Thursday, September 30, 2010

Your Giants 2010 Magic Number is 3

With another gem from Lincecum - and for those worried about his lowered velocity and early wildness and lack of control/precision, John Shea tweeted that he was actually sick, coughing quite a bit - and another game-winning bomb (7th go-ahead homer for Giants this season) from Pat the Bat Burrell (3 run homer this time; his 20th HR of season, 18th with Giants), the Giants win, dropping their magic number to 3. 

SD won, so the Cubs didn't help there, too bad, because Wells had been doing well, and now the Cubs have a former Pirate pitching, Tom Gorzelanny, against SD's Garland today, so probably no help from them today (but that's OK, they had already won two games in SD, that's what I wanted at minimum). 

And who knows, Gorzelanny has had a nice season (4.28 ERA) so he might have one last good start in him, though he has been pounded in two of this last three start, four of last 6, and five of last 8.  However, it looks like he was injured earlier in this month and just had his first start back, totally wild.  Before that start, his ERA was below 4, which was pretty good.  If he got his kinks out, he could have a nice start, particular in pitcher's park Petco Park.  However, in two starts there, pounded...

By finally winning a game against the Cubs, the 'Dres ensure that the Giants cannot win the NL West without beating SD once this weekend.  But as I noted yesterday, one more Giants win or 'Dres loss today would mean that the Giants only have to win one game to win NL West.  So, once again, the Giants need to win today, this time to avoid needing to win series against 'Dres.

Braves kept up too - Marlins was no help, getting swept, as Hanley didn't play at all during the series.  I guess they needed and missed Co-Dy.  They are still half a game behind the Giants and depending on how the Giants do today, will either be tied with or one game behind the Giants.  Ideally, whatever happens with the Braves, the Giants probably would want to avoid the Phillies, both because of their pitching and hitting, as well as the fact that our pitchers would get one more day of rest if we were in the other series (Game 1 with Phillies on Oct. 6th; Game 1 for other playoff teams on Oct. 7th).  That would mean winning NL West and finishing ahead of the Reds. 

Speaking of the Reds, Jeff Fletcher tweeted that if the Reds lose one more game and (he had "or" but I think he meant "and") the Giants or 'Dres win on Thursday, the Reds would end up 3rd in the NL, with the NL West winner 2nd and WC slot, of course, 4th.  This is because the Giants won the season's series with them and thus would win any tie-breaker.  As the Giants are two games ahead of the Reds, the magic number for the Giants to finish tied or above Reds is 2, as long as they win the NL West title. 


Lincecum is just amazing.  He did all that yesterday while very sick.  Looked like he would not last out of first inning or two, but ends up giving up just that one run, on the homer on the second pitch of the game:  way to recover from that!  And he ended up striking out 10, the 26th time in his career to record double-digit K's and 7th this season.  Also, as Baggarly tweeted, because his competitors for this title have been shut down for the season, The Kid will join Randy Johnson and Warren Spahn as the only pitchers since WW II to lead NL in strikeouts in 3 consecutive seasons. 

It was also tweeted that Lincecum has the most strikeouts by any player since 1893 in their first four seasons with 907 strikeouts;  the prior record holder was Doc Gooden with 892.  I had thought long ago that Jerome Williams would be the one doing what Gooden did (some prospecthounds were comparing his minor league stats with Gooden's).  But better late than never, though with Lincecum.  He has been doing historical things that had never been done before and just continues to do that.  The Giants (and their fans) are truly fortunate.

Giants Rotation Against SD

As has been tweeted by many, and blogged about by Baggerly, the Giants announced their rotation for the 'Dres series.  Baggerly explained what it means pretty well, so I'll go with that:
As you’ve probably heard by now, the Giants altered their rotation for the Padres series.

Bruce Bochy moved up Matt Cain to pitch Friday (against Clayton Richard). Cain switched spots with Barry Zito, who will go Saturday on two extra days of rest (against Tim Stauffer). Jonathan Sanchez remains the guy Sunday against Mat Latos.

Bochy said it was simply to keep Cain on regular rest, nothing more. That’s because Bochy is loathe to say anything about lining his playoff rotation, both out of respect to the opposition and also because he might raise the wrath of the many, many baseball gods that rule the universe. (Such as Lothar, maker of bad-hop infield singles.)

It’s pretty clear what is happening. Bochy is moving up Cain because he’d follow Tim Lincecum in Game 2 of an NL Division Series. Also, if something wacky happens and the Giants tie with the Padres and Braves, possibly necessitating two tiebreaker games to get in, the Giants would have Cain on three days of rest in the second game.
I would also add that this is also to put the Giants knee on the necks of the 'Dres chances of winning the NL West.  The Giants will need to win at least one game in the SD series now to win the division.  Worse case scenario is if the Giants lost and 'Dres won today, the Giants would need to win two games in the series.  However, if the Giants win or if the 'Dres lost today, then the Giants would only need to win one game of the series to win the NL West.

Who is #3 Starter?

Baggerly also had good speculation about the third starter and why the Giants might go with a different option depending on the situation:
How would the Giants decide a Division Series Game 3 starter between their three left-handers? That’s a question they’re not ready to touch yet.

And really, circumstances will dictate the decision. For instance, if the Giants have home field, then Game 3 would be on the road – most likely in a bandbox like Cincinnati, or possibly Atlanta. They might turn to Sanchez or even Madison Bumgarner, who has a 1.91 ERA on the road, before Zito.

But if the Giants don’t have home-field advantage, Game 3 would be at AT&T Park. And my hunch is that they would send Zito to the mound, backing him up with Bumgarner and not afraid to make a quick change.

Either way, Lincecum and Cain are the Giants’ top two pitchers. And you want them out of the gate first, so you can come back to them as often as possible.
To me, Zito is auditioning for the post-season rotation.  If he has another off start on Saturday while Bumgarner pitches well today, he could get bumped anyway.  In any case, I don't see how the Giants don't go with Sanchez #3, he has been pitching so well, and particularly in a short 5 game series.

In a 5 game series the third game is actually pivotal in all scenarios.  If the Giants had lost the first two games, they really need to win that third game or they will be eliminated.  If the Giants had split the first two games, the loser of the third game then needs to win the last two games, while the winner only needs to win one.  Lastly, if the Giant had won the first two games, if the Giants win the third game, they win the series, but if the lose, the other team now is back in the series, only one game behind and feeling hopeful again.  Not as urgent in this last case, but still, winning would give our pitchers extra rest before the NL and save our best pitchers for next series. 
Because Bumgarner is going way beyond his prior IP totals, I don't see how he is not in the bullpen as long man, but that Bochy will have a quick trigger in pulling a struggling starter before the disaster start makes it too hard for the team to come back from.   There is enough days inbetween series that even if the first series go the full number of games that Lincecum can pitch in the NLCS on regular rest, but if there is a 5th game, Cain would be pitching on shorter (4 days) rest, which is probably OK, but still.  I would be OK with Bumgarner starting 2nd game of NLCS to allow Cain more rest in game 3, as that would still allow Cain to pitch again in NLCS, game 7.  And if need be, on shorter rest in game 6.

I can see him being the #3 starter next season in the playoffs (for the season, I think the Giants will keep current order, to mix up styles and such, plus put less pressure on Sanchez and Bumgarner still).  I think that he's that good. 
Keep Buster as Catcher

There were some people on ExtraBaggs complaining that Buster should be "saved" by moving him to another position, as then he wouldn't be slumping now, because he's worn out playing catcher.  Here is my response to them (plus my inevitable tweeks): 

About Posey, while our rotation is one of the best right now, and could become one of the best ever in a few years (thank you Brian Sabean, hope you get an extension), does anyone really think that the historic 17 game (and now 20 of 21 games, wonder if that has happened before in MLB history) streak of 3 runs allowed or less happens without Buster? Sure, move him off catcher when he signs a 10 year, $300M contract with us, but for now, let him catch, he looks like he can become among one of the best ever.

And Posey is not slumping in September. In Sept, he has hit 6 HR in 86 AB, with a batting line of .244/.337/.500/.837 and his .224 BABIP suggests some extreme bad luck in balls falling in. If that is a slump, I hope he continues slumping.

In fact, Posey's OPS was rising most of the month until recently. His "slump" has been all of 5 games, from Sept 24 to now. What, he can't have a stretch of 5 bad games hitting now, is he suppose to walk on the waters of McCovey Cove next?

And as I noted, his abnormally low BABIP is the cause of his bad batting average, but as one can see, he has adjusted by taking many more walks to keep his OBP OK this month. This wunderkind can do it all!

There is a reason so many former catchers are managers: they are leaders in the clubhouse. They become good at it because they are essesntially managing the personalities of the 12 man pitching staff, so it is not as big a leap to then manage 25 personalities. Buster is the superstar leader our team has been looking for. For a long time, the Giants have had superstars but none of them were really leaders. Buster is a leader and he will lead us (along with our pitching staff) to the World Series and hopefully our long awaited World Series championship.
Giants Future So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
In fact, I think the 2010's will be considered the Giants era, where they will dominate with pitching and enough hitting to keep the wins piling up.  They will return to their former glories of about 100 years ago, much like Boston did recently, and win some World Series championships.  And I predict that the A's will help finance this extended era of excellence by giving a lot of financial concessions to the Giants when they get approval to become the San Jose A's (would San Jose Giants move to Oakland then? :^) but then would have to concede lots and lots of money to the Giants like the Nats had to give up to Orioles.
And I think the Giants will be led by the tandem of Lincecum and Posey.  Both are doing historical things (Lincecum with Cy Youngs and strikeouts; Posey guiding pitchers to 17 game streak) and with them around the Giants should be in good shape for years.  Of course, they can't do it all alone, with other good to great players contributing, but I think the two of them will be our performance leaders who will dominate the opposition into submission when all is said and done.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your 2010 Giants Magic Number is 4

The definition for magic number, for those who don't know, is the number of wins that the leading team gets from now on plus losses that the second place team gets that ensures that the leading team wins.  An easy way to calculate that is to assume the leading team wins the rest of its remaining games, then see what the second place team has to lose in order that the leading team has more wins.  The sum of the two would equal the magic number.

However, when you get close to the end, the second team could win the rest of their games and still not catch up.  When that happens, then you assume they win the rest and see how many games the leading team wins to end up with more wins.  The Giants and 'Dres are in this situation now, the Giants can win 4 of their last 5 games and they win the NL West, no matter what San Diego does, with the 'Dres being the only one left in the race, as the D-Rox was eliminated yesterday with their loss (which is great, because now they know that they gave their best, winning all those games, and it was not enough that Tulo had his historic run of homeruns;  their confidence would have been immense in the future had they pulled it off again).

As I noted before, the Giants could win the NL West before the SD series by sweeping the D-backs and the Cubs sweeping the 'Dres. With the momentum of both teams - SF doing well, SD collapsing against the Cubs - that could happen, but the odds do not favor that. The SD series should decide the NL West.

But the Giants probably only need to win one game in the series to clinch.  Because they are playing the 'Dres in the last series, if both teams go 1-1 in the two remaining games in their respective series against the D-backs and the Cubs (or Giants win two or 'Dres lose two but both are not sweeps), the Giants only need to win one game of the SD series to clinch the NL West title, as every Giants win in that series is also a 'Dres loss, meaning the Giants erase 2 off their magic number when they win.  Or they could just win the SD series and that would clinch it too, even if they lost the two to AZ.

Lincecum/Bumgarner Swap

With the end of the season so close, the Giants felt that they should swap Lincecum and Bumgarner's starts so that Lincecum starts today and Bumgarner tomorrow.  I will recap what I've seen that this means.  First of all, it positions Lincecum to pitch on regular rest now and be ready to start any tie-breaking games that are needed on Monday on regular rest as well, instead of short rest.  Second, it gives Bumgarner another day of rest, which is key because now he gets 2 extra days, which gives his body more rest than usual and he's blown through his previous high in innings pitched.  It is probably his last start of the season, most teams go with a 4 man (or less) rotation in the playoffs, so he'll probably be our long-man out of the bullpen in the playoffs and Bochy will probably give a short rope to Zito and Sanchez if they start off badly.

Third, it increases the odds of winning today, and if Lincecum can pull that off, the magic number is reduced by one more.  Fourth, it gives Lincecum extra rest should the Giants make the regular playoffs with no tie-breaking games.  Fifth, if the Giants need Lincecum on Sunday, he could pitch on short rest that day as well.  This gives the Giants a lot of options.

Sanchez's Growth And Posey Influence

Wanted to note something about Jonathan Sanchez's start yesterday.  That is typical of Sanchez, being amped up and unable to control his pitches well but still the other team is missing his pitches so he still strikes out a lot while also walking a lot.  He has "swing and miss" stuff that just needed to be harnessed, which would put him in Cy Young type situations if he ever could do that.

Posey has been doing that with Sanchez this second half of the season.  Before, when Sanchez was like this, he would eventually give up a lot of hits to drive in those walks and he would have a disaster start.  As Bochy noted, "a couple of years ago he probably would have panicked." Posey has been able to figure out how to utilize what is working so that Sanchez can last 5-6 innings without giving up a lot of runs, which keeps the team close enough that they can come back and tie up the game or take the lead. That allowed Sanchez to get ahold of his emotions and finally find that even keel, which he did last night, retiring 12 of 14 at one point. 

Once Sanchez can do that regularly, at the start of the game, he will join Lincecum and Cain atop the rotation (and dare say I now, Bumgarner is probably ready to do that as well, but needs to prove it over a full season now) as co-aces.  That Posey is able to coax that out of him even when he's amped up is great news for the Giants chances in the playoffs this year if they get in.

Another accomplishment that deserves noting is that he reached 200 strikeouts, the first Giants lefty to do it since the infamous Ray Sadecki in 1968.  By doing so, he and Lincecum also joined Phillies Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels as the only duos in the majors to reach 200 K's. 

Panda's Mojo Could be Returning

Also wanted to note Pablo Sandoval's 2 for 3 day, with a double and a walk, and he scored the winning run.  He said in an interview that Baggarly captured in his blog that he had reviewed video with Bam Bam and made a tweak to a more open stance that worked for him last season that he will use from both sides of the plate.  He also claims to be more patient and that he's seeing the ball really well.  Torres was also helping him by being positive every day, to battle and win, forget about before, and never give up.

Bochy's comments are in line with what I was saying previously:
“Yeah, you could see Pablo relaxing a little more,” Bochy said. “He came off the bench with a couple hits and he slowed things down. I’m happy for Pablo. We need him. He can flat-out hit. It’d be so important if Pablo can stay within himself and contribute to this offense.
“Sometimes it’s good for a player to back off and get a mental break and realize you’ve been pressing. Hopefully that’s what you get with Pablo.”
As I was noting, if Pablo could relax and be himself, he would straighten out.  A mental break of a number of games (not a benching IMO) sometimes does that and it appears to have worked.  A functioning Panda is of immeasurable worth to the offense in the playoffs.  Getting his type of production out of the bottom of the lineup should create a congo-line of scoring for us. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 88-68: De-fanging the D-backs

The Giants took care of the D-Rox season by winning 2 of 3 - and coming within a hair of sweeping - and for all intents and purposes, barring a complete collapse of 2 of 3 teams plus them winning everything, they are out of the race for the playoffs.  They needed to at minimum win 2 of 3 and ideally sweep to stay in the race, but the Giants killed their chances, for the most part.

With that, the Giants have won the same number of games as last season, 88.  They also stayed ahead of the pesky Padres (by half game), who has continued to keep pace with the Giants (though they lost yesterday and Braves won, so they are behind both SF and Atlanta now), as they beat the Reds over the weekend, and it helped us either way, as now the Giants have a better record than the Reds, which is important because the Giants would get home advantage over the other teams, except for the Phillies, and more importantly, should the Braves win the Wildcard, it would force the Reds to play the Phillies and not the Giants.  But it will be tough to keep this lead, as the Reds face the Astros and Brewers at home for their final six games, and both have been bad on the road.

The Giants also finished off their road games for the season and ended with a excellent 43-38 record, after being sharply in the red most of the season.  Baggarly reported that this is their first winning road record since the 2004 season.  Only the 'Dres and the Phillies can end up with a better road record, Phillies need to win 3 of their last 6 to have the best record and the 'Dres need to win one game against the Giants this coming weekend.  So this is quite an accomplishment, particularly in light of where they were earlier in the season, as they were 15-20 when the Posey era began.

Now there are only 6 games left in the season, all at home where they are 45-30 and 20-13 since Posey took over C, and Arizona next.  SD gets to face the now cold Cubs, which got slowed down by the Giants series win and now they lost the series against the Cards.  Perhaps the loss of Tyler Colvin to the bat shard - Ban Maple Bats! - that punctured his chest and threatened his life, took some of the wind out of their sails and gave them a blow to the gut.  With 4 games played while the Giants rested on Monday, they will catch up with us in terms of games played, and they need to win one more game than the Giants to tie us in the standings.

The Giants also "lead" the wildcard leaders Atlanta Braves by one game, an important factor should the 'Dres somehow managed to retake the NL West lead again (lead has switched hands four times in the last five days).  The Braves also play 6 at home, 3 against Marlins, who has been .500 on the road, so they are not pushovers, then 3 final against the Phillies, so it won't be easy for them.

Arizona is playing out the string but have been feisty, going 6-4 in their last 10 games plus winning a series against the Giants at the end of August when the Giants desperately needed to win to get closer to the then strongly leading 'Dres.  The Giants need to keep it going, win another series and maybe sweep them.  But Kirk Gibson should be able to keep them motivated enough for that not to happen, plus they have two good pitchers going against us, though luckily we missed their new ace, Dan Hudson.

Game 1:  Rodrigo Lopez vs. Sanchez

MLB Notes:
D-backs:  Lopez allowed four first-inning runs against Colorado on Wednesday. To his credit, he threw four stellar frames before leaving with a stiff right hand, which was struck by a Ubaldo Jimenez breaking ball.
Giants:  Despite allowing one earned run against the Cubs, Sanchez took his first loss since Aug. 13. He allowed four hits and struck out six in 5 2/3 innings. On July 23 against Arizona, Sanchez lasted only five innings, striking out 10 in a no-decision.
Giants should win this game.  Lopez has a 5.04 ERA, 5.22 road ERA for his career, 9.00 ERA in SF (in 2 starts, both blowouts).  Plus, his hand has to have been damaged by that hit by pitch.  Meanwhile, Sanchez has shown his new-found maturity as he has walked the talk, for the most part, after his big mouth gave San Diego bulletin board (e-mail? IM?  Twitter?) something to put up last month when he guaranteed a Giants sweep and that they would leave SD in the dust.  He was right that the Giants would catch them, but the Giants came close to being swept that weekend (though showing their resilience in character and demeanor by continuing to play well afterward), it took a huge 10 game losing streak on the 'Dres part, plus after catching the 'Dres, the Giants have not left them in the dust, they have been battling back and forth for the lead, though the most important part is that the Giants ended each series with the lead.

Since his promise, he has compiled a 2.15 ERA in 8 starts, only one of which was a blowout, and 6 of them he held the other team to 2 or less runs (3 in the other start, which was the SD game).  Plus he leads the rotation in ERA in September with a 0.73 ERA, stepping up to his open challenge to himself, and amazingly his only 2 ER given up this month are the two homers he has given up.  His ERA at home is 3.46 this season and in two starts against them, one at home and one on road, he went 5 IP in both games, 1 run given up, for a 1.80 ERA, total of 10 IP, 6 hits, 9 walks, and 17 strikeouts.  This should be a win for the Giants.

Game 2:  Ian Kennedy vs. Bumgarner

D-backs:  It's simple: If, in his last start of 2010, Kennedy keeps his pitch count down, he could go seven or eight innings. If he doesn't, expect a repeat of his four-frame, one-run outing against the Rockies on Thursday.
Giants:  On a day when the wind was blowing out and the Giants' bats were hot, Bumgarner threw seven shutout innings against the Cubs, allowing only seven hits and striking out nine. In his last outing against the D-backs, he threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
Kennedy has had a great first season with the D-backs, with a 3.76 ERA overall and a better ERA at home than on the road, amazingly, in that hitter's homepark.  And he has pitched great against the Giants, 2.20 ERA in 4 starts, 3.00 ERA in one start in SF.  He will be tough to beat, but the Giants, despite all the talk about their poor offense, has been beating good pitchers all season long, you don't end up with such a good record if you aren't.

Luckily, Bumgarner should be up for the challenge.  His 3.06 ERA is second among Giants starters, and he is just a rookie.  Speaking of which, he isn't even the best rookie on the team, with Posey being that.  In 17 starts this season, he has held the other team to 3 runs or under 13 times.  And he currently has an ERA of 1.00 for the month of September.  He has a 1.26 ERA against the D-backs, and both of them were IN Arizona:  14.1 IP, 10 hits, 2 ER, 4 walks, 14 strikeouts.  That is a feat as awe-inspiring as him shutting out the Cubs in a wind-aided Wrigley Field.  Should be a close, well-fought game, but I would lean towards the Giants, despite how well Kennedy has pitched, as Bumgarner should be that much better.

Game 3:  Barry Enright vs. Lincecum

D-backs:  Enright is on track to finish well. After going 0-3 with a 12.08 ERA in three previous outings, the righty returned to form on Friday, limiting the Dodgers to two runs in eight innings. He is 1-1 with a 3.79 ERA in three starts vs. San Francisco.
Giants:  Because of Monday's off-day, the Giants could flip Lincecum and Barry Zito in the rotation so Lincecum can face the Padres in the season's final weekend. As of Sunday, however, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had made no such decision.
Enright has been living right this season.  With a 4.4 K/9 and 1.70 K/BB ratio, he should not have a 3.73 ERA.  The .260 BABIP is a big part of that, and again, amazingly, his ERA is much better at home, 3.24, than on the road, 4.54.  Only a 90 MPH average fastball, so he's about average there. There is no apparent reason for him to continue having a good ERA, unless he is pitching like a crafty lefty (only he's a RHP) and getting weak/poor contact due to that.  The odd thing is that he is doing it while being a flyball pitcher, 49.7% are flyballs, though a good portion is infield flies, 12.7%, though not that great (about that of Zito today, but not near when Zito was very good as a pitcher), and even worse, his HR/FB is above 10%, so he has actually been unlucky in that regard.  Seems like a Zito-type pitcher, only RHP.

Speaking of Zito, as I've noted for a while, Baggarly suggested that perhaps the Giants might consider swapping Zito and Lincecum starts, so that Lincecum would end up facing the 'Dres.  With SD only half game back and probably no worse than 2 games back when we face next this coming weekend, basically the two teams will be playing for the NL West title when they meet in SF, as well as the wild-card slot (unless Atlanta somehow gets swept by the Marlins).  Both will be playing each other for the right to get into the playoffs.

Given the importance of the game, plus the day off on Monday, Zito can be moved up easily, and Lincecum slid back.  Zito would take another hit to his ego, but given how Bochy has handled him, Zito should already know this and, plus, Lincecum's two Cy Youngs the past two seasons should have been a pretty good clue too.  Zito, being the pitcher who broke the record 18 games streak where the pitching staff gave up 3 runs or less by giving up a boatload of runs, should be eager to step up again and be the man for the D-back start, and it should be a good battle between similar type pitchers.  The main downside is how Lincecum would handle such a big game, given that he was moved to face SD, but he handled his latest challenge great, shutting down Colorado IN Colorado, so I would not be worried much.  

But Bochy has indicated that the Giants, at least not right now, will not change the rotation (though leaving a crack in the door on that decision), and if Lincecum is starting, it should be a Giants win.  Lincecum has stepped up to Sabean's challenge and been the staff ace this month, 5 starts, 2.08 ERA, 34.2 IP, 25 hits, only 4 walks, 41 strikeouts, he has been dominating.  But I hope the Giants do the switch, they need to win every game against SD, whereas it would be nice (right now at least) to win the game against the D-backs.

And now Sabean on KNBR noted that the Giants are thinking of moving up Lincecum a day to pitch Wednesday, instead of Bumgarner, in order to line him up in case there is a tie-breaker necessary, since they and the Braves and the 'Dres could end up tied, in some combination, at season's end.   

I think the Giants will have to wait and see how the first two games go against the D-backs:  if they should desperately need to win the last game, they will probably let Lincecum start as scheduled and let the rotation stay the same.  But if the Giants are still leading or tied by that third game, they will pull the trigger to swap the pitchers, for the reasons above plus because Lincecum has historically pitched better against San Diego than Zito has.

Giants Thoughts

Yorvit Promises, Essentially, San Diego Sweep Against Giants

The 'Dres now have given the Giants some fodder for the SF bulletin board with former Giant Yorvit Torrealba being the one opening his big mouth:
"Three hundred percent," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said of the odds that San Diego makes the playoffs. "I'm a really positive guy. What can I say? 'Oh, my team is going to lose?' There's no way I'm going to say that. What are my chances? Really good chances."
As I noted above, the two teams WILL be playing for the NL West this coming weekend, barring the Giants sweeping Arizona AND Cubs sweeping San Diego, which would leave the Giants 4 games ahead of the 'Dres and NL West champs.  Anything less, and they are battling for the playoffs with SD and basically SD needs to win the series and ideally sweep to make the playoffs, at this point in time, with them being half game behind SF for NL West title and half game ahead of Atlanta for the wild-card slot.  

So basically, at "300 percent", Torrealba is guaranteeing that his team will easily sweep the Giants this weekend (only way to reach 300 percent making the playoffs because they don't know what the Braves will do so they need to smack the Giants around to ensure at 300 percent that they will get into playoffs).

Looking Ahead to SD Series

The 'Dres rotation for the weekend look to be Clayton Richards, whom the Reds smacked around in SD on Sunday, Tim Stauffer, who has been pitching great since moving into the rotation, and Mat Latos, who according to a recent article, is working on some mechanical issues that resulted in his poor starts recently.  The Giants currently has Zito, Cain, and Sanchez going.  It will be a tough series, but the Giants chances are OK as it stands, but if they move Lincecum into the series, they should win the series.  


The offense has been sputtering but been producing enough for the Giants to win during the pitcher's epic run: 18 games of 3 runs or less given up is the best since the 1917 ChiSox's 20 game streak during the dead ball era, showing how impressive this run was.  Also, Lincecum joined Giants greats Christy Mathewson and Juan Marichial as Giants pitchers who had three consecutive seasons of 200 IP and 200 strikeouts.  

While Andres Torres should be rejoining the Giants offense any day soon (probably starting Tuesday barring any new setback), Freddy Sanchez looks like he's out for the rest of the regular season and is a question mark for the post season, having problems with his shoulder (he was only able to lob balls to 1B).  He has been our best hitter in September, with a .907 OPS (Posey at .900, Burrell .856).  

The good news is, besides adding Torres back to the lineup, Cody Ross has heated up and been one of our better hitters this month.  He has a 9 games hit streak going, batting .344/.400/.656/1.056 with 3 HR in 32 AB.  It appears that he has finally acclimated to his new surroundings!

Plus, Mike Fontenot has heated up in recent games and would be adequate batting 2nd in place of Freddy Sanchez over the rest of the season, assuming Torres can come back and hit like he did before, and he hit a homer on Saturday, suggesting that he'll be fine power-wise.

Either that or Pablo Sandoval will have to step up.  Perhaps with a few days off he has been able to clear his mind of nearly losing his mother in the inferno (if he wasn't playing baseball, she wouldn't have been there) and of his divorce (if he wasn't playing baseball, he would not have been tempted to stray from his wife).  People forget that players are human too.

And he had returned to Panda mojo powers too.  He was hitting .291/.327/.496/.823 with 6 HR in 141 AB after signing the divorce papers and before the San Bruno pipeline explosion and inferno that threatened his mother's life.  The only interesting thing to come out of that explosion, Giants-wise, is all the people who come out complaining about his fatness and conditioning afterward, while he has struggled since.  He did hit that line drive hit pinch-hitting the other day on a pitch outside the zone, showing his Panda dexterity of last season.  If he can come back to Panda-ness by the playoffs, that would be quite a boon.

Go Giants!  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 86-67: Dashing D-Rox Hopes

The Giants pitching staff continued their historic run of 17 straight starts keeping the other team from scoring over 3 runs (previous high of 16 games was by 1981 Oakland A's and 1972 Cleveland Indians since the live ball era began in 1920 and the longest since the 1917 Chicago White Sox had a 20 game streak, during the dead ball era).  The Giants with any modicum of consistent scoring could have been on a 17 game win streak, but still, they are 11-6 during the streak and have taken first place again from the 'Dres and has the same record as the Braves, which currently leads the wild-card race.  We knew going into September that we will win by pitching and sometimes lose because our hitters didn't do enough, this is not something new.

Meanwhile, the 'Dres have been keeping about even with us, only a half game back.  They are 4-4 since the Giants took them 3-1 on the road in their homepark.   Now the D-Rox hope to do something similar to the Giants as SF goes into Colorado for three.

But D-Rox has gone 4-6 in their last 10 games, as Tulowitski's historic 14 homers in 15 games (only had happened three times in history) stretch fades in their memory and performance, and they have fallen back to 3.5 games behind the Giants by losing 4 in a row and getting swept by the D-backs.  With 9 games left, they can be eliminated by the Giants if SF wins plus COL losses equal 6 - meaning if the Giants can finish 6-3, they eliminate D-Rox, so in all likelihood, they are playing out the string.

But the 'Dres pretty much had the NL West until they faded and the Giants surged to finally catch them by winning that series in SD, and now the D-Rox is hoping to revive their playoff hopes by sweeping the Giants.  And that is realistically what they have to do.  Winning 2-1 only gets them to 2.5 games back:  that won't do it for them, as that would take 2 games off the 6 D-Rox got to be eliminated.  And they are pretty much gone if the Giants win the series 2-1, leaving only 2 games to elimination for D-Rox.

They really need to sweep the Giants to have any realistic chance of making the playoffs.  But they will have to beat the Giants'best:  Lincecum, Zito, and Cain.  And, ironically, some uninformed people might point out that Lincecum has the 4th best ERA on the team and say otherwise.  Also, let's see if the humidor ball rumor (they give those balls to visiting teams to hit against, live balls for their team to hit against) is true or not this series.

Game 1:  Jhoulis Chacin vs. Lincecum

MLB Notes:
Giants:  With the offense struggling, Lincecum was pinch-hit for in the fifth inning of his last start against the Brewers. He also took his first lost of September, as a bloop single drove in two runs. He is 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA against Colorado this season.
D-Rox:  Chacin didn't issue a walk in a start for the first time in his career Saturday in an eight-inning shutout effort against Los Angeles. He could become the first Rockies rookie to finish with an ERA below 4 and at least 120 innings pitched.
Going to be a tough game, both pitchers are at the top of their game.  Chacin is 2-0, 1.93 ERA against the Giants in his career, but 4.50 ERA in one start at home against the Giants, as he has had a good rookie season.  Lincecum has been ordinary in Colorado, 4.39 ERA in 7 career starts there, but that is probably pretty good in this offensive oriented park.  I would have to lean towards The Kid for this one, but Chacin is pretty good too.  Bring it on!

Game 2:  Jason Hammel/TBA vs. Zito

Giants:  As a fly-ball pitcher who lacks a steamy fastball, Zito would figure to struggle at Coors Field. Yet he's a respectable 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA and a .227 opponents' batting average in six Coors starts.
D-Rox:  None
Hammel has been battling a case of deadarm so even though he is the announced starter, they most probably will be looking to throw up somebody against the Giants instead.  For all those people who have been complaining that the Giants MUST trade away one of their starters to get a hitter, because other teams are fine with a lousy 5th starter, this is what other teams have to deal with when they have a lousy 5th starter.

As noted above, Zito has been a master in Coors despite, which they did not mention, the fact that most pitchers that rely on breaking pitches cannot figure out how to do well in Coors.  In an article I read about the humidor rumor, a pitcher noted that he can tell the difference between the two balls:  the humidor balls are harder and not as soft, allowing the pitcher to be able to grip the ball better and do more with it with breaking pitches.  So what Zito has done here is amazing!  

However, it should be noted that he did a lot of that when he was struggling to perform for the Giants, and that this season, when he seems to have returned to his career norms, he got blasted in his start here earlier this season, giving up 6 runs in 5.1 IP.

But given that the D-Rox are unsure who will start, and if Hammel started, we should easily beat up on him, I will give the lean to Zito on this one, as he has righted his boat in recent games, and when he was blasted by the D-Rox earlier, he was in a down period of the season, he appears to lose his bearings every once in a while, but when he is locked in, he shuts down the other team:  in 32 starts, he has allowed more than 3 ER in a game 9 times, so in over 70% of his starts, the other team has scored 3 ER or less against him.  This should be the Giants win that puts another few more nails into the D-Rox's coffin.

Game 3:  Jorge De La Rosa vs. Cain

Giants:  Cain has been San Francisco's most effective starter in the second half. The Giants have won 11 of his 13 outings since the All-Star break. He has exceeded 200 innings for the fourth year in a row.
D-Rox:  De La Rosa gave up just his third home run to a left-handed hitter this season, a two-run Kelly Johnson shot, in his last start. But that truly hurt in a 3-1 loss to the D-backs. Still, De La Rosa threw seven innings and gave up three runs.
Cain has been the man!  All season, consistently pitching, he has taken another step in his development and maturation as a starter.  He has a 3.64 ERA in 8 starts there, and his results have been mostly good there, except for blowouts he suffered in his first and second full seasons.  Otherwise, he has had good outings in the  last three starts he has had there, and five out of his last six.  It should be another good one for him.

De La Rosa is like their version of Jonathan Sanchez, only not as good, and not as healthy.  He missed a number of games this season (over a third) and his home ERA is an unhealthy 5.25 over his career, though it is only 4.06 this season, which is a bit flukey because his road ERA is a 4..44.  So he has not pitched particularly well at home previously in his career, whereas Cain has been pretty good in 6 of his 8 starts there.  And Colorado has been scuffling in recent games, though that is partly because they are built to win at home and not on the road, and they have been on the road for a while.

I would lean towards the Giants because of Cain's dominance and steadiness, but note that De La Rosa has been part of the D-Rox's surge:  since he returned in early August, in 10 starts he has a 3.60 ERA and they have gone 7-3 with him starting.  Should be a good match between two good pitchers.

Giants Thoughts

First, what a game Bumgarner pitched against the Cubs!  For those not aware, Wrigley Field can be a launching pad when the wind is blowing out like it was yesterday, and the Giants took advantage of that, blasting out four homers (though I heard that one of Uribe's would have been a homer anyway).  However, Bumgarner threw a shut-out 7 innings with 9 K's and only 1 BB (7 hits) in that wind tunnel, one of the most amazing pitching performances this season!  And he's still a 21 year old "baby"!

And that with the pressure of setting history if he could keep the Cubs from scoring 3 runs or more.  This historic streak of 17 (plus 22 games allowing 4 runs or less) demonstrates what I'm talking about when you have a rotation full of ace-type pitchers all pitching on sync (I guess Posey has learned how to handle a major league pitching staff!).  Sure, you can have one hitter on a hot streak helping you, but one hitter can only do so much.  So can only one pitcher, but when you have five starters capable of doing this, you make it that much easier for your team to win games in the short run and the long run.  And with only 9 more games to play, they are on the brink of paying off big time, with a playoff berth

The Others In the Way

Now the Giants face the D-Rox in Colorado, and basically the pressure is all on Colorado because if they don't sweep, the odds are against them coming back and getting into the playoffs, unless two teams among the Giants, 'Dres, and Braves collapse.  We see your historic Tulo 14 homers in 15 games and raise you a historic17 games of 3 runs or less (and 13 of those games were 2 runs or less).  Plus, they will end the season with 4 games in St. Louis, and they have been horrible on the road, going a lousy 31-46 whereas the Cards have the third best home record in the NL at 46-28.  

San Diego, meanwhile, will be home for 3 against the Reds, who is about to clinch the Central and would like to do it as soon as possible so that they can start figuring out their rotation (they have 5 or 6 starters they can turn to, not as great as the Giants, but still, they have some decisions to make) and adjusting the schedule to get them there. The Reds are one of the few teams with a winning record on the road, so they won't be pushovers.  Then they got 4 against the suddenly hot and tough Cubs that the Giants barely beat in Chicago.  All at home, but they will be lucky to be 4-3 during the stretch and could be 3-4 or worse, before heading to SF for the final series of the season.

The Braves are suddenly in the equation, after losing three straight to the Phillies to basically ensure the Phils get the NL East title, and has a 8-12 record to fall back to the pack of NL West teams.  They play three on the road with the Nats, who have been playing around .500 lately and at home for the season, so it is not like they will be easy to sweep.  Then the Braves are at home for the rest of the season, with 3 against Florida and 3 against the Phillies again.  The Marlins have been playing poorly lately, but .500 on the road, so I can see the Braves go 3-3 for those 6 games, then will be playing for their playoff life against the Phillies, who should have clinched by now, but even if not, should be keeping up the pressure so that they enter the playoffs on some sort of a roll.

Giants Destiny Literally In Their Hands:  How They Swing Their Bats

So the Giants look like they have their destiny in their hands, given the tough road to the playoffs that the other teams have.  They need to win just one in Colorado to kill the D-Rox's chances, then take care of the D-backs 2-1 at home (I know, not a given), to enter in the final series against SD basically in the position where the team that wins the series most probably wins the NL West title, though at that point, it could possibly lead to a tie if SD wins, whereupon there would be a one game playoff on Monday between the two teams and Bumgarner would be starting.

Baggarly reported in the link above that Bochy had a talk with the hitters before the game in the cramped visiting batting cage at Wrigley and the team responded, albeit boosted by the weather conditions (yet the Cubs were likewise, then, supposedly also boosted but were shut out).  The hitters need to prove in Colorado that they truly responded, though, of course, Coors is not a true test because it is still a hitter's park, humidor or no humidor.

Speaking of which, it was Jeremy Affeldt who remarked that he knew a humidor ball from a non-humidor ball.  Hopefully, he will teach his fellow Giants pitchers the nuances of that so that they can figure out for themselves on the mound whether they have a humidor ball or not, because if they can do that, they know what they can and cannot do with the ball, and make allowances for how they pitch when using that ball.  They could be more aggressive with the humidor ball, but more careful with the non-humidor ball.

One wild card I would put out there is Pablo Sandoval.  He has not been hitting at all, and has looked pretty horrible trying, from the accounts I have heard.  However, yesterday, in his PH appearance, he had a Panda-esque hit where the ball was low, out of the zone, and he stung it for a base hit.  Could be a wild card off the bench when we need some offense.

Also, the news is that Andres Torres is practicing and feeling good.  He could be ready to PH by Saturday, then could start soon afterward, once he feels ready.  He has been leery of a set-back, in his public statements, but Bochy has been much more positive that Torres would be back with the team this weekend.  Look like Bochy was right.

Huff and Puff and Blow the Humidor Down

I would also add this factoid from Andy Baggarly, who tweeted, "Aubrey Huff is 2-6 s/2 HRs off him," him being today's pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin.

Huff, heh, what more can one say about Huff Daddy?  Near-900 OPS for the season, 148 games played already, so he'll be around 155 games played.  25 home runs, 84 RBIs (so he should be near 30 HR and 100 RBI when all said and done), .381 OBP, plus leadership in the clubhouse and a down-to-earth, fun-loving attitude, that probably makes the clubhouse that much more fun and laid-back, which is important when you lose games that just sticks in your gut.  He's been scuffling for a week now and having a sub-par month so far, but nothing drastically bad, still OK production from him.

Posey for NL Rookie of the Year

But despite all that, basically the team's offense is being led by Buster Posey down the stretch.  Since the 11 inning squeaker the Giants won in extra innings on August 14 over San Diego, where it looked the 'Dres were going to shove Jonathan Sanchez's statement up the Giants collectives noses,  Buster has hit .310/.350/.574/.924 in 33 games (36 Giants games) with 8 HR in 129 AB, 23 RBI.

Meanwhile, he has guided the staff, which has been raving about him, to a historic streak in limiting runs allowed, thrown out numerous base stealers ("I ain't having that!"), and doing all this with the pressure of the team trying to make their first playoffs in 7 seasons, and dangerously close to not doing it if the Giants should blink and start playing badly.  And he has hit numerous key homers that has helped his team win games (7-1 when he hit a homer during this period), particularly that one in the 8th that won the game 1-0 for the Giants.

I get that he hasn't played all season, like Jaime Garcia and Jason Heyward, but both stats has faded a bit during the season, Garcia's team had faded off (and he's been extremely lucky, from a sabermetic viewpoint), as had Heyward, and Heyward has only batted 2nd most of the season, while Posey has batted 4th most of the season, particularly after he became the full-time catcher.  Seasonal lines:

Heyward:  81 runs, 18 HR, 71 RBI, .285/.400/.472/.873, 187 ISO, 4.6 WAR
B. Posey:  54 runs, 16 HR, 64 RBI, .323/.370/.524/.895, 201 ISO, 4.0 WAR

And undoubtedly his WAR is understated because sabermetrics has not caught up on the defensive side for catchers.  So their WAR is comparable (assuming his defense is worth about half a win at least) despite Heyward playing "2 more months" (which is incorrect, he might have started the season with the Braves, but he was on the DL for 3 weeks, so he has about one month more playing time than Posey).

And Garcia has been very lucky.  He has a 2.70 ERA but his FIP is 3.42 and his xFIP is 3.74.  His HR/FB is a low 7.4% (mean that pitchers regress to is 10%) and he has been horrible in September, when his team needed him most.  And I just saw a tweet on THT that states that the Cards have shut down Garcia for the season, so he's not playing the full season either, and, in fact, are missing critical games here, the Cards need to win every game to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs.

Based on all this, I don't see why people are not seriously considering Posey for the NL ROY award.  And if Bumgarner had come up at the same time, he would probably be giving Posey a good run for the money on the award as well.  The Giants have been blessed with these two players.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 84-66: Clubbing Sum Cubs

Well, that was not exactly what we were looking for against the Brewers, but they threw their best against us, and sometimes you will lose to the best - something other teams will learn against the Giants in the playoffs for years to come.  Gallardo is a bonafide ace and Wolf has been on a very good streak, and has been a good pitcher, on and off, in previous seasons.

So the Giants ended up 3-3 on the homestand, but that was good enough to keep the division lead, ultimately, plus a 1.5 game lead over D-Rox, when the D-gers finally showed that they had some pride, and came back nicely from a 6-1 deficit and steal the win away from D-Rox, making their dream-like ending take a serious bump in the fantasy.  Now the Giants face the Cubbies, who, natch, happen to have their best pitchers lined up against the Giants, but the clubhouse mood could have been disrupted by Tyler Colvin's odd but lung-threatening injury (just surprised it hasn't happened before yet, a bat splintered and a chunk went into his chest).

Game 1:  Carlos Zambrano vs. Cain

MLB Notes:
Giants:  Cain continued his second-half dominance against the Dodgers, throwing seven shutout innings to improve to to 6-2 with a 2.71 ERA since the Midsummer Classic. Cain also reached the 200-inning plateau for the fourth straight season.
Cubs:  Zambrano has been a lights-out pitcher since returning to the starting rotation. Over his past seven starts, he is 6-0 with a 1.37 ERA, including holding the Cardinals to one earned run in six innings in his last outing.
Does not get much tougher than Zambrano on a roll.  The above says it all, both players are at the top of their game right now, but Zambrano is on a bigger roll, plus he's at home (3.07 ERA vs. Giants at home) and Cain is on the road, where historically he has been much worse, but he's now at least good on the road last season and this season.  It might take a Matty shutout to win, though the Giants have took down the other team's best pitcher often this season (just not often enough for some fans).  Despite how well Cain has been doing, have to lean towards Zambrano on this, but pretty even contest otherwise.

Game 2:  Randy Wells vs. Sanchez

Giants:  Sanchez struck out a career-high 12 while walking zero in his last start against the Dodgers, holding L.A. to two runs -- one earned -- on four hits. In his last six starts, Sanchez is 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA and has worked seven-plus innings four times.
Cubs:  Wells says he found his confidence against the Cardinals in his last start, restricting them to one run in eight innings. He struck out five and walked none.
This is the game the Giants are most likely to win.  Wells had a nice start in his last game, but in his last 10 games, he has a 5.22 ERA.  But it is not like he isn't a good pitcher, he's just having a bad regression to the mean season vs. how good he was last season.  In any case, he has a good enough K/9 and very good K/BB, so sabermetrically, he's a good starter.  

But Sanchez has been very good this season and great recently (1.83 ERA in last 6 starts), and has been pitching well since July started, 3.16 ERA since then.  The only caveat is that Sanchez had a horrible start against them in 2009, his only start in Wrigley.  But it is a different Sanchez now, he is now a pitcher, not a thrower, as he has been able to go into a game without much stuff and still was able to be effective in keeping the other team from scoring.  

The Giants should win this one, but if Wells has his rare good start and Sanchez his rare bad one, it could be a different story.

Game 3:  Ryan Dempster vs. Bumgarner

Giants:  In his last start, Bumgarner pitched a solid 5 2/3 innings, but shoddy defense behind him played a factor in the rookie lefty-hander remaining winless at AT&T Park. Bumgarner beat the Cubs on Aug. 9, allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Cubs:  Dempster has looked sharp in his last two outings. Over that span, he has thrown a combined 14 shutout innings against the Brewers and Marlins, seven against each club.
Again, the Giants are unlucky, getting to face Dempster in this series as well as Zambrano, so if they do make the playoffs, they will have earned it against the other teams' best starters, we have had it tough in our recent series, facing the other team's top two pitchers (at minimum) each series.  Dempster has been on a roll himself his last two starts, heck, the Cubs have been too, winning 17 of their 24 games under interim manager Sam Quade, who took over after Piniella took early retirement.  This series looked like a gimme when the month started, but this will be another death match against two very tough pitchers.

Wow, looking over his career, Dempster has worked very hard to get to where he is today, people might complain about how long it took Jonathan Sanchez to reach a good performance level in the majors, perhaps bemoaning his time in the bullpen, but Dempster took even longer and went to the bullpen, where he eventually was made the closer, but really wasn't that good as a closer.  However, when they made him a starter again, at age 30, he has blossomed into one of the best in the NL the past three seasons.

He has pitched OK against the Giants in the past in Wrigley, 13.2 IP, 13 K, 6 BB, but been a little unlucky with a 3.95 ERA, in two starts.  And that is roughly his career against SF, 3.89 ERA.  If we face that Dempster, we have a pretty good chance of winning because Bumgarner has been pitching pretty well for a while now.  But if we are facing the Dempster who shut out the Brewers and the Marlins, it will be a tough, even, well-pitched game, which like, as some been saying, been torturing us with recently.  

Giants Thoughts

As much as people would like to complain about the Giants, they are in the division lead right now with only 12 games to go.  It seems nothing is ever good enough for these people, plus that the sky is always falling.  The past three years the Giants has basically done what I thought they could do, but the Naysayers just don't see it.

And that is the problem when you are wedded to a position, as most of these people are who I call Sabean Naysayers.  You recognize the faults that are there but don't throw the baby out with the bath water either.  And that is what these people have been doing, they have essentially divorced themselves from Sabean because of all the past trespasses, and despite putting together the best pitching rotation in the majors, plus adding Posey and Pablo, they just don't really care, and I'll bet that if the Giants do win the World Series under Sabean, they still won't be satisfied, there will always be that "yeah, but..."

And I was one of those questioning Sabean way back in 2002-3, particularly about the draft, when I did my draft study and realized how tough it is to rebuild via the draft.  It is basically impossible to do that while you are winning, particularly if you are contending for a playoff spot, year in, year out.  For every Matt Cain you find, you have to pick over the Torcato's, the Bumps in the road, Bonser, McDowell, Alderson, Fairley, Hennessey, basically for every ten you select, you will find one Matt Cain, plus useful players like Lowry, Hennessey, Bonser, who are complementary players, can fill a spot on the roster, and keep the team going so that the good players like Cain, Lincecum, Posey, can lead the team to victory.

You have to look at the big picture and accept that there is no perfect situation.  Accept what you got, realize what you really have and not an idealized version of what you think it should be.  You need to see the reality that is there and not be clouded by your past feelings.

The Big Picture

The Giants have a lot of good players who are struggling right now with the playoff pressure.  In other words, they are thinking too much at the plate, swinging at pitches they normally either let go by for a ball or smash for a hit when it is a strike.  The pitchers were going through that in August, but has come out with flying colors in September.  The hitters actually carried the pitchers in August, but it is the other way around now.  They will have to work through it just like the pitchers did.

Pitchers deal with this type of pressure often (RISP, late game action), so it is no surprise that they got over it sooner.  The hitters didn't really feel the pressure until the 'Dres lost all those games and the division lead was in our grasp.  Still, it is not like it is all bad, on the hitters part, they came through during the series in San Diego, enabling the team to pass the 'Dres and take first place.

Now there are twelve games left:  3 on the road with the Cubs, 3 on the road with the D-Rox, then back home for 3 against the D-backs and the final 3 against the 'Dres.  Basically relatively easy then tough for both.  The Cubs aren't as easy are originally seen early in the month, but with our good pitchers, it is not like they are going to run us over either.  It should be another tough but good series.  Ideally, we win the series, because the 'Dres are playing the D-gers (who have been pushovers lately) and D-Rox are playing the D-backs, but if we come out 1-2, it won't be the end of the world either, as I doubt the others will sweep.

SD coming up is facing 3 vs. LA in LA (3-4 on their road trip), then home against tough Cincinnati, the suddenly tough Cubs for 4 games, and then the final series vs. SF in SF.  The way it is looking, SD is stabilizing and the Giants will probably be playing for the division title against them in the final weekend.

Colorado is on the road for 3 against the D-backs, which has been falling like a stone, which is bad here but good for the Giants since they also face three at home against them too.  So the Giants should come out ahead relatively, when all said and done.  Then D-Rox are home for 3 vs. SF and 3 vs. LA, before going on the road against St. Louis for 4.  The D-Rox is probably playing the Giants for the division lead in that matchup and the Giants reportedly dodge a bullet in that Jimenez is not pitching in that series and Tracey said that he was not moving him up on short rest to pitch there.  

Giants:  1-2 Cubs, 1-2 COL, 2-1 AZ, 2-1 SD = 6-6 and 90-72 final record
'Dres:  2-1 LA, 1-2 CIN, 2-2 Cubs, 1-2 SF = 6-7 and 89-73 final record
D-Rox:  2-1 AZ, 2-1 SF, 2-1 LA, 2-2 St.L = 8-5 and 90-72 final record

So, for the Giants the key is that they need to win the series in Colorado, which would put them 2 games ahead of the other two teams, and should win them the title.  If they can win the Cubs series or sweep the D-backs, which has gone in a bad slide recently, that would be good too.

San Diego really need to win the series against SF in SF.  It would be good to win either the Reds or Cubs series too.

Colorado really needs to keep winning series.  Any slipup (particularly against SF) and they are probably done, though if they sweep anyone, that would really help too.  Plus if they can win the St. Louis series, but LaRussa might still be battling then for a playoff spot, as they got 6 games against Pittsburgh in the next 9 games, sandwiching 3 against the suddenly tough Cubs.  I noticed that the Cards have a TBD for one of their starters on Thursday, so it would not surprise me if he is modifying the rotation with an eye to the Colorado series, at home, as they will be the tough team to beat, while the Pirates and Cubs are not as tough.

Giants Hitter Need to Get Hot:  Guillen?

There is nothing like a hitter getting white hot and the team just floats along for the ride.  That happened in July when Posey got hot and that is happening now for the D-Rox as they ride Tulowitski's historic home-run binge (something insane like 14 homers in 15 games, forgot, only 1-3 other players have done that before).  The Giants need a hitter to get hot like that, which would loosen up the other hitters, I think.

Jose Guillen could be that guy.  He is 7 for 13 since he got that epidural (or whatever) into his bulging disc on his neck (why didn't he complain earlier and got the shot earlier?), with 2 HRs and 8 RBI in four games.  We have only gone 2-2 so far, but if he continues hitting at such a high rate, we would have Guillen, Posey, Burrell hitting well, plus maybe that will loosen up Huff too, who is scuffling lately.

But the only guys hitting this month are Posey, Burrell, Huff, Schieholtz, and Renteria, and now Guillen, basically the vets.  Everyone else has been scuffling.  Torres was particularly bad, though perhaps that was related to his appendix needing to get out, though usually it does not affect the body for that long before needing to get out (leading to the speculation of some that his ADD medication might have led to this condition).

Speaking of Torres, he's already up and hitting with a fungo bat off a tee, and he is scheduled to practice in Chicago, so there is talk now that he might even be able to come back in the series in Colorado.  If so, and if he is back to his pre-September goodness form, that can't be anything but great news for the Giants.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 83-64: First Squeeze the Brewers

La Machine!  Since the disappointing series loss to Arizona - AT HOME - the Giants finally awoke and have won their last five series, all against NL West opponents, to finally reach first place in the NL West, alone.  I have never believed in manifest destiny, but for some odd reason I've lost the butterflies since the loss to the 'Dres on Saturday, I "know"that they are in it - but will they win it?  The Giants win of the LA series gave them the season's series, 10-8, their first since 2005, according to KNBR.

The Brew Crew, they of the bowling pin variety, come in for a series, probably still stinging from the four game sweep that the Giants handed them at their home in early July.  Being out of it too, they probably would love to play spoilers because the Giants just spanked them, outscoring them 36-7.  But these Giants have a lot of pride and poise, and they are probably still stinging from Fielder's et al bowling pin stunt last season and his unrepentant unapology this spring, as well as knowing that they need to win every series down the wire to put them in good position to win the division in the season ending series against San Diego.  Plus, they have spanked the NL Central this season, 25-11.

Strangely, we haven't heard the strains of people clamoring to trade Sanchez for Cory Hart, coming in with the Brewers, who has hit only .257/.312/.472/.784, 6 HR in 144 AB since the end of July - in other words, nothing special.  Sanchez has merely had a 2.47 ERA, 61 K in 54.2 IP, only 24 BB.  What a disaster trade that would have been!

Or how about those who have been clamoring to trade Matt Cain the past few seasons, particularly for Prince Fielder, but also for Alex Rios.  How stabilizing a force he has been this season, as both Zito and Lincecum burned brightly early but then had horrible struggles during the season, Sanchez, while good overall, has been up and down in results, and of course, there was the Wellemeyer period, and even Bumgarner was not feeling it for a while.  Cain was La Machine all season, what a disaster trade that would have been, especially considering how poorly both Fielder and Rios played after the trade rumors/speculation (Rios was released for nothing by Toronto; Fielder has been an offensive low-light this season, nothing like before, could be a cautionary tale for us Sandoval fans).

And that doesn't even include the ones who wanted to trade Lincecum for Alex Rios or those who wanted to trade Bumgarner (last three starts, 0.89 ERA) this season for any offense.  And I'm sure during the off-season they will continue to agitate for more offense by trading one of our pitchers.  What they are forgetting is that such trades are only sideway moves at best, assuming equal value is exchanged, and risk that the new player isn't all that he was advertised to be.  Just because they can't stand losing 1-0 or 2-1, when the trade might just mean that we lose 4-3 or 5-4 instead:  still a loss either way.

Game 1:  Randy Wolf vs. Bumgarner

MLB Notes:
Brewers:  Tossing eight innings and giving up just one run on a home run, Wolf thought his last outing may have been his best of the 2010 season. He'll look to continue his recent success, as he's gone 4-2 with a 3.07 ERA over his last nine starts.
Giants:  If it weren't for teammate Buster Posey, the Giants might be pushing Bumgarner for NL Rookie of the Year honors. He has thrived against National League West opponents, recording a 2.47 ERA.
Wolf has dominated the Giants the past three seasons in SF, but the caveat there is both who hasn't and the offense is different now.  Still, he has a 3.06 ERA against the Giants in AT&T.  Unfortunately, the one guy who has hit Wolf well is Andres Torres with 2 homers in 3 AB.  Renteria has also hit him well, but that's only 17 AB, and as Aubrey Huff showed last night against Billingsley - after a career, something like 4-27, he slammed a triple and HR off him - career numbers are not absolutes.

Bumgarner has been on a roll recently himself, as we all know.  And he and the Giants beat Wolf in Milwaukee, 6-1, earlier this season, so they will probably want revenge.  Should be an even game, both pitchers have been on the top of their game recently.

Game 2:  Yovani Gallardo vs. Lincecum

Brewers:  Gallardo worked seven scoreless innings Sunday for the second straight start following three in a row in which he allowed at least six runs. One of his most memorable starts was at AT&T Park last April, when he homered off Randy Johnson.
Giants:  Lincecum's awful August now is a distant memory as he has won his past three decisions. In his last outing, he held the Padres to one run and struck out nine in seven innings. In six starts against the Brewers, Lincecum is 2-2 with a 4.76 ERA.
Looks like it's ace-vs.-ace, and both are shutting down the opposition in recent games.  Gallardo has two career starts in SF, was beat bad in 2007 but shut down the Giants last season.  Lincecum has bad career results against Milwaukee, including a 6.60 ERA at home against them, but earlier this season he pitched a great game against them at their home.  Should be a good game, bring it on.

Game 3:  Chris Narveson vs. Zito

Brewers:  N/A
Giants:  Zito suffered a loss in his career-high ninth straight decision in his last start, but appears to be finding himself. Zito said he's felt better in his past two starts, and it shows as he's allowed five hits in 11 2/3 innings.
Looks like Zito finally got a break.   Narveson (Baggerly reported him as the starter in the newspaper) has a 5.05 ERA, though 4.56 ERA on the road.  He has never pitched in SF, but the team clobbered him in Milwaukee earlier this season.  Should be a Giants win if Zito can keep his recent improvement going.  

Giants Thoughts

The Giants just need to do as Aubrey Huff said recently in an interview:  win each series (DrB noted this too), don't think about sweeps, that's hard to do in any situation, let alone with the playoffs on the line.  They have done it recently, and despite the good pitchers lined up against them, they have been doing it.  They luck out with Narveson pitching one game, but face to two tough customers in Wolf and Gallardo, both of whom have pitched well in recent games, but if the Giants can grab one from one of them (like we did with Kershaw/Billingsley) then we should be in good shape in the rubber game against Narveson.

The pitchers have been on a great run in September, like a switch was turned on.  Lincecum and Bumgarner is seeing velocity that they haven't seen in a while.  Sanchez has been unflappable and vet-like in shutting down the other team even when he didn't have his best stuff.  He appears to be graduating to Lincecum/Cain status, taking his place next to them in the rotation.  Zito, well, he's the 5th starter now, he's going to have to revert to his April incarnation for the rest of the season to change that impression, but as long as he pitches to his capabilities, that is nothing to be ashamed of, there are a lot of pitchers in the majors who would be a 5th starter when the rest of the rotation is Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner..

The hitters have been just doing enough, led by our young wunderkind, Buster Posey.  I was so happy that Tampa Bay passed on him in that draft, but his production this season and particularly in September with everything on the line just makes me ecstatic that we have found our offensive leader for the foreseeable future.  As Mark Purdy quoted from Will Clark, who probably is the closest in term of stature on the team in the recent past (Bonds was never a leader), "There are guys that are pretty special.  Buster is one of them."  And because the Giants didn't bring him up until late May, we get at least 6 more years of him, not 5 if he had started with the team.

And hitters are waking up.  Renteria had an amazing game yesterday (great quote from him in Chron about leading off, about taking pitches, doing whatever to get on base, for big hitters), perhaps we found our replacement lead-off hitter; Bochy is going with him again in first game.  Sanchez as been on fire for a long time.  Huff has been doing better recently before busting out yesterday.  Burrell has been steadily good.  Guillen apparently had a pain in his neck/back (and didn't report it!!! for 2-3 weeks) and after getting a shot to help with that, was a pain in the neck/back of the opposing pitcher yesterday, looking like the guy who was an offensive force for the A's when he joined them on their pennant run.  Plus the young guys, Schierholtz and Ishikawa has been contributing here and there.

If Sandoval can get out of his most recent funk (which is not to be unexpected, after dealing with such an emotional issue like a divorce, there will be ups and downs afterward, it is only human), the offense should be pretty good for the stretch run.  Even if he is not, the offense has been good enough with our pitching to win a lot of games.  Bochy appears to be platooning him now, which works if Renteria can continue hitting like this, as he would play SS and Uribe 3B against LHP.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 81-63: Manned Up, Now Beat Dying Dogs

The Giants manned up and beat the 'Dres 3-1 in the four game series, which put them in a virtual tie with them for first and guarantees a second season of not having a losing record.  Unfortunately, the D-Rox continued their winning streak and are now only 2.5 games behind the 'Dres and 2 games behind the Giants, after SD beat them Monday.   The Giants finished up a very successful 7-3 trip and return home for 6 games - 3 versus LA and 3 vs. MIL - followed by 6 games on the road - 3 vs. Cubs and 3 crucial games vs. COL - then end with 6 games at home - 3 vs. AZ and ending with 3 vs. SD.

The Giants ideally sweep LA like SD did last week, to separate some from the D-Rox and/or 'Dres, who are playing each other.  However, it won't be easy to even win the series, which the Giants need to at least do, to keep up in the standings, as they face LA's top three starters, Kershaw (they juggled the rotation to put him in this series), Billingsley, and Lilly.  If they should win the series, they would win the season's series from LA, as they currently stand 8-7 against their hated rivals, who has faded fast in the second half:  as I noted in the last series, they have not won one series against a playoff contender in the second half so far and have continued that streak.  Hopefully the Giants will continue that streak.

Game 1:  Clayton Kershaw vs. Zito

MLB Notes:
D-gers:  Kershaw opens a three-game set with the Giants. Originally scheduled to pitch Saturday at Houston, he had his start pushed back to Wednesday and was a tough-luck loser to San Diego. He limited the Padres to two runs but was outdueled by Mat Latos.
Giants:  Zito hasn't won in 10 starts, but it hasn't been all his fault. Take Wednesday: He allowed two D-backs runs in six innings and even struck out seven but lost, 3-1. If he keeps it up, winning should take care of itself.
Amazingly, he has faced the Giants only once before as a starter in SF and he did pretty well, 2 ER in 7 IP, and that was earlier this season.  And as noted, he did very well in his last start, and has been the staff ace this season, with a 2.99 ERA this season.

Meanwhile, Zito has not had a good start in ages, though he has been better in his latest outings, because when he strikes out a lot, that is a good sign.  Unfortunately, the baseball gods been making his batted balls fall in for hits lately, probably to even up his earlier performance in April, so his outings have been short.

Have to say that the D-gers probably got this one, unless Zito can actually deliver a DOM PQS game instead of coming close but no dice.  He will need to step up in this game, but he appears to have regressed to his 2007-2008 level of performance where he's thinking too much about his results, about delivering, instead of just throwing strikes and hitting the target, unlike early in this season when he said he finally got to the point where he didn't care how the fans felt, he was going to have fun and not care as much.  But he appears to be caring again, too bad, because we need him to return to his April form, much like Lincecum has returned to his April form.

This shows how crucial to have multiple aces in your rotation in the playoffs and a strong rotation top to bottom.  If we lose this first game with Zito, then we need to win the next two to win the series, against tough starters.  Anytime in the playoffs, we could throw Lincecum or Cain, and put us in excellent spot to win the series by winning that first game.  Then you only need to win two out of four, while the loser has to win three out of four, which is daunting when the four is probably Cain, Sanchez, Zito, Lincecum.  Or three out of six, while the loser has to win four out of six.

Game 2:  Chad Billingsley vs. Cain

D-gers:  Billingsley opposes Matt Cain in a battle of 11-game winners. He lost to the Padres, 4-0, in his last start, allowing four earned runs on six hits and five walks in 5 1/3 innings. It was his second five-walk game in three starts. He struck out six.
Giants:  Cain got the Giants started in their successful series at San Diego, working two batters into the ninth inning last Thursday. With a 5-2 record and a 2.96 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break, Cain has been the team's most effective starter.
Have to call this even.  Cain has been great but Billingsley can be great when he is on.  And he is great in ATT, 2.68 career ERA there.  And he has been better there this season, 1.42 ERA.  Meanwhile, the Cainer has not been that good against LA in AT&T in his career.  But he finally got the monkey off his back with a win in his last start against them, and frankly, LA has been flat this whole second half, losing against playoff contending teams, heck, getting swept by SD right after SD lost 10 in a row.  So can go either way, even.

Game 3:  Ted Lilly vs. Sanchez

D-gers:  Lilly, who was acquired from the Cubs on July 31, is 5-2 for the Dodgers but has lost his last two decisions. In Houston last Thursday, he took the 3-2 loss to the Astros, snapping his seven-game winning streak against Houston.
Giants:  Sanchez has been on a roll, recording a 1.95 ERA over his past five starts. He has surrendered just 17 hits in 32 1/3 innings in that span, helping lower his opponents' batting average to .208.

Ted Lilly has been great for the D-gers since they traded for him from Chicago.  Unfortunately for him, the rest of the D-gers have not collectively performed, and despite his 3.33 ERA, 5-2 record, great peripherals, the D-gers just sunk lower and lower into the NL West.  He only has two starts in ATT, and only one in recent past, a start in 2008 which was very good, but of course, the offense wasn't that good then either.

Sanchez has been great recently.  And he is basically tied with Bumgarner for the second best ERA on the team (3.29 vs. Bumgarner's 3.28), which most people don't realize, it seems, because so many people want to trade him.   Sure, he has been up and down, but he has the stuff that makes hitters swing and miss or not hit as hard, he has no-hit stuff.

Not that he is as good as Sandy Koufax, but it took Koufax a number of years before he figured out how to harness his no-hit stuff regularly and consistently.  Sanchez has a 3.29 ERA even though he's been erratic, so people obviously are remembering his problem starts and not when he has done very well.  However, he has not done well against LA previously in his career:  but more importantly, in his last start against them on September 5th, he totally dominated LA, 7 IP, 3 hits, 1 walk, 9 K's, in LA.

Both can be good, so I will have to call this even.  But if Sanchez can get ahold of his talent and dominate, I would like the Giants chances to win.  And based on recent performances, Sanchez looks like he could pull off the win.  He has shown advancement this season, even his last start, even though it was short and wild, he was able to keep the scoring down to a minimum, and that is all you can ask of your starters when they just don't have it.  He needs to step up in this start - again - and take out LA.  But overall, have to call it even.

Giants Thoughts

I was going to post this after Saturday's game, but didn't have the time:  after the loss, I didn't feel anxious like I have all season after losses.  I think the Giants are for real and will continue to win.  But will it be enough for a playoff spot?  Don't know, hopefully so.

But players are peaking at the right time for the most part.  The pitchers have all been amazing, particularly Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner, well, except for Zito, but when he's striking out a lot of batters, that means he's actually pretty locked in, it mainly means the baseball gods are going against him with balls falling in.  The bullpen has been amazing too.  The hitters have been led by Posey, with Huff finally loosening up and hitting, Burrell and Uribe hitting well, and Schierholtz has been hitting in the pinch.

The loss of Torres would be frightening if it wasn't that the Giants have been winning in September with him hitting pitifully.  As well as his defense is, the dropoff from him to Rowand, Ross (who is now looking betteras an acquisition with Torres lost for the season probably), or even Schierholtz, would be equal or surpassed by how well his replacement should hit relative to Torres frigid September while we were winning.

Like the series in LA, it is looking like LA should win this series based on the pitching matchups, as they send out their three best against the Giants, like SD, switching Kershaw so that he could pitch against the Giants.  But they played just bad enough to lose at home, and now they are on the road, where they are a horrible 30-42, as well as continuing their streak of losing every series against a playoff contending team in the second half.  They are just sinking and waiting to hit bottom.  I expect them to play just well enough to lose the series to the Giants and continue to sink in the NL West.   But with SD winning against COL Monday, the Giants look like they need to sweep to keep up and/or get ahead of both SD and COL.

But I think a series win will be enough.  As DrB noted, the Giants look like they need to just stay steady and win every series if they want to make the playoffs.  They look ready to do that in each series except for the one in Colorado, that will now be on par with their two series in the past month with SD, with the two teams battling it out to claim first place in the division.

The Giants have been pretty amazing this season.  They have come back from games where they had no business winning.  They have come back from bad losing streaks and bad pitching streaks and bad hitting streaks.  Bad slumps from all players, including Posey.  They were monster hot in July and so far so good in September.  The starting pitching has been pretty good this month, and if Zito can join them in producing, the rotation would become great, not just good.  The bullpen, as Baggarley noted today in the newspaper, has been great too.  If they can maintain the heat, they should get into the playoffs over somebody.

Go Giants!  Beat LA!

Bumgarner Starts

One topic I've been opining around is about how to handle Bumgarner.  He is over his top IP from previous seasons now.  When do the Giants pull him out of the rotation to protect his arm?

Some just want to shut him down because he is over.  The Giants have already addressed this in an interview, they are going to monitor Madison closely, see how he is doing, game to game.  I like that approach more than going by a set number.  Both Cain and Lincecum went way over their previous IP highs in their first full season and it hasn't affected either.  And the Giants sat down Lincecum when they thought he was done, though that wasn't in a pennant race, while now we are.

Bumgarner has three starts left, Brewers, Cubs, and then D-backs.  Given that he was throwing 95 in his last start, late in the game, he seems to be strong still, so he's definitely pitching in the Brewers game.  At worse, we could make the Cubs start a bullpen start where we just went out a bunch of relievers to eat up innings, which should be OK since the Cubs is now looking strongly at youngsters.  Then with 9-10 days rest, he should be able to take the D-backs start.

I think Bumgarner is a horse.  He is what I call "farm strong" and those pitchers just seem to have great strength and stamina.  I think the Giants will go right by him, and I don't think he would continue to pitch if his body is telling him something is up, being a man of nature.

Also, he mentioned during the off-season that he threw a lot in between starts and theorized that this caused his loss of velocity.  We now know that it appears more a problem with mechanics than tiredness from overuse.  But he said that he would lay off throwing so much between starts, so we don't really know if he has actually thrown more pitches in 2010 so far than he did in 2009 because there is that iceberg of throwing that he did between starts in 2009 that we do not have a number for.

It would be interesting if a reporter would ask him to estimate 2009 vs. 2010 in terms of pitches and see where he thinks he is.  I would pose the question myself to a reporter, but for some reason they have never been receptive to my list of questions (of course, part of it could be the length of the list, but the way I see it, they can pick and chose what they think are good questions to answer, I don't expect every question to be answered).

Rotation Order

How to handle Bumgarner also affects another big question:  the pitching rotation.  According to Baggarley, if the rotation continues as is, the Giants would throw Zito, Cain, and Sanchez against SD in the final three games of the season, but with the off-day on Monday, they could push Zito to Friday to pitch against the D-backs, and push back Lincecum so that we have Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez going against SD in the final games.  Obviously, skipping Bumgarner and moving up the starters would make it harder to adjust the rotation to have Licnecum, Cain, Sanchez going against SD.

In addition, skipping Bumgarner would result in our starters having to start more games and putting more stress and work on the other starters' arms.  That could tired them out for the playoffs, though of course one could argue the Giant won't make it unless they did that.  I would not agree, I think having Bumgarner in the rotation gives us best chance to make playoffs, as it puts less games on arms plus means less starts for Zito.

I think it's best to keep rotation as is, but if Bumgarner needs to skip a start, bring up Pucetas to eat innings and hopefully not give up too many runs, then treat it as a bullpen game, bringing in the relievers to finish the game.  Then we can adjust, having Zito face the D-backs, against whom he should be better able to handle and win against, while we then throw Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez at SD, make it tough for them.

Replacement of Torres:  Multi-Dimensional Hole

Rowand and Ross are probably the main replacements, with Schierholtz perhaps getting a look if neither is working.  Ross is clearly the guy to play versus LHP, he's excellent against them, then mix and match against RHP.  That probably works OK offensively and defensively because Torres hasn't been hitting this month, so the upgrade offensively should match the drop-off on defense.  Plus maybe play Guillen less and Schierholtz more in RF, to offset the defensive loss, particularly since Guillen has not heated up yet.

But the big question is who leads off?  Rowand is the obvious choice only because he has done it, but he's not the ideal choice.  Darren Ford would be if he were able to get on base OK, but he's not, he is not even that good in AA, how is he going to do it in the majors?  Someone suggested batting Sanchez leadoff.

One choice, if Schierholtz plays more, is to use him in leadoff.   He has some good speed, he had stolen double digits annually in the minors.  The main problem is his lack of OBP.  But the team was winning with Torres basically contributing nothing in the leadoff spot, so anything Schierholtz can provide would be a great improvement likely.

A radical choice would be to bat Huff at leadoff.  His OBP is off the charts.  And as a runner on the bases, in 2008, he actually generated plus value as a baserunner, unlike last season, where a lot of the negatives were  because of hit and runs where he ran into a CS.  He appears to be a smart baserunner when allowed to do that.

I don't know what the answer is.  I would go with Schierholtz because if he can get hot, that would be another hot bat to carry us to the end of the season, plus he would provide some speed up top and good baserunning (at least according to Bill James Handbook on baserunning effectiveness).  I would also be OK with going with Rowand, mainly because when he is hot, he can carry a team, unlike Schierholtz, who would still be complementary to the team's offense, not the instigator.  Ross would be OK too, against LHP, where he just mashes and is great against.


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