Giants

Can Giants spoil Dodgers, Rockies' party? Sizing up NL West competition

Can Giants spoil Dodgers, Rockies' party? Sizing up NL West competition

SAN FRANCISCO — The first goal always is to win the division. Even for the champion Giants clubs of the past decade, the first benchmark they always talked about was taking the NL West and getting into the tournament.

No matter how dire it might look, the Giants again will go into this season with that goal. They believe they can surprise people, and they have one big thing going for them: Compared to the rest of the NL, the West simply isn’t very deep.

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The Dodgers have taken advantage of that, winning six consecutive NL West titles.

Here’s a look at how 2019 shapes up for the teams the Giants will try to beat: 

The Favorite: Dodgers

Newcomers: A.J. Pollock, Russell Martin, Joe Kelly

What they lost: Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Manny Machado, Alex Wood, Brian Dozier, Chase Utley

It was a somewhat disappointing offseason for their fans, many of whom wanted a Bryce Harper-sized splash. But this player development machine will keep churning. They traded Kemp and Puig and plugged in Alex Verdugo, one of the game's top outfield prospects. Clayton Kershaw will miss Opening Day but they still have a pitcher in their rotation, Walker Buehler, who might be the best in the division. They missed on Harper, but there's a very real possibility that Cody Bellinger outpaces him in just about every category. 

The Dodgers are the best team in the division, probably the best in the National League, and if they stay healthy they should be popping bottles in mid-September. 

That's the bad news for Giants fans. The good news? The man who helped build all this is now working at Oracle Park. 

The Contender: Rockies

Newcomers: Daniel Murphy

What they lost: DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottovino, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez.

They've made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time and the band is back together. You could argue that they should have gone all-in given their situation, but that's never been their style. Instead, the money was spent on Arenado, the league's best player and exactly the type you want leading your franchise long-term. 

There are some key losses here, but Murphy should provide a boost to a lineup that isn't what you'd expect at Coors Field. The real story here is the starting staff, led by Kyle Freeland. You probably haven't heard of most these guys, but it's a very talented group and should have the Rockies in position to make another run for a postseason spot. 

Stock Rising: Padres

Newcomers: Manny Machado, Ian Kinsler 

What they lost: Freddy Galvis, Christian Villanueva 

For years, talent evaluators have talked about the potential of the 2020 Padres. By making the biggest move of any NL West team -- the $300 million Machado deal -- the Padres potentially bumped that timeline up a year. 

The real intrigue here, though, isn't with Machado. 

The Padres have the best farm system in baseball, and Fernando Tatis Jr. could give them another infield superstar as early as this season. Maybe a Franmil Reyes or Manny Margot or Francisco Mejia breaks through and becomes an All-Star? 

They have plenty of pitching on the way, led by Chris Paddack, but it might not arrive in time to allow the Padres to compete this year. They always find a way to put a good bullpen together at Petco Park, but this is a roster that's at least a couple of starting pitchers short. 

They're probably the team in the division that could have used a cheap duo like Holland and Pomeranz, but they're relying on youth, which means they could either win 20 more games than they did a year ago and take the leap as the Braves did last year, or we could continue to look towards 2020. 

Stock Falling: Diamondbacks 

The newcomers: Greg Holland, Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Wilmer Flores, Adam Jones

What they lost: Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock, Daniel Descalso, Clay Buchholz

They traded Goldschmidt, the face of the franchise, because they thought they couldn’t reach an extension. They lost Corbin, a Cy Young candidate, and Pollock, their second-best player when healthy, to free agency. That’s nearly 13 Wins Above Replacement lost from a team that went 86-76 last year, and a couple other remaining standouts could be sent off before the deadline.

Throw in a couple other vets they’ve lost and there’s a chance they drop to the bottom of the division. There’s still pitching depth, but it’s hard to see how they’re going to have a competitive lineup.

Giants lose on Cole Tucker's first career homer, PNC Park lightning policy

Giants lose on Cole Tucker's first career homer, PNC Park lightning policy

PITTSBURGH -- The Giants have found all sorts of different ways to lose games over the past two-plus years, especially on the road. But this was a new one. 

Derek Holland gave up a two-run shot moments before the tarps came out for good. It didn't seriously rain for about 25 more minutes, but PNC Park has a rule that the tarps come out if lightning strikes within four miles of the field. 

The Giants didn't immediately get a chance to counter at the plate, and when the rain started pouring, they could do nothing but wait before the game was called after three hours and eight minutes. They lost 3-1 in five innings

"If it wasn't for bad luck right now," manager Bruce Bochy said, "We wouldn't have any. That's how things are going."

Holland had thrown well early and was in his last inning, with the game tied at one. With a runner on and two outs, rookie Cole Tucker got a fastball that wasn't as far in as Holland wanted and blasted it into the shrubbery in center field. The homer was the first hit of Tucker's career and came in his first start. As Tucker took a dramatic curtain call, Holland struck out the next batter. He thought the game would continue, but the Giants never got another crack at Jameson Taillon. 

"That sucked," Holland said of the final sequence. "It's very upsetting. I felt like I pitched a pretty good game (and) that's the way it's going to finish.

The Giants lost for the fourth time in five games on this trip, dropping six games under .500. It's not like they should have been overmatched, either. The Pirates called up two rookies after a collision in the outfield Friday night and started both former Giants prospect Bryan Reynolds and Tucker, a shortstop who certainly enjoyed his debut.

Holland didn't take exception to that, saying he was focused on getting the final out of the fifth. 

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"I don't have anything against the curtain call," he said. "The kid hit a homer in his first game, so congrats. The kid is living in the moment. It's his Major League debut and he hit a homer."

MLB rumors: Giants willing to talk about trading veteran relievers now

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AP

MLB rumors: Giants willing to talk about trading veteran relievers now

PITTSBURGH -- After a busy start to the season, Farhan Zaidi has gone nearly two weeks without making a move. The Giants are not currently considering adding any of their Triple-A bats to a struggling lineup, but there still is stuff percolating behind the scenes. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Saturday that the Giants are willing to talk about some of their veteran relievers right now, which would be a continuation of a spring where the Giants tried to deal some of their bullpen depth but ultimately held everyone through Opening Day. 

Before that first game, Zaidi explained why a reliever-for-hitter trade never materialized. 

"When we talked about this over the course of the offseason it was a really deep reliever market in free agency this offseason, and we like our relievers, so they weren't just kind of fodder for us to trade them and acquire other pieces," Zaidi said. "A deal like that certainly made sense on paper, but we didn't line up on anything that we thought made sense for us."

It would continue to make sense for the Giants to seek those kinds of deals. They were right about their bullpen depth and talent, and through 21 games the group has a 2.33 ERA, more than a run lower than any other bullpen in the National League. The .605 OPS allowed is 57 points lower than the next best bullpen. 

It would be hard to get much for some of the newcomers, but if Zaidi could find the right deal for a Sam Dyson, for example, Trevor Gott and Nick Vincent could fill some of those innings, along with a resurgent Mark Melancon, who hasn't allowed a run. The Giants could then bring up a Ray Black or Tyler Beede to fill out the bullpen.

[RELATED: Reynolds' call-up a reminder Giants took too long to change]

The left side is where the Giants really have intriguing pieces to offer, and they got calls on both Will Smith and Tony Watson in the offseason. Either one could help any contender, and there is some left-handed depth with Travis Bergen at the big league level and Andrew Suarez, Pat Venditte and Ty Blach in Triple-A. 

There are plenty of teams out there -- hello, Nationals and Braves! -- who could use the bullpen help right now, and Zaidi has shown he's not afraid to pull the trigger on an early deal, trading for two outfielders in the season's first two weeks. If someone out there is willing to give up a nice package for a Giants reliever, you can bet Zaidi will take that call seriously.