Friday, May 25, 2012

Vogelsong v. Sanchez

Who knew, at the start of last night's game, that the Giants would win 14-7? In San Francisco, the Marlins outscored the Giants 8-5 over three games. Through the first five innings, it looked like another one of those games.

Bottom of the Second, no outs. Marlins 1-0.
Giancarlo Stanton homers. Damn. Anibal Sanchez is pitching. He's got a 0.87 ERA over his past four starts against the Giants. This could be embarrassing.

Top of the Fourth, one out. Tied 1-1.
Cabrera scores on Pagan single. If we could get one more of these elusive runs, we could win this.


Top of the Sixth, one out. Giants 5-1.
Pagan scores on Belt single. Get down! Get down! Get down! Belt finally catches a break. With the Giants' bullpen, this is like scoring 14 runs.

Top of the Ninth, no outs. Giants 14-7.
Pill grounds into double play. Joaquin Arias scores. Whoa, they really did score 14 runs. Lincecum could probably use some of this run support tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Marlins Preview

Not so long ago, I wrote:
With any luck, [the Giants will] also face Miami (7-11) and Milwaukee (9-10) before either of those two teams get hot.
As it turns out, the Giants finished their two series with the Brewers with four wins and two loses. If the Brewers put together a winning streak later in the season, the Giants won't have to face them.

The Marlins have been a different story. By the time they got to San Francisco, they were 8-14.  I'm sure you remember what happened after that. Today, when the two teams will square off in Miami for a four game series, Miami's record is 24-20. In a way, the Giants and their meager offense helped ignite this 16-6 run, and perhaps they can shut it down. I really want to point out that last year, after being swept by the Marlins at home, the Giants took the series in Florida 2-1, but many variables have changed. This year, the Marlins have upped the kitsch and pushed out the fences in the new stadium. Part of the Giants success, I'd imagine, will rest on how they play these spacious outfields--tracking down fly balls on defense and using the gaps on offense. I'd also like to think that a healthy Buster Posey will make a difference.

I would also think that we'll see more of Brandon Crawford batting second. Hey, small sample size and all, but in the seven games that Crawford's batted second, he's put up (in 35 plate appearances) a .281/.343/.344 slash line, aided and abetted by a .450 batting average on balls in play. That's clearly an unsustainable BABIP, and thinking that he'll sustain those numbers is unrealistic. However, it's worth noting that if we expand the scope, and look at the month of May, he's batted a more consistent (compared to a terrible April) .261/.338/.319 (in 77 PA).

Did I mention that the Giants have five active batters with their respective OBPs around .350 (Sandoval, of course, being on the DL still)?

Melky Cabrera .356 .404 .506 159
Pablo Sandoval .316 .375 .537 158
Gregor Blanco .244 .371 .326 102
Buster Posey .300 .365 .486 141
Brandon Belt .226 .350 .333 97
Angel Pagan .294 .339 .447 123
Generated 5/24/2012.

Since the last time I looked, Arias and Pill have fallen off the list, but it appears that Angel Pagan as gotten very serious about not making outs by seeing more pitches and taking more walks. It's notable that three guys on that list are in the outfield. Though they don't have Pat Burrell's three-run-home-run power that Bochy appreciates, I'd say that Cabrera, Pagan, and Blanco are a significant improvement over last year's bunch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beltran, Cabrera, and Related Matters

The Giants will be playing the St. Louis Cardinals for the next two days, which means we're going to be hearing a lot about Carlos Beltran. Remember him? The Giants acquired him for a highly touted prospect. He played a few few games, then sat out a few games with a hand injury, came back and killed the ball, and then curtailed his range in right field in proportion to the decline of the Giants' playoff chances.

Once the season was over, Giants fans argued over whether signing Beltran should be the front office's priority. I figured he'd dash off to the American League as a designated hitter. Instead, he signed with the Cardinals, which means for the next forty-eight hours, we're going to hear comparisons between Beltran and his ostensible replacement, Melky Cabrera. Beltran's slash line is .295/.407/.648 with 13 home runs, while Cabrera's posted a .333/.380/.487 line with two homers. I could add that Cabrera's hit nine doubles and four triples to Beltran's 2 doubles and 1 triple, but we're all looking at that one statistic, the home runs, because the Giants have had some trouble in that department. 

The intensity of these discussions will probably depend on whether Beltran plays (he's had some knee trouble recently), and whether or not he crushes at the plate. If not, so to speak, we can always talk about how these two teams are the last two World Series champions.

Two more things...

Gregor Blanco, the official underdog player championed by the Left Field Line is currently batting .293/.408/.414. He has also been pretty consistent in contributing to those moments in the game (stealing bases, scoring runs, not committing one of the Giants' league-leading 41 errors) that I tend to remember positively. Not to mention that his first home run of the year was no joke.

Finally, Charlie Culberson made his major league debut a few days ago. I figured that he's up because the Giants needed another right handed hitter. But since there's more talk about Freddy Sanchez's injury setbacks, could Culberson also be up because the team needs to know what their options are if Sanchez can't/doesn't return?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On the Van Halens and Spinal Taps of Baseball

So what did we learn from the series against the Dodgers? 

That the Dodgers are the Van Halen of baseball. That's right. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are the Van Halen brothers, and a handful of the other guys are a composite David Lee Roth, guys with marginal talent and yet an eye for opportunity. While Roth wore wears silly outfits and dances around the stage and makes silly faces, the other Dodgers take advantage of a few mistakes in the zone, and next thing you know Lincecum is behind 4-2, despite striking out Kemp three times. We hoped that the Giants could make a statement against the Dodgers--but for now we've got to wait as David Lee Roth morphs into Sammy Hagar and then that guy who was the singer for Extreme.

Now as much as I'd like to compare the Giants to Fugazi (which means something like: impeccably locked-in*), right now they're much more like Spinal Tap. Which isn't entirely accurate either, but at the moment the guys in the bullpen are the drummers: Affeldt out due to a freak accident, Mota suspended for testing positive for PEDs, Wilson for a second Tommy John surgery, and Otero back in triple AAA due to bad luck. And, whenever the Giants hit the nadir of the season, Lincecum is going to suggest that the band play "Jazz Odyssey."

The comparison stops there (probably). For every Travis Blackley, Steve Edlefsen, and Clay Hensley that lets close games start slipping away, the Giants have Romo, Lopez, and Casilla. I doubt, however, that they can play the next twenty consecutive games with a six man bullpen. But calling up another reliever opens up a whole bunch of problems concerning which position player to send down. I don't want to get too far into this, or else I'll start losing the momentum I gained with those band analogies, so let's just say that they've got some players with good OBP, and those guys shouldn't be going anywhere. I know, small sample size and all, but look (note that Sandoval is not on the list because he's on the DL):

Melky Cabrera .315 .371 134
Gregor Blanco .256 .365 106
Brandon Belt .250 .357 100
Buster Posey .304 .355 135
Joaquin Arias .308 .341 115
Brett Pill .270 .341 141
Generated 5/10/2012.

The biggest question is whether or not they can get it together against the Diamondbacks (and how do you get all of them in the lineup before interleague play?). At the start of the season, the D'backs swept the Giants, and I started to accept that they weren't the leaky ship that I wanted to believe them to be. And then they were: their record stands, after five straight losses, at 14-18, but that can change quickly. Or, maybe the Diamondbacks are a Korn cover band.



Fugazi footnote:
*I mean, seriously, how many bands make seven (or, technically, numerous EPs and six) flawless albums?

Monday, May 7, 2012

On a Week That Matters (For Now)

Let's face it. Ten games into the season you said: 'The Dodgers are winning because they're playing lousy teams. Seven games against the Padres. Three against the Pirates. No wonder they're 9-1.' I said it. Since then, they've gone 9-9. 

But there was something else you said. I know, because I said the same thing: 'Wait until they play the Giants. Then we'll know where they stand.' You/I/we were confident, but the first Giants/Dodgers series was still a few weeks away. Now it's here, followed with a three game encore against the Diamondbacks. We shouldn't be looking at the standings this early, but we're going to do it anyway:
Dodgers 18-10
Giants 14-14
Diamondbacks 14-15
Rockies 12-15
Padres 9-20
To say that we'll know where the Dodgers stand after they play the Giants is a double-edged sword. We might also learn a lot more about soul-crushing defeats. Lessons in how not to chip away at being four games back. Those kind of things. What we learned last August and September (though not quite in that Boston Red Sox kind of way). Of course, it's not August or September yet--though we've got a rival to defeat.

I figured that in the best-case scenario, the Giants would come away from the series with the Brewers at .500. What should we expect from the next week? I'd like to think that the Giants can win both series 2-1. It's not going to be easy, but it's not impossible. The main point is to close the gap with the Dodgers and open it up against the Diamondbacks.

One look at the probable pitchers could deflate these expectations: tonight it's Zito v. Ted Lilly (LHP), tomorrow Vogelsong v. Clayton Kershaw (LHP), and Wednesday Lincecum v. Chad Billingsley (RHP). I'd give you the stats, but all you need to know is in the LHP part. It means we'll probably have to deal with the platoon lineups, which means more Ryan Theriot (.208/.235/.229). Offensively speaking (that might be a pun), he's filling the spot that would have been taken by Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart--although he probably won't match Chris Stewart's .556/.556/1.444 career slash line versus Kershaw. Did I mention that Blanco (.348 OBP) and Belt (.381 OBP) will more than likely be the casualties of the platoon?

The Giants may catch a break, however. Matt Kemp sat out most of yesterday's game against the Cubs (he pinch hit), and he's talking about sitting out a game or two to avoid exacerbating a hamstring injury. Kemp and Andre Ethier are pretty much the Dodgers' offense. Carl Steward writes:
The Dodgers’ offense consists of two guys: Kemp and Andre Either. They’ve combined to hit 18 of the team’s 24 home runs. They have 55 of the team’s 109 RBIs. Juan Uribe? Homerless so far in 2012. James Loney is at .202 with one homer and six RBIs in 27 games. Dee Gordon? Fast but flawed as a leadoff man and shortstop. A.J. Ellis looks like a comer, but he’s primarily a walk machine at this point. We like Mark Ellis, but he’s nothing more than steady Eddie at second.
Maybe I'm underestimating the Dodgers, but if Kemp sits, then it's up to the Giants not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Brewers Preview

First, the bad news: Pablo Sandoval is out with a fractured hamate bone (the left one, not the right--which he fractured last year). The Giants are hacking away with runners in scoring position. And the team seems to have inculcated a culture of free swinging, which might sound like fun, but really means that they are swinging at junk outside of the strike zone. Oh, and they were swept by the Marlins. 

We'll get over the Marlins in time, and the might even pretend that the RISP problems are a fluke. But Sandoval is going to be out for four to six weeks--which means there's going to be plenty of time for the blogosphere to second guess Bruce Bochy's choices for the starting lineups. 

I'm just going to do it in advance: play Gregor Blanco and Brandon Belt. We know that Bochy likes Schierholtz, and that he seems to think that Belt is always batting .225. But winning games with Sandoval is going to require not giving up outs, sometimes in ways that aren't as aesthetically pleasing as a three run home run. And Aubrey Huff hit a few of those over the last few years, and that's what will get him back in the line up, and then everybody starts getting shuffled around, and next thing you know...#FreeBelt.

So don't forget that: 

El Tiburon Blanco is currently posting a GIF-worthy lead-off slash-line of .300/.405/.433.

And Brandon Belt has, despite the "hole in his swing," a .292/.370/.396 line. We all know Team Pill is questioning that slugging percentage (since Pill's is .481), but, without psychologizing this too much, Belt's probably hitting for average at the moment, since that seems to be the way that a player gets out of the on-the-bench/off-the-bench roller coaster. Here's Bochy's take, which does psychologize the issue:
“(Batting average) is still a big number and it’s how a lot of hitters evaluate themselves,” Bochy said. “It comes down to scoring runs and knocking in runs, but that is how a lot of hitters get their confidence.”
Finally, the good news: Buster Posey is here, and he's hitting .325/.381/.545. The case of Freddy Sanchez should remind us that a healthy and hard-hitting Posey was not a given going into the season. 

We'll conclude with that promised preview of the Brewers. In the post-Fielder age, they've started the season 11-14. The pitching--Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf, and Shawn Marcum--should be tough for a team that made the Marlins' rotation look like a pack (a school?) of Cy Young award winners. The Giants will need to take advantage of Ryan Braun's day-to-day status, and we should be glad that Mat Gamel (out for the season due to a torn ACL) won't be available to blow up catchers on close plays at the plate. 

In the best case scenario, the Giants will end this series over/at .500, right before taking on the Diamondbacks and knocking a few games off the Dodgers' division lead.