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Look at Giants’ roster battles, part II: The bullpen

FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Mark Melancon throws during spring baseball practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. The closer got a big free-agent contract from the Giants. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

In the past years, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has generally chosen to break camp with an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench.

But this year, the schedule is a bit more favorable. The Giants open on Sunday, April 2, get April 3 off, and then play games over the next 13 days before getting two days off around a two-day trip to Kansas City.

The Giants first 14 games are played in Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco, meaning a call to Sacramento will be quick and convenient if reserves are needed. So the Giants may opt for the more traditional 7-man bullpen.

Working off that premise, let’s start building a bullpen. We’ll begin with the gimmes: Closer Mark Melancon, righties Derek Law and Hunter Strickland and lefty Will Smith – although Smith has been slowed this spring by elbow soreness. Smith expects to pitch in games later this week, which should give him time to be ready by opening day. Still, it’s something to watch.

Assuming Smith will be ready, that leaves three spots left. And as I can’t remember a time when the Giants didn’t have at least two lefties in the pen, we’ll assume one of those three spots goes to a lefty.

And the lefty candidates include Josh Osich, Steven Okert and non-roster invitee Mark Reynolds. Osich made a solid debut in 2015 but struggled last year, leading the Giants to acquire Smith. Okert impressed in his September call-up with his 14 Ks in 14 innings. Reynolds seems like a candidate for Triple-A. The edge here has to go to Okert.

That leaves two spots left to righties. The candidates are George Kontos, Cory Gearrin, Albert Suarez and non-roster invitees David Hernandez and Bryan Morris. None of these players can be sent to Triple-A, at least without their consent. Kontos, Gearrin and Suarez would need to clear waivers.

Conventional thinking is that the last two righty spots will go to Kontos and Gearrin. But that would leave the Giants without a long man in the pen.

And that’s where Ty Blach could be a factor. Assuming Cain claims the No. 5 starter job, the Giants could opt to keep the lefty starter in the pen as a potential long man option, but also a sixth-inning guy or used against a specific righty.

If we had to make a call right now, we’d say the final bullpen spots go to Kontos, Gearrin and Blach, with Okert in the wings if Smith has any continuing elbow issues.

Look at Giants’ roster battles, part 1: The No. 5 starting pitcher

Yaaaaaaaaawwwwwn. What time is is?

March 7? Well, I guess it’s time MoreSplashHits emerged from our winter baseball hibernation and start blogging about the San Francisco Giants.

Let’s start with some key positions battles as the Giants work toward their opening day 25-man roster for their April 2nd opener in Arizona.

And we’ll begin with the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation.

This past offseason, the Giants lost three members of the Three Ring Club – i.e. players who were on all three of the Giants World Series championship teams of 2010, 2012 and 2014 – when Sergio Romo left to sign with the Dodgers, Santiago Casilla left to sign with Oakland and Javier Lopez retired.

That leaves just three remaining – Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain.

The big question now is whether or not Cain will be part of that club when the team opens the season in less than four weeks.

The Giants certainly hope so. Cain is in the final guaranteed year of the five-year contract he signed prior to Opening Day in 2012. The Giants owe him $28.5 million between the $21 million for 2017 and the $7.5 buyout of the $21 million option for 2018 that the Giants are certain to pay Cain.

But the Giants will pay Cain that money whether he’s pitching for them or not. And now the 32-year-old right-hander must prove he can recapture some of his old form.

Cain is the longest-tenured Giant, making his debut in 2005. When the Giants signed him to that five-year contract in 2012, it started out looking like a good deal.

In 2012, Cain had a career year, going 16-5 with 2.79 ERA. He started the All-Star Game, placed sixth in Cy Young voting, threw a perfect game that June and started all three of the Giants’ postseason clinching series.

He was the Opening Day starter in 2013, but got completely lit up in his second start that season. And things didn’t get much better.

After going 14-8, 13-11, 12-11, 16-5 In 2009-2012, he’s gone 8-10, 2-7, 2-4 and 4-8 since. His ERA, which was 2.89, 3.14, 2.88 and 2.79 from 2009-12, has inflated to 4.00, 4.18, 5.79 and 5.64 since.

He’s struggled to stay healthy and the early returns this spring did not been good.

His fastball lacked life and location. And with decreased velocity over recent seasons, Cain has to have command to be successful.

Luckily for Cain, the World Baseball Classic has prolonged spring training this season, which will give him more time to get himself ready.

In Cain’s third spring start on Monday, things appeared to make a turn for the better. Cain became the first Giants pitcher to throw into the fourth inning this spring, giving up two runs on two hits in 3.1 innings pitched.

The first run Cain allowed was aided by a bloop single that Hunter Pence lost in the sun. The second run came in when Cain walked the final batter he faced, and Ty Blach allowed an RBI double two batters later.

Blach followed with 2.2 scoreless innings of work, allowing three hits.

Make no mistake: The Giants want Cain to win the No. 5 spot. Loyalty and sentimentality aside, they feel better off with Cain in the No. 5 hole, Albert Suarez in the long-man role and lefty Ty Blach in Triple-A in reserve.

But Cain must show he can get big-league hitters out. And in the early results, Blach has shown a better ability to do that.

Blach impressed the Giants late last year by sporting a 1.06 ERA in four games – two starts – earning a spot on the postseason roster. The 26-year-old lefty would be the Giants’ No. 1 option if Cain falters, although Suarez, former top prospect Clayton Blackburn or current top prospect Tyler Beede would be options.

But Monday’s outing seemed to show Cain is starting to work things out.

“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” Cain said. “Instead of sitting there hoping I can physically make the next start, it’s nice to be able to work on things between starts and be able to fine-tune things.”

It should be noted that the lineup the Indians rolled out Monday we made up for mostly players who are not expected to make the big-league roster.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy noted that the Giants could consider keeping Blach on the big-league roster in a relief role. Blach has been relieving Cain in the previous two starts, but Monday was his first in which Blach came in mid-inning.

“I think a guy like Tyler can give you some different options,” said Bochy, who proceeded to name them: starting, working in long relief, becoming a specialist against opposing left-handed batters, or being the first man out of the bullpen in the sixth or seventh inning.

It’s an interesting revelation as the Giants’ bullpen options are limited in lefties. Right now, they are limited to Will Smith, almost certain to make the big-league club, and Josh Osich, who is less certain. Steven Okert is another lefty bullpen option.

Giants fans, looking for a good sign for Game 4? Here you go

Joe Panik

San Francisco Giants’ Joe Panik, center bottom, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a double to score Brandon Crawford during the thirteenth inning of Game 3 of baseball’s National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. The Giants won 6-5. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

If you are looking for a sign for the San Francisco Giants in Tuesday’s Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Cubs, we’ve got one.

The San Francisco Giants have played eight best-of-5 playoff series, and each one has ended  with one of two results.

Result No. 1 – The Giants are eliminated by losing three consecutive games.

Result No. 2 – The Giants win and advance.

Check is out.

THREE STRAIGHT LOSSES

1971 NL Championship Series

Giants win Game 1.

Pirates win Games 2, 3 and 4.

1997 NL Division Series

Marlins win Games 1, 2 and 3.

2000 NL Division Series

Giants win Game 1.

Mets win Games 2, 3 and 4.

2003 NL Division Series

Giants win Game 1.

Marlins win Games 2, 3 and 4.

GIANTS WIN AND ADVANCE

2002 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Braves in 5 games

2010 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Braves in 4 games

2012 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Reds in 5 games

2014 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Nationals in 4 games

 

Real question: Should have Cubs manager Joe Maddon even pitched to Joe Panik?

Brandon Crawford, David Ross

San Francisco Giants’ Joe Panik (12) hits a double to score Brandon Crawford in front of Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross during the thirteenth inning of Game 3 of baseball’s National League Division Series in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. The Giants won 6-5 in 13 innings. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Everyone wanted to talk about about Joe Maddon’s decision to bring Aroldis Chapman for a six-out save on Monday night.

It’s a decision that didn’t work out for the skipper as the Giants beat the Cubs 6-5 in 13 innings for the 10th consecutive elimination game win

But I want to talk about another decision Maddon made.

It’s the decision to pitch to Joe Panik in the 13th inning.

Brandon Crawford led off the bottom of the 13th by hammering a hanging curveball by Mike Montgomery into the right field corner for a leadoff double.

Then Panik came to the plate.

First base is open, and Panik’s run doesn’t mean a thing.

Walking Panik puts runners on first and second and no outs. It would set up a force play at third and second.

It would set up a possible double play.

But more importantly, it pushes the Giants deeper into their lineup.

It would have brought up Gregor Blanco, who was 0 for 4 with a sacrifice bunt.

Does Blanco bunt again with runners on first and second?

Normally, yes. But if he does that in this situation, next up is the pitcher’s spot – Ty Blach.

If Blanco’s bunt is successful, do you hit for Blach?

Again, normally, yes. But with Angel Pagan a late scratch, Giants manager Bruce Bochy presumably had no position players left to hit.

So if he hits for Blach, then it has to be one of the pitchers. And with Madison Bumgarner out of the game, that would be Jeff Samardzija. And if the move doesn’t work and the Giants don’t score, then Blach is out and George Kontos is in.

Or you let Blach hit for himself with a drawn-in infield. He did get two hits in his most recent start against the Dodgers.

If Blach doesn’t get the job done, then it falls on Denard Span to get a two-out hit.

And that’s all assuming that Blanco is bunting, and given who is coming up behind him, Blanco may have been swinging away.

But instead of setting all of that up, Maddon chose to have Montgomery pitch to Joe Panik, who was 2 for 3 and two walks coming into that last at-bat.

Panik hit the ball of the Willie Mays Wall for the game-winning hit for just the fifth walk-off postseason win in San Francisco Giants history.

POSTSEASON WALK-OFF WINS BY SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

  • Game 5 of 2002 NL Championship Series, 2-1 over St. Louis Cardinals, Kenny Lofton singles home David Bell.
  • Game 4 of 2010 NL Championship Series, 6-5 over Philadelphia Phillies, Juan Uribe sacrifice fly drives home Aubrey Huff
  • Game 3 of 2014 NL Championship Series, 5-4 over St. Louis Cardinals in 10 innings, Gregor Blanco reaches on error, scoring Brandon Crawford
  • Game 5 of 2014 NL Championship Series, 6-3 over St. Louis Cardinals, Travis Ishikawa three-run home run.
  • Game 3 of 2016 NL Division Series, 6-5 over Chicago Cubs, Joe Panik doubles home Brandon Crawford

Story of Giants’ wild-card win over Mets: CG & CG

cgcg

In his post-game remarks, Mets manager Terry Collins pointed out how the Mets only had three players on the field for Wednesday’s NL wild-card game who played in the World Series last year.

“We overcame a lot of things,” Collins said of the Mets’ injury problems this season. “So to get here took a lot of character. … We’re disappointed, but we’ll go get healthy and we’ll be back.”

The irony of that remark was that the player who beat them on Wednesday started the season at Triple-A and was in the lineup Wednesday because of an injury.

Conor Gillaspie signed a minor-league deal with the Giants in the offseason. He opened the season in Sacramento and got the call-up on April 22.

In July and early August, when the Giants were having players coming off the DL and being acquired by trade, some Giants fans wondered if Gillaspie might be a candidate to be designated for assignment.

But the Giants knew his value.

Gillaspie has not been spectacular, but he’s been solid. And that’s what you want for a bench guy.

He had 6 home runs and 25 RBI in 205 plate appearances, hitting .262 with .307 OBP. Project that out over a full season with 600 PAs, that’s 18 HR and 75 RBI.

Solid.

Gillaspie followed in the paths of Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro and Travis Ishikawa, as unlikely postseason hero when he delivered a three-run home run off Jeurys Familia.

Gillaspie was in the lineup because Eduardo Nunez was left of the roster for the wild-card game with a lingering hamstring injury. It is unclear if Nunez will be on the roster for the next round.

So Conor Gillaspie was one CG for the Giants.

The other belonged to Madison Bumgarner. CG as in complete game.

Bumgarner tossed his third postseason shutout to go with the 2014 wild-card win over the Pirates and Game 5 of the 2014 World Series vs. the Royals.

Combined with his five innings of relief in Game 7 of the World Series, Bumgarner has thrown 23 consecutive shutout innings in the postseason.

On the road in the postseason, Bumgarner has been historic.

His 0.50 ERA is the most in baseball history for a pitcher with 20 or more innings thrown. Next on the list?

Oh, just Bob Gibson (0.97), Mariano Rivera (1.02) and Sandy Freakin Koufax (1.04).

With a 3-0 lead and Sergio Romo in the bullpen, Bumgarner made quick work of the Mets in the ninth, retiring the side in order on 12 pitches.

And if not for one CG, we might have not seen the other CG.

If Gillaspie doesn’t come through in the ninth, it looked like Bruce Bochy was planning on hitting for Bumgarner with two on and two out.

Instead, we got CG and CG.

Like he’s done twice before, Vin Scully makes his final call in San Francisco

vinny

I watched the Giants clinch their fourth postseason berth in seven years on Sunday. But when I did, I was not watching the CSN Bay Area feed with Kruk and Kuip.

I watched the Dodgers feed to see Vin Scully’s final call.

Growing up a Giants fan in Dodger Country, I always appreciated Scully as a broadcaster. He was never a “homer” broadcaster. He remained fair to the game. If a big play was made by the opposition, he called it as a big play.

So I wanted to watch as he made his final sign-off.

Scully has made several goodbyes over his almost 70 years as a broadcaster. And when I thought about it, some of the most significant goodbyes — whether he knew it was a goodbye at the time or not — came in San Francisco with good results for the home team.

In addition to his 67 seasons as a Dodgers broadcaster, Scully has also had long stints calling games for a national TV audience.

From 1975 to 1982, he called golf and NFL games for CBS. The final NFL game he called was on Jan. 10, 1982 in San Francisco.

The 49ers beat the Cowboys and went on to win Super Bowl XVI, their first Super Bowl championship.

But after that game, Scully decided to move to NBC to call baseball games. He would call All-Star Games in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989, the World Series in 1984, 1986 and 1988 and the National League Championship Series in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989.

The final national TV broadcast of his career came on Oct. 9, 1989 in San Francisco.

The Giants would go on to beat the Cubs 3-2 to advance to the World Series for the first time in my lifetime.

After 1989, Scully returned largely to broadcasting just Dodgers games on TV.

And that long career came to an end on Oct. 2, 2016 in San Francisco, once again.

The Giants clinched the wild-card spot.

So thank you, Vin, for all you gave over the years.

And thanks for being part of some big moments in San Francisco sports history.

 

No big surprise: Just another stellar start by Giants lefty in October

lefties

The San Francisco Giants proved once again that they have a lot “left” in October.

Rookie left-hander Ty Blach kept the Giants in the lead for the final NL wild-card berth with a masterful performance against the Dodgers.

Blach pitched eight innings, giving up no runs on three hits with one walk and six strikeouts as the Giants beat the Dodgers 3-0 to remain one game ahead of St. Louis with one game to play.

While a rookie out dueling Clayton Kershaw would come as a surprise to many, the very fact the Giants had a lefty on the mound in October should have made Giants fans very confident.

Over the last 10 starts in October by a left-handed pitchers, those pitchers are 8-1 with an 0.83 ERA and 65 strikeouts over 76 innings.

While the bulk of those starts have come from Madison Bumgarner, that list now includes Blach and Barry Zito.

Here is how the previous nine starts break down:

Madison Bumgarner, Oct. 26, 2014

Game 5 World Series vs. Royals

9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K, WIN

Madison Bumgarner, Oct. 21, 2014

Game 1 World Series vs. Royals

7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, WIN

Madison Bumgarner, Oct. 16, 2014

Game 5 NLCS vs. Cardinals

8 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, ND

Madison Bumgarner, Oct. 11, 2014

Game 1 NLCS vs. Cardinals

7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K, WIN

Madison Bumgarner, Oct. 6, 2014

Game 4 NLDS vs. Nationals

7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, LOSS

Madison Bumgarner, Oct. 1, 2014

NL Wild Card Game vs. Pirates

9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K, WIN

Madison Bumgarner, Oct. 25, 2012

Game 2 World Series vs. Tigers

7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K, WIN

Barry Zito, Oct. 24, 2012

Game 1 World Series vs. Tigers

5.2 IP, 6 H 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, WIN

Barry Zito, Oct. 19, 2012

Game 5 NLDS vs. Cardinals

7.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K, WIN

On Sunday, the starting pitcher for the Giants will be Matt Moore, a left-hander.

And if the Giants win that game, their next game will be Wednesday in New York against the Mets. The starter that day? Bumgarner.