Giants

Rewind: Giants pull it together at right time, reach playoffs

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Rewind: Giants pull it together at right time, reach playoffs

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants went 30-42 after the All-Star break. They waited until the final four games of the second half to put together a four-game winning streak. The best team in baseball through 90 games did not clinch a postseason spot until 3:10 p.m. on the final day of the regular season.

It was ugly and bizarre and tense, but as champagne and Bud Light hit the walls of the clubhouse, the Giants did not seem to think much of the tortuous road. 

“Who cares about the way?” Hunter Pence said, smiling. “Where we are is on the way to where we want to be. We want a chance to win the Wold Series, and we get that chance.”

The first step on the new path will be taken Monday, when the Giants fly to New York to start preparing for a Wednesday night showdown in New York. They have traversed this path before, winning the 2014 title as the second wild card team, and throughout an unimaginably bad half of baseball, players clung to a comforting thought. Find some way into the postseason, and then hand the ball back to Madison Bumgarner.

Two years and four days after he blanked the Pirates, Bumgarner will tangle with Noah Syndergaard and a Mets squad that made the postseason with an entire rotation on the disabled list. It won’t matter on Wednesday, but the Giants go in with the hottest five-man group around. Matt Moore, the No. 3 starter acquired on at the deadline, kept pace Sunday with eight dominating innings, leading the Giants to a 7-1 win they absolutely needed since the Cardinals were headed for a similar victory 2,000 miles away. 

With the final win, the even-year darlings finished 87-57, a game ahead of St. Louis and thus a game clear of a Monday night tiebreaker at Busch Stadium. A team that once led the National League West by eight games ended up four back after a weekend sweep of the Dodgers. With a win Wednesday, the Giants will fly to Chicago to face the 103-win Cubs. 

Those facts were also met with shrugs. Who cares about the way?

Moore smiled as he discussed the second-half slide, saying the adversity can potentially make the Giants a pretty dangerous team in October. 

[RATTO: Giants must forget the past, focus on Bochy's magic 2013 shirt]

“Having 87 wins heading into the postseason, some of these teams have got 100, but we’re in the same place,” he said. “What happened the last eight months, it’s all behind us. We’ve been pitching great and putting up runs, and the two months I’ve been here, the defense has been extremely solid.”

The Giants are right to be confident. When it was absolutely needed, the first-half Giants reappeared. The pitching was dominant over the final week. The beleaguered bullpen found a new closer in the old closer, Sergio Romo. The lineup averaged 3.8 runs per game while losing 41 of the first 66 games out of the break, but then broke out for 38 runs during 5-1 run homestand. A group that couldn’t buy a big hit in August and most of September batted .315 with runners in scoring position over the final seven games of the season. The defense was there through good times and bad, with Conor Gillaspie showing off Sunday with a diving catch over a dugout railing and Denard Span making a diving catch in the ninth.

Manager Bruce Bochy sat in the front seat of the roller coaster. His decisions did not work out as often as in the past. But he insisted that this postseason berth is as special as the past ones.

“We had two different halves,” he said. “If we wouldn’t have gotten to the postseason, that would have been really hard to take. It was up to us to take care of business and these guys took care of business. We didn’t get help. We had to win out and they did it.”

Bochy has a long history of pulling the right motivational ploy out at the right time. Before Sunday’s game, he opted for silence. There was no big speech, no show of emotion.

“The way they’ve played (this week), I wanted to stay out of the way the last two days,” he said. 

The weekend push started with Ty Blach’s surprise performance Saturday and carried over into the early innings Sunday. The Giants scored two runs off Kenta Maeda in the first and three more in the second. Moore gave up six runs and recorded just three outs at Dodger Stadium two weeks ago, but this day would be different. 

“I came out a little bit too aggressive (last time),” he said. “The effort was kind of taking over, and the timing of things, I wasn’t being very efficient getting down the hill. This start, especially in the bullpen, I was really trying to stay back and stay within myself. I carried it into the game and as you get comfortable moving down the hill, you can start to speed it up.”

Moore was threatened just once, when the Dodgers put a run across and two runners on in the fourth. As Joc Pederson walked to the plate, Roberto Kelly signaled for Denard Span to back up in center field. Pederson blasted a deep fly to the track but Span hauled it in. The potential for a one-run game drifted away. In the dugout, Bochy committed to staying with Moore as long as he could. 

The left-hander retired the final 12 batters he faced after the Pederson at-bat. He gave up just three total hits, striking out six. As team executives watched players celebrate later, general manager Bobby Evans smiled. He pulled the trigger seconds before the August 1 deadline, dealing popular third baseman Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay for Moore. It is the kind of move that defines an executive’s tenure if it goes wrong, but Evans was confident that this day would come.

“We felt he was a guy we could rely on,” he said. 

The Giants now hope to see what Moore has in store for a postseason start. He is lined up to face the Cubs at some point, although players and coaches wouldn’t look that far ahead on Sunday. Bochy would go as far as naming the obvious: Johnny Cueto will start Game 1 of the NLDS if the Giants get there.

First, it’s Bumgarner’s turn. He was a spectator Sunday, the only marquee player ruled off-limits before a must-win game. After months of uninspiring baseball, Bumgarner liked what he saw from his spot on the dugout rail.

“If we play like we have been the last three games, we’re going to be tough to beat,” he said. 

Giants Review: After starting Opening Day, Blach finds home in bullpen

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USA TODAY Sports

Giants Review: After starting Opening Day, Blach finds home in bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO — No matter what else happens in his career, Ty Blach will always be the subject of a good trivia question. 

Who started on Opening Day for the San Francisco Giants in 2018?

It was not Madison Bumgarner, the franchise’s ace. It was not Johnny Cueto, who looked like a Cy Young candidate before his elbow started aching, or Jeff Samardzija, who was coming off a strong year. It was not Derek Holland, the former top prospect, or youngsters Dereck Rodriguez or Andrew Suarez, who may look back at 2018 as the year long big league careers started. 

It was Blach, the quiet third-year left-hander who wasn’t even supposed to be in the rotation. Bumgarner and Samardzija went down on back-to-back days late in the spring and Cueto’s schedule didn't line up, so Bruce Bochy turned to Blach, the latest profiled in this series looking back at the 2018 Giants. 

If you missed it earlier, here are reviews for Kelby Tomlinson and Chase d'Arnaud. 

What Went Right: Blach entered the season with a 2.23 ERA in seven appearances against the Dodgers, so it wasn’t really a surprise when he threw five shutout innings on Opening Day. When Joe Panik homered, Blach had a win over Clayton Kershaw. He became the first Giant other than Bumgarner, Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum to start on Opening Day since Barry Zito did so in 2008. 

Blach had a 4.25 ERA for the season but his numbers were much better out of the bullpen. In 34 relief appearances, Blach compiled a 3.17 ERA. Opposing hitters had an OPS that was nearly 100 points lower when Blach came out of the bullpen, and his strikeout rate jumped from a microscopic 4.9 K/9 as a starter to 6.7 as a reliever. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 50 relief innings, only San Diego’s Robbie Erlin did so in fewer appearances than Blach, who pitched 54 innings in 34 relief appearances. 

What Went Wrong: You don’t dream of being a long reliever, but Blach was moved out of the rotation after posting a 4.90 ERA through 12 starts and failing to complete at least six innings in eight of those starts. Opposing hitters had a .788 OPS against Blach the starter, and he was weirdly equal-opportunity; lefties hit him at a .289 clip in 2018 and righties batted .288. 

When Blach was not on his game, he was so hittable that he couldn’t live up to the long reliever role in those outings. Opposing hitters batted .451 when they put the first pitch in play and hit .343 against Blach with runners in scoring position. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, only Homer Bailey allowed a higher opponents’ batting average than Blach. 

Contract Status: Blach made $5.65 million in 2018 and is not arbitration eligible until 2020. He did use an option, though, despite never pitching in the minors. Blach was optioned on July 25 and then recalled the next day when Brandon Belt went on the DL. It was a mistake by the front office, and it cost the Giants a second option year on Blach, who has one option remaining. 

The Future: Blach, 27, isn’t in the rotation plans any longer, but he could still carve out a nice niche as a long reliever who can spot-start. In today’s game, there’s a lot of value in being a left-handed reliever who can pitch two or three innings out of the bullpen and save your manager from burning others. Blach warms up quickly, has never had injury issues and bounces back well from outings, and he should be in next year’s bullpen as Bochy’s long man. 

Giants Review: Chase d'Arnaud takes the mound in sixth big league stop

Giants Review: Chase d'Arnaud takes the mound in sixth big league stop

SAN FRANCISCO — Everywhere the Giants went in the second half, Chase d’Arnaud seemed to know somebody. The visiting team usually stretches while the home team is finishing batting practice, and it was a common sight to see d’Arnaud walk over and chat with a former teammate or coach. 

Part of that is d’Arnaud’s personality. He’s as energetic and friendly as any ballplayer. But part of that is also the fact that, well, d’Arnaud has played with a lot of different teammates. The Giants were d’Arnaud’s sixth organization in the last five seasons, and he ended up getting 100 big league plate appearances. Here’s a rundown of the highs and lows … 

What Went Right: Look, the numbers don’t lie — d’Arnaud tied Pablo Sandoval and 18 others for the NL lead in ERA. That's a fact. He took the mound for the first time on August 19 in Cincinnati and recorded three flyouts while giving up a single. With that inning, d’Arnaud — like Sandoval — finished the year with a 0.00 ERA. He joined Sandoval and Matty Alou as the only position players in franchise history to pitch a scoreless inning.

With three homers, including two that gave the Giants a lead, d’Arnaud set a new career-high. He reached 100 plate appearances for just the third time as a big leaguer, playing every position but catcher and outfield. 

What Went Wrong: d’Arnaud hit .273 in his first 14 games but had just eight hits in 49 at-bats the rest of the way. All three of his homers came in that first stretch, and over the season’s final two months he had just three extra-base hits. The way to make your mark off the bench is to come through as a pinch-hitter, and he was just 1-for-15 in those situations with 10 strikeouts. 

Overall, d’Arnaud posted a .215/.253/.366 slash line. He showed off his speed in spring training, but at the big league level he had just two stolen bases. 

Contract Status: After signing a minor league deal last winter, d’Arnaud has gathered enough service time to be arbitration eligible. MLB Trade Rumors projects that he’ll make $800,000 if he goes through that process. 

The Future: It seems a no-brainer that d’Arnaud will be non-tendered by the Giants. They have younger, cheaper options as infield depth and they need his 40-man roster spot. D’Arnaud did everything that was asked of him and was good in the clubhouse (he does an amazing job of interacting with fans, too), but the Giants invite two or three middle infield non-roster invitees to camp every year and will do so again. Perhaps d’Arnaud will be part of that mix in 2019, or perhaps he’ll continue his tour, adding a seventh big league hat to the collection.