SAN FRANCISCO – After setting a franchise-record last year with 107 wins, the Giants are out to prove that their 2021 success was not a fluke.
A 22-15 start to the season is an impressive opener, but Gabe Kapler’s club returns to Oracle Park on Friday to give it more opportunities to show it is still a serious contender for the National League.
Enter the Padres (24-14) and the Mets (26-14), two of the league’s top teams, heading to Oracle Park for a three-game series next week. What should you expect as the Giants embark on their toughest homestand ever?
Here’s what to see.
After his last debut, Carlos Rodón stated that it would be “six days long” until his next one. That day comes on Saturday to receive the opening Cy Young chatter in the two starters’ pitching matchup against the Padres.
Rodon is making his worst start as a giant after the Cardinals tagged him for nine runs and chased him down after 3⅔ innings. The result was a dire result from his last six stellar starts (35.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 13.6 K/9), and the Giants don’t necessarily believe that Rodone did poorly. He pounded the strike zone, but St. Louis took the most aggressive stance of any team yet against Rodone.
The Padres have the second-lowest swing percentage in MLB (44.1%), which does not bode well for the Cardinals’ swing-early, swing-frequently repeat strategy against Rodone.
The Giants will face right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-0, 2.20 ERA). In an MLB.com poll of 70 writers this week, Rodan was in a way too early Cy Young to place fourth in the poll, just behind Musgrove.
The series opener on Friday will feature right-hander Jacob Junis against Padres lefty ace Shaun Manea, a double of a potential pitcher in his own right, with Junis making a surprising contribution. With 1.74 ERA in 20⅔ innings, Junis’ 1.0 bWAR is tied with Mike Yastrzemski, and only one player has been more valuable at the Giants: Rodone (1.4).
playing full force
For the first time this season, the Giants had all of their anticipated starting infielders available for their series in Colorado, but still started only three of them on dirt. How Gabe Kapler uses Thyro 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 demonstrated a way to get the best of both worlds: La Stella’s bat and everything but Estrada’s bat, starting La Stella on a designated hitter against a right-handed start, leaving Estrada at second base.
Kapler said La Stella would be eased to second base after off-season Achilles surgery, but it could prove to be a more permanent solution. Estrada covered even more range before La Stella’s surgery and played a clean second base with only one error in 36 games. With a team-leading six stolen bases, Estrada has been his more valuable asset on the base path, according to fWAR (2.2 scored; 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 100 points short of his promising production in limited time last season (.813).
Enter: La Stella, or in the words of Kapler, “the epitome of what we want our hitters to do.”
Look no further than La Stella’s massive 464-foot home run to kick back its second game (okay, maybe look a little further; after all, it was the seventh longest home run by a Giants player in the Statcast era).
It is possible that Estrada will continue to see most of the starts at second base, while La Stella serves as the Giants’ regular DH against the right-handed pitcher. However, Estrada will still need to spell Brandon Crawford once at shortstop, and Kapler said you can expect to see La Stella at third base as well.
This brings us to Longoria.
In seven games back from finger surgery, he is 4-for-23 at the plate, although this includes a clutch to-RBI, pinch-hit double, and another two-hit game during his series in St. He’s started five of those seven, and it looks like the Giants want to lighten their load in a similar fashion to how they handled Buster Posey last season.
“You’re going to see us during the three-match series, try to start at third base for (Wilmer Flores),” Kapler said. “He has to play regularly for us. He has 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 is the kind of person who is going to benefit from a day here and there. ,
The Giants will still be without reliever Jake McGee (lower back stiffness), but the left-hander is expected to return as soon as he deserves, for his series debut in Cincinnati. He dismissed the team in an innings during rehab with Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday.
who’s heating up?
When the Giants picked Luis Gonzalez on Friday, he was batting .349 – the only Giants hitter with a batting average above .260. Nevertheless, the Giants’ 5.11 runs per game were still more than any team in the majors other than the Dodgers.
Their ability to score runs is made more impressive by the production, or lack thereof, they have received from the middle of their order. The .474 ops from the three-hole hitter combined with the on-base-percentage looks like the ideal slugging percentage from that position in the lineup. This extends from three to six, where the Giants’ middle-order bats are hitting worse (.673 ops) than the bottom three slots (.757 ops) in the order.
But some of those hitters are starting to heat up.
Darin Roof is batting .419/.537/.613 with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) in the last 15 days.
Mike Yastrzemsky has batted all over the order, but can be a regular force in the middle of the way he has hit baseball over the past 15 days, with 14 hits — half for extra bases — in 44 at-bats. (.318/.418/.568).
Roof has increased his OPS by nearly 200 points in that period to .664 Friday, while Yastrzemski’s has risen more than 100 points to .828, closing 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 the recent surge of Yastrzemsky and Estrada, both batsmen averaged over .270. Enter the homestand.