Monday, April 11, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Payback D-gers

Well, that's a lot better, Giants win series against Cards, coming close to sweeping, but I'm happy with a series win, the Giants faced two tough starters and squeaked wins against them.  Winning series is the first step towards repeating.  Now they face the D-gers at home.

This is a key series to win because the Giants will be going back on the road again afterward.  Obviously a sweep would be sweet, both because they are our arch rivals and because they won the first series 3-1.  But I would be happy with a series win, particularly because we'll be facing the D-gers top three starters, so it would be tough enough just to win two.  If they should somehow pull off a sweep, then I would be pretty impressed with that feat.  And, given the toughness and match-ups, it would not be surprising to lose the series 1-2 either, unfortunately, that is how the baseball bounces sometimes when you are facing the best of any team.

Game 1: Kershaw vs. Bumgarner
Clayton Kershaw:  Kershaw gets another chance to dominate the Giants, as he did Opening Day, when he pitched seven scoreless innings at home and allowed four hits. He's coming off a quality-start loss in Colorado with eight strikeouts and one walk.
Madision Bumgarner:  Oddly, Bumgarner fared better on the road (6-3, 1.91 ERA) as a rookie than at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park (1-3, 4.60). He sabotaged his last start at San Diego by mishandling a Chris Denorfia comebacker that went for an RBI single.
Should be a tough game to win for either team, but Kershaw should get a strong lean.  Last time they faced Kershaw, the Giants, as I noted previously, were probably a bit pre-occupied with getting their goodies that they got on Saturday, their World Champion rings.  Really nice:

Schulman reports that you can buy a replica, though not exact, for a very pretty penny (over 200,000 of them, to be inexact).

Still, even if they are at their best, Kershaw will be a tough nut to crack, he's the guy the D-gers preferred over Lincecum.  He has a 1.06 ERA in AT&T, though he has not been that dominating, only 10 K's in 17.0 IP with 5 walks (wow, 4 IBB though) and 12 hits, so the Giants are due since their BABIP is low against him, plus no HR either.

Meanwhile, Bumgarner did not pitch well at all in his first start of the season.  And he was giving up a lot of hits and homers in spring training, though his K/BB was stellar (almost 4) and K/9 great too (10.2 K/9), indicating a strong streak of bad luck BABIP and HR/FB.  I think he will right himself a bit but Kershaw has been great so I have to say that unless Bumgarner can straighten his boat and pitch like he did at the end of 2010, the D-gers should win this game.  And even if he were pitching at his best, Kershaw would still get the edge because he's just been that good during his career.

Game 2: Billingsley vs. Lincecum
Chad Billingsley:  Billingsley had his routine slightly altered by Friday night's marathon, being held back for emergency relief that wasn't needed. He allowed the Giants three runs over six innings in the opening series, including Brandon Belt's first homer.
Tim Lincecum:  Now we know why Lincecum criticizes himself regarding walks. He issued only two unintentional free passes in his season-opening start at Los Angeles, but one of them resulted in the lone run he allowed, though it was unearned.
Like Kershaw and Lincecum was drafted in the same draft, Billingsley was selected by the D-gers before the Giants plucked Cain later.  As great as Kershaw-Billingsley is, Lincecum-Cain is that much better.

Billingsley has a 2.50 ERA in 8 starts/11 appearances in AT&T.  Aaron Rowand, Miguel Tejada, Nate Schierholtz and Buster Posey have hit him well, so we might see them in the lineup.  Plus for the Giants is that Cain has won his last three decisions against the D-gers, after starting his career 0-8.  Should be another close game, could go either way due to mistake by either side, like first series.  

Game 3:  Lilly vs. Sanchez
Ted Lilly:  After a rough outing against the Giants, Lilly rebounded with a gutty start in the rain against the Padres, pitching into the fifth inning despite multiple rain delays. The competitive lefty believes his mechanics are improved.
Jonathan Sanchez:  Sanchez pitched capably in his previous two starts but didn't escape the sixth in either of them. His seven strikeouts in his last start represented the highest total by a Giants pitcher in a home opener since Jason Schmidt struck out nine in 2005.
Hard to call this one.  Giants whacked Lilly around easily but he says he's much improved mechanically, though it should be noted that he didn't get out of the 5th in his other non-Giants start.  So he looks like a someone the Giants should beat up on easily, but when he's on, he's one tough son-of-a-gun.

Sanchez appears to be still feeling his way into his mechanics, for when he's on, he's dominating.  And he has been striking out a lot of guys, which is a great sign, but he hasn't made it out of the 6th inning himself.  But the good news is that when he has been in there, he has been pretty dominant, so he has a 2.53 ERA with 15 K's in 10.2 IP.

That should mean a win for the Giants but given how good Lilly has been in the past, it is hard to say how this game should go exactly.  Basically, if old Lilly is back, it should be a tight game again, but if he's not right, then the Giants should win this game because Sanchez has been effective, though leaning on the bullpen extensively.

Giants Thoughts

Giants need to win this series to end with a nice opening home stand (4-2) before heading off to the road for tough games:  three in Arizona and three in Colorado.  It will be tough to do given the caliber of pitchers the Giants will face, but the opening series was so close that the Giants could have been easily 3-1 as the 1-3 they ended up, so the baseball gods might giveth back in this series, after taking in the last series against them.

So far, as nicely as Brandon Belt did initially, he has been struggling a bit, since.  But not by a lot.  His strikeout rate is not horrific and he's been walking a good amount.  His main problem is that his BABIP has been much below the .300 average for the majors.  Not that his BABIP is necessarily as high as that, but given that he moves around pretty well and has good wheels, one would expect a BABIP of at least .300, if not higher.

Frankly, I still think the Giants need to keep Nate Schierholtz around for 2012, because they cannot be sure right now who they might have on the team playing the OF in 2012.  Particularly since a lot of the payroll budget will go towards Lincecum's and Wilson's pay raises, and thus the Giants might not even retain Cody Ross.  But someone in the outfield goes if Belt stays on the 25-man roster when Ross returns off the DL (unless Andres Torres is injured worse than currently feared right now, which would open up a spot), and hence my stance that Belt should go down when push comes to shove, unless he finally figures it out and hits like Posey did last season.

Also, I'm still of the mind that we should be starting Aaron Rowand as much as we can right now, particularly with both Ross and Torres unavailable.   He has been hot, which is what he normally starts off in the season for the Giants in the past;  it is just that he has been so cold at the end of the season that he ends up with a below average batting line.  And it is my opinion that the cold streak at the end is a combination of both injuries he had occurred earlier in the season combined with his lack of physical fitness and stamina (which he finally acknowledged prior to the 2010 season, by saying that he kept himself in shape by mountain biking during the off-season.

If he plays and he's hot like in the past, that creates a great quandary  for the Giants brass:  who should play and who should sit?  It also would mean that he would be playing regularly most probably, as Bochy normally plays the hot bat, but not everyday, which would give him frequent rests and time to recover from the aches and pains of playing in his 30's, which apparently has taxed him so far in his Giants career.  That will give the Giants a window at least where they might be able to deal him to a desperate team, with the Giants maybe splitting his remaining contract in half, resulting in the other team paying roughly $6M per season, which is not that bad a deal for a productive OF in the middle of the season and your team needs such an OF to stay competitive for the playoffs.

And should Belt be hot enough to keep up when push comes to shove, I would hope the Giants keep Mike  Fontenot in mind as a possibility to drop off the roster.  That would hamper moves that Bochy can make, particularly using Mark DeRosa as a pinch-hitter, but should that happen, the Giants should just make Schierholtz a backup 2B as well.  I understand he's never played there before, and that he hasn't played 3B in years, but given that he has played in the infield before, he should be able to handle 2B in late game emergency situations now and again, like Willie Mays playing SS in one long extra-inning game.  I really do not want to lose Schierholtz for nothing before mid-season.

And mid-season is the point where I think the Giants might be more willing to deal Rowand with more money to make him worthwhile for another team to take him off the team's hands.  He isn't as lousy a ballplayer as many Giants fans make him out to be.  If the season had ended by August, he would be considered pretty good, .281/.348/.438/.786 in 2008, .276/.334/.441/.775 in 2009.  Those are excellent OPS for an average defensive CF.  Rowand is currently hitting .389/.389/.611/1.000, which leads the team in OPS right now.

Aubrey Huff has been struggling too but I think he's been taking his awful defense in the OF with him to the plate.  I think he'll be fine once he finds himself defensively and get comfortable out there.  But if he continues to struggle, that could mean the Giants need to move Belt either down to AAA or to LF in order to start Huff at 1B.  I see people thinking of trading him but frankly I think he was one of the key leadership pillars that led the team in 2010 and it would hurt the team chemistry in 2011 to trade him.  I think the soonest he can go is after the 2011 season:  by then I think Posey would have enough experience and proven performance to take that rein, and judging from all that I've read about him, he's a natural born leader and he is the heir apparent waiting for that to happen.

I'm not sure what Pat Burrell's problem is though.  Well, one is that his BABIP is horribly low, sub-.100, that is part of the problem.  And he's also striking out too much, much higher than when he's going good.  Still, he leads the team in homers with 3, so the power is there, the hits just appear not be falling for him, just major bad luck.  If he continues to struggle this badly, though, he might become the OF who gets waived, although I would expect the Giants to come knocking again should they need him later in the season and nobody else has picked him up.

Pablo Sandoval has been pretty much his old self, as I had predicted.  He is hitting .400/.438/.500/.938, which is in the ballpark of what he did in 2008 and early 2009, but not what he did when he had his breakout in 2009, which is when the home runs kicked in.  His ISO is only .100 despite his one HR, he just hasn't had any other extra-base hit so far.  Of course, part of that reason is that he hasn't started one game yet against a LHP, DeRosa has gotten those starts, despite Bochy's assurance early in the season that he is not in a platoon, but Bochy is starting Pablo today, so there goes that.

Speaking of DeRosa, he has been hitting well too, .364/.417/.455/.871.  I think that he will start getting starts at 2B once Freddy Sanchez starts to cool off (.929 OPS; looks like his extension for the 2012 season got him all excited), but for now he's been getting starts at 3B in place of Pablo.  I think he might start seeing starts at 1B when the Giants are facing a LHP, since Belt hasn't been hitting anyway.  Of course, that is partly why he's been hot too, he mashes LHP, but not so much RHP, though he's good enough there that he can start if necessary at many different positions.

So far the Giants have underperformed on the whole, particularly offensively, though some pitchers have disappointed too.  But it is too early to jump off the bandwagon, as some fans appear to have already did.  In fact, as long as they have more weeks left in the season than games behind the leader, they are doing well enough to have some hope that they can still pull it out.

As I noted, they could have easily been 3-1 in the D-gers series and their record would be 6-3 rather than 4-5.  And they are just a couple of games back, so they could be in the lead within a week with a good win streak (though hard to do on the road).  It is too early to be worried when we are in the position we are in:  it would be much different if we were 1-8 and many games behind already.

I think the biggest question mark was whether Pablo was back and he appears to be back, at least most of the way back, so that one positive that I would take from this early part of the season.  The second biggest would be how well Cain would do given his shortened spring training and arm problems, and he has been stellar so far.  The third is how well Wilson would do given his oblique and so far that has been bad, though it has mostly been bad luck with dribblers and balls just finding the right spot to fall in untouched.  That he is rearing back and throwing mid-90's tells me that he is physically well and most forget that he is basically going through spring training now, so there will be hiccups.

Of course, there was also the question about Belt, and he has looked very good but just has not had the results so far.  It might be better off if he is the one who gets moved to AAA when necessary, if only to push his service time clock enough so that we control his rights in 2017.  People need to remember, as much as baseball is a game, it is also a business.  And I'm not going to feel sorry for a player, who will probably make tens of millions in dollars in salary over his career, that the team's control over him lasts an extra year, maybe costing him a few million.  He will be well paid no matter how you slice it if his career goes the way people expects (and if it doesn't then this would not mean a thing monetarily for him, as his bigger worry would be staying in the majors).


  1. the Giants should just make Schierholtz a backup 2B

    A late inning defensive substitution by someone who has never played the position?
    Even Nate's mother doesn't love him that much.

    Should have been posted on April 1

  2. Thanks for your comment El. I understand your concern, but it is not like I would throw him out there now.

    I really want to keep Schierholtz on the roster, as I think he could be very necessary next season depending on what happens with the OFs this season.

    Should the Giants make a similar decision, they start giving Nate reps in practice and give him a crash course in fielding 2B. It is not like moving Durham to CF, where he would be starting there (and, BTW, Schierholtz has seen time playing CF). Nate would only play there under extreme circumstances during the game. Most of the time, Sanchez and DeRosa would play there at 2B.

    I understand the defensive spectrum, and that he didn't defend 3B particularly well, else they would have left him there, but Baseball America thought that he had a chance to eventually figure it out there, and, again, it would only be in extreme circumstances that he would end up at 2B.

    It would hamper the moves Bochy could make late in the game, but my thought is that it would buy time for the Giants to try to trade Rowand or for another injury to make the tough decision a moot point. I don't see it as a season long thing, and when necessary, we bring up Rohlinger, finally, to be our utility infielder.

    And frankly, Torres achilles strain scares me, given how a tear took out Frandsen for a season (maybe more) and how dependent Torres' value is on his speed. I'm shocked they don't just DL him now, and not take the risk of re-injuring so soon. I don't want to see the Giants DFA Schierholtz and lose him to another team, only for Torres to bust his achilles and be out for the season.

    I'm not saying that it is ideal, but I don't think I'm the only fan who wants to keep Nate around, and it is delusional to think the Giants are going to DFA Rowand because he's a sunk cost, because, for one thing, he is not, he still has value as a starter, these people just think he has no value, but he does have some value. That will keep him around until another team has a strong need for a starting OF.

    And given a choice between Schierholtz and Fontenot, I would choose Nate. I think other fans would agree with that as well.

  3. And I realize that I'm being irrational about Nate, just really want to see him starting for the Giants.

    And I think others are being irrational about Nate too. Rowand when healthy has hit well enough as an OF and defend well enough. He's like Randy Winn in that way, good offensively as CF but average to poor defensively there, but poor offensively on the corners but probably very good defensively there.

    Nate has been just as up and down in his performances too. Both just have a penchant for injuring themselves frequently and bringing down their performance.

    If you ignore salary, I have more faith that Rowand will deliver as a starter for 2011. As much as others claim a sunk cost, I think the salary is foremost in their mind, else they would see that Rowand has actually been a pretty good offensive CF for us most of his time with us, he just stinks it up in September. Based on expected performance, I think Rowand is the better bet.

    But I am also ready to move on from Rowand, and if we can get another team to take him and split a good portion of his salary with us, much like how ChiSox took Juan Pierre off LA's hands for about half the contract: D-gers paid $10.5M of remaining contract, leaving ChiSox to pay $8M, for total of $18.5M.

    I can see that happening by mid-season. Pierre is not that good a player and he's been doing worse in recent years. By then, Rowand would be owed $18M. Giants could pay $10M, with ChiSox $8M. With Rowand playing regularly to mid-season, possible if he hits like he usually hits, he should look like his old self by then, and look like a good alternative to Pierre. Giants could pay rest of his 2011 salary, covering $6M, so that ChiSox could take him and not pay anything extra, the Giants give $4M for 2012 and ChiSox cover $8M.

    Reports were that ChiSox still like Rowand and would welcome him back (presumably at the right price).

    And taking salary into consideration, I think Schierholtz is the better value relative to cost, so while I would chose Rowand based on performance, on value I would chose Schierholtz, plus there is the long-term possibility that Nate could be our starter for a few more years, while Rowand, not so interested, he'll be in his mid-30's by that point.

    A gamer he is not, a gamer would have realized that he needed to get into shape since he's in his 30's and got a huge contract, instead of waiting two years into his contract to do that. A gamer is like Wilson, working hard every day so that when his team needs to rely on him to do his game, he's prepared and physically ready to compete.

    If he were a gamer, I would want to keep him, Rowand is just happy to be here in the majors. He plays hard, I give him that, but I think he would rather be riding his mountain bike than playing baseball.

    Lincecum, he's a gamer, we all make mistakes, but he acted immediately when he realized his mistake, in August last season, he didn't wait until the following season to do something. And he added something to his game as well.



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