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Friday, July 31, 2015

Giants add arm, but not second ace

With moves happening left and right and targets the Giants had on their radar finding new homes (David Price and Cole Hamels in particular), Bobby Evans decided to go with plan B. The Giants and Red agreed to a deal that will send RHP Mike Leake to San Francisco in exchange for bright young right-handed prospect Keury Mella and power hitting pseudo-prospect Adam Duvall.

Fans that were holding out hope that the team would be able to find that true number two starter, and another ace to pair with Madison Bumgarner didn't quite get their wish, but the Giants are bringing in a rock solid starter nonetheless. Leake had posted a 9-5 record with a 3.56 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 21 starts for the Reds and he's coming off back-to-back sub-4 ERA seasons in which he had double digit wins (14 in '13 and 11 in '14). While he's going to deepen the rotation and will likely slot in behind MadBum in the 2 slot, he wasn't quite the caliber of pitcher I was hoping the Giants could reel in. I mean, they gave up a guy who many considered their top prospect at the moment for a #3/4 starter who's likely going to be around only 2 months. In my mind, they should have just added another prospect or two on and made a real push for that real difference maker like Price or Hamels, but that just may not have been a realistic option. After those two were dealt I shifted my focus to Jeff Samardzija, then even Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner from their SoCal rival Padres, but knew there were a lot of teams asking about Samardzija and it would be tough to pry to front-end starters like Ross or Cashner from a division rival.

All in all, I felt like the Giants could have done better and there were other options out there, but again, Leake isn't a bum by any stretch. I just feel like there isn't a huge talent gap between Mike Leake and guys they already have like Vogelsong, Cain, Peavy and Heston and the Giants should have tried to shoot for a bigger upgrade. On the plus side, his numbers over the last 3 seasons are second to only MadBum in the rotation and he should see his numbers improve even further now that he's out of the hitters haven that is Great American Ballpark. He's certainly not gonna overpower you though, with a fastball sitting in the high-80's and reaching 91 on occasion, but he has very strong command and can be tough to handle when he's keeping the ball down and has that wicked whip on that breaking ball. When taking into account his peripherals (FIP, BABP, and KK/BB) he's just slighltly above average and that's really what he is. A suitable number 3 or a top-end number 4/5. If they gave up say, Joan Gregorio, Chris Stratton and Adam Duvall or bit of a lesser package of that elk, I would have given it two thumbs up, but I feel like a group headlined by Mella could have gotten them a bit more. For that reason, I give it a C/C+, just cause Leake isn't proven in the postseason.

Now, what do the Giants do between now and the deadline Friday afternoon? Well, they do need to make space for Leake, and they very well may have another deal in the works. They already have a guy in Vogelsong who's out of position in the bullpen and they may need to put another starter out there now. I don't see Boch going with a 6-man rotation, although I guess it is possible. Seems to me like the odd man out at this point would be Yusmiero Petit, but Ryan Vogelsong may not be 100% safe either. The Giants have also been rumored to be in the hunt to bring back Michael Morse, who was just released by the Dodgers after they acquired him from Miami. Morse would be a nice fit as a big power bat off the bench and a guy who can play a little left field and first base, if they can convince him to stay in Sacramento until the rosters expand in September (then if we have our way, he comes off the bench in October and DH's in a possible World Series). They may want Maxwell on the roster over him just because of defense, but Giants have a good defensive outfield this year and don't really need it. Plus they have Blanco coming off the bench to maybe spell Pagan in the playoffs. That's the luxury of having 3 guys who can play right and 3 who can play center, they can afford to carry a thumper who can only play a corner. I think the players would certainly get a kick out of bring the big guy back. Hunter Pence as much as anyone, I'll tell you that much! 

Anyhow, as you can tell, not the most exciting move and I doubt there's going to be a huge rush to pick up Mike Leake jerseys at "The Giants Dugout", but Brian Sabean and co. have shown they know what they're doing (for the most part) over the last 5 years, so lets hope this falls right into that category. Leake has a mid-3 ERA, a 34-25 record since the start of 2013, should only get better with the change of ballparks and, again, he does give them another sort of "safe bet" besides MadBum (being he's not a rookie and hasn't missed a chunk of time the last year with injury). I wanna put Heston in that category too now though but he's still just a rookie and I don't think you want him starting a game two of a NLDS in St. Louis for instance. If the playoffs started tomorrow and the Giants were in the NLDS, my rotation would have to be MadBum-Leake-Heston and go from there. Not the most intimidating 2 and 3, but two guys who're having huge years and are more capable of turning in the big performance than Cain and Peavy. Leake was lit up in his only playoff outing in 2012 against San Francisco but he was 24 at the time and wasn't the same pitcher he's become today.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Deadline Time: What to do?

We're about 72 hours from the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline and although their isn't one particularly glaring area of concern on the Giants' roster right now, it hasn't kept Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean from scouring the market for potential upgrades.

The Giants have been on of the better teams in baseball since the All-Star break, and now with the return of Nori Aoki Monday night, they are finally working with a full deck. Surprisingly, the Giants have cruised to their 55-44 record without having their projected opening day roster in-tact together much at all. They were without Cain, Peavy and Pence for much of the first couple months, then Aoki and Affeldt hit the shelve, but the gang is back in full force and in plenty of time for the stretch run. Now, with all the key cogs healthy, you get an idea of how good this team can be, and it's no surprise they've gone 9-1 since break but that doesn't necessarily mean this team is flawless and is a sure fire bet to return to the postseason and break their odd-season curse. I said at the top of the post that their isn't particularly a single glaring area of need on the roster, but there's always room for improvement. I don't really think they need to do a thing with their everyday lineup and I'm the type of guy that is always looking for possible offensive upgrades. I just don't see where they can slide a big bat though if they were to find one, and with Matt Duffy, Joe Panic and Brandon Crawford's 2015 offensive surge, they don't really need one.

That said, outside of Gregor Blanco and their deep catching unit, the Giants don't have the strongest bench in the league. Angel Pagan has had a bit of a rough go of it offensively after a hot start, and he may need more time off down the stretch, but Blanco has shown the ability to step in when needed as he's having a career year offensively. I like Justin Maxwell and think he's a good presence on the team and in the clubhouse, but if they can find a more consistent bat for that fifth outfield spot, I'd be all for it. Also another utility infielder with some experience certainly wouldn't hurt. Ehire Adrianza has had a huge year in Sacramento but he's never been able to have any sort of success in his limited big league exposure.

So, that leaves the pitching staff as the most likely area to be added to, if the Giants indeed decide there is a move that can help the club now. Plenty of big name pitchers have been linked to the Giants in the last 48 hours, from James Shields to Cole Hamels and David Price. In fact, a fake Ken Rosenthal Twitter account actually stirred up a bit of a rise Tuesday morning by reporting that the Giants had sent Tyler Beede and 3 other prospects to Philly for Cole Hamels. Alas, it was not to be, but the Giants have fresh in their memory last postseason in which Madison Bumgarner was sort of a one-man army amongst the starters and they certainly don't want a repeat performance from the guys behind him this time around. While Cain and Peavy have each shown glimpses of their old selves, I don't think either is a great option as a number two behind MadBum in a playoff scenario. The Giants rotation, as is, is set up nicely for the regular season, and they very well could make it into the playoffs with their rotation as is, but it sure would be nice to have another ace-like option to alleviate some of the pressure off Bumgarner. Plus with roughly $50+ million coming off the books at the end of the year, they're in a position where they could take on a contract like Hamels' and not have it handicap them for the upcoming offseason.

I've said it before and I still think Hamels makes the most since out of all the big names linked to the Giants. Jeff Samardjiza is another very intriguing option but Hamels is such a smart pitcher and has had success for so long that I would trust him in that big "must win" game over Samardjiza and some of the other guys who just haven't performed and/or succeeded on the big stage. The only thing it will come down to is how many prospects the Phillies are going to want in return. I've been hearing that the Phills haven't been enamored with any of the Giants' offers yet but there's still some time for negotiation.

Anyway, moves have been happening left and right and it should be an interesting couple of days as we inch towards theFriday's 1 PM PT non-waiver trade deadline, and although I'm not expecting a big splash on the Giants part, I also wouldn't be surprised to see them grab another ace to pair with MadBum.

Roster Notes: The Giants were unable to hang onto Jean Machi, who was DFA'd after running out of options with San Francisco and was promply swooped up by the Boston Red Sox, were he'll join his former teammate and fellow countrymen, Pablo Sandoval. Machi was struggling for most of 2015 but shouldn't be forgotten as he was a key member of the 2014 Championship 'bully. He simply had been passed on the depth chart by George Kontos and Hunter Strickland and there wasn't room to carry him. With Machi now out of the mix, the only guy who seemingly could be replaced if the Giants can find an upgrade in the pen would be Yusmiero Petit (especially with Vogey now in the pen).
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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Giants' offense comes alive vs. Phillies

The Giants have been struggling mightily since the calendar flipped from June to July, and a big reason for those struggles has been the play of the offense. They've had multiple guys go through slumps at the same time in recent weeks but all that came to a halt on Friday night at AT&T as the Giants had a historic night at the plate.

Duffy relevant in ROY chase
Facing what appears to be one of the most sought after commodities of this trade season, Cole Hamels, the Giants surprisingly put forth their best offensive performance of the season, scoring 15 runs, but also set a San Francisco Giants record with 22 hits in the game. 3 different players had four-hit games, and all three of them really needed it. None perhaps more than Justin Maxwell, who's roster spot may be in jeopardy as the trade deadline approaches and the Giants' apparently searching for outfield depth, needed the breakout and he definitely got it. He went 4-5 with 3 doubles, helping distance his batting average from the dreaded "Mendoza Line". Also, one of the younger guys in the lineup who had run into a big of a fun lately, Matt Duffy, came into the game hitting .172 this month so seeing him bust out was also a welcome sight. Even Angel Pagan, who arguably has been this team's biggest weak link offensively in recent weeks as he battles multiple nagging injuries, got it going with a 3-hit, 3-run, 2-RBI evening himself. Hunter Pence's grand slam and Joe Panic's two-run blast into the water (on multiple bounces have you) were the two big flies of the night. Coincidentally, Barry Bonds was hanging around the team talking batting during BP today.

So far, so good for Cain
So, after the huge offensive outburst, what does that change as we approach the All-Star break and with the trade deadline looming just a few short weeks away? Absolutely nothing. Sure, pretty much everything clicked for them against a top-line starting pitcher and it's easy to ride that high into thinking the Giants are invincible but let's not forget, the team was just 1-7 this month before Friday's game, and even though it was spectacular, it was just one game. With Matt Cain and Jake Peavy each coming back in recent weeks and each throwing pretty well in the process, it has eliminated a little bit of the starting pitching needs. However, these two are very fragile right now and after both missed all of or most of the first half, it's tough to gauge exactly what they'll give them down the stretch. They could thrive because they're fresh and healthy but you never know. Right now, even with Lincecum and Hudson shelved, the need in the rotation isn't urgent, but getting another capable arm (not necessarily a front-line guy) would provide insurance.

They've got MadBum, Heston, Vogey, Cain and Peavy. That's a stud, a rookie, a 37 year-old who was on his last legs up until about 6 weeks ago and two guys who haven't thrown much at all this year. Of course there are still the two Tim's on the shelf but neither of those guys were exactly dealing before going down and the Giants may decide to use Lincecum in relief for the stretch run. In other words, after MadBum, if the Giants did make it into a playoffs series scenario, I have no idea who Bochy would use or in what order. Probably Heston and Vogey if the season ended now, but Cain and Peavy have plenty of time to work themselves into that discussion as well.

Despite their July struggles (up until Friday night that is), there's no one area that this team absolutely NEEDS to upgrade, but at just one game over .500 and 6 games back of the Dodgers in the West, they could certainly use a shot in the arm, or two. Nori Aoki is expected back later this month and at which time the Giants hope to be working with a full deck offensively. They haven't played many games with all their starters in their, especially since Matt Duffy took over at third, but once everyone is out there,they don't have many places to put a possible offensive addition. Therefore I don't think they'll be looking for a huge splash, rather maybe another 4th outfield type. Pagan has some injury issues and has been largely unproductive over the last 6 weeks and he very well could need a DL stint just to alleviate some of his nagging issues at some point. Gregor Blanco has been a stud in the 4th outfield role, having perhaps his best season so far, but after him, it's Justin Maxwell, and the Giants may feel they can upgrade there. Also, in the infield, I feel like there are plenty of options out there that would pose significant upgrades to Joaquin Arias, who has steadily forgotten how to hit.

SF Could Use Papelbon
Also, this bullpen isn't exactly dominant right now and with the way this pitching staff can't seem to go more than 5-6 innings per start consistently, they need quality depth. Hopefully Jeremy Affeldt comes back strong soon cause right now, the Giants are using a lot of Kontos and Hunter Strickland and those guys are going to wear down. Sergio Romo has hit a rut recently (4 runs allowed in last 2.2 innings) and it's caused Bochy to use him just a couple times over the last two weeks. They really need him to be that sub-3.00 ERA version of himself in order to help lock that 8th inning down. I know Strickland and Kontos have been solid, but I think Bochy will feel a lot more confident using someone with a little more experience in that set-up role down the stretch and hopefully into October. If Romo can't become that guy, they could certainly be in the market for a right-handed late reliever. One option could be a guy who's in town now, Philly closer Jonathan Papelbon. Imagine having the ability to use Casilla wherever, and letting Papelbon hold down the ninth?
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Friday, June 19, 2015

Time to shake up lineup?

Prior to Thursday night's nice little offensive output of 7 runs in Seattle, clutch hits and runs were about as tough to come by as they've been at any point this season. My suggestion, and frankly something I'm surprised Bochy hasn't tried to do more of is mix up the lineup a bit.

One of the big moves I have been pondering over in my mind is possibly swapping Matt Duffy and Angel Pagan in the batting order, at least while Hunter Pence is out. Matty D seems to be putting it together right now and is one of the Giants' better clutch hitters with runners on base and in scoring position. Mix that in with his respectable .293 average and .789 OPS to go along with 6 HR and 31 RBI and you'll see why I like the kid as a 3-hole option in Pence's stead. Not to mention he didn't start playing regularly until roughly a month into the season, and it makes the 24 year-old's numbers pop out even more, especially those RBI. Pagan has had a pretty decent year at the plate up until the last couple of weeks as he's taken a bit of a fall (slashing just .167/.227/.183 in June). He's hit for no power whatsoever, so unless he's at or above .280 and his OBP is at least .330, then he's really not much of an offensive threat. I understood starting the year with him in that spot as the Giants had limited options and Pagan had shown the ability to hit for at least a little pop in prior years. This year, it hasn't been there, at least not yet, and his pedestrian .266 average with a dreadful .303 on base average and weak .330 slugging percentage and whopping 16 RBI's must be moved from that three-spot, and quick.

I mean, I don't wanna turn this into a Pagan bashing, because I still like the player a lot and I know he's just in a slump and is going to get hot again at some point. He's another guy that's gotten clutch hits in big situations so he's earned some leeway, but there's no reason to be hitting him third right now with Matt Duffy just raking to all fields with pop. A lineup (sans Pence of course) of Aoki-Panik-Duffy-Posey-Belt-Crawford-Pagan-Maxwell (swap Pagan and Maxwell vs lefties) would look a lot better, in my opinion at least.

Anyway, that's really been heavy on my mind the last couple of days and I just haven't gotten around to writing it until now. The offense has been the the team's main concern of late and with Hunter Pence sidelined again, and this time for something that may nag him and effect his swing significantly the rest of the way when he eventually does return. I mean, unless he tears something and absolutely cannot go, I have a hard time seeing Hunter go under the knife with baseball still to be played, especially if given an option to play through. However, the fact that the Giants and Pence are being so hush hush about this as well as the fact that he was due back today (June 18th) and he still hasn't made enough progress to be given a firm timetable makes me wonder. They did say he'll be shut down another two weeks but who knows what will happen at that point. Tendons can be tricky, especially ones in the forearm for a guy with a violent hack like Pence's. Also, there has been a lot of talk on Marty Laurie's KNBR show, with credible guests such as Hank Schulman, that would suggest the Giants may be heavy in the market for outfield help.

Their pitching staff has seemed to right itself a bit, and they're getting nothing but positive feedback from Cain and his rehab assignment thus far. You can never use too much pitching, and I'm sure Sabes and Bobby Evans will be monitoring that market too, but with Pence's nagging injuries, along with Pagan's history of running into injury himself as the season wears down, the outfield would certainly make sense as a main area for upgrade. Plus we're starting to hit the part of the year where losing teams are going to start entering selling mode. I'd be all for an upgrade at the utility infield spot over Joaquin Arias if they could find one but that's not a priority. So, as far as outfield targets, I'm not sure who's going to be out there and available. I do like Cameron Maybin from Atlanta, or a couple of guys they just faced with Seattle in Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo. The ladder, Trumbo, is really intriguing actually, because if the Mariners continue to tank, they;re likely going to re-deal him before the deadline and he's just the type of Pat Burrell-esque type of bat they could use, only Trumbo is heaps and bounds better than Burrell, younger and more versatile. He could step into right field and take over for Justin Maxwell while Pence eases back and would allow Boch the ability to actually give guys like Pence, Belt and Aoki nights off and still having a solidified offense.
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Monday, June 08, 2015

Giants select RHP Phil Bickford at 18

Well, as the Giants pick at 18 in the MLB's annual June Amateur Draft approached, one huge name stayed available that I was hoping would end up falling to the Giants, but alas, Brady Aiken was taken one selection before the Giants pick at 18. Instead, the Giants went with another young arm, and one that many had going in the top-15 in Southern Nevada's right-hander, Phil Bickford.

SF takes RHP Phil Bickford 18th
I don't know a whole lot about Bickford other than what I've read and watched in recent draft coverage and player previews. Bickford has bounced between the pen and rotation in his early baseball life, but the Giants' will most likely develop him as a starter and go from there. He's not as polished as Tyler Beede (the Giants top pick a year ago), but appears to have explosive stuff and a solid frame at 6'5" and 210 pounds. He's already been a top-10 pick, by the Blue Jays in 2013, but chose not to sign and instead attend CSU Fullerton. From the sound and looks of his stuff, a mid-90's explosive fastball and a hard-biting hook, it would appear he could be destined to possibly close at some point down the line in the Majors, although the Giants may want to start him out as a starter just in case. The thing is, I don't know if he has enough plus pitches to fool big league hitters more than one-time through, so again, all signs point towards possible future closer. Once I checked in the ticker though at pick 12 and didn't see Aiken selected yet, I was starting to get giddy. I know he has some health concerns but that guy could be one of the best lefties in the game in 3-4 years if he stays right. Here's a cool video about the newest Giants' first-round pick, talking about pitching and showing some off his stuff!

Take Chris Shaw w/31st pick
With the 31st pick in the round one and the Giants 2nd pick in the round, they went from a pitcher with power stuff to a third basemen with big time power with the bat, and I liked this selection because the Giants took a chance on a guy with raw power. BC OF Chris Shaw is a guy who's got plus power and the ability to play either corner outfield spot or first base, depending on team needs (although lack of range makes him best suited for first). He's shown the ability to hit and hit for power with the wood bat already in the Cape Cod League. From the looks and sounds of things, he reminds me a lot of Brandon Belt in a way. Big time power, and the ability to get hot and hit for average, but he's still got to get a handle on the strike zone, I'll tell you one thing though, he sure does have a pretty left-handed stroke and it's easy to see why the Giants liked him. Here's a video of him taking BP then going yard in-game the very same night... Just take a look at that swing!
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Duffy/Aoki outplaying Sandoval/Morse

Remember when everybody was worried about how the Giants would replace the offensive production they got from The Panda and Michael Morse when both departed as free agents over the winter? Well, a third of the way through the first year post-Sandoval, and without Morse's presence from 2014, the incumbents have outperformed their predecessors.

First off we'll take a look out in left field, where Nori Aoki took over for Michael Morse and allowed Bruce Bochy the flexibility to drop Angel Pagan (who, let's face it, isn't the world's best leadoff hitter) down in the order and it's worked out for both. Although Pagan's power has yet to show up, he's been at or above .300 for most all the season and has adapted well in his move down the order. I'd like to see a little more pop and a few more free passes but I do like the average. Also, Nori Aoki has taken the leadoff spot by the reigns and hasn't looked back. Although he's had a few small down periods, he's been pretty solid throughout, sporting a solid .314/.385/.401 slash with 12 swipes and 24 runs scored. He's been a rock at the top of the lineup and sure-handed (and footed) in left field as well, so much so that I mentioned here in our last post that the Giants seriously ought to approach him about a possible extension for 2016. It's nice when your leadoff guy has a OBP north of .350 (no offense Angel)... Oh by the way, if you were wondering how 'ol Michael Morse was doing in his new digs over in South Beach, you'll feel even better as the big 1B/OF'er is slashing a petty .211/.268/.289 with just 2 long balls and 10 RBI in 50 games. So far, major win for Aoki and the Giants in this one.

Now onto the hot corner where nobody expected that Casey McGehee, who played a season in Japan because he had very little Major League interest just two seasons ago in 2013, would be able to replace postseason hero and long-time Giants' fan favorite, Pablo Sandoval. Well, McGehee didn't, but in stepped Matt Duffy, who has indeed outperformed the former Giants' third basemen through the first 1/3 of 2015, and he's done so with 3/4 the playing time. While Pablo Sandoval carries a pedestrian .239./.306/.352 line with 5 homers and 17 RBI in 198 plate appearances (playing in a hitters haven and a top lineup mind you), young Duffy has put up a respectable rookie slasher of .277/.318/.404 coupled with 4 HR and 23 batted in less than 150 plate appearances. Not only is he outhitting Sandoval, he's driven in more runs, gotten on base at a higher clip and probably would be out-homering the Panda as well with another couple dozen at-bats. Again, I'd say advantage Matt Duffy, and by a long-shot thus far. When you throw in the fact that Pablo's raking in roughly $19 million this year while Duffy's under team control till 2020, just puts icing on the cake.

EXTRAS: Losing Streak Snapped: The Giants finally snapped that 5-game skid, as getting out East and playing in front of literally handful of Phillies fans may have allowed them to loosen up a bit. Tim Lincecum was decent, although he made a couple of mistakes and they each accounted in long balls, which accounted for 3 of the 4 runs charged to the Giants' right-hander, yet he still escapes with a 6-3 record and a decent 3.29 ERA. I'd really like to see him get that WHIP down around 1.20 rather than in the 1.3's but so long as he keeps the ERA sub-4 that's all that really matters... As far as the bats, Matt Duffy and Justin Maxwell each had big flies and multi-hit games while Buster Posey hit number 9. The Giants just recalled Casey McGehee with Duffy sliding a bit the past week, but he immediately showed he's nowhere near ready to reliquish third base to McGehee. I like having Casey up there as a bat of the bench though with the ability to play both 2nd and 1st as well as 3rd, in a pinch, but eventually he's going to have to start hitting... Also, with Hunter Pence suffering from tendinitis in his left wrist and Nori Aoki battling the flu, Gregor Blanco and Maxwell could see themselves back in there for Saturday's game and possibly even Sunday's finale, although if I were to bet, I'd assume Pence will do his best to work himself into one of those games, whether it's pinch-hitting or starting in right, I think Boch wants to give him an at-bat back in Philly.
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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Belt's success, Pence's return difference makers

For the first month or so of the season, the Giants had some roller coaster moments. They had a few upswings, then a few downswings with some injuries, but as we inch towards the end of May, they've really have seemed to have gotten things on track.

Duffy Makin' Pablo Loss Easier
First off all, the big news over the last week or so has been the reassignment of new third basemen Casey McGehee to Triple-A Sacramento, a role in which he didn't have to accept and could have collected his paycheck regardless. Instead he chose to continue to be a part of this organization and go work on his game over in Sacramento where he's just a 90 minute drive from AT&T Park should the Giants need him at any given moment. That move officially opened the door for Matt Duffy to become the team's full-time third basemen and the Giants couldn't have asked for better results out of their 23 year-old infielder thus far. He himself has been a big part of this team's May resurgence, as the kid has hit .343 with 2 jacks and 15 RBI since sort of taking over at third earlier this month and it's no wonder the offense has picked up since the move. Casey, while great in the clubhouse, just simply wasn't getting it done on the diamond and his rally-killing double-plays ended up really being his downfall. For a team that doesn't hit a ton of big three-run home runs, they can't give up extra outs with double plays and McGehee had become a DP machine. So, if you couldn't tell, I'm a huge supporter of the move. Give Duffy a couple of months to see if he can take this position down the stretch or figure out if they'll need to go out and get someone else. So far though, he not only looks up to the challenge, but heaps and bounds better than his predecessor.

Now, I know the insertion of Duffy into the lineup has been key, but that didn't become official until last week, and before that move the whole lineup had been starting to pick it up. Pence, coming back and coming back strong and ready to go was a huge, huge shot in the arm, and the fact that Brandon Belt may have finally figured out how to hit some home runs without changing his approach and keeping his average respectable has sort of been the difference. Posey's been healthy and in the zone and Brandon Crawford's continued growth at the plate has also helped things. Another guy I wanted to mention and a guy who I think has been overlooked quite a bit during this huge turnaround of late and that's the guy that gets it all started, leadoff man Nori Aoki. Sabean seems to strikeout consistently with multi-year deals for free agent positional guys, but it seems like all his one-year deals tend to work out OK. Aoki is the latest case as he's been one of the more effective leadoff men in baseball, slashing .326/.357/.439 with 11 swipes and 21 runs scored. Now that we're at the quarter point of the season, you can multiply that production by 4 and your looking at a 44-steal, 84-run pace for Aoki right now with that +.300 average. Needless to say, he's pretty much locked the leadoff spot down and unless he tanks for a month while Pagan skyrockets, he's staying right where he is.

Extras: With the open spot left by McGehee, the Giants decided to give right handed reliever Hunter Strickland another look-see at the big league level. So far up here, it's been a case of the "Jekyll and Hydes" for Strickland but he's hoping this time around with postseason experience under his belt, things will go differently... Larry Baer said on KNBR Wednesday that the Giants are indeed expecting Cain to produce for them this season and although there has been no official timetable, sometime in July is the the Giants' Boss' best guess. That's some good news I guess. I'm still not really counting on much out of Cainer and with the way the staff is throwing right now, and Peavy hopefully on his way back, they don't necessarily need him at the moment. So unless Cain is 110% and ready to rock like he was back in 2010-12, then OK, but if not, let the guys they have take care of things and if need be, use the resources saved this winter to go out and land a Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto. Just cause things are fine now on the pitching front doesn't mean the Giants should be settling. Lincecum could always go into a funk again at anytime, Huddy could eventually start to look his age (as he has for much of 2015 anyway) and Ryan Vogelsong is about as unpredictable as they come...

Also, as you've noticed, Bruce Bochy's A-lineup has indeed changed with Hunter Pence settling in, but not quite in the way most had expected. Angel Pagan has been moved into the 7th spot for the time being, with Hunter Pence sliding into the 3-spot, Brandon Belt 5th behind Posey, Crawford 6th and new third basemen Matt Duffy hitting 8th. Things could change but right now that seems to be a pretty solid set-up, especially with the way each guy is currently swinging, I could see Duffy and Pagan at some point swapping if Duffy continues to rake up RBI's, then if Aoki ever hits a cold streak or needs a day off, Boch can swap Pagan into the leadoff spot and Blanco/Maxwell into the 8th spot.
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