Home World 5 things we learned from season-opening road trip

5 things we learned from season-opening road trip


LOS ANGELES — Rain is in the forecast for the Giants’ home opener Friday, giving them an appropriately gloomy greeting from a disappointing first week.

After splitting the opening series with the Padres, they were swept over the past three games by the vaunted Dodgers and returned home 2-5, riding a four-game losing streak.

Set to welcome San Diego for the first games of the season on the shores of McCovey Cove, the wind has already been knocked out of the sails after a late-developing offseason that left the team optimistic internally.

Manager Bob Melvin isn’t ready to draw any conclusions.

“No, not yet,” he said after Wednesday’s 5-4 loss. “It’s too early.”

But there were some clear trends and interesting developments, good and bad, that can be dissected from the opening trip to Southern California.

Hard contact

All you have to do is listen to notice one of the most significant changes from a year ago.

It’s the quality of contact being made by Giants hitters, which through the first week of the season has been among the best in the majors.

On average, the ball is leaving their bats at 91.2 mph, harder than every other team but the Chicago Cubs. Only the Dodgers and the Padres, who have played two extra games, have hit more balls at 95-plus mph, Statcast’s definition of hard contact. The Giants have done it on 72 of the 158 balls they’ve put in play.

In 2023, the Giants ranked 23rd in average exit velocity, at 88.7 mph, and had the sixth-fewest balls in play at 95 mph or harder.

The seachange starts with Jung Hoo Lee, who so far has shown the rare ability to almost never swing and miss but also make solid contact when he connects, averaging 95.6 mph. But the additions of Matt Chapman and Jorge Soler don’t hurt, either.

The free-agent duo provided the hardest-hit balls from either side in all of the final five games of the trip — six, if not for Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 114.7 mph blast in Game 2 — punctuated by Soler’s 452-foot homer late Wednesday that left the ball at 112 mph.

Pitching and defense?

The Giants doubled down on pitching and defense in response to the behemoths in their own division.

Against the star-studded Dodgers and Padres lineups, the strategy didn’t begin to show fruit in the first week of the season. The Giants’ run differential, minus-10, is slightly better than their record, 2-5, but that’s mostly due to their own overhauled lineup that has at least lived up to expectations.

The pitching has been problematic, though it comes with a caveat.

They have allowed 46 runs, more through their first seven games of any season in their San Francisco history. The only team with a worse ERA is the Colorado Rockies, which is not good company to keep when it comes to run prevention.

But, as Melvin noted in the wake of Wednesday’s loss, “we’re certainly not at full strength yet.”

The next time the archrivals meet — for three games at Oracle Park in the middle of May — the Giants will have Blake Snell in the rotation, and they should have Alex Cobb back, too. Robbie Ray, another Cy Young winner, will be another month closer to finishing his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

New pitches

One positive development on the pitching side — besides the emergence of Landen Roupp, the only reliever yet to allow a run — has been a variety of secondary offerings that their starters put an emphasis on this offseason.

Jordan Hicks leaned on his splitter to put away five of the six hitters he struck out over five scoreless innings in his first start, Keaton Winn threw his slider nearly as much as he did the entirety of last season, and Kyle Harrison executed potentially the best changeup of his young career to strikeout Shohei Ohtani in the first inning Wednesday.

The third pitch allowed Harrison to almost completely abandon his slider when he and catcher Patrick Bailey didn’t like the shape of it early, an option that may not have been afforded to the young left-hander last season. Winn said his slider, which he worked on with fellow midwesterner and Pirates starter Mitch Keller over the offseason, prevented hitters from guessing between his sinker and splitter, his two best pitches.

Base running

The Giants were not a fast team last season — and by no means are they burners this year — but they were a relatively smart team on the bases.

Already this year, they’ve run themselves into at least a few outs.

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