Monday, August 22, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 68-60: Longest Home Series

As Giants (and Giants fans) lick their wounds as they limped home, the Giants actually did OK on this tough road trip where, seemingly, the team lost someone to the DL or to a day-to-day injury every other game.  They went 4-6 against tough teams, Florida, Atlanta, and a not as tough team, Houston.

Houston was greatly disappointing, but, first, we faced a true ace in Wandy in game 1, so that would have been tough to win in the first place, even with Ryan Vogelsong going.  That made a series win that much harder since it required needing to win the last two games.  Second, the pitching did very poorly, not even holding Houston to 3 runs or less in any of the games, though I must give a shout out to the bullpen for their 9.1 shutout IP which enabled the team to win that important swing game.  And you know what?  The BABIP gods decree that lousy teams like Houston will win games at least a third of the time, you just never know when that is going to happen.  Sometimes that roulette wheel stops spinning and the ball drops in 00.

Had Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, and Dan Runzler been able to put together a good start, the Giants might have won the series.  Particularly Bumgarner, where even a 4 run start would have delivered a win.  As much as many Giants fans beat up on the offense for the Houston series loss, it was the pitching that cost us that series, the second game was very winnable.

Long and Winding Home Stretch

The Giants are coming up on a long stretch of home games, the longest of the season, as reported by Chris Haft.  They have 18 home games out of the next 21 games, while Arizona has 10 of their next 20 at home (i.e. they only have half at home).  If the two teams win at their current home and road performance so far this season (including the Giants winning 2 of 3 in SD, who they have had problems with before, but are 6-4 against them this season), the Giants should go 13-8 and D-backs go 11-9, and the Giants would be tied against them at the end of the stretch.

Unfortunately, that won't be enough to win the division because after that Arizona has 9 at home and 6 on the road while the Giants only has 3 at home and 10 on the road.  And winning the division is the Giants only road to the playoffs as Uggla's hot hitting streak led the Braves to an 8 game lead in the wild-card race, rendering that race moot unless they suddenly lost 10 games in a road like the Padres did last season.  The Giants must win the NL West to get into the playoffs.

And the journey, while not easy, could be easier or extremely daunting, depending on what happens in the final six games between the Giants and the D-backs, 3 at each home, including a series in Arizona just before the season ends.  If the Giants can come out ahead 4-2 in those games, that would tie them up with Arizona, then the team winning the division would be determined by how they do against the rest of the schedule, where the Giants have a slight advantage in non-NL West teams, facing Houston for 4 games and Chicago for 3 games, both at home, while the D-backs got 4 on the road against Washington and 3 at home against the Pirates.  Luckily, the Giants miss Wandy this time, he starts before and after the series.

And the Giants could come out ahead, they are 8-4 so far this season against Arizona.  That is what they need to do in the remaining 6 games.  But winning at home will be hard as Collmenter, Saunders, and Kennedy are the pitchers slated for them in that series.  We have Sanchez/Runzler, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum currently as our opposing pitchers.  Since the day before is a day off, I think the Giants will skip that spot in the rotation and go with Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong, which would give us a much better chance of winning that series.

In any case, as we all should know by now, the Giants will win or lose depending on their pitching rotation.  The reason we went 2-5 in the last seven games is because the pitching let us down a lot (the offense wasn't great either but we expected that we would need to win by pitching).   The pitching lost 2 games it would normally win because the Giants scored 4 and 5 runs in those losses, which the pitching usually wins with.  Winning just one of those games would have gave us a successful 5-5 road trip and only half a game behind in the standings.

As it is, the Giants are only 1.5 games back.  That is not insurmountable.  They could easily pass them up with a good stretch of pitching, much like they did SD last season with a great stretch of pitching, which they needed because they were so much further behind last season.

The Offense:  Getting Better But Needs to Get Even Better

The offense has been perking up lately and that will help.  Brandon Belt has been awkwardly hitting well for power while also striking out a storm.  The striking out is fine if he is hitting for power, but not so much when he's not, because that is what we need from him, power with a capital "HR".  He has done well in that regard in his latest call-up, hitting .256/.333/.581/.915 so far.  But before any of the Giants fans get sucked into the glory of all that, before yesterday's nice 4 hit game, he was batting only .184/.279/.474/.753 with 12 strikeouts in 38 AB.  He's not "all dat" yet.

The real hero of the second half, after the All Star break, is Pablo Sandoval, who is hitting his Panda-like .320/.364/.547/.911 with 7 HR (leading the team) in 128 AB with only 19 K's and an OK 11 walks.  And that is in spite of injuries he has sustained, which he has fought hard against losing any starts because of the injuries.  That contrasts greatly with Carlos Beltran doing on the 15-day DL for a hand/wrist strain.

But one hitter cannot do it alone (as Barry Lamar discovered), and Sandoval has been supported by Aubrey Huff who has been hitting .284/.344/.457/.800 since the break, with 4 HR in 116 AB.  In particular, since July 22nd, he has hit .311/.375/.500/.875 with 3 HR in 90 AB, only 14 K's but with 11 walks.

But the Giants will need more.   Jeff Keppinger, after a hiccup initially, has hit .289/.316/.378/.694 for the Giants in 90 AB.  He only has 3 walks but he only has 6 strikeouts too.  If he can hit closer to his career .281/.335/.393/.728, then that would be great out of the 2-spot, where he has been hitting.  Nate Schierholtz has been doing his lava hot and arctic cold routine again, but he has been hot lately, hitting .333/.417/.524/.940 in 42 AB with 2 HR, 4 BB, and 11 K's.  That is a lot of strikeouts, suggesting this won't continue, but he has shown the talent to hit well before, so hopefully he is starting to put things together.

Lastly, Carlos Beltran should be coming off the DL on Tuesday, the first day of the home stand.  If he can hit like he is capable, then the Giants offense could be taking off having Sandoval, Beltran, Huff, Schierholtz swinging well in the middle of the lineup.  And he has incentive to do well now.  If he continues to linger on the DL, that is what potential team bidders will have foremost on their minds, not his great 2011 season up until he joined the Giants.  If he can turn it on, though, people will forget about his 15 game DL hiccup and remember his great hitting.  It will be interesting.

And they are the Giants best hopes of offense in the final weeks.  Aaron Rowand has regressed greatly, once again, in the second half of the season.  No matter what he does for physical fitness in the winter - mountain bike riding mostly - he has suffered a sharp downturn in offense in the second half at some point.  This time it happened as early as the All-Star break.  Andres Torres has turned into a pumpkin overnight.  Mike Fontenot has never been that good in any case, he's just a utility guy.  Orlando Cabrera has been useless so far for the the Giants, hitting even worse than Brandon Crawford, who probably will take over the starting SS role once September 1st rolls up and the call-ups are allowed.  Unless, that is, Miguel Tejada can recover the stroke he had before he went on the DL, when he was hitting .299/.348/.449/.796 since June 1st and was a major catalyst for the offense jumping up to 3.9 RS/game in July before he went on the DL.

Cody Ross is the only real wildcard on the offense for the rest of the season, barring some unforeseen breakout by a 40-man roster call-up surprise.  He was hitting very well for the season, in the high 700 OPS range, until the All-Star break, and then he has been horrible, hitting .155/.232/.291/.523 since then.  His 4 HR has helped but we need more out of him.  If he can turn it on soon, that would help the offense even more.

The Pitching:  Keep On Doing Well

Of course, none of this happens unless the pitching comes through.  Unfortunately, a lot of key pitchers on the DL or still recovering:  Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito.  Still, the pitching has performed great in the second half, 3.05 ERA overall, but there has been a lot of errors behind them, leading to a 3.67 runs allowed per game overall.

They, obviously, will need to continue doing well with the occasional hiccup.  Lincecum has been leading the staff with a 1.13 ERA over 7 starts, though despite that he has only had a 4-3 record.  Matt Cain has a 2.31 ERA but is only 2-4.  Vogelsong has a 3.12 ERA but 4-2 record.  Madison Bumgarner has a 3.31 ERA but 3-3 record.  Those plus Zito's 0-3 and Dirty's 0-2, has led to the Giants 16-20 record since the All-Star break.

The relievers have been similarly good, with only Javier Lopez doing poorly, relatively, with a 3.75 ERA over 15 appearances.  At lot of that was just bad BABIP luck, with 17 hits in 12.0 IP.  Brian Wilson has a 3.38 ERA but been lucky with that, in 10.2 IP, only 10 hits, but 9 walks to go with 9 K's.  We will need him to return healthy when he's off the DL.  Same with Romo.  But hopefully Steve Edlefsen can step in and do a decent enough imitation until they return.  He was great in spring training and while his minor numbers look bad, he also had arm problems he played with until he went on the DL and got it healed up.

Stretch Run:  Should be Fun

I find fighting for the playoffs fun, and as the old joke goes about aging, just consider the alternative.  I've named my blog aptly because I still have OCD tendencies, but one that I mostly outgrew long ago was the need for everything to come out perfectly.  That's never going to happen, you need to look at the overall picture and enjoy the view, should there be one.

And the Giants have a good view, both short term and long term.  Barring injuries, the Giants pitching staff should be dominant for a long time, longer if Neukom ponies up the money to keep Lincecum and Cain (and Bumgarner) with us deep into this decade and give us a super-rotation.  And Bochy seems to have a knack of knowing how to put together a killer bullpen that can shut down the opposition until the offense can eke out a run and win the game.  As I've shown in my research, Bochy has been an outlier manager, statistically significantly good at winning 1-run games.

As far as this season goes, the offense, as maligned as it has been, had been good enough to win a lot of games with until around the time when the Giants picked up Beltran.  Not that he is to blame, but that is roughly when the offense went off the rails.  It did not help that Cody and Nate both went cold offensively at the same time, nor that Torres continued to struggle, or that Miggie, who was one of our hottest bats, went on the DL right around then.  In addition, the catching, which had been hitting well in holding Buster's starting spot warm, both went cold after the All-Star break.  I would guess that the toll of catching so many games finally caught up with them, since neither were used to or conditioned for playing so many games.  Too many of the cylinders of the offense went dead at the same time.

But the offense appears to be perking up together lately and could get a big pickup when/if Beltran gets off the DL and start playing.  There was a lot of talk in the media when he was first picked up, about how he was mentoring and leading some of the players he already knew on the team, Pablo and Torres, but I think the bigger story is if Panda's recent demand - no other way to put that - to play despite various injuries might inspire Beltran to come off the DL and play anyway.  Beltran has been able to hit right-handed for a while but refused to play until he can bat left-handed as well.  Kung Fu Panda insists on playing even though he can't bat right-handed, insisting to bat left-handed against LHP.

The pitching, despite hiccups at the start of August and in the past week, has been pitching great.  The fielding has not been great, leading to many unearned runs - 11 in August already, 13 in July, only 10 or less in prior months - but that is the beauty of great pitching, it can overcome a lot of baseball sins:  bad offense, bad defense.

And with the next 9 games against bad teams like San Diego, Houston, and Chicago, they could even come much closer to .500 for the month (currently at 7-13), if they can go 7-2 (leaving them at 14-15) for the rest of the month.  Of course, the problem is that the 'Dres have been hot lately, winning 12 of 18, the Giants lost 2 of 3 in Houston and was close to getting swept, and the Cubs are 14-6 out of their last 20 games.  The key thing is that most of these teams are bad on the road, only SD has done well on the road.  So 6-3 looks possible and if the offense can pick up, then 7-2, but if not or the pitching continues to falter, they could end with an ugly 5-4 or worse record.

Then again, the D-backs are facing the hot Nats for 4 games on the road.  The Nats are 36-25 at home and are 12-8 in their last 20 games.  And they beat the Braves at home, winning that series, plus won a series at home against the Phillies as well in that streak, plus splitting with them on the road.  They also won a series against the Reds at home.  So the D-backs will have their hands full in upcoming games as well.

It should be a good pennant race.  The Giants, despite all the injuries, look talented enough to stay close if not take the pennant for the rest of the season.  Arizona is still doing it with some good luck, like Goldschmidt hitting well after their 1B good luck ended, but his BABIP is horribly high, for anyone, and he's not even speedy plus is striking out at a record pace (24 in last 49 AB, only 3 walks), making it all the more likely his BABIP will be crushed sooner or later.  But the funny thing about baseball luck is that it can last him to the end of the season and regress to the mean next season.

In any case, the D-backs have regressed a lot in August, they are only 11-10 so far this month.  The only reason they have taken the division lead is because the Giants lost a lot more games this month.  Their pitching has regressed greatly, particularly with the addition of Marquis to the rotation.  He was suppose to be the NL West killer, as he has been in his career, but he has a horrible 9.53 ERA so far in 3 starts for the D-backs.  Plus Saunders and Collmenter have both regressed this month, as I had noted that they should earlier, 6.75 and 4.30, respectively.  Plus Hudson has regressed some as well.

The schedule looks good for the Giants.  They have 27 out of their remaining 34 games against NL West rivals and they have been 28-17 against these teams so far and are above .500 against the four teams, though only 6-4 against SD with 8 games to go and history noting that the Giants have lost the prior two season series against the 'Dres.  They have 21 home games left and only 13 road games, with 18 of the next 21 games at home.  All the teams are below .500, except for Arizona.

However, the Giants are only 43-40 against below .500 teams, 25-20 against .500 and above teams.  They are one of three teams with records above .500 against winning teams, suggesting that they have struggled to get up against the poorer teams, while taking on the winning teams when presented with that challenge.

Given that there are not a lot of games left, hopefully the Giants can raise their performance against these losing teams in the rest of the season.   They should be realizing that they need to step it up now, whether good team or mostly bad, and go for the throat, like the starting pitching did last season in September, going so many games without giving up more than 3 runs.  Bruce Bochy, as I have noted before in a post, has that killer, go for the win instinct, so they should be getting the message soon if not already.  And Kung Fu Panda should be inspiring them with his desire to play and to win, at all costs and pains.

We might not be leading now, but leading is over rated, just ask the 2003 Giants about that.  We need the pitching and fielding to be going well, and frankly the fielding has been lacking, costing us runs we cannot afford to give up.   The defense has costed us at least one win (which is a two win swing) in August, and we would either be ahead or behind half a game right now if the defense was up to normal standards.  Also, we have been having hiccups in relief, particularly Wilson, due to his arm problems.   Things should be better in September, when we can bring up the young players who are good on defense, and swap them in late in the game.

The media does not help with the fans overall sentiment. They go for the easy story: Giants offense stink. They can't accept that a very good pitcher was on and had a really good game or that even a bad team like the Astros do win some series. They encourage these extreme ups and downs in fan sentiment, I get that from reading the news accounts of this game, I get that from listening to any show about the Giants, but all this down in the mouth stuff is just useless worry.

We get that the offense stinks. Hello, whenever you take all your top hitters out of the lineup, you are going to really stink. Take Pujols and Holliday off the Cards, Ethier and Kemp off the Dodgers, Utley and Howard off the Phillies, they will stink too. We are missing Posey and Huff had been MIA until recently. Plus, we lost Freddy Sanchez, who was an important cog, and Torres has totally not performed at all. Expecting the Giants to replace all that is not realistic. I think the Giants have done as well as they can given the circumstances, without trading away all our best prospects.  You roll the dice and see what happens.

It is not perfect, but life never is.  What I focus on is that the Giants are in position to win the division, this season and for foreseeable seasons.  That is really all you can ask for unless you are the Yankees and maybe the Red Sox.  There are too many injuries and poor performances that can happen and derail your playoff chances.  I think it has been a great season and looks to continue to be great for the rest of the season, barring any catastrophic injury to someone new.  I have enjoyed this season a lot and hope that everyone can enjoy it as well, because it has been good and look to get better.

5 comments:

  1. I think we did trade away two of our top prospects. Wheeler was definitely a prospect in anybody's book, and we traded Neal. Not sure if Neal is a real prospect, but lets give him the benefit of the doubt. He has the possibility of being a starting major league player.

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  2. i love your optimism. I've found it really difficult to root for this team lately. Having Rowand, Derosa, Tejada and Cabrerra out there just kills it for me. Sure feels different to last year, you never knew what might happen with Burrel, Renteria and Uribe, all clutch at key moments over the course. I sure would like to see Bochy bring up Crawford, Ford and Burris and play them all the time with Belt. When a team is not scoring any runs it'd be hard for them to do worse.

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  3. Thanks for the comments Anons.

    Anon1: Sorry I was not clearer on my definitions. I don't consider Neal to be a top prospect because I don't expect him to be a star in the majors.

    However, I do think that he can become a starting major leaguer player and be a useful player during his career, most definitely. I am rooting for him, he seems like a very nice young man from his tweets, with a good head on his shoulders, and a rather mature view on life. I wish him all the best.

    I just don't think he'll be a star, but you never know, and I would add that his maturity could allow him to maximize his chances in the majors and attain stardom, I wouldn't be surprised by that. I just don't expect that.

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  4. Anon2: Thank you but I don't really view my stance as optimism, but rather that I point out the positives in the situation.

    I don't bother pointing out the negatives because there are so many sites out there pointing that out that I don't feel the need to repeat what they say.

    If I see unwarranted optimism out among the masses (like Belt should be starting when he's striking out too much) then I would point out the negatives, and when I get evidence of change (DrB noting Belt's improved batting technique) then I'm willing to change my stance as well, based on the new information (I now support Belt starting).

    But I've recently realized that by focusing on the messages that are not being put out there, I end up with a reputation of being an "optimist".

    Not that I think you are complaining: I'm just commenting on my irritation with myself that I have painted myself thusly.

    I don't view the world with Pollyanna glasses. I don't see the glass as half empty.

    I see the ying and the yang, the world is filled with beauty and ugliness.

    Yes, the team is hard to root for because of the poor offense. Think of it this way: if someone you knew well were disabled and unable to do what they normally would be able to do, would you give up on that person or would you root for him to overcome his disabilities?

    I know the offense sucks. I think everybody knows that, so I don't comment much on that. However, lots of people think Huff sucks. He's been one of our best hitters the past month or so since All-Star break.

    Torres and Ross sucks. No silver lining there to mention.

    So yeah, this year is different, but I would say, so is every other year. Each year is unique.

    This year, what I see is the pitching staff coming together to be a cohesive juggernaut that even a poor offense could not drag down to also-ran status. The pitching has kept the Giants competitive for the title all season. I find that very compelling and something to root for.

    The offense has had fits and starts. If you read through my post, I can offer no solace there, I said that we needed more than what we have been getting, and who we might get that from. But I have no idea whether we will get it or not.

    So, as with 2010, when, as I have noted in a recent post where I commented a lot with a troll, the Giants actually had a horrible offense in September 2010, we most probably will need the pitching to step up again in September and lead us to the division title again.

    So in that way, 2011 is much like 2010, the offense most probably sucks and the pitching needs to win it for us again.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anon2, about playing all the young guys, that just smacks of desperation.

    Not that the Giants aren't desperate, but times of desperation requires clear headed thinking, not throw the jell-o on the wall and see what sticks type of decision making.

    Hopefully, we will see an OF of Belt, Beltran, and Schierholtz as our set lineup, with Ross taking starts against tough LHP for Belt.

    I don't want to see Ford taking ABs from that group.

    Crawford I agree appears to be no worse than Cabrera right now offensively, and more importantly, he gets on base a lot more, as well as HR power. I would prefer him over Orlando, if Cabrera does not break out of cold funk this week in big way.

    In any case, I think Tejada will be starting at SS this week, and hopefully he can find his batting stroke that he had before he went on the DL. If not, Crawford starts over him as well, or at least platoon, when called up Sept 1st.

    Burriss has shown nothing this season. I would not start him over Keppinger, who has been a good hitter during his career and recently. I might put Burriss in as defensive replacement though, late in game with small lead.

    Ford and Burriss will be pinch-runners late in games when we need a run (which is often). I would also like to see Peguero called up and be a runner off the bench as well.

    I wouldn't mind seeing Tanner brought up for spot starts too. And Conor Gillaspie to be a bat off the bench. With all the problems, I view this as a all hands on deck situation, only Adrianza would not be called up, as he's much like Crawford - strong D, questionable O - but at least Crawford has power.

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