Top 10 April takeaways for the 9-17 Giants
9 wins, 17 losses
Did you know the Giants' starting pitchers had a 4.36 ERA in April? That Matt Moore is sitting at 4.80 and he's still leading Johnny Cueto (5.10) and Jeff Samardzija (6.32). It was a rough month for big additions the front office built around, but they kind of went under the radar because so much went wrong elsewhere. This was the month when the lineup was no-hit through four innings seemingly every other night, the ace knocked himself out for three months, and the bullpen provided chilling flashbacks. It was a stretch where chunks of the fan base, members of the media, and yes, even people inside the Giants organization, started whispering about a rebuild, and it's hard to blame them -- not when the team is last in the National League, seven games out of first, and five behind the Dodgers. It's sometimes hard to look back, but that's what we do in good times and bad...
This Is Nothing New
The scariest part of April is that it is in many ways a continuation of the second-half slide. Since the break in 2016, the Giants are 39-59, which is a 64-win team over a full year (and we’re approaching a year here). Only one team, the Twins at 59 wins, was worse than that in 2016. This is not a slump. This is a roster that has mostly stayed the same, and has mostly played bad baseball for about 100 games now.
The Giants have not relied on power during this dynasty, but even by that standard, this is a slow start. They are 29th in the Majors in homers (16), 29th in slugging (.346) and dead last in hard-contact percentage (26 percent). They have just one starter, Buster Posey, in the top 70 in the Majors in exit velocity. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. This team isn’t driving the ball.
They’ll Have To Match The Dodgers
A back injury kept Clayton Kershaw off the field for about 10 weeks last season and the Dodgers responded with a 38-24 stretch. The Giants don’t have Dodger depth, but they do have rotation depth. To give Madison Bumgarner another postseason shot, they’ll need a similar run. (An unfortunate bonus takeaway from April: Turns out Bumgarner is not unbreakable.)
It Wasn’t All Bad
Bumgarner is not infallible, but let’s not forget the historic way this season started. Weeks before the dirt bike accident, Bumgarner hit two bombs in his first start of the season. Through April, the pitcher home run scoreboard is: Bumgarner 2, All Other MLB Pitchers 2.
A Full Trainer’s Room
The Giants finished April without Bumgarner (shoulder), Denard Span (shoulder), Jarrett Parker (clavicle), Brandon Crawford (groin), Aaron Hill (forearm) and Will Smith (Tommy John). That’s a combo of bad luck, some bad decision-making, and frankly, a little bit of age. It happens, but the Giants weren’t fully ready for it, especially in the outfield.
The Left Field Plan Was Seriously Flawed
Already paying the tax, the Giants did not have the budget last offseason to go big in left. But looking back, a more creative option was needed. The young guys -- Mac Williamson and Parker -- got hurt, and Parker struggled before hitting a wall. The “Gregor Blanco breakout” types — Chris Marrero, Gorkys Hernandez — failed. It added up to a .161/.245/.230 slash line in left field and Eduardo Nuñez and Brandon Belt moving to the outfield. If this season does turn into a rebuild/reload situation, figuring out the 2018 starting outfield should be at the top of the list.
The Fifth Starter Plan Was Not Seriously Flawed
Forgetting the last couple of years and a shaky spring, the Giants were rewarded for sticking with Matt Cain. He has a 2.30 ERA through five starts; last year it was 7.00 through five. The biggest difference: A sinker he is using 26 percent of the time, more than twice his previous career-high. The Kershaw-ish ERA is not sustainable. The new approach, however, certainly should be.
Let’s Talk About RBI
We’re not supposed to talk about RBI in 2017, but look, when the team leader is on pace for 69 RBI (Belt, naturally) it’s an issue. “Anthony Rendon’s Sunday” would rank second on this team in homers and tied for second in RBI. Sure, Posey missed a week, but even he would tell you he should have driven in more than three runs last month. The Giants are actually decent (.255) with runners on, but when you slug .334 in those situations, you end up going station-to-station. The lack of rallies has led to close games, which has led to …
New Year, Same Issue
The bullpen blew 12 leads in April, including eight in games that were ultimately lost. After blowing just four saves last season, Mark Melancon has a couple of high-profile ones already. The bullpen had a nice stretch in the middle of the month, but it sure stung the clubhouse to lose that way on Opening Day, and this weekend's mess killed any chance of taking momentum onto a three-city trip. I actually think the bullpen will ultimately be fine this year, but given the way last year ended, that was a brutal way to go through April.
The Kid Is For Real
Let’s end on a high note: Christian Arroyo gives hope for the future. He went just 6-for-29 during his first week, but he hit two homers in huge spots, showing he’s not afraid and he has a sense for the moment. The swing is balanced, he makes quick adjustments, the approach is mature, and the power has taken a significant step up since 2016. That last one is to be expected, since he’s barely old enough to drink. No matter where this season goes from here, Arroyo’s development will be a huge storyline. He should be an everyday third baseman in May, and on the 30th day of the month, he’ll turn 22.