Giants

Rewind: Giants blast Dodgers, inch closer to playoffs

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Rewind: Giants blast Dodgers, inch closer to playoffs

SAN FRANCISCO — Yasiel Puig walked to the batter’s box and then turned and saw Bruce Bochy coming up the dugout steps on the other side. The young outfielder whirled back toward his dugout, knowing the next round between Puig and Madison Bumgarner would have to wait. Bochy had something more important on his mind. It was time for Bumgarner to get his standing ovation, and it was time for him to prepare for what might come next. 

If all goes according to plan, the next pitch for Bumgarner — a man whose legacy is built largely on a play-in game — will be thrown Wednesday in the National League Wild Card game. 

The Giants went a long way toward securing that possibility Friday. They followed wins by the Mets and the Cardinals with a 9-3 blowout of the Dodgers, pulling away in the sixth with a seven-run rally. AT&T Park shook. Bumgarner roared on second base. Hunter Pence lost his mind in the dugout. Buster Posey looked around and had a familiar thought: “This feels like a playoff game.” 

“We’ve all seen that you can get hot,” Posey said later. “Our starting staff has the ability to pitch deep into games. If you get hot, you never know.”

[RELATED: Pagan's PSA: Why you don't run on the field at AT&T Park]

The Giants will enter the weekend a game behind the Mets and a game up on the Cardinals. Bumgarner’s regular season is almost certainly done, but he went out with a bang. The big left-hander, pitching under the weather, took the Giants into the eighth. He added two hits at the plate, including a two-run double in that raucous sixth inning. 

Bumgarner’s night started with the sort of buzzard’s luck that had kept him from his 100th win all month. The Dodgers scored two in the first, benefiting from a pair of bloop singles. The Giants stormed right back, tying the score against Rich Hill, the No. 2 starter for the Dodgers in their upcoming NLDS. 

Bumgarner and Hill took the tie into the sixth and the Dodgers jumped ahead with a string of singles. That’s when the explosion came. The Giants hung six runs on starter-turned-reliever Brandon McCarthy, who certainly pitched himself out of a postseason roster spot. Bumgarner’s double was preceded by a Conor Gillaspie pinch-hit double that kept Bumgarner in the game. Bochy had a pinch-hitter ready for the bases-loaded situation, but Gillaspie deliver. Bumgarner did too, and Brandon Belt added a three-run shot, raising his fist as he passed first base. 

It was all calm waters from there, with Bumgarner becoming the third-youngest pitcher to reach 100 victories with the Giants. At 27 years, 60 days old, Bumgarner said this accomplishment is special. But it’s one he’ll have to cherish later. 

“There’s a lot more at stake right now,” he said. 

The tension will return to AT&T Park on Saturday afternoon, with rookie Ty Blach facing Clayton Kershaw. Blach, in his second career start, will face a team that has trouble with left-handers. His first start, Sunday in San Diego, didn’t go well, but Bochy said he is confident.

“He’s a tough competitor,” Bochy said. “He’s a guy we feel should be out there.”

Blach will have plenty of backup, from Albert Suarez, to a rested bullpen, to starters Jeff Samardzija and possibly Johnny Cueto. 

“I don’t know who’s not available,” Bochy said. “They’re all ready and set to go.”

With a little help, the Giants can clinch a postseason spot Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals take on the Pirates in the morning, and a Cardinals loss plus a Giants win would clinch a wild-card matchup between the Giants and Mets. Bochy said his club is enjoying this weekend chase, and that certainly seemed apparent as the Giants pulled away. They know what stands in front of them over the weekend.

“It’s up to us,” Bochy said. 

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?