The "Even Year Magic" has run out, but Giants return ready for another World Series run

Mad Bum is back for more in 2017 (photo by Tim Warner)

Mad Bum is back for more in 2017 (photo by Tim Warner)

By Ryan Ward | @RyanJWard

Well, it finally happened.

Oakland A’s faithful and MLB fans nationwide can rejoice, because the "Even Year Magic" (or “Even Year BS,” as some say) has finally run out for the San Francisco Giants.

Fitting as it may be, it was painful for Giants fans to watch the backbone of their team - the definitive strength of the 2010, 2012, and 2014 championship teams - directly lead to their demise. It felt ironic, but it was only a matter of time before their reliable bullpen arms aged, became fatigued, lost precision, and the luck began to run out.

The warning signs were there throughout the year, as the team blew an incredible 30 saves during the 2016 regular season. The front office took a gamble by not making significant improvements to the bullpen at the trade deadline - aside from 8th-inning lefty Will Smith - and it couldn’t have ended worse in the playoffs.

The 9th inning of Game 4 of the NLDS was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Derek Law, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo failed to record an out while coughing up a 4-run lead vs. the Cubs, leading to San Francisco’s first playoff series loss since 2003.

Let’s take a moment to admire the team’s run, though. Leading up to the 2016 NLDS, the Giants had defeated a whopping 11 consecutive playoff opponents since the start of the 2010 postseason, which ties a record set by the 1998-2001 New York Yankees, one of baseball’s greatest dynasties.

Now, as they look ahead to Opening Day 2017, it’s out with the old and in with the new. The final three members of the Giants’ “Core Four” bullpen - Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla - have either moved on or retired (Romo to the Dodgers, keep an eye on that one).

Filling their shoes will be difficult, but the Giants have several guys ready and willing to be promoted to the later innings, including Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, and Steven Okert, all with big league experience and intermittent success, primed for their careers to advance.

The Giants’ front office did their best work of the offseason when they courted and eventually signed Mark Melancon away from the Pirates to anchor the bullpen staff. Melancon brings instant stability to the role with 147 saves since the start of 2013 (3rd in the league), and although his contract is large, the Giants were very clear that they were not willing to take any shortcuts at that position in 2017.

Along with a newly solidified ‘pen, the Giants continue to bolster an All-Star caliber infield, both offensively and defensively. Amazingly, all five starting Giants infielders - Posey, Belt, Panik, Crawford, and Nunez - have All-Star selections to their names. And equally as incredible, the home-grown group of Posey, Panik, and Crawford have all won Gold Glove Awards.

The outfield, however, remains the Giants’ undisputed question mark. Hunter Pence is their biggest asset and emotional leader, however his health has been a huge question mark these past few seasons, as he’s fought oblique, wrist, and leg injuries. If the Giants plan to return to the World Series, they’ll need Pence to regain his .280 BA, 20 HR, 80 RBI form, and play upwards of 140 games in right field.

Denard Span is also a question mark, as he’s proven to be less of a prototypical leadoff hitter, despite Bruce Bochy’s insistence that he remain in that spot. If he can get on base at a good clip ahead of the heart of the lineup, the Giants will be fine. If not, then it poses a problem, and might warrant a change in the lineup order.

That leaves left field open, which is entirely up for grabs. Management made it clear that they have faith in their young outfield talent by not even pursuing a LF replacement in free agency, and at this point in spring training, it looks as if lefty Jarrett Parker will win the job...but it’s almost a certainty that both he and righty Mac Williamson will split the duties in platoon roles, depending on the day’s starting pitcher.

It would behoove Bochy to go with the hot hand, however, and avoid stubbornly sticking to the platoon definitions, as both guys have huge power and can get streaky over stretches of games. Let’s not forget that Parker has a 3 HR game on his big league resume.

Finally, the starting pitching. Unlike last offseason, the Giants went into the winter break confident in 4 out of 5 of their starting spots. In rotation order: Bumgarner, Cueto, Moore, and Samardzija. The 5th spot is there for the taking, and the Giants may well give it to Matt Cain, but he has done nothing to earn their trust this spring, and guys like Ty Blach and Tyler Beede are chomping at the bit to get their chance.

Still, having two All-Stars at the top and two solid starters at 3 and 4 is much more than almost any team can say, and the Giants certainly count their starting pitching as an advantage over most opponents.

Now that the even year magic is over, the Giants look healthy and ready as ever to challenge for the NL pennant in 2017, led by solid starting pitching, an All-Star infield, and a fresh-faced bullpen with a game-changing closer. Stay tuned, 2017 may have some magic up its sleeve.

"The Pure Swing of Joe Panik" - A Giants Rookie Arrives on the Big Stage

Panik's swing looks effortless from the left side (photo by Jason O. Watson)

By Connor Buestad |

The first time I met Joe Panik, we were standing in a dirt parking lot at dusk in San Jose, under the post-game glow of the low budget lights at “The Muni” or “San Jose Municipal Stadium" down the street from San Jose State University. The home of the Single-A Giants, The Muni is certainly not short on charm, but it also isn’t long on amenities either. An untouched relic of a bygone era of minor league baseball, The Muni does exactly what it is designed to do: cultivate the dreams of 20-year-old kids as they take their marks on the race to the major leagues.

The reason for my visit with Panik was a mutual friend, Mike Carozza. A baseball nut from the same upstate New York hometown as Panik, who grew up playing on the same little league fields as the younger Joe. Now they were both out west, attempting to make a name for themselves in San Francisco one way or another.

The three of us talked at length on that random South Bay summer night. The conversation probably wouldn’t have lasted as long, if it wasn’t for the fact that Panik was scheduled to make a public appearance at a team function later that evening. Public appearances have never been Panik’s thing. He’d much rather just talk the nuances of hitting outside his car after game 109 of a long minor league baseball season than glad-hand a bunch of people at a corporate event. But that’s just Joe.

Earlier that night, Panik had made a baby step toward his current post as the starting second baseman for the Pennant winning San Francisco Giants. He had shared the clubhouse and the infield with Pablo Sandoval, who was down in Single-A San Jose on a rehab assignment. By that same October, Pablo was hitting three home runs in one World Series game versus Justin Verlander and the Tigers, en route to the Giants’ second World Championship in three years.

Panik spent that same October of 2012 back in his hometown of Yonkers watching the World Series with his dad on Fox like the rest of us. Fast forward two short years and now Joe Panik is a far cry from Single-A San Jose, as he’s found himself in the Fall Classic himself, still just 23 years of age.


In a word? Pure. (photo by Nhat V. Meyer)

I haven’t talked to the soft-spoken, humble-as-can-be Panik since his call up to The Show. I can only guess as to what his experience has been like as a member of the Giants. But before Panik was called up to play for San Francisco, he made a stop in Triple-A Fresno to play for the Grizzlies. And Carozza and I were there for that pit stop as well, earlier this summer.

We were in Sacramento to be exact. Site of yet another nameless, faceless minor league weekday day-game. The kind of game that attracts more serious sunbathers than serious baseball fans.

We talked to Joe after this game too. This time it wasn’t in a dirt parking lot, but rather a sterile open-air shopping mall type deal in Sacramento. We ran into some veteran pitchers at the same restaurant. Pitchers that had already been up in the majors and had been sent down to Triple-A, forced to struggle their way back up. Panik discussed in earnest about how he was going to navigate his way up to San Francisco. It wouldn’t be easy, he admitted. As cliche as it sounds, he was close, but so far away. As much as he looked like a big league baseball player at that restaurant, no one was even close to recognizing the Giants’ top prospect. He would still be a nobody in the minors, until he proved otherwise.

On June 21st, young Joe got the call. And somehow, thanks to someone, an unknown blog that calls itself “Section925” was there to break the news. By this time of the year, the Giants had tried their hand with seven players at second base, including the high priced slugger Dan Uggla and World Series hero Marco Scutaro. Even so, Brian Sabean finally chose to look past Panik’s small home run totals and instead decide to focus on his picturesque left-handed swing, his steady glove, and his even steadier .300 average. Sabean’s decision, one might argue, came up aces.

In the 73 games Panik played in for the Giants this year, he hit a staggering .305. And in the League Championship Series versus the Cardinals, Panik hit a dramatic home run to help push the Giants into the World Series. If Brian Sabean wanted more home runs, he got one.

A veteran he is not, but don’t expect Panik to be overwhelmed by the World Series stage starting Tuesday in Kansas City. For anyone that has ever met Joe, knows that he never gets too high or too low. We won’t compare him to that other Joe who played football at Candlestick Park, by way of Pittsburgh, but you get the idea. The Joe Panik coming out party started in June, and it has been slowing gaining steam. Look for the party to hit it’s peak this weekend at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. At the World Series.

Jeff Kent never managed to win a World Series. Can Joe Panik do it in his first year? (photo by Thearon W. Henderson)