Giants

Team USA dominates Puerto Rico to win 2017 World Baseball Classic

Team USA dominates Puerto Rico to win 2017 World Baseball Classic

LOS ANGELES -- Marcus Stroman tossed six hitless innings, Ian Kinsler slugged a two-run homer and the United States routed Puerto Rico 8-0 on Wednesday night to win its first World Baseball Classic in four tries.

Stroman dominated the tournament's highest-scoring team. Puerto Rico lost for the first time in eight games after outscoring the opposition 55-26. The U.S. territory finished runner-up for the second time, having lost to the Dominican Republic in the 2013 final.

Stroman, who was named the tournament's MVP, avenged his shakiness in the Americans' 6-5 loss to Puerto Rico during pool play. The right-hander from the Toronto Blue Jays retired the side on three grounders to open the game. In all, he gave up one hit, struck out three and walked one on 73 pitches.

He allowed just three balls past the infield until Angel Pagan's double in the left-field corner leading off the seventh, when Stroman departed to a standing ovation, having staked the Americans to a 7-0 lead.

Stroman walked Carlos Beltran leading off the second, but the defense helped him out. Yadier Molina hit the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who started a double play before Stroman struck out Javier Baez to end the inning.

The U.S. pounded out 13 hits and finished with a 6-2 record while making the final for the first time in front of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium.

Kinsler homered off an 0-1 pitch from Seth Lugo into left-center field in the third, scoring Jonathan Lucroy, who singled leading off.

Lugo of the New York Mets allowed four runs and five hits, struck out seven and walked four in four innings. The right-hander won his first two starts of the tournament, including in the second round against Stroman and the U.S.

In that game, Stroman gave up six consecutive singles in a four-run first inning and took the loss against Puerto Rico last Friday in San Diego.

The Americans made it 4-0 in the fifth on RBI singles by Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen.

Fans wore flags of both countries as capes and decorated their faces in team colors. Puerto Rico boosters pounded cowbells, tooted horns and blew whistles early on before their team fell behind 4-0.

Fans were on their feet chanting "U-S-A" when the Americans loaded the bases in the seventh with two outs. They were rewarded with Crawford's two-run single that chased J.C. Romero, extending the lead to 6-0.

The U.S. tacked on another run on Giancarlo Stanton's RBI single off Hiram Burgos past diving shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Burgos' wild pitch moved runners to second and third before he walked Lucroy to load the bases a second time. Kinsler flied out to end the inning.

The Americans led 8-0 in the eighth on McCutchen's RBI single with two outs.

The U.S. defeated two-time champion Japan, while Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands to reach the final.

The three games at Dodger Stadium drew 109,892.

Nine observations from Giants' .500 homestand vs. Padres, Rangers

Nine observations from Giants' .500 homestand vs. Padres, Rangers

Gabe Kapler went out of his way over the last week to stand by Hunter Pence. He was asked about the struggling veteran -- who started the year 0-for-23 -- every day, and he always was positive. During one Zoom session with reporters, Kapler answered a question about another Giant and then pivoted to talk about Pence's work in the cage. 

"I have 100 percent confidence that Hunter Pence's track record is predictive of what's to come for him," Kapler said. 

The reason the Giants were so confident is quality of contact, which has become an overriding theme for the new hitting coaches. If you square three balls up and they're all hit right at guys ... I mean, there's nothing else you can do. That's what Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind preach, and Pence's metrics showed he wasn't completely out of whack. 

Pence actually is fourth on the team with an average exit velocity of 89 mph, right between early MVP candidates Donovan Solano (89.4) and Mike Yastrzemski (88.6). His launch angle is pretty similar to Solano's, too, and he's second to Brandon Crawford in percentage of batted balls (44) hit 95+ mph. 

By expected batting average -- which is based on contact -- Pence is at .215, which isn't great, but certainly isn't anywhere near the .038 average he carries right now. There's a reason the Giants are sticking with him, and he rewarded that faith a bit with a 403-foot triple, a walk, and a run Sunday. 

"It hasn't been that tough to stay positive for me, personally," Pence said. "I think there's a lot of positives because the team is playing well, and so it's been kind of easy."

The Giants went 3-3 on the homestand, showing a habit of coming back late in games, but also that their starting pitching is kind of a problem. Here are eight more takeaways from the first homestand of the year ... 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

--- Look, this won't fully last for Solano and Yastrzemski, who are BABIP gods right now. No reason not to enjoy it, though. Solano finished the first full week of the season as the MLB leader in batting average (.484) and NL leader in RBI (13). Yastrzemski is tied for the league lead with 10 runs and leads the majors with 11 walks. Both of them have a .500 OBP. Yastrzemski feels like an easy choice for NL Player of the Week. 

--- This Rockies series is a homecoming for Rico Garcia, the young right-hander who has been an early surprise out of the bullpen. Garcia made two appearances for the Rockies last year, allowing seven runs in six innings. They had taken him in the 30th round of the draft in 2016. The Giants signed Garcia as a minor league free agent and hoped that his stuff would play better out of the pen. Well ... it definitely has. 

Garcia averaged 90 mph in those two appearances last year but is at 94 in five scoreless relief outings this year, and he was bumping 97-98 on Saturday night. The command has been a little iffy, but it wasn't a huge issue for Garcia in the minors. Perhaps there's an explanation for that, too. 

"In watching Rico pitch (Saturday) I said to myself, I hope Rico is really happy with the 97 and doesn't try to get more, because I think when a pitcher gets to that level of really improving that velocity it can be encouraging and you try to throw it a little bit harder and you give up some of your command as a result," Kapler said. 

--- It was an impressive homestand from Evan Longoria, who didn't get to face live pitching for a couple of weeks as he rehabbed an oblique strain. Longoria was 6-for-14 in four games with two doubles and a long homer. His homer Sunday left the bat at 108.8 mph and traveled 416 feet. So much for rust. 

--- Tyler Heineman has done a nice job at the plate and seems to be a pretty good pitch-framer, but there have been some defensive issues. He was part of a botched rundown Saturday night and had two catcher's interference calls in his first week as the starting catcher. Kapler went into depth about what's going on.

"Early in the Dodgers series we noticed that he was considerably behind the plate, and for that reason we lost a couple of strikes, especially on big-breaking ball guys, 12-6 breaking ball guys," he said. "With (those pitchers) we want him to move up behind the plate, get closer to the plate, so he can stay with the curveball and get up underneath it and get it called for a strike. 

"We've asked him to make that adjustment, not so much on east-west guys, slider guys whose ball moves more horizontally, but definitely on that 12-6 curveball. So he's just getting used to that and sometimes that development comes with hiccups and that's why that's happening."

Heineman didn't have any issues in his last couple of appearances. 

--- Tyler Anderson had a really strong relief performance against the Padres and then gave up a three-run homer to Joey Gallo on Sunday. He's a candidate to start against his former teammates this week in Denver with Drew Smyly now on the injured list. Anderson threw just two innings Sunday. 

Losing Smyly is going to hurt. He was Kapler's best starter so far, and there's no way to survive this road trip if Logan Webb and Kevin Gausman don't show more efficiency and Samardzija keeps lacking swing-and-miss stuff. 

[RELATED: MLB power rankings: Where Giants, A's sit after 11 days]

--- Anderson had the weirdest stat of the homestand. He picked off two Padres in one inning, becoming the first Giants pitcher to pull that off since Madison Bumgarner in the first inning against the Reds on June 27, 2014. 

--- Six different Giants hit a homer during the six-game homestand, and Yastrzemski hit two. They weren't cheapies, either. It might be too early to say that it's much more of a hitter's park, but there's no doubt the ball is flying if you pull it down the right field line.

Full credit to the great Mike Krukow. He was all over that in the first exhibition game, pointing out that right field had a new jetstream because the archways have been closed off. I don't know how the science behind this works, but it's clear he was right. 

--- The quote of the year thus far comes from, not surprisingly, Samardzija. He was asked about players having "a beer" together after games but doing so while adhering to social distancing rules. He repeated the words "a beer" and shook his head.

"Plural," he said. "Go with plural."

How Giants are developing players in Sacramento with no minor leagues

How Giants are developing players in Sacramento with no minor leagues

Kyle Haines has been dealt nearly an impossible hand. The Giants' director of player development has to advance the game of top prospects like Joey Bart, Marco Luciano, Patrick Bailey and Heliot Ramos, while also making sure more veteran players like Yolmer Sanchez, Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Triggs are ready to join the big league club in San Francisco. 

This all is happening at the same alternate site in Sacramento, Sutter Health Park, with the minor league season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Haines is leading the operation with a long list of others helping him as well. The goal is to make this as much of a game-like environment as possible. The reality is, that's not very easy or realistic. There simply aren't enough players, especially pitchers, to form two teams for a full intrasquad game. 

"The best way to describe it, I think, is a glorified workout," Haines said last week in a phone interview with NBC Sports Bay Area.

To make the day-to-day feel as much like a game as possible, the staff simply forms a defense and a certain pitcher will throw to two, three or four batters. There's no traditional lineup. What the Giants will do is create impromptu situations like a real game for the hitter, pitcher and defense. 

What Haines has learned early on is the numbers game isn't the biggest obstacle. 

"Honestly, the big thing is just trying to keep morale up," Haines said. "It’s not an ideal environment on and off the field to play baseball. It’s not ideal and we’re trying our best. Everyone’s done great so far."

The Giants are doing their best to keep a loose, focused environment on the field. Off it, they want their players and staff to be as safe as possible in Sacramento. Players like Bart and Luciano are tested just as often as Mike Yastrzemski and Brandon Crawford. Perhaps just as important, the team has kept players as close to the park as possible, with as little travel as possible outside of that as well. 

If players already live locally in the area, they will continue to do so. But what about those who don't? The franchise took care of housing near the stadium and has made it clear how important safety measures are. 

In essence, they have a bit of their own bubble in Sacramento. 

"Basically our only interaction is together pretty much all day," Haines said. "I know there’s a lot of people thinking we’re being reckless. Personally, I feel as safe with this group of people and the amount of testing that Major League Baseball is doing -- I feel that these kids and myself are much safer here than being at home going into the grocery store and living their normal lives.

"I don't think we’re at any more risk. We’re definitely being extremely careful."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

When players do go through simulated innings and mini scrimmages, there's no way for you or me to see their stats. There's no Baseball-Reference for these "games." That doesn't mean the Giants aren't tracking stats, though. 

They're tracking everything, and sharing everything with their players. Whether it be exit velocity for a hitter or the velocity on a pitcher's fastball, they want their players, veteran or prospect, to know what they're tracking and evaluating. That creates some pride for players, and certainly helps the game environment. 

Ultimately, though, Haines doesn't want his players to get caught up in the numbers. What should be more important right now is the process. 

"Honestly, we want to make sure we could turn this into a good situation where they’re not worried about their stats going online," Haines said. "They’re just worried about the process. That’s one way we want these guys to look at it. We want you to make progress in your own development, not in the eyes of Baseball-Reference.

"Let’s be real, stats can be very misleading."

While top prospects like Bart and Luciano are advancing their games in Sacramento right now, that isn't true for a large number of players. Haines tries to call players who aren't at the alternate site as much as he can, but has relied heavily on his staff for that. This is hard enough with a large staff. If it were a one-man show, Haines would be glued to his phone calling 200-plus minor leaguers all the time.

Instead, a staff member will check in with about 10 or 15 guys throughout the week and report back to people like Haines. He praised the Giants' medical staff, strength and conditioning staff, hitting and pitching coaches and minor league managers for their collaboration.

There also is a large number of players who don't have the benefit of using the same technology or facilities as what is being utilized in Sacramento. The Giants did send equipment to a group of prospects, and Haines said a lot workout at training facilities that are able to give them the kind of data the Giants are tracking. But that's not true for everyone.

"For the most part, these poor kids, I just feel for them," Haines said. "They're basically just in the offseason again."

There's strategy and reason behind everything the Giants are doing. That's also true for who they chose to come to Sacramento. When looking at that list, it's full of top position player prospects like Bart, Luciano, Bailey and Ramos, as well as Alexander Canario, Luis Toribio and Will Wilson.

There are a few key names missing from that list, though. 

Pitching prospects like Seth Corry and Sean Hjelle aren't in Sacramento right now, but dont get it twisted: The Giants still have high hopes for these two, along with their other pitching prospects. This isn't about picking favorites. 

The simple fact is, pitchers have the benefit of developing through bullpens, tracking their velocity and spin rate with systems like Rapsodo. Haines recently talked with Hjelle and said the 6-foot-11 right-hander is game-ready right now. The same can't be true for a young hitter without live at-bats.

[RELATED: Giants prospects Bailey, Bart learning to play first in Sac]

"The key right now is these young position players can’t miss a year worth of at-bats, whereas pitchers we can simulate innings much easier than we can simulate at-bats," Haines said. "That's definitely part of the thought process."

It's not perfect. It's not ideal. The Giants are balancing the present and the future all at one field, at the same time. They have to be focused and keep it loose, with safety as the top priority. 

There's a lot to juggle right now for Haines and his staff, and they certainly seem up to the tall task to push the Giants' exciting young farm system.