Bailey Crawnik, with Patrick Bailey’s bobblehead behind him, calmly observes as his namesake hits a walk-off homer to beat the Pirates last night. Photo Credit: crawnik

 

by DrLefty

I was just about at the end of my rope in last night’s game. I enjoyed Kyle Harrison‘s fine performance but was thoroughly annoyed when Jorge Soler couldn’t come through in the bottom of the sixth inning and push a run across to give Harry a chance at a win. The various bullpen guys served up some torture, Nick Ahmed killed a rally by getting picked off, and Matt Chapman booted a routine grounder to extend Tyler Rogers‘s inning. Then, in the top of the ninth, Camilo Doval loaded the bases in what was still a scoreless tie. Another teeth-gnashing, gut-wrenching loss was so close I could taste it.

I should have remembered this script because I was in the ballpark watching it three weeks ago to the day. In the home opener against the Padres on April 5, Doval came into a tie ballgame in the ninth, got into trouble, and got himself back out of it. Then the Giants walked the game off in the bottom of the ninth, that time on a double by Thairo Estrada.

Anyway, I was disgusted with the Giants’ futility against another no-name pitcher, more sloppy baserunning, and the general ineptitude. When even the “good” half of your bullpen looks shaky as hell, well, Houston, we’ve got a problem. (Indeed, the Astros have even bigger problems than do the Giants right now.) I thought the new regime of Bob Melvin and his veteran coaches was going to make the Giants more professional and better to watch, but…until the ninth inning…not so much. “FIRE EVERYONE!” I said.

But then, just like three weeks ago, the script flipped. Doval pitched out of his mess with a strikeout and a 1-2-3 double play. He even showed a little non-“Tranquilo” emotion. Then the Giants finally mounted a rally against the Pirates’ closer David Bednar (we got the wrong brother again), capped by Patrick Bailey‘s walk-off three-run homer.

 

That was Bailey’s second walk-off homer of his young career. Do you know when Buster Posey’s first walk-off homer was? It was in 2013, nearly four years after his major league debut. Just saying.

So. OK. No one is fired today.

 

Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!

Before I move on from last night’s game, I wanted to say a few more words about young Kyle Harrison. I am a major believer in him. His home debut against Cincinnati with 11 strikeouts last year (George Kontos in the NBCS-BA studio likes to call them “punchies,” which I think is just precious) made an indelible impression of me. I’m still a believer even though he hasn’t been as impressive thus far as rotation mates Logan Webb, Jordan Hicks, and Keaton Winn. But those guys are all 27 years old. Harry is 22 and was a high school draftee like Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner…and Webb. And it took those guys a minute in the major leagues to become the studs they were (and are, in Webb’s case) for the Giants. One of the main reasons I wanted the Giants to bolster their rotation in the offseason was that I didn’t want Harrison to have to be the #2 starter yet. He’ll get there. But in the same way Bumgarner got to lurk in the background for a couple years behind Tim Lincecum, Cain, and others before taking his spot as THE ACE, it will be better if Harrison just gets to hang in the back of the rotation and do his thing without all the pressure.

One of the big concerns about Harrison coming up through the minors, especially in AAA, was his walk rate and his pitch counts. Last year in AAA he had 48 walks in 65.2 innings. That’s…not very good. His overall minor league stats show about a 3:1 K/BB ratio, and in AAA, it was more like 2/1. It was speculated at the time that Harrison was being victimized by the ABS system being used in AAA last year–and by not working with his draft classmate, Bailey, who was promoted quickly from AA to AAA to MLB last year.

With the Giants last year in 34.2 innings pitched, Harrison had a similar 3/1 K/BB ratio. This year, in about the same innings so far (33), Harrison has a 6/1 K/B ratio–31 Ks to only 5 BBs! He’s cut his walk rate in half (from 2.9/9 innings to 1.4). And though he’s given up more homers than any other starter, his HR/9 ratio is down, too (from 2.1 to 1.4 in about the same number of innings). He’s getting better before our very eyes, and last night was the best yet. He pitched through traffic and his pitch count rose quickly, but he settled in and ended up pitching six innings (93 pitches), 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, and 7 Ks. He was terrific.

 

Stock Up!

Bailey had a great week, too, starting with his bobblehead day last Saturday, when he went 4 for 4, hit his first splash homer, and barely missed hitting for the cycle. Mike Yastrzemski, who’d been off to a dreadful start, heated up over the past week, hitting .429 with a 1.110 OPS (6 for 14 with a homer and 5 RBIs) plus continuing to play a superb right field. The outfield defense is so much better this year with Jung Hoo Lee in CF and Yaz in right. The Giants are 11th in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average in the outfield, and that’s with Michael Conforto‘s butchery in LF added in. Last year, they were 22nd in DRS and 27th in OAA. And I think Lee has improved out there since the season started; his routes and first steps are better, so I think his numbers will get better. (Has anyone noticed that Lee’s cap keeps flying off when he goes after balls in the outfield or runs around the bases? MrLefty wonders if that’s an homage to the greatest Giants’ CF of all time.)

Other than the black hole which is currently the fifth spot in the rotation (we’ll get to that), the starters have been great. Webb is somehow pitching even better than he did last year, Hicks continues to be a great story, and Winn is having a better rookie season than Harrison is (so far).

 

Stock NOT up!

Designated non-hitter. A couple of weeks ago when I wrote my “Putrid Baseball 2024” column, I called out Soler as someone who was underachieving and needs to step it up. Well…he hasn’t. He is 2 for 23 with runners in scoring position (.087) and has driven in two (2) runs with RISP!  He only has six RBI for the whole year–and four of those were driving himself in on solo homers. By comparison, Yastrzemski, who was under the Mendoza line until a few days ago and still only has a 66 OPS+, has nine RBI for the season. Soler’s overall numbers are better (101 OPS+), but they literally got him to park him in the middle of the order as an everyday DH and drive in table-setters like Lee and LaMonte Wade Jr., who are doing their jobs (.339 and .466 OBP, respectively).  Soler seems to be pressing now, and it might not be the worst idea to drop him down a few spots in the order to take the heat off him. He’s here for three years, so we all need to cross our fingers and hope for better things.

Blake Snell/the black hole in the rotation. Since the season began, the Giants have gotten three starts from Snell himself and three starts covered by bullpen cannon fodder because Snell wasn’t ready or got injured at the last minute. In those six games, the Giants have gone 0-6 and been outscored 59-12. For the season, they have a -17 run differential, and all of that comes from that one spot in the rotation. I wrote about Snell last week, and since then all he’s done is somehow injure himself in a bullpen session and then get scratched from his Wednesday start at the last minute, leading to a blowout loss in an unexpected bullpen game. So now Snell’s out of the picture for a few weeks. Oh, and did you know that he and Mrs. Snelly Cat are expecting their first child on May 20? So right about when he might be ready to come back, he’ll probably be on paternity leave.

Anyway, it sure seems like Mason Black is going to get his shot. He looked like he was going to make the team out of spring training until the Giants signed Snell late in the process (and Snell insisted on taking up space on the Opening Day roster even though he wasn’t ready to pitch yet), and Black went to AAA, where he’s been very good: 22.2 IP, 2-1 with a 1.19 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, K/BB 25/5. Because of off-days, Giants don’t need a fifth starter until next weekend in Philadelphia, which ironically is where Harrison made his major league debut last summer. My guess is that they’ll keep an extra bullpen arm for the road trip and then call up Black for next Saturday’s game. Landen Roupp could go back to AAA (or, to be precise, actually go there for the first time), and they can DFA Nick Avila or Kai-Wei Teng, neither of whom impressed in their brief stints with the Giants this month.

I’m very intrigued by the idea of watching a few weeks of an almost homegrown rotation (Webb, Harrison, Winn, and Black). (You almost could say we “adopted” Hicks since the Giants let him make his desired transition to the rotation.) If Black comes up and does as well as the others have, I’m not sure what happens when Snell comes back and then Alex Cobb (who’s had another setback and in any case is not eligible until May 27), and at some point Robbie Ray. There’s no such thing as too much depth on a pitching staff, and these things have a way of working themselves out. But I even wonder if a veteran pitcher could get flipped elsewhere at the deadline.

The bullpen. I said a few days ago after that mess of a bullpen game that I thought the bullpen would ultimately be OK. I still think that. This past week they swapped out inexperience (Avila/Teng/Roupp) for experience (Sean Hjelle/Luke Jackson/Mitch White) and it didn’t go much better. I don’t really understand why Hjelle is still here, but I guess they see something that I never have. As for Jackson, who was injured on Opening Day and has still only made two appearances, and White, who just got here, well–we’ll just have to wait and see. Jackson did actually have an OK year for the Giants last season (2.97 ERA in 33.1 IP), and he has a track record, so used properly, he can probably contribute.

Despite last night’s shakiness, the back-end arms (Doval, Ryan Walker, Tyler and Taylor Rogers, and the rapidly ascending Erik Miller) seem like a solid core, and hopefully Jackson will settle in now that he’s back. At some point, it seems like 1-2 arms from the rotation have to end up in the bullpen–Hicks, maybe, because his innings count has run up, or Winn, or maybe Tristan Beck gets back–and that should just make the pitching staff stronger. And if they need another lefty, keep an eye on either Juan Sanchez in AAA (0.68 ERA, 2 saves, 15 Ks in 13.1 IP for the River Cats this year) or Reggie Crawford in AA. Alex Pavlovic on Giants Talk said recently that the Giants think Crawford’s stuff is good enough to get MLB hitters out right now, and the only thing that could hold him back from a MLB debut this year would be concern about innings and pitch counts.

 

There are still things to worry about. The offense has ticked up a bit this past week, but it’s fair to say that it’s still not firing on all cylinders. The bullpen is a work in progress. But despite the bad run differential, the Giants sit today at 12-13 and (sorta) tied for second place, 3.5 games behind the Dodgers. I know it’s way too early to be looking at wild card standings, but they’re just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot. And this is with a lot of things not quite working right yet. It could get better. I think it will.

 

Tonight’s Game

Pirates at Giants, 6:05 p.m., Oracle Park

Martín Pérez vs. Jordan Hicks 

Pérez seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s still just 33 years old, and he’s off to a good start (3.45 ERA), but he’ll walk some if you let him. It seems like the Giants are going from one extreme (stare at strikes) to another (hack hack hack last night). Let’s hope they find some balance. Let’s also hope that today is the last day of the Lakers’ season. Lefty out.