Five ways Giants can use September to prepare for better 2023 MLB season

·8 min read

Five things Giants can do in September for a better 2023 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

LOS ANGELES -- A year after they spent a thrilling September holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the NL West title, the Giants entered the month seven games under .500. It has been a disappointing season, particularly over the last six weeks, but Gabe Kapler mentioned multiple times over the weekend that he wants his group to finish strong.

"Every individual has something on the line and at stake," he said, "And, most importantly, I think we owe it to the fans to put a great product on the field or the best possible product that we can put on the field for the next calendar month. We take that responsibility seriously. I think there's a way to finish strong for us that will create a really good springboard for '23, and I think we're all focused on taking that seriously."

The early signs are positive. With Wilmer Flores' walk-off on Sunday, the Giants swept the Phillies, finishing with a 3-3 homestand against two teams in much better spots. As they hit the road for a three-city, eight-game trip, they'll do so with the attitude that the evaluation never stops at the big league level, and the next month could be particularly important for a lot of Giants.

They are headed to an offseason that could bring massive changes to the organization. Both corner infielders might retire, the co-ace will be one of the most attractive free agents available, the bullpen is full of arms that have struggled, and none of the current outfielders should feel locked into a starting job for 2023.

The Giants have a lot to figure out over the next month. Here are five things they should do in September to prepare for a better 2023:

Play LaMonte Wade Jr. and J.D. Davis as much as you can

It's possible that the Giants already know exactly what they have in Davis, and they're certainly acting that way. He has a .868 OPS since coming over on deadline day but started just two of six games on the homestand. From the outside, it seems they should play him just about every day at first or third given the uncertainty with Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria, but perhaps they already know he's going to be on next year's team in a platoon-ish role.

Wade is more of a mystery. A year after slashing .253/.326/.482 and becoming Late Night LaMonte, he's at .200/.291/.400.

"He has had an up-and-down season, he's had an injury-riddled season," Kapler said Saturday. "I don't think he's ever felt his best the entire year, but he's gone through some stretches where we've seen last year's LaMonte. The bat speed is intact and the swing decisions are still pretty good. He hasn't had near the same level of fortune that he had last year but he's still getting off a really good swing consistently and we have a lot of belief in him going forward."

Perhaps Wade's season has just been filled with bad luck and noise. He dealt with a sore knee early and has a .211 batting average on balls in play, which is the 12th-lowest in the big leagues. Regardless, the Giants should run him out there just about every day in September to get a clearer picture, because Wade will be out of options when he reports to big league camp next spring. It seems they plan to do that; Wade started every game of the homestand and even hit fifth against a lefty on Sunday.

Call up some of the young guys

This would have been a lot easier in the days of endless September call-ups, but the Giants are limited to two extra players and initially used those spots on David Villar, who qualifies here, and Lewis Brinson. There will be other openings, though. Belt went on the 60-day IL on Sunday and it's possible Alex Wood's season is done. Others will follow as they get closer to Game 162.

The Giants should use those openings to let some prospects get more comfortable for 2023. Bryce Johnson is up already and got his first hit out of the way over the weekend. Heliot Ramos has had a rough year in Triple-A, but if he's part of the future, he could benefit from additional time with the big league staff. The fans -- the group mentioned above by Kapler -- would love to see Ramos, too.

With Wood out, there's an opportunity to forego bullpen games and let Sean Hjelle or Tristan Beck get a real start at the big league level. Forget the opener or bulk innings -- tell one of your young starters that he's going to be starting in five days and let him actually have a normal routine. Hard-throwing right-hander Cole Waites has dominated since moving to Triple-A and should get a cameo to prepare for next spring, when he will be fighting for a big league job.

Hit Joey Bart in the heart of the lineup

Bart is doing well after going on the concussion IL and is expected back in the lineup Tuesday or Wednesday. When he returns, the Giants should see how much more he can handle.

Bart has a .806 OPS since returning from Triple-A and was one of the lineup's most dangerous hitters in August, but he has taken nearly 60 percent of his plate appearances this season in the No. 9 spot and started a game higher than eighth just seven times.

Kapler likes to go left-left-right three consecutive times against righties, but Bart certainly should get a shot in a better spot against lefties, and there should be wiggle room against righties, too. He could hit sixth in that alignment or even get a shot at hitting third, as Thairo Estrada did on Saturday.

There are not a whole lot of guys on the current roster who are guaranteed of being in the lineup next Opening Day. Bart is, so it's time to give him some more responsibility.

Take care of Webb and Doval

You could say this for any pitcher, and the Giants have a lot of guys who will get a breather at some point in September. The bullpen has been worked hard, and the rotation is built around guys with injury histories.

But Webb and Doval stand out because they're young cornerstones. After throwing 94 total innings in his first two big league seasons, Webb jumped up to 163 (including the playoffs) in 2021. Heading into Monday's start against the Dodgers, he's up to 165 this season. Webb says he feels good physically, but the Giants should make sure he isn't overworked down the stretch.

Doval is throwing harder than he ever has, which alternately delights team officials and forces them to knock on wood. For a while, he sat among the league leaders in appearances, but all of the losing in recent weeks gave the closer an unexpected break. Doval threw 57 2/3 innings across two levels last year and is currently at 53 2/3, so he's fine, but don't expect many more four-out saves from him down the stretch.

"I don't think that we want to push him for four-out saves all the time, but there are going to be moments when it's appropriate when he is going to be well-rested," Kapler said Saturday. "He's a pretty strong, physical guy. It doesn't mean that things can't happen and he can't suffer from fatigue like anybody else, but I think he's pretty prepped for this and the stretch for us. We're going to keep giving him opportunities to close games for us."

Prioritize defense

What would the 2022 season look like with a real defense? It's impossible to know exactly, but there's no doubt the Giants would still be very much alive in the wild-card race with even a top-20 group, not the one that ranks 28th in Outs Above Average and 29th in Defensive Runs Saved. The rotation leading the majors in FIP is pretty solid proof of what could have been.

Kapler actually did this on Friday, leaving Brandon Crawford and Longoria in a blowout because he wanted a strong infield behind Alex Cobb. The right-hander is second in the majors in ground ball rate, one spot ahead of Webb.

RELATED: How Kuip believes Giants should handle upcoming offseason

As they look to finish strong, both should have the best defenders behind them the rest of the way, not the DH-heavy group the Giants often have gone with. Some of these ideas work together, too. For instance, moving Bart up in the lineup could open the No. 9 hole for a glove-first center fielder like Brinson or Johnson.

There are a million reasons why the Giants are in this position after 132 games, but poor defense is at the top of the list. As Kapler looks to use September as a springboard to 2023, there's no reason to wait until pitchers and catchers report to try and work on their biggest issue.

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