Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lincecum Will Not Be Out-Dueled (Tonight)

Let's face it. If you tuned into this game starting with Tim Lincecum's second at bat, you probably had a better evening than those of us who watched the entire game. Sure, Anthony Bass had some sharp stuff and perfect game and all that, but you're not a Padres fan if you're here. I spent those first 5 2/3 innings trying to see how many synonyms I could think of for futile. Like useless, vain, and to no avail. All because I've probably used dismal quite often. Then Lincecum went James McDonald (remember this, because Cain won't forget) on Bass, and broke up all that nonsense.

In the end, I should have spent the time on dismal because the Giants' defense has been bleak.  Two errors tonight for a total of 25. Dreary. Disheartening. More importantly, for a while it looked as if an unearned run could have cost them the game, until Brandon Belt made up for it with a two-run double in the seventh. On the bright side, I suppose, the Padres kept pace so as not to be outdone for the most errors committed in the majors this season, with 26 total.

Let's put that aside for the moment. For tonight, Lincecum continued his return to form. Five strikeouts, but also four walks, 121 pitches. A couple of those walks and a few of those pitches are probably due to Tim Tschida's stingy strike zone. Tschida or not, Lincecum still has some work to do, although he shaved that ERA down to 5.74 (which in April is as meaningless as the Dodger's 15-6 record, but whatever).

And Brandon Belt found one of those elusive hits with runners in scoring position! As a reward for his efforts, he'll probably sit tomorrow out, since the Padres' will be starting Clayton Richard, LHP. Didn't we look at his numbers vs. LHP before? Just a reminder, though small sample size caveats apply (these are career numbers--believe it or not, he only has 4 PA this season vs LHP):

vs LHP as LHB 55 49 17 .347 .418 .510
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2012.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Focus on Sanity

Bruce Bochy summarized it best: "That’s one of those games that saves your sanity." No doubt. Of course, Bochy is referring to Angel Pagan's ninth inning three run home run--he often seems like a three-run-home-run kind of guy. And I can't say that I didn't feel a touch of schadenfreude when Sean Marshall blew his first save of the season, especially after the troubles of the Giants bullpen.

So, if we're going to focus on sanity, what positives might we take out of Cincinnati?

First, Brandon Belt had a few days of being a little less jerked around. The result: Belt returns to San Francisco with a .273/.368/.364 slash line. Aubrey Huff will be on the DL for the next few weeks, so I'd like to think that with some regular playing time, Belt can keep up these kind of numbers while reducing those ugly strikeouts (11K in 38 PA). Whether he has a hole in his swing or not, plenty of people would take that .368 OBP.

Second, Santiago Casilla was on fire. It's the kind of stuff that .GIFs were created for:

From McCovey Chronicles (here)
Yup. That's the fearsome Joey Votto, Mr. HBP. I'm sure he's glad this series is over, considering that he went 2/11 with 5 strikeouts.

Third, that guy at shortstop. Unless you obsessively followed spring training (like myself), or you're a fan of the Fresno Grizzlies, you probably hadn't heard of Joaquin Arias. Maybe you had vague memories of something about the A-Rod trade, which sent Arias to Texas rather than Robinson Cano. However, that shouldn't make a difference. You knew who Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera were, and that didn't help, now did it?

Small sample size and all that aside, Arias was impressive, with two hits and a walk in four plate appearances, and, with the exception of one play involving Drew Stubbs and an infield hit, good defense. He bound to show up at some point, given that he had 28 hits in 70 ABs down in Fresno, with a .990 OPS, and given that the Giants really needed another available middle infielder. Some day we'll all have a good laugh when somebody recalls that Huff played second base on April 21st.

Looking Forward

The Giants begin a nine-game homestand on Friday, facing the Padres, the Marlins, and the Brewers. I'd like to think that they could make quick work of the Padres, considering that San Diego contributed to padding the Dodger's 13-6 record. It's only fair. With any luck, they'll also face Miami (7-11) and Milwaukee (9-10) before either of those two teams get hot.

Finally, let's not forget Pablo Sandoval. While everybody is watching Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and all the new guys, he's started the season with a nineteen game hitting streak (the longest in franchise history), in which he's hit .333/.388/.513. 

I invite you to mull that over with some Ornette Coleman.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On the Middling Reds

The baseball season is remarkably long. And yet a lot can happen in a week, which is the amount of time between the last post here and this post. I spent some time kicking around ideas about how the Giants look remarkably improved on offense, how they've won each series since they left Arizona,  and maybe I even pondered how to write the saga of Brandon Belt in iambic pentameter. It could work. Just imagine Alfred Tennyson patting Belt on the shoulder and reminding him: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." We all know what he'd mean--although appropriating Tennyson's "Ulysses" to describe Belt's career in the majors isn't that comforting.

Most of this feels moot as I type after the first game against the Reds. After this 9-2 defeat it's hard not to conjure the collapse of last August, which started in Cincinnati with a sweep that ended on a dismal 9-0 loss on July 31st. 

This factor was bothering me for some reason until Sam LeCure through a pitch behind Buster Posey. I understand the whole hit by pitch retaliation thing, I suppose. I get angry and yell at the screen when it happens to my team, I hem and haw about mistakes when, for example, last year Ramon Ramirez launched some fire at Shane Victorino. 

But before you start hitting batters and retaliating you've got to think about your priorities. I know Joey Votto's their million dollar man, but what in the world would Danny Otero be hitting him for? Do the Giants need to punish Votto for his two strikeouts and the walk he had up to that point? So he can wake up and clobber a two run home run (like Buster Posey)? No. Are the Giants and Reds rivals? No. 

And that's when it clicked. It's not August. It's not 2011. Leave that behind. Maybe take one or two games, but when the Giants return home to San Francisco to face the Padres, they won't be a team made up of Aaron Rowands, Miguel Tejadas, and a pair defensively skilled but offensively challenged back up catchers. The Giants are a better team this year, and they've got a season to win. A few games against the Reds won't change that. If the Reds are keeping score on hit batters in the top of the ninth of a 9-0 game that they are winning, if that's their priority, well, let them defeat themselves. Leave them in Cincinnati as the middling team that they are.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pitching in the News

Part of being a Giants fan is worrying about pitching. Since the program over the last few years has been to build a solid rotation and lock it up, we constantly worry about one of the starters getting away or having a disastrous season. Only yesterday, part of this worry was abated when the Giants signed a deal with Madison Bumgarner that keeps him on the team (or, perhaps, lets him stay with the team?) through at least 2017, if not 2018 or 2019. Let that sink in. Two-fifths of the rotation will be pitching for the Giants through 2017.

Two other things of note:
  • Last night's game against the Phillies was a classic pitcher's duel...if you don't count that first inning, in which Lincecum gave up four earned runs. No, that's not how it happened. How about: though they knocked Lincecum around during the first inning, the Phillies aren't nearly as dangerous without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. That said, I really hope that Bumgarner and Cain prove me right over the next two. I get a feeling these claims rise or fall on the strength of the Giants' offense...which isn't the worst in the NL (that would be the Pirates with 19 runs scored in 10 games), but which has struggled to drive in runners in scoring position over the past few games.
  • Brian Wilson is likely out for the season. Perhaps it speaks to the short life of this blog that if I hadn't just mentioned him, there wouldn't have been a 'Brian Wilson' tag on the sidebar until 2013. By the time it gets put to use in 2013, it might just be outnumbered by 'Heath Hembree.'

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shutouts, Round Two: Matt Cain

The Giants had a rough road trip, we all know that. Only a few days ago, we celebrated when Barry Zito put a stop to a three game slide by throwing his first shutout since 2003. But we knew that the rest of the rotation would come around: yesterday, Bumgarner carried a no-hitter through the sixth inning, and today Matt Cain retired the first 17 batters he faced in order, all until James McDonald--the pitcher, mind you--poked a single out to left field. After McDonald, Cain retired every other batter he faced. But it wasn't just being a one hit shutout that makes it memorable; it's that Cain controlled the game from the very beginning. His final line: 1H, 11K, 0W. The team's ERA slides from 5.58 to 4.73. A few more games and it might even be respectable.

Bumgarner and Cain are up to speed. We'll get a better idea of where Zito, Ryan Vogelsong, and Tim Lincecum are over the next three starts.

The Road Home (And the Missing B's)

Today is the home opener for the Giants. They arrive in San Francisco after a tough series in Arizona, and a topsy-turvy series against Colorado. They've scored more than four runs in every game they've played so far, for a total of 33. That's an average of 5.5 runs per game. That's a tick or two above the St. Louis Cardinals, who've scored 37 in seven games. By 2011 standards, that's a Giants team that's 6-0. But they're not. They're 2-4, because their ERA is 5.58. Before Madison Bumgarner got on track for the season, that ERA was 6.37--and Barry Zito isn't responsible (yet) for any of it.

Topsy-turvy. Parallel universe. Something like that.

Before we go overboard on the significance of this year's run production thus far, we should note that the two teams that the Giants will host--the Pirates and the Phillies--are currently at the bottom of the National League in terms of runs scored, but look at those pitching numbers: the Pirates have scored 11, but they've only allowed 15 (13 earned), and the Phillies have scored18 while allowing 15 (12 earned).

There's only been six games, so none of this proves anything. But I'm sure a lot of fans still have lingering memories of the collapse of 2011, when the sinking Pirates came to town in August and took two out of three, ending a 10 game losing streak. I know I do. 

The odds are the Giants take this series 2-1. But in the best case scenario--it's the opening series at home, so I'm allowed to do this--Matt Cain and Barry Zito take the first two and Ryan Vogelsong rides into San Francisco and shuts down the Pirates for a sweep. Vogelsong, incidentally, did something similar last year, winning his first start against Pittsburgh. 

The formula to do so: keep a clamp on the Pirates' meager offense, and keep scoring runs. So far I'm impressed by the 2-3 punch of Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval, who've been protected well by either Posey (batting fourth) or Hector Sanchez (batting fifth). I've also noticed what a difference it makes to have Brandon Crawford picking them up in the seventh slot. The weaknesses, in a way, speak for themselves. Here's the lineup for tonight's game, and there are some B's missing. And I'm not talking about Ryan B'Theriot or Brett B'Pill:

Pagan CF
Cabrera LF
Sandoval 3B
Posey C
Huff 1B
Schierholtz RF
Crawford SS
Burriss 2B
Cain SP

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's Barry Zito Day

It wasn't quite time to panic. But when I sat down to sketch out a preview of the series in Colorado just a few hours ago, I figured that it would be pretty reasonable to assume that:
Barry Zito needs to last four or five innings and give up less than four runs. 
Those kind of numbers, I figured, would keep the Giants in the game. I don't think anybody had expected what would happen...and usually those words carry a foreboding sense of catastrophe. Instead, Barry Zito pitched the Giants to their first win of the season with a complete game shutout. 114 pitches. 4 hits, 4 strikeouts. No walks. No walks.

When I reread those words, I experience some combination of cognitive dissonance and elation. I know it's a cliché, but anything can happen in baseball. And then sometimes it does, and you just soak it up and have a good laugh. Especially if you're Zito (who couldn't contain his smile in the bottom of the ninth) or Hector Sanchez. Those guys are going to be best friends forever. 

And here I thought that all I had to look forward to today was the MLB debut of Yu Darvish.

Update (April 10th): Also, don't miss the .GIF by .GIF analysis of Barry Zito's 11 pitch at bat--which resulted in a bloop single over the glove of Troy Tulowitzki, courtesy of Bay City Ball.

Series Preview: The Rockies

I don't know how it happened, but I managed to double book the opening series against the Diamondbacks. As the first two games played out, I was participating in a conference dedicated to German idealism and its legacies and controversies. I did get to watch the third, but we know how disheartening it was by the sixth inning.

Here's what I learned. I will need to rethink my impression of the Diamondbacks. They weren't a fluke last year, and they won't stop scrapping and fighting back from six run deficits this year. But maybe it's better that I missed the first two games, so that I don't need to consider the possibility that the strength of the Giants, their pitching, could flounder. Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner, as Alex Pavlovic points out, pitched 15 1/3 innings and gave up 19 hits, 14 earned runs, and....six homers. But we shouldn't forget that these things are magnified because they happen during the first three games of the season. There are 159 to go. 

And this would be more frightening if the Giants' offense was more lackluster in that 2011 kind of way. But they are not currently the worst offense in the National League. With 14 runs, they are tied for fifth place (although to balance this with the small sample size kind of trivia, the Phillies have scored the least number of runs so far, with six). Whatever the numbers may be, Gregor Blanco and Melky Cabrera have improved the outfield. However, it was also clear that the Giants struggled to take advantage of Arizona's sloppy defense. I think I just undermined by own confidence in my believe that their offense as improved. See what discussing only three games can do?

So on to the Rockies. And Barry Zito, who gets his first start of the season today. If the Giants can get on track, they are a better team than the Rox. But it won't be a walk in the park like the last time they played at Coors Field, September 16-18, when they swept Colorado, 9-1, 6-5, 12-5. Troy Tulowitzki will be in the line up, and the Rockies have added Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro.

For this series, all eyes are on the pitching. Barry Zito needs to last four or five innings and give up less than four runs. Then we can can expect to see Mota, Otero, and hopefully Brian Wilson. Lincecum and Bumgarner need to bounce back. If these things don't happen Tulowitzki, Cuddyer, Scutaro, and Carlos Gonzales could make this a long series. 

And Jamie Moyer. He embarrassed the Giants during spring training, and they need to show that those perfect innings were meaningless.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The 25 Man Roster: The Official Edition

Not so long ago, March 30th to be exact, I had noted that it seemed unlikely that Belt, Blanco, and Hector Sanchez would all make the opening day roster. And now, as we see here, they've made it:

Starters (4):
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito

Relievers (8):
Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson, Clay Hensley, Danny Otero

Catchers (2):
Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez

Infielders (7):
Brandon Belt, Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Theriot, Aubrey Huff, Brett Pill

Outfield (4):
Gregor Blanco, Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Nate Schierholtz

DL: Freddy Sanchez, Ryan Vogelsong

Of note: Eli Whiteside and Steve Edlefsen have been optioned to Fresno, and Chris Stewart has been traded to the Yankees for RHP George Kontos. That's Stewart's second stint, if you can count one game back in 2008, with the Yankees.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Matt Cain: A Photo-Essay.

Matt Cain has signed a deal to remain a San Francisco Giant until 2017, and possibly until 2018. This deal is one of those crucial moves that management needed to make. For years they've positioned the starting rotation--especially Lincecum and Cain, and more recently Bumgarner--as the core of the Giants team. With this deal, they are one step closer to making that a long-term possibility.

More importantly, Giants fans will not have to listen to the concern-trolling of other teams, shedding crocodile tears that the Giants won't be able to keep Lincecum and Cain together, forever. With Cain's contract as the floor, maybe the Giants can't (or maybe Lincecum ends up a shareholder before it's all over). But that's not a problem for the next two years. 

As for now, see these uniforms?

They're fancy, but Matt Cain will not be wearing them. And, look at these guys...

...they're stoked about something, but not because they've found a  co-ace to share the mound with CC Sabathia. See this park? Lots of much that the Red Sox rebuilt it in Florida...

...but Matt Cain will not be pitching their regularly anytime soon, so his ERA won't inflate to John Lackey size proportions. And this guy: maybe Matt Cain wants to meet him...

...but if he comes knocking it won't be a midnight rendez-vous for Dodger blue.