Giants

Giants forgoing Yasiel Puig sweepstakes has team focusing on next wave

Giants forgoing Yasiel Puig sweepstakes has team focusing on next wave

A few minutes after word leaked that Yasiel Puig will sign with the Braves, a hitting group took the field at Oracle Park that showed exactly why he wasn't necessary in San Francisco this year. 

Mike Yastrzemski took his swings with Darin Ruf, who has been a camp revelation and is being counted on to fill the role of right-handed masher in the lineup this season. Yastrzemski, though, is the one who really is indicative of why the Giants are keeping it in-house as the season approaches. 

The Giants did something simple with Yastrzemski last year. They gave him a chance. 

Yastrzemski, 107 games and 21 homers later, might now be Farhan Zaidi's best big leaguer, and the hope with the front office is that the 2019 discovery is just the start. 

Yastrzemski is likely to be an everyday player for Gabe Kapler, and the Giants are hopeful that Jaylin Davis, 26, joins him. Mauricio Dubon, 25, looks headed for a meaty role in the outfield, too, and 27-year-old Austin Slater is going to get another look. The staff also likes Joe McCarthy, a 26-year-old who was acquired at the deadline last year and boasts a .376 OBP in the minors. 

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Much of the attention over the last two weeks has been on the younger kids, the Lucianos, Toribios and Canarios of the organization. But the Giants have a slightly older class of hitters, primarily outfielders, who are looking to prove they're part of the future, too, and they don't have a Triple-A season to get them ready. Every at-bat given to a free-agent outfielder is one taken away from Davis or Slater or maybe Dubon. 

Of course, the Giants aren't just here to develop players. They hope to compete this season, and Puig -- for all the headaches he brings -- is a proven right fielder. He is no longer, however, a proven star. Puig's OPS+ last year was a league-average 100 and he has just one three-WAR season since 2014. He was not going to be a game-changer for the Giants, and realistically, there's nobody out there who can change their fate too much now that Buster Posey has opted out. 

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This season is what it is, but the Giants do honestly look headed for a much brighter future. The teenagers are coming fast, and Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop should arrive in the outfield in the next year or two. The hope is that when they do, Yastrzemski has company in the lineup, that a Davis or Dubon or Slater has locked down a permanent role. 

As the Giants proved last year, the only way to find those guys is to give them a shot, give them some "runway" to succeed or fail, as Zaidi has said many times in his two years here. That wasn't going to happen with another veteran joining the group nine days before the opener. 

Annual Bay Bridge Series takes on extra meaning in shortened season

Annual Bay Bridge Series takes on extra meaning in shortened season

Trevor Cahill knows all about the Bay Bridge Series. The right-hander was drafted by the A's in 2006, made it to the big leagues three years later, and spent three seasons in Oakland before getting dealt. In 2018 he returned to the A's for 20 more starts, including a solid one in a win over the Giants. 

This time around, Cahill is on the other side of the rivalry. It won't be the same without fans jawing at their Bay Area counterparts, and Cahill, after his Giants debut Wednesday, recalled how intense some of those matchups used to be. 

"When I came up with the A's the Giants series was a big one," he said. "You could feel that excitement because my rookie year we weren't in a playoff race, so that was the matchup every year. Oakland fans always came out. It was exciting."

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The first three of six matchups will be played at Oracle Park this weekend, with more than 10,000 cutouts in the stands instead of fans. But in an odd way, the games might be more meaningful than ever. 

Because of the shortened season, the Bay Bridge Series makes up 10 percent of each side's schedule, the equivalent of 16 games in a normal year. These matchups will go a long way toward deciding each team's fate, and right now they're headed in different directions. 

The A's enter with the best record in the American League (13-6) and a four-game lead in the AL West. At 8-12, the Giants are last in the NL West after a 3-7 road trip. They need a quick turnaround to keep hope alive of grabbing a spot in the expanded playoffs. 

The Giants are at least set up well from a starting standpoint, with Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb. But they'll face Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and Sean Manaea, getting a close-up look at what is perhaps the biggest difference for the two organizations in the coming years. 

The A's built their lineup around the Matts -- Chapman and Olson -- and as good as those two are, the Giants don't have to squint too much to picture a day when perhaps Marco Luciano, Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop can give them a similar homegrown blend. But the starting staffs are wildly different, with the A's boasting a young and super-talented group.

Montas, acquired in a trade with then-Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi, is 27 and a Cy Young candidate. Luzardo, 22, is one of the game's most exciting prospects. Manaea is off to a brutal start, but the 28-year-old has a track record of big league success already. Left-hander A.J. Puk, another top prospect, will join the group if he can ever stay healthy.

[RELATED: Slater, Solano's injuries expose Giants' offense in road loss]

The Giants have Webb, 23, locked into their long-term rotation, and he's off to a good start, but Gausman will be a free agent at the end of the year and Cueto at the end of 2021. The rest of their mix consists of Cahill, Tyler Anderson, Drew Smyly and Jeff Samardzija, with the latter two currently on the injured list. There's a decent chance none of those four are around next season. 

The Giants have Sean Hjelle, Seth Corry, Tristan Beck and others on the way, and they drafted Kyle Harrison and Nick Swiney in June, with hopes that both are top-end starters. For now, though, they're piecing the rotation together, often a day at a time. 

It's the biggest difference between the two sides right now, but this weekend it might not matter. Webb has thrown well all year and Gausman and Cueto are coming off their best starts. Gabe Kapler will need all three to step up this weekend because the pitching on the other side looks tough, and the Giants can't afford to give up any more ground. 

How Dave Stewart would have pitched to Barry Bonds in his playing days

How Dave Stewart would have pitched to Barry Bonds in his playing days

Dave Stewart faced the Giants 14 times over his 16-year big league career. He never had the chance of pitching against Barry Bonds, not even during Bonds' days with the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

But what if he had? The three-time World Series champion, and 1989 World Series MVP for his efforts dominating the Giants, is known for his iconic stare down from the mound. The former A's star pitcher, and Oakland native, was about as intimidating as they come. When he gives you that same stare down, truthfully, it's still as intimidating today.

No hitter ever has been more intimidating than Bonds when stepping to the plate, though. Stewart certainly would have welcomed a chance to battle with the Home Run King, and he knows it would have been a tall task. 

"Barry, from at-bat to at-bat is a guy that you had to make adjustments on," Stewart told me recently over Zoom. "You couldn’t pitch him the same way every at-bat. Maybe in the first at-bat I’d make him inside conscious, crowd him with fastballs in. Get him to open up a little bit or try to be quick on that inside pitch. And then ultimately get him out away with my offspeed pitch, the forkball, or with the fastball away. The next time up, maybe start him off with something offspeed, drop a breaking ball in first pitch. Then, fastballs away to get him out to then get him on a fastball inside.

"To me, it’s just varying in what you do from at-bat to at-bat, because he’s such a smart hitter."

Stewart never faced Bonds, but he still knew the secret to him. Sure, there are some obvious traits that made Bonds great. Make one mistake and he made you pay. Some coaches (see Showalter, Buck) would rather walk a run in and put Bonds on base than let him hit with the bases loaded. 

What made Bonds so great, as Stewart could see from afar, was that a pitcher could never get him out the same way two times in a row. Beat him with velocity once, you better not try it again. The same goes for if you were able to get him out with a plethora of offspeed pitches one at-bat. 

"What’s crazy about Barry, what made him such a great hitter, is most hitters have the same weakness all the time," Stewart said. "Barry was different from that. You pitch him one way one at-bat, you pitch him another the next at-bat, you pitch him another the last at-bat. You hope by the fourth at-bat, you’ve got enough weapons and you’ve done enough different things, that you keep him guessing.

"The key to getting Barry out is not pitching him the same way for every at-bat, doing something different each at-bat."

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Bonds hit his first home run against the A's in what is now Oracle Park on July 13, 2000. It came off lefty Mark Mulder, a solo shot to center field in the fourth inning of a 4-2 win over Oakland. His last long ball in San Francisco against his Bay Area rival was on June 24, 2006, when he hit a two-run blast off Dan Haren in his second-to-last MLB season. If the NL adopted the DH back then, there's a good chance Bonds could have kept launching balls over the wall for years to come. 

The all-time home run leader was 43 years old when he played his last game. He still was jogging out to left field, nine years after his last Gold Glove award. The NL hadn't yet added the DH, a rule that still feels like a one-year experiment this season. Bonds served as the Giants' DH 39 times over his career, six times in his last season.

If the rule had been put in place during Bonds' playing days, Stewart believes he could have played well into his mid or late 40s.

"Barry could have played, no doubt," Stewart said. "Reggie Jackson played well into his 40s. And was a great DH, by the way. So Barry, I’m sure could have played into his 40s just as easily and still have done a great job as a designated hitter.

"There’s no doubt in my mind about that."

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Don't get it wrong, though. Stewart, who pitched 13 seasons for AL teams, is not a fan of the DH joining that other league.

"I mean, I’m a traditionalist," Stewart said. "I like that the two leagues are separated by one league having the DH and one league having the pitcher hit. I’m a fan of the DH in the American League, because that’s where it started.

"I am not a fan of it in the National League, because now the two leagues, there’s no real separation."

There will be a Giants DH on Friday when they welcome the A's to San Francisco for a three-game series. There won't be a Barry Bonds, though, or a Dave Stewart. Instead, we'll have to settle for Mr. Great Story, aka Mike Yastrzemski, against ace Frankie Montas and rookie phenom Jesús Luzardo.

In any rivalry, however, it's fun to play the hypothetical game. Stewart knows just how he would have battled Bonds in this battle of intimidation, and he knows just how great the challenge would have been.