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Barber: New arrivals are powering Giants' win streak

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SAN FRANCISCO — Alex Dickerson, celebrated largely for his power since coming to the Giants, used his speed to chug all the way from first base to home plate in the 10th inning Friday night, taking advantage of some comical New York Mets defense to score the winning run — the only run — in San Francisco’s 1-0 win.

Dickerson’s heady play made good on a fantastic outing by starting pitcher Tyler Beede, who matched Mets ace Jacob deGrom for eight scoreless innings. The Giants’ only extra-base hit, meanwhile, was a double by Kevin Pillar in the fifth. Dickerson, Beede and Pillar have something in common, besides Friday-night highlights. None of them were on the Giants’ opening day roster in 2019.

That seems like a quirky bit of news. Except, if you’ve been watching this team lately, you know it isn’t news at all. The Giants are currently being driven by late arrivals.

We’re talking about the hottest team in baseball, winner of seven straight games, 10 of its past 11 and 14 of 16. And among the most important pieces of the streak have been Dickerson, Donovan Solano, Stephen Vogt and Mike Yastrzemski.

“A couple of ’em I didn’t know a lot about,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before Friday’s game. “Yastrzemski, but I heard from our triple-A staff on how he plays the game, and how he was doing down there. And Dickerson I knew a little bit about, just from being in Poway; I lived there. So when San Diego called him up, I knew he had a lot of power. He missed a lot of time because of injuries. But I knew coming here they all were capable of adding some offense to this team, and they’ve done that. Now, to do as well as they’ve done, maybe a little bit (surprised).”

The new guys haven’t done it alone. Veteran Brandon Crawford destroyed the Rockies in a doubleheader at Colorado on Monday, and legendary Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner was stellar in Thursday’s start. Yet the fact remains: The Giants’ most effective hitters in 2019 have been guys who weren’t in the organization when Farhan Zaidi was hired as president of baseball operations in early November.

Look at batting average. Going into Friday’s game, Dickerson (acquired from San Diego in a trade on June 10), Solano (signed as a free agent on Jan. 24), Vogt (signed as a free agent on Feb. 14) and Yastrzemski (acquired from Baltimore in a trade on March 23) were all among the Giants’ top five. The fifth guy was Austin Slater. The Giants drafted him in 2014, so Zaidi doesn’t get credit for discovering Slater.

But he wasn’t on the opening day roster. You’d have to figure the top exec at least had input into the Giants’ decision to call up Slater on July 1.

Look at on-base percentage. Dickerson, Solano and Vogt were all in the team’s top five, along with Slater. Brandon Belt was the only holdover there. Slugging percentage? Dickerson, Slater, Vogt, Yastrzemski and Solano all appeared in the top six. (I am eliminating Aramis Garcia and his 17 plate appearances, which may be cheating.) The OPS+ metric, which adjusts for ballpark? Dickerson, Vogt and Solano joined Slater in the top four.

Granted, some of these guys have smaller 2019 sample sizes than, say, Crawford and Buster Posey. They could easily regress to the mean. But they haven’t so far.

And those short-term contributions make some of the newcomers’ WARs — Wins Above Replacement, if you’re too pure to know — that much more impressive. The Giants’ leader Friday afternoon, at 1.7, was Evan Longoria, who has played in 83 games. Dickerson was second at 1.2; he has played in a mere 21 games.

“I think the answer to the question before, when we think things started to turn, was when Dickerson showed up in Arizona,” Beede said after his win. “We started to have more energy in the dugout as he was rolling. We had a little bit of fun chants going in the dugout. And that’s sort of been the thing we’ve taken forward from that series, is just enjoying when guys have success.”

Vogt and Pillar (acquired from Toronto in a trade on Apr. 2) were tied for third in WAR with Pablo Sandoval, at 1.1. Then came Yastrzemski, who has played 45 games, at 1.0. Solano, who has played 38 games, had the same WAR as Belt (94 games), and twice that of Buster Posey (70 games).

So yes, you can say it out loud. The hitters brought in by Zaidi have been better than the ones who greeted him when he got here.

Well, some of them. Zaidi has lost some bets, too. Remember Gerardo Parra? He lasted less than three months with the Giants and hit .198, with one home run in 86 at-bats. Yangervis Solarte spent a similar amount of time with the orange and black and hit .205, with one dinger in 73 at-bats. Eric Kratz and Connor Joe and Michael Reed were gone ever sooner, and did even less with the Giants.

But credit Zaidi for those transactions, too. Parra and Solarte got chances and stunk, and Zaidi cut his losses and cut them loose. And that’s pretty much his modus operandi as an exec. Zaidi is a fiddler. He tinkers endlessly with the roster in hopes of finding a combination that works.

Obviously, the Giants have had that combination lately.

That doesn’t mean the current combo will work in the long term. It’s hard to imagine guys like Dickerson and Solano, neither of whom is an emerging youngster (Dickerson is 29, Solano 31), keeping up this sort of pace for the entire season.

The Giants might now be on the verge of some big transactions. Bumgarner and closer Will Smith are among the most-discussed trade pieces in baseball right now. We’ll see. If Zaidi makes those moves, they will largely define his early tenure in San Francisco.

But it’s the small moves, an Alex Dickerson trade here, a Tyler Beede call-up there, that should give Giants fans confidence in Zaidi. Bobby Evans was a big part of the Giants’ World Series run at the beginning of this decade, but the team had decayed over the past few years under his front-office leadership. It’s hard to say exactly what the Giants are right now, but they aren’t decaying under Zaidi. They are showing signs of life. Potency, even.

So this isn’t a Keep MadBum column or a Trade Will Smith column. It’s a Trust in Farhan column.

The man’s minor moves have helped turn around a formerly listless team. His big moves, or non-moves, deserve the benefit of the doubt.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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