Monday, July 26, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 56-43: Keep It Going Against the Marlins

Wow, what a road trip, what a road sweep!  The Giants were 3 runs from sweeping the whole road trip!  But we are close to losing a number of games as well, in fact, the D-gers series could very well have been a losing series given how the second game in that series went.

Furthermore, we must remain cognizant that the gauntlet has just because, the travel just begun.  The road will be arduous, as the Giants still have 35 games over the next 38 days, with series against the D-gers, D-Rox, 'Dres, Braves, Phillies, Cards, Reds.  Then right after that, an even MORE important stretch, playing 6 games against LA, 4 games vs. SD by Sept. 16th, 13 games in total in 14 days.  In total, 44 of the last 63 games will be played against teams with over .500 records.  These are the long days of the pennant stretch with every few days of rest, but at least we are still in the hunt.

Still, great month so far.  And as Baggarly noted in his blog, the Giants need to go 4-2 the rest of the month of July to have their first 20-game win month since September 2000.  And that includes all the playoff teams we had with Bonds early in the decade.  This is the best winning streak this season, even better than the stretch they had after adding Posey to the lineup, from May 27 to June 14, when they went 13-5 in 18 games.

Now we get four games against the Marlins, a team that has struggled to reach and stay at .500 this season.  However, much as I described Colorado's dependence on Ubaldo, they are very reliant on Josh Johnson, their ace, who has taken it to another like Ubaldo, except that unlike Ubaldo, he has shown no signs of regressing back to his prior level of excellence and is still delivering once in a generation type ERA.

His ERA is 1.61 (Ubaldo has ballooned since I discussed his probable regression), and has continued to drop since his first two starts of the season where nothing really clicked, but once it did, he has allowed 3 ER in a start ONCE in the last 18 starts.  Still, the Marlins have only been 13-7 in his starts, losing four starts where he gave up 2 runs or less, three of them within his last seven starts.  And lucky us, we get to face him this series, payback for missing aces in prior series.

In any case, Matt Cain drew the short straw and will be facing him, and that will make the series tough to win for that reason, we will need Cain to have his A-game going, if we are to have any chance of winning that game.

Game 1:  Ricky Nolasco vs. Zito

MLB Notes:
Marlins:  Nolasco reached a milestone in his last start, collecting his 50th career win, making him second all-time in Marlins history. He gave up two runs in eight innings while striking out eight against the Rockies. He suffered a loss to the Giants in Miami on May 6.
Giants:  The Giants own a 12-8 record in Zito's starts. They've been particularly fortunate in his six career starts against Florida, winning each game. Typically a strong second-half pitcher, Zito has recorded a 1.17 ERA in his two starts since the All-Star break.
Nolasco has been a good starter in his career, so this will be a tough game for the Giants.  However, his ERA for the season is 4.50, as he has had a tough season, despite walking so few and striking out a lot relative to that, and his BABIP is not that bad, though a tad high, not enough to explain why his ERA is so high.  His problem has always been giving up the homerun ball, and that has cost him apparently, as he is showing that his 2009 is the season that is more his talent level, and not 2008.  But he does pitch better on the road, with a 4.18 ERA this season, and he shut them out in his one start in AT&T in 2008, again, a season that appears to be a fluke plus our lineup is much different now..

Zito has a great history against the Marlins and a great history in the second half of the season, after the All-Star break, plus has been great so far.  Have to give this to Zito, for as good as Nolasco has been previously, I think all the factors point to a Giants win for this game, a good way to start any series.

Game 2:  Josh Johnson vs. Cain

Marlins:  Thirteen and counting. JJ is riding a string of 13 straight starts without allowing more than two runs. He has given up one run in 12 1/3 innings since the break, but he comes off a no-decision, in which he allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings to the Rockies, fanning 11.
Giants:  Cain's coming off an impressive performance at Arizona, where he allowed three hits in eight shutout innings. His nine strikeouts matched a season high. Cain is 5-3 with a 2.63 ERA at home, compared with 3-5, 3.50 on the road.
As I noted above, the Giants will have their hands full against Johnson.  Luckily, the Marlins offense has been as bad in supporting their ace as the Giants been in supporting their great starters.  Similarly, it has either been an avalanche of runs (6 starts with 7 or more runs; 3 of them 10 runs or more) or nothing much (10 starts with 3 or less runs; 7 of them 2 runs or less), which is why they are only 13-7 in his starts.  

With Cain going, it should be another tough game for Johnson again, but given that Cain has had a - still great - 2.63 at home, while Johnson has had a 2.70 ERA previously in AT&T, but yet those were in seasons before his breakout this season, and now his road ERA is 2.00 this season, vs. 3.07 for his career, clearly Johnson has taken a big step forward this season.  I have to give Johnson the win for this start, particularly since Matty seems to have bad luck regarding the Giants offense supporting him.


Game 3:  Alex Sanabia vs. Sanchez

Marlins:  If his first three big league starts are any indictation, Sanabia has the ability to pitch out of trouble. He has an 0.69 ERA in those games. His WHIP is 1.69 as a starter. He's given up 16 hits, walked six and hit a batter in 13 innings.
Giants:  Sanchez experienced a bizarre five-inning outing at Arizona last Friday. He continually pitched from the stretch, resulting from four hits allowed and five walks, but struck out 10 and yielded only one run.
Sanabia has been great this season.  But he has not been that great in the minors previously, this is his first good season ever, really, he appears to be very lucky this season.  Still, that does not mean that it won't continue against the Giants, he could have finally figured out that pitch he needs to succeed in the majors and is using it to good effect so far.  However, there is a huge anomaly in that he found it relatively hard to strike out AA hitters this season while striking out major leaguers relatively easily, which should reveal itself at some point in the majors, unless he literally figured out this new pitch within the last month.  But based on his minor league splits (you'll have to input his name if you click the link), if anything, AA hitters were figuring him out, his ERA was still low but his K/9 was dropping each month.

Sanchez has a 3.00 ERA at home this season, and Whiteside just seems to do magic working with Sanchez, as Jonathan's ERA is so low with Whiteside while way high with anyone else, including Posey so far in admittedly two starts, but still 2.69 with Whiteside for his career, 5.59 with Posey, so his best chance of winning is with Whiteside catching, clearly.  He has never pitched against the Marlins at home.

So this game is a coin flip, at best.  Sanabia has been doing very well but he's still relatively new to this and he was so bad previously in the minors that Baseball America did not even include him in their list of RHP starters for Florida's 2010 top prospects list, let alone rank him in their Top 30.  Again, that does not mean he is not the real deal now, but just that he will have to prove himself in each and every start.  

But there are warning signs that he's been lucky so far.  Apparently, his high strikeouts is because of his relief work this season, his strikeout rate is much lower as a starter.  And his GB/FB ratio is 0.63, indicating a lot of flyballs, and yet his X/H% is a low 5%.  

But that might be because he has a high infield fly rate of 17%, which is Zito's average for his career, so that is a very good rate and most probably the main reason for his success this season.  But clearly, this is something new for him relative to the rest of his career, so he will have to prove that he can keep this up.  Zito was that good early in his career, then was much lower for six seasons, before getting it back up high again this season.  

I think a coin flip is the most fair way to assess this game.  It does not look good because Sanabia has been on a tear since becoming a starter for the Marlins, and yet, Sanchez has pitched pretty well himself on occasion, particularly with Whiteside starting at C, so our best chance of winning will be with Whiteside starting at C and Posey starting at 1B, which will cost Ishikawa a start as the starter is a RHP, but with Posey hitting the way he is, you can't sit him much.

Game 4:  Anibal Sanchez vs. Bumgarner

MLB Notes:
Marlins:  Sanchez was in line for his eighth win when he took the mound last Saturday. But after a three-run lead disappeared, he was not involved in the decision. The team is closely watching his innings pitched. He has 115 1/3 right now after throwing 86 a year ago.
Giants:  This will be Bumgarner's first start at home since June 26, when he made his season debut for the Giants in an Interleague affair against Boston. Since then, Bumgarner has recorded a 1.87 ERA in five road starts, winning the past four in a row.
Sanchez is the second best starter in the Marlin's rotation.  They forgot to note that he also had 26 innings in the minors in 2009 as well, so he's roughly at the workload he had last season, but still in a gray area in terms of usage, as to when he would tire, so they might pull him sooner than later, putting us into their bullpen sooner, which should be the goal for this series as the bullpen's ERA is 4.43.  His numbers are better than his peripherals, but he's been much worse on the road this season, 4.75 ERA.  He pitched OK against the Giants earlier this season at home, 6 IP, gave up 5 hits and 1 walk, struck out 3, gave up 3 runs with 2 earned, but now face them in AT&T, where they have one of the best home records, so he'll have a tougher battle here in SF.  

Meanwhile, Bumgarner has been pretty good overall and very good during the surge, all on the road.  Now he returns to home cooking, which should also portend another good start.  He could also be tiring soon as well, but he has pitched great so far for the Giants.  Should be a Giants win.

Giants Thoughts

Exciting times to be a Giants fan.  With their 15-3 surge, they are now only 3 games behind San Diego and took lead for the wild card spot, and in fact has a 1.5 game lead there now.  The D-gers are 3 games behind us and D-Rox 4.5 games behind us, which, while not a secure lead, nonetheless, we were behind both of them coming out of the All-Star break, 

The offense has led the way with Buster Posey leading the way.  The offense has averaged 5.7 runs since the surge began, and 4.5 runs since the All-Star break.  While Huff has been our stud most of the season - Baseball-Reference.com's front page shows Huff as 4th in NL in WAR overall, just behind A-Gon - Posey has been on an absolute tear in July, batting .469/.511/.815/1.326, 7 HR in 81 AB, with an 18 game hit streak, which is now the second longest in SF Giants history for rookies, behind only Willie McCovey's 22 game hit streak and just passing Orlando Cepeda's 17 game hit streak.

Posey has been incredible.  He has three 4-hit games in July and 12 multi-hit games.  His only oh-fer in July was on July 3rd.  I just watched the video showing him in yesterday's 4-hit game, and as Kruk and Kuip were marveling in it, he was just putting a hitting clinic in that game.  He has a beautiful stroke.  And he might not only win the Rookie-of-the-Month award, he might just get the regular one as well.  And his hitting has to have put his name up there with Jason Heyward and other contenders for the Rookie-of-the-Year Award, which he normally would have no chance for, given how late he was brought up, but given his significance during this Giants surge, he ought to be on the radar now for voters.

Not that the pitching hasn't been it's usual great way.  The pitching had a 2.61 ERA in the 18-game surge, and taking the cue from the offense's explosion at the beginning of the month, it took a step up and had a 2.34 ERA since the All-Star break, which countered the drop in offensive production and continued the winning.  And mirroring the lead by young Posey, Madison Bumgarner, who has been great since joining the rotation with a 2.43 ERA overall, has been great during the surge, with a 1.35 ERA, 4-0 record, 26.1 IP, giving up only 21 hits and 8 walks, while striking out 21.  

NL West View

But while this is all great, the 'Dres have been annoyingly good during the surge.  They are 9-6 since July 5th, with their offense finally turning on and scoring a lot of runs, 6.0 to be exact, even higher than the Giants, and 7-2 since the All-Star break.  The Giants could only gain one game on them with their 9-2 record since the break.

One thing that should work in our favor for the rest of the season is that San Diego has played 5 less games on the road than the Giants have while the Giants have played 3 less home games.  That should get us at least one game closer in the standings, if not two.  And given that the Giants are playing much better with Posey in the lineup starting as C, we should be right in the hunt with them fighting for the NL West division title for the rest of the season.  

However, San Diego passed their first test on the road well, going 4-2 against the Braves and Pirates over the past week.  They are back home but still have 17 of their next 26 on the road, including 4 games in LA and 3 games in SF.  Unfortunately, they also have 6 games against AZ and Pittsburgh, so there will be some easy games as well.  The Pirates could not even pull off one win, which would have put the 'Dres at .500 with 3-3, they were swept by SD.

I think the other teams will continue to struggle.  LA will probably continue to fall, as they struggle to find a 5th starter and Manny continues to spend time on the DL.  They have also played 7 more home games and 7 less road games than we have, so the Giants should put further distance between them and the D-gers due to that as well.

Colorado should have Tulowitski coming back soon, and they have traditionally been a second half team, so those are good things for them, but Ubaldo has finally hit the wall of regression to the mean:  after a 1.15 ERA into late June, over a span of 6 starts, he has had an ERA of 7.64 since June 23, with only one start where he allowed less than 4 runs.  Still, D-Rox are a strong offensive team and scored enough runs that he was 3-3 in that very bad streak.  And Colorado is searching for both a 4th and 5th starter who can hold their own against a strong pitching rotation.  

Giants Are New and Improve Compare to Before

And people need to remember that this is a different Giants team now versus before, so they cannot judge them against how they were in April or even May.  Posey and Bumgarner are two key differences, obviously, in making that happen, but also because it has allowed other players opportunities to shine, particularly Travis Ishikawa.  Once he started getting starts, he has hit .360/.389/.460/.849 with 1 HR in 50 AB, but more importantly, only 7 SO, plus 3 walks, in 20 games but 12 starts.  He has 14 RBIs in his nice streak.

Also importantly, Andres Torres has been hot atop the order.  In 20 games, 18 starts, he hit .278/.345/.633/.978 with 6 HR in 79 AB in July.  He still had 21 strikeouts, so that's not good, but with all those homers, that helps mitigate that, and allowed him to drive in 16 runs during the month.  That helped counter a further slumping Freddy Sanchez, who was killing us in the two-spot until Bochy dropped him lower and put Renteria up there.  

And, of course, our starting pitching rotation has continued to be superb.  No one to really highlight beyond Bumgarner, because they all have been doing that great on an overall basis, helped out by the bullpen, of course.  This is the wonders of having a great rotation, top to bottom, that I've been preaching about for years now.  

With Bumgarner's ascension, the rotation is complete, though, as El Lefty Malo noted a while back, who knows how much longer we will have Madison in the rotation this season, given his youth and lack of innings pitched previously in a full season.  Bumgarner says that he's strong enough to go 200 innings, and the Giants have said that they will play it by ear with him, they will not necessarily cap his innings pitched, but rather play it game to game and see where his body is at, which I prefer anyway over an arbitrary number of innings pitched.  

Still, the odds are that, at least for this season, we will probably see Wellemeyer taking Bumgarner's spot in the rotation at some point (most probably home since Wellemeyer has only pitched well in SF for us so far).  I still like my 6 man rotation idea, as that helps relieve some load off all our young starters, but right now the Giants look to maximize their chances in the playoffs, which probably means that Bumgarner will occasionally miss a home start to Wellemeyer and see some time in the bullpen at some point.

Angel's Take D-Backs

Have to take note here on Arizona trading away Dan Haren to the Angels:  I think they got took in the deal, like they did the deal more to save money than to get talent back, which is good because that means that they are probably re-building for the next 3-5 years, and we won't have to worry about them battling for the title.  Seems that way with this trade for a some now and some later.

Joe Saunders is the established vet in the deal, he replaces Haren in the rotation as a decent replacement, but he's even older than Haren.  They also got Rafael Rodriguez (unrated by Baseball America), a reliever who has been pitching on and mostly off for the Angels the past two seasons, and Patrick Corbin (ranked 12th best prospect in Angels farm system pre-season) and a PTBNL, though I've seen one rumor say that it will be Tyler Skaggs (8th).   Corbin has had an OK season in A-ball, but a 3.87 ERA there is not that great.  Skaggs, if he indeed is the PTBNL, would be the prized prospect, he's only 18 but doing better than Corbin in A-ball, though both are young (Corbin in only 20 YO).  Skaggs strikes out a lot, walks little, and at an age much younger than the competition.  They are both viewed as only middle of rotation starters by Minor League Baseball Analyst, but given what Skaggs has done in A-ball this season, I have to view him as above that.

But the key thing to me is that none of them are a potential Dan Haren.  That is quite a come down from all the players they originally traded away for Haren, which included Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Greg Smith, and Chris Carter, though of course they got 2.5 seasons out of Haren before trading down.  They took a big hit on talent, particularly for a player like Haren who would be the ace of most rotations, as they basically got a handful of middle rotation innings eaters plus a reliever, with only Skaggs (and he's not a sure thing yet) as a potential plus starter for them.

Giants Trade Rumors

And to all the trade rumors I've been seeing:  just say No, unless the Giants give up someone they no longer believe in.  Sabean has already said that nobody in the rotation will be traded, so that is a relief.  The latest rumor has the Giants kicking tires with the Marlins regarding Jorge Cantu.  Previous targets David DeJesus and Cory Hart, suffered bad injuries - DeJesus could be out for the season - and thus should be passed on.

Cantu might be cheaper to trade for because he's a free agent after the season, but the Rangers are looking into his cost right now as well and appears more aggressive about this being "the" year, probably because their young players are still mostly unproven and so this year is the year to win it with all their older players because the Angels are suffering a rare down season, while the Giants are currently jelling together for many years of playoff chases.  The hottest rumor is the Orioles LHP reliever Will Ohman, though I would note that the White Sox has a hot young LHP reliever named Erick Threets, former Giants prospect, who has been shut-out great so far this in, like, 7 appearances.  Sure could use him now, I wonder how much we would have to give up to get him back?

Thoughts on Marlin's Series

Lastly, this series will be tough to win since four games mean going at least 3-1, and Johnson gives them a great chance for at least one game, and another game is a coin flip plus for the other two games, you never know.  It would take a lot of hot hitting to continue the winning stretch.  And I have a feeling some blown games by the bullpen would figure into it as well.

Breaking even seems very doable, but would be a let down after this great stretch of great play.  However, we can't expect the Giants to play at such a lofty level for the rest of the season, at some point they will slow down and that's when the other NL West teams will try to take advantage.   But after this great winning streak, I can live with that.

2 comments:

  1. Ugh, ugly loss and we really needed to win this game to have any hope of winning the series. But we are facing the ERA leader in Johnson.

    Plus, now even splitting the series is an uphill battle because Johnson will be tough to beat, which would leave us two down with two to go. Cain will need to put out his best effort tonight, bullpen too.

    Also, while their bullpen has a horrible ERA, I didn't notice that they have a nice set-up/closer combo that they go to when they have the lead, that would make coming back against them even tougher.

    We really needed yesterday's game, but most except for Rowand seemed to be jet-lagged. Good news was Uribe and Sanchez getting two hits each, they had been slumping during our win streak, and we'll need them hitting to continue winning. Zito did OK in spite of him not having his stuff, and if Moto didn't give up run in 8th, they might have had a chance because they had blown through the Marlin's setup guys and closer already and would then face their other relievers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, what a game yesterday! Back and forth, I thought we got Johnson but he worked his way off the hook.

    Then their bullpen came in and instantly flamed out the game beyond reach for them.

    Rowand again! He seems to be in one of his hot streaks, someone tweeted that his head is now still, so he's seeing the ball better now. If he can go on one of his hot streaks, that would help us sustain this win streak, as Posey will eventually cool off, at least some.

    Freddie Sanchez is suddenly hot too. Plus Torre, Huff, and Posey continued to contribute offensively.

    And Renteria won the game for us with that homer. And Uribe put us ahead with his homer.

    Cain had a nice game, but got too cutesy and lost his win by giving up another homer to Uggla. If it wasn't for the homers, he would have won the game.

    This puts us back in good position for the series, not for a win, but at least a split looks achievable, and it IS really hard to win a four game set anyway, so not a big deal.

    ReplyDelete

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