by DrLefty

In the bottom of the fourth inning last night in Philadelphia, the Phillies were up 3-2. With two outs, Trea Turner singled and then stole second base, as he is wont to do. On a 3-2 pitch to Bryce Harper, a passed ball got by catcher Tom Murphy, pitcher Jordan Hicks froze on the mound and didn’t cover home, and Turner, one of the fastest players in the game, just kept going and scored from second.

 

The Phils had scored another of their runs in the previous inning when an error by Matt Chapman put the leadoff batter on base. But the Turner/Murphy/Hicks gaffe was the one that decided the game, which ended up 4-3 Phils. Why that one? Because once the opposing team scored their fourth run, the Giants were toast, even if it was only the fourth inning.

Eight (8). Straight. Games. Scoring. Three. Runs. Or. Fewer. EIGHT!!!

The only reason the Giants aren’t 0-8 in those games is that they’ve gotten some good pitching and defense here and there. For example, when Patrick Bailey hit his walk-off three-run homer last Friday night, it was 0-0 in the bottom of the ninth, so even if they hadn’t, you know, scored any runs yet, clearly they were doing some other things right to get to that point.

But on this road trip, the pitching and the defense have come up short on several occasions, and the results haven’t been pretty so far: The Giants are 1-3 with three games remaining against the red-hot Phillies and then they’re off to Coors Field for three more games before finally limping home to play the Reds and the Dodgers in six straight before finally getting an off day on May 16.

Last night’s loss literally demonstrated that the Giants, the way they’re playing right now, have no margin(s) for error(s). But there are a couple of other points we should discuss.

 

No Margins in the Rotation

I’ve discussed this in various ways in my past two columns, but this week was another example of how badly this is (not) working for the Giants. The Giants announced last Wednesday (ten days ago now) that Blake Snell was going on the injured list with a groin strain. They had two off days in the following week. It wasn’t until the following Wednesday (three days ago) that they needed someone in Snell’s spot. So this was not a surprise and they had plenty of time to decide what to do.

Luckily, the solution was obvious. Mason Black, the Giants’ third-round pick in 2021, has been pitching great in AAA Sacramento and would be exactly on turn for that Wednesday start in Boston. While it was understandable that the Giants might wait to promote him until the last minute so that they could take an extra bullpen arm on the trip, of course he was next up. In two Giants Talk podcasts between when Snell’s injury was announced and this past Wednesday happened, Alex Pavlovic, “Giants Insider,” confidently predicted that Black would be called up to make his major league debut in Boston.

Instead, on Tuesday, we got the news that Daulton Jefferies had joined the team. So on Wednesday, Erik Miller was the opener and then Jefferies came in for several innings. It went about as well as Jefferies’ first spot start in San Diego on the last day of March–that is, not well. Meanwhile, Black made another hitless, scoreless start for the River Cats that same day.

So…what the what? On the latest Giants Talk, Alex put forth the possible explanations:

  1. The Giants didn’t want to make a 40-man roster move to add Black.
  2. There’s a lot of sympathy in the organization for Jefferies, who has history with Bob Melvin and some of his coaches, and they wanted to give him one more shot.
  3. They hope Snell will be back soon and wanted to ham-and-egg the three (or so) starts he might miss rather than starting a young pitcher’s options clock.

Even so, Alex’s comment was “I want to see some urgency.” The Giants are now 0-6 in the “Snell spot” of the rotation, and the run differential in those games is just under 50. And yes, those were in April, and it’s still only the first week of May, but if the Giants miss a playoff spot by a game or two in October, we might remember that they pretty much punted a bunch of starts early by trying to work around Blake Snell.

Black is 24 years old and was drafted out of college in 2021. That means he’ll have to be added to the 40-man roster after this season or be subject to the Rule 5 Draft. This is not the same as the oddly premature decision to promote Wade Meckler last year barely 12 months after he was drafted and more than two full years before he needed to be added to the 40. Black is only months away from that milestone, and if you add him, he’ll have options, so they can send him back down if things don’t go well or if they need room for Snell or Alex Cobb in a few weeks.

As for Snell, I don’t like hearing that he might be rushed right back into the rotation. He and the Giants should learn from their mistakes and send him to AAA for an outing or two. I know that’s not what anyone wants because (a) Snell wants to shove and opt out after this year and (b) the Giants are paying Snell a s**t-ton of money and want to get some value out of him.

As for the Jefferies thing, I get it, but I also agree with Alex: I want to see some urgency. The margin for error in the NL playoff race may not be as large as it might appear this early in the season.

We have a recent Bay Area example of this. The Golden State Warriors got off to a bad start this season that was exacerbated by Draymond Green’s suspensions and ejections–call it the “Blake Snell Factor” if you will, not that the situations are identical, obviously. The Warriors went 27-12 in the second half of the season, but it was too little, too late in a stacked Western Conference. They limped into the last spot of the play-in round, got blown out in Sacramento, and season over–no playoffs. Their margin of error turned out to be zero.

 

No Margins in the Lineup

OK, the whole offense is a problem, but as Andrew Baggarly broke down in his most recent article, the #3 spot in the Giants’ lineup has been abysmal:

The Giants entered the game with a .756 OPS from the No. 3 spot, which ranked 12th out of 30 major-league teams. In RBI situations, though, the lack of production borders on bizarre. The Giants’ third-place hitters have been almost totally shut out this season. The team has received just seven RBIs from the three spot, which ranks dead last among major-league clubs by a wide margin.

Of course, a big portion of the problem is Jorge Soler, who is one messed-up dude right now. Those seven RBIs from the three spot? Four of those were solo homers by Soler. But he’s now come up with 94 runners on base and driven in four of them. So the Giants did what they had to do–they moved Soler down in the order and tried out other three-hole hitters (LaMonte Wade Jr., Jung Hoo Lee, Michael Conforto, Chapman).

Unfortunately, that reasonable adjustment hasn’t helped either the three spot or Soler, at least so far. Soler came up twice last night with the bases loaded. The first time he popped up. The second time he grounded into a double play, which did score a run, but he didn’t get an RBI.

Now, I’m not here to tell you that the rest of the lineup beyond the three spot/Soler has been good, either. They haven’t. The Giants are 22nd in MLB in runs scored, and I honestly was surprised it was that high. But when the spot where you’re supposed to put your best, most productive hitter, and the guy you signed for no other reason than to be a run producer both aren’t working out, at all, well…someone else, or multiple someone elses, have to step up. And no one really is. Some are just less bad than the others.

 

No Margins in the Upcoming Schedule

As already discussed, you can’t win a division or a wild card spot in April or May, but you sure can look back and say that’s where you lost one. The Giants have a brutal schedule in May: first this sixteen-game stretch that includes a ten-game road trip, then a homestand that includes the Dodgers (why can’t we ever get them when they’re playing poorly?). Then they go back on another East Coast road trip and then back home for another go-round with the Phillies.

If something doesn’t change quickly, the Giants will be a grease spot where the other NL teams ran over and away from them.

So what could change? Yes, they should fix the “Snell spot” and stop just assuming that it’s fine to blow off one out of every five games because news flash–those blowouts also wear down the bullpen for the other four games, and, as we’ve seen, you can’t count on Logan Webb or Hicks or whomever to be perfect every time.

The problem, of course, is the lack of hitting. Does it wear on these young starters when they know they need to put up multiple zeros before their veteran offense decides to wake up? Maybe. Can’t help. But what can fix the hitting? I mean, they can tinker with lineups and get Tyler Fitzgerald more starts. But even the most called-for move, which is kicking Austin Slater to the curb and calling up Heliot Ramos, wouldn’t move the needle much if it happened. Slater has only 30 at-bats this season; he’s on the wrong end of a platoon with a more valuable Mike Yastrzemski ahead of him.

So as Bruce Bochy would say, “These are our guys.” We wanted a normal, experienced manager who wasn’t going to do weird things with the lineups and the rotation. We wanted everyday players whom we could count on seeing pretty much every day. We got those things. They just need to play better, and now would be a good time to start.

 

No Margins for the MyGuy™ 2024 Entries!

The deadline for this year’s contest is Monday, May 6, Willie Mays’s birthday. Here is HaakAway’s column with the information and the link to the ballot. Remember that you can edit your ballot up until the deadline, so save your email confirmation to get the link back to your ballot. Let’s get at least 24 ballots in, for obvious reasons!

 

Tonight’s Game

Giants at Phillies, Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.

Keaton Winn vs. Ranger Suarez

This is a great pitching matchup. Winn has been terrific, and Suarez has been among the league leaders all year (5-0, 1.32 ERA). The Giants also luck out in that they have four games in Philly but miss Zack Wheeler. But they still need to, you know, HIT.

May the Fourth be with you. Lefty out.