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The Pace for 107, or, Out, Damn Spot! Giants Week in Review, Week 2

Weekly record: 3-4

Total record: 8-5

Division standing: 4th, 1.5 GB (Los Angeles)

Offensive Player of the Week: Joc Pederson (7-24, 2 HR, 3 K)

Defensive Player of the Week: Carlos Rodón (2 GS, 12 IP, 1 ER, 19 K)

You know you're following a good team when moderate consternation is heard following a 3-4 week in April, let alone one played entirely on the road. But this is where the 2022 Giants are right now, especially in a crowded NL West. Rodón sparkled while the rest of the rotation faltered, a few decent offensive performances couldn't salvage a dreary trip to New York, and the growing backlash against San Francisco's quiet offseason raises the bar for the Giants' 2022 plans. All this and more in Giants Week in Review.

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For all the best laid plans of Rob Manfred and the greater baseball machine, Mother Nature decided to help out this week's review by neatly splitting one week's worth of games into two halves, as a four-game set against the Mets was squeezed into three days due to a rainout. So Giants fans got to watch two very distinct sets of games that illuminated vastly different truths about this team.

The start of the week featured a road series against the Cleveland Guardians, a team that everybody expected to be the hottest offensive force in baseball...in 2024. But this Cleveland team featured the following entering the series:

1. José Ramírez, who hit 3 home runs in 6 games for a 1.576 OPS

2. Steven Kwan, who had a .625 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and had swung and missed twice all season

3. Steven Miller, because another guy with a 1.593 OPS is definitely fair

4. A team wRC+ of 161, or in other words, nine position players collectively hitting like Juan Soto

Anyways, the Giants let them score all of four runs in the series, because the only thing stronger than a collection of baseball's best talents is the Giants Giants-ing their way to a better record than you. Sorry, Cleveland.

But despite scoring 16 runs to the Guardians' 4, the offense was mostly a steady background hum that played while the pitching staff did their thing. The Giants never scored more than two runs in an inning, which both speaks to their high floor as an offensive unit and makes it difficult to single out any one big offensive breakthrough (barring one, which we'll get to later).

No, the star of this show was Giants co-ace Carlos Rodón, who was absolutely the rock of the pitching staff this week. As a former White Sox player (White Sock?), Rodón had spent plenty of time terrorizing Cleveland while in the AL. He reprised his role in a seven inning, nine strikeout performance that left MLB's hottest offense flummoxed. A sacrifice fly was all the offense Cleveland could muster against "Hard Karl."

Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani followed up Rodón's performance with commendable outings of their own, each stifling the Guardians enough to put the bullpen in pole position. The relief corps was once again fantastic, stringing together 10.1 innings of 1-run ball. They were by no means perfect, with Beede giving up some hard hits in his two-inning stint and Jarlín García walking the bases loaded in his 1/3 of an inning, but at this point, we're picking nits. The reliever-heavy half of the 28-man roster is arguably the team's biggest strength thus far in the early season, and the bullpen upheld that argument in the Cleveland series.

But while the pitching, as a rule, was the Giants' strength in Cleveland, one man proved an exception; Thairo Estrada, San Francisco's new infield wunderkind. In the Giants' 8-run explosion to end the series, Estrada was directly involved in the first six runs: a 2-run home run, a 2-run fielder's choice that saw Estrada use his speed to force a throwing error, an RBI double, and a subsequent run scored on a semi-infield hit. While Crawford, Pederson, and Belt homered in the series also (with Wilmer Flores and Steven Duggar also popping a pair of doubles), it was Estrada who came through with a big day to lift a still-not-quite-dominant offense in Cleveland.

After sweeping a red-hot Cleveland Guardians team with surprisingly little trouble, the Giants found their first big test of adversity this year after an injurious performance against the also red-hot New York Mets. This series was... frustrating. Let's dive in.

In the first half of the opening night doubleheader, Alex Cobb faced off against Tyler MeGill, preserving the rotation order for both teams. Things started off well enough, with the Giants tallying four runs in the first two innings against Megill, including a Joc Pederson home run that strengthened his torrid start to the season. Despite Estrada's earlier offensive outbreak and general effectiveness, it was Pederson this week with the most consistent production in the toughest of circumstances, which gives him the OPotW nod. This kept the Giants' offense cranking, and Cobb kept the damage limited to a few stray singles.

But in the fifth inning, seemingly everything went wrong. JD Davis reached on a squibber down the third base line that refused to go foul. A double-play ball almost erased the runner, but New York (the officials' HQ, not the Mets) overturned the 'out' call at first base. Then James McCann doubled on a ball just inside the third-base foul line. Then Jeff McNeil doubled on a ball just inside the first-base foul line. Maybe the Giants should invest in more players with 'J' names. It seems to be working for the Mets.

Soon after, Cobb felt a muscle clutch, and was removed from the game with a groin injury. Post-game MRIs showed a low-grade strain, which means he should be back after a stint on the 10-day IL. Poor batted ball luck in New York aside, Cobb has so far been the third most effective starter in the rotation, behind Rodón and Webb. Unfortunately, Cobb's record won't reflect his effectiveness, as Dominic Leone gave up a game-tying double to Francisco Lindor immediately after Cobb left, tying the game at 4-4.

The game remained in a dead heat through regulation, with the front end of the Giants' bullpen locking things down in tandem with the Mets' relievers. Neither side broke through until the 10th, when the extra-inning ghost runners came into play. In the Giants' half, Belt nearly scored after a tense inning, but replay review overturned a "safe" call on a Thairo Estrada infield hit, and the Giants went scoreless in the 10th. With just one run needed to win, the Mets turned to Francisco Lindor (who was quite the pest this series, going 7-20 against San Francisco pitching). Lindor turned on a Jarlín García hanging slider, smacking one into the gap and giving the Mets the opening game win.

The rest of the series didn't go much better. In the much-anticipated Webb/Scherzer nightcap, the Mets got off to a strong start, scoring 3 in the third on the strength of a couple extra base hits. The Giants, meanwhile, took until the sixth to get any hits off of Scherzer, when Darin Ruf smacked an RBI single after a pair of walks. But that was one of two hits the Giants mustered that night, and San Francisco's hitters went down looking rather feckless.

The following day at least provided a bit of relief for Giants fans, as the offense hung five runs on new New York acquisition Chris Bassitt, which was more than enough to take the victory. Perhaps the only person not comforted by the offense was Carlos Rodón himself, who struggled with his command a bit, enough to make his pitch count climb near 100 after five innings. But in an illuminating showing, Rodón fought the difficult Mets hitters by pouring more and more energy into his "stuff," increasing the velocity and spin on his fastball as the game went on in ways that in no way indicated someone still sluggish from a shortened spring training. He seemed, in short, capable of recreating the dominance Scherzer gave the Dodgers in the postseason last year, which should be tremendously heartening to Giants fans.

But alas, Rodón was the only true bright spot, as DeSclafani struggled en route to a decidedly low-quality start (5 ER in 5 IP), and Yastrzemski's solo home run in the eighth inning was the only big hit the Giants could find. Mets starter Carlos Carrasco was vulnerable early on, but after settling in, he retired 18 straight en route to an easy New York victory. To make mattes worse, CF Steven Duggar (who has thus far provided San Francisco with plus defense and top-tier hard-hit rates) left Thursday's game with a pulled oblique. Still missing LaMonte Wade Jr., Tommy La Stella, and Evan Longoria, the Giants will have to make due with a depleted infield and Mauricio Dubon taking the brunt of Duggar's playtime.

* * *

The Giants' shaky series against New York leaves them in an oddly uncomfortable spot, at least from the outside looking in. Despite sitting pretty with an 8-5 record, the Giants find themselves fourth in the division, behind San Diego and Los Angeles clubs expected to start strong, but also somehow trailing the resurgent Colorado Rockies. It's far, far too early to put stock into the standings as a whole, given that we're 13 games into April, and the Giants just spent a bunch of time playing wonky games in cold, wet East Coast ballparks. But the (possibly very temporary) slide from San Francisco highlights the difference between their offseason tactics and those of their contemporaries.

As it stands, the Giants hold a payroll of $150 million, just barely more than the average MLB ballclub. This stands in stark contrast to the approach of several of the Giants' very relevant rivals. The Dodgers, always the team to beat, are paying $233 million for the likes of Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, and Trea Turner. The Mets, who just clapped the Giants, are at $228 million to support Scherzer, Lindor, and a quarter of the 2021 A's. Even the Padres, despite a disappointing end to last year, are holding strong at $178 million. All of these teams have better star talent than the Giants. All of them picked up high-end talent the Giants also could have acquired. And all of those teams currently have stronger records than the Giants.

It's early. A strong start can beget a late-season collapse if a team grows too confident in its strategy as the rest of the league adjusts to it. The Trade Deadline will be a massive factor in how this Giants team evolves, and it's a good bet they'll be better off because of it. But it's hard to imagine that the Giants wouldn't be helped by Seiya Suzuki, who just took home NL Player of the Week over in Chicago. It's harder to imagine that an extra $10 million a year more than the Cubs offered him wouldn't be able to fit comfortably in the Giants' finances.

Here's an optimistic scenario: the Giants hum along with the 4th or 5th best record in the NL until the All-Star Break, at which point they turn up the jets. Outfield and the back of the rotation are a problem, so they call up some hot prospects and make a blockbuster trade at the deadline. All of a sudden, you've got a couple kids that look like they should be Giants for life, and a 1-2-3 rotation punch that's the envy of the league. There's a clear path ahead to World Series contention, lots of money available for a new homegrown core, and the flexibility to find a few more short-term, high AAV vets to slot in between those big contracts.

Here's the current scenario: the Giants added Carlos Rodón and Joc Pederson to a squad that lost Kevin Gausman and Buster Posey. With the amount of position player injuries, it's hard to believe that the Giants will imminently field a much better offense. As a result, playing top-tier teams like the Dodgers and Mets is going to be a lot harder in the short-term. Series wins might turn into series splits, and series splits might turn into series losses.

In the long-term, Farhan Zaidi has earned the trust that he's not a pawn of ownership in his roster-building decisions, and the Giants will be stronger for it. In the short-term, high-end talent has played like high-end talent, and not having more of it has made Giants fans nervous. But this shows us that the Giants, as a franchise, have turned the corner. This time last year, an 8-5 start was the subject of tremendous hoopla. This year, it's concerning. The bar is no longer to tread water in a tough division. It's to become the class of the NL, and for better or worse, the standard that the Giants set as 107-game winners will be the bar to reach until only one team is left standing.



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