Friday, April 22, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 10-8: Home Respite v. Braves

After one inning - if a season were innings, one inning is represented by 18 games - the Giants are in good shape, basically at a 90-72 pace.  But, of course, there is still a lot to be played.

That's why I find it so disappointing to see Giants fans still out there all mad and everything:  chill everyone, the Giants are the World Champs and were put together by Brian Sabean and run by Bruce Bochy.  And if you think they were lucky they won, well, if you are complaining about them now, I am sure if I went back and tracked every comment made by you, you would have traded one of the pitchers away already, and for less than a sack of magic beans (Alexis Rios, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, among the most common I've seen) and the Giants definitely would not have won had they traded away any of that luscious pitching.

And really, why the long faces, especially after going 4-2 on the start of a brutal stretch of 16 road games in 19 games, winning both series.  Sure, could have actually swept both series, but the Giants did good, really they did.

Now they get to face the Braves for 3 at home, for a short respite, before heading on the road for 10 games.  Though they probably won't face Brooks Conrad, their new manager hasn't been starting him and it would be kind of cruel to give him his first start against the Giants.  Though I suppose it would be a big vote of confidence too, if you look at it another way.  But if he made another mistake, I wonder what the emotional scars on that one would be.

Game 1:  Bumgarner vs. Hanson
Tommy Hanson:  Hanson has been more consistent than he was in his first two starts, but has encountered early-inning troubles in each of his three losses. He recorded nine strikeouts Sunday after registering eight in his first three starts combined.
Madison Bumgarner:  Bumgarner may have turned a corner in his last start at Arizona. He allowed four runs in five innings, but recovered to last 6 2/3 innings. Despite exceeding his career high for innings by over 70 last year, the Giants feel good about his health.
Hanson is probably why the Giants decided to go with Bumgarner instead of Ryan Vogelsong: why feed him to the Braves for his first triumphant return as a starter with the team he wanted to be with?  Instead, with an off day before and after the series, he gets an easier assignment against the Pirates instead, though Bochy has not indicated yet whether Vogelsong will simply take Zito's spot or if he will move Bumgarner into the #4 spot.  But as I noted in my other post, I liked the way the pitchers fell if the Giants keep the pitchers in their order with Vogelsong taking Barry Zito's spot, would have put our better pitchers up against Colorado in future series.

Speaking of Zito, the word is that the sprain of his foot is pretty bad and he will be out at least a month and I saw one mention of up to two months.  Bochy also noted that it is probably for the better because Zito has not been throwing with much velocity (low-to-mid 80's) for his fastball since the accident and now Zito is forced to relax and recover from the shock of that car accident.

Atlanta has been struggling, off to an 8-12 start, so good time to run into them, they should be tough all season with their pitching.  Their new rookie phenom, Freddie Freeman is off to the good start Giants fans were hoping for Brandon Belt, but their 2010 version, Jason Heyward, has been pretty cold, though he's walking a lot and hitting with power.  Their big acquisition, Dan Uggla, has not been hitting at all, worse OPS of their lineup currently.

And that has been the source of their problems, their offense, as their pitching has been as advertised, if not better.  And it should not get better against the Giants, facing Bumgarner, Lincecum, Sanchez.  They should not be scoring a lot of runs this series.

But their pitching is what will keep them in most games.  This is a good battle this game, Madison Bumgarner is like Tommy Hanson, only one year behind.  Both are tall (Hanson 6' 6"; Bumgarner 6' 5") and oddly enough, on how life can twist, Hanson went to high school in California while Bumgarner went to high school in North Carolina, each raised near, relatively, to the team of the other pitcher.  And it is funny how the fates work, had Matt Weiter fallen to the Giants in 2007, as some had projected, Bumgarner most probably would have been chosen by the Braves with their first round pick, instead of Heyward, who I think most teams were passing over as unsignable because both parents are college professors and undoubtedly they told other teams that he was going to school, while secretly wanting the Braves to draft him since their scout was already good friends with their family.  They would have then selected him with the 33rd pick.

Hanson actually had a good outing against the Giants in the playoffs, just got unlucky with the hits and homer, as he struck out 5, only walked one, in 4.0 IP. He has never pitched in AT&T, but has a 2.57 ERA in two starts in Atlanta: 14 IP, 14 K's but only 5 walks.  He dominated one game with 11 K's, wasn't so dominant last season but gave up less runs - funny how that works sometimes - so he has pretty much handled the Giants in his short career so far.

Bumgarner handled the Braves well in the playoffs:  6.0 IP, 6 hits, 2 R/ER, 1 walk, 5 K's, 3.00 ERA.  He has never faced the Braves before in the regular season, but his playoff game should indicate how well he might do as the pressure in that game was much unlike a regular season game, though it was for the series clincher and the Giants would have Lincecum in game 5.

Should be a close game, could go either way, hard to call, and both have been tough on the other team.  I would give the lean to the Braves if Pablo Sandoval is out with his injury again, but would give the lean to the Giants if he is starting, though Hanson has handled Sandoval handily in his career, 0 for 9.  But Sandoval is hitting better this season and hopefully can continue, as Hanson has dominated the Giants hitters over his career.

Game 2:  Lincecum vs. Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson:  Giving up runs again early on Monday against the Dodgers, Hudson surrendered three runs in the first inning, in which Los Angeles batted around. He settled down and gave up only one run and two hits over the next five innings but took the loss.
Tim Lincecum:  Lincecum no-hit Colorado for 6 1/3 innings in his previous outing, the first time since July 9, 2009, that he had gone at least six innings without giving up a hit. This will be his first outing vs. Atlanta since the Division Series.
Battle of the Tiny Tims, one could say, though Hudson is 6' 1", which is not that short for baseball, but I recall talk about him being on the short side.  However, Hudson is now in his mid-30's and he is now a pitcher, as he doesn't strike out many guys anymore but is still able to keep his ERA below 4 every season, though he's currently at 4.05.  In his career, 3.58 ERA against the Giants in SF, in 5 starts, so he's been pretty good, and that is inflated greatly because he has handled them fine in 4 of the 5 starts, that one disaster start many years back really screwed up his ERA.  Aaron Rowand and Buster Posey only ones looking good against him previously.

As well as Hudson has done against the Giants, Lincecum has 2.86 ERA in 8 starts against Braves, but in 4 starts in SF, only 6 ER in 29.0 IP for 1.86 ERA with 31 K's and 9 BB's.  Plus Hudson has never faced Sandoval when he's hitting well, as the Giants now have a 1-2 punch 4-5 with Posey and Sandoval in there against RHP.

Should be a close game, given Hudson's strong outings against the Giants before, but give a strong lean towards Lincecum because he's been that much better against the Braves.  But given how low scoring games go, it could go either way for the most part.  Oh, but I should also mention Lincecum's new slider, which puts more of a lean towards Lincecum, he has been masterful since he perfected it last September, with a below 2.00 ERA since then.

Game 3:  Beachy vs. Sanchez
Brandon Beachy:  Getting his first career win, Beachy got stronger as the night went on Tuesday against the Dodgers. Commanding his fastball the entire game, Beachy pitched six innings, giving up no runs and two hits while walking two and striking out seven.
Jonathan Sanchez:  Sanchez has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings. He sailed through his last outing, yielding Dexter Fowler's leadoff double and nothing else for six innings at Colorado.
OK, now I see why Bochy would want to skip Vogelsong:  this alignment gives the Giants the best chance to win the series, with a possibility of a sweep.  Starting Vogelsong would have made just winning the series hard because Hanson is very good and probably would have won that game, then Bumgarner would have hard time against Hudson, and Lincecum would have had a gimme against Beachy.

By skipping Vogelsong, the Giants have a great chance of winning the series against a potential wildcard contender and playoff opponent. Good to put the foot to the neck against someone the Giants could be competing against for a playoff spot.  That is something I've learned to appreciate about Bochy, he knows when playing around with the lineup and pitching is no big deal, causing some fans consternation, but then knows to put the pressure on when it is potentially important.

As nicely as Beachy did against LA, you have to remember that it was only LA.  Still, though, 39 K's in 38.1 IP in his short MLB career (7 career starts) is pretty damn good, and his K/BB is higher this season, though it is all small samples so far, this is his first full season and he only got 3 starts (only 15.0 IP) last season.  And thus far, he handled the Brewer's potent offense well in his first start, but then the Phillies and Marlins whacked him around, before he shut down the D-gers on 2-hitter.  That's two 5 PQS starts out of four starts, no disaster starts so far, this season.

All that is much above what Baseball America and Minor League Baseball Analysts had him pegged as - #3 starter material.  Not sure why he was rated so low though, high K-rates and K/BB ratio, due to very low walk rate, in the minors, would suggest good talent there.  But only his fastball was rated above average, his changeup and slider are average, which is good but not great in the majors.  Oddly enough, his K-rate actually went WAAAY up after conversion from reliever to starter in 2010, when it usually is the other way around, with K-rate going up with switch to relief, due to no need to hold back when relieving.  And both services rate Beachy only 8th in the Braves system.

Sanchez has been as good as hoped so far this season, with a high walk rate the only real negative.  However, he has a bad history with the Braves, 5.82 ERA in 5 games, 3 starts, in AT&T, even worse when you include his starts in Atlanta, and his seasonal stats against them aren't pretty either.  Which makes his masterpiece against them in the playoffs all the more wondrous, because he's never really shown such dominance over them previously, though he had an OK start against them in 2009.

The plus side is that probably most of those starts were with Molina behind the plate and for whatever reason, he and Molina never clicked, whereas he is brilliant with Whitesite (2.69 ERA) or Posey (3.09 ERA) behind the plate, which is another reason why I think he can repeat 2010's performance despite the negatives, such as abnormally low BABIP.  He did have a poor start in his only regular season start with Posey catching, but that as last August when all the pitchers were having their hiccup.  And, of course, there was his brilliant outing in the playoffs with Posey behind the plate.

So, as nicely as Beachy has done and lousy Sanchez has done, it appears that they are pretty evenly matched, but I would give Sanchez the lean for being the home team.

Giants Thoughts

Overall, the Giants look good this series, much better than if Vogelsong was going for them first. They at least have a fighting chance to win this series, which is ideal, both for continuing their streak, as well as their only home series for a while, as they go on the road for three series and ten games afterward.  But a series win is not a sure thing either, the Braves, unsurprisingly, have three very good starters up against us, and the Giants are arguably missing their two best starters, at least in terms of ERA this season, in Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens.

After a World Series Championship hangover that yielded poor performances in their first two series against LA and SD, distracting them until they got home and started celebrating and receiving their rings, the Giants have won 4 straight series, and could have come out with sweeps in three of them had they been able to win the rubber game.  That is not too bad considering that both Barry Zito and Bumgarner were not at the top of their game in any start this season so far.

As anticipated, Brandon Belt was the one sent back down when Cody Ross made it off the DL, which is only appropriate because Belt would not have started on the team had Ross not had his injury.  Torres injury made it a possibility that he might last longer, but with Rowand's HBP, that sunk any chance of that, as the Giants needed to keep Ford around in case they need CF help, as they didn't want to put any extra stress on Ross's legs right after he got off the DL.

Many fans were very upset, but it was the right move.  He clearly was not 100% ready to handle major league pitching yet.  Still, it was the right move to bring him up since Ross's injury presented the opportunity to kick his tires and see how he does.  Apparently there is no honeymoon period for Sabean or Bruce Bochy with the Giants winning the World Championship.

Another reason to send him down is that clearly the Giants cannot have Aubrey Huff playing RF full-time, and that is what happens if Belt up here playing 1B, so while he is down there he should be playing in the OF, mostly in RF, but also LF to give flexibility in where the Giants can put him.  After all, Burrell usually comes out for defensive purposes late in the game.

And you know Belt will eventually come back up, though when is the question because his presence on the 25-man roster basically would mean that Nate Schierholtz would be forced off the roster.  Now that he has been put back down in AAA, he could conceivably end up staying in AAA all season, barring another OF injury, until the September call-ups, when any 40-man roster player can be brought up without clearing space on the 25-man.  That would save the Giants from losing Schierholtz, who they might need next season, if only to save money on the roster as the pitchers get big raises, particularly Lincecum.

One of the big question marks for the Braves series is the status of Pablo Sandoval.  He was taken out of the last game in Colorado due to an injury he had taking BP and while the thinking back then is that he should be back for the Braves series, you never know what might happen until he takes BP again in the pre-game warm-ups (he apparently is well and expected to start).

If he is out, that would be a big blow to our chances of winning this series; if he is in, I'm feeling pretty good about the Giants chances, because the pitching cancels each other out, but his bat is currently a difference maker between the two offenses.

Another question mark, in my mind, is Aaron Rowand's arm and hitting.  The Giants have been able to handle Andres Torres out of the lead-off spot with Rowand's hot hitting, but like always, his hot hitting seems to start with good health but stops courtesy of an injury or lingering condition.  Torres will be out a while longer and we need Rowand to continue his hot hitting, which seems to last in short spurts until an injury leads to a decline.

However, helping things out is that Aubrey Huff is starting to heat up, he has 2 homers in his last four games, after starting the season with none in his first 14 games.   He seems to be a slow starter, people forget after his stellar 2010, but his OPS was under 700 late in April, he didn't look anything like the power hitting monster he was later.  As of April 26, 2010, he only had 1 HR up to then in 67 AB/78 PA, 19 games, 18 starts.  But once he started hitting them, they came in droves, he then had 3 HR in the next 5 games, and would continue that pattern in 2010, long stretches of no homers then a bunch in a short number of games.

Also want to give Freddy Sanchez a shoutout for his great start so far.  Could this be how good he is when healthy?  He's been playing with problems in his shoulders the past few seasons.  His BABIP is very high, so most probably it will go down and he will cool off, but one would hope that he would be able to sustain things longer given that he's healthy for the first time in years.

And lastly, the addition of Ross in the lineup over Belt should also yield an improvement in offense.


  1. Once Torres is back I think this is the lineup the team gels around. Ideally, you'd replace Ross with a lefthanded bat, at least against RHP's. Always been a Nate fan. He's had a couple of great games and other games where he looks like he'll never hit MLB pitching. No way he plays ahead of Ross at this point though. Anyway, if the Giants can keep this lineup intact for a long stretch, I think it can really do some damage:

    CF Torres
    2B Sanchez
    1B Huff
    C Posey
    3B Sandoval
    LF Burrell
    RF Ross
    SS Tejada

  2. So, are we worrying about madbum yet or what?

  3. Not yet, Kevin.

    Bumgarner sounds like he's battling mental problems. His stuff is fine, according to reports, and he's in the mid-90's with his fastball, but I've seen reports that he's trying to hard, and that, to me, means over throwing the ball when he needs to just relax and play catch with the catcher.

    We might need to skip his start once, like the Giants did before with Cain and Sanchez, to give his brain a rest, but when he's pitching in the back of the rotation, I'm not going to worry about this right now, most back of rotation starting pitchers are not that good.

    But three disaster starts is pretty bad pitching. If Tidrow has any words of advice, he better give it sooner than later. But I'm willing to give him to the end of the month to turn himself around.

    Yeah, DrB, things will be much different once Torres is back up top.

  4. But we do need to start worrying about Tejada. He really looks painfully old out at SS.



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