Giants

Dereck Rodriguez throws gem but Giants blow late lead in loss to Astros

Dereck Rodriguez throws gem but Giants blow late lead in loss to Astros

SAN FRANCISCO — For two hours, it looked like the Giants were headed for a big win in their return home and Dereck Rodriguez had another signature moment for his Rookie of the Year case. That all changed in the ninth inning. 

Will Smith walked a pair and then gave up a three-run homer to Marwin Gonzalez with two outs in the ninth.  The Giants lost 3-1 to the Astros, who came here without their three best hitters and looked lifeless much of the night. The blown save was Smith's first since he became the closer. 

This one stung. Rodriguez threw seven shutout innings, edging Charlie Morton, one of the best in the American League. It didn't ultimately matter. Here's what you need to know... 

--- Rodriguez has allowed just four runs in four starts since the All-Star break. He gave up three hits, walked none, and struck out seven. His ERA is down to 2.34. 

--- Morton was dominant, allowing just three hits in seven innings, but Brandon Crawford got to him in the sixth. Crawford jumped on a 2-2 curveball that was down and in, pulling it into the arcade to give Rodriguez his lead. 

--- As so often happens, the Giants didn’t have a hit through three innings. It’s hard to really blame them this time. Morton was playing wiffle ball out there at times. Evan Longoria’s broken-bat bloop to right with two outs in the fourth was the first hit of the night. 

--- Steven Duggar went into Triples Alley to rob Jake Marisnick of extra bases and end the fifth inning. The play had a catch probability of 37 percent, making it the fourth-toughest catch of the season for a Giants outfielder. In 21 games, Duggar has four of the top 10 for Giants outfielders. He has made two catches with a probability of under 40 percent in the past three games. 

Sources: Madison Bumgarner, Dodgers have mutual interest in free agency

Sources: Madison Bumgarner, Dodgers have mutual interest in free agency

There wasn't a lot of time to soak in the sunny weather, but the Giants enjoyed their stay in San Diego. They made a creative trade that impressed rival clubs, added a pitcher they believe can break through, announced an innovative approach to a coaching staff, and by all accounts embraced the collaborative spirit that Farhan Zaidi wants in the front office and new manager Gabe Kapler is preaching to his staff.

But they also left staring at a potential nightmare scenario.

There is mutual interest between Madison Bumgarner and the Dodgers, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area this week, and the Dodgers met with Bumgarner's representatives at the MLB Winter Meetings. It's unclear if the Dodgers will satisfy the Giants ace's salary desires, but Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu are the top options left on the pitching market after a shockingly active week in San Diego, and LA would like to add to its rotation.

The Dodgers struck out on Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon on back-to-back days, and quickly pivoted to Bumgarner, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported. While the Dodgers have seen Bumgarner's numbers dip in recent years, they still view him as a durable starter, someone who is young enough to be a contributor for years to come and can give them an innings-eater alongside Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. And yes, they're well aware of what a blow such a move would be to the fan base of their main rivals.

Giants officials downplayed those concerns this week, repeatedly noting that they will build back up the right way and not be swayed by emotion. There was some skepticism about the Dodgers' true intentions, but sources say the interest is real, and that could put the Giants in a tough spot.

They met with Bumgarner's representation on Tuesday, and Zaidi said the next day that he remained engaged in conversations with the franchise's longtime ace. The price has gone higher than expected, and that's ultimately one of the main reasons Bumgarner might not end up with the Dodgers. But he also said repeatedly late in the year that his main priority as a free agent was finding a spot where he could win, and not many teams can offer a better shot at that than the one in LA.

[RELATED: Giants announce Oracle Park changes with new dimensions]

The Dodgers have limited their free-agent spending during their run to seven consecutive NL West titles. On the other side, the Giants have not yet spent more than $9 million on a free agent since Zaidi took over as president of baseball operations. Bumgarner's camp, per sources, wants to top the $100 million mark, making up for a below-market deal he signed as a 22-year-old.

Bumgarner has drawn interest from plenty of others this week, with the Angels mentioned as one potential home and the Twins known to be a strong suitor. It's unclear when he'll make a decision, but he certainly finds himself in a nice spot. The free-agent market has exploded, and he can count two longtime rivals among the teams still in the bidding for his services.

Giants announce changes to Oracle Park, move bullpens to outfield

Giants announce changes to Oracle Park, move bullpens to outfield

On the first day of the Winter Meetings, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi joked that Brandon Belt might often be checking his phone these days for updates on exactly how much the Giants would be chopping out of Triples Alley. On Thursday the Giants finally made their new dimensions official, with changes that aren't all that drastic and still will keep Oracle Park as a pitchers' park with a deep alley in right-center.

It still will be difficult for left-handed hitters to yank the ball out in Triples Alley, but the Giants did change enough that offense should get a slight boost. 

With the bullpens moving from foul territory to the outfield, Triples Alley will be cut from 421 feet to 415. The wall will be five feet closer in left-center and eight feet closer in straightaway center. The bullpens will be situated in center field on either side of the garden that already exists out there. 

"Obviously it's something that started off really as a safety issue with some of what we've seen over the last couple of years, but there's going to be a fun baseball element," Zaidi said earlier this week. "We've done a lot of studies on how we think it's going to impact things but until you actually start playing games and the ball starts flying, you're never quite sure how it's going to go. It'll be a fun and exciting time."

It'll also be a much different look for relievers and fans who sit out in the bleachers. The Giants announced that several bleacher seats will directly overlook the bullpens and they will have two new standing-room terraces out there for fans. The garden in center field will also provide a direct view into the Giants' bullpen. 

[RELATED: Giants announce eight additions to coaching staff]

For the players, the bullpens will have padded chain link openings in the wall so they can watch the game. The centerfield wall will also be one foot shorter, going from eight to seven feet, which could aid a hitter or two every year but may also make it easier for the centerfielder to rob an opposing batter. 

The Giants expect a touch more offense from the new look, but as they ran studies in recent months, they discovered that the weather was actually the main factor in knocking down potential home runs. The heavy air will still be there at night, protecting pitchers and frustrating hitters. 

That'll be good news for Giants relievers. The press release continued one more bit of important news for that group. Both bullpens will have their own bathroom for players.