Believing

Ok, we’re officially two months down, with a road off-day to spare. This seems like a great opportunity to get caught up to speed on all things Giants baseball. As the weeks pass, it’s becoming more and more clear to me just how…I don’t want to say skeptical, as that’s not the correct word here… let’s say nervous… how nervous I was entering the season. I had so much confidence in that 2013 team. We all did. But something about last year’s face-plant left me feeling very uneasy this spring, and I wasn’t just going to throw the struggles of that team out the window when the 2014 Giants got off to a strong start in April.

I think it’s safe to say this was going to be a key season for the franchise. One of the last two years was an aberration, and this was going to be the team that helped us figure out just who the real Giants were. Well, it’s starting to look like 2013 (the flop year) is the outlier. Sure, this club wouldn’t be 37-20 – best in baseball – right now without the additions of Mike Morse and Tim Hudson, two of the smoothest acquisitions of the winter. But we truly believed they weren’t as bad as they played last season. We just needed them to prove it.

Before this weekend, we knew the 2014 Giants were a solid club. They were toying around with the best record in baseball, winning home and road contests alike, and generally playing good ball. But you could just hear the skeptics… the old, “yeah, but” argument. “Yeah, they’re all right, but let’s see how they do against a real club like St. Louis. Four games out there will put them right in their place.” As happy as I was with this team, even I was wondering how we’d match up with the Cards.

Then, a funny thing happened. The Giants went into St. Louis, the wealthy, successful relatives of the National League, and stuck it to the hometown Red Birds. Trailing in the late innings on Thursday night, without Buster Posey? No problem. Adam Wainwright, pitcher of all pitchers on Friday? Still no Buster? Hmm… not a problem. And just when you thought the Cardinals would salvage a split on Sunday, Hudson shut them out with another 7 strong. How’s an 8-0 whipping on getaway day?

Whether the critics will admit it or not (and not that I honestly care), the Giants just raised the bar in St. Louis. In one of the most important road series of the first half, Bochy’s crew knocked around one of the most respected teams in the league. Now, as we head into June, we’re looking at 17 home games, with only 6 more on the road following this week’s series in Cincinnati. For a team that has struggled in June in recent years, the schedule really plays well for the Giants to keep their impressive record intact heading into the All-Star break.

No, the Giants haven’t been perfect… and they haven’t exactly been healthy either. They’ve seen Brandon Belt and Santiago Casilla go down, and Matt Cain is back on the DL. Will we even see Marco Scutaro this year? The health of this team is definitely something to keep an eye on going forward. But for now, you have to be impressed with the way guys have stepped up. Despite the injuries, the Giants really haven’t missed a beat over the past month.

Baseball is a funny game, and you truly can’t predict what this team will look like in two months. Will they be able to get big hits with 2 outs forever, with a bullpen full of guys with sub-2.00 ERA’s? Not likely. But this is a confident team nonetheless. It’s a team that has speed atop the order, power in the middle, and a couple middle infielders who have the ability to lift the ball out of the yard in the 7 and 8-spots. It’s a team with a young ace atop its rotation, one Madison Bumgarner, who is really starting to hit his stride after starting a bit slow. At 38 years old, Hudson has a 1.75 ERA. Who would have predicted that?

It’s June 2 folks, and the Giants are absolutely rolling. I’ve kept my mouth shut for long enough, but it finally feels like the right time to get out there and yell a little. This is the club we looked for in 2013. This is the club that looks primed to make an October run. This club is a damn confident one, and after two months of baseball, it’s made me a serious believer.

If the Giants are to contend, having Tim  Hudson pitch like he did on Wednesday will go a long way. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

(Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Organizational Thoughts

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been able to post on here, but please don’t fret. Cove Chatter is not dead! Baseball season is so crazy, I swear. One minute it’s Opening Day, you blink your eyes and it’s game 25. Holy smokes. I realize I really haven’t had a chance to reflect on things in a while (I really haven’t reflected on the MLB club at all since the first week of the season), so let’s take a few minutes to get caught up.

Giants: 14-10, 1st place NL West

Key Hitters: Angel Pagan, Mike Morse, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey

Key Pitchers: Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Entire Bullpen

The Gigantes are looking to sweep the Tribe out of AT&T Park today, with Vogey making his 5th start of the season. The starting pitching hasn’t exactly been the strong point of the team so far, but each man in the rotation will have started 5 games after today… that’s a major rarity in baseball this season, and its importance really can’t be overstated. Bumgarner has shown flashes of dominance, but hasn’t quite hit his stride yet. Same for Cain, who has also had some ups and downs. Hudson is without a doubt the early-season ace of this squad, and has been one of the best pitchers in the NL out of the gates. Heck of a signing right there.

The bullpen took some serious heat this winter, but those guys have really picked up the slack this month, especially in Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong’s starts. You really never know what you’re going to get from those two, but the pen has saved the day on many occasions already. Quick trivia question: who leads the team in wins right now? Would you have guessed Jean Machi? Fans seem to dog that guy big time, but he’s sitting 4-0 with a cool 0.84 ERA. Santiago Casilla’s is even better, 0.68; Jeremy Affeldt and Javy Lopez have yet to allow a run, and Sergio Romo is 6/6 in saves. That group is absolutely rolling right now, and their continued health (and performance) will be huge as the season goes along.

On the offensive side, we’ve already seen this team’s peaks and valleys. Pagan has really been the difference-maker in April, and we’re seeing more and more how important he is to this club. Belt is hitting bombs and striking out like crazy. 7 HR in 23 games… is Belter becoming a power hitter? Posey’s bat has been mired in a big slump, but he continues to pump the ball out of the yard as well. I think Buster will be just fine. How about Morse? Another guy who people mocked the Giants up and down for signing… how’s that looking now? I just love that guy; he’s got some of the most impressive right-handed power in baseball, and he’s showing it off big time right now. Stay healthy, Mikey!

On the flip side, Pablo continues to struggle mightily at the dish. This is usually his time of year, but he’s hitting .165. The Panda was supposed to be a lock to have a career year… what will his month of May look like? Hunter Pence looks to be coming out of his own slump, and just in time. The Giants have been missing his bat, and we all know what he’s capable of when he’s hot. Finally, where’s Marco Scutaro? Not that I was expecting him to be on the field at this point, but there’s absolutely no updates on his condition. How did the front office overlook this during the winter? Brandon Hicks looks ok for now, but I don’t see him as a long-term solution. Don’t look now, but Joe Panik is holding his own in Fresno. Even hit his 1st HR of the season a few nights ago.

Overall, I’m very happy with this team right now. They’re hanging around, and staying healthy for the most part, while a good amount the league is not. In all honesty, I think this is one of the better teams in baseball that nobody’s talking about right now. That’s just how we like it, here in Giants Land.

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(SFGiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

Minor Leagues:

I wanted to touch on the farm system briefly. I entered the season very excited about this system, but I have to admit I’ve been a little letdown early on. We all know about the wealth of starting pitching the Giants have on the farm right now, and a few of those guys have shown up big this month. Joan Gregorio and Kendry Flores have to be the names to watch down in San Jose, and Keury Mella is holding his own in Augusta. Yep, the international guys are taking charge. Esky Escobar is learning how to pitch in Fresno, and his results are starting to get better. I think a lot of people are learning just how tough it is to throw in the PCL. Just ask Mike Kickham!

What’s going on with the Richmond pitching staff? That’s supposed to be the bread and butter of this organization, and the results have been a little disappointing so far. Clayton Blackburn has arguably been the ace of that group through four starts, while Adalberto Mejia is heating up. Ty Blach is keeping runs off the board, but he’s not striking anyone out. Kyle Crick has 14 BB in 12.2 IP. His control has been absolutely MIA lately. I think that’s been a little deflating for me, as I was hoping to see Cricky start hot. Let’s hope he can settle in a little bit, and start pitching deeper into games.

One more name to keep an eye on. Christian Jones, down in Augusta. The Oregon Duck lefty looks very good early on. We knew he had a nice pedigree, but I had no idea he’d be working in a starter’s role at this point. But he is, and the results have looked dang good so far. Jones pitches tonight, and David Lee has him working 88-91 with his fastball, showing a decent curve and a plus-potential changeup. That’s an 18th round pick who slid after having TJ surgery. Nice work on the draft front, Gigantes.

On the offensive side, Gary Brown has probably been the nicest surprise so far. Browny is looking much better in Fresno, and has been a difference-maker to this point. Christian Arroyo is struggling with the bat in Augusta, although Lee says he hits everything. He’s not playing SS (which I think is a mistake), and maybe that’s having an impact on his offensive performance. Mac Williamson is hitting much better in San Jose… I hope he gets to try AA soon. Andy Susac was off to a very nice start in Fresno, but has found himself on the DL. That’s been the theme of his career. Get healthy, kid. Our other sleeper, Matt Duffy, has played well in the Eastern League. The power has been zapped, but his approach at the plate looks good, as do the reports on his defense.

I think that’s enough for one post. Believe me, I’ve missed not writing on here. But sometimes, as we all know, life gets very busy. I’ll try to return soon, but hopefully this will wet your appetite for the time being. Thanks for following Cove Chatter, and go Giants!

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(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

Sign Him Up: Hudson Deal on the Brink

Sounds like the Tim Hudson to San Francisco rumors had some strong backing. It’s all over Twitter, and apparently was first reported by the Bay Area Sports Guy… a blog being the first on the scene, now that’s legit! Anyway, it sounds like Hudson’s deal will be 2 years for $23 million – in other words, right on par with the numbers we’d been thinking (although a lot of speculation had him signing a 1-year deal). Buster Olney said it looks like he’ll have a full no-trade clause too. What’s that, veteran pitchers love AT&T Park? It sure looks that way. Oh, and by the way, in case we forgot, the Giants have money. Lots of it.

So, one former member of Oakland’s Big 3 departs, and another apparently enters the picture. A couple of weeks ago, I said that Hudson was probably the least likely to come to San Francisco, in large part because he’s 38. Wrong. I also said that I’d be happy to have him, and I am. I’m sure Sabean will take some heat for this deal, as he’s dropping one 30-something finesse pitcher in Zito for an older 30-something finesse pitcher in Hudson (who’s coming off a serious injury to boot). But with Hudson, we’re talking about a guy who’s pitched 8 of 9 years in the National League with an ERA under 4. I think he’s going to be a great addition, and he’s an ultimate pro. .649 career winning %? Sign him up! What abou t the ankle injury? Again, from the mouth of Hank Schulman, “There’s nothing wrong with his arm.”

I was just thinking this morning about writing something on the quiet before the storm with all of these free agent pitchers. I had a feeling the first card would fall soon, and we’d start to see the action pick up. Leave it to Sabean to get his guy while the rest of the league sits back. The Braves lowballed Hudson, and Uncle Sabes moved in pretty quickly… just like we thought he would. Good work, Sabes. Four-fifths of the rotation is set…Now who’s next?

Tim Hudson is on the brink of coming back to the Bay Area, this time in the orange and black… looking for that elusive World Series ring. The Giants know a thing or two about rings… maybe they’ll help him finally get one.

GM Meetings: Hank has the Dirt

As the GM meetings take place in Orlando, you can cross one name off the list of outfielders available this winter. The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a 2-year, $16M deal this morning. The deal itself isn’t all that surprising, as MLB Trade Rumors had him signing at a projected 2-$15M, but I think the Phightin’ Phils are sending a pretty clear message to the rest of baseball here by not wasting any time. With such a slim market this year (especially for outfielders), teams really do need to get their negotiations going early… Does that mean they’ll have to overpay some? Probably, but it might beat the alternative of waiting, as this market could dry up pretty rapidly.

One team who’s not waiting around to throw their name out there: that’s right, your own Gigantes. While Baggs’ is tossing around unrealistic qualifying offer hitter fluff pieces over at his place, Hammerin’ Hank Schulman got down to business this morning, and just called into KNBR from Orlando to chat about his findings.

First off, a big surprise. The Braves apparently low-balled Tim Hudson. According to Hank, the offer was low enough that it all but sent the message “We don’t want you here anymore.” Those are his words, not mine. I would say most people (myself included) didn’t see that coming. Hudson spent 9 years with the Braves, and only posted an ERA north of 4 once. To lowball him is a pretty big slap in the face, in my opinion. Enter the Giants, pitching gurus! Word is Hudson’s willing to go west, and multiple sources are calling him a “chief target” for Brian Sabean.

The Giants need pitching, and they prefer shorter deals. According to Mr. Schulman, they’re not afraid to bump up the yearly salary on those deals to get their man, either (see Lincecum, Timothy). So…Hudson’s available, and could probably be had on a one or two-year offer… he made $9M last year, and he’s predicted to earn about the same this year. If the Giants upped it to $11M (they can afford it), he’d probably accept. But what do I know anyway?!

Personally, I’d take Hudson in a heartbeat. The guy is a total pro, and he’s quietly been one of the most consistent pitchers of this era. 426 career starts, 25 complete games, a 3.44 ERA, and a .649 win%. Age is really the only thing working against him, although the brutal ankle injury might scare a few teams away… like Hank says, though, “There’s nothing wrong with his arm.” I know there are certainly people who would ream Sabean for a two-year deal for a 38 year-old in the twilight of his career, but I wouldn’t be one of them. If that two-year deal prevents us from three years of Bronson Arroyo, that’s all the better in my opinion.

Speaking of Arroyo, Schulman mentioned him as a guy the Giants might stay away from, as the interest for him might indeed push his offers to three years… thank goodness.  Hank did bring up Scott Feldman and Dan Haren as two other starters that could be on Uncle Sabes’ shopping list, though. One thing I found interesting, he seemed to think that Ryan Vogelsong’s days in the orange and black are done. If Sabean wants a rotation that’ll compete with the Dodgers and Cardinals, he needs to come in with 5 solid options. Long story short, Vogey and Petit are Plan B, and the Giants know they need to focus on Plan A.

A couple other things before I wrap up the “Schulman Talks.” As for trading Pablo; there’s certainly interest out there, and the Giants should listen to any offers. But unloading the Panda would probably create more hills than it filled, and the front office probably isn’t willing to subtract his valuable “power potential” at the moment. Honestly, unless someone blows you away with an offer, I too think it makes more sense to hang onto him this winter.

Finally: playing the qualifying offer games. Hank says he’s talked to a few folks from the Giants in Orlando who report there is a scenario where the club could give up its first round pick. If someone gets the Kyle Lohse treatment, and remains available this spring, there’s a chance the Giants could swoop in and make a discounted offer. Overall, though, I expect (and hope) they’ll hold onto that pick.

So we have our first pretty significant Giants rumor, and the market for outfielders is already shrinking. I’d expect Sabean to start tossing some offers out there in the coming weeks, so there should be plenty to talk about in the hot stove department going forward.