The State of the Ship: Two Weeks into the Voyage

Posted: April 19, 2016 by Sports Time Radio in baseball, Minor League Baseball, post season, sports, Sports Time Radio, Uncategorized
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The San Francisco Giants (7-7) have plummeted to third place in the National League West behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (8-5) and the-gasp-Colorado Rockies (8-5), and the alarm has been sounded. Fortunately, I have the means to shut that sucker off, unlike the alarms that go off at 11:30 PM, out in front of the house.
A guy far more famous than I once said, “The race is not just for the swift but those who can endure.” With two weeks of the season already registered in the books, the Giants are somehow not 14-0. Huh. Weird. I was sure they would be, or at least that they were going to go wire-to-wire. Or not.
So here’s the deal: The Giants have dropped another close game, this one in the eleventh to the Arizona Diamondbacks, after coming within one strike of winning in regulation time. After jumping out to a 6-2 start, San Francisco is now at .500. 

Before you push any Panik buttons not named Joe, keep in mind that there are vast numbers of reasons to be optimistic, beginning with the 25-man roster, but I will confine myself to prattling on about seven in particular.

I’ll start with Jeff Samardzija (3 GS, 1-1, 19.1 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) whose poor stats last season have been blown out of proportion. One of the main selling points for The Shark was that in a new venue (AT&T Park) he would thrive.

Unfortunately, his first three starts have not only come on the road, but in three cities where he may well face his toughest challenges: Milwaukee (No decision, 5.1 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 6 K), Colorado (W, 1-0, 2 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 5 K) and Los Angeles (L, 1-1, 3 ER, 6 H, 3 BB, 3 K). 
The guy has not even had the opportunity to start a game in his own home park. Samardzija has not allowed more than three earned runs which is good (3.72 ERA), but his WHIP is at 1.45, due in large part to the eight walks. For Samardzija to be successful, he has to get that WHIP reduced. He has surrendered twenty hits in 19.1 innings, which is fine if he can cut down on the free passes.
I have watched him pitch from my sofa, which affords a reasonably good view, and his pitching impresses me. He keeps the ball low at all times unless he wants it otherwise, and he has excellent movement. One issue last year was the rate at which he served up the home run ball (one per every 7.2 innings).

So far in the early going this season, he has given up two big flies in 19.1 innings (one every 9.5 innings), so there is significant improvement there. Again, the schedule will balance out as the season progresses, and he will get a run of three straight starts at home, and then we will compare notes.

Next there is Johnny Cueto, whose 3-0 win/loss mark, belies the fact that he has given up the same number of earned runs in his three starts (8) as Samardzija, but has been bailed out by the offense of his teammates.

The key element about this charismatic player from the Dominican Republic, is that his entire presence resonates the fact that he loves the game and he loves to be the center of attention. He is a resounding success in terms of blending in with his peers, and I’m pretty sure some of that enthusiasm rubs off on his mates.

Unlike Jake Peavy, whose demonstrative exterior can be quite overwhelming to a rookie player, Cueto does not appear any different on the outside when the bases are loaded, than he does when he is putting them down at record pace. The word unflappable springs to mind.
Speaking of offense, the Giants have one. They are near the top of the heap in terms of home runs and fewest strikeouts. The lads worked Kenta Maeda for three walks on Sunday night after Maeda had given up only one free pass in his first two starts, and they finagled four from Archie Bradley Monday night in their 9-7 loss. That is a veteran team which has to be able to take advantage of every element of the game.
Part of that offensive explosion is Trevor Brown, who was kept on the team after spring training over Andrew Susac as Buster Posey’s backup. The decision has proven to be a sound one over the first two weeks of the season, as the rookie has a double and three home runs (five hits total) in his first thirteen at-bats, for a blisteringly hot line of .385/1.154/1.538. Not too shabby.
Fifth on the list is Giants GM Bobby Evans, whose acquisitions over the winter are not only a huge boon to the team, but prove that management is determined to support the core group of players, who have already brought three world series rings to San Francisco in the last six seasons.
With Brian Sabean still in the front office, Giants fans have every expectation that Evans will continue to monitor any weak spots that crop up (Sergio Romo on the Dl and Santiago Casilla’s two blown saves) so that when the trade deadline arrives, he will be prepared to make a move, should that prove necessary.

This area has always been one of strength for Giants management.

Then there is Bruce Bochy, the best manager in the big leagues, the consummate conductor of the orchestra that is the bullpen. He must juggle the seven or eight personalities in his ‘pen, so as to keep all of them sharp-and happy-at the same time. 
Oh, and Bochy has to keep his position players loose at the same time.

It is a performance that many have managed to botch in the past. When times are tough, it is easy to get frustrated and start pointing fingers. Depending on which finger is being pointed, and to whom it is being directed, the team will have to persevere and move on. 

That’s the part of the quote above about “those who can endure.”

I left Hunter Pence for last in my discussion of reasons to be optimistic, because I think he may well be the most important of all. Certainly his actions from 2012, when he assumed the identity of the Very Reverend Preacher Pence, were crucial in helping the Giants to their second championship win recent times. 
Jessica Mendoza, color analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, took a fascinating glimpse at Pence’s reading material during the series finale, which included books on philosophy and books on the greatest thinkers of our time. Mendoza reported that Pence said he read them to be better able to understand the actions of his teammates.

The better he understood what was driving his colleagues, the better Pence said that he would be able to motivate them. To me that is an amazing goal and one that is in short supply in the major leagues.

There is a lot of “me first” when huge egos start throwing their weight around. To find a player whose thoughts are on his teammates as much as on himself, in such a positive way, is one of the most significant reasons to be encouraged for the remainder of the year.

Yes, times are hard, and games have been lost, but it is better to go through the rigors of savage defeat and disappointment early, while the team is still gelling, than later when hard times can create fissures of discontent, out of which the steam of forward progress evaporates.

This particular team, with the likes of a stubborn Madison Bumgarner leading the way, will not lie down and die. Nor will they cry tears of agony for what has come down so far, because there is another game to be played tonight.
In a marathon, a team cannot afford to place too much emphasis on either winning streaks or losing streaks. Would I prefer the the club was in the midst of a hot spell? Yes, but the fact that it is not, simply means that the scales of baseball justice have yet to be balanced.

For those who can endure, the race need not be swift at all times.

Mark

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