By Morris Phillips
Who saw this coming?
The Giants (37-22) have the best record in MLB, the most road wins of any National League Club by a clear margin, and they’re atop the standings in the most challenging division in baseball, despite the heavy presence of the World Champion Dodgers and the loaded San Diego Padres.
They also have a boatload of injuries, a gaping hole in their rotation, and a clear need for bullpen upgrades that dates back to the season’s inception and spring training. So what do they do to keep this freight train moving?
Well, cross their fingers for one. The latest news is the toughest, as Evan Longoria has landed on the disabled list and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks with a shoulder sprain after his collision with Brandon Crawford on Saturday. Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged this may be more than just “next man up” with Longo’s absence.
“He was swinging the bat very well,” Kapler said. “He was very patient at the plate, playing great defense. He’s one of the core pieces and leaders on this club. It’s going to be a major challenge to fill his shoes. I’m not sure we’re going to have anybody step right in and do what he was doing. At the same time, we have to turn the page and get ready to compete.”
So there you go from Kapler’s words: take a deep breath, and get ready to compete on Tuesday at Arlington, Texas against the Rangers. All the blanks will be filled in prior to first pitch.
Good news? The Giants next to opponents are struggling. The Rangers are on pace to lose 100 games, and the Nationals have seen injuries and poor play land them near the bottom of the NL East. In the absence of any assurances, the Giants approach will be to take advantage of those two first. Helping that cause, first baseman Brandon Belt is expected to come off the injured list and resume his spot at first base during the week long trip.
The methodology stays the same: the Giants have hit 85 home runs in 59 games, second best in baseball, and they’ve made those homers count by maintaining a 3.30 ERA that’s kept their games close, low scoring and prime to be affected by a timely home run or two.
Yes, one or two. The Giants just ended a stretch over the weekend in which they hit multiple home runs in eight of nine games. The first six games established a stretch that hadn’t been done since 2001, when Barry Bonds was resetting the season-long home run market with a record 73. Also, the team batting average which was abysmal earlier has ascended to .235, just off the MLB average of .237. Along with the homers, and the walks drawn (235 thus far, nearly four walks drawn per game) the Giants need to hit more consistently to withstand the NL’s best starting pitchers, several of whom reside in their division.
To keep that process moving in Longoria’s absence, Donovan Solano, Mauricio Dubon, Lemonte Wade Jr. and Alex Dickerson are the likeliest names to pick up their offense. Belt’s return will help as well with the hope that Crawford and Buster Posey maintain their strokes that have the veteran pair among the league leaders in several categories.
The other major question is who will join Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto, Alex Wood and Anthony Desclafani in the team’s rotation? Scott Kazmir, who made two starts, and Logan Webb are out of the mix with Webb injured and the 37-year old Kazmir designated for assignment over the weekend. The Giants are scheduled for play on 13 consecutive dates starting Tuesday so temporarily shortening the rotation won’t be an option. Another arm will have to deployed.
On Tuesday, the Giants have Alex Wood scheduled to face the Rangers” Jordan Lyles. Wood is looking for a bounce back after getting tagged with losses in each of his last three appearances after a 5-0 start to the season. Lyles faced the Giants at Oracle Park on May 11 and took the loss, part of a stretch where Lyles has lost four of his last five decisions over his most recent nine starts.