SAN FRANCISCO – After setting a franchise-record with 107 wins last year, the Giants are out to prove their 2021 success wasn’t a fluke.

A 22-15 start to the season is an impressive opening salvo, but Gabe Kapler’s club returns to Oracle Park on Friday with more opportunities to show it is still a serious contender for the National League pennant.

Enter the Padres (24-14) and Mets (26-14), two of the league’s top teams who are each heading to Oracle Park for the three-game series over the next week. What should you expect as the Giants embark on their toughest homestand to date?

Here’s what to watch for.

Starting off

After his last start, Carlos Rodón said it would be “a long six days” until his next one. That day arrives Saturday against the Padres in a pitching matchup of two starters receiving early Cy Young chatter.

Rodón is coming off his worst start as a Giant, after the Cardinals tagged him for nine runs and chased him after 3⅔ innings. The result was a serious outlier from his six previous stellar starts (35.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 13.6 K / 9), and the Giants don’t necessarily believe Rodón pitched poorly. He pounded the strike zone, but St. Louis took the most aggressive approach of any team yet against Rodón.

The Padres have the second-lowest swing percentage in MLB (44.1%), which doesn’t bode well for replicating the Cardinals’ swing-early, swing-often strategy against Rodón.

The Giants will face right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-0, 2.20 ERA). An MLB.com survey of 70 writers this week had Rodón fourth in a way-too-early Cy Young poll, with Musgrove right behind him.

The series opener Friday will feature right-hander Jakob Junis against Padres lefty ace Sean Manaea, a potential pitcher’s dual in its own right, with the surprising contributions Junis has made. With a 1.74 ERA in 202 innings, Junis’ 1.0 bWAR is tied with Mike Yastrzemski, and only one player on the Giants has been more valuable: Rodón (1.4).

Playing at full strength

For the first time this season, the Giants had all their projected starting infielders available for their series in Colorado but still only started three of them on the dirt. How Gabe Kapler uses Thairo Estrada, Tommy La Stella and Evan Longoria now that the latter two are healthy is something to keep an eye on.

In Colorado, the Giants showed a way to get the best of both worlds: La Stella’s bat and everything but Estrada’s bat, starting La Stella at designated hitter against both right-handed starters while leaving Estrada at second base.

Kapler said La Stella, coming off offseason Achilles surgery, will be eased at second base, but it could prove to be a more permanent solution. Estrada covered more range even before La Stella’s surgery and has played a clean second base, with only one error in 36 games. With a team-leading six stolen bases, Estrada has been by far their more valuable asset on the base paths, too, according to fWAR (2.2 runs created; next closest: Steven Duggar, with 1.5). Estrada had a strong series in Colorado – 7-for-11 with two walks and two strikeouts – but his OPS is still more than 100 points lower than his promising production in limited playing time last season (.813).

Enter: La Stella, or in the words of Kapler, “kind of the epitome of what we want our hitters to do.”

Look no further than La Stella’s mammoth 464-foot home run to lead off his second game back (well, maybe look a little further; after all, it was the seventh-longest home run by a Giants player in the Statcast era).

It’s possible Estrada continues to see the majority of the starts at second base, while La Stella acts as the Giants’ regular DH against right-handed pitchers. However, Estrada will still be needed to spell Brandon Crawford at shortstop once in a while, and Kapler said you can expect to see some of La Stella at third base, too.

That brings us to Longoria.

In seven games back from finger surgery, he is 4-for-23 at the plate, though that includes a clutch two-RBI, pinch-hit double and another two-hit game during their series in St. Louis. He’s started five of those seven, and it sounds like the Giants want to lighten his load in a similar fashion to how they handled Buster Posey last season.

“You’re going to see us over the course of a three-game series try to get a start for (Wilmer Flores) at third base,” Kapler said. “He has to play regularly for us. He’s been one of our better hitters. Also, I don’t know if it’s better for Longo to play every single day. I think he’s a guy who’s going to benefit from a day of here and there. “

The Giants will still be without reliever Jake McGee (lower back tightness), but the left-hander is expected to return as soon as he is eligible, in time for the start of their series in Cincinnati. He struck out the side in one inning during a rehab appearance Wednesday with Triple-A Sacramento.

Who’s heating up?

When the Giants optioned Luis Gonzalez on Friday, he was batting .349 – the only Giants hitter with a batting average above .260. Yet, the Giants’ 5.11 runs per game were still more than any team in the majors besides the Dodgers.

Their ability to manufacture runs is made all the more impressive by the production, or lack thereof, they have gotten from the middle of their order. The .474 OPS from three-hole hitters more closely resembles the ideal slugging percentage from that position in the lineup than it combined with on-base-percentage. It extends three through six, where the Giants’ supposed middle-of-the-order bats are hitting worse (.673 OPS) than the bottom three slots in the order (.757 OPS).

But a few of those hitters are starting to heat up.

Darin Ruf is batting .419 / .537 / .613, with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) over the past 15 days.

Mike Yastrzemski has batted all over the order but could be a regular force in the middle of it with the way he’s hit the baseball over the past 15 days, with 14 hits – half for extra bases – in 44 at-bats (.318 / .418 / .568).

Ruf has raised his OPS over that span by nearly 200 points, to .664 entering Friday, while Yastrzemski’s is up by more than 100 points, to .828, closing in on his mark from his breakout rookie season in 2019.

The Giants still don’t have another .349 hitter on their roster – or anyone hitting .300, for that matter – but after Yastrzemski and Estrada’s recent surges, both batters enter the homestand with averages over .270.

Source Link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.