Here Comes the Trade Deadline: Giants will be buyers, albeit smart buyers

By Morris Phillips

The Dodgers have the shiniest rings, the flashiest talent and superior depth, and money, always good at the trade deadline.

The Padres have a deep roster, Fernando Tatis Jr. and a wheeler-dealer mentality that trumps any seen previously at the big league level.

The Giants? They have a two-game lead in the NL West, the most remaining home games, and a pragmatic approach that’s almost guaranteed to underwhelm most trade deadline evaluators.

How will the Giants make this work?

As best they can, given their obvious restraints.

Team president Farhan Zaidi has made a bunch of progress in his nearly two years at the helm. The Giants farm system is healthy, the salary structure has clear definition, and this summer–when numerous, big ticket contracts come off the books–is the critical period for the organization to strike in the free agent market.

But the team wants to win now, and capitalize on its stature of being ahead of schedule, and ahead of the pack with MLB’s best won-loss record through 99 games. The schedule will be a factor in the decision making: only six of the remaining 63 games are against the Dodgers. Instead the Giants will see San Diego and Colorado 10 times, and Arizona nine. They’ll also see Milwaukee seven times, and the Braves and Mets six times each. Their home heavy schedule is considerably softer than say the Dodgers, who are on the road for 12 of the next 17, and nine straight within the last three weeks of the season.

The Giants won’t do as much as the Dodgers or Padres. The Dodgers want another starter–Trevor Bauer may not pitch again this season–and that won’t be cheap. The Padres are weighing big options as well. The Giants will settle for an extra bullpen arm, or an under-the-radar starting pitcher as long as neither cost them a Joey Bart or Marco Luciano, who are being groomed to be future, homegrown stars.

Positionally, the Giants will rely on their trainers to get Evan Longoria, Tommy La Stella, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford healthy. With those four in the mix, the Giants will be loaded with lineup options around the diamond. Any new names added to that mix would have to be overwhelming, and likely replace on the names already in the fold.

College roommates Yastrzemski and Gray meet again in Giants 6-3 win over the Reds

By Morris Phillips

Hey, a solo shot’s no big deal.

Sonny Gray and Mike Yastrzemski, college roommates at Vanderbilt a decade ago, didn’t have an opportunity to hash it out on Monday night. Yaz took Gray deep in the fifth inning to put the Giants up, 4-0, but by that point, the Reds couldn’t catch the ball, and the Giants were in full swing, doing their traveling home run show thing.

In other words, bigger issues were at hand then reminiscing about old conversations in college.

“I don’t think it fazed him,” Yastrzemski said of Gray’s reaction to the home run among friends. “We always talked about it and he said if I hit a homer in a game off him, it had to be a solo shot. So I don’t think he’s too mad about it. It’s something I hope we’ll eventually look back and give each other grief about and have fun with it.”

Just not on Monday. What was more pressing were the Reds’ recent struggles that have them losing lopsided contests, while the Giants have been surging, just what’s been needed to keep the club in first place with the Padres and Dodgers breathing down their necks.

After the 6-3 Giants win at Great American Ballpark, Gray was dead serious while reliving his inability to keep the hard-hitting Giants from going deep while needing to explain his defenses shortcomings behind him. For the record, Gray allowed two home runs while the Reds committed two damaging errors.

“A pitcher’s job is to continue to try to make pitches, make competitive pitches and continue to try to force soft contact,” Gray admitted. “There were some plays that maybe could have been made that weren’t. It was just sloppy. Like I said, it started with me.”

Gray surrendered a walk and two singles in a busy first inning that didn’t go wrong until Jonathan India couldn’t field Brandon Crawford’s ground ball cleanly, and compounded his mistake with an errant throw allowing Buster Posey to score the game’s first run.

In the fourth, Wilmer Flores went opposite field off Gray to put the Giants up 3-0, but the blast was preceded by Eugenio Suarez’ fielding error that allowed Crawford to reach. Yastrzemski’s homer came an inning later, the culmination of Gray’s outing that wasn’t good enough above or below the surface.

The Giants flew above the minutiae with the homers, now numbering 39 away from Oracle Park, which leads the majors in home runs hit by a club on the road. That the total didn’t stall at the cozy, riverfront ballpark made a statement. The Giants hit ’em, and combined with stingy defense and pitching, a winning formula has emerged.

So far, it’s a formula that’s kept the more talented Dodgers and Padres in the rear view. All three clubs won Monday, and the Giants maintained their division lead, a half game better than San Diego, and two games ahead of the Dodgers.

Meanwhile, the Reds are 6-6 in their last 12 games, but they’ve allowed at least six runs in each of the losses, none of which have been by fewer than three runs, including 9-2 and 9-0 routs. The Reds have gone more than a month with a losing record, having last been over .500 on April 21.

Logan Webb enjoyed his best start if the season, cruising through six, scoreless innings by keeping Reds’ hitters off balance with a nice mix of sinkers, sliders and fastballs delivered at an aggressive pace. Webb was tight-lipped about the strategy after the game, with the exception of extolling his quick pace. He also clarified his abrupt exit, saying his shoulder soreness concerned manager Gabe Kapler enough that he lifted his pitcher despite the fact he still had plenty in his tank.

Kapler said the Giants will conduct tests on Webb’s shoulder in the coming days, but he didn’t seem concerned that his pitcher could miss time.

The Giants continue their four-game set in Cincinnati on Tuesday with Anthony DeSclafani facing the struggling Luis Castillo, saddled with a 1-5 record and 7.71 ERA.

Yaz’ two run homer helps Giants split with Bucs 4-1; Wood’s win now 5-0 for SF

San Francisco Giants pitcher Alex Wood delivers a first inning pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates line up at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Sun May 16, 2021 (AP News photo)

By Jessica Kwong

The San Francisco Giants were not about to let the Pittsburgh Pirates take the series on Sunday afternoon. After allowing the Pirates walk-off victories on Friday and Saturday, the Giants with Alex Wood pitching six innings and maintaining his perfect record beat Pittsburgh 4-1 to split the four-game series at PNC Park.

Wood (6-0) gave up one run, struck out six and walked one. Mike Yastrzemski hit a two-run homer to right-center field off David Bednar in the ninth inning to boost San Francisco’s lead to 4-1. Yastrzemski’s play sealing the Giants’ victory came after he missed Saturday’s game due to side soreness.

In the first inning, San Francisco scored a run on a grounder. Pirates outfielder Ka’ai Tom tied the game in the fourth with a sacrifice fly.

Buster Posey had three hits as well as a walk. Evan Longoria had a single off Mitch Keller in the sixth inning and broke the tie with a run on a wild pitch by reliever Clay Holmes.

Giants sidearmer Tyler Rogers allowed no runs in the ninth inning and nabbed his fourth save. But San Francisco left a runner on base in every inning except the last one and stranded 10.

The difference between Friday and Saturday, versus Sunday, was that Caleb Baragar, Rogers and Matt Wisler did what the relievers in the two losses could not.

With a 24-16 record, the Giants still lead the NL West.

San Francisco on Sunday also reinstated Alex Dickerson from the injured list and optioned LaMonte Wade Jr to the Sacramento River Cats. Brandon Belt, who has been experiencing side tightness, was scratched.

The Giants continue their road trip on Monday with the first of a four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. First pitch is at 3:40 p.m.

San Francisco Giants day off report: Cueto and Yastrzemski expected to return this weekend

San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto throws against the Cincinnati Reds line up on Apr 14, 2021 is expected to return to the Giants pitching rotation by this weekend against the San Diego Padres (AP News photo)

By Jessica Kwong

The San Francisco Giants had Thursday off before they start a three-game series against the San Diego Padres on Friday.

After falling to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday and losing the series, the Giants could use some good news, and they got it.

Manager Gabe Kapler said Johnny Cueto, who has not pitched since April 14 due to a minor lat injury, will be back in the rotation this weekend. Cueto will start on Sunday against the Padres, which will be his fourth start of the season.

In the three games he’s pitched so far this year, Cueto has a 1.80 ERA, a 1.91 FIP and 18 strikeouts to four walks in only 20 innings on the mound. Cueto will replace Logan Webb, who struck out five and walked three in just 3 2/3 innings in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Rockies at Coors Field.

Additionally, who has been out since April 25, is expected to return this weekend.

Kapler hopes that Buster Posey, who left the game on Wednesday with a sore hamstring, benefited from the day off and will be back in action this weekend.

After the game on Wednesday, the Giants optioned catcher Joey Bart back out to Triple-A Sacramento, where he will start the River Cats season.

Perhaps the biggest news on the Giants’ day off was celebrating the 90th birthday of legendary center fielder Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid spent nearly all of his 22 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Giants. The Giants filled their Twitter account with birthday messages and retweets honoring the Hall of Famer,

In addition, the Giants Community Fund introduced the Willie Mays Scholars, a program dedicated to addressing racial and educational inequities by providing black youth in San Francisco with scholarships of up to $20,000 and academic support.

Casali, Giants dial up another shutout, Giants open homestand with a 3-0 win over the Marlins

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Deceptive advertising, that’s what it is.

The Giants tout a cerebral hitting approach, a lineup of dangerous sluggers, and explosive offense delivered late in games, but when you get to the park they give you pitching, more pitching and shutouts.

Not that there have been complaints…

Curt Casali, the Giants previously unknown backup catcher signed as a free agent in January, grabbed a slice of big league history Thursday by being the starting catcher in a fifth, consecutive Giants’ shutout, 3-0 over the Marlins. The feat hadn’t been accomplished by any big league catcher since Francisco Cervelli did it in 2015, and it brings Casali within one of Ed Phelps’ (Pirates) major league record of catching six, consecutive shutouts. Only five catchers–including Casali–have achieved the feat since 1901.

But what sets Casali apart from the other notable catchers, says it all about the 2021 Giants: five different starting pitchers have participated in the streak, a first. And nine different relievers have participated in the streak, no record, but impressive nonetheless.

Simply, the Giants have quality pitching and a couple of capable engineers running the show behind the plate.

“Me and Buster have worked really, really hard behind the scenes,” Casali said. “It feels like, finally, it comes to the forefront. I’m pretty proud. Obviously l’m not the one throwing the pitches.”

The advertised offense simply needed a cameo appearance versus the Marlins, providing three runs in the first. All three runs came after the first two hitters were retired on a single, two doubles with a walk of Evan Longoria mixed in.

Donovan Solano was placed on the injured list before the game with a calf injury. Longoria departed Thursday’s game after one at-bat, due to tightness in his hamstring. And Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford are dealing with various physical issues that kept both out of the starting lineup.

That’s the entire, Opening Day infield lineup out, and everything else the Giants had to offer in, yet they still made it work. Anemic batting averages, lessened defense at the corners, a travel-weary bunch returning from Philadelphia, but fortified with a bunch of quality pitches. That was the formula Thursday and Aaron Sanchez set the tone.

Sanchez allowed two hits, no walks in five innings, and did so with the speed on his fastball noticeably lacking. It mattered little as he induced ground-based and weak contact during his stint while lowering his ERA across four starts and nearly 20 innings to 1.83.

“My velo is down, but it’s been down,” Sanchez said. “It’s about getting outs, so I don’t really (reflect on) how hard I’m throwing.”

Gregory Santos followed Sanchez with his Major League debut and 98 mph fastballs mixed with 90 mph sliders made the occasion special. Santos struck out pinch-hitter Magneuris Sierra and leadoff man Jazz Chisolm, Jr. before inducing a ground out from Miguel Rojas on a 2-2 pitch.

With Santos and Camilo Duval, who debuted last week, the Giants bullpen has two, dynamic new arms. The catch? Both are extremely inexperienced, but talented, a gap that isn’t always bridged. But in these cases, the team’s willing to try.

The Giants’ 12-7 record is second only to the Dodgers among the 30 ballclubs. Achieving that mark with only seven home dates thus far is impressive, given the Giants have only lost once at Oracle Park.

On Friday night, Alex Wood faces Miami’s Sandy Alcantara at 6:45pm.

Giants smash three homers in hair-raising 3-2 win at San Diego

By Morris Phillips

The Giants didn’t impress anybody in Seattle with their late inning collapse on Thursday and eerily quiet bats on Saturday night.

But they did impress on Monday in San Diego.

Mike Yastrzemski, in a pinch-hitting role, broke a 2-2 tie with a home run in the seventh inning, propelling the Giants to a 3-2 win over the Padres at Petco Park. Yastrzemski’s big blow came after he was 1 for 13 against the Mariners, and told the local media he had no excuses for his substandard start to the season.

“I just stunk this weekend,” he said.

On Monday, Yaz was back in comfort zone: swinging a big bat, and characteristically saying as little as possible afterwards.

“We were gritty today, DeSclafani did great and we faced a good pitcher.” Yastrzemski told the NBC Sports Bay Area audience on the field after the game.

MLB.com’s Maria Guardado was able to get more out of Yastrzemski in a zoom session interview after the game, and the answers were revealing from one of the game’s more cerebral hitters.

“I was obviously hoping it was either a home run or a deep flyout,” Yastrzemski said. “It was kind of working into what I wanted to do mentally with my swing. I was getting beat a lot in Seattle and spinning off the ball. I just wanted to really stay through the middle of the field, and I just got a pitch that I could do it with.”

Yastrzemski’s home run off reliever Craig Stammen came on a 2-0 sinking fastball, and continued the slugger’s penchant for coming up with big hits in big spots, a trend that began in the COVID-truncated 2020 season. But Yaz wasn’t the only big bat for the Giants on Monday.

Darin Ruf homered in the second, and Evan Longoria homered in the fourth, his third round tripper in four games. All three blasts were solo shots and gave the Giants the lead each time.

Anthony DeSclafani made his San Francisco debut and held the Padres to one run on four hits in five innings of work. Even more significant was the team’s bullpen, working the final four frames while allowing a run on four hits as well.

Jake McGee picked up the save after walking Manny Machado and hitting Eric Hosmer with a pitch with two outs. Tommy Pham flew out with the two runners aboard to end it.

Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. was injured while swinging at a pitch in the third. Tatis struck out and crumpled to the ground at home plate in obvious pain. He was diagnosed with a partially dislocated shoulder and could miss a month or more after signing a $340 million contract in the off-season.

Wondering how a 3-2 ballgame lasts 3 hours, 35 minutes in today’s baseball climate despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s insistence that games preceed at a faster pace? Here’s how.

Both teams started their fifth starter in their initial appearance of the season and both pitched deliberately. Between them, DeSclafani and San Diego’s Adrian Morejon started hitters with first pitch strikes on just 20 of 40 occasions. That led to a lot of deep counts, and lengthy at-bats as both pitchers were determined not to get hurt by lineups adept at extra-base hits and home runs. While both ultimately pitched well, they didn’t last long. Morejon, who had pitches hit as fast as 97 mph, allowed the first two Giants’ home runs, and was done after throwing 64 pitches in four innings.

DeSclafani threw 86 pitches in five innings of work, and had only one clean inning, the third, were he retired all three batters.

Both teams paraded relievers into the game after that–five on each side–and the common theme was yes, almost all pitched effectively, but they took their time. Matt Wisler, who found disaster in his previous appearance in Seattle, and McGee were particularly patient, mixing in balls and strikes at nearly an equal rate.

And that brings us to the main reason the game lasted so long: the Padres and Giants combined to throw 126 balls (with 184 strikes mixed in) and 314 pitches total. That’s a lot for a nine inning game, but reflective of how determined teams are of not letting lineups packed with power hitters hurt them. The Giants may be 2-2 and projected to finish third or worse in the NL West, but they can hit. Even at this early stage, and despite a Sunday afternoon off, the Giants lead MLB in homers with nine (tied with the Astros).

The Giants and Padres pick it up on Tuesday with Aaron Sanchez making his Giants debut in a matchup with Yu Darvish at 7:10 pm.

Flores, bullpen bail Giants out of an early hole in 6-4 win over the Mariners

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Forgotten in the Giants’ chaotic week of uncertainty and inactivity: the team’s bullpen is showing improvement and becoming a reliable force.

Trailing 4-1 after two innings, and reeling from starting pitcher Tyler Anderson’s ejection, and Mike Yastrzemski’s calf injury, just one of the things on manager Gabe Kapler’s wish list was scoreless innings from his relievers.

When it was all done, Kapler got seven of them, and a huge, offensive rally to squeeze past the Mariners, 6-4. Anderson, who drew Kapler’s ire for his ejection, received a huge reprieve as well.

“We were put in a really bad situation because of me, and our guys fought, and that was really great,” Anderson said . “I felt really terrible inside leaving them out to dry like that. But to see everybody step up and have big performances, that was huge for the team.”

Wandy Peralta pitched the third, fourth and fifth innings in the lengthiest and most effective outing of his big league career. Peralta threw 49 pitches while maintaining his velocity throughout, allowing no hits, one walk while striking out three. The reliever’s 207th big league appearance came and went without a hold or a win–or a change on the scoreboard–but it definitely made an impression.

“As tough as (Anderson’s ejection) was, it was equally rewarding, and in some ways inspiring, to see him come out and give us the length that he did and battle. He gave us a chance to climb back into the game,” Kapler said of Peralta.

Rico Garcia, Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers and Sam Selman followed Peralta, giving the Giants a scoreless frame each. None had it easy in terms of numbers of pitches thrown, but the strikeouts piled up. The Giants recorded 12 on Thursday, and 29 strikeouts in the two-game series.

Evan Longoria’s RBI single kicked off the Giants’ comeback in the sixth. Luis Basabe, the rookie inserted into the game when Yastrzemski departed, gained his first big league hit and scored for the first time on Longoria’s hit. Later in the inning, Brandon Crawford’s sacrifice fly scored Wilmer Flores and the Giants trailed by one, 4-3.

In the seventh, Flores tripled home a pair to give the Giants the lead, and Alex Dickerson’s run-scoring, sacrifice fly gave the Giants some insurance.

The Mariners dropped all four games with the Giants by an aggregate score of 31-13. Playing all four in San Francisco didn’t help, neither did the team’s offense which stalled at critical junctures.

“The Giants had our number this year,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I can’t really put my finger on it. They swung the bats very, very well against us and we struggled to close out innings against them.”

The win was the Giants 10th in their last 15 outings, a sign of team’s ability to stay locked in despite the team’s just completed week long odyssey which resulted in three, consecutive losses and confinement in two hotels. Now, they’ll finish the season with 11 games in 10 days, first in Oakland against the A’s then the final eight at Oracle Park against the Rockies and Padres.

The Giants are above .500 at 25-24 and the Rockies’ loss to the Dodgers Thursday night increased the Giants lead to three games in the important race to finish third in the NL West. The two other third place clubs in the National League–the Phillies and the Cardinals–also lost on Thursday enhancing the possibility that the Giants could finish seventh in the playoff stack and avoid the Dodgers in the postseason’s opening round.

Giants want the smoke in 10-1 thrashing of the Mariners

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–You’re like a lot of baseball folks, you want to decipher whether the Giants are any good or not.

Here’s some help with that.

After wiping out the Mariners 10-1 on Wednesday night at smoke-shrouded Oracle Park, the Giants have won 15 of 20, after an 8-16 start had them as indistinguished and anonymous as most thought they would be.

Well, it turns out the Giants have a winning identity that centers around consistently smashing baseballs. They’re not just good at it, they’re borderline elite. The Giants are averaging better than five runs a game (6th best in MLB) and they’re 22-11 in games they score four runs or more.

And these aren’t your Uncle Bruce Bochy’s Giants by any stretch either, these Giants hack: in 44 games, they’ve amassed 81 doubles (5th), 12 triples (1st) and 60 home runs (tied for 9th). In an empty, quiet park, the crack of the bat tells the tale. You can hear it, just like you see the water cannons and hear the foghorn when the home runs fly out.

Prime example from Wednesday’s blowout: the game’s scoreless in the third, and Mike Yastrzemski is batting with two runners on, intent to adding to his impressive slash line (.294/.402/.563). Manager Gabe Kapler sets the scene for the 1-2 pitch from Seattle starter Nick Margevicius with baserunners Brandon Crawford on second and Joey Bart on third.

“It’s just a comfort level hitting with two strikes,” Kapler said. “Interestingly we’ve been talking quite a bit about this, and so that’s caused us to dive into other great hitters, and most are comfortable hitting with two strikes. If they don’t get a pitch they’re comfortable with in the first couple pitches of the at-bat, (they’re) comfortable going deep, fouling off a pitch or two until they get a pitch to drive. In that particular at-bat against Margevicius, got to the fastball down and in, had seen several fastballs, and taken two good swings on the fastball, got to the fastball and put a good swing on it, and was right on it. Obviously a big three-run homer for us.”

“He’s been pretty consistent with his approach throughout the season. He’s comfortable going deep into counts sometimes he’s going to strike out looking. That’s okay. The result over the course of time will be walks and damage. And we’re definitely willing to make (that) tradeoff from time to time for a strikeout.”

Yastrzemski’s homer marked the eighth time he’s hit one this season in a two-strike count. And you caught Kapler’s reference to great hitters. Is Yastrzemski in that group? At age 30, with fewer than two years of major league experience under his belt, time will tell. But with no All-Star game to experience this year, Yaz is an All-Star, and he’s doing things great hitters do.

The Giants quickly put this one out of reach with a run in the fourth, and three spots in the fifth and sixth. It would be the third time the Giants have scored 10 or more in 23 home games this season.

Tyler Anderson picked up the win, after going 1-2 in his previous three starts, all against the Diamondbacks, with the former Rockies starter getting the complete game in the first start but failing to get out of the fifth inning in either of the last two. This time he pitched six, scoreless innings allowing just three hits.

“I knew it’d be pretty good to face another team and kind of refresh him a little bit,” catcher Bart said of Anderson. “I was glad that he did a great job tonight and went six innings for us.”

The ominous, dark, smoke-filled skies that essentially wiped out daytime in the Bay Area didn’t make for an unhealthy evening at the ballpark. But a superstitious manager Scott Servais probably took note of the twilight orange skies turning pitch black around the third inning when the Giants turned hitterish.

“Everything was orange,” Servais noted. “And when you’re playing the Giants and the sky is orange, it’s not a great feeling. And it certainly didn’t work out well tonight.”

The Giants travel to San Diego for the opener of a four-game set on Thursday with one of the NL’s hottest clubs in the Padres. Only 16 games remain, but only the next six are outside the Bay Area. After a two-game set in Seattle, the Giants finish with three games in Oakland followed by the final seven at Oracle Park.

MORE YAZ: He might fallen off the NL MVP pace being set by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mookie Betts, but Mike Yastrzemski is back on his business in the last week. Yaz has hit safely in seven of his last eight games, building his numbers to 24 extra-base hits (2nd in the NL), 26 walks and 31 RBI, reflecting his blend of pop and patience. His eight home runs in two strikes counts leads all MLB hitters.

In his first 151 games at the big league level as a Giant, Yastrzemski is second only to Orlando Cepeda in amassing 70 extra base hits. Cepeda achieved the feat in 150 games. Also, Yaz has 30 home runs in that same period, equaling Bobby Thompson and Dave Kingman for tops in Giants history.

Giants stay pat at the trade deadline, zero in on the Rockies

photo: San Francisco Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi was dealing on Monday as the Giants acquired left hand pitcher Anthony Banda from the Tampa Bay Rays 

By Morris Phillips

The Giants won a road series for the first time in 2020, no small feat when you consider the physical and mental challenges involved with travel during the pandemic, along with trying to turn around 93 mph splitters.

The team picked to finish last in the last in the NL West is now a game behind third-place Colorado, and has won nine of 12 games. Baseball-Reference is feeling the Giants as well, saying they’re the (slight) favorite to overtake the Rockies for the last playoff spot in the National League’s expanded field of eight teams.

So the August 31 trade deadline must have been eventful for a club looking for reinforcements for the stretch run. Right?

The answer: not really.

The Giants acquired pitcher Anthony Banda, who had been placed on irrevocable waivers by the Rays. Dereck Rodriguez, who was designated for assignment by the Giants, got picked up by the Tigers. Two transactions, no trades for the Giants.

The message undoubtedly is that the front office likes this group, despite its flaws and bullpen deficiencies. But the greater point is–and this goes for all 30 teams–the 2020 deadline is no place for significant, and costly, player movement given the uncertainty for the rest of the season, and beyond with no framework for a new collective bargaining agreement in place for 2021 and beyond.

But for now, this point rings true: the Giants like this group, and more so, they like the significant improvement in their farm system and were reluctant to part with any prized assets.

“You can tell there’s a lot of belief within the group about what we can accomplish here down the stretch,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on Monday after the 1pm deadline passed.

The Giants are offensively competent for the first time in years. From Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano, who have appeared at the top of the NL’s offensive categories throughout the first half of the season, to Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Alex Dickerson, the Giants have capable hitters throughout their lineup. At home, the group has averaged six runs per game, making Oracle Park seem hitter friendly maybe for the first time ever.

The pitching and defense have improved as the season has progressed, despite injuries to Jeff Samardzija and Drew Smyly, and the failure of Trevor Gott to seize the closer’s role.

Johnny Cueto has anchored the staff with a string of quality starts, including Sunday at Arizona where he allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings of work. Moving Cueto at the trade deadline never came to pass as teams passed on the hefty remainder of his contract.

The Giants biggest advantage however, maybe their remaining schedule. They remain one of the few teams that hasn’t experienced any disruptions to its schedule–excepting last week’s postponement in protest of Jacob Blake’s shooting. Their next two road contests loom as their biggest as the Giants visit Colorado for games on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. Their last 10 contests all take place in the Bay Area: three at Oakland, followed by the final seven at Oracle Park.

The eight qualifiers for the playoffs will be the top two finishers in each division, plus the next two best records. Because no one is playing league games outside their division, and the interleague schedule hasn’t seen any teams compile a difference-making record, finishing third in the West is the goal for the Giants. The Dodgers and Padres appear to be too far in front, and the third place finisher in the West should qualify, while the fourth place finisher probably won’t qualify.

The Rockies upgraded at the trade deadline, ironically by acquiring Kevin Pillar from the Red Sox to give them greater flexibility in the outfield. Pillar revived his career with the Giants in 2019, only to not be offered a deal by the club for this season.

The Giants send Kevin Gausman to the mound on Tuesday to face Jon Gray. Logan Webb will pitch Wednesday versus Kyle Freeland.

 

Led by Yaz the MVP candidate, Giants are contending at compressed season’s midpoint

By Morris Phillips

A week ago, the Giants were on life support, victims of too many ninth inning collapses in a short period of time. The prognosis? Take your medicine and get healthy for 2021.

A week later, and the Giants are sitting pretty, tied for seventh in an expanded, eight-team post-season pool that’s heated and refreshing.

How’s that? Well, in a 60-game season things happen fast. Fast like six-game winning streak fast.

Ok then, are the Giants any good, or is this smoke and mirrors?

That answer’s complicated, but let’s take a look.

Through 30 games–half the pandemic-truncated season–the Giants are 14-16, just six days after they were 8-16 and stuck in last place. Their schedule, unique given the uneven, 7/3 and 6/4 home/away splits for their four NL West opponents along with the sequence of the 60 games, has been especially harsh.

How harsh? The Giants have played 14 home games thus far, compared to a combined 11 games at Dodgers Stadium and Coors Field, both notoriously rough venues for visitors.

Given that, their schedule eases considerably in the second half starting with 19 of their remaining 30 games at Oracle Park or the Oakland Coliseum, which means just 11 more dates attached to hotel rooms, COVID restrictions, and the heightened, antsy atmosphere of being on the road in 2020.

The final 10 games? All locally, starting with three in Oakland, then the final seven at Oracle Park against the Padres and Rockies.

The expanded playoff field will take the top two finishers in each division plus the teams with the two best remaining records in the National League. While the Giants are competing for those final spots with the Cardinals (who have only played 17 games), Marlins and Mets, they don’t play any of those three teams, all of whom have horribly backloaded schedules due to COVID cancelations. Instead, the Giants will see either the Padres, Rockies or Diamondbacks in 20 of their remaining 30 games, allowing them to focus on climbing within the NL West and finishing second or third, both of which appear to be playoff spots at the moment.

The Giants boast one of the NL’s best offenses averaging nearly five runs per game, and nearly seven runs per game at home. So if you’re trying to envision how the Giants can win games down the stretch, start with the bats. In fact, in a recent development (in the last week, really) the Giants have an eye-popping 92 extra-base hits, 18 above the National League average. They’re third in doubles, second in triples and fourth in home runs with 38.

(If those numbers aren’t mind-numbing for Giants’ fans still stuck in the Bruce Bochy torture era, no numbers are.)

The pitching staffs the Giants will face aren’t imposing outside of the Dodgers and A’s, who are first and fifth respectively in terms of fewest runs allowed. The other four, remaining opponents have staffs with numbers at or well below the major league average, including the Mariners and D’Backs, who have been especially generous. Those four opponents with standard to substandard pitching account for 24 of the final 30 Giants’ game dates.

Offensively, the Giants have stars who not only reside among the league leaders statistically, but in many cases, lead the league. Austin Slater, currently on the injured list (and without enough at-bats to qualify) has an NL-best OBP of .458. Donovan Solano, despite cooling off recently, is hitting .363 with 33 hits.

And the Major League’s top offensive performer at the half way point, the unlikely MVP candidate who’s 30-years old with just 137 big league games under his belt?

Mike Yastrzemski.

The unassuming Yaz has a 309/.429/.645 slashline with 28 runs scored, 34 hits and 22 RBIs in 30 games. But there’s more: he’s second among all MLB performers in walks, triples, runs scored and tied for second in extra-base hits. In the complicated Wins Above Replacement (WAR) category, Yastrzemski has one peer: the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts.

Did we mention Joey Bart?

Giants fans, there’s only one requirement: stay tuned.