Giants

Headed for 100 losses, Giants quietly give up on "Don't Stop Believin'" tradition

Headed for 100 losses, Giants quietly give up on "Don't Stop Believin'" tradition

SAN FRANCISCO — At some point over the last month, the Giants quietly stopped playing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the late innings of games they trail. 

It’s unclear exactly when it started, or who made the decision. A number of team employees, surveyed over the past week, had noticed. But nobody knew the exact details. Perhaps the longtime staple of AT&T Park was shelved on July 9, when FanGraphs dropped the playoff odds to 0.00 percent for the first time in a lost season. Maybe it was during a bad loss before that or a bad loss after that. You can take your pick. This season has been filled with so many of them it’s hard to keep track. 

Friday’s stood out, in part because this was the kind of night where Journey briefly made sense. The Giants gave Jeff Samardzija a 4-0 lead in the first inning against a Padres team that spent the early innings kicking and throwing the ball all over the field and making mistakes on the bases. It was 5-1 after three innings. By the sixth, the Padres had tied it. By the seventh, they had the lead. By the eighth, it was a three-run lead. 

Before the bottom of the eighth, the in-stadium crew played Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” for a crowd of a few thousand. Last weekend, Huey Lewis was the fill-in for Journey. On Wednesday, a game the Giants actually came back to win, the scoreboard played a singalong game to “Happy Together” by The Turtles. 

On this night, the Giants actually would come back. Conor Gillaspie hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth, tying the game and sending it into extras. The Giants had trailed by three with one out remaining, but the momentum provided by Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Gillaspie was just a blip. The Padres scored three in the 11th off George Kontos, who has pitched five times over the last eight days and was supposed to get a night to rest. 

Kontos was the last to give up runs in a 12-9 loss, but hardly the only one. Samardzija took blame after failing to get through five with a big early cushion. That put pressure on the tired bullpen, and the relievers blew it over and over again. The Padres scored runs in six consecutive innings at one point and had 20 hits. 

“We couldn’t stop them,” Bruce Bochy said, shaking his head. 

Nothing can apparently stop this skid. The Giants are 37-61 and six games behind the Padres. They are much closer to the No. 1 draft pick than they are to fourth place in their division. 

“Don’t Stop Believin’” survived the 2013 season. It survived 2015 and the second half of last year. Nothing can survive this season.

Farhan Zaidi already making subtle changes to Giants with 'modern approach'

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USA TODAY Sports

Farhan Zaidi already making subtle changes to Giants with 'modern approach'

SAN FRANCISCO — When longtime Giants employees sat down in a suite on the 62nd floor of the Delano hotel last Monday morning, they immediately noticed a difference. There were no scouts in the room.

For the first time in years, the Giants did not bring any of their scouts to the annual MLB Winter Meetings, instead relying on a smaller group in the suite that had slightly different kinds of conversations.

Now, that’s not to say the Giants are going all in one direction. It was notable that one of the first things that president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi did as a Giant was beef up the scouting department, hiring Zack Minasian as director of pro scouting and Michael Holmes as director of amateur scouting.

But there certainly was a different vibe in the room, members of the front office said. Conversations were not as structured. As one person described it, the Giants used to focus on a player and then go through the check list, asking coaches, scouts, trainers and analytics people about said player one-by-one.

With Zaidi in charge of the room, the conversation was said to be more wide-open. If there were 15 people in a meeting, Zaidi tried to bounce around and check in with all of them. 

“He’s able to be very inclusionary in a meeting. Everybody had something to say that advanced the discussion,” said team president and CEO Larry Baer, who sat through several in-depth meetings while in Las Vegas. “He’s able to sort of moderate and curate that, and that’s a skill, because you’ve got to be thinking about it and synthesizing the information as it comes in. I had hoped that would be the case. I had heard that’s the case. But it really was the case, as we’re digging in now.”

The Giants have put their future in Zaidi’s hands, which made their latest Winter Meetings experience as much about their executives as any incoming players. Throughout, you saw hints at subtle changes behind the scenes.

Asked what the Giants liked about Mike Gerber, an outfielder claimed from the Detroit Tigers on Monday, Zaidi gave the kind of defensive assessment you haven’t heard around AT&T Park, at least publicly.

“We’ve got a really good analytics department that takes a look at Statcast data and really tries to understand what guys — from a statistical standpoint — what their range looks like, what their top speeds and sprint speeds are,” Zaidi said. “He registered well in those categories.”

For the Giants, being open about all of this is a departure. They always have done more in the analytics realm than is publicly known, but for some reason, the front office spent years downplaying use of advanced methods. On the first day of Zaidi’s first Winter Meetings, team employees openly spoke about using Statcast and TrackMan, and talked of exit velocities and spin rates. 

This change will be seen in the clubhouse next season, too. The Giants do not plan to replace Chad Chop, who was a batting practice pitcher and teamed with Shawon Dunston on replays. Instead, that spot in the traveling party likely will go to a second member of the organization’s analytics department.

Last season, the Giants hired Michael Schwartze as a baseball operations analyst and had him set up in the clubhouse before all games, distributing data to players. The plan this year is to have two analysts available to players. Two of those players might be Rule 5 draft selections, as the Giants made two picks in that draft for the first time. 

There will be plenty more changes over time. For now, Zaidi is making subtle tweaks, while also showing plenty of respect to the way the Giants built a dynasty.

Baer hired Zaidi in part because he is equally comfortable sitting with analytics people and scouts, and while the Giants changed the nature of some discussions, Zaidi still honors both sides of the room. Brian Sabean, John Barr and Dick Tidrow remain integral parts of discussions, and all three will stay with the organization despite having their roles altered.

Time will tell if Zaidi can turn this around. For now, the staff he inherited seemed energized, and the man who hired him is pleased with the new direction of the franchise. 

“He’s just bringing a different approach,” Baer said. “It doesn’t mean the things we’ve done in the past were wrong, but I do think it’s a very modern approach, and it’s based on a lot of the learning that he’s accumulated in his work with analytics and his work also with scouts.”

Hunter Pence, Dominican Winter League team dance their way to playoffs

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Hunter Pence, Dominican Winter League team dance their way to playoffs

Hunter Pence is back in the playoffs, and that means one thing: epic dance party. 

The former Giants outfielder is playing for Toros del Este, who rode a four-game winning streak into the round-robin playoffs. The celebration was on after they beat Leones del Escogido. 

Pence is working on a new swing and running style in the Dominican Republic, as he looks to keep his career going. As always with Pence, it's only been positive vibes with his new team. 

Through six games, Pence is batting .250 (6-for-24) with one double, two RBI and two runs scored. With the veteran outfielder, though, his impact goes beyond the box score. After just his second game on the team, Pence already was giving a shirtless motivational speech

The Giants didn't have it this year, but maybe Pence can bring some old Even Year Magic to the DR in 2018.