Thursday, April 14, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Rattling the Diamondbacks

Wow, that was nice, lost the first game to Kershaw but pulled out the other two for a series win that brings the Giants back to .500 at 6-6.  The Giants end their short home series 4-2, to counter their 2-4 road start.  Now they head out to the road for 6 games, first against D-backs.

Meanwhile, the D-backs have been pretty good considering how poorly their 2010 was.  At 5-6, they are basically a .500 team so far, and they have done it more with their offense than pitching, which is a surprise to me, as I liked their young pitchers that they had up at the end of last season, particularly Hudson and Enright.  And besides Montrero hitting so well, nobody else is really that much of a surprise offensively, so they might be able to keep this going for a while.

Meanwhile, if their pitchers settle down, they could be battling for the title this season, a la 2010's SD.  I was impressed with Kirk Gibson's handling of the club from last season and he appears to still have it.  Odd that so many ex-Giants and now ex-Dodgers end up strongly involved with the D-backs.

I suppose it has to do with spring training being held in Arizona each season, many players settle here (like Matt Williams), but still, lots of other team are here in spring too.  And part of it was that there were a lot of ex-Giants personnel involved with the start-up of the D-backs as well, particularly, one of their top execs, I think his first name was Ralph, but I'm not sure exactly now (anyone?).

Game 1:  Cain vs. Hudson
Matt Cain:  Cain has picked up where he left off last season, opening the year with a pair of quality starts. He recorded 11 consecutive scoreless innings before surrendering his first run of the season in Saturday's win over the Cardinals.
Dan Hudson:  Hudson pitched well in his last outing against the Reds but came away with a loss. He allowed just two runs on three hits over seven innings with both the runs and two of those hits coming in the first inning.
Going to be a tough battle, Hudson is the one starter who has been good so far and he handled the far more lethal Reds offense well, and especially since he did that in Cincinnati.  But Matt Cain has been pretty shut down himself.  He has a career 4.27 ERA against the D-backs in Arizona.  Hudson was projected by Baseball Forecaster to have a 3.53 ERA, Cain a 3.26.  Looks like it will be a toss-up, could go either way.

Game 2:  Zito vs. Saunders
Barry Zito:  Zito showed potential in his first two outings. He yielded three first-inning runs in his season debut at Los Angeles before working five shutout innings. Then he allowed one run in five innings to St. Louis before surrendering three in the sixth.
Joe Saunders:  Saunders' last outing is one he'd rather forget. He struggled to find his release point and wound up allowing six hits and five walks while lasting just three innings. He allowed just two runs in six innings in his first start.
Zito is still looking for his bliss, his rhythm, though he's been pretty shut down for 5 IP before the other team figures him out in the 6th.  And he has been horrible in Chase Field previously, 5.57 ERA in 6 starts there, though his last start there last season, he went 6.0 IP, with 4 hits and 3 walks, and 7 K's and 2 R/ER.

Saunders was great in Arizona last season, but was horrible in his first start this season.  So hard to say what will happen this early.  If Saunders can't get untracked and pitch like he did in his first start, they are not going to find it easy to win.  But the same could be said about Zito.  A positive for Saunders is that he was beat by tough Cincy offense in Chase, and he had handled Cubs OK in Chicago.  He has never faced the Giants, so that could be a plus in his factor.

I would give a lean to Zito for at least pitching effectively for the most part in his two starts so far this season, but this is Arizona's home park and home teams have a slight advantage.  Plus, as noted, Saunders pitched well here in 2010 and his only blemish is being bashed by the Reds in his first start here this season.  I would call it even except that Bochy has let Zito go into the 6th both starts and that's where he faltered, and thus I would expect the same in this game, so I will have to lean in the D-backs favor for this game, under the expectations of a Zito blow-up 5th, 6th inning, at least until he gets himself together.

Game 3:  Bumgarner vs. Enright
Madison Bumgarner:  Bumgarner has worked only eight innings in two starts. Opponents are batting .406 against him. But in his previous outing against Arizona last Sept. 30, he allowed one run in five innings to win a key game in the Giants' drive to the NL West title.
Barry Enright:  Enright has allowed four runs and lasted six innings in each of his first two starts, with the D-backs coming out on the losing end of both. He is looking for his first win since Sept. 1, 2010, against the Padres. He is 0-6 since that outing.
Bumgarner has not been in sync at all during the regular season so far.  He gave up a lot of runs during spring but his peripherals looked great, so I thought he would just continue his dominating ways.  I was wrong.  He was projected at 3.47 ERA, so I wasn't the only one thinking he would continue.  The signs were there, he learned about the importance of conditioning during the off-season, didn't have personal issues take away focus (he got married last off-season and had to deal with the death of his older sister), learned about his mechanics last season that he said he could now self-diagnose and figure out what is wrong.

Enright has been on a bad streak lasting from last season.  What can I say, regressing to the mean can be a bear.  He pitched really well for the D-backs initially, but the scouting reports on him was that he was more a back of rotation starter than mid-to-top, which is how he was last season early on, and this stretch is his payback for all that good luck he had initially.  Still, he's much worse than would be expected, projected at 4.53 ERA, so he might bounce back a bit in this start.  Though I must note his career 6.00 ERA against the Giants at home, in two starts last season.

I have to call it pretty close but with a lean towards Bumgarner.  Madbum has a 1.13 ERA against the D-backs, so that is why I lean towards him, but he's been way off target with his pitches in his previous two starts, and if that continues, this should be a high-scoring game on both sides, leading to a bullpen game, and the Giants have a much better bullpen.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants did what they had to, pulling out two series wins under tough circumstances in both series.  A good sign that the "never say die" attitude from last season is still alive and well.  They will need that later in the season.

Now they head to the road and basically have to hope to win this series with the D-backs.  A win is doable, but not a sure thing, basically we need both Zito and Bumgarner to straighten themselves out of the funk they have been in and give us a good start, as beating Hudson, even with Cain, will be a tough job.

As expected, the Colorado Rockies are the major competitor, with an 9-2 start, and leaving the Giants now by 3.5 games.  Even in the best of circumstances, going into Colorado is a tough proposition, but with them on this hot streak, we are facing a series loss there, making it very important the Giants pull off a series win here in Arizona.

One good sign is that they have used their closer, Street, in 9 of their first 11 games already, which I think is a risky thing given that he missed a large part of last season due to injuries to his shoulder and groin.  He faltered trying to close out today's game and another reliever had to come in and save the game.  If the Cubs can keep things close enough the next 3 games, Street could be all worn out for our series, which would be a plus for us.

As I had noted before the first game, this stretch will be tough on the team, being on the road so much.  That is a natural tendency of the win-loss record to be on the loss side, no matter how good a team is.  So the Giants did a good job of recovering from their dreadful road trip, where they were most probably still looking ahead to the raising of the flag and getting their World Champion rings, and thus were distracted, which is only human to do.  But now all that is out of the way, so there are no more excuses.  And they did well, beating both the Cards and the D-gers at home.

I think some are worried because the Giants are in the middle of the pack with everyone else, where we can end up in last place or 2nd place, depending on how things work out that day.  Everything is fine, it is early in the season, too early to really worry a lot about how far behind you might be, particularly if you are around .500; as long as you are around .500, you know that even if you are far behind anyone, that is pretty much a fluke and that team will return to the pack at some point.  So the key is to stay in the middle (or above) the pack.

And we are in good shape considering the Giants problems so far.  They lost Cody Ross to the DL, as well as Brian Wilson, and now Andres Torres has an injury cloud over his head.  Buster Posey had a cold and wasn't himself to start the season.  The pitching has not been as good as advertised except for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.  Brandon Belt didn't compensate for the loss of Ross offensively, and defensively the Giants took a hit with Huff in RF.

We have also had a bit of luck as well.  Torres being out gave Rowand a chance to start and he has delivered so far.  I hesitate to call it luck, because he usually start off a season hot, it has been injuries and lack of physical preparation to last a full season that has costed him a nice overall season's performance.  And Freddy Sanchez has been on fire, he can't continue this pace:  can he?

Overall, I think they have suffered from more bad luck than good and take away just two mistakes in the first D-gers series and the Giants could easily be 8-4 right now.  I think they are good shape heading into this road trip, but still need a couple of starting pitchers to step up another notch or two.  Should be an interesting road trip.

And I would also like to note that the D-gers are going to get it from the Giants the next time the teams meet.  Ted Lilly, who hardly walks anybody, let alone hit batters, hit Posey in his first two ABs of the final game of the series, drawing a warning from the umpires.  They were apparently in retaliation for the two HBP that Juan Uribe got from Lincecum in separate games.

As Bochy noted, that's ridiculous, Lincecum hit Uribe and created a bases loaded situation with the game in the balance in the second instance.  And Lincecum reached out to Uribe and hoped that he realized that it was a mistake for the first instance.  Still they had to head-hunt on one of our top hitters, our clean-up guy.  Matt Kemp better wear padding next time...

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