Friday, May 06, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 15-16: Catching D-Rox

I think part of my ennui is that the drive from wanting to see the Giants win it all has finally been satisfied last year when the vision of what I saw the team becoming and achieving was realized in the playoffs last season.  So while it wasn't so interesting to me to write for this recent road trip, this series with our top competitor for the 2011 NL West division title is very interesting.  I will probably write sporadically about series, targeting only interesting ones, until probably mid-season when it gets more interesting.

Game 1:  Jimenez vs. Cain

Ubaldo Jimenez has been having a tough season so far, 7.20 ERA.  He is striking out more, but, more importantly, is giving up a lot more walks and hits.  Yet, his K/BB is still around 2.0, which suggests that his ERA is highly inflated by bad luck.  He's nowhere as good as he was last season but he's still a good pitcher this season, just not a great one.  This continued his pattern from the second half of last season, when he wasn't the totally dominating pitcher he was in the first half.  If anything, it continues the downward trend, which you hate to see for young stars in baseball, except when it is happening to one of your toughest competitors (like watching Russell Martin and James Loney, and even Matt Kemp for the D-gers).

Ubaldo raised things a notch last season against the Giants in 2010, dropping his prior poor ERA down to 3.60 after the season.  But he has not pitch well yet this season, and if anything, he is regressing, as his last start was the worse of the season for him.  A large part of it is that he suffered from an injury, which put him on the DL after his first start.  He is basically going through spring training again, trying to catch up with everyone.  Plus 3 of his starts have been in COL, which would hurt his results greatly when you are not 100%.

Few Giants batters have done well against Jimenez in his career.  Fontenot and Tejada.  Basically he has shut down the rest of the Giants lineup, so if he were at the top of his game, this would be a low scoring game.  The way he has been going, hopefully the offense can get going against him.  Perhaps he might finally figure it out and this is the game he returns to his normal dominant ways.  He did have his worse game so far with his shortest outing, only 4.0 IP.  But sometimes you have to hit bottom to get back to normal.

Matt Cain has been his typical steady consistently good self.  He has actually been a little unlucky this season so far, he is giving up more H/9 so far, BABIP of .291, which is where most pitchers are but his career BABIP is .271.

Have to call this game even, with a lean to the Giants for home advantage, Jimenez's struggles so far, and Matt Cain's peripherals this season more last 2010's great metrics than his prior efforts.

Game 2:  Rogers vs. Bumgarner

Esmil Rogers is a great example of why I think the D-Rox will have a tough time beating us this season.  He didn't pitch well last season and he hasn't pitched well this season.  Yet, they are scuffling so bad for a 5th starter that they are forced to put him into the rotation.  He actually was very good in terms of K/BB last season and he strikes out a lot, but his big problem has been a very high BABIP: people forget that not all pitchers can keep their BABIP around .300, there are those like Cain who can keep BABIP low and there are those who can't keep their BABIP from rising far over .300: Rogers so far is one of them.

He has not pitched well against the Giants, particularly in Colorado, but even in SF, a 5.40 ERA in 2 starts in SF.  Small samples, but might be easier to list who hasn't hit well.  :^)  Guys who have hit him include Huff, Franchez, Burrell, and Schierholtz.

Madison Bumgarner, after struggling early on, has put together two straight 5 PQS DOM starts.  In other words, returning to the goodness that we saw from him last season.  And he wasn't even close to dropping to a non-DOM start, he would have to have given up a lot more hits, walks, and/or HRs to do that.

Giants better win this one.  Bumgarner's humming along now, Rogers are not doing well at all and has never done well against the Giants, including in SF.

Game 3:  De La Rosa vs. Vogelsong

Jorge de la Rosa is justifying his contract to re-sign with the D-Rox.  He has a 2.92 ERA so far, stellar compared to his 4+ ERAs prior, and he is justifying it by reducing his walk rate substantially into good territory, under 3.0 BB/9.  That pushed his K/BB to a stellar 2.92 (yes, same as ERA, had to double-look myself).  Not sure what can explain his sudden ability to keep the ball in the strike zone, but he showed this last September, so he is just continuing his good control.

He has done well against the Giants previously in SF:  0.94 ERA, 28.2 IP, only 17 hits and 11 walks, with 29 strikeouts.  That's a 0.977 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and 2.64 K/BB.  Dominating!  But they have beaten on him in Colorado, 4.08 ERA.

And I guess that is where the hitters have feasted on him, as there are a ton of hitters who have hit well against him:  Sanchez (1.296 OPS), Tejada (1.238), Posey (.944), Huff (.917), Ross (.825), Schierholtz (.773).   Obviously, they didn't hit that against him at home, given his 0.94 ERA.

Ryan Vogelsong has had two starts and two performances on opposite ends of the spectrum, one really good and one really bad.  His stats in AAA suggest that he has figured out some things that will enable him to do OK in the majors now, after so many years of the minors and Japan.  Still, can't really say what we might get here, in his first home start for the Giants ever.

Have to think that the D-Rox will probably win this game.  de la Rosa has done so well here previously and he is doing well this season, which is a continuation of a jump in performance for him last September.  However, given how much worse he has been in his career, it is easy to think that his stretch of good pitching is out of the norm and maybe this is the game he regresses to the mean.

Still, we don't know what we will get from Vogelsong.  If he has a good game, then we probably have an even chance of winning, but if he has a bad game, it is most probably a loss.  Hard to divine which we will get.  My gut says that the real Vogelsong is closer to his first start than his second, but if I were betting, I would bet on the Giants losing.

Giants Thoughts

I know that many fans see the glass half empty this road trip, because we faced second division teams like the Pirates, Nationals, and Mets, but people need to keep some mitigating factors in mind.  First, most of all, even lousy teams play well at home, due to the home advantage in baseball.  The three worse teams in the NL last season had roughly a .500 record (impossible to get exactly .500 because 81 games played at home typically) last season:  Nationals, D-backs, and Pirates.  So playing them .500 on the road is actually good, that is what you need to do, at minimum, because they do win some series at home.

Second, if anything, the Giants overachieved because they did end the trip .500 at 5-5 on this 10 game trip without Andres Torres the whole trip and Pablo Sandoval for most of the trip.  Plus, didn't have Bumgarner back yet and Jonathan Sanchez has not reached the point where he got everything going yet.  In addition, Aubrey Huff has been having his usual cold April, but hopefully is starting to heat up now that we are in May.  In any case, his contact rate has been great so far, resulting in a low batting line due to low BABIP, and that's a sign that batted balls have just been being converted into outs at an unusually high rate, as he has been able to see the balls well enough, just not do enough with them when hitting.

And we luck out, relatively, in this series.  We are facing two of Colorado's worse pitchers this season, Rogers and Jimenez, and de la Rosa is doing much better than he has ever done.  They have not been winning on offense, they have been winning based on great pitching by Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, and Jorge de la Rosa.  Heck, they have won on offense too, Rogers is 3-1 with 7.66 ERA.

And we will need some luck.  The Giants are right now 4 games behind the D-Rox, and ideally a sweep is preferred.  However, unless Vogelsong pitches the game of his life, we will probably lose to de la Rosa.  And depending on which Jimenez shows up, we could then lose the series.  The better goal now is to shoot for a series win 2-1, and get to 3 games behind.  Though obviously a sweep would be a nice statement to our top opponent for 2011, we have to keep the mentality of last year of winning the series and not worry so much about the sweep.  Slow and steady got us very far last season.

Colorado, will also get some benefit the rest of the season, playing a little more on the road than at home, so they could pull away from the rest of the division once they play at home more:  7-6 at home, 11-5 on the road, plus 3 on the road now in SF.  Though then they get 8 games at home to even things out.  They have done what they have to try to do, unlike the Giants, beating poor teams on the road:  Pirates (3-1), Mets (4-0), Marlins (1-2), Cubs (2-0), D-backs (1-2).  Though as we can see, they have been .500 on the road since early dominance.

If they can continue to do well on the road, they will be a tough competitor for the NL West crown.  They were opposites last season, 52-29 at home, 31-50 on the road.  Playing .500 on the road would have put them over 90 wins last season.  Assuming they boost up their wins at home, they will then be hard to catch up with.

But as I noted, both Hammel and de la Rosa are pitching above prior abilities, so there is some chance that they will regress by season's end.  Hammel more so than de la Rosa, who could have made a turn for the better in his career.   But that is mitigated by Jimenez returning to his normal self and the offense perking up (only 8th so far).  I'm not as confident about catching them as I was about catching SD last season.

The Giants, however, is even more unbalanced.  They have played less games in total at home than wins OR losses on the road:  9 games at home, 4-5; 22 games on the road, 11-11.

And it won't get better until their home series starting June 3rd.  After a 6 game home series, they have a 7 game road trip.  Then after another 6 game home series, they have another 7 game road trip.  By then it would be 21 games at home, 36 games on the road.  So we will be behind the 8-ball schedule-wise until June.

Which is actually unlike their 2010 season.  Last year, by June 3rd, they had played 30 games at home and 22 on the road.   They were 28-24 at that time, but built that at home, despite sweeping Houston and Florida on the road, going 19-11 at home, 9-13 on the road.  So the Giants are a little ahead on the road right now, versus last season, while ahead at home, record-wise.

With 72 more games at home, the Giants still have a long way, but a good chance, to go towards gaining enough wins for a division crown.  As good as they were at home last season, 49-32, they were even better in 2009, with a worse offense, at 52-29.  Assuming the Giants are in that ballpark again in 2011 - good chance, same or better pitchers, better hitters - that adds up to 44-46 wins, resulting in a final 48-50 wins at home (48-33 or 50-31).

And they don't need to do much on the road then to be competitive.  If they can match their 43-38 record on the road (from 11-11 now, meaning 32-27 or .542 pace), then the Giants would end up with 90-92 wins, which should put them in contention for division title and wild card if necessary (.542 not so big a jump, after their 9-13 start last season, then went 34-25 rest of the way).

I would say that we are in good shape right now - not great shape - for making the playoffs, and with the return of Torres and DeRosa to the lineup soon, and a return of Huff and Posey to their 2010 second half selves plus Sandoval returning, the Giants should be able to craft a great second half in 2011 that catapults them into the playoffs, much like in 2010.  Plus, a revitalized Tim Lincecum heading the rotation, with more beef (he now weighs about 20 pounds heavier than last season) and velocity (he's hitting mid-90's easily this season and late into the game), is a big improvement over last year's Lincecum, which while good was not Timmeh-Cy Young good..

I still think that mid-90's win is doable, though not as likely as I thought pre-season given the severe injury problems, particularly Sandoval;  low 90's is likely now.  They are like The Little Engine That Could, working their way up the hill, bit by bit, until they make it to the other side and make the playoffs.  And that is the focus of the regular season, making the playoffs.

Then, once you get into the playoffs, given how well Sandoval was hitting, plus all the pitchers pitching well, going all the way again is very possible.

Go Giants!  Win this series!


  1. This is a big series which could be a major turning point in the season. If the Giants could sweep, they would be all but even with the team that's been threatening to run away with it. Winning 2 of 3 would be good. Losing 2 of 3 would be a major downer but survivable. If they get swept, the season could be all but over.

  2. did i miss something, a series preview?! I feel spoiled haha, good showing from us to gut out close games that we had no business winning given our rash of injuries. Here's to hopefully sweeping today.

  3. ....And it's a SWEEEEEEEEPPPPP!!!!! What a great weekend at AT&T Park!

  4. Martin, I've totally enjoyed your blog for a few years now. Keep up the great work!

  5. Thank you, Sabertooth, I appreciate you sharing that.

    I've often wondered if I was a Don Quixote, railing at windmills, but it is the occasional comment like yours that helps keep me going.

    I shall do my best to do that, let me know if I'm not.



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