Giants

Instant Replay: Giants bullpen blows Bumgarner's historic Opening Day

Instant Replay: Giants bullpen blows Bumgarner's historic Opening Day

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PHOENIX — You couldn’t have written a stranger path to the bottom of the ninth in Sunday’s season opener, but after two home runs by the ace, a brief shot at history, a quick meltdown and a familiar blown save, the Giants finally got the lead to their new $62 million closer. 

Mark Melancon failed his first test.

The new closer gave up two runs in the ninth as the Giants fell 6-5 to the Diamondbacks, wasting a tremendous performance from Madison Bumgarner. Melancon gave up a double and two singles before Chris Owings knocked a flare into right to walk it off. 

Melancon had blown just 10 saves the previous three seasons. The Giants gave leads up in the eighth and the ninth. 

For five innings, it looked like this one would go down as one of the most memorable season debuts in MLB history. Bumgarner flirted with a perfect game before settling for becoming the first pitcher to hit two homers on opening day. 

Bumgarner opened his ninth big league season by retiring the first nine on just 29 pitches, including three straight strikeouts in the second. Through five innings, Bumgarner had thrown 54 pitches. His cutter was as good as it’s always been. The curveball had perfect depth. His fastball, which topped out at 93 mph a year ago, sat at 94 mph for long stretches. 

Just for good measure, Bumgarner padded an early lead with a laser shot of a homer off Zack Greinke in the fifth. The homer was the first of the season in the National League and left the park at 112.5 mph, a record for a pitcher in the Statcast era. 

Bumgarner’s bid ended with one out in the sixth, when Jeff Mathis pulled a triple just inside the third base line. A 3-0 lead would also dissipate in a hurry. Nick Ahmed got the Diamondbacks on the board with a single and A.J. Pollock stunned the Giants and tied the game with a two-run homer just out of the reach of left fielder Gorkys Hernandez. 

Bumgarner had boiled over earlier in the game, snapping at himself when Paul Goldschmidt lofted a pitch to the warning track. If there was any anger after the three-run rally, it didn’t show. Bumgarner finished out the inning with a pair of strikeouts and then went about putting the lead back in his hands. 

On a 2-0 count in the top of the seventh, Bumgarner smashed an Andrew Chafin fastball deep into the left field seats. The no-doubter gave Bumgarner 16 career homers, a franchise record for a pitcher. It also left the park at over 112 mph, meaning Bumgarner now has the two hardest-hit homers by a Giant in the last two seasons. 

[RELATED: Bumgarner breaks Giants franchise record for most career homers hit by pitcher]

Bumgarner handed a lead over to the bullpen in the eighth, and last year’s problem immediately popped up. Derek Law gave up three consecutive hits and the lead before Ty Blach (double play) and Hunter Strickland (groundout) got out of the jam. 

Panik opened the top of the ninth by driving a triple off the wall in center. He strolled home on Conor Gillaspie’s sacrifice fly to center. The Giants loaded the bases, but they wouldn’t give Melancon any additional breathing room. 

Starting pitching report: Bumgarner’s final line: 7 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 11 strikeouts. A year after setting a franchise record for a lefty by striking out 251, Bumgarner looks poised to shoot past that number. 

Bullpen report: It is with great sadness that I report it is happening again. 

At the plate: Bumgarner has now taken two pitchers deep multiple times: Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. 

In the field: Bruce Bochy showed that he won’t hesitate to pull Jarrett Parker if the matchup dictates. Gorkys Hernandez pinch-hit against a lefty and stayed in on defense, although he had a shaky run.

Attendance: The Diamondbacks announced a crowd of 49,016 human beings who watched the NL designated hitter die. 

Up next: Johnny Cueto makes his first start of his second season with the Giants. He’ll face left-hander Patrick Corbin, which should bring Chris Marrero into the lineup. 

MLB free agency debate: Where will Michael Brantley sign this offseason?

MLB free agency debate: Where will Michael Brantley sign this offseason?

Editor's note: Each day this week, Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross will debate where one of the top five free agents might land this offseason. Tuesday's free agent to discuss is Michael Brantley, an three-time All-Star outfielder who has spent his entire career with the Cleveland Indians.

ALEX: Ben, yesterday we went right to the top of the market and discussed Bryce Harper. If you're looking for outfield help -- and a lot of teams are -- it gets kind of sketchy after Harper.

Andrew McCutchen still is a good player, but he's no longer an MVP candidate. A.J. Pollock has had a ton of injury issues. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and others are really getting up there in age. But I'm intrigued by Michael Brantley, who has never really lived up to the hype because of his own injuries. If you're looking for a guy who has a moderate amount of pop and gets on base at a high rate -- hellooooo, Giants -- he could be your guy.

BEN: He might be a great fit for the Giants, but the A’s already have enough outfielders, for a fraction of the cost. What have you heard about the Giants’ interest in Brantley? Where else do you think he could end up?

ALEX: I haven't heard anything concrete regarding their interest, but I think he's an interesting case. On one hand, they've been burned over and over again by giving money to position players -- particularly outfielders -- in their 30s. But they also have two corner outfield spots open and desperately need established hitters.

Brantley, who has always been a good OBP guy, would fit in that respect. Perhaps Farhan Zaidi can pull a Chris Taylor or Max Muncy out of another organization, but if Brantley's price drops, he could be a fill-in for a couple of seasons.

I wonder if he'll end up with a team that missed out on Harper and still has that need. The Phillies could fit there. The Braves have been a rumored destination. Maybe the White Sox? Who am I missing?

BEN: I think he makes a lot of sense in San Francisco. As you mentioned, he has a great career OBP with decent power and speed. It looks like he'll probably get around $15 million per year, which is reasonable for a back-to-back All-Star.

I think the Phillies and Braves both make a lot of sense, especially if Philadelphia doesn't land Bryce Harper. Maybe the Nationals if Harper leaves? He also could be a nice A.J. Pollock replacement in Arizona, although Pollock plays center. How about the Rockies? Both Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra are free agents.

ALEX: It sounds like the Diamondbacks are rebuilding, and I think the Rockies need to spend that money elsewhere. This feels like a #MysteryTeam situation, but in the end, I'll go with a safe prediction.

I think Brantley ends up with the Braves as a Nick Markakis replacement, but the twist will be that it'll be a shorter deal. I don't believe the talk that last year's free agency dip was a one-year thing. I think the second tier of veterans again will struggle to get those long-term deals, so I'll put Brantley down for a two-year, $32 million deal. What's your call?

BEN: It sounds like the Braves are pushing hard for Brantley, so they're my prediction, too. As you said, they need a Markakis replacement. Brantley played his college ball at Coastal Carolina University, which isn't too far from Atlanta. While he's been a bit injury-prone, he's still just 31 years old. I'll say he gets three years, $45 million.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Tuesday is dedicated to free agent outfielder Michael Brantley.
How Brantley could help solve one of the Giants' biggest issues
Why the outfielder-rich A's should pass on Brantley
Does Brantley really fit the White Sox's long-term plan?
Brantley should be far down on Red Sox's free agent list
Phillies should pursue Brantley if they whiff on Harper
Could signing Brantley soften blow of Nats losing Harper?

Why free agent Michael Brantley could solve one of Giants' big issues

Why free agent Michael Brantley could solve one of Giants' big issues

SAN FRANCISCO — The lack of power sucks up most of the oxygen in the room, but for the 2018 Giants, there was a bigger offensive issue. 

The Giants ranked 14th in the National League with a .300 on-base percentage, the eighth-lowest OBP in franchise history and lowest in 33 years. New president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi knows that’s one of the first issues he must address. The 10 playoff teams last season all finished in the top 13 in the majors in on-base percentage, and Zaidi’s Dodgers ranked third in the NL at .333. 

On the Giants Insider Podcast last week, Zaidi, who previously also worked for the OBP-obsessed A’s, talked about ways to improve a San Francisco lineup that had major issues simply getting on base last season. 

“Any team that walks at a high level, it’s a function of a couple of things,” he said. “One is, it is a function of personnel — there are guys that just have the skill of being able to work the strike zone and being able to take walks. Then there’s a mindset of, ‘What’s our goal?’ Is our goal to put the ball in play, or is our goal to get on base? I think both of those things are areas that we can look at philosophically. 

“How are we attacking the game from an offensive standpoint, and then, also, do we have the type of personnel that can play the type of offense that we want, which is a real grinding approach and getting guys on base and creating pressure for the opposing pitcher.” 

The mindset aspect can be addressed with coaches throughout the organization up to and through spring training. As for personnel, that’s a bit more pressing, and there are multiple ways to add OBP to the lineup in free agency.

You can go straight to the top of the market with Bryce Harper, who led MLB with 130 walks and ranked seventh with a .393 OBP, but there might be a much more cost-effective option. Michael Brantley, formerly of the Cleveland Indians, ranked 17th with a .364 OPB, which would have led the 2018 Giants. 

Throughout an injury-plagued career, Brantley has shown an ability to get on base. He has a .351 career OBP — only one current Giant, Buster Posey (.359), finished above that mark in 2018 — and has finished above .350 in four of the last five seasons.

There’s a reason Brantley, who hit 17 homers and had a .832 OPS last season, isn’t looking at a massive contract, of course. He has had trouble staying on the field, with shoulder, ankle and biceps injuries limiting him to just 101 total games in 2016 and 2017. That, plus the fact that he turns 32 in May, will limit his market, and MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he’ll receive a three-year, $45 million deal. That would be less than the Giants paid Hunter Pence annually.

Zaidi wants to get younger and more dynamic in the outfield, but if he’s looking for a short-term solution that won’t break the bank, Brantley might end up being a solid fit, and someone who could help solve one of the Giants lineup’s most glaring issues.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Tuesday is dedicated to free agent outfielder Michael Brantley.
Why the outfielder-rich A's should pass on Brantley
Does Brantley really fit the White Sox's long-term plan?
Brantley should be far down on Red Sox's free agent list
Phillies should pursue Brantley if they whiff on Harper
Could signing Brantley soften blow of Nats losing Harper?