Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Road Trip Gauntlet Over

Thought I would share some thoughts after this tough road trip.

ogc thoughts

If we were told before the start of the road trip that we would gain a game in the standings on the trip, I think most of us would be happy being 1.5 games back of the division lead.  That we went 2-7 during the trip has gotten a lot of people unset and unhappy.

I'm not entirely sure why.  I mean I get being unhappy with losing, but that seems to be the main criteria for many, that we lost an opportunity to be leading the division right now.  But we're only 1.5 games back and we all knew that this month was going to be rough, and thus some losing should have been expected.  Going 10-12 and staying 1.5 games back is not all that bad when we were at the start of the month wondering how the heck we were going to get through the month.

Key Hitters Be MIA

And we should expect bad results and losing when we are missing Posey and Pence in our lineup.  Pence we know about, because of his DL, but Posey has been in a bit of a slump in this crucial period of time, hitting .128/.146/.154/.300 in his last 10 games, .274/.308/.393/.701 for the month.  And it was not just them not contributing either, Aoki also missed playing time, Maxwell and Pagan did not hit for much, and Susac and Sanchez has done nothing when playing either.   But the key is when your #4 and #5 hitters in the lineup are missing, either literally as with Pence or figuratively with Posey.   But I don't see anybody really bringing up Posey among regular folks (one beat writer noted Posey's recent struggles, and a writer talking about MVP brought it up).

Pitching Be Doing Well

As much as tweeters seem to dismiss our pitching, their 3.69 ERA during the month, second best month of the season, is not the reason that they have been losing.  And it was a huge improvement over July's 4.04 ERA.

Some complain about the trade for Leake being a waste, but his 2.19 ERA when he was able to pitch gave the Giants chances even if we didn't win his starts.  And between him and Vogelsong, they provided the teams better starts than they would have gotten had Hudson been starting instead (he had a 6.00 ERA in July in two starts).   And the trade is a total win if the Giants resign him (though that's not a given, it's been reported that he's looking forward to being a free agent; but I'm not sure if that was before or after the Giants trade, plus the Giants seem to have a way of winning over new veterans and making them want to stay or come back, Morse noted that part of him was hoping that getting DFAed by the Dodgers would enable him to rejoin the Giants).


Hopefully rest day today plus maybe a rest day via day off soon will get Posey going, as we will need him facing Cubs and Cards in this six games homestand.   The pitching should enjoy being at home too, where the weather is cooler.

The Cubs have been on a huge hot streak since the end of July, going 19-4, so it wasn't just the Giants getting steam rollered.  They have been crushing every team except for the Tigers, where they had a brief 3 game losing streak by losing a two game set to Detroit.  They have 6 hitters at roughly 1.000 OPS or higher, plus three other hitters hitting in the .800 OPS range, and you are going to win a lot of games hitting that hot.
Their pitching has actually been having their worse month, 3.92 ERA, so that's where we have a chance.  The Giants pitchers gave up 22 runs over 4 games to these rampaging Cubs in their home park, but now these Cubbies are facing the Giants in their home park.  But we will need some hitting from Posey to have any chance.

Despite that run by the Cubs, the Cards still lead them by 9.5 games in the standings.  The Cards have not been hot, going 5-5 in last 10, 12-8 in their last 20, so the Giants need to also hurt them at home as well.   Their offense has not been that good the past two months, roughly .676 OPS in July and August.  It is their pitching, roughly 2.80 ERA in July and August, that has been keeping things humming.

Both teams have been good on the road, Cubs 33-25, Cards 32-26, so it will be a battle to win each series. While the Cubs have been about the same, home or road around 3.50 ERA, the Cards are not as good on the road, but still better than the Cubs, they have a 2.36 ERA at home, but 3.05 ERA on the road.  So both series will be tough to win.  

September Cool Down

After this home stand, the Giants will have a much easier month.  Still, the month starts with the last long road trip of the season, starting with 3 games in LA, then 4 games in COL, then 3 games in ARI.  While COL continues to just sink and sink, the D-backs is now only 3.5 games behind us and suddenly that series could be critical for them and us.

Getting through this road trip and the current homestand in good shape (at most 2 games back of LA) would put the Giants in good shape for taking the title.  Most of our remaining key players should return by then:  Pence, Panik, Pagan.  In addition we should have a lot of relief pitchers pitching in and absorbing innings.  There are also 9 games against CIN, COL, and OAK, three teams scraping the bottom, of of those remaining 22.  Plus, in total, there will be 16 home games vs. only 6 more road games.

And while SD and ARI are relatively close to us right now, they have some tough games left to play.  ARI has 10 more games with STL, CHC, and HOU, plus 7 with LAD and 6 with us.  That's mostly playoff contending teams remaining on their schedule.

SD is not as bad, but they got two series with Nats and TEX, teams on the verge, plus 7 against LA and 6 against the Giants.  They also have PHI and MIL on their schedule, so they have it easier than the D-backs in some respects, but .

However, they are currently 5 games behind the Giants, they will have to win a lot more than the Giants do in order just to beat us out, then got another 1.5 games to beat out LAD.  They are a long shot to win the division, though the possibility still remains given the easier schedule.  Still, their strength of schedule (SOS) is only -0.2 while the Giants are -0.3, meaning that the Giants are facing worse teams than they are in the remaining bit of the season.  They should not catch us.

LA is Main Competitor

It should be LA vs. SF for the title.  Both teams' SOS is -0.3, and thus relatively the same, so the Giants will need to make up games by beating the Dodgers, which they have done a lot thus far this season.  They are 9-3 against their nemesis, the only reason why the Giants are still in the fight for the division lead, else they would be back with the D-backs right now or worse.   We still have 7 games left with them, 4 at home (second to last series of season; then face COL at home to end season), and will need to go 4-3 to make up one game, 5-2 to make up 3 games, in the standings.

Also helpful, aside from their two aces, Kershaw and Greinke, the rest of the team has been sputtering for a while, which is why the Giants have been able to make up ground even though only going 2-5 on the trip.   While the Giants are only 16-14 in their last 30 games, the Dodgers were 14-16, so we made up two games in the standings.

Looking at the data, it appears that their downturn started with their pitching.  Their 28 day batting line is .263/.338/.415/.752, so their offense has been mostly good during that period, but their team ERA was 4.47, showing that it was pitching that was hurting them over the period.

But the shorter cuts shows the dynamics underlying the period.  While the ERA is 3.61 in the last 14 days and 3.78 in the last 7, showing that the pitching was horrendous in the 15-28 day period, but had rebounded in the last 14 days, the 14 day batting line is .228/.298/.356/.654 and the 7 day batting line is .153/.197/.218/.415.  This reminds me of the Giants in the past, the pitching would struggle and once it went on for a while, then the hitting would start to press and struggle, and then it started spiraling downward.

And the hitting has just shut down, as the .415 OPS shows.  Puig is the only hitter above .700 (.750 OPS) and that's partly because he's not starting every game, he's played half the four games in the past week.  Etheir is next at .664 OPS (played 3 of 4), and Rollins is the leader among those starting in all the games, hitting .176/.176/.412/.588, and Utley is next at .154/.154/.308/.462 (3 games).  Yeah, those are their leading hitters.  Of course, the no-hitter really hurt their stats, but still, those are pretty dismal stats.

At least the Giants hitters haven't been that bad, and neither have their pitching.  The hitting has not been all that great either, down for the season, but that's going to happen when you lose your #5 hitter and your #4 hitter is in a recent slump.  Plus, over the past week, so has Crawford and Belt.  But the pitching has been holding up the team in the last month, 3.70 ERA over the past 28 days, 2.96 ERA over the past 14 days, and 3.55 ERA over the past 7 days.

Starting Rotation Strength

One tone I noticed from a beat reporter (and I find him to be negative in tone for the most part in recent years) was that the Giants rotation is just considered to be Bumgarner and the question marks.  No wonder a lot of Giants fans are always running around like Chicken Little.   Sabers talk about old school baseball men who don't change, but there are reporters like that too (and saber do note them too, just not as much).  The pitching is not that much in flux, we Giants fans have been spoiled by LinCainBumZito over the years, pitching and not missing many starts, for the most part, 2009-2012.

Of course, Bumgarner has been the horse, the ace.  We all expect that, and he has delivered, once again.  But Peavy, since returning, has been almost as good.  In his 9 starts, he has had 7 DOM starts and 0 DIS starts, matching Bumgarner, who in 10 starts, had 7 DOM and 0 DIS.   Unfortunately, the Giants have lost four of Peavy's seven DOM starts (3-4 instead of 5-2 or 6-1).

Leake, yes, has missed 3 starts, but in his two starts so far, 2 DOM starts.   Injuries will happen, it does not make a deal a success or non-success until the season is over.   And sometimes the move is good (2 DOM starts) but the results are bad (2 losses in the two starts).   Leake has been healthy his whole career, I don't see any reason to suddenly think he's injury prone.  Between Bumgarner, Peavy, and Leake, the Giants have a very strong Top 3 starters right now.

Heston for the moment is out of the rotation, and had a recent bad streak, but he still has the second best ERA among the starting pitchers who have been with the team all season, and good too, 3.34 ERA.  I have no doubts that he will rejoin the rotation once September returns, and return to his prior goodness, as he appeared to be getting tired again in the dog days of August, which he did last season as well in AAA, and his mechanics apparently suffered, as Bochy said they will work with him on his mechanics, tweaking it, while he is not on the 25-man roster.  And rest is the recipe as he's still travelling with the Giants, he's not with the AAA team.

That leaves Cain and Vogelsong.  No rotation don't have question marks, the Giants have been blessed to really only have flux in their #5 starter over the years, whereas most teams need replacements up and down their rotation most of the time.   This year has been an anomaly relative to the history of the Giants rotation, but very in line with last season's flux and this pre-season worries about age (Hudson, Vogelsong), surgery (Cain), and the unexpected (Peavy).

Vogie is going through what I've noticed is a pattern for him too, a lull in August, and the rest he got when he was put back into the pen allowed him to pitch well in two of the three starts he had after Leake was DLed.  He obviously had a pretty bad start in the last game in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Cain had been struggling with something (and basically he's been going through spring training in the regular season) but the Giants felt that he was close, and he finally delivered in his last start, with a great 5-PQS start that unfortunately we lost to the Cards.

The next start for these two will be crucial for deciding what happens next.  If Vogie comes back with a great start, then the last one was probably a fluke  (even the best have poor starts), and he could be kept in the rotation.  If he falters again with a DIS start, Heston probably returns to replace him.  If Cain comes back with another DOM start, he stays in the rotation when Heston returns.  If Cain has another bad start and Vogie has a good start, Heston probably replaces Cain.

If both Cain and Vogelsong have bad starts or both have good, Heston will return to the rotation but what happens to them is a coin toss.  The Giants will most probably keep Cain in the rotation, especially if he has a good start, since Vogie's role is to step out when the starters are ready.  But it depends on the Giants assessment of where Cain is, not that long ago, he was the one whose start that was "TBA", not Vogie.  

If they were both bad, they could alternate them, start one, then the other, to keep everyone else in 5-man rotation, while giving both rest and time to work on things between starts.  If both are good, could they go 6-man?  Probably not, given their history, but I think that would be useful to adjust the rotation to what the Giants want to happen at the end of the season and the Giants have noted it before as an option, they just have chosen not to do it.

So while the rotation is not as good as it had been during the great years, the Giants rotation is pretty good as is.  We have a good top 3 in Bumgarner, Peavy, Leake (and I would put Leake second, thinking about it), and Heston makes a good #4.  If Cain is rounding into shape, he would bump Heston to #5, and if he's back to his usual standards (remember, he had 2 DOM starts in 3 after his first start), I can see him bumping Peavy out of the top 3.  Given Peavy's historic lack of good performance in the playoffs, ideally Cain returns to some semblance of his former self and makes Peavy the #4 starter in the playoffs or perhaps Heston #4 and Peavy a reliever, if Heston returns to prior seasonal goodness.

Acquisition is Causation

And we look great compared to the Dodgers.  They have two great starters and one good one, but the bottom two spots are real question marks.   Matt Latos and Alex Wood have not provided the stability that they were seeking when they traded for them.  Latos has been such a disappointment that they pushed him into the bullpen to work on things and used their day off to keep Kershaw and Greinke (and the rest) on a 4-day rest schedule.

Their acquisition coincides with their downturn, mainly because, as I noted when the trade happened, they took out Bolsinger, their Heston-plus (2.83 ERA in 18 starts this season, but over last 11 starts, 3.75 ERA) and replaced him with Latos (6.75 ERA in 3 starts).   And Wood, at 5.01 ERA in 4 starts, isn't much of an improvement over the guys they were revolving through the rotation this season (they have cycled through 12! starters in total in the bottom two rotation spots, including Latos and Wood;  11 of them had ERAs of 4.50 and higher).

They aren't going to win the division while hitting so poorly while the pitching rotation is in flux (as well as the bullpen, which is where most people thought they were lacking in acquiring).   As I noted early in the season, they were hitting over their heads by a mile, and they are now experiencing some of the regression to the mean that normally entails at some point.   And Latos will not necessarily figure things out nor will Wood figure out things either.

On top of that, Brett Anderson has been a key part of their rotation but at 24 starts this season, this is the most starts he has made in a season since his rookie season in 2009.  Yes, in the five seasons in between, he has peak of 19 starts in his SECOND season, and since then, 13 was his next in his THIRD season.  He has 19 total starts in the prior three seasons, none with over 8 starts.  And in 8 starts since early July, he has a 4.63 ERA, while striking out only 26 in 44.2 IP.

And it don't mean that the Giants will necessarily win either.  We have our own issues, mostly due to key hitters on the DL and one key slump.   But because my research shows how much results are driven by how well your starters pitch, right now, our pitching looks stronger overall than the Dodgers.   And I would bet on our pitching.

Things can still change, but Kershaw and Greinke can only influence the win in their starts, and the other starters they have, including Anderson and Bolsinger who have been pretty good overall, but not as much recently, are not that good.  They appear to treat SP the same way the Giants treat OF:  interchangeable and easily replaceable through player acquisition.  They clearly do not value what starting pitching can do for you, as a whole, leaving that to chance, for the most part.  Because they are spending nearly $300M, and while paying Kershaw and Greinke a lot, appears to be skimping on the rest of the rotation.

Meanwhile, Bumgarner, Peavy, and Leake should be driving things pretty well, Heston will hopefully return to prior goodness (I think he will, but that's still in question), and that can drive a good run of wins, particularly since we are facing a lot of teams who are not as good as us in September.  As I've noted before, from 2009 to 2012, the Giants were able to have good overall pitching results even with Zito and a typical #5 starter in the rotation.  And if Cain and/or Vogie can return to prior goodness, we should be able to go on a pretty good sprint to the end in September and catch up with the Dodgers and I still think we can pass them up.

Because their rotation is imbalanced.  They have Captain American's right leg, but Steve Roger's pre-serum left leg, in their rotation.   We don't have a Kershaw-Greinke duo, but we don't need that to win Bumgarner-Peavy-Leake starts.  They can only pitch two games out of five (four during this stretch of days off for them), and it is in these other games where the Giants can make up the 1.5 games.   I think the Giants can do that.


  1. This CSNBA post takes a quantitative look at the Giants remaining schedule compared to LA, and finds that the Giants have a slight advantage over the Dodgers in their remaining schedule:


    Supports my thoughts that we have a good chance to catch up with them by the end of the season. And remember that this SOS analysis takes into account that LA is slightly better than the Giants, meaning that the difference in schedule is slightly stronger in the Giants favor outside of playing LA, whom they have played well against so far.

  2. Posted this on Raising Cain after bad Cain start:

    Yeah, it was pretty sad. And it wasted a great comeback by the offense on the Cubs bullpen, 5 runs normally good enough to win with.

    There are no days off so the Giants can't just skip his start, which falls on the last start of this homestand. I can see him getting a short leash, with Bochy quick to hook him if necessary, since that is on August 30th, and fresh arms can be brought up to the majors in two days. Basically, to do that, he would probably have to hold back Petit, just in case, and hopefully our other starters can go at least 5 IP over the next four games.

    The beat writers were hinting that Cain could be DLed, but Bochy is quoted as saying that he's healthy, so there would have to be a sudden "injury" for this to happen.

    Next two games we face Hendricks (Peavy) and Haren (Bumgarner). Both Hendricks and Haren have not pitched all that well in the past month or so (28 days), 5.23 and 6.05 ERA, respectively. Both should be good battles, we should have a good chance of winning them.

    However, wow, the only Cubs starting pitcher really pitching well in the past month is Arrieta (0.92 ERA). Hammel is next at 4.01, Lester 4.44, then those two. For them to go 20-4, the Cubs batters basically is duplicating that Bugs Bunny cartoon where the hitters have a Conga Line from home to all the bases and then back to home to score.

    If we can shut them down, we should be able to win. But we were unable to in Chicago. However, Peavy was one who was able to in Chicago, so we have some hope there with him, and Bumgarner has had string of DOM starts for about a month, so we have a really good chance to still win the series. Unfortunately, needed to sweep to stay in WC chase.

    That's OK, should really be focusing on NL West division title anyway, WC is only if we are out of West race, and we are still very much in it. But it can turn very quickly in the next week, we got two tough series in Cubs and Cards, while Dodgers are only facing Reds right now but then get to face Cubs too: hopefully we can beat them, but not cool them off enough so that then they continue to stay hot in LA. Then we get 3 in LA, and obviously we need to win that series, anything less and our chances will be hurt a lot, there are not a lot of games left by then, roughly 30 games, 4 weeks (right now 2.5 games back, if stay there [i.e. that many back] and lose LA series, then we would be 3.5 games back, tough to make up in 4 weeks).



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