I am stuck in the middle with my morning coffee. At a crossroads, you could even say. Let me explain. For many years, we’d brew a big pot of strong French Roast coffee. Boom. Done. But a couple of years ago, MrLefty decided to invest some of his annual bonus into upping our coffee game and bought a nice espresso machine of Italian descent. He makes both of us really nice coffees from it every morning, complete with steamed milk from his frother. However, there is a twofold problem with this arrangement: (1) the espresso maker is complicated and he won’t let me touch it, and (2) he sleeps later than I do, and I can’t* wait that long for my first cup of coffee.
It seemed cumbersome to load up our big coffeemaker everyday just for my one early morning cup, so I purchased an Instant Pot Solo coffeemaker, which will brew from either your own coffee grounds or Nespresso pods. I load it each morning with French Roast and it brews me a cup in less than 60 seconds. We still have our big coffeemaker for when we have overnight guests or friends over, and when I use it, I’m reminded that it actually brews me a much better cup of coffee than my Solo does. (You can’t fit enough coffee into the Solo pod to make it as strong as I like it. And I like it strong.) But it’s a bigger hassle to load it up than it is for the Solo, and–key point–it takes 10-12 minutes to brew a pot of coffee. I timed it. I don’t like waiting that long in the morning. So I’m stuck in the middle. Do I want better coffee or do I want fast, easy coffee?**
*a former boss once had a saying: “Don’t say you can’t when you mean you won’t.” OK–point taken.
So what does any of this have to do with the Giants? Well, we’re kind of stuck in the middle with them, aren’t we? They’re not bad enough to get angry about, but they’re not good enough to get excited about. They’re not out of contention, but deep down, it’s hard to believe they’re really in contention, either.
This has been a weird season. At times, such as during the ten-game winning streak in June or the exciting rookie debuts in May, it was possible to be very optimistic and to go from a diagnosis of “putrid” to “plausible” and then later to “promising.” But in April, “putrid” seemed apt, and it kinda does again now. I upset some people a couple of weeks ago by saying that the glass had gone from half-full to “emptier.” The nothingburger that was the trade deadline didn’t move the needle or fill up the glass. And so here we are.
This Week in Giants Baseball
It’s been a bad week for the Giants. Really, really bad. All things considered, it might have been the worst week of the season so far. They lost 5 of 6 games, including two straight to the woeful Oakland A’s. They whiffed on a chance to make a good impression on uber-free-agent-to-be Shohei Ohtani in Anaheim. And with beloved former manager Bruce Bochy riding into town with his first-place Texas Rangers, they pretty much rolled over and died last night despite a strong pitching performance in yet another bullpen game.
The fact that they’re losing, and to teams and/or in games they have chances to win, is bad enough. What’s really bad is how they’re losing. With the exception of that trainwreck of a game last Sunday in Oakland, they’re losing because they can’t hit or score runs. This stat pretty much says it all.
The Giants lost 2-1. They have scored exactly one run in 8 of their last 20 games.
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 12, 2023
What’s that? You’d like more stats? OK. I guess you should get what you paid for. Let’s go back to the All-Star break to capture the July-August stretch. Since the ASB, the Giants are last in MLB in batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and home runs. They are 26th in runs scored. On the other hand, the team is 13-13 (.500) in that stretch, which is not that bad considering how abysmal the offense has been. The reason, of course, is that the pitching has been quite good. For those 26 games, the Giants are second in the NL in team ERA and WHIP, last in walks allowed, and 13th in home runs allowed. While the opener/bullpen game model has faltered this past week (they were 15-6 in opener games but have lost three straight), that’s not necessarily the pitchers’ fault. OK, it didn’t help when Scott Alexander gave up four runs in the first inning of the Tuesday night game in Anaheim, a deficit the Giants never completely recovered from, but they got scoreless first innings in the last two games from Ryan Walker and then Alexander and still lost both games.
So…stuck in the middle of good pitching and really, really bad hitting. We could take a deeper dive on the individual culprits, but it would be kind of a waste of virtual ink because nearly everyone has gone into the tank with hitting at the same time. (Not Wilmer Flores, who is hitting .361 with an 1.124 OPS and 7 homers since the ASB.) Beyond Flores, not a single hitter post-ASB has an OPS over .700, and only two (LaMonte Wade Jr. and Joc Pederson) are even over a .600 OPS. (I’m not counting Heliot Ramos‘s one AB in August or Marco Luciano‘s 11 ABs in July, but did you know that at .697, Luciano has the third-highest OPS on the Giants post-ASB? Anyway.)
Alex Pavlovic, in one of his gamers from last night, pointed out that when the Giants’ in-game strategy is “working,” they play late-game match-ups well. The Rangers have not one but two excellent lefty relievers in Aroldis Chapman and #ForeverGiant Will Smith. So you need your righty hitters off the bench to come in and help, right? Well, last night’s options were Austin Slater, Mark Matthias, and Ramos. Slater is literally on the roster to be a lefty-killer, but he’s only 5 for his last 42, and last night he struck out looking on three pitches against Chapman in the eighth inning. Then Chapman started getting wild, but Matthias couldn’t capitalize, also striking out. It is definitely worth second-guessing the move to hit Matthias for Brandon Crawford, who despite hitting lefty is two for six lifetime against Chapman. Ramos, on the other hand, rocketed a double off Will Smith in the ninth and scored the Giants’ only run.
Manager Gabe Kapler commented after the game that going 1 for 3 with a double by three right-handed pinch hitters is not bad, and he has a point when you look at it that way. The other way to look at it is that the three hitters were Slater, who’s in a brutal slump, Matthias, who’s been dumped by two other teams in the past month, and Ramos, whom the Giants only reluctantly called up from AAA this week because their other trade deadline “prize” besides Matthias (A.J. Pollock) was predictably injured after just six ABs with the Giants. Should Matthias be hitting for Crawford, ever, and especially in a late/close game situation? Should a struggling Slater be hitting for Michael Conforto, who’s not that much worse against lefties and who was signed for big bucks to be an everyday middle-of-the-order presence? So there are questions both about roster construction and about deployment of resources. On paper, it should all work, but when it’s not working, is there any creative thinking about the game situation and what would be best in that particular moment? You know who was really good at that kind of in-game thinking?–Bruce Bochy. I assume he still is. On the decision to hit Matthias for Crawford, Andrew Baggarly said this:
“…the move was the antithesis of what the manager in the visiting dugout would’ve done. Bochy incorporated more data into his decisions than you might assume. But ultimately, he put his faith into the players who had experience in those clutch moments. He believed in his people more than he believed in a scheme. And when you demonstrate belief in players, sometimes that is what they need to believe in themselves.”
A final thought about last night’s game. How about the irony of the guy Bochy wouldn’t use in that fateful 2016 playoff game until it was too late (Smith) and the guy who closed the game out for the Cubs (Chapman) now being Bochy’s 1-2 punch late in games?
The Trade Deadline, 11 Days Later
I didn’t say much about this in last week’s column because I figured “it’s done, let’s move on,” but I have a few thoughts now. Like many Giants fans, I was frustrated that Farhan Zaidi did almost nothing at the deadline. In an article in The Athletic, Jim Bowden graded every team’s trade deadline and gave the Giants a D, saying this:
“This was a bizarre trade deadline for the Giants. They did nothing to improve the team. The Mariners were about to release Pollock, who was hitting .173, and Mathias is nothing more than a 26th-man-type utility player on the roster. For a team that’s in the thick of the division and wild-card races, standing pat made no sense to me whatsoever.”
In the comments section of that article, Giants fans screamed that Bowden is a hack (a sentiment I usually share) and that he “just didn’t understand” that Zaidi was preserving his young talent rather than trading for mediocre upgrades. He had no choice! He did the right thing! I never agreed with that analysis, not on Aug. 1 at 3 p.m. and not today, either. There’s a lot of room between “trading Kyle Harrison for a fourth-starter type who’s a rental” and “doing nothing” (or worse than nothing, depending on how you feel about the low-cost acquisitions of Pollock/Matthias). Here are some of the “incremental” moves that other teams made:
- The Phillies acquired Michael Lorenzen, who’s 2-0 with them and threw a no-hitter in his last start. The Giants are in direct competition with the Phillies for a wild card spot if you accept as reality that the Braves and the Dodgers are going to win their respective divisions. The Giants also could have used Lorenzen, and they could have spared the equivalent prospect that the Phils gave up to rent him for a couple of months.
- The Dodgers acquired Lance Lynn, who’s made three starts, thrown 18 innings, and has an ERA of 2.00 since the Dodgers traded for him. The Giants could have used Lynn, too, and they could have afforded the prospects.
- The Rangers acquired Chapman, Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery, and Chris Stratton, and yes, they gave up more prospects, especially for Scherzer, but this is an example of an already good team really going for it.
I could go on, but you get the point. These are three teams that already had good rosters and were in strong postseason position who actually did something to try to improve their chances this year. Zaidi somehow looked at what he had and said, “Nah, we’re good.” And to be fair, some of it is good, especially on the pitching side–though another starting pitcher could have helped a lot; leaning into strengths sometimes is more effective than shoring up weaknesses–but a lot of it is not nearly good enough, and that was already clear by the end of July. In my opinion, a “D” grade is generous and only warranted if you think not trading any prospects somehow merits a passing grade. (As a professor, I don’t follow that argument. Am I supposed to give a student a passing grade for doing nothing rather than turning in a bad paper? “Well, nothing is better than what you might have done, so here’s a D”?)
Rangers at Giants, 6:05 p.m. at Oracle Park
Andrew Heaney (9-6, 4.14 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (6-3, 3.30 ERA)
We’ll see if Cobb can shake off his last bad start against the A’s, and we’ll see what kind of lineup Kapler trots out to face lefty Heaney. Hopefully Ramos gets a start.
**Coffee in the Middle Update
In case you’re wondering, this morning I made a cup from my Solo, and MrLefty woke up and brought me my espresso while I was in the middle of writing this column. I’m still deciding about my long-term approach, though. Lefty out.