The San Francisco Giants went 3-3 against the White Sox and Royals and go in to their first matchup of the season with their archrivals, the Dodgers, with a 4-5 record overall. Yeah, they dropped their opening series of the season at Oracle Park to the Kansas City Royals, but if you looked at the 2023 back in January, this is about where you’d expect them to be.
It’s not just the overall performance that conforms to expectations, either; it’s the individual performances when compared to the evaluations. Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, David Villar, and Joc Pederson are all batters who hit the ball hard and they’re doing that now. LaMonte Wade Jr. shows great command of the strike zone while also being able to hit the ball hard and he’s done exactly that through week one. Sean Manaea picked up some velocity on his fastball, Anthony DeSclafani had a healthy spring, and the improvement in the rotation overall has led to fewer innings for the bullpen, which has made that part of the pitching sharper than last year.
The Giants went into Sunday’s game with the 4th best staff in the NL (6th in MLB) by fWAR and in the three-game series against the Royals, starters Alex Cobb, Sean Manaea, and DeSclafani combined for 19.1 IP 4 ER 2 BB 21 K. Again, with the starting staff being able to go six effective innings, it keeps the bullpen sharp and the games close so that if the lineup is trailing late in the game, they have a chance to jump ahead — just as Michael Conforto managed to do in Sunday’s game.
So, at least through the first week you can see how the team’s “on paper” plans would work out over the course of the long season. Did they nail every evaluation? That remains to be seen. There are obviously some concerns.
Ross Stripling’s two appearances have been total bummers. A pitcher suddenly struggling with command and control is not a surprise. Maybe there’s an underlying health issue, too, but whatever the reason, he hasn’t looked sharp and hitters look like they’re having a lot of fun facing him.
Logan Webb’s 12-strikeout game notwithstanding, the new rules limiting shifts look like they’re going to force him to have to make some more adjustments, as he’s looked hittable. The .423 batting average on balls in play certainly has a lot to do with that. Hopefully, pitching at home will compel him to go for more strikeouts, expecting Oracle to do some of the work of preventing the longball. Having said that...
There’s a good chance the balls are juiced right now. That’s a good thing from a lineup standpoint — it means the Giants are taking advantage of a game condition and not just being victimized by it. From a pitching perspective, it still seems like the Giants would be setup to weather that particular condition. The balls were said to have been juiced in 2021 and they were one of the best staffs in the game.
The Giants are clearly missing that one big bat whose mere presence in the lineup takes, like, 5% of the load off of every other hitter. They’re clearly missing some stability behind home plate, especially now that the catching tandem is in flux following Roberto Perez’s injury. These were the two issues heading into Opening Day and we can clearly see isn’t something that will go away soon (though the Gary Sanchez deal could be a partial solution); however, the Wise Fan (that’s you) also looked at the team on paper and said that despite that instability, there would be enough on the roster to make them interesting.
I won’t pretend that dropping a series to the Royals is all that interesting — it suggests the opposite about this roster, in fact — but a lot went right. A lot went according to plan. Does an “around .500” team really excite anybody? Not really, and that record pace might not even continue — heck, they could have easily been 5-4 had Camilo Doval not uncorked a wild pitch. Yes, that’s right: I think Doval’s wild pitch was just slightly more painful in Saturday’s loss than Stripling’s Rossdown. The game was tied and a scoreless appearance from Doval would’ve given the lineup a chance to win it late with a solo shot.
The Giants will never stop looking to add players and there’s always the chance that one of the lottery tickets down in the Always Barren, Never Interesting farm system might actually be a winner, in which case we should have every confidence in the front office’s ability to evaluate major league talent and program the roster to maximize success. It’s easily the team’s greatest strength.