Thursday, May 07, 2009

Taking on the D-gers

The Giants, behind Matt Cain's great win, are now over .500 again at 14-13, the one-sixth point of the season, as Jon Miller kept on harping on during today's radio broadcast. Just as nicely, Matt Cain is now 3-1, with a 2.61 ERA. And now they venture into D-ger territory for a three game set, against, it appears, Chad Billingsley, Eric Stults, and Jeff Weaver. It looks like a good chance to at least win the series, if not sweep, particularly with the D-gers presumably reeling from the loss of Manny Ramirez for 50 games due to illegal performance enhancing drugs (alledgedly it is for drugs that is usually taken to mask steroid usage).

Game 1: Zito vs. Billingsley

Normally, this looks like a win in the D-ger's back pocket: their top ace pitcher facing Zito. However, Zito has strung together three great starts and one would think that would continue in a pitcher's park like D-ger Stadium. In addition, Billingsley has been benefiting from a lot of good luck, both in terms of BABIP (much lower than the .300 mean most pitchers regress to) and in his ERA (his FIP is nearly 3 vs. his low 2 ERA). By my calculations, if he achieves that FIP of nearly 3, and he averages slightly more than 6 IP per start for another 25 starts, his ERA for the rest of the year would be around 3.60, which, while still very good, is not great like a low 2 ERA.

In addition, he has had a string of 6 DOM starts and even the best pitchers get no more than 60-70% of their starts as DOM starts. That means around a third of his remaining starts would not be DOM starts, where he's merely average or DIS.

The only x-factor I could think of is that his former girlfriend, Alyssa Milano, is a big D-ger's fan, and will probably be in the stands when Zito pitches. And as Zito has shown in his prior two seasons with us, when the pressure is on, he reverts to throwing instead of using muscle memory to throw, and he has a very poor game. So this game is a bit of a statement start, showing whether he can stand up to even that much pressure. I hope he can but after two years, all I can do is cross my fingers and wish him the best.

Game 2: Sanchez vs. Stults

This was the best match up for Sanchez to win, probably, since McDonald was dropped from the rotation for Weaver. Better than matching up against a crafty vet like Wolf, a lucky guy like Weaver, who is crap anywhere else, but can pitch very well, surprise, surprise, in a pitcher's park like D-ger stadium, or a young inconsistent phenom (much like Sanchez), like Kershaw.

Stults was a reliever previously and hasn't really done much of anything in the majors or minors. He certainly was never a Top 10 prospect, I don't recognize his name. Yet, here he is, starting for the desperate D-gers.

So far, he has stunk: 4.94 ERA, 23.2 IP but 28 hits and 14 walks but only 15 strikeouts, for a 1.77 WHIP and .301 BAA, the only good note on his performance is the one HR in 23.2 IP.

Sanchez has not been that great either, but relative to Stults, he should be better than Stults by a mile most times. But that's the catch, most times, as he has been inconsistent this season, a consequence, possibly, of his agreeing to pitch for his county in the WBC this spring. He did not get a lot of starts and sat around a bit, so he did not get a lot of work in. Then it probably didn't help that he had a turn skipped too, though that worked out well for the team because that put Lincecum in line twice to face the D-gers instead of the next series. Plus, he has been inconsistent during his career, period.

Still, while Stults has probably outpitched Sanchez thus far this season, he has not lasted more than 5.2 IP, which brings in the D-gers flameable and/or unproven bullpen outside of their top guys. As long as Sanchez can match Stults and pitch deep into the game, the Giants have a chance of coming up and winning the game. It is not like Stults has been dominating, though serviceable. He has 2 DOM starts in 5, with 1 DIS. Sanchez don't have any DOM yet, but has been close and showed last season that he can rack it them up fast once he's going good.

Game 3: Lincecum vs. Weaver

It would be easy to say that Lincecum got it over Weaver in so many ways, it would be ridiculous. However, Weaver has been very good pitching in LA, he should pay to get to pitch there, 3.73 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, .250 BAA vs. career 4.70 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, .277 BAA (and that includes his LA stats). Still 3.73 ERA pales against what Lincecum can do.

But as The Kid showed early this season, he's not infallible, teams can and do get to him sometimes. However, according to the Giants announcers, despite not really having good stuff the other day, Lincecum still pitched 7 innings, giving up only 4 hits and 2 walks and striking out 7. This is not the Lincecum of his first two starts.

So I would count this in the win column most probably.

Giants Thoughts

Overall, the odds look very good for the Giants to win the series. The pitchers match up very well, good enough that winning two should be very possible. It would have been more in question if Wolf or Kershaw were starting, but we got Stults and Weaver instead.

Add in the Manny in the room, the D-gers could not help but be distracted by the whirlwind that is probably causing, and the constant questioning from reporters over the next few days as they try to get quotes from players regarding this.

In addition, as I've been noting on sites around the internet, the D-gers have been playing above their abilities. First up is Orlando Hudson, who is basically hitting better than Barry Bonds right now at home, while hitting like Omar Vizquel on the road. His career numbers are more Vizquel than Bonds like, so he's going to cool off at some point and return to career norms at home, which is going to hurt their offense since he's batting up top, 2nd I believe. Everyone else is about as expected, with Furcal and Martin down but Ethier and Kemp up, balancing each other out, meaning there is no underperformer expected to do well once Hudson cools off.

The team is now averaging about 5.5 runs per game. Last season, with about the same group of hitters at the end of the season WITH Manny, they averaged only 4.63 runs per game. So their offense is really not that great with Manny in, as that is not that great a RS per game. Thus, their runs scored was bound to drop at some point, and with Manny out, it should crater, because once Hudson stop hitting so well at home, that's two big bats out of the lineup.

Second up is Billingsley has been pitching both better than expected and better than his stats. Even if this is a new level of performance for him, his ERA should rise a lot for the remaining games he has left, unless he is having a breakout year much like Lincecum did. However, his post-ASG stats are not that much better, unlike Lincecum, so expecting a 3-ish ERA from Billingsley for the year is reasonable, which given his low ERA now, means a mid-3 ERA from him the rest of the season, which is good, but not dominating.

Third thing is their rotation is crap outside of Billingsley and Wolf. A good offense will cover that, but without Manny, the lineup will be hurt greatly by his replacement Juan Pierre and the expected drop of Hudson's contributions. That will result in a lot more losses, for the back of their rotation.

Fourth thing is their bullpen. First, Broxton and Troncoso will not keep their ERA under 1 the whole season. Not going to happen. Second, their bullpen out side the two of them is not that good. Wade has a nice ERA but with only 3 strikeouts in 8 IP but still only 5 hits, I don't think that will continue for the whole season. Belisario has been good too, and probably will continue, but Ohman, Kuo, Moto, and McDonald, have been horrible so far. So they have basically have three good relievers, which works well when leading, not so much when a starter is blown out or a tie needs to be preserved.

Given all that, as I have been saying, the D-gers may have a good offense, but their starting pitching is not that good overall, their bullpen a bit suspect overall despite the gaudy numbers, and their offense, with this same team, was not that good at scoring runs last season, anyhow. Now, without Manny, they should fall back to the pack, and the NL West, unlike one person's proclaimation that it is over, should be wide open for competition again.

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