Giants

Giants takeaways: What we learned from a 4-4 trip through East Coast

Giants takeaways: What we learned from a 4-4 trip through East Coast

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's amazing how 18 innings can change the perception of a whole road trip. 

A 4-4 road trip is not going to end up on any postseason DVD, but hey, it's fine. It's just fine, and given the way the Giants played over the weekend, coming back home that way is something they'll take. 

There were signs of life, and for a lineup that was so, so bad on the road most of last year, hitting 11 homers in eight games was a huge improvement. Even scoring 31 runs in eight games -- in mostly fair ballparks -- is a nice step, given that this team averaged a league-worst 3.5 runs per game on the road last year. 

Yep, the road trip was fine, just fine. Here's a look at some of what we learned ... 

You know ... they're really not buried

Because of the way the Giants started the season, it hasn't at any point seemed that they're contenders. They don't have the look of a contender, either, to be fair. But they return home just three games out in the loss column, and the entire NL West is separated by 3 1/2 games. 

The Dodgers have outscored them by 66 runs in less than a month, but the Giants have the best pitching staff in the division thus far. They'll get a chance to make a dent next week when they host the Dodgers for three games at Oracle Park. 

Red-hot Panda

I mentioned Pablo Sandoval in the recap of the last homestand and Bruce Bochy was asked about him during just about every media session in recent days. But for good reason: Sandoval is slugging .694 and picking up a hit in a third of his at-bats, and you have to wonder if he'll eventually earn more time in the starting lineup.

The Giants will see two lefties to start the homestand but then three consecutive right-handed pitchers. Perhaps we'll see a change in the lineup. 

No Sophomore Slump

Dereck Rodriguez beat Stephen Strasburg and Chris Archer on the trip, continuing a solid start that has backed what he did as a rookie. Rodriguez is 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA and his xFIP (4.08) is actually about half a run lower than it was last year. His strikeout rate is up from 6.77 to 7.07 and his walk rate has dropped from 2.74 to 1.61. 

Launch angle? Exit velocity against? Expected batting average? Dig into any advanced metric you want and you'll find that Rodriguez's numbers are eerily similar to what he did in 2018. Seriously, his expected batting average was .243 last year and it's .244 this year. He is using pretty much the exact same pitch mix and getting the exact same results, and that's what you love to see in Year 2. 

Buster's Back-ish?

This is not yet the Buster Posey of old, but he was certainly far improved on the road trip, slashing .261/.346/.478 and hitting his first homer in 10 months. Posey still doesn't quite have the command of the zone that he had even last year, but he struck out just three times on the trip, a dip from the start of the season when his strikeout rate was at concerning levels. 

There are some more reasons for optimism, too. His hard-hit rate (42.9 percent) is his highest in three years and he's barreling the ball more than at any point in the Statcast era. Maybe he just needed a bit more time after surgery?

What Happened to Crawnik?

A lot of the focus has been on Posey early on, but now that he's showing signs of improvement, you kind of look around and go, "Uhh, what's going on with Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik?" It's a question being asked in the front office and coaches room, too.

Crawford had a brutal second half last year, slowed by injuries, and he has a .515 OPS through 24 appearances this year. He is striking out at a career-high rate, doesn't have a homer, and is hitting the ball on the ground nearly 52 percent of the time. That's not great given how many shifts these guys see. Crawford's average launch angle of 5.3 percent is less than half of what it was the past three seasons. 

Crawford did get off to a slow start last season and then became the hottest hitter in the league for about six weeks, but this is a slump that's lasted quite a while. 

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ramos reflects on recent hot streak]

Panik is interesting because he had such a great spring but has opened with a .186/.266/.271 slash line. Nothing in his profile really jumps off the page as being terribly different, but perhaps that's the problem, given the issues he had last year. The Giants hoped for a bounce back and so far a lot of the peripheral numbers are in the same area. 

Panik has been much improved defensively, and Crawford remains a huge strength out there. But Panik already has lost just about all his starts against lefties, and you may see both guys get some extra time off if this continues. 

Giants' Austin Slater embracing versatile role for Giants this season

Giants' Austin Slater embracing versatile role for Giants this season

When asked what position he'll play this season, Giants utility man Austin Slater went outside the box. Well, actually, he stayed right in the box

"Right-handed batter's box," Slater jokingly said Friday to KNBR's Mark Willard.

Slater, 27, fits the bill of what the Giants are looking for right now. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, along with manager Gabe Kapler, have preached positional versatility. And Slater might be San Francisco's very own Swiss Army knife.

Last season alone, Slater played four positions for the Giants -- right field, left field, first base and second base -- and that was over just 68 games. He also played 11 games at third base and three in center field for the Sacramento River Cats in Triple-A.

"I feel good all over the diamond, all over the outfield," Slater said. "Wherever they put me, I'm OK with it."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Aside from catcher, the only position Slater for sure won't be playing is the same one he actually was drafted at by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school. Slater was a star prep shortstop in Florida before missing his senior season due to a freak accident, and went to Stanford originally as a shortstop as well. 

He primarily has played the outfield while wearing an infielder's glove recently more often. But Slater still is waiting to play his childhood position in the big leagues.

"I'll jab at Ron Wotus every once in a while and ask him when I'm going to play short," Slater said. "But he'll tell me the same thing every time. 'Get off the drugs, sober up.' But it's fun and I enjoy working at each position." 

[RELATED: Why Giants' not-too-distant future could be extremely bright]

Slater hit a career-high five homers and nine doubles last season. He also had a .275 batting average off lefties with an .838 OPS. That should help him find playing time in the shortened 60-game season. 

More than anything, though, Slater's versatility could be his golden ticket. There will be plenty of competition for the Opening Day roster and beyond, but Slater gives Kapler a lot of options.

Funny Madison Bumgarner pitching routine shows some things never change

Funny Madison Bumgarner pitching routine shows some things never change

Some things never change. 

While Madison Bumgarner no longer is with the Giants, his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks is proving the switch of a uniform doesn’t mean the shift of a personality.

Prior to a recent simulated game, MadBum made sure his outing was all his:

He’s previously discussed some of the things he does, like participating in a rodeo under an alias Mason Saunders, that his hobbies are what they are, and he doesn’t “do anything just for fun, per se.”

So the music being shut off is a sentiment to that.

Perhaps this means he will thrive during the season as fans will not be in the stands due to the MLB safety protocol. However, some teams admitted they will utilize fan noise to be played out of the speakers with cardboard cutouts in the stands.

[RELATED: Madison Bumgarner gives funny response about facing MadBum]

Not sure that will be something he would be able to control, but he’s used to playing in front of crowds. Whether he’s listening to Max Muncy yell at him to fish a home run ball out of the ocean, or you know, throwing in a World Series, the noise never appears to distract him.

It’s nice to know he can control that -- at least for now.