Giants’ fill-ins performing superbly, but for how long?
SAN FRANCISCO » As left hander Derek Holland doused shortstop Brandon Crawford with water from a jug, the Giants slapped hands with infielder Alen Hanson, who delivered a pinch hit, tying two-run home run to make Crawford’s walk- off single possible on Wednesday.
The 5- 4 10-inning victory over the Diamondbacks capped a 5-1 homestand in which rookies Andrew Suárez and Dereck Rodríguez combined to throw 13 innings of onerun ball and ended a sixgame stretch in which Pablo Sandoval raised his batting average 17 points, thanks to eight hits including two home runs.
Of all the Giants players listed above, only Crawford entered spring training with a roster spot in the bag.
“With all the injuries that have happened, everybody that came in and filled their spots, they did a good job of keeping us in this race,” Holland said. “That’s what’s huge about this whole team. Each guy that’s got the opportunity to come in and help this team, they’ve done what they’ve been asked to do.”
With 62 down and 100 to go, the Giants sit 1 ½ games out of first place, right in the middle of a hunt that promises to run through September. What must the Giants do to remain in playoff contention? Let’s look at the questions the club must answer.
1. CAN JOHNNY CUETO AND JEFF SAMARDZIJA RETURN TO FORM? »
Cueto was baseball’s most dominant pitcher in the month of April before an elbow sprain forced him to the disabled list and put the rest of his season in jeopardy. Samardzija has dealt with a shoulder injury since the middle of spring training that’s rendered him ineffective.
The Giants are paying the duo more than $ 40million in 2018 and every missed start forces a lesser option into action. San Francisco’s bullpen has the pieces to be a special group, but if the Giants want a shot in the division, they need at least one of their high- dollar starters to return to the mound and eat innings every fifth day.
2. ARE THEY CAPABLE OF WINNING ON THE ROAD? »
The Giants have played 32 of their first 62 on the road and are headed for their fourth three- city trip of the season as they’ll visit the Nationals, Marlins and Dodgers over their next 10 games.
With a 12-20 record away from AT&T Park this season, the Giants’ winning percentage is more than 250 points worse on the road than it is at home. A brutal month of May featured 18 road contests against winning clubs, but the Giants’ most difficult trips are out of the way and the schedule in July is downright favorable. 3. WILL ANDREW MCCUTCHEN AND EVAN LONGORIA BREAK THROUGH? » General Manager Bobby Evans traded for two face of the franchise-type players this offseason, but neither Andrew McCutchen or Evan Longoria has provided the type of spark the Giants anticipated.
While both are heart of the order hitters capable of hurting opposing pitchers, McCutchen is batting .253 with four home runs and is striking out at the highest rate of his career. Longoria has a .275 on-base percentage and is tied for the National League lead in errors.
McCutchen has developed a reputation for breaking through in June and July while Longoria still boasts strong power numbers, but the Giants need more consistency out of both to climb atop the division.
4. CAN THE BRANDONS KEEP THEIR PACE FOR THE FINAL 100GAMES? »
Even though Crawford’s average hovered below .200 for most of April and Brandon Belt is expected to miss two more weeks due to an emergency appendectomy, both Brandons are poised to earn All- Star selections in 2018.
Crawford is far and away the most productive shortstop in the National League, dazzling with his glove and carrying the Giants offense with a .423 average over his past 33 games.
Belt remains the Giants’ leader in WAR at 2.5 and ranks third in the NL with a WRC+ of 160 (an average mark is 100), making him one of the most valuable players in the league to date. If they keep it up, the Giants could finish with the best offense in the division.
5. WILL ENOUGH REGULAR STARTERS HOLD UP THROUGH THE SUMMER?
» Aside from losing their top three starting pitchers to injury before themonth of May, the Giants played without second baseman Joe Panik for four weeks and have spent a decent portion of the year searching for solutions in left and center field.
Manager Bruce Bochy oversees one of the oldest rosters in baseball and he’s judicious when it comes to resting veterans, as evidenced by the 13 games catcher Buster Posey has already sat out. Bochy doesn’t want to stress young starters or tax relievers too heavily, so the Giants have insisted on carrying 13 pitchers for most of the year.
For the Giants to gain ground in the division, they’ ll need younger starters like Panik, Mac Williamson and Gorkys Hernández to play and perform on an everyday basis while a deeper bench featuring the likes of Hanson, Sandoval, Hunter Pence and Nick Hundley eases the load on other regulars.
Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto had a stellar April, but is currently on the disabled list with a sprained elbow.