Of course, it ended with a sweep, so it probably feels worse than it really is right now for a lot of Giants fans, particularly since the newest savior, Carlos Beltran, did not do much of anything yet. I think fans just need to be patient with everything, which has basically been the mantra over the past few seasons, as the Giants rebuilt, then started winning.
Now they come home for a 10 game homestand, where they can put some distance between themselves and the remaining contender in the NL West division, the Arizona D-backs by winning the series, if not sweeping. It should be a good one, setting the stage for a rematch with the Phillies right afterward for 4 games, then facing the surprising Pirates. This is probably THE key homestand of this season, they need to make a good showing against the D-backs and the Phillies.
Click to see the matchups:
Game 1: Kennedy vs. Cain
Ian Kennedy: Kennedy didn't have his best stuff last time out, but allowed just two runs over six innings to pick up the win. Kennedy tossed eight shutout innings against the Giants earlier this year at AT&T Park. Has won his last four starts with 2.42 ERA.
Matt Cain: Cain has thrived this year at AT&T Park, where he's 5-3 with a 2.71 ERA. Of his 22 performances, 17 have been quality starts. Cain needs seven strikeouts to pass Mike McCormick for 11th on the all-time franchise list.Ian Kennedy has been tough on the Giants before, so this will be a tight game. Kennedy has been the ace of their staff the past two seasons, and has a 2.37 ERA in AT&T in 3 starts, 19.0 IP, 14 hits, 18 K's and only 8 walks. Only Aubrey Huff has any decent history against him, .909 OPS, and everyone else has a very poor performance against Kennedy, very poor. Beltran is 0-5 with a walk in his career. Kennedy has done well against the old Pablo Sandoval, most of it is from 2010, so the key to this game could be how the renewed Sandoval handles Kennedy, since Kennedy is a RHP, as well as Huff, who has been scuffling this season.
Cain, however, has a 2.16 ERA in 8 career starts against D-backs in AT&T, 58.1 IP, 46 K's, 15 walks. Justin Upton has a .919 OPS against Cain, Nady .859 OPS, and Montrero has 2 HR in 26 ABs. The game should be close with a lean to Cain and the Giants because they are playing at home.
Game 2: Hudson vs. Lincecum
Daniel Hudson: They didn't have anything for him.
Tim Lincecum: By improving to 65-35 for his career in his last start, Lincecum became one of three pitchers to win that often in his first 100 decisions, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others also were Giants: Sal Maglie and Juan Marichal.Hudson has had two starts in AT&T, 3.29 ERA, 13.2 IP, 11 K's, 5 walks. He has not been as good this season as he was last season, which is more in line with his minor league numbers, as he has fallen back much closer to his true talent level this season. His performances lately has been up and down, 4.37 ERA over his last 7 starts.
Given his short MLB career so far, everything is small samples, but Sandoval, Orlando Cabrera, and Eli Whiteside have hit him well. Nate Schierholtz has done well in one start, Keppinger in 1-2 games, and Huff has taken a huge amount of walks from him, though hasn't hit him particularly well. Beltran has never faced him, but he has generally hit RHP pretty well, including this season, .900 OPS.
Lincecum has a 1.66 ERA in 9 starts, 65.0 IP, 83 K's, 17 walks, against the D-backs. Upton has been the best (and only good) hitter with a .290/.314/.452/.766 batting line, everyone else has been below average or worse. Kelly Johnson has been OK: .219/.324/.344/.668. Lincecum needs to shut down Upton to hold off their offense. Should be a close game but should be another Happy Lincecum day, though, as the Giants are 13-9 with him starting.
Game 3: Marquis vs. Vogelsong
Jason Marquis: They didn't have anything for him.
Ryan Vogelsong: Vogelsong has allowed no more than three runs in each of his last 15 starts. That has helped the All-Star build a remarkable home record of 5-1 with a 1.28 ERA. Vogelsong received no decision in his only previous appearance vs. Arizona on June 16.Marquis was acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Nats to bring reinforcements to the D-backs rotation. They have been struggling all season to find five starters that they can throw out there. It is a tribute to how well they have been playing that they have been able to hang tough with the Giants in the standings (it also helps playing the woeful D-gers, winning 2 of 3, while the Giants got swept by the Reds).
Marquis has pitched well enough this season, with a sub-4 ERA, and has always been tough on the Giants, probably one reason they picked him up: 2.61 ERA in 7 starts, 51.2 IP, 30 K's, 14 walks at AT&T. He is another RHP, which the Giants have had a hard time beating this season, after dominating them last season behind Huff and Torres' hot bats. Sandoval (2 HR in 14 AB) and Cabrera have done OK against him in small samples, and Beltran is the only other hitter to have hit a homer against Marquis.
None of Vogelsong's past is particularly relevant right now, other than that he has been apparently regressing closer to his talent mean than dominating like he was an ace up there with Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner. While his 2.70 ERA over his last 7 starts is great, he only had 25 K's in 43.1 IP and a very high 19 walks, he is very lucky to not have given up more runs.
The Giants have been 11-6 in his starts, despite scoring 4 runs or more in only 6 of those 17 starts. That is the benefit of giving up 2 runs or less in 13 of those 17 starts (and 4 of last 6 starts).
Vogey did well in his one start against Arizona, in AZ no less: 6.0 IP, 6 hits and 1 walk, 2 R/ER, 6 K's, 1 HR. One would hope that bodes well for him in SF, though that was his last of his really good starts (low walks, 6+ strikeouts). At that point, he was at 77.0 IP (65.2 IP in majors, 11.1 IP in minors), which is roughly around the average number of IP he has had since the 2005 season (82.2 IP average) between majors and other leagues, so he could be fatiguing due to his exceeding his prior average IP.
He has been hanging on amazingly well, considering that he is exceeding his prior conditioning, which shows how much he has learned about how to pitch without his best stuff. Despite finding it harder to strike out hitters, he has been able to craft 3 DOM starts still out of those 7 starts, which is what good pitchers do, and he more importantly for his overall ERA, only had 1 DIS start out of the 7. Contrast that with how Jonathan Sanchez's ERA soared after his stamina ran out in his first full season as a starter.
I view this as the rubber game, assuming we split the first two games, and while Vogelsong has been struggling relatively, he has done much better than what Marquis has done lately: 7 starts, 4.54 ERA, 39.2 IP, 16 BB, 24 K's, 1 DOM/1 DIS in last 7 starts (albeit with the Nats). I see the game as leaning more towards the Giants because of home and Vogelsong relatively better recent performance, but given that Marquis has seemed to have the Giants numbers during his career, I have to call it a push.
This series is the most critical of the season so far. The Giants have been winning and winning (the series loss to the Reds is their first in 11 series, second in 17 series), but the D-backs have kept pace for the most part, never falling that far back, despite their injuries (Stephen Drew in particular) and over performances on the part of others (Ryan Roberts, Josh Collmenter) that counter under performances of key players, like Kelly Johnson and Barry Enright. I thought for sure that they would have lost more ground in the past 5-6 weeks, after the Giants took the division lead back, but they have held on for the most part, though the 2 games they are back right now is the closest that they have been in the past 3 weeks.
The Giants need to win at least one of the games (likely) and ideally pulling off a series win. A sweep is always lovely but rarely accomplished by any team, but if the Giants could do that, that would push the D-backs to 5 games behind and solidly put the Giants in charge of the division, at least for one day (using Dusty Baker's rule of thumb that a team can catch up 1 game per week, as an interim sub-goal aimed at the larger goal of catching up to the leader, a 5 game lead would realistically take 5 weeks to reduce it to zero).
Given that a series win is more of a likely outcome than sweep, the GIants should end up either 1 game or 3 games ahead of the D-backs after this series. I think it leans more towards the Giants winning the series, but it is really too close to call. Either way, the Giants should still be leading the division after this series, and going into the Phillies series.
So far the new starters have not done much offensively. Of course, Orlando Cabrera, our new starting SS, was obtained both for his glove (better than Tejada) and bat (way better than Crawford), and only has one game under his belt as a Giant, so hard to say anything yet on him. Many are complaining about Beltran, but he's hardly had any games yet with the Giants, only four starts, and he was off his first two games, striking out 5 times in 9 AB: career 82% contact rate. He should come around very soon, if not in today's game.
Jeff Keppinger had a tough start with us, striking out once in his first three starts with us (he has struck out once every 14.6 AB in his career), but has hits in 8 of his first 9 starts with us, and 2+ hits in two of his last three starts. Hitters who can avoid strikeouts great like him plus at the same time walk more than he strikes out, usually are above .300 hitters: 51% of batters with BB>K hit over .300 and only 9% are under .250; hitters with contract rate over 90% have averaged roughly .280-.290 in recent seasons. He should be fine with us going forward.
Together, they should help the team boost its runs scored average from the 3.9 it was at in most of July (until Reds series) to over 4.0 and hopefully over 4.1, which would probably seal the division title for us, assuming the pitching holds up like we hope (which will be hard after noting Vogelsong's stamina issue). Sandoval, Miguel Tejada, and Schierholtz led the way offensively for us in July, but if Beltran and Keppinger can deliver for us, the offense, with Sandoval and Schierholtz continuing to hit, would start to sparkle and especially if Huff can turn it on after Beltran lessens the pressure on him to hit 5-run homers.
People are down on Barry Zito, but he has always been up and down during most of his career. You have to take the good with the bad, to get a good overall performance from him. If you cut him off after bad starts, then you will just end up with bad starts eventually, as you would have stopped him before he would inevitably recover. Remember, he was actually pretty good in 2009 and 2010, but there were many who wanted to dump him after two seasons: imagine if he were pitching for the D-gers and doing well for them for minimum while the Giants pay the $18-20M.
Like his last two starts. Bad because he gave up a lot of runs, yes, but he was also on the bad side of the BABIP gods in the two starts, in the first because he gave up 3 homers, and in the second because he gave up so many hits. It all averages out together over time. He was one more strikeout in the prior game and one more inning in the latter, to have pulled off two DOM starts in them. They were still OK games, it was just his bad BABIP luck kicking in on him. His only really bad start was his start against San Diego.
Given what I pointed out above about Vogelsong, perhaps the Giants would be better off swapping off starts with Zito and Vogelsong, Vogelsong gets one start, then Zito, etc. Or work out a three man in two slots rotation between Jonathan Sanchez, Zito, and Vogelsong, giving one of the three a rest in every three swings through the rotation.
I hear and see a lot of fans (tweets and KNBR) think that Zito has zero value and thus want to get rid of him (see my point about sunk costs previously), but they are wrong, he has a lot of value, just not as much value as the Giants are paying him. It would be like throwing away a gold coin because you only have half of it due to an accident costing you half the coin, ignoring the fact that half a gold coin still has some good value.
It is only if he is not pitching effectively for a long time would I consider DFAing him, much like how D-backs DFA'ed Russ Ortiz a few years back with $20-30M left on his contract (biggest DFA at that time, probably still near top; obviously Zito would be top if DFA within next year). But he has been a good enough pitcher for us the past two season, and probably good enough this season except that we have five exceptional starters right now.
Plus, I wonder if going in relief might help him out. Relievers don't need to hold back, they usually gain 1-3 MPH versus starting. That would be enough to make Zito very effective for us in middle relief, pitching 1-3 innings.
In any case, I have to wonder how much the loss of his father and his near death accident has affected him, both physically and emotionally. I saw someone question his motivation on DrB's blog, but I don't see anyone fighting back to return to the majors after that accident as lacking in motivation. I think you need a lot to pitch in the majors.
Still, that does not mean that he is not lacking some focus on the mound while pitching, particularly since he is a known thinker and tend to over think things. So he might be losing his focus a little while playing right now, due to his off-field events this off-season. I know that I thought a lot about my mom and dad after they passed, a long while, and they would just randomly come up, whether at work or at play. It takes a while to get over the shock of that, some more than others.
And some people ponder their lives when they come close to dying like Zito did in that car accident. He was probably one second away from being killed or permanently injured in that crash, he was lucky that he accelerated at the last moment. Some people wonder if they might be wasting their lives doing what they are doing instead of changing things, since they could have been dead and unable to change anything.
And in any case, he has actually been pitching about as well as he has for us the past two seasons. He just had that one really bad start against the Padres. Without that start, he would have a 3.82 ERA since he returned from the DL, which is not bad, just not as good as the other starters.
Anyway, Jonathan Sanchez has been announced (Jeff Fletcher tweet) as the starter in the game against Phillies on Friday, no word on what happens to Zito.
Also, FYI, lots of tweets that Freddy Sanchez will get surgery for his labrum tomorrow, he is officially out for this season, Keppinger gets to stay the Giants starting second baseman for the foreseeable future, basically rest of this season.