The Friday Five: Let’s play ball! Again.

 

cueto

Johnny Cueto and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants / Getty Images

The second half of the baseball season gets underway tonight for the San Francisco Giants. The break is over and it’s time for nothing but baseball over the next three and a half months. This could be another year of putting football on hold until November. That may be a good thing, if  you’re a Niners fan.

I’m sorry, where were we? Oh yeah, the Giants get the advantage of having the best in record in baseball at 57-33, and hold a 6.5 game lead in the NL West over the Dodgers. At Baseball Prospectus their odds to make the playoffs is 95.3% and to win the division it’s 70.6%. The Giants are projected to win about 94 games.

So, how did they get here? Will the Giants keep the run going in an even year? No matter what happens I am sure we’re in for some great baseball and memories this summer. Let’s take an in-depth look at how they achieved the best record in baseball and also explore what the Giants need to do in the second half to win the division and get a shot at another even year crown. The Friday Five is back for every week the rest of the way, let’s enjoy this wild ride that is Giants baseball.

 

San Francisco Giants v New York Yankees

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 21: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Brandon Crawford #35 of the San Francisco Giants in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Giants 6-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

1) There’s been a lot of keys to the Giants success this season but the glue that has been holding them together is Brandon Crawford. He’s been the MVP of the first half, and may enter the conversation for NL MVP by September. After a slow April, Crawford has been a run producing machine. He drove in 6 runs in April and then 23 in both May and June. He’s already driven in 9 in July. With runners in scoring position Crawford is batting .356 and with 2 outs and RISP he’s at .341. None of those 14 hits were home runs. When the situation dictates just looking for a base hit to score a run and keep it moving, he does just that. Nineteen runs have been scored on those 14 hits.

Sacrifice flies are always a sexy stat. Brandon Crawford is tied for the lead in the NL with 7 of them. During the season he’s slowly crept up the batting order. He has hit seventh 31 times, sixth 20 times, and now fifth in the order 28 times. That’s why he’s been driving in all those runs. Buster Posey and Brandon Belt have been getting on base ahead of Crawford. He’s driven Posey in 15 times, Belt 14. That’s 29 of 61 of his runs driven in. Unlike other years, the part of the order that gets it going starts at Belt hitting third. There is no more 1-2 punch at the top.

 

A few more batting nuggets about Crawford’s hitting. He has 9 home runs this season, all at night. Seven of those nine homers were off the starting pitcher. It looks like he does homework against the starters and therefore is able to drive the ball against them better. Against relief pitchers, Crawford is more likely to just want to make contact. A few times that contact splits the gap in left center field and Crawford cruises into 2nd base. He is the prototype of Bruce Bochy’s “keep the line moving” mentality.

I haven’t even mention the 2015 Gold Glover’s fielding. In 356 chances this season Brandon Crawford has made 4 errors. According to Baseball Reference he has a 2.4 defensive WAR, the highest in baseball. The next closest is Adam Eaton and Salvador Perez at 1.7 each. By his glove alone, Crawford helps win ballgames. We see how far he ranges on a daily basis and his arm is stronger than any shortstop I can remember since a young Shawon Dunston.

Brandon Crawford has stood out through the first half of the season and is a big reason why the starting pitching has been so dominant. Every single pitcher that takes the mound feels like Crawford will pick it and keep things in order on the infield. It’s a luxury to have, and it’s helped make the 2016 Giants a dominant edition.

 

2) Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are putting on some kind of a show this season. Just this past Sunday, Bumgarner flirted with no-hitter. On Tuesday, Cueto started the All-Star Game. It’s been fun watching these 2 guys be so good at the top in very different ways. Even their personalities are opposite, yet fit in perfectly with the team around them. Jeff Samardzija has also chipped in with some dominating performances but remains a bit streaky and vulnerable to home runs.

Back to the top two. Bumgarner will be making his 20th start of the season tonight, he’s thrown 129.2 innings. Cueto has 18 starts, but he’s thrown 1.2 more innings than Bum. It probably has to do with Cueto’s 4 complete games, the most in MLB, two of those are shutouts. Poor Madison Bumgarner only has 3 CG and 1 shutout. Throw in Shark’s 1 CG and the Giants have the most in baseball with 8. Cleveland comes in second with 5 complete games so far in 2016.

We’ve seen what Bumgarner can do in the past, this is the guy that has a 0.25 ERA in 36 World Series innings pitched, but this year he seems to be on another level in the regular season. He’s increased his strikeout rate, sitting down over 28% of the batters he’s faced. Bumgarner is at his best when he attacks the zone and dictates the tempo. He showed that on Sunday, and I expect he’ll try to show us again tonight in San Diego.

Johnny Cueto has been a revelation. He’s a blast to watch as a fan and deceptive to hitters. One momet he may sit at the top of his windup and shimmy, the next he barely lifts his legs and throws a quick pitch. You never know what he’s going to do and it has translated into results for the Giants. Cueto has started 18 games, the Giants have won 16 of them. Three different times Cueto has allowed 6 runs, the Giants won all 3 games.

He seems to keep all the fielders on their toes and give them an energy out there. It translates to results. Only 18% of ground balls off Cueto are hits. It’s hard to get the ball up in the air off of him as everything has downward movement. Cueto has the lowest homer rate against him in the league allowing under half a homer per game. Better than Clayton Kershaw.

Both Bumgarner and Cueto allow less than 1 base runner an inning. They are 2 of only 5 guys in baseball right now who can say that.

A tip of the cap to Albert Suarez. He filled in admirably for an injured Matt Cain. Suarez started 6 games and departed with the lead 5 times. The other time the Giants were within 1 run. He did his job as a 5th starter. Jake Peavy rebounded from some rough starts as well. And we’re all thankful for that.

 

3) There is a list of names a mile long that have played for the Giants this season. Starters have gone down in both the infield and the outfield. Players stepping up in a backup role been a huge reason the Giants have been able to sustain the good pace they are on. Here’s a few of the backups that are standing out to me.

  • Mac Williamson– He’s been impressive both with the bat and glove. Mac has the Giants longest home run this season, a 460-foot shot in Arizona off Patrick Corbin. The ball left the bat at 111 MPH, and it wasn’t even his hardest hit ball. Don’t forget about at least 3 catches, maybe 4, when Mac was basically parallel to the ground. Williamson has been a trooper, he was recalled by the Giants 4 different times already this season. That means he had to take the shuttle back to Sacramento 3 times. I hope he’s here to stay as the 5th outfielder when Pence is healthy.
  • Ramiro Peña– On June 10th backup infielder Kelby Tomlinson went on the disabled list. Little did we know at the time it was the beginning of an avalanche of injuries. On that day Peña was called up and he has hit the ball hard ever since. He’s batting .354 while playing all over the diamond. As of July 11th, Kelby is back in Sacramento. Peña has a hold on the utility guy spot.
  • Grant Green– He hit a go-ahead home run last Saturday as the Giants won. He’s been solid as a hitter so far (.300 BA) and apparently grew up a Giants fan.
  • Trevor Brown– He’s been a solid backup catcher that has totally made us forget about Andrew Susac. Brown is hitting .245 with 4 home runs in 24 starts. But that’s not his most valuable part. The pitchers seem to like throwing to him and it shows in the minimal uptick in ERA when he’s behind the dish. Who saw that coming?
  • Gregor Blanco– Let us not forget that he was the lone backup outfielder when the season began. He’s started 45 of the Giants 90 games. That’s a mixture of all 3 outfield positions. Yes he’s streaky at the pate at times, but his glove in the outfield more than makes up for it. Behind Hunter Pence, Blanco is the Giants best outfielder.

 

 

 

4) To pave the way for all those backups was injuries to the starters. They should be returning soon and it will be interesting to see who get shuffled around. Alex Pavlovic of CSN reports that Pence will play a rehab game Saturday and Joe Panik could be right behind him on Sunday. That lines them up to be back in New York against the Yankees or the homestand after. Who knows when we’ll see Matt Duffy. He’s progressed slowly with his achillies strain.

Matt Cain is scheduled to be the 5th starter and pitch Wednesday night in Boston. The rotation coming out of the break has been shuffled. Johnny Cueto will be 3rd now behind Samardzija and Bumgarner. Jake Peavy is 4th and then Cain. Hopefully they all stay healthy. I like this idea of Bum and Cueto getting split up. In a 3-game series like this weekend in San Diego the get to bookend both sides. It’s a good way to open and close. They will be doing it again next weekend in Yankee Stadium.

The Giants have a pretty good schedule for the second half of the season. After this weekend they go east to Boston and New York. The bonus is having days off on Monday and Thursday. This team will be well rested. The Giants end July with a 7-game homestand. Three with the Reds and 4 with the first place Nats.

Looking to August, the Giants take another east coast trip from the 2nd-1oth. It’s 3 cities, Philadelphia, DC, and Miami. Unlike years past, it’s not as grueling. The Giants get August 1st off to start the road trip and the 11th off after the trip. All three series finales are afternoon getaway days. So be prepared for some morning baseball in early August.

On August 11th when the Giants arrive home, they don’t leave the state of California for the rest of the month. The only roadie is a 3-game trip to LA and then right back to San Francisco. The Giants end the month of August playing the last 15 of 18 games at home.

Starting with that quick LA trip towards the end of August, the Giants will have 38 games remaining, 27 of them against the NL West. They have dominated their own division this season posting a winning record against all 4 teams.

9-5 vs Ari

7-6 vs Col

6-4 vs LA

9-0 vs SD

September shakes out much like August, with a lot less flying. The Giants travel to Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix to start the month. Then they don’t leave the state of California again for the rest of the season.

I think all this with the schedule is notable because ballplayers are generally creatures of habit. It will be very helpful for the Giants to basically be on west coast time from August 11th on. It doesn’t hurt that the Giants are 20-10 in 1-run games, best in baseball. Remember, this tea is three full games ahead of anyone else for the best record in all of baseball. They are good.

This second half has the potential to cement a special season for the Giants.

5)To wrap this up I thought for fun we could revisit our predictions for the team from our season preview show. I also opened the question up to the Giants subreddit r/SFGiants. I’ve posted their predictions below. Thanks so much for reading, listening to the podcast, and following along to another Giants season with us.

Ben: 86 wins, 1st place

Chad: 90 wins, 1st place (he’s been dead on for 3 straight years)

Eric: 94 wins, 1st place

Willie: 93 wins, 1st place

I’ve doubled down on my prediction and stand firm on this tweet from June 28:

 

 

Here’s the reddit predictions. Thanks so much for all the submissions.

zinklesmesh: I’m gonna say 96-66. If we played .500 ball the rest of the way from our current 57-33, we’d win 93 games. I just don’t see this team winning 100 games. There’ll be a swoon of some kind.

Lab_Daddy: 98 wins. Winning the west by 4.

JustMy2Pence: I’m gonna be bold and say 103 wins. I know it’s optimistic, but with Pence, Duffy, and Panik returning to the roster, along with a trade for a relief pitcher (Miller perhaps?) I see the Giants going 46-26 the rest of the way and winning the division by at least 6 games.

dodgerh8ter: 90 wins. Tie for first place with Dodgers. Forced to play game 163. Madbum vs Kershaw. Giants leading 4-2 into the 7th. My crystal ball is out of RAM and I can’t see past this point.

leadhase: 105 CAUSE WHY NOT

ieandrew91: 98 games

Quakes98: 99 wins

olmuckyterrahawk: 97-65, with Dodgers getting the wild card with 95-67.

Thanks so much for submitting your guesses! Make sure to follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and listen to the podcast on Podomatic and iTunes.

Eric

@2outhits on Twitter

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