Rewind: Casilla's balk-off gives Giants 18th blown save


Rewind: Casilla's balk-off gives Giants 18th blown save

SAN DIEGO — Try to wrap your heads around this one: The team with the best record in the Majors also has the most blown saves. 

One part of that sentence allows the Giants to sleep easier on nights like this. They are still, even after a 7-6 balk-off loss to the Padres that clinched a series loss here in San Diego, the best team in baseball record-wise. The other part of that sentence keeps the staff up at nights.

The Giants continually walk a tight rope in the late innings, and Santiago Casilla stumbled off of it Saturday, balking home the winning run and giving the Giants 18 blown saves in 92 games. 

Casilla’s night would have stood out regardless. He gave up three singles and two runs in the 10th. But it was magnified by what Sergio Romo did an inning earlier. The former closer struck out two in a perfect inning, throwing an unfair slider to Wil Myers and freezing Matt Kemp with a clever two-seamer. 

Afterward, Bochy tried to quiet any talk of switching roles. He said the Giants had this night set up just the way they wanted.

“One guy threw well, the other guy struggled,” Bochy said. “I don’t want to get in a situation where you’re flip-flopping guys. If you have to tweak it, you do. But Santiago, it’s been a while since he’s had a hiccup. He’s had a lot of rest (the last week), maybe too much, to where he wasn’t sharp.”

Casilla had locked up nine straight save opportunities and he had given up a run in just once of his previous 11 appearances. But this one was off the rails from the start. 

Casilla fell behind Alex Dickerson 2-0 and then gave up a single. Derek Norris lined a 2-1 fastball for another single. Casilla lost track of Norris, and he alertly stole second. 

“You get behind that first batter, that’s always tough,” catcher Buster Posey said. “The ball that Noris hit was a little more on the plate.”

Adam Rosales fell behind 0-2 but Casilla threw two straight in the dirt before Rosales poked a single past a drawn-in infield. With Alexei Ramirez up, Casilla came toward the plate and stumbled, his cleat sticking in the dirt. He tried to throw the ball anyway but the damage was done.

“It looked a little discombobulated on that balk,” Bochy said. “He’s going home and gets caught. He did the right thing and threw the ball. But he stutter-stepped and that was it, a balk.”

Casilla said his mechanics were fine on the pitch. His foot simply caught.

“It’s always frustrating,” he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “What’s more frustrating is I felt really good.”

What was more frustrating for the Giants was that they spent hours trying to fight back from a rough start. Jeff Samardzija gave up two homers and five runs in the first three innings, but he settled in near the end of his start and the bullpen let the lineup catch up. Angel Pagan hit a big homer and Mac Williamson and Ramiro Pena went deep in the sixth to tie it. 

Posey hit a high shot to right in the top of the 10th, his first career extra-innings homer. The Giants looked headed for a thrilling win, but it wasn’t to be. They have lost two in a row to a team they beat nine straight times in the first half. 

“Yesterday we seemed a little sluggish, but I thought today everything seemed normal,” Posey said. 

--- The Giants got good news on Hunter Pence. He came out of his rehab game after just three innings and was holding his right hamstring, but he might actually play on Sunday as planned. Bochy said Pence told trainers that the problem actually occurred when he was hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance, not on his single in the third. 

“He was trying to get out of the way and he thinks he aggravated,” the hamstring, Bochy said. “It got a little sore. We were being cautious.”

The Giants will reevaluate Pence on Sunday and he might be cleared to play. Originally, he was scheduled to play five innings Sunday and then take Monday off.  

Could Michael Brantley solve one of lineup's biggest problems?


Could Michael Brantley solve one of lineup's biggest problems?

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. Farhan Zaidi knows that’s one of the first issues he must address. The 10 postseason teams last season all finished in the top 13 in the Majors in on-base percentage, and Zaidi’s Dodgers ranked third in the National League 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 Giants 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. 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,” he said. “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 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, isn’t looking at a massive deal, of course. He has had trouble staying on the field, with shoulder, ankle and biceps injuries limiting him to just 101 games in 2016-17. That, plus the fact that he turns 32 in May, will limit his market, and MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he’ll get 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 may end up being a solid fit, and someone who could help solve one of the lineup’s most glaring issues.

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper is a free agent, but don't expect him to play baseball in the Bay Area next season -- unless it's as a visitor.

While some Giants fans have drooled at the prospect of the slugger in orange and black, it doesn't appear likely, given their new head of baseball operations' past history. Agent Scott Boras, who's masterful at building markets for his clients, sees San Francisco as a fit, even if the team probably does not, with the reported $40 million-per-season asking price too rich.

There's no way Harper will join the payroll-light A's, either. In fact, his annual salary could cost more than a possible Oakland 25-man roster.

So, where exactly will Harper end up when the dust created by Boras' bluster is all said and done? Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross debated that question and came up with different conclusions.

ALEX: Ben, this is the Winter of Bryce and Manny ... but so far Bryce Harper has been the one on center stage. That’ll happen when your agent stands up in front of reporters at the GM Meetings and declares that Harper’s Bazaar is open. It’s been a cold market so far. The Yankees say they’re out, the Cubs say they don’t have payroll space, and I reported last week that the Giants aren’t as interested as they once were.

Where does that leave us? Phillies? Dodgers? White Sox? The #MysteryTeam? His Nationals? Who am I missing?

BEN: The Phillies definitely look like the favorite at this point, but who knows? It seems like every article about him is telling us why he WON’T sign with a certain team. I still say he’s not worth the ridiculous salary being projected. Am I wrong?

ALEX: I think we've found over the years that most of the massive deals don't work out. A year ago at this time, we were on Giancarlo Stanton Watch, and he had a pretty quiet 2018. It's definitely safer to spread that money around, but you know Boras will find an owner -- and make no mistake about it, he goes straight to the ownership level -- to write that check. I know what I would do if I were Harper, but what do you think he should do?

BEN: Maybe I'm an idiot (actually, that's confirmed), but I think Harper is a little overrated. He's obviously a really good hitter, but he's only hit 30-plus home runs twice in seven years. Want to know where he ranked in WAR last season? Tied for 186th. If I were him, I think I'd stay with the Nationals. What would you do?

ALEX: I would stay with the Nationals, too. It's different if you can get yourself closer to home by playing for the Dodgers or Giants, or put yourself on the biggest stages in Chicago or New York -- but if it comes down to choices like the Phillies, I'd definitely stay home, unless the contract difference is overwhelming. It's rare that you're given an opportunity to be THE GUY in one city for your whole career, and it seems like the Nats really do want him back.

As for the overrated part, you're not an idiot -- I've talked to plenty of scouts and executives who point to Harper's poor defense and say he's not worth close to $300 million. Will he get it? We'll see. I think he will, which leads to our two big questions: Does he get the largest contract in MLB history, and where does he end up?

BEN: Good point on his defense. His career defensive WAR is -3.0. I still think he will get the largest contract in MLB history, although I don't expect him to end up out West. The Phillies seem like the best bet at this point, based on chatter around baseball, although I'm not completely convinced the Yankees and Cubs are out of it, regardless of what they say.

But if I had to bet, I'd pick the Phillies on a 10-year, $375 million contract. They have the money to spend, and they're a big-market team looking for a new face of the franchise. Harper would be that.

ALEX: All year, I've thought Harper would end up with the Cubs. But now everyone I check with around the game points to the Phillies. I get it -- and they probably have the most money to offer -- but for some reason, I just can't get on board with him jumping to another NL East club like that. It feels dirty.

Boras has a history with the Nationals, and I think he'll ultimately go back to ownership there and find a way to make a reunion happen. I'll say it's 10 years and $340 million, with at least two opt-outs that allow him to get back onto the market if he wants to go through all this again.

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. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Giants could use Harper money to fill numerous other needs
Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey