Monday, June 29, 2009

The 2009 Giants are 40-34: Battle with Cards for Wild-Card Lead

Brew Crew Beat On

The Giants had a disappointing series with the Brewers - though with better closing we could have won the series, but Wilson has been very good up to now, so this is quibbling - but there were a number of good things to note.

First and foremost is Schierholtz's hot hitting. He looks like he might have Wally Pipped Fred Lewis for an OF starting position. In the 3 games series, he went 7 for 13 with a double and homer plus a homer stolen over the fence by Cameron, for a .538/.571/.846/1.418 batting line. Since he began starting regularly on June 11th, his batting line is .426/.451/.681/1.132 with 3 HR in 47 AB (again, remember, he should have had a 4th homer), starting in 12 games out of 17 (and playing in 16). It is something like this that makes me wish all the harder that the Giants had done what I have been advocating for the past two off-seasons: trade away Randy Winn so that Nate Schierholtz can start for us and be the power hitter that we have been lacking.

Second, and just as hot if not hotter, is Pablo Sandoval. Despite leaving yesterday's game early for a stomach ailment, he was 5 for 11 in the series with 3 HR, for a Bondsian batting line of .455/.500/1.364/1.864. Since the second game on June 4th, he has a batting line of .422/.489/.819/1.309 with 8 HR in 83 AB. Clearly, his power has started coming through once he figured out how to hit pitchers consistently.

The two of them join Travis Ishikawa, who has been hot since Bochy openly benched him for all of one day on May 10th. Since May 10th, Ishikawa hit .320/.400/.520/.920 with 4 HR in 75 AB. And for the month of June, he has hit .250/.289/.556/.845 with 3 HR in 36 AB.

So, yes, between the three of them, they have hit 14 HR in the month June (and would have 15 if not for Cameron). If they can continue hitting HR's, the Giants don't look like they will be so puny with homerun hitting for the rest of the season, particularly including Molina.

Thirdly, I forgot to note before that Rich Aurilia has been hitting better of late, he had a nice streak from May 15 to June 16, where he hit .282/.349/.410/.759, before an 0-fer brought him down on June 20th, but then he had a 2-for-5 on June 24th. People have been wanting to drop him, but unfortunately Richie has been distracted by thoughts of his father, who has had serious health problems for years now, but finally succumbed to them recently, as his health failed.

Fourth, I was impressed with how the Giants came back the next day to not only play well, but win, after such a devastating loss as they had gone through on Saturday. Many teams get sucker-punched by such a tough loss, and the aftermath is a lackluster game the next day. It is a sign of maturity and confidence that they shrugged off the loss and won going away the next day.

Lastly, I have to note Ryan Sadowski's masterful first start in the majors on Sunday. Against the powerful Brewers team that had just battered our pitching the day before, costing us two good leads and taking the victory away from the Giants, Sadowski, a good organizational soldier who was rumored to be soon sold to a Japanese league team, shut out the Brewers for 6 innings, giving up only 4 hits, plus 3 walks and striking out two, including the first batter of the game, his first batter of his major league career. He also got his first major league hit as well as his first major league win. All in a start that he didn't even know about until Friday when his AAA manager informed him of it.

According to what I learned from the radio, it has been quite a trip for Sadowski. When he was drafted by the Giants, he had not played any baseball for three years in college. He held a tryout for scouts - Tidrow was there - and based on that the Giants drafted him in the 12th round. He has never been a prospect that drew a lot of interest - heck, any interest - from the prospect hounds who know about such stuff. He has been what people call a good organizational player, a guy who is filling a spot on the minor league team so that our better prospects would have a team to play on as they progress up the minors to the majors. Only sometimes the dream comes true for these players, like Matt Palmer (and many others) last season, Brian Cooper a few years back, etc.

He got this opportunity because the Giants decided to skip Jonathan Sanchez's spot in the rotation in order to work with him and get his head and mechanics straight. Like it did with Matt Cain and Barry Zito, and with Lincecum, the threat of one, that got the pitcher off the treadmill, running in the same direction, and gave him a moment to reflect and go off on another direction. Sanchez came into the game in relief for the 9th inning and, after plunking Prince Fielder with a wild pitch into his wide side, Sanchez struck out the side. Fielder was mad but I can understand if Sanchez was a bit wild with his first pitch, after all, that is why he got sat down in the first place, and second, it being his first pitch, his adrenaline could have gotten the best of him there as well.

Now the interesting question is what to do next. It would seem a shame to send Sadowski back down, especially after his shutout outing, but with Aurilia gone on bereavement, it would appear that the Giants should swap Frandsen for Sadowski to beef up the bench for the series against the Cardinals, particularly with how well Sanchez pitched, he was dominating, from what I heard on the radio.

In addition, despite hitting his first major league homerun yesterday, Matt Downs has been scuffling. He has hit .212/.289/.333/.623 in 10 games, 33 AB and 8 strikeouts with that one homer. The good point is that his BABIP is .240, so perhaps if he can boost it up to .300, his batting line would be OK, but every hitter's BABIP is individual, there is not a mean around which he should regress to other than his career BABIP, and that hasn't been established for him yet. But since hitting is considered his forte, that would suggest that with enough time, he can eventually hit well in the majors.

However, the Giants are trying to balance winning with developing their young players. They have given him a chance because Burriss blew his and Frandsen was caught in between the period when he could not be brought up, opening up an opportunity for Downs. So the Giants will have to decide whether to give him more time or to finally give Frandsen his opportunity to start at 2B. Given that Downs started out OK then has been dropping the past two series, they could decide to bring up Frandsen to start, putting Downs on the bench until Aurilia returns.

Cards Series

The Cards are always tough and Pujols has been very hot. It's going to be a tough series, but we got our four best starters going against them, starting with Lincecum. I think that the Giants viewed the Cards as their main competition to beat because they could have started Lincecum against the Brewers in the last game of the series, but instead chose to call up Sadowski and allow Lincecum to be the first starter against the Cards.

Game 1: Lincecum vs. Brad Thompson.

Just inserted in the rotation about a month ago, he has had some pretty bad starts. Plus, he hasn't been particularly good in the majors previous to his season, though better this season. I would say that he's a good back of the rotation guy, but he's going against our #1 guy, and thus we should win this game. Lincecum is 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three career starts against the Cards, and has been just dominating the past three starts.

Game 2: Johnson vs. Chris Carpenter

Another reason not to muck with the order of the rotation is because then we pit Randy Johnson against Chris Carpenter, instead of having Cain face Carpenter. Not that Wainwright is a piece of cake, but Carpenter has been totally dominating since he got off the DL. Johnson has been pitching better of late, whereas Cain had his first bad start in almost two months in his last start. Also, Johnson, I think, will raise his level of play to match Carpenter, the greats ones can still do that for one start every so often, even at Johnson's age. We most probably will lose but it should be a good game where Johnson also have a good chance of winning.

Game 3: Cain vs. Adam Wainwright

Cain had a tough outing, but Wainwright has had a number of rough outings in his 3 of his last 4 starts, 4 of his last 6. I think that this is a good matchup of roughly equal pitchers, but I think that Cain will come out on top of this one, I think the last start is an aberration, he really seems to have turned the corner from being good to being great. This game will be a great test of that, whether he can turn it on and beat the Cards.

Game 4: Zito vs. Wellemeyer

Another reason why we don't muck with the rotation order: Zito vs. Wainwright would probably be a losing proposition. Zito vs. Wellemeyer, however, looks pretty good. Wellemeyer has a 5.68 ERA with only 55 strikeouts in 88.2 IP, but 40 walks!!! Plus 111 hits!!! Zito better beat Wellemeyer, it would be very disappointing if he doesn't beat him, though I understand that that happens sometimes.

Giants Thoughts

This series can swing from very good to very bad, depending on how things go with the starting pitching. I think a split is a very good possibility, what with games 1 and 4 looking like good bets, and I would take that easily, as that would make our road trip an almost even split, with us losing 2 of 3 at Milwaukee (I can't count Oakland as a road trip). With Houston (35-38), Florida (38-39) and San Diego (33-41) as opponents at home just before the All Star break, the Giants could boost up their record a bit at home, where they have one of the best records in the majors playing at home, assuming they can get out of St. Louis relatively unscathed.

With three hot hitters in Schierholtz, Sandoval, and Ishikawa, plus Rowand doing well himself, and Molina doing OK, the offense could be good enough up top to help our pitching win in this series. The lineup will be Rowand, Winn, Sandoval, Molina, Schierholtz, Renteria, Ishikawa, Uribe, and that would be pretty good given how well they have been hitting of late. And the Cards are throwing up all RHP, so our lefties should see starts the whole series. I think that given Winn's struggles of late, I can see Bochy sitting him down once, and give Lewis a start.

With game time coming up, it looks like the Giants are not making any roster moves, meaning that Sadowski and Downs will get another chance to impress the team's management. Sadowski will, for sure, because there is no reason to keep him up unless they are planning to give him another start. And that appears to be so, Andy Baggarly just reported that Bochy says that Sadowski is officially in the rotation.

With Uribe starting at 2B in today's lineup, Downs apparently has worn out some of his welcome - Giants facing untested struggling starter today, usually an excellent spot for a prospect like Downs to start, particularly batting 8th where Uribe is today. And apparently Frandsen has not done enough to warrant starting up in the majors. Apparently, since the Cards only have a four man bench, the Giants think they can get away with that too. I think that is easier for the Cards because they have such a good lineup - we don't.

With Sadowski annointed to be in the rotation, that would mean that Sanchez would be in the bullpen until at least after the All-Star break, at which time, one would hope he figured out enough to earn back his rotation spot. In addition, that would mean that Downs will probably go down when Aurilia returns and Uribe is our 2B until further notice. The only way this works for me is if this showcases Uribe and someone trades for him, giving us a nice prospect in return, then Frandsen gets to start the rest of the season.

Judging from the interview with a Brewers hitter on TV, it sounded like Sadowski had the upper hand on them because none of them had faced him before, and he first went with one pitch the first time around the lineup, then mixed in another pitch the second time around and adjusted to the hitters. I got the impression that the hitter was not impressed but tipped his hat off to Sadowski because he adjusted when he needed to.

Can he keep hitters off balance once he's a known quality? It was telling that he struck out two batters in his first two innings, but could not get another strikeout for the next four innings. It was also telling that Sadowski only had 45 strikes thrown in 85 pitches. A more discerning lineup could rack up more than the 3 walks he gave up to the Brewers, though neither Florida nor Houston are that great. I say enjoy the ride while you can, because unless he can adjust further, he's going to get hit on pretty quickly, once there are tapes and scouting reports filed on him. But I will hope for the best.

Meanwhile, I have to think that it's Downs who goes down when Aurilia returns. And that probably means Uribe will be starting at 2B, and perhaps Aurilia too, at least until the All Star break. Then the Giants management will re-assess and see what they should do next.

I still hope that give Frandsen a chance. Given all the comments I heard from Bochy earlier this season, I have to think so, they said that he would get his chance, only later, that he had to be patient with the process. And the Giants thought enough of him last season to keep 3B open for him, so since he has hit like normal in AAA this season, and even more importantly, played defense well at SS. So he should get an extended chance sometime this season because he's not getting any younger.

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