Buster Posey ends longest homer drought of career, powers Giants to win

Buster Posey ends longest homer drought of career, powers Giants to win

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't the lack of power that was so concerning to some longtime Giants employees, or that Buster Posey was swinging at an unusual number of pitches outside of the zone and hitting just about everything to the right side when he did make contact. 

What was so jarring for some was the fact that Posey's smile seemed to be missing, which certainly was connected to the numbers on the scoreboard. 

The game isn't very fun when you're batting .210 with no homers and two RBI, even if you're a face of the franchise, a former MVP who has accomplished just about everything you could ever want. It seemed to be weighing heavily on Posey. 

That's what made the fifth inning so important on Sunday. Sure, the blast to dead center was nice, and needed for both Posey and the lineup. It provided all the offense in a 3-2 win over the Pirates. But as coaches and teammates watched Posey peel his equipment off and drop his bat off in the rack, they surely took just as much joy out of the smile that he couldn't wipe off his face. 

"It obviously felt good," Posey said. "I've been trying to just stay positive and know that this is a process and come to the field every day with the attitude to keep on going and hopefully things are where my expectations are."

The blast was Posey's first in 237 at-bats, a career-long streak that extended back to last June 19 and included struggles on both sides of serious hip surgery. With two on and one out in the fifth, and the Giants trailing by a pair, Posey got a 93 mph fastball down the middle of the plate from Chris Archer. 

He did what a middle-of-the-order hitter is supposed to do with that pitch, lining it to dead center, where it landed just over the wall 409 feet away. At 107 mph, the ball was Posey's hardest-hit homer in three years. 

"He couldn't have picked a better time to hit his first one. We needed it," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I'm sure, even for Buster, that some weight is off his shoulders. I really thought he took some really good swings today, was really aggressive, with a double and a home run."

Bochy has been firmly in Posey's corner throughout the slowest start of his career. Asked repeatedly about the slump in recent weeks, he stuck with the same answer: "He'll come around." 

"They're trying," Bochy said Sunday. "I know there's a lot of attention on our offense and our struggles, especially early in games. But they have a lot of pride. I know that was huge for him."

[RELATED: Watch Posey end homer drought with three-run dinger]

Posey tried to downplay the significance, saying it just felt good to contribute to a win. But the homer didn't just give the Giants a happy flight to Toronto, it crossed another team off Posey's checklist. He had 58 previous hits against the Pirates but none that cleared the fence. He now has a homer against every other National League team. 

Will Smith breaks Giants record, could be key to MLB trade deadline

Will Smith breaks Giants record, could be key to MLB trade deadline

It might have felt like Mac Williamson stole the strikeout spotlight with his Platinum Sombrero Thursday in the Giants' 5-4 loss to the Braves in 13 innings, but really, Will Smith was the King of Ks in a far better way.

Smith set a Giants record with his strikeout of Braves utility man Charlie Culberson in the ninth inning. 

The record came to an end with two straight groundouts to complete the top of the ninth. 

Smith has been one of the Giants' best trade acquisitions in recent years. The Giants received the left-handed reliever from the Brewers in August 2016 for former top prospects Phil Bickford and Andrew Susac. Since arriving in San Francisco, Smith has a 2.67 ERA in exactly 100 appearances out of the bullpen. 

The other side of the trade has seen Bickford, a right-handed pitcher the Giants selected with the No. 18 pick in 2015 MLB Draft, fall off the map. Since the trade, Bickford has been suspended for multiple failed drug tests, converted to a reliever, and mysteriously hasn't pitched once this season.

Susac was designated for assignment by the Brewers and traded from the Orioles to the Royals. The catcher is currently hitting .243 in Triple-A. 

But now, Smith has pitched his way into one of the Giants' most valuable trade assets before the July 31 trade deadline. San Francisco (21-28) is in the cellar of the NL West and are sure to be sellers this summer. While Madison Bumgarner rumors create the most headlines, Smith could be just as valuable to a contender. 

[RELATED: What Giants can learn from Braves' young, rebuilt roster]

Smith becomes a free agent after this offseason. He is 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. Despite the Giants' record, Smith's 12 saves are tied for the fifth-most in baseball. 

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi should be selling Smith with a high price tag right now. The Giants just saw firsthand how to pull off a great rebuild like the Braves. Adding high-upside prospects via trades will be a big step in the right direction.

What Giants can learn from Braves' rebuild of young, exciting talent

What Giants can learn from Braves' rebuild of young, exciting talent

SAN FRANCISCO -- You don't generally hear players talk too much about other teams, but as they lost three of four to the Braves this week, the Giants threw plenty of admiration Atlanta's way. 

Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija noted how deep their lineup is. Mac Williamson joked about getting hitting tips from rookie Austin Riley. Bruce Bochy, before the finale, complimented Atlanta's lineup and pipeline of prospects, which isn't anywhere near done getting stars to the big leagues. 

"They're good," Bochy said. "They're a team that's going to be up there for years battling for the postseason."

That's where the Giants were for most of this decade. That's where they hope to be sooner than later. So as the Braves leave town, let's take a look at this emerging power, and see how Farhan Zaidi and Co. might be able to follow some of Atlanta's path back to contention. 

Here's how the Braves were built:

First-round picks: Austin Riley, Mike Soroka

These two, taken in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, might have been the most impressive players on the field this week. Riley hit three homers in four games and had the game-winning hit in extra innings Thursday. Soroka took a perfect game into the sixth on Monday. 

Riley, a 22-year-old who plays third base and left field, may be the player the Giants can most closely duplicate over the next year. They already have a big right-handed masher in their farm system, although Joey Bart, also 22, is a catcher. A lot of Bart's power is to the opposite field, but Riley feasted on the left-center gap at Oracle Park, and the Giants are hopeful Bart can eventually give them that kind of threat. 

Heliot Ramos is only 19 and has shown power in A-ball, and the 2017 first-rounder could make it up at a younger age than Riley, who wasn't a top 50 prospect until he had been in the minors for four years. 

The Giants don't have anything close to Soroka, a 21-year-old who already looks like a Cy Young contender, or fellow first-rounders Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, who are in Baseball America's top 40. After years of developing their own Sorokas, their pitching well has gone dry, but they do have the 10th pick this year and will have another high selection next June. 

Trades: Max Fried, Dansby Swanson, Kevin Gausman, Touki Toussaint, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb 

This is where the Giants can really make some moves this summer. A lot of the young depth came over as the Braves tore it down, as the Giants likely will do this July. Swanson joined the organization in the Shelby Miller trade and Toussaint was thrown in so the Diamondbacks could dump Bronson Arroyo's salary in another deal. 

Fried, a lefty who is 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA, was part of the Justin Upton trade. Newcomb, a lefty who had 30 strong starts last year but now is in the bullpen, was the prize in the Andrelton Simmons deal. 

Jackson, the current closer, is the type of hard-throwing flyer the Giants should stockpile as they open up bullpen spots with trades. They already have hit on a similar type with Trevor Gott. 

With Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, Tony Watson and others, the Giants have enough to be serious players in July. It goes without saying that they need to strike gold with the young talent they might get back. 

International market: Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Julio Teheran

These two hurt, because even the previous front office should have been all over players like this. 

Acuña Jr. is from Venezuela, a country that has supplied large chunks of the Giants' roster over the past decade. Albies is from Curacao and has gotten to know Giants bench coach and Curacao native Hensley Meulens.

Yes, the Braves got in trouble for their international dealings, but these two are stars and their current top prospect, outfielder Christian Pache, was also an international signee. 

The Giants seriously, seriously dropped the ball on the international market in recent years -- even trading their biggest acquisition, Lucius Fox --  and only just now are starting to make amends.

Marco Luciano, signed out of the Dominican Republic, is one of their top prospects. The organization has a new facility in the Dominican and Zaidi has talked of being aggressive internationally, but he came to an organization that was far behind others. 

Homegrown veteran: Freddie Freeman 

The first baseman has been around forever, but he's still just 29 and is now enjoying the other side of a rebuild. Who will play that part in San Francisco?

When you adjust for the ballpark, Brandon Belt (124 career OPS+) hasn't been far from Freeman (138) at the plate, but Belt is two years older and has been the subject of trade rumors for years. 

The best bet here is Buster Posey. He likely will move off catcher in the next year or two with Bart's emergence, but he's a potential Giant For Life, and a move to first may allow him to find some of his old production and still be a valued part of the lineup when the next generation settles in. 

Free agents: Josh Donaldson, Nick Markakis 

Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million deal in the offseason and Markakis returned for one year and $6 million. 

They are veterans who can surround all the youth and this is one department where the Giants already are ready for the other side of a rebuild. They print money, even with the attendance drop, and if the Giants can hit on enough draft picks and trades in the next couple of years, they'll have no problem supplementing a young roster with guys like Donaldson and Markakis.

[RELATED: Zaidi's thoughts on WAR, what makes Posey so valuable]

Hell, they had $300 million lying around for Bryce Harper in February. 

The free agent contracts are the easy part. It's hard to build the rest as successfully as the Braves have, but that's what's ahead of the Giants.