81, K/BB 19/4 in just 14.2 innings pitched. Meanwhile, some guy I’ve literally never heard of named Sam Selman is pitching out of the Richmond bullpen, and check out these numbers: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 13Ks, ERA 0.00, WHIP 0.57. This caught my eye so I looked him up. Turns out he came from Vanderbilt and in his minor league career has 584 strikeouts in 483 innings pitched. This could be an interesting under-the-radar Zaidi pickup.
- How about all those starters in Augusta? There was a lot of hype about the Augusta pitching staff before the season began. It includes high 2018 draft picks such as Sean Hjelle (second round), Jake Wong (third round), and Blake Rivera (fourth round). It also includes younger standouts Seth Corry (third round, 2017) and Gregory Santos (obtained from the Red Sox in the 2017 Eduardo Nunez trade). So far…well, it’s still early. The most interesting stat line is Corry’s. In three starts, he has 20 strikeouts in 10.2 innings and an ERA of 0.00–but also ten walks. Also, a 2018 15th-round draft pick with the awesome name of Matt Frisbee has 17 strikeouts in 11 innings, mostly out of the bullpen. He may end up being MyGuy™ because my late beloved Lab loved chasing Frisbees so much back in the day. The best hitter for the Green Jackets is a kid named Frankie Tostado, who makes me crave chips and dip every time I read a box score. Tostado is a lefty-hitting first baseman who was drafted in the 19th round in 2017. So far he has a .998 OPS.
- Anything encouraging happening in Sacramento? Well, yes and no. If you like things like hitting and scoring, the River Cats are much more entertaining than the Giants are. Just ask Mr. Sarcastic. Probably the most interesting guys to watch at the moment are Zack Green and Mike Gerber, both of whom we saw in spring training. On the pitching side, the ERAs are mostly ugly, but Tyler Beede has 22 strikeouts in 12.2 innings and a respectable 2.84 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, even though he’s still walking too many. He’s missing bats. And the ever-controversial Mac Williamson has heated up a bit and is now hitting .324 with just 10 strikeouts in 38 plate appearances. He hit a three-run homer last night and doubled his RBI total from four to eight.
As for the big league Giants? Well, it’s hard to see where improvement is going to come from. Juggling the lineup? However you slice it, it’s a lineup of guys hitting in the high .100s and the low .200s. And the way the roster is built, there are only four guys who have minor league options: Dereck Rodriguez, Reyes Moronta, Steven Duggar, and Joe Panik, and it’s hard to see any of them being demoted to AAA. Even if you wanted to bring up some hot-hitting reinforcement from Sacramento, someone would have to be DFA’d.
Aaargh. Good thing it’s 4/20 Day.
Giants at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., PNC Park
Derek Holland (1-2, 4.09 ERA) vs. Jameson Taillon (0-2, 3.43 ERA)
Behave yourselves out there. TWG doesn’t have a budget to bail you out of jail. Lefty out.