Now they face the rampaging D-Rox, 12-3 and leading the Giants by 4 games. They have benefited greatly from the rampaging Troy Tulozitski, 7 HR in 15 games, and the great offense from Jonathan Herrera (1.115 OPS vs. .695 from last season, and minors record unbesmirched by any good offensive stats) and Chris Iannetta (.992 OPS, is he finally figuring things out?), plus Jhoulys Chacin ace pitching so far, 1.64 ERA, but only 14 K's in 22.0 IP, suggesting he's also pitching above his abilities right now. Unless they think that Tulo is going to hit 75 HRs and Herrera suddenly becomes a hitting god, and Chacin can keep up a stellar ERA without a stellar K/9 rate or K/BB ratio, this should cool down eventually.
However, that does not mean that they will necessarily cool down for the Giants quite yet.
Game 1: Lincecum vs. Rogers
Tim Lincecum: His last time out wasn't a premium performance, but with the help of Brian Wilson, the Giants got the win. Lincecum threw 5 1/3 innings, allowed six hits and departed with a 4-3 lead after falling behind 3-0, but didn't get the decision.
Esmil Rogers: Rogers gave up three runs on seven hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings against the Mets on Wednesday. Rogers teetered all game, but never gave up more than one run in an inning and worked out of traffic to emerge with the win.Clearly, the D-Rox are so afraid of Happy-Lincecum-Day that they dared not risk losing the occasion of the return of their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, to the greatness that is Big Time Timmy Jim, so they moved Ubaldo's return back a day and throw up a sacrificial lamb, Esmil Rogers, who has a lifetime 7.07 ERA against SF, 5.40 ERA in 2 starts against SF (both in SF), and has given up 5 runs in 4.0 IP in Colorado vs. the G's. They are clearly giving up on this game and betting that Ubaldo will have a much better chance of beating Sanchez in Game 2, splitting the series and basically try to avoid a series sweep since they face Matt Cain in Game 3.
Should be Happy Lincecum Day, anything less would be a total disappointment and upset. He has a 3.86 ERA here, but in 8 career starts, 49.0 IP with 52 K's and only 21 BB's (2.48 K/BB is great, suggesting bad luck with his ERA so far in his park), a great 0.73 HR/9 here. Thus far this season, 1.86 ERA (below 2.00 ERA in regular season since he figured out his new slider), 3 starts, 19.1 IP, 22 K's vs. only 4 BB's (one IBB) for a stupendous 5.50 K/BB ratio (good pitchers > 2.0 K/BB, very good pitchers > 2.4). With his new slider plus great changeup, he has upped his K/9 back up, to 10.2, but more importantly pushed his BB/9 down to a stellar 1.9, whereas he was merely OK previously, maybe a little too wild (want BB/9 <= 3.0).
Game 2: Sanchez vs. Jimenez
Jonathan Sanchez: Sanchez came up big vs. the Dodgers in San Francisco, tossing six innings while allowing three earned runs on seven hits, walking two and striking out nine in a 4-3 win. The Giants have won two of his first three starts.
Ubaldo Jimenez: Jimenez looked nothing like himself on Opening Day, but he was pitching through a cut cuticle on his right thumb. The injury forced him to the disabled list. Jimenez's fastball touched 97 mph during a rehab start.Sanchez gets the big matchup this series, and it will be another chance to step up to the challenge and opportunity and show that he has further progressed as a major leaguer. He took a number of big steps last season, culminating with his great start and win against the 'Dres to win the NL West Division title, showing further growth in maturity and confidence. He has actually pushed his peripherals up this season, to 13.0 K/9 (career 9.5 K/9; high as starter 9.8 K/9), to 3.8 BB/9 (4.6 BB/9 career; best as starter 4.3 BB/9), to 3.43 K/BB (remember, very good is 2.4 K/BB), and I know it is all small samples so far, only 3 starts, and despite that progress, has only been averaging 5.5 IP so far, probably due to the increase in K's.
Sanchez has a 4.46 ERA in 4 starts in Colorado, 5.26 ERA career, and his progress against them is exemplified by the drop in ERA against them over his career, culminating in a 6.0 IP shutout with 9 K's against them last season. He will need to do something close to that again if the Giants hope to win against Colorado on their Happy Ubaldo Day.
Ubaldo has numbers against the Giants that suggest that perhaps the rumor of the D-Rox screwing around with the humidor balls is true, as the Giants basically accused them of last season. We all know that Coors is a hitters park like no other in the history of baseball. Offensive numbers are skewed significantly upward, pitching numbers are skewed significantly worse too. Ubaldo actually has a much BETTER ERA against the Giants at home than in SF.
Ubaldo vs. GiantsSo despite a much better HR/9 at AT&T, he has a signficantly better ERA at home against the Giants in his career so far.
at home: 2.68 ERA, 47.0 IP, 14 walks, 35 strikeouts, 0.77 HR/9, 7 starts
on road: 3.60 ERA, 45.0 IP, 18 walks, 42 strikeouts, 0.40 HR/9, 7 starts
Assuming Jimenez is his normal self - I am wondering if his great first half of 2010 was just a fluke, his 3.80 ERA second half fits right in with his ERA in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, but his PQS was great in 2009 and 2010 (79% DOM/12% DIS in 2009, 82% DOM/6% DIS in 2010) suggesting a new plateau and rise to eliteness - Sanchez will have quite a battle on his hands. Sanchez's second half PQS results are almost Jimenez's equal (60%/13% and 67%/13%) but he has been horrible PQS-wise the past two first halves. Which Sanchez will show?
The Giants clearly needs the better Sanchez to show up got them to have a chance of beating the D-Rox and Jimenez. They need the Sanchez who shut out the D-Rox last season. He is one third of an inning away from three straight DOM starts, just missing in the team's home opener this season, which could have amped up his adrenaline a bit, but he has been striking out a storm while keeping his walks under relative control. So he has been pitching very well so far this season, so unless the humidor balls do funny things, this should be a tight battle between two very good pitchers who have figured out how to pitch among the very best in the league.
I have to give the lean to Ubaldo, though, because they are at home and he has had a great record so far against the Giants at home. However, if Ubaldo is a bit rusty from his layoff, then Sanchez and the Giants would have a good chance of winning this game.
Game 3: Cain vs. de la Rosa
Matt Cain: Cain continued his outstanding run by working into the seventh of a win vs. the D-backs, allowing a run on four hits. So far he's given up only three runs in 19 innings, after a postseason in which he didn't allow an earned run in three starts.
Jorge de la Rosa: De La Rosa left his first two starts relatively early because of blister issues on his left middle finger, but he pitched into the seventh Thursday, throwing 116 pitches and allowing four runs on five hits and four walks.As great as the Giants pitchers were in 2010, the top three have actually raised things up a notch in the early season so far for the Giants. Cain has been superb, as noted in the comment above. Cain has a 3.38 ERA against the D-Rox in 9 starts here in his career. This is punctuated by his 4 starts here the last two seasons, 1.86 ERA, and the step up he took in 2009-2010.
And believe it or not, he might have taken another one step upward after his magnificent run through the playoffs. There have been a number of quotes of Cain this season talking about how he has been taking his experiences from the playoffs and applying them now during the regular season, remembering that confidence he felt back then. That could put him into the elite status among starters, if he can attain that consistency over an entire season. He is already ridiculously consistent - the key to consistently low ERAs is to limit Disaster starts and keep your DIS% below 10%, something he has done the past three seasons now.
One of his problems in the past was his lack of confidence in himself and his stuff. Matt Morris touched on this before and I recall Giants batters mentioning it before, that Cain didn't really trust that his stuff is good enough to get major league hitters out, so he would rely a lot on nibbling on the corners and basically pitch afraid that the hitter will hit him. They had to work a lot and hard at getting him to understand that. I think that is what contributed to his high walk rates early in his career. But that has dropped almost every season now, and he is now reaching elite status there, with a 2.5 BB/9 last season and even better 1.9 BB/9 this season, albeit in only 3 starts so far.
Not too bad for a "loser" that many Giants fans wanted to trade away for a bag of magic offensive beans (Alexis Rios, Prince Fielder, among others). If we could take away the ability to comment on the internet from everyone who wanted to trade Matt Cain, you would probably wipe out 80-90% of the Sabean Naysayers still polluting the commentary on the Giants (I just saw someone complaining vociferously about Sabean on Extra Baggs just yesterday, so I know they are still around). They don't even realize how bad the team would be right now if the Giants had listened to their recommendations on what to do with the team (besides all the "Let's get Pujols by giving away lousy prospects" nonsense trade ideas).
Sabean is not perfect, but he has been in terms of deciding who to keep and who to trade away among the prospects that have passed through his hands. Signing free agents and drafting prospects are a crapshoot in terms of results, but knowing who to keep and who to get rid of is where a GM separates himself from the rest of the pack. Sabean et al have thankfully decided that Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Runzler, Posey, and Sandoval were keepers, barring any ludicrous overpay in trade offers (which never came).
Jorge de la Rosa has pitched very well this season so far, 3.18 ERA, but I have to think the wheels come off at some point. His K/9 dropped while his BB/9 stayed about the same, so his K/BB has fallen below the 2-ish that he has been at during his career as a starter. Plus, his BABIP is way too low (.200), unsustainable, and his HR/9 is way below his career norms. And that is the idea behind small sample size, he's only had 3 starts so far. In any case, even if he is as good as he has been, Cain has been that much better. Giants should win this game.
I was thinking about this over the weekend, but the Giants, while disappointing fans with their start so far, has not really been on all 8 cylinders yet. Posey was sick with a virus early on, so he wasn't hitting. Huff might finally be getting untracked now, having hit his first homer of the season. Of course, both Ross and Torres have been out with injuries, and Belt has not been hitting at all. Hank Schulman tweeted that scouts are saying that he needs more seasoning in AAA (love his new photo on Twitter). And nobody is producing at the monster production that Colorado is getting from Tulo, Iannetta and Herrera (and CarGon has been back to his pre-2010 model so far, dampening their offense and increasing my conviction that their big contract with him will be more albatross than boon), though Rowand is doing great so far while both Torres and Ross are out, just not as great as those D-Rox.
And as well as Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain has been doing, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner have been very disappointing. Zito, frankly, I think he should have just been put on the DL after the car crash and told to rest up and feel better. Bochy alluded to as much in his comments after Zito was placed on the DL for his foot sprain, his first DL stint in 12 years as a major leaguer, his first start missed due to injury coming up this Friday.
I have to wonder if the "freak" foot sprain was just something that was undetected or weakened after Zito's horrific car crash (what is it about LA drivers trying to kill major league pitchers?) and who knows what else is undetected, given his sudden drop in velocity to the low 80's during the regular season. I know when I was blindsided by a red-light runner, I too was lucky to come out of it without anything broken, but was extremely shaken up and I had aches and pains for a while, so I took it easy physically for a while. Not so easily said for a major league pitcher starting the regular season.
Bumgarner is the most disappointing, because there is no reason why he is not performing so far. He is not striking out many, while walking many and giving up a lot of hits. If he wanted to show the Giants that he was worth the money he was asking for, he's going about it the wrong way. He is just justifying why he did not get near the money that Posey got.
Perhaps he has more hurt feelings than he let on when interviewed about that salary disagreement (not really dispute since Giants could just force a salary on him) and that has affected his play. It was not that long ago that he chucked the ball far and into the stands after all 6' 6" of him got angry at an umpire's call. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back when it comes to maturity.
Looking at his stats, his LD% is way high, hitters are just raking him, he is not fooling anyone, as suggested by his low K/9 so far and his high HR/9 and HR/FB. His velocity for his pitches so far are about the same as last year, though oddly enough, there are a huge number of pitches so far (40.8%) that are recorded as unknown so far. His curveball and changeup were his out pitches in 2010, but not so much in 2011, so that seems to be the biggest problems so far, plus his slider went from average to horrible. He had one disaster start to start the season and was not that far away from having three disaster starts in a row, he barely missed accomplishing that dubious feat.
The Giants for the most part, are not performing that much better than could be expected. Sure the Top 3 starters will probably do worse, but the offense should likely improve as Huff and Burrell return to normal career performance range and Torres and Ross returns from the DL and Belt gets returned to AAA to final seasoning. The key to being a division title contender right now is Bumgarner returning to ace-like performances, and there is nothing to like so far in his performance so far.
Meanwhile, Colorado has benefited from great performances, particularly Tulo's 7 HR in 15 games but also stout starting pitching that is much better than prior performances indicate, though they were handicapped by Ubaldo being out. San Diego has benefited by Nick Hundley's sudden Johnny Bench impression and Aaron Harang turning back the clock a few seasons with his 3-0 record and 1.50 ERA, plus a shutdown bullpen that can't last much longer, though handicapped by Mat Latos being out. Arizona has benefited from Miguel Montrero and Ryan Roberts sudden Albert Pujols impersonations, with OPS over 1.000 but suffered from pitching that is totally underperforming, though they would not necessarily win had their team performed to expectations. And LA I have not thought much of either, but they have had a number of injuries and underperformers, and so are the only team that might rebound at some point this season, assuming players return from the DL OK, plus Ted Lilly and Juan Uribe righting themselves, among others.
Which brings us to this series. If the Giants can sweep, they would bring themselves to just 1 game behind the D-Rox. If they can win 2 of the 3 games, they would end up 3 games behind. So clearly it would behoove the Giants to sweep this series.
And it looks possible. Lincecum should be able to beat Rogers. Cain should be able to beat de la Rosa, though that is not as much a sure thing as Lincecum. Sanchez is capable of being Jimenez, mano-a-mano, and if Jimenez is having any problems getting back into the swing of things, Sanchez should be able to beat the D-Rox. Not a sure thing, but I would not be surprised either.
Now, it is possible the Giants could lose the series. Their pitchers could have a game of their career while the Giants pitchers falter after a good start to the 2011 season. That does happen sometimes. But for once, I feel that the Giants are competitive in trying to win this series and have a pretty good chance of at least pulling 2 of 3 of the games, whereas previously, playing in Coors was like a horror maze of mirrors. They don't usually match up so well against the D-Rox but we got our best starters against some of their not as good (we avoid Chacin, luckily) and can their hitters really continue hitting THAT well?
And I would guess not. Besides Kershaw and Billingsley, the D-Rox have faced a long stretch of starters who are not aces: Maholm, Ohlendorf, Morton, McDonald, Pelfrey, Niese, Dickey, Capuano, Coleman. And Garza and Dempster have been aces in season's past, but have been horrible this season. And they had 4 games against the Pirates and 4 games against the woebegone Mets. Now they are facing three of the best in the majors, in a row, each having a different expertise: Lincecum with fastball, changeup, slider deadly combo, Sanchez with pitches that batters just naturally swing at and miss, Cain with his no-hit stuff and pinpoint location.
And the Giants offense might get ignited playing in Coors hitter's haven. Lets see if Belt can pad his stats here. If not, he's might find himself going down when Ross returns, instead of later when Torres return. However, the Giants have usually tended to give their young prospect hitters at least a month to show what they can do as a regular starter before they make their decision on what to do next, so he probably has at least until Torres is recovered to start worrying about going back down.