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.

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