Giants

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

SAN FRANCISCO — In the second inning Tuesday, as Christian Arroyo strapped on his gear and grabbed his bat, Buster Posey looked over at Matt Cain. 

“Goodness,” he said. “He looks really young.”

There was a time when that was said about Cain, now 32, and Posey, now 30. They broke in as fresh-faced kids, too, but these days they’re the grizzled vets, anchors of a clubhouse that got some fresh blood on Monday. Arroyo brought the energy to AT&T Park and Cain and Posey did the rest. 

The starter, in the midst of a surprising resurgence, threw six dominant innings against the visiting Dodgers. Posey threw one runner out at second to end the eighth and back-picked Justin Turner at second with two down in the ninth, clinching a 2-1 win that felt like a must-have in the clubhouse. 

“I mean, we needed it,” Posey said. “I don’t think you can underscore it. We definitely needed it.”

The front office sensed that after a sweep at Coors Field. After weeks of saying the Giants had to be patient with Arroyo, Bobby Evans pulled the trigger Monday morning. Drew Stubbs was also added to temporarily take over in center. The message was clear: A sense of urgency was needed throughout the organization, and the players responded with perhaps their cleanest game of the year. 

Cain did the heavy lifting, allowing just two hits and a walk before his right hamstring bit. He was pulled while warming up in the seventh, but he’s optimistic. Cain missed two weeks last year with the same injury, but he said it’s not as bad this time around. 

“Last year it was something that was definitely more on my mind when I did it,” he said. “I pushed too hard. I thought we were being a lot smarter today.”

The bullpen backed Cain, with Steven Okert, George Kontos, Derek Law (who allowed a run but shut down further damage) and Mark Melancon carrying it home. Melancon ran into some trouble in the ninth when Turner alertly took second on a spiked curveball. With Adrian Gonzalez up, the Dodgers were a single away from tying it up. Turner strayed too far off the bag and Posey gunned him down.

“It was just instinct,” he said. “He was anticipating a ball being put in play and took that one or two extra stutter steps. 

Melancon emphatically yelled on the mound. Cain watched the final out from the trainer’s room. The win was his first over the Dodgers in four seasons, and while on the mound, Cain lowered his ERA to a staff-best 2.42.

“He did a great job locating his fastball,” Posey said. “He threw his curveball for strikes, expanded the zone with his fastball, mixed some changeups in. He did a nice job.”

The approach looks sustainable, and the Giants need it. Madison Bumgarner had another MRI on Monday and while the Giants don’t have a firm timetable yet, manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that it will “be a while.” 

In the meantime, the Giants will try to find a mix that works. Hunter Pence was moved up to leadoff Monday and he drove in a needed insurance run. The infield trio of Brandon Crawford, Arroyo and Joe Panik combined for the first run, with Crawford doubling, Arroyo moving him over, and Panik skying a ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly. 

Bochy praised Arroyo for his approach in that moment, and the rookie said he was focused hard on getting Crawford over. It was the kind of at-bat the Giants teach in the minors, and they hope more is on the way. The Triple-A squad is more talented than it’s been in years, and with big leaguers continuing to drop, the depth will be needed. 

As he got dressed Monday night, Arroyo rattled off facts from the night’s River Cats game and talked about how much he believes in the players there. He’s part of a wave that’s coming slowly, a group that includes Ty Blach, who faces a monumental task Tuesday. The young left-hander will go up against Clayton Kershaw as the Giants try to keep the momentum going.

“We’ve got our hands full tomorrow,” Bochy said. “We know it. I thought tonight was huge for us to stop things.”

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?