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Sunday baseball notes

The San Francisco Giants are the Red Sox of the West, exceeding all expectations

Giants catcher Buster Posey, who opted out of last season, is having his best offensive season in years.
Giants catcher Buster Posey, who opted out of last season, is having his best offensive season in years.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Their president of baseball operations was hired away from a successful and innovative team within their division.

The manager is a 45-year-old getting a second chance that some don’t think he necessarily deserved.

They play at an iconic ballpark and are trying to get back in the habit of winning the World Series, something they’ve done more often than any team in their league this century.

Oh, and they’re also one of the surprise teams in the game this season.

Sound familiar? The San Francisco Giants have plenty in common with the Red Sox.

The Giants went into the weekend with the best record in baseball. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, who came over from the Dodgers, has built a deep and versatile roster that is third in the National League in runs per game and fourth in earned run average.

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“I love how we’re playing on the field but we’re also playing with a great mentality,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Any time we’ve had an issue, it’s been the next man up.”

The Giants hired Kapler after the 2019 season, a month after he was fired by the Phillies. Kapler was 161-163 in Philadelphia, but the organization decided it wanted a more traditional manager and hired Joe Girardi.

Many Giants fans felt the same way and didn’t see Kapler as the right choice to replace Bruce Bochy. They pointed to criticism that Kapler mishandled assault allegations made by a 17-year-old girl against a Dodgers minor leaguer in 2015 when he was that team’s director of player development.

No charges were ever filed in the case.

Zaidi stuck with Kapler, and the Giants finished 29-31 last year, missing the playoffs by two games.

The Giants opened this season with a 16-10 April and have been in first place or close to it since.

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The return of catcher Buster Posey, who opted out of last season, has made a big difference. He’s having his best offensive season in years and has worked well with a deep rotation that has been led by Kevin Gausman.

The Giants are doing things right in a lot of ways.

On Tuesday, Brandon Crawford set a franchise record with his 1,326th game at shortstop. The other players held back when he took the field in the first inning at Texas so Crawford could be recognized.

Crawford homered twice in the game and longtime Giants coach Ron Wotus toasted him in the clubhouse afterward.

“It was really special, just kind of completed the whole night,” said Crawford, who is having the best offensive season of his career.

Kapler retained the well-respected Wotus as part of a 13-person coaching staff. The group includes director of pitching Brian Bannister, who left the Red Sox front office to join the Giants so he could spend the whole year with his family in the Bay Area.

The large coaching staff, Kapler believes, has given the Giants an edge in preparation.

There are challenges. Third baseman Evan Longoria, off to his best start in years, sprained his left shoulder this past week in a collision with Crawford and is expected to miss at least 4-6 weeks.

But Mike Yastrzemski, who hasn’t played since June 1 because of a sprained right thumb, could return this weekend. He had a .787 OPS before going on the injured list.

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Mike Tauchman, who was acquired from the Yankees, filled in for Yastrzemski. LaMonte Wade Jr., a February trade pickup from the Twins, has given the Giants good production at first base, right field, and center field.

Mauricio Dubon, a former Red Sox prospect, hasn’t hit well for the Giants. But he started games at shortstop, second base, third base, and center field.

“It speaks to our players’ willingness and actual desire to pick up for each other,” Kapler said.

Gausman, Wade, and Yastrzemski are among the undervalued players acquired by Zaidi who have made a difference.

“It’s been awesome,” Crawford said. “The front office has done well finding guys who fit in with our team.”

STICKY SITUATION

Sox need to avoid substances scandal

With cheating scandals in recent years for both Alex Cora and the Red Sox, they need to avoid any sticky situations in the future.
With cheating scandals in recent years for both Alex Cora and the Red Sox, they need to avoid any sticky situations in the future.John Tlumacki

The Red Sox have twice been found guilty of cheating in recent years.

They received a slap on the wrist for using a Fitbit to relay stolen signs to the dugout in 2017. They were more severely punished in 2020, losing a second-round draft pick after it was determined a team staffer used in-game video to decode signs in 2018.

That staffer, J.T. Watkins, also was suspended for the ’20 season and now works as a scout.

The Sox were warned by commissioner Rob Manfred that future incidents would be dealt with severely. Then the team rehired Alex Cora as manager despite his having been suspended for his role in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal.

Sometime soon, MLB will start to enforce the rule prohibiting foreign substances on the ball, and any pitcher caught is likely to be ejected and suspended.

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If a Red Sox pitcher falls into that net, the blowback will be severe given the team’s history.

Cora said Wednesday that the organization has made it clear to the players where it stands on cheating. But ultimately it falls on individual pitchers to follow the rules or not.

MLB has given plenty of advance warning about its intentions. But it will still be a tense moment the first time an umpire decides to check a Sox pitcher. Careers won’t necessarily be at risk, but reputations will be.

A few other observations about the Red Sox:

Alex Verdugo is a heck of a left fielder. His 10 defensive runs saved are the third-most at the position in the majors since the start of the 2020 season.

Oddly, Verdugo is minus-5 in center field and right field during that same time.

Cora feels that’s a product of Verdugo having eight assists in left field the last two seasons.

“He has it down, playing the ball of the wall,” Cora said.

Through Friday, Verdugo has started 42 games in left, 39 in right, and 22 in center since joining the Sox.

It would seem advantageous to have Verdugo in left as often as possible given the numbers. But that depends on whether Kiké Hernández can lock down center field and when Jarren Duran is deemed ready.

The Sox came into the season believing Hernández would play more second base than center field, but he’s played only nine games at second so far.

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Chris Sale last appeared in a game on Aug. 13, 2019. So much has changed about pitching in the time since given the focus on spin rates and velocity and the concern about what kinds of foreign substances are being used on the ball.

“Everything changes,” he said. “Cars, cellphones, people, businesses. This is just part of it. I’m a starting pitcher with an expiration date. So I don’t get to make too big calls.

“It is what it is, you deal with it. I know launch angle is a big thing. Guys are taking big swings now and pitching is starting to evolve a little bit. That doesn’t really change what I do or how I attack hitters or my mind-set. I’m still going to be the same guy and do the same things I’ve always done.”

As he watches games, Sale has come to expect high-velocity fastballs from practically every pitcher.

“Fifteen years ago you had maybe a guy or two who threw 95-plus on your team. That’s not really the case anymore,” he said. “You kind of have to start adapting to that.”

Nate Eovaldi has started 182 games in his career without having a complete game. Only three pitchers have longer such streaks: Jake Odorizzi (198), and the retired Marco Estrada (194) and Bud Norris (188).

Eovaldi and Odorizzi faced off on Wednesday at Fenway Park. Odorizzi went five innings and Eovaldi 5⅔.

Eovaldi has pitched into the ninth inning once in his career, on July 26, 2015, when he was with the Yankees and facing the Twins. He allowed a double by Miguel Sano and was taken out.

▪ The Red Sox, Giants, and Mets are the only teams without a four-game losing streak this season.

▪ When Adam Ottavino faced Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium last Sunday, it was No. 0 (Ottavino) facing No. 99 (Judge).

It sounds rare. But Jayson Stark, the master of minutiae for The Athletic, determined Ottavino wore No. 0 when he faced No. 99 Logan Morrison in 2013.

No. 99 Verdugo faced No. 00 Taijuan Walker last season.

▪ Fenway Sports Group has started crawling out of the Super League mess it helped create. It is going ahead with plans to add 7,000 seats to Anfield along with other amenities, according to the Liverpool Echo.

FSG also has petitioned the Liverpool City Council to play other team sports at the facility, including American football. It may not be the Patriots, but an NFL game in Liverpool is likely on the horizon.

Combine that with FSG’s plans to develop the neighborhood around Fenway Park and it’s clear it is not going anywhere.

ETC.

Diamondbacks hit a breaking point

Former Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo and the Arizona Diamondbacks are off to a difficult start in 2021.
Former Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo and the Arizona Diamondbacks are off to a difficult start in 2021.Christian Petersen/Getty

The Diamondbacks won 93 games and made the playoffs in 2017, the first season general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo were in charge after leaving the Red Sox.

They had winning teams in 2018 and ’19 as Hazen worked to get the team’s payroll and roster positioned for long-term success.

The two seasons since have been difficult. Arizona expected to contend but finished last in the NL West last season at 25-35 and went into this weekend 20-44, having lost 31 of its last 36 games.

Hitting coaches Darnell Coles and Eric Hinske were fired on Thursday.

Nick Ahmed, Eduardo Escobar, David Peralta, and Christian Walker have all underachieved, particularly over the last month as the Diamondbacks tumbled.

The pitching coaches kept their jobs despite a 4.96 team ERA. That four of the starters — Madison Bumgarner, Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver, and Taylor Widener — are on the injured list is the biggest factor there.

For now, Lovullo’s job is safe. Hazen said the day-to-day attention to detail is there.

“I still feel like Torey is the right person to lead these guys and right this ship and get us back to where we need to go,” he said.

Lovullo is under contract through the end of the season.

“I hurt; I bleed, the same way everybody else does when we lose games,” Lovullo said. “I’m carrying the feelings of 26 players and 15-plus staff members. It’s what I signed for, these tough days. We’re all doing the best we possibly can, but I have a lot of sleepless nights.”

Hazen’s decision to sign Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million deal before the 2020 season looked like a coup at the time. But Bumgarner is 5-9 with a 6.04 ERA with Arizona and is on the injured list with inflammation in his left shoulder.

Hazen has acknowledged his decision to bring back essentially the same team from last season may have been a mistake. But he felt good about that group.

“I am responsible for making that decision. That decision is certainly up for scrutiny,” he said. “There were choices to be made and I made that choice and I own that to its entirety.

“I think the degree where we’re at today, which is leaving us all a little bit speechless, I don’t regret the talent that’s on our roster.”

Now Arizona probably has little choice but to consider making trades to benefit the future.

Hazen took personal leave on Friday to care for his wife, Nicole. She was diagnosed with brain cancer 11 months ago. They have four sons.

Assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye will handle the team in Hazen’s absence.

Extra bases

Indians pitcher Aaron Civale doesn't have ace Shane Bieber's stuff, but his craft and unpredictability have him off to a strong start this season.
Indians pitcher Aaron Civale doesn't have ace Shane Bieber's stuff, but his craft and unpredictability have him off to a strong start this season.Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Shane Bieber is the unquestioned ace in Cleveland, who are hanging tough in the AL Central. But Northeastern product Aaron Civale is 9-2 with a 3.17 ERA in 13 starts after throwing eight shutout innings against the Mariners on Friday. The 25-year-old righthander doesn’t throw hard and his strikeout rate has actually dropped from 8.4 to 7.1 per nine innings this season. He succeeds by using a six-pitch mix that brings to mind how veterans such as Adam Wainwright work. Civale changes speeds and angles and doesn’t fall into predictable patterns. “He works his rear end off,” manager Terry Francona said … The Phillies outrighted utility player Scott Kingery to Triple A Lehigh Valley, which isn’t unusual for a 27-year-old who has a .667 OPS in 324 major league games. The difference here is Kingery was signed to a six-year, $24 million deal before he ever played a major league game, so confident were the Phillies after seeing him in the minors. It seemed like a team-friendly deal at the time that has turned into a burden. Kingery’s backloaded deal guarantees him $4 million this season, $6.25 million in 2022, and $8.25 million in 2023. Signing a prospect long term can pay off, but you never know how a player will react to a big contract until he signs it … How many major injuries can the White Sox endure? Second baseman Nick Madrigal is expected to miss at least 4-6 weeks with a torn right hamstring, but the fear is he will need season-ending surgery. He joined Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, and Michael Kopech on the injured list. Only Kopech projects to return any time soon … Walker Buehler of the Dodgers has gone 21 consecutive starts without taking a loss, the longest active streak in the majors. The record of 30 was set by Roger Clemens from June 1998-June 1999 … The Mariners have already used 51 players this season, 29 of them pitchers … Fairfield made a surprise run in the NCAA Tournament, beating Southern and Arizona State before falling to Texas in the Austin Regional. Junior righthander Jake Noviello of Franklin finished 9-0 with a 1.47 ERA in 10 starts. He walked only nine in 67⅓ innings. He beat Southern in the regional for the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory. Catcher Matt Venuto of Mansfield and Bishop Hendricken hit .373. He had two hits in the stunning victory against Arizona State … Happy birthday to Ernie Whitt, who is 69. Whitt was drafted by the Red Sox in 1972 and made his debut in 1976. But he played only eight games in 1976 for the Sox before the Blue Jays took him in the expansion draft after the season. It proved to be a tremendous break. Whitt was with the Jays from 1977-89 and played 1,218 games, sixth in team history. His 131 home runs are 10th. Whitt remains popular with Toronto fans and is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.