Giants' Aggressive Deadline Moves Will Take Down Dodgers in NL West RaceAugust 5, 2016
To baseball fans east of the Mississippi River, San Francisco is a place where luck strikes in even years and baseballs splash into McCovey Cove.
It isn’t until October that the San Francisco Giants crash sports pages around the country. So it’s not surprising that their aggressive trade-deadline moves went unheralded. Organizations such as the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers, both aggressive buyers, and even the New York Yankees, deadline sellers, received more attention.
But consider this notice—for those in the eastern part of the country or those westward who are mired in NFL training camp battles—that the trades the Giants made in the week leading up to Monday's non-waiver deadline will help them edge the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West race.
On July 28, San Francisco acquired Eduardo Nunez—a player capable of moving all over the diamond—from the Minnesota Twins. Then on Monday, as the deadline neared, the Giants acquired left-handed reliever Will Smith from the Milwaukee Brewers and left-handed starting pitcher Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Nunez is hitting .290/.321/.430 and adds another bat to an offense that ranks in the top half of MLB in most relevant offensive categories, but is most notably fourth in on-base percentage (.333). Adding Nunez allowed the Giants to deal Matt Duffy, who is on the disabled list, in the Matt Moore deal.
Adding left-handers to the pitching staff, though, should give the Giants the edge over the second-place Dodgers.
San Francisco and Los Angeles play nine more times this season, including the final series of the regular season, a three-game set at AT&T Park.
Since no series will be more important in deciding the NL West crown, the Giants had to make sure they'd match up well in those games.
The Dodgers’ two best hitters this season in terms of batting average, shortstop Corey Seager and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, both hit lefty. The difference in their performance against right- and left-handed pitchers is staggering.
Seager is hitting .328/.387/.551 against righties but only .256/.302/.462 against lefties. Gonzalez is batting .293/.376/.428 against righties but .247/.311/.330 against lefties.
Gonzalez is hitting .293 against the Giants this season with four doubles and six RBI in 10 games.
Until the trade deadline, Madison Bumgarner was the only left-handed pitcher in the San Francisco rotation, and Javier Lopez was the only left-hander in the bullpen.
Both San Francisco pitching additions were vital, as teams look to play more situational ball in the final months of a division race. When Moore starts, it prevents opponents from stacking their lineups with left-handed hitting. Every opposing manager knew San Francisco’s staff was largely right-handed, which gave opposing left-handed hitters an advantage even after manager Bruce Bochy pulled a righty starter.
Smith allows Bochy a late-inning southpaw that gives the Giants an advantage against most left-handed bats. Though Smith has been uncharacteristically bad against left-handed hitting this season, he has been solid in those match ups throughout his career. In Smith's career, he has limited left-handed hitters to a .254 average.
And the moves will not only help the Giants when they play the Dodgers, but they will also enjoy more lefty-lefty matchups across the board.
Of course, as all contenders do at the trade deadline, the Dodgers made moves, too.
But while the Giants seemingly boosted a contending team, it appeared as if Los Angeles tried to slap gauze on a bleeding roster.
The Dodgers have been without ace Clayton Kershaw, who has been on the disabled list since June 28 with what the team called a “mild disc herniation,” per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Until the injury, he had been by far baseball’s best pitcher, boasting a 1.79 ERA, 1.65 FIP and 0.727 WHIP, per FanGraphs. In 16 starts this season, Kershaw had issued only nine walks.
The team announced Wednesday that it placed Kershaw on the 60-day disabled list, a procedural move that nonetheless spurs more speculation that he will not return in 2016. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times shares the sentiment.
In anticipation of Kershaw's continued absence, the club acquired left-handed starter Rich Hill from the Oakland A’s on Monday. Though Hill, 36, is enjoying a comeback season with a 2.25 ERA in 14 starts, he is hardly a replacement for Kershaw.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner made it through at least seven innings in all but two of his starts this season. He went six innings in those two outings, including his most recent effort against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 26.
L.A. can't expect any replacement to be that consistent, which means the bullpen will be taxed more entering the final months of the season. There is a lot of pressure on Hill not only to stay healthy, but to continue to pitch at a high level.
The same deal that brought Hill to Los Angeles included outfielder Josh Reddick. He hit .296/.368/.449 with the A’s. His trade was a result of another disappointing season from Yasiel Puig.
The latest episode in the ongoing soap opera with Puig saw the team officially demote him to Triple-A on Wednesday, and Reddick is an improvement over Puig’s .260/.320/.386 slash line.
But Reddick also bats lefty and hits .167/.247/.167 against southpaw pitching. So while the move may help Los Angeles, San Francisco’s transactions appear to counteract his addition.
On one hand, the Dodgers made their moves to play catch-up. They wanted to get back to where they were in June with a healthy Kershaw and Puig hitting .333/.371/.455.
On the other hand, the Giants gained a springboard from their trades.
With San Francisco's recent organizational success, baseball fans might assume they'll see the Giants when the postseason rolls around. But know that when they're playing in October this year, moves of the past week will be what got them there.
Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.