After being swept by the Phillies in a pretty comprehensive manner, Giants fans everywhere have their tails between their legs, but it is not all doom and gloom – no, really!
On balance it was not a terrible week in that they were one game over .500 going into the Atlanta series and they are .500 after the four-game series in Philadelphia. They were boosted massively by a really good showing in Atlanta over the weekend, and looked to be building a head of steam after a fourth consecutive series win and four games won in a row. Sweeping the Braves might not have seemed like a huge achievement before the season started, but going into the series they were sitting atop the NL East. Averaging eight runs per game over the series, the Giants dominated the first two games and were in control of the third until things got a bit sticky in the bottom of the ninth. The most impressive thing for me about the sweep was that in each game the Giants came from behind to win, a sign perhaps of a fighting team.
Things came crashing back down to earth in Philadelphia though against a resurgent Phillies outfit, for whom everything seemed to come together. You have to go back to before the outbreak of World War 1 to find a four-game series in which the Giants struck out more, and it felt like every ground ball turned into a base hit for the Phillies. As a team the Phillies had .330 BABIP in the series, compared to .300 on the season before that, and enjoyed a WRC+ a whopping 57 points higher in the series than across the season as a whole. Against the league the Phillies were career Logan Forsythe, but the Giants turned them into career Joey Votto.
The week started well enough, winning what was their fourth series and a four games in a row. One thing that is becoming a hallmark of this Giants batting lineup is that when things go quiet somebody new steps up to shoulder run-creating responsibilities, and this week it was the turn of Brandon Crawford. He has really come to life with the bat and found by far his best form of the season. Andrew McCutchen, too, has enjoyed another good week, getting on base in half of his plate appearances against the Braves and the Phillies. He seems really to have found his feet, in good time to as he prepares for an emotional return to Pittsburgh.
Alen Hanson has been quietly very effective, flying under the radar a little to record a 160 WRC+ on the week. His power has surprised me, as all but two of his eight hits this week were for extra bases. His speed is an asset in this regard, helping him to turn singles into doubles. He is proving to be very reliable too – his .364 batting average with runners in scoring position helping him to bring home 9 runners in just 11 situational plate appearances. With Joe Panik set to miss a sizeable chunk of playing time, it is important he can keep up his hot streak.
An area of growing concern is the number of errors the defense is giving up. Seven in three games against the Braves, and six against the Phillies. Only the Texas Rangers have committed more errors now than the Giants now this year, and they are in danger of becoming a real hindrance for success. It is possibly a side effect of the chopping and changing necessary in the wake of so many injuries, but some of the plays have been fairly routine. Evan Longoria, renowned for his defensive capabilities is responsible for 7 errors alone so far, although he has made some excellent plays too. The defense was excellent at the beginning of the year, and has been in gradual decline since. FanGraphs has the Giants ranked 26th in defensive WAR, so things are not looking good there. Increased defensive frailty is an obvious consequence of making changes to bolster the batting lineup, and seeing Belt used in leftfield against the Phillies, with Sandoval playing first, highlights the lengths Bochy is going to in order to try and score runs. It might prove to be in vain though if the team is made so much weaker defensively as a result.
On the pitching front, there were few surprises this week. Stratton bounced back from his nightmarish, new-father-jet-lag outing with a quality start against the Braves but was badly knocked around and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning against the Phillies. Samardzija continues to struggle, perhaps understandably given his recent injury, but will need to come good soon. Andrew Suarez pitched fairly well against the Braves, striking out seven but also allowing eight baserunners in just five innings. Surely the best piece of news from the pitching corps was that Johnny Cueto will not undergo Tommy John surgery after all, and might be back in six to eight weeks.
The Pirates, Reds and Rockies up next then, and the Giants will need to look to win all three series in my opinion as the following week sees them on the road at two genuine World Series hopefuls in the Cubs and the Astros. The Pirates have started well, and I wrote about them recently. The Rockies too have done well so far, and a home series against them should be very competitive. The Reds have recovered somewhat from their terrible start, winning four of their last seven, including a series win against the Mets, and given how good they have been against the Giants recently they should not be taken lightly at all.