SAN FRANCISCO -- It's amazing how 18 innings can change the perception of a whole road trip.
A 4-4 road trip is not going to end up on any postseason DVD, but hey, it's fine. It's just fine, and given the way the Giants played over the weekend, coming back home that way is something they'll take.
There were signs of life, and for a lineup that was so, so bad on the road most of last year, hitting 11 homers in eight games was a huge improvement. Even scoring 31 runs in eight games -- in mostly fair ballparks -- is a nice step, given that this team averaged a league-worst 3.5 runs per game on the road last year.
Yep, the road trip was fine, just fine. Here's a look at some of what we learned ...
You know ... they're really not buried
Because of the way the Giants started the season, it hasn't at any point seemed that they're contenders. They don't have the look of a contender, either, to be fair. But they return home just three games out in the loss column, and the entire NL West is separated by 3 1/2 games.
The Dodgers have outscored them by 66 runs in less than a month, but the Giants have the best pitching staff in the division thus far and they'll get a chance to make a dent next week when they host the Dodgers for three games at Oracle Park.
I mentioned Pablo Sandoval in the recap of the last homestand and Bruce Bochy was asked about him during just about every media session in recent days. But for good reason: Sandoval is slugging .694 and picking up a hit in a third of his at-bats, and you have to wonder if he'll eventually earn more time in the starting lineup.
The Giants will see two lefties to start the homestand but then three consecutive right-handed pitchers. Perhaps we'll see a change in the lineup.
No Sophomore Slump
Dereck Rodriguez beat Stephen Strasburg and Chris Archer on the trip, continuing a solid start that has backed what he did as a rookie. Rodriguez is 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA and his xFIP (4.08) is actually about half a run lower than it was last year. His strikeout rate is up from 6.77 to 7.07 and his walk rate has dropped from 2.74 to 1.61.
Launch angle? Exit velocity against? Expected batting average? Dig into any advanced metric you want and you'll find that Rodriguez's numbers are eerily similar to what he did in 2018. Seriously, his expected batting average was .243 last year and it's .244 this year. He is using pretty much the exact same pitch mix and getting the exact same results, and that's what you love to see in Year 2.
This is not yet the Buster Posey of old, but he was certainly far improved on the road trip, slashing .261/.346/.478 and hitting his first homer in 10 months. Posey still doesn't quite have the command of the zone that he had even last year, but he struck out just three times on the trip, a dip from the start of the season, when his strikeout rate was at concerning levels.
There are some more reasons for optimism, too. His hard-hit rate (42.9 percent) is his highest in three years and he's barreling the ball more than at any point in the Statcast era. Maybe he just needed a bit more time after surgery?
What Happened to Crawnik?
A lot of the focus has been on Posey early on, but now that he's showing signs of improvement, you kind of look around and go, "uhh, what's going on with Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik?" It's a question being asked in the front office and coaches room, too.
Crawford had a brutal second half last year, slowed by injuries, and he has a .515 OPS through 24 appearances this year. He is striking out at a career-high rate, doesn't have a homer, and is hitting the ball on the ground nearly 52 percent of the time. That's not great given how many shifts these guys see. Crawford's average launch angle of 5.3 percent is less than half of what it was the past three seasons.
Crawford did get off to a slow start last season and then became the hottest hitter in the league for about six weeks, but this is a slump that's lasted quite a while.
Panik is interesting because he had such a great spring but has opened with a .186/.266/.271 slash line. Nothing in his profile really jumps off the page as being terribly different, but perhaps that's the problem, given the issues he had last year. The Giants hoped for a bounce back and so far a lot of the peripheral numbers are in the same area.
Panik has been much improved defensively, and Crawford remains a huge strength out there. But Panik already has lost just about all his starts against lefties, and you may see both guys get some extra time off if this continues.