by DrLefty

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an upbeat column about the good energy the Giants were giving off, fueled largely by call-ups of young players to replace injured veterans. Some of you said nice things about how much you enjoyed it. We went to the game later that day, a rollicking affair that the Giants won 14-4, led by Luis Matos‘s six RBIs, contributions from Heliot Ramos and Marco Luciano, and a solid start by Kyle Harrison. Matos went on to win NL Player of the Week, the first Giant since 2018 to have done so, and the Giants went on to have a successful (4-2) road trip to Pittsburgh and New York by reeling off a series of wild comeback wins. Then they came home and won a series from the team with the best record in the NL (the Phillies). They finished May with a 15-13 record despite a dismal start to the month (a four-game sweep in Philadelphia, scads of injuries) and a very tough schedule that featured two East Coast trips, a 16-day stretch with no off-days, a series against the Dodgers, and two series against the Phillies.

Just past the one-third mark for the season, the Giants are at .500 (29-29) and currently sit in the third NL wild card spot, having climbed as high as the second spot a few days ago. They’ve won four straight series coming into the current one with the Yankees. It’s a new month, and the schedule isn’t quite as daunting as May’s was. We should feel good about where the Giants are at, right?

I’m not sure about that. I’m feeling bearish right now, and I don’t think some of you are going to like this version of Out of Left Field as much as the one on May 18.

 

Taking Stock

The overall record is OK, and the Giants deserve credit for fighting through a tough May schedule and finishing the month in a better position than where they started it. But they have a run differential of -23, and their expected won-loss record is 27-31. They are the only team currently in playoff position in either league with a negative run differential. On the one hand, that suggests they’ve played with some grit and found ways to win games. On the other, that stat suggests that their current (.500) pace is not sustainable unless they actually start playing well enough to get into the positive territory. Their luck will, most likely, run out.

Now let’s look at different aspects of how the team is playing.

 

Strengths

The bullpen: There have been some rough moments for the bullpen this season, most recently when two ninth-inning leads evaporated on the last road trip, resulting in their only two losses on the trip. But overall, as they’ve tinkered and tried some different combinations, it’s turning into a strength, as we saw when the Giants beat the Phillies and their ace, Zack Wheeler, 1-0 in a ten-inning bullpen game for the Giants. We knew about Camilo Doval, Tyler Rogers, Taylor Rogers, and Ryan Walker coming into the season. We hoped Luke Jackson, in his first full year off Tommy John surgery, would be a solid veteran piece. The surprises have been names like Erik Miller, Sean Hjelle, Randy Rodriguez, and Spencer Howard (who just got here but provided a sparkling four-inning outing on Tuesday night against the team that drafted him, the Phillies). The bullpen is coming together–BUT the problems with the rotation (we’ll get to that in a minute) are going to tax it if some things don’t change pretty soon.

Team defense: The season-ending injury to Jung Hoo Lee was a huge bummer, among other reasons, because it looked like he was on his way to providing good-to-elite defense in centerfield. But even without him, and even with Luciano’s gaffes at shortstop, the defense is much improved from last year and an actual strength. The Giants are currently 14th in team defense, which is not amazing, but it’s way better than in 2022, when they finished 29th. (In 2023, they finished 12th, but their metrics were substantially worse than this year’s version.) Particular standouts are Thairo Estrada (2nd in MLB in defensive WAR at 2B), Patrick Bailey (4th in MLB at C) and Nick Ahmed (8th in MLB at SS). Matt Chapman and LaMonte Wade Jr. are both 14th in MLB at their respective positions (and I expect Chapman to climb that ladder; he got off to a rough early start). The outfield is less impressive. Somewhat surprisingly, the metrics don’t love Mike Yastrzemski in RF, none of the CFs* have done especially well, and Michael Conforto is the second-worst LF in baseball. Of the younger players, Ramos and Tyler Fitzgerald are the only outfielders who have graded out positively.

*I will observe that Jazz Chisholm and Cody Bellinger are currently ranked lower defensively than any Giants CF!

 

Weaknesses

The rotation: This was supposed to be a strength and instead has been a pretty big problem so far. Logan Webb has done his part and is currently top five in the NL in innings pitched and top ten in ERA. Jordan Hicks is right above Webb in ERA despite his failure to contain Aaron Judge last night. He and Harrison have done a decent job of eating innings (averaging over five per start). But that’s where the problems begin. The next guy up is supposed to be Blake Snell, and he has neither pitched well nor eaten innings. His rotation spot is a black hole that wears out the bullpen. And then we get to the fifth starter spot, and–we don’t have a fifth starter. Over the first third of the season, the Giants have tried Keaton Winn (injured), Mason Black (not ready), and short-lived attempts with reclamation projects Daulton Jefferies and Mitch White (dreadful).

On the most recent Giants Talk, Alex Pavlovic was arguing that Giants fans need to get over their knee-jerk hysteria at the sight of an “opener” or “a bullpen game.” He said that the bullpen is a strength for the Giants, so having bullpen games every now and then isn’t a terrible idea and, depending on the opposing lineup, could even give them a strategic advantage. OK, fair enough. But he was talking about maybe “once every three weeks,” not “every time through the rotation.” And, going back to Snell, when the fourth starter is going maybe four innings, you can’t afford a bullpen game after that.

To exacerbate these problems, Alex Cobb was expected to be back by now, and he’s still over a month away. The latest news on him is that he’s just started throwing again, but he’s not even doing live BPs yet–and once he gets to that point, he’ll need close to a month to ramp up as a starter, since it will be the equivalent of spring training for him. Robbie Ray is further along than Cobb is, having just been assigned to the Arizona Complex League to actually pitch in games. Ray was never assumed to be in the mix until after the All-Star break in late July, and he seems to be on schedule, but there’s a scenario where we actually see Ray pitching for the Giants before we see Cobb again.

To compound all of that, Hicks (63.1) and Harrison (65) are rapidly approaching innings counts that could be problematic pretty soon. Harrison pitched 113 innings in 2022 and 101 in 2023 (between AAA/MLB). If you figure they want him to max out around 130, he’s halfway there now, so possibly 12 more starts, which gets him to early/mid August at best. Hicks, who is converting from being a reliever, has just about hit last year’s total and has never gone above 77 innings in MLB–and that was in 2018.

It all adds up to…not enough arms to get through the season.

The offense: The Giants finally started scoring some runs in May and have risen to 10th in MLB in wRC+ (101, which is right around league average). They are 10th in OBP and 20th in strikeouts. On the negative side, they are 19th in slugging percentage and 23rd in home runs.

The bigger problem than the overall numbers is the individual names. Specifically, the players who helped them surge in May are not likely to be around as much in June. Obviously the injury to Wade, who had been one of the best hitters in the NL this year, is a big blow. Jorge Soler dropped below the Mendoza Line last night (.199) and still has just 16 RBIs on the season (which is fewer than Matos got in one week). Yastrzemski continues to have a lackluster season at the plate (.219, .667 OPS, 21 RBIs).

Even worse, Ahmed, who for all his fine defense can’t hit a lick (.565 OPS), and Austin Slater (.128 with a .434 OPS) are about ready to return from injuries, meaning that young players who gave the team a spark in May will be sent to the bench or to AAA. Luciano, who let’s be honest, was looking like a head case at SS but was leading the team in OPS (.986) is now on the IL, replaced on the roster by Casey Schmitt (.136).

To sum up, the players who were producing in May are either injured (Wade/Luciano), slumping (Matos), or may either be demoted or get less playing time (Ramos and Brett Wisely). Fitzgerald continues to be used only sporadically. Meanwhile, Soler and Yaz play everyday and Ahmed and Slater will unfortunately be in the lineup soon. The return of Conforto could potentially give them a lift, as he was hitting well when he got injured (.821 OPS). But overall, the upward swing of scoring and production is likely to swing back down again.

I know you’re not enjoying this analysis, and to be honest, I’m not, either. Hopefully around July 1, I’ll be writing a column about how some guys got hot and other guys surprised us, and June turned out really well for the Giants.

 

Tonight’s Game

Yankees at Giants, 7:05 p.m. at Oracle Park

Cody Poteet(?) vs. Logan Webb

I would be hard-pressed to say which superstar I despise more–Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani. I dislike Judge because of the cynical way he used the Giants’ sincere pursuit of him to manipulate the Yankees. I loathe Ohtani because I think the sleight of hand he pulled with his Dodgers deal was sleazy. I don’t wish either of them well. It’s gross when they’re here and even grosser when they’re hitting monster home runs in our park. A pox on both of them!  Lefty out.