The Giants’ 8-5 win over the Diamondbacks last night in front of a lively Orange Friday crowd might have been one of my favorites of this season so far, with apologies to the great walk-off wins they’ve had, including two this week. Why? Because it felt important to return quickly to winning ways after a ten-game winning streak had ended with a thud on Thursday. And the Dbacks are in first place, and the Giants lost 3 of 4 in their earlier series in Arizona. A series win at home would continue the important statement they’ve made the past week against other NL West foes: We’re in the mix. Don’t forget about us. Just because the Padres and Dodgers were anointed as the top dogs before the season and the Dbacks have been one of the best teams in baseball this year–none of that means the Giants are not contenders.
I’ll just say it. They absolutely could win the NL West. And nobody, NOBODY predicted that, especially after the bewildering and disappointing offseason that followed a letdown of a 2022 season.
I have four interesting storylines that I think are relevant at this point of the season, as they close in on the halfway mark. In order of importance:
1. Patrick Bailey
When the Giants started play on Friday, May 19, the day Bailey made his MLB debut, they were 20-23. Going into today’s game, they are 43-33. In exactly five weeks since Bailey’s arrival, they have gone 23-10. As Jon Morosi pointed out on Twitter last night, the Giants are 17-7 in games Bailey has started.
Patrick Bailey's emergence for the @SFGiants needs to be a greater national story.
San Francisco is 17-7 with him in the starting lineup.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 24, 2023
Now, baseball is a team sport, and obviously others have contributed to the Giants’ strong run, which actually began May 15 (26-10). But you can’t ignore Bailey’s impact on both sides of the ball. He’s currently hitting .330 with a .921 OPS and four homers, three from the right side, which was supposed to be his bad side. (Alex Pavlovic has an interesting piece on how Bailey and the coaches have worked on his right-handed hitting since last season and into this one.) As for his defense, he’s rapidly rising up the ranks in various metrics and is one of the top 3-4 defensive catchers in the NL–and the others ahead of him have more than double his innings. Could he be a Gold Glove winner, as soon as this season? Unlike Buster Posey, who only won one Gold Glove in his career, Bailey doesn’t have Yadier Molina to worry about every year. (Posey winning only one Gold Glove despite being a brilliant catcher reminds me a bit of Juan Marichal never winning a Cy Young during his Hall of Fame career.)
Patrick Bailey. San Francisco's insurance man. pic.twitter.com/XbM8CYWuMJ
— MLB (@MLB) June 24, 2023
Beyond his surprising offensive contributions and his great stats with things like framing and defensive runs saved, Bailey is probably most important in how he works with the pitchers, which brings me to the second storyline…
When the season began, the Giants’ rotation depth was touted as one of their strengths, something that could carry the team. I’m not sure anyone expected how things have actually played out. To review, the Giants had six healthy veteran starters on Opening Day: Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, and Sean Manaea. They also had swingman Jakob Junis in the bullpen. Well, we know what happened. Webb, Cobb, and DeSclafani got off to reasonably good starts, but Stripling and Manaea were awful. Stripling went down with a back injury in early May and is now on a rehab assignment. Manaea moved to the bullpen, where he’s been much better. Wood spent some time on the Injured List, and now Cobb is on the IL, though hopefully not for long. (He’s expected back as soon as his 15 days are up, next weekend in New York.) They also added a revolving “rotation” of Tristan Beck, Keaton Winn, and Sean Hjelle, none of whom have actually made a start, but all of whom have pitched in long relief (and by “long,” I mean four and even five-inning outings). As “starters” either got injured or fell out of favor, the Giants started using the “opener” strategy that they leaned heavily on in late 2021 (when Johnny Cueto was injured and Wood had COVID) and again in 2022.
So that’s what’s been happening since about late April or so. And again, the Giants have been winning, so it’s hard to argue with. But is it desirable, or, more to the point, is it sustainable? The usual opener, John Brebbia, is now out with a Grade 2 lat strain, and it sounds like it’s going to be awhile. Scott Alexander was another opener they’ve used, and he’s also on the IL with a hamstring strain. With Brebbia in particular, it’s fair to wonder if this usage pattern contributed to his injury, but there’s no way to know that for sure. We do know that they’re going to have to get by without Brebbia and Alexander for awhile, and besides being openers, those were two of their better traditional relief options for later innings.
Things are kind of messy right now. DeSclafani’s been inconsistent and shaky for awhile now. Cobb, who was very good over the first six weeks of the season, had a couple of bad starts before going on the IL. Wood–eh, you never really know what to expect with him. He was great for five innings against the Dodgers last weekend, assisted greatly by the 15-0 beatdown the offense delivered. But that was only the second time this season that he went as many as five innings, and he was terrible in his next start against the Padres. Meanwhile, the rookies (Beck, Hjelle, and Winn) have done a good job during the winning streak, and you could argue that one or more of them deserves an actual starting spot. But is that a thing anymore?
Again–winning. But I just have an uneasy feeling that they can’t keep going like this for too much longer. And the tie-in to Bailey is that if you’re going to use pitchers this way, you need a smart, steady, and calm guy behind the plate to guide them. The offense really carried them during this win streak, which brings us to the next point…
The Giants scored a ton of runs during that 10-game winning streak, 80 to be precise. But they also lost Mitch Haniger for the next couple of months, Wilmer Flores for a couple of weeks, and Mike Yastrzemski for at least 10 days. They also went a few days not knowing if J.D. Davis (sprained ankle) or LaMonte Wade Jr. (oblique tightness) might need an IL trip. Yes, Haniger’s injury opened a door for Luis Matos (the Giants are 8-1 since Matos arrived), and Haniger, let’s be honest, wasn’t contributing that much. But now we’re back to guys like David Villar, Bryce Johnson, and Isan Diaz providing depth, and all of a sudden the lineup doesn’t look as long. They were shut out on Thursday and bounced back nicely last night, thanks primarily to heroics by Michael Conforto (welcome back after he went 0-for-Padres) and Bailey. Before the win streak, the offense was inconsistent, and they were middle-of-the-pack in most offensive stats and still striking out more than any other team. 80 runs in ten games will change that quickly, but with the attrition through injuries, can they keep it up? The answer to that question may lie in the (as-yet unknown) progress of…
At the moment I’m writing this, the Giants have eight rookies on their active roster: three pitchers (Beck, Winn, and Ryan Walker), two catchers (Bailey and Blake Sabol), one infielder (Casey Schmitt) and two outfielders (Johnson and Matos). This changes frequently. Three days ago, Hjelle was earning the win by pitching four solid innings against the Padres. But Yaz got hurt in that game, so back to AAA went Hjelle, and back to SF came Johnson. Either way, almost a third of the active roster is rookies, and that doesn’t count Villar or Diaz, neither of whom have that much big league experience.
Per Fangraphs WAR, the rookies currently on the roster have contributed 2.6 WAR on the offensive side and 0.5 on the pitching side. Most of that WAR is Bailey (1.6) and Sabol (0.8). They definitely need greater contributions going forward from Schmitt and Matos (both of whom, it’s important to note, add substantial value on defense even if they’re not hitting much) to bolster the offense while veterans (Yaz and Flores in particular) are on the IL…and who knows who might go down next, right? I trust that there’s a spreadsheet in the front office keeping track of how many times some of these guys have been optioned, since there are now annual limits to that under the latest CBA.
None of the above four points are meant to be Debbie Downer-ish. I led with the belief that the Giants can win the NL West this year. I’m just commenting on storylines that could and will affect this possibility, one way or another. (I could have added a fifth about the stellar season that Camilo Doval is having. We shouldn’t take him for granted.)
Snakes at Giants, 1:05 p.m. at Oracle Park
Merrill Kelly vs. Ryan Walker (the new opener in post-Brebbia era)
Kelly, who has always been a Giants nemesis, is having a great year (9-3, 2.90 ERA). If the Giants can somehow figure out how to get to him, I really will start to believe they’re #Promising or at least #Plausible. And it could happen. After all, no one could hit Dodgers’ phenom Bobby Miller until the Giants got there last weekend. So maybe things will be different this time.
The Mr and I will be at the park tomorrow for our anniversary. We’re looking forward to our first game in person since the home opener. I will be on assignment next weekend, so the next Out of Left Field will be on July 8. Have a great weekend. Lefty out.