The Giants shared the first home series of the season with the Mariners, after dropping Tuesday’s home opener 6-4 and taking the second with a 10-1 blowout against the hapless King Felix. The tie took the Giants to 3-3 for the season, which is a solid enough start, and we look forward now to a home series against the Dodgers starting on Friday night, with two UK-friendly games over the weekend.
The series was notable because it saw the Giants bats come back to life, with the hitters combining for 21 hits over the two games after mustering just 17 hits in their previous three games. Most notably, however, the Giants came up with some big hits, with six home runs by six different hitters, only one of whom is named Joe Panik.
Defensively the Giants were sound again, which was a relief after mistakes began creeping into their game in games three and four of the series in LA. Andrew McCutchen looked much more assured in rightfield, showing good coverage and tidy glovework. Hunter Pence missed the second game but Bochy confirmed that his injury is not serious and won’t keep him out for long. I’ve been pretty pleased with how Pence’s defensive showings in leftfield, even if he hasn’t really shown anything with the bat yet.
In Wednesday night’s game it was pleasing to see Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco come into the outfield and look assured. It is good to have the option of giving guys a rest, especially given the injury track record of Pence, and taking into account the fact that Austin Jackson has averaged just one appearance in every three games for the last three seasons.
Bochy had talked on the eve of the series of wanting to give some of the fringe bats in the 25-man roster a chance to avoid rustiness setting in after Spring Training. So on Tuesday, we saw Brandon Belt benched, with Posey shifting to first base and Nick Hundley handed his first start of the season. I never like to see Belt dropped because I see him as the most prolific on-base threat, but Bochy would no doubt argue that his strategy worked as Belt reached base four times on Wednesday and hit his first home run of the season.
The decision on Wednesday to start Pablo Sandoval in place of Evan Longoria at third surprised me, not least because I think Longoria would benefit from playing time to help him find form after a light Spring Training workload, and because it came just a day after Longo had hit the team’s first non-Panik dong of the season. Sandoval acquitted himself well with both the bat and the glove, even if not too much was asked of him defensively, and hit a three-run home run into McCovey Cove in the fifth inning that really killed off any hope of the Mariners getting back into the game. I’m on record as wanting minimal input from Sandoval this season, mostly because I want to see Longoria stay healthy and perform consistently at third base, but in fairness to Panda, he’s matched the combined offensive output of Longoria and McCutchen in just seven plate appearances. It will be interesting to see how and how much Bochy uses him if Longoria struggles to find consistency with the bat in the coming weeks.
Panik continued his hot streak, going long with a splash hit in the series opener, and I’ve read the obligatory stories about how changing approach and mechanics in the offseason to explain away his good start. Personally, I can’t see anything different in his set up, but I’ll be a believer if we are still talking about his new-found power in a couple of weeks time. As it stands you’d have to expect him to break his season’s best home run tally of ten, even if you might not necessarily back him to continue slugging .810 for much longer!
On the subject of things not lasting long, it was perhaps no surprise to see Ty Blach come crashing back down to Earth after his stellar opening day performance against the Dodgers. I don’t think he was helped by the pre-game ceremonies running roughly 15 minutes late, and he appeared rattled and distracted in the first inning. He struggled with his command and left his pitches high with alarming frequency, and he’ll now face a tough third outing of the season at home to the ominously strong-looking D-backs early next week.
Johnny Cueto, on the other hand, put in a more assured display to give hope that he might be back to something resembling his 2016 self. I’m only cautiously optimistic, however, due to the fact that he relied on some good defensive plays to keep the score down. He allowed ten baserunners and only got one strikeout, and let’s not forget that he started last season strongly with three consecutive wins before falling away to poor form.
I’ll be back on Monday to wrap up the Dodgers series. Here’s hoping the Giants can capitalise on the Dodgers wobbly start and keep those bats swinging nicely. Fingers crossed new guys McCutchen, Longoria and Jackson heat up a bit, and let’s hope Panik can improve on his paltry 1.268 OPS!