On May 21, the Giants are 22-16 and in third place in the NL West. Third place doesn’t sound very good until you remember that there are three wild card spots this year. The Giants have the fifth-best record in the NL and are currently sitting in the second wild card spot. That’s not a disaster. It just happens that they have not one but two really good teams in their division.
None of this is new information. Last year we knew that the Giants had to cope with two NL West juggernauts. The Padres ended up fading and then collapsing, but this time last year, the talk was all Dodgers and Padres. Both teams have done an outstanding job of improving their rosters through using financial resources (Freddie Freeman, Manny Machado) and through leveraging prospect capital to get proven talent (Craig Kimbrel, Taylor Rogers, Sean Manaea, etc.).
I will admit I’m disappointed, though. After last season, you just hoped for more than settling for third place and a playoff spot.Third place seems like where the Giants deserve to be, given their relative lack of effort and activity in the offseason. Honestly, you could argue that they’ve overachieved considering the injuries/COVID outbreak they’ve had to deal with. Now they’re healthier (see #FullSquad, below), so we’ll see how things go for the next couple of months.
Last Night’s Game
The Giants went 2-4 over the past week. The last two losses have been especially irritating because they went about the same: they stayed close but couldn’t cash in offensively and then the bullpen coughed it up late. The best thing about last night’s game was Darin Ruf’s two homers off Padres lefty Sean Manaea. Ruf has really turned his season around over the last couple of weeks, starting with his first homer of the year on Buster Posey Day. The second best thing was the two-out ninth inning rally that tied the game and sent it into extra innings, though that was a short-lived gasp of hope, since Camilo Doval promptly cashed in the go-ahead run plus another one.
Besides the most obvious issue–the loss–a troubling development was Curt Casali leaving the game and going through concussion protocols. If he has to go on the injured list, the Giants will have to make a 40-man move to get another catcher into the mix. They have four infielders and three outfielders on the 40 and in AAA, so finding someone to remove isn’t the hard part–it’s who the replacement might be. The AAA options are Ricardo Genovés, Jhonny Pereda, and Michael Papierski. Genovés and Pereda are both Venezuelan. Genovés is 23 and a top-30 prospect; Pereda is 26 and was signed in the offseason as a minor league free agent. Both were in camp with the Giants this spring so know the pitchers. The two are hitting around the same in AAA this year–not terrible, not remarkable. Papierski was just obtained from the Astros last week for #ForeverGiant Mauricio Dubon. He is not a full-time catcher and hits even less than Genovés or Pereda. My guess is that the Giants would call up one of the two guys who already know their pitchers, but we’ll see. In any of the three options, it would be that catcher’s major league debut. It’s surprising that the organization left themselves so unprepared for the likelihood of a catcher injury at the major league level, but here we are.
Kapler says Casali will go through concussion protocols after he took a foul tip and was removed from the game in the seventh pic.twitter.com/mfeIpbRCgN
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) May 21, 2022
The real bummer about Casali getting injured is that he was actually hitting really well (.264/.816 OPS for the year, .438 with 3 HRs over his last 7 games). Juxtaposed with how Joey Bart’s been doing–and we’ll get to him in the next section–Casali was definitely trending up. Also trending up are the aforementioned Darin Ruf, Mike Yastrzemski (.400/.500 OBP over his last seven games), and Luis Gonzalez, who’s had quite an eventful week: He pitched an inning and a third in St. Louis on Sunday night, hit a three-run homer off Albert Pujols(!), got sent to AAA, and got called back up when LaMonte Wade Jr.‘s knee started acting up again. It was nice to see Tommy La Stella make his season debut and hit a monster homer at Coors Field. Finally, Logan Webb had his best start in weeks in Colorado on Wednesday, but it all went for naught when the bullpen couldn’t hold a late lead and the Giants lost.
Curt Casali said he's amazed at the power Tommy La Stella created on his 464-foot homer. "It's like he puts his whole body in his swing." Yeah, pretty much. pic.twitter.com/l3WBKcgy18
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) May 18, 2022
In a week where the Giants went 2-4, there are a lot of choices for a “trending down” section. We’ll stick with the biggest ones.
The pitching. Remember a couple of weeks ago when the Giants were one of the top 2-3 teams in baseball in pitching? Well, not anymore. Their team ERA of 3.98 is good for only 22nd in MLB. Their WHIP is bad, their average against is bad, and they’re middle of the pack in strikeouts. The two things the pitching staff has done well are keeping the ball in the park (best in MLB) and not walking many hitters (fifth-best in MLB). And it’s been both starters (#19 in MLB in team ERA) and relievers (18th) who haven’t been getting the job done. Bottom line: The pitching staff as of today is a huge disappointment. It was built to be the strength of the team. Right now, it’s the weak link.
Joey Bart. Young Bart’s struggles at the plate have already been the subject of many articles and radio talk shows. Now, especially if Casali is injured, he’ll be even more in the spotlight. (Let’s not kid ourselves that Genovés or Pereda will come up from AAA and be the next Buster Posey. These are fill-in emergency back-up catchers.) Anyway, here’s the thing with Bart. It reminds me of exactly the same conversations Giants fans were having ten years ago about young Brandon Belt. (“He strikes out too much! Send him back to the minors! Bring someone else up!”) The answers to those were always: “Yes, he does.” “He has nothing more to prove in the minors.” “Bring up–whom, exactly?” There never was an answer better than Belt, so they stuck with him over the years, and he turned into a very fine major league player. That didn’t stop people from constantly complaining about him and wishing there was “someone else.” Are Bart’s strikeouts troubling and hard to watch? Yep. Will the Giants stick with Bart? Yep–because they have no choice, unless Farhan Zaidi goes out of the organization to get “someone else.” (And no, they can’t call up Brett Auerbach, who’s not even a full-time catcher, up from AA, or Patrick Bailey from High A. It’s Bart or it’s someone they trade for.)
You have to be a Warriors fan from a few years back to remember the origin story of “FullSquad.” It was from late 2013 when David Lee, then a forward for the Golden State Warriors, asked a reporter multiple times how the Dubs’ record was with a “full squad.” There was something about the way Lee said it that cracked people up, so #FullSquad became a Twitter thing and even a T-shirt (of which, full disclosure, I had one).
The point of the “full squad” reference was that you can’t really judge how a team is doing and has been constructed if they haven’t had a reasonable complement of “full squad” games that season. Indeed, that’s an issue for the current Warriors, who only had something like 11 minutes of Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry playing together during the regular season, and now the squad (still not really “full” given the injuries to Gary Payton II and Andre Iguodala) is trying to figure out who they are as a team–while playing in the Western Conference Finals. But I digress.
When Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella returned to the roster this past week, the Giants finally had a #FullSquad for really the first time this season. It didn’t last long, with Wade Jr. injured again. But they definitely have more length in their lineups and a deeper bench with an almost-full squad of position players.
So to end what’s been kind of a discouraging week on a more hopeful note, we can anticipate the Giants playing competitive games with their full(er) squad. Hopefully the pitching will get back on track. That’s been confusing and disheartening to see.
Kyle Harrison Watch: In a related development, Harrison had another great start last night: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 9 K. For the season: 7 games, 24.0 IP, 1.55 ERA, 10 BB, 59(!!!) K, WHIP 1.00, average against .179. If he’s not in Richmond by June, I’m going to be very surprised. And just go ahead and buy a plane ticket for Marco Luciano while you’re at it.
Three consecutive games with a homer and five scoreless outings.#SFGiants No. 1 prospect Marco Luciano and No. 3 prospect Kyle Harrison are showing out at High-A: https://t.co/0UFPSI1BV2 pic.twitter.com/FdIUk3kFog
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 21, 2022
Padres at Giants, 1:05 p.m., Willie Mays Field
Joe Musgrove (4-0, 2.20 ERA) vs. Carlos Rodón (4-2, 3.49 ERA)
Rodón, who was being talked up as an early Cy Young candidate, is coming off the worst start of his career (on national TV in St. Louis). Musgrove has been the Padres’ best starter so far, so they need a big bounce back from Rodón. It doesn’t get much easier this week, with the Mets coming in, though the Giants dodged an expected Webb-Max Scherzer rematch when Scherzer went down with an oblique injury. Fingers crossed and hoping for the best here. Lefty out.