Joe Panik

Giants embracing platoon with Joe Panik, Yangervis Solarte at second base

solarteap.jpg
AP

Giants embracing platoon with Joe Panik, Yangervis Solarte at second base

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants were not shy about platoon talk this past offseason, and it appears at least one has already formed on the field. 

Joe Panik was out of the lineup for a third straight day as the Giants faced a left-handed starter for the third straight day. Manager Bruce Bochy said that may be pretty normal moving forward, and he certainly will do all he can to keep Tyler Austin in there against lefties. Austin was not supposed to play the outfield until next week but is in left field Wednesday, with Buster Posey at first and Erik Kratz behind the plate. 

"I like the lineup we can throw out there now against left-handers," Bochy said. "I just think it's a better presentation."

The Giants have just two lefties -- Steven Duggar and Brandon Crawford -- facing Nick Margevicius. Yangervis Solarte is at second for a third straight day. Solarte is 4-for-16 against lefties this season and Panik is 3-for-10.

Panik, the Opening Day starter, should have a more active weekend. The Giants are facing three right-handers during a four-game series with the Rockies. 

[RELATED: After two weeks of quiet bats, Giants break through]

If Austin, acquired Monday, plays this weekend it likely will be in left. The Giants accelerated their timeframe in terms of moving him from first to the outfield, so Austin -- who did not take any fly balls this spring and started at first in his first two appearances with the Giants -- did some pre-game work in left. Bochy said he's not worried about defensive mistakes. 

"If it does happen, I take the blame for it," he said.

Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the 2019 Giants season

Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the 2019 Giants season

SAN FRANCISCO -- In just about every way, this has been a brutal offseason and spring for the Giants. 

There were deaths, firings, and the announcement that the manager's tenure is nearly over. They came up short on Bryce Harper after months of speculation. There were off-field issues all the way from the ownership suite to the outfield. The biggest acquisition thus far has been a new scoreboard that might not be ready when the team returns from Scottsdale. 

It is fair to be a salty fan right now, and oh man, do I hear you guys on Twitter. Write a story about a promising 22-year-old pitcher, check the mentions, and you'll see someone raging about the lineup's lack of pop. Write about new technology the team is using on the field, log back in, and you'll see someone angry about an underperforming right-hander. 

But Opening Day brings hope, and it's only a week away. So here are five reasons to be optimistic about the 2019 Giants ...

Starting Five

The last time Madison Bumgarner didn't have a fluke injury, he was worth 4.8 WAR. Two years ago, Jeff Samardzija led the league in innings and had a 2.5 WAR season. Derek Holland found new life last year and was one of the best left-handers in the NL. Dereck Rodriguez never let up, posting a 2.81 ERA as a rookie. Drew Pomeranz was worth 3.9 WAR to the Red Sox just two years ago. 

Sure, there are things that could go wrong with any of these guys, and there are some red flags in the peripherals for a few of them. But on paper, the Giants have a group that potentially could be one of the best in the National League, with Andrew Suarez, Chris Stratton, Tyler Beede, Shaun Anderson and others on deck. 

The starting pitching alone should allow the Giants to be much more competitive than they've been the last two years. 

More of Reyes Moronta

Did you know Reyes Moronta allowed just 34 hits in 65 innings last year, setting a franchise record for fewest hits allowed per nine innings? He had a remarkable season, set back only by a propensity to walk batters early in his appearances. Moronta has looked just as sharp this spring while working in his changeup, and he gives Bruce Bochy one of the best weapons in the league. 

At some point this season, especially if the Giants trade Will Smith, Moronta should start his reign as closer. It's a role he wants, and one he looks ready for.

A Full Season of Steven Duggar 

The young center fielder has had no setbacks after shoulder surgery and looks poised to take over as the leadoff hitter. A full season of Duggar should finally fix the organization's long-running defensive issues in center, and give a big boost to the pitching staff.

And the ultra-competitive 25-year-old isn't here to just get his feet wet at the plate; he wants to steal 30 bases, and he certainly has the skill set to take a run at Angel Pagan's San Francisco Giants record of 15 triples. 

The Breakout

In Los Angeles, Farhan Zaidi helped discover Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and others. Will a current Giant follow that path? 

Beede had a huge spring and could pitch his way into the rotation. Mac Williamson is poised to get his first extended run as a starter and is hoping to build off of his pre-concussion 2018 numbers. Travis Bergen looks like a keeper. Perhaps someone else tears it up in Sacramento early on and gets a look in the big leagues.

There are few things more exciting to a fan base than the player who comes out of nowhere to perform like a star -- remember when we all discovered Rodriguez last summer -- and Zaidi has a history of helping guys figure it out. 

[RELATED: Giants' new role players must step up for team to contend]

Nostalgia

I almost went with "Paul Goldschmidt got traded so the Giants should win at least, like, six more games," but that does actually play a part in the final reason. 

The Giants could have traded Bumgarner ... they didn't, and he'll take the field with a healthy Buster Posey on Opening Day.

They could have traded Joe Panik ... they didn't, he looked great this spring and will once again team with Brandon Crawford for strength up the middle.

Unlike other teams, the Giants kept their core together (in part, to be fair, because they have so many immovable contracts) and it's not unreasonable to expect a lot of better performances. 

Evan Longoria looks like his old self this spring. Brandon Belt was on pace for 30 homers before his appendix flared up last year, and you figure one of these years the Baseball Gods will let him stay healthy for six months. Posey will no longer be in pain in the fifth inning every night.

This is a group that is older, with more toddlers and gray hairs in the clubhouse, but it is also mostly the same set of players that was a ninth-inning meltdown from potentially beating the eventual World Series champion Cubs 29 months ago. Maybe there's one last run in them, especially with players already rallying around the fact that this is Bochy's last season. 

Maybe not. 

But in March, isn't it much more fun to be optimistic?

Giants projected to have top-10 defense in 2019 MLB season by this stat

Giants projected to have top-10 defense in 2019 MLB season by this stat

Offense is still a question mark with Opening Day two weeks away.

No, scratch that. Offense is still a concern with Opening Day two weeks away. But the Giants' defense can be one of the best in baseball in the 2019 season. 

By projected fielding runs, a stat created by FanGraphs, the Giants are projected to have the eighth-best defense in Major League Baseball. 

The Giants ranked 12th in MLB by defensive runs saved (DRS) with 32 last season. But by defensive runs above average (DEF), which measures a player's value relative to league average, San Francisco slid all the way down to 24th with -19.1 DEF. 

It all starts in the infield for the Giants. Buster Posey's health behind the plate will be a big factor in the team's defense. He's expected to be ready to catch on Opening Day, and still had 10 DRS behind the plate in 2018 while being limited to 105 games played.

Up the middle, the combination of Joe Panik at second base and Brandon Crawford at shortstop are back for another year. Crawford's run of three straight Gold Glove awards came to an end last season, while Panik last won the award in 2016.

When healthy, they still form one of the best defensive duos in baseball. 

And then there are the corners. In his first year with the Giants, three-time Gold Glove winner Evan Longoria recorded a career-high 15 errors, but he did have 7 DRS. At first base, Brandon Belt could have been in line for his first Gold Glove if it wasn't for injuries. He had a career-high 13 DRS in 2018. 

The biggest difference in the Giants' defense this season could be their outfield. Having a full season with Steven Duggar in center field should play dividends for San Francisco. He was worth 4 DRS in only 41 games. 

[RELATED: Giants poised to take another step forward with center field defense]

Plus, the signings of Cameron Maybin, Gerardo Parra and Drew Ferguson should secure solid defense as well. 

Once again, the Giants will likely struggle to put a crooked number on the scoreboard. But their defense can play a large role in them winning extra games.