I wrote a column on April 22 from a hotel room in Madrid saying that the Giants (then 6-13) were playing “putrid baseball.” Shamed by my truth-telling, the Giants promptly ran off a five-game winning streak (still their longest of the season), and my next column mused about whether the Giants were “putrid or plausible.” While I came up with “putrid” all on my own, the “putrid or plausible” title came from MrLefty, who now has a third idea for a column title he’d like me to explore. But I’m not there yet.
Since I published last week’s Out of Left Field on Sunday, the Giants have gone 3-2–a loss on Sunday at home, the three-game sweep in Coors Field, and then a loss at home last night to the Cubs. As of today, they are 32-31 with a modestly positive +9 run differential, six games behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West, and 1.5 games out of the third wild card spot. They can no longer be called “putrid.” But am I convinced that this year’s team has what it takes to do something special? Not quite. Here are my concerns, in reverse order of importance:
4. They’re not playing as well at home as they should be (currently 17-16). They went 2-4 on their last homestand and lost the first game of this weekend’s series.
3. They’re not playing as well against inferior teams as they should be. Yes, they swept the last-place Rockies this week, but they seem to have some magical ownage on the Rockies over the last couple of years. They lost their first home series to the Kansas City Royals (18-45), who are only NOT the worst team in baseball because the A’s exist. They lost a home series to the last-place Washington Nationals. They lost a road series to the fourth-place Detroit Tigers–a series that could still end up being a sweep for the Tigers because the Giants must go back there in July to make a game up. And now they have to win two straight to avoid losing a home series to the Cubs, who are not good and who were on a four-game losing streak coming into Oracle Park for the weekend.
2. The starting rotation is not looking all that deep or even all that good. Two of the original five starters (Alex Wood and Ross Stripling) are on the injured list. Wood has been out once before already, and Stripling has been out since mid-May. Sean Manaea started the year so poorly that he hasn’t made a start since May 10, and though he’s done better out of the bullpen, we’re talking about the rotation here. Of the three healthy starters (Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, and Anthony DeSclafani), they all had so-so outings this week and have had their ups and downs all season. Even if they figure out how to ham-and-egg the rotation all season into a wild card spot, it’s hard to imagine this rotation taking them very far in the postseason.
1. By far the biggest problem is the fundamental mediocrity of the lineup/hitting. The lineup looks much better on paper than it actually performs. They looked great on Tuesday in Colorado when they finally had their “full squad”–Thairo Estrada and Joc Pederson back from the IL, Michael Conforto and Mike Yastrzemski back from tweaks–and they scored 10 runs on 14 hits, including eight doubles, which tied a franchise record. But then the next day they nearly wasted Webb’s start by getting no-hit into the sixth inning by a lackluster Rockies pitcher you’d never heard of and had to make two late-inning comebacks to sweep that series after listless at-bats for most of the game. They still strike out way, way, way too much (2nd in MLB and 1st in the NL). Even the 10-run game on Tuesday had its warts: With the hits they got and walks they drew, they really should have scored 15-20 runs. It was a warning sign, of sorts. Every now and then they’ll put it all together and score double-digit runs, but their offensive stats are mostly middle-to-bottom of the pack.
As to the lineup, I’m not sure what the answer is except “play better.” While it’s possible that young Luis Matos could come up and give them a spark as Casey Schmitt and Patrick Bailey did in May, it seems unlikely that there will be a trade deadline infusion of offense.
They could try to add a frontline starting pitcher, and that’s where the guy at the top of this column, Marcus Stroman, potentially comes in. Stroman is having an excellent season for a bad Cubs team and can opt out of his contract after this season. When he was a free agent after the 2021 season, he and the Giants had serious mutual interest in him coming here. According to an article by Andrew Baggarly, Stroman still has affection for the Giants. Baggarly discusses the possibility of the Giants trading for Stroman–he’s a good fit for their needs, he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher like Webb and Cobb are, and he already likes the organization–but also points out the possible roadblocks. I was hoping the Giants would sign Stroman two years ago, and it’s still possible they will after this season even if they don’t trade for him and then he opts out. But I don’t see paying top dollar (in prospect capital) for a rental, especially one to whom you can’t give a qualifying offer. Not unless the Giants get out of neutral and start playing like a team to take seriously in October.
On a Happier Note…
Baggarly also notes that, because the Giants’ minor leaguers are doing well so far this year, they’d be in a much stronger position to make a winning offer for Stroman than they were last year when Juan Soto was on the trade market. Let’s review some of the big names and a couple of lesser ones.
- LHP Kyle Harrison: Harrison started for the River Cats last night and did quite well, pitching into the fifth inning (81 pitches) for the first time this year. If he hadn’t had an inefficient first inning (nearly 30 pitches) and if David Villar hadn’t made a two-base throwing error in the fifth, Harrison might have been allowed to finish five and actually earn the win. I thought “Harry” looked sharp after the first inning. Alex Pavlovic had a good interview with him on Giants Talk (starts at around 25:00) this week. He seems like a mature and grounded young man. In the comments section of Baggarly’s piece about Stroman, a Cubs fan said “Kyle Harrison or no deal.” Um, no.
- OF Luis Matos: Baggarly also had a deep dive piece on Matos this week. Matos continues to rake in AAA, and there were several pieces and interviews this week, including one on KNBR yesterday with Farhan Zaidi, wondering when he’ll get called up. The short answer is “When somebody gets hurt.” While Matos is only 21 and in that sense there’s no rush, he’s also on the 40-man roster, so any time he spends in the minors is less time the Giants will control him at the major league level.
- LHP Carson Whisenhunt: Whisenhunt, who was drafted just last year out of East Carolina University, has already pitched in three levels this season. He made his AA debut on Wednesday and went five scoreless innings, giving up two hits, walking two, and striking out seven. “The Whiz” looks like such a finished product and is rising through the ranks so quickly that it makes one think back to when another young lefty from North Carolina jumped straight from AA to make his major league debut in 2009. For that matter, Dan Runzler (who was Whisenhunt’s pitching coach in San Jose for the five minutes or so Whisenhunt was there), also climbed four levels to the majors in 2009. Lefties are awesome.
- OF Grant McCray: McCray was the Giants’ third-round pick (a high school draftee) in 2019, and he may end up being the best outcome of that draft for the Giants (with get-well wishes to Hunter Bishop). McCray shot up the Giants’ prospect ranks last year (currently 4th on the MLB.com list). After a rough start in Eugene this year, McCray had a .909 OPS in May (with six homers) and so far .861 in June. He is a five-tool player who already has 23 stolen bases. He is 22 years old, and the Giants will have to add him to the 40-man roster after this season to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
- OF Vaun Brown: I only have Brown below McCray because he’s missed a lot of time to injury this season, but when he did finally get going, he continues to impress everyone. His career OPS is 1.052 with a .612 SLG. Those are elite prospect numbers, but Brown doesn’t have an “elite” pedigree–he’s on the old side (turns 25 in a couple of weeks), and he was the Giants’ 10th round draft pick in 2021. I shared this Tweet the other day that showed that Brown’s minors career SLG puts him on a list with names like Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt, Kyle Schwarber, Nelson Cruz, and Juan Soto (and Brandon Belt!). The Giants should be more aggressive with Brown, his health permitting. If and when Matos gets promoted to the Giants, Brown should move up to AAA…and then McCray should move up to Richmond.
- LHP/DH Reggie Crawford: Crawford, the Giants’ first-round pick last year out of Connecticut, only recently made his 2023 debut (and pro debut as a pitcher). The early buzz is very good. He has ten strikeouts and zero walks in 5.1 innings pitched, and when I watched him, his command was notable, especially for a guy in low-A ball who’s just back from Tommy John surgery. He has high-octane stuff that can hit 100 MPH. While most observers think his path forward is as a pitcher, the Giants are letting him DH, and he hit his first pro home run last night. It seems likely that they’ll move slowly and carefully with Crawford this season–maybe he gets a promotion to Eugene at some point, but likely not.
— Marc Delucchi (@maddelucchi) June 10, 2023
Other names to keep in mind are SS Marco Luciano, the Giants’ #2 prospect who is having a rough year in Richmond so far, SS Tyler Fitzgerald, a 2019 draftee who’s having a fine year in Sacramento, and RHP Keaton Winn, who’s on the 40-man roster and could make his debut any day now, given the problems with the major league rotation. In his most recent three starts, Winn has given up 1 run, 7 hits, and 5 walks and has 20 strikeouts. Winn last pitched on June 4, and the Giants are throwing a bullpen game today, so who’s starting tomorrow? Just saying.
With the debuts of Schmitt, Bailey, pitchers Tristan Beck and Ryan Walker, plus Rule 5 OF/C Blake Sabol, the 2023 Giants already have an infusion of young and mostly homegrown talent (Beck and Sabol were acquired via trades, but Beck’s been in the organization since 2019.) There are also a bunch of players currently in AAA who have already played for the Giants this season and could make their way back (Joey Bart, David Villar, Bryce Johnson, Brett Wisely, Sean Hjelle, and Cole Waites). The list of prospects above (and there are others), many of whom are already in AA or AAA, suggests a brighter future in which the Giants get out of neutral.
Cubs at Giants, 4:35 p.m. at Oracle Park (TV: Fox)
Kyle Hendricks vs. John Brebbia (yeah, I know)
Last Call: TWG at the River Cats Game, July 15
A group of us (up to at least 10 now!) is planning to attend the River Cats game in West Sacramento on Saturday, July 15. First pitch is 6:37 p.m., and they’ll be playing Oklahoma City. There are always (really good) fireworks after Saturday night games. If you’re interested in joining us, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) by or before June 15. I’ll be happy to arrange tickets for our group once I know how many would like to come. These TWG get-togethers at River Cats games, which go back as far as 2015 (first year the River Cats were a Giants affiliate) have always been fun.
Hope you all have a great weekend. Lefty out.