It’s Not Pretty, But…

The Giants are playing better baseball lately. I won’t say they are playing complete baseball, but they’re at least winning some games here and there. If the Brewers continue to fall over themselves as they did last night, I don’t think it’s out of the question for the Giants to take 3 of 4 in this series. The orange and black started the home-stand with a 4-2 victory last night, a win fueled mostly by solid pitching and Milwaukee blunders.

A few thoughts:

The Giants are pitching very well right now, as we discussed a couple of days ago. Chad Gaudin continued that trend with another quality start last night, allowing 1 ER in 6.1 IP. Gaudin’s situation is starting to look a lot like Ryan Vogelsong’s in 2011. Is this season an anomaly? The big red beard is only 30 years-old, and if he can keep his nose clean off the field, I don’t see why the Giants wouldn’t bring him back on a 2-year contract… I’m not saying it’s the smartest decision in the world, but I really wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.

Speaking of Vogelsong, he was in the dugout last night with the team. I haven’t heard for certain whether he’ll be making another rehab start (likely in Fresno) or getting back on the bump in San Francisco this weekend. Either way, he’s getting close. If Vogey can be productive at all down the stretch, the Giants will have a very complete rotation again – and they’d likely pick up his option for next season, leaving only one open spot to fill in the rotation for 2014.

Bruce Bochy shuffled his lineup last night, but the offense still isn’t there. Marco Scutaro hit leadoff for the first time this year, and had some good at-bats, but he had only a 0-5 to show for it. Brandon Crawford moved into the number two spot in the order, and he posted a 0-4. The Giants had 8 hits on the night – all singles – and only one RBI. Three of those hits came off the bat of Brandon Belt, who’s swinging with a lot more confidence since sitting down for a few games last week. Jeff Francoeur had the big RBI hit on a broken bat in the 8th before Jeff Bianchi’s error put the Brewers out of reach. But Hunter Pence had the best game among Giants’ hitters, taking three walks from the #3 spot and stealing two bases. Pence is now an impressive 17-17 on the paths this year.

I like the new-look lineup; I hope Bochy gives everyone a chance to stick in their spots. I really think Crawford could be a nice top of the order hitter, but as long as he’s not in the 8-spot anymore, there are no complaints on this end. If Blanco and/or Torres are going to play every night, those guys need to be slotted in front of the pitcher and left there. I still think Torres should be replaced by Francisco Peguero or Juan Perez, but what do I know anyway?

It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t end with a little closer discussion. Sergio Romo allowed another home run to a left-handed hitter last night, serving up a solo shot to Juan Francisco in the 9th. This one didn’t cost him the game, but Romo has been very shaky against the lefties lately. Not that there are a lot of other options right now, but can Romo really be counted on as the closer going into next year if he can’t get lefties out? Heath Hembree, anyone?

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Brandons, Bumgarner Stun Rays

I’ve made it a personal goal not to use the word “sting” during this series. I’ve got too much self-respect for that, as opposed to most headline-makers out there, who think they’re so clever. I mean, “Cain is able?” Come on, that one ran its course about 8 years ago…

Anyway, the Giants have strung a winning streak together folks, all on the road to boot. We wondered how much they could take. What would be the breaking point? Well, apparently getting swept at home by the Cubs did the trick (although our starting pitching was phenomenal in that series). After taking the final two games in Philly, the Giants opened a weekend series at the Trop with the red-hot Rays in impressive fashion. One game in, and they’re already off to a much better start than the last time they played an AL East team on the road in a dome.

I’ll say this about the Rays: Their pitching staff is ridiculously talented. When Chris Archer is your #3 pitcher, you know you’ve got a talented rotation. This was the first time I’d seen Archer pitch, but had heard all about his recent two-hit shutout over the Yankees. The kid has impressive stuff. Touches 97 with the fastball and spots his slider exactly where he wants it. He’s got to be a top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, and he was pretty filthy yesterday… which makes it all the more impressive (or shocking?) that the Brandons lit him up.

Brandon Belt was in the lineup after sitting out the entire Philadelphia series. It’s amazing what a little mental rest and extra practice can do for a slumping hitter. While the rest of the Giants’ starting nine were struggling to make solid contact against the young Archer, Belt looked like the second coming of the Babe at the plate. He tattooed a changeup in the 5th, tying the game at 1-1 with a solo shot to right. That was his second hit of the game. In the 7th, Belt and Brandon Crawford put Madison Bumgarner in position for the win. After a base-hit by Hunter Pence, Belt went after a pitch below his knees, ripping toward deep center. The ball bounced off the upper half of the wall, and Belt had a triple – although, again he wasn’t running very hard out of the box. What is his deal?! Crawford followed with a blast to right (his second HR in three games), and the Giants had all the runs they’d need. Belt and Crawford hadn’t exactly been contributing at the plate lately, so yesterday’s offensive output was very, very nice to see. When the Brandons are producing, the Giants are tough to beat.

While Belt and Crawford powered the offense on this stormy night in Tampa, the real story of the game was Bumgarner. As impressive as Archer was for the home team, Bumgarner was downright dominant against one of the better lineups in baseball. Aside from a pitch Wil Myers took to the deepest part of the yard for a long flyout, no Rays hitters even made solid contact against the Giants’ southpaw. In another 7-inning performance, Bumgarner allowed 7 hits, 3 BB and 1 ER. He struck out 11 while winning his 11th game and lowering his ERA to 2.69. Dave Flemming mentioned a couple times how MadBum had pitched at least 7 innings in every start since June 8. That’s 9 consecutive outings folks, and he’s 7-2 during that span.

Bumgarner has undoubtedly become the ace of the staff, and one of the top young lefties in the game. He seems like a wily veteran already, but he’s still only 24 years old. If the Giants can get Matt Cain back to form next year (and it seems he’s picking it up since the All-Star break), and just average performance from the rest of the rotation, they’ll be back in contention again.

So, an impressive night for the Brandons and Bumgarner, and the Giants take game one from Tampa. Tim Lincecum matches up against David Price tonight in a battle of former and current Cy Youngs. These AL East matchups are going to be fun. The Giants may be 10 games out, but you know they’d love nothing more than to play spoiler down the stretch against teams like these Rays. If they can compete like they have the last few days, we should have some pretty great matchups ahead.

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Pill, Kieschnick and August Roster Thoughts

It’s amazing what a couple of hot hitters from AAA can do for a floundering offense. Brett Pill and Roger Kieschnick were called up from Fresno during Monday’s off-day, and both have made immediate contributions since being infused into the Giants’ struggling lineup. Pill has started the last two nights, collecting three hits in each game. Last night, his 3-5 performance included a home run and 4 RBI (a career high). Kieschnick made his debut against Kyle Kendrick last night, hitting 7th (behind Pill) and promptly dropped an RBI single into right-center in his first big league at-bat. In his next plate appearance, Kieschnick singled again, driving in another run with an opposite-field hit. He finished his first career game with a 2-5, 2 RBI, 2 K effort. Hitting back to back in the lineup, as they did in Fresno, Pill and Kieschnick carried the Giants offense in their much-needed 9-2 rout last night.

This seems like a pretty good time to take a closer look at these guys. We all know about Pill by now. Minor league veteran who crushes PCL pitching but can’t duplicate his success at the Major League level. If you’ve seen Pill hit, it’s pretty obvious that he suffers from what I like to call the Pedro Cerrano Syndrome: He can hit the best fastball a mile, but can’t make contact with most average breaking balls. Pill is an interesting case. He’s spent his entire career with the Giants, working his way up level by level after being drafted in 2006. He’s now in his 4th year at Fresno, where he’s posted solid numbers every season. Actually, Pill’s most impressive season to me was his year in AA (2009), when he hit .298 with 19 HR as a 24 year-old. He also drove in 109 RBI that year. You just don’t see many players, regardless of age, put up those kinds of numbers in Richmond. The Giants must have believed very early on with Pill that he wasn’t going to be an everyday player at the big league level, or he surely would have made his debut before September 2011 as a 26 year-old. If you don’t remember, he hit a home run in San Diego in his first game (maybe even his first at-bat? That part I don’t remember).

What makes Pill even more interesting is the bevy of heated argument that seems to transpire just by mentioning his name. You almost can’t have a conversation about him without involving Brandon Belt… and Belt himself sparks some of the greatest Giants’-related arguments on the World Wide Web. That is a bag of worms that I don’t want to open at this moment, but here’s my outlook on the situation: In my opinion, Pill is not likely to stick in the starting role for long, but the Giants are struggling mightily, and Belt hasn’t exactly been contributing at the plate lately. Pill should be a big leaguer, even if it’s only in a bench role. He’s got tons of power and can hold his own at first. If the kid is hot, keep him in the lineup!

Kieschnick had a great debut last night, and he’s a guy a lot of prospect watchers have been excited to see for a while. He’s another one who’s got a ton of power, he just needs to refine his approach at the plate if he wants to tap into that power at the Major League level. I’ve got pretty tempered expectations for him at this point, and I would love it if he exceeds them. I’ll tell you what though, he made a very nice adjustment on the 2-2 changeup from Kendrick in his first AB. After getting ahead 2-0, Kieschnick whiffed big time on 2 straight off-speeds. Kendrick threw him one too many, and Roger had his first big league knock. That’s what you like to see. He did strike out a couple times later in the game, but if you know anything about his game, that shouldn’t be surprising. He’s always struck out a lot!

You’d have to think Kieschnick and Francoeur will share LF for a while, Roger getting the righties and Frenchy the lefties. Both players are experiments at this point, and if either ends up getting dropped from the squad (Kieschnick back to Fresno or Francoeur DFA), Francisco Peguero should be the next one up for a shot. If Sabean has it in him, I’d also think the time has come to DFA Torres. With so many OF’s on the squad right now, losing one wouldn’t be all that significant. It might actually allow for some flexibility with the roster. Maybe Juan Perez gets another look, maybe Noonan. Either way, the time has definitely come to see what we’ve got with some of these guys. That’s why Pill and Kieschnick are up, and there are others who should get the same opportunity.

Hope

Yesterday was a pretty emotional day for the Giants, from the front office to the players down to the fans. The trade deadline came and went without a move from Brian Sabean, and I decided I would take a little time to process my thoughts before posting. That turned out to be a good idea, because this post will likely have quite a different tone than the one I was going to write yesterday afternoon would have.

I’ll admit it, when the deadline passed and the Giants were quiet, I was pretty disappointed. Why? I guess I’d just become fed up with this season – like many other fans I’m sure – to the point where I felt it was time to make some changes for the better. While I was in favor of holding onto Hunter Pence, I didn’t understand why Javier Lopez wasn’t moved, why they weren’t listening on Scutaro, Pablo, or even Belt. Maybe they were, who knows. But when a bottom-feeder (which is what the Giants are this year) remains silent at the deadline, to me that doesn’t send the right message to the fan base. “We’re a last-place club, but don’t expect any changes.” That’s how I felt, at least.

A couple of things happened yesterday afternoon in the aftermath of the trade deadline that softened my stance somewhat. First, the reports about guys like Pence pumping his arms and Lopez shaking hands with everyone upon finding out they were staying in San Francisco. Professional sports are hard for most people to wrap their heads around – even the most serious fans. Yes, we watch the games, we read the reports and we crunch the numbers, but I think sometimes we forget about the human element. Sure, these guys are paid like kings to play a game that most of us stop playing when we’re 12 or 13 years-old, but for them it’s still a way of living. Can you imagine having to wonder at July 31 every year if you’d be staying with your company and co-workers? While there are many players who could care less where they play, and don’t give a damn about their managers, teammates or the fans, there are so many others who do care about those things. You have to give Sabean credit; he’s assembled one hell of a group of quality guys on this team. To hear about Pence, Lopez and some of the others whose names were swirling around the rumor mill all week expressing their gratitude for getting to remain a San Francisco Giant this year, now that says something to me. Most players are dying to get moved from a team 13 games below .500, and I think that just goes to show the bond that this group of guys have.

Sabean also revealed yesterday that he was a bit embarrassed at some of the offers he received in the hours leading up to the deadline. He said he wasn’t going to move his guys unless he was blown away, and apparently he wasn’t. Honestly, I think that’s fair at this point. If you don’t get what you’re looking for, there’s no reason to deal a player who doesn’t want to be dealt in the first place. Make no mistake about it, Sabean has some decisions to make in the offseason for how he can put a contender on the field again. Right now, I’m definitely concerned for next season, but I will say that I have changed my opinion about his lack of moves yesterday. Like I said, it was an emotional day for all of us!

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Gosh, the games have been tough to watch lately. I’ll be honest, I barely tuned in for Tuesday night’s loss. For some reason, I just couldn’t get myself too excited for a game with Zito and Quiroz as the battery. However, with Roger Kieschnick making his debut yesterday, that’s a game I’m not going to miss. Even in a season as dismal as this one, I still get pretty amped up to see guys get promoted from Fresno. Especially when it’s a player I’ve been following since he was drafted. So Kieschnick (and Brett Pill) gave me a reason to watch, and it turned out they gave me many reasons to be excited as well.

I don’t care whether your team is 15 games up or 15 games down, you still have to remember why you love the sport. If you can’t laugh with your best friend when Chad Gaudin pulls the bat back and slaps a seeing-eye grounder through the left side (as I did yesterday), maybe you need to rethink your fanhood. By the way, that first hit is the toughest Chad. For me, seeing guys like Pill and Kieschnick who’ve grinded their way up through the system make the most of their opportunity in the big leagues, I get pretty fired up. When those two drove in 3 runs in the first, I was a fist-pumping machine. A 2-5 with 2 RBI in your debut? Not too shabby, Roger.

Ultimately, Kieschnick and (our new power hitter) Pill led the offense to a blowout win, and Chad Gaudin was steady on the mound again. The Giants played like a team that was relieved to be together. Sabean showed a lot of faith in this group by keeping them intact yesterday, and I’m really hoping everyone will breathe a little easier, and maybe start winning some ball games again. Right now, we’ve got some fresh faces providing energy out there, and we might be saying goodbye to few older ones soon. This team is basically dead to rights in the standings, but there’s hope for a better finish… and that’s all I can really ask for.

The Epitome of Giants Baseball, 2013

Matt Cain was dominant through 7 innings last night against the Cubs, but the Giants couldn’t find any run support for him. Jeff Francoeur fixed that with a 2-run bloop single in the bottom of the 7th, and Cain was in line for the victory. Leading 2-1 in the 9th, Sergio Romo allowed a hit and a walk to start the inning. Romo would come back with a strikeout and a groundball to third, but the Giants could only get an out at second. That set up a showdown between Romo and Anothony Rizzo, the Cubs’ powerful first baseman. 

With a 3-2 count and two outs, the Orange Friday faithful rose to their feet in support of their closer. Romo threw a slider that came back over the plate, and Rizzo hit a sharp grounder toward first. The ball that would have ended the game went right through Brandon Belt’s legs and into right field. Both runners came around to score. The Giants failed to respond in the 9th, and lost a heartbreaker, 3-2, falling 10 games below .500 and 8 back of the division-leading Dodgers, who beat the Reds 2-1 in Los Angeles 

Last night’s loss pretty much sums up the Giants second title-defense season: not enough offense, shaky late-game pitching, and defensive blunders.

Belt will undoubtedly be thrown under the bus by fans and media after his costly 9th inning error, as well as his mistake on the bases, getting caught between 3rd and home on Francoeur’s go-ahead single in the 8th. Belt has certainly had a hand in the Giants’ success of the last few years, but he’s also contributed to their woes in 2013. I’m not hear to defend him to the death – honestly, I don’t think he’s done enough to be the hands-down choice for first base on this team – but to call for his trade and put him down after last night’s loss is simply making him the scapegoat.

I only point this Belt stuff out because of the fury of rage that was thrown his way last night on the internet (and I’m sure the airwaves as well). If you don’t think the guy is a good enough player to be our starting first baseman, that’s one thing. But don’t say he needs to be sent down the road because his error helped the Giants fall from 9 games under .500 to 10 games under .500. That’s a joke, in my opinion. It wasn’t like Rizzo hit him a lazy chopper. Romo hung that slider, and Rizzo squared it up. The ball rolled to the wall in right field, in case you missed it. Do I think Belt needs to prove himself at the plate a little more before this season is over? Yes, I do. But would I be ok with the Giants making a knee-jerk reaction and trading him because of one bad game? Nope, I sure wouldn’t.

Ok, that’s my rant on Belt. In other news, the Giants brought in Guillermo Moscoso, who was pitching for the Cubs in AAA. It’ll be interesting to see who the Cubs get as the player to be named later in this deal, if that’s the route they decide to take. My theory on this: Moscoso is going to be in the rotation before long, and Cain and/or Bumgarner will be getting some rest. This season is about over, folks.  

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Humiliated at Home

The Giants suffered a double whammy last night, getting absolutely demolished by the Reds (11-0) on the same night the Dodgers moved into first place in the NL West. I have no way to prove this, but I’m sure there haven’t been many follow-ups to a no-hitter that were as bad as Lincecum’s last night. He got into trouble in the first, but was one strike away from getting out of the jam unscathed. Instead, Todd Frazier doubled in three runs and the game was never close again. Timmy’s final line: 3.2 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, and a whopping 3 HR, although George Kontos helped make sure the runners Lincecum gave him in the 4th came around to score as well. Kontos allowed 7 H and 3 ER in 3.1 IP to make sure the game was out of reach.

What a crazy two starts for Lincecum. One minute the guy is the toast of the town. He’s all over the national news. Stories of his resurrection and return to stardom are being pumped out by every (clueless) major sportswriter. His general manager goes on the airwaves to dispel any rumors of his trading, and fans are all of a sudden dying to keep him in San Francisco forever. Ten days later, he’s serving up beach balls to Cincinnati hitters, who made AT&T Park look like anything but a pitcher-friendly venue.

After the no-hitter, I said that I thought it would still take something unexpected for Lincecum to be a Giant next season. Games like last night are the exact reason why. The Giants absolutely need to win games at this point, yet he gets shelled on his home field. The writers at CBS can talk all they want about Tim “Cy Young” Lincecum finding his new way as finesse pitcher, but most knowledgeable fans know it’s going to take more than a no-hitter to undo two years of subpar pitching.

A few thoughts on this one:

Unfortunately, the Freak could have allowed one run on this night and he would’ve taken a loss all the same, as the offense was again nowhere to be found. Zero runs and 11 runners left on base. Right now, Posey is literally the only hitter of the group that isn’t replaceable, and that’s sad. The Giants continue to hit singles, but cannot drive in runs. Bronson Arroyo tossed a shutout to earn his first career victory at AT&T. Man, I don’t like that guy.     

Prior to the season, I thought Shin-Soo Choo would have been a great addition to the outfield, but the Giants really didn’t show any interest. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, and he’s 31 years old. Maybe that’s why we stayed away. The Reds decided he fit into their plans, and he’s batting .294 with 14 HR as the leadoff hitter this season.

While the Dbacks continue to squander opportunities against lineups that include Cody Ransom and Cole Gillespie, the Dodgers pounded Toronto to move into first place. To be honest, I don’t think Arizona has what it takes, and Magic’s big spenders are continuing to get better. Meanwhile, the Giants lost only a half-game in the standings. They’re now 6 games back.

Tonight’s double-header couldn’t come at a worse time for the Giants, but they really don’t have anyone to blame but themselves. Eric Surkamp makes his return to the big leagues in game one. I’m very happy for the guy, but this definitely isn’t an ideal situation to be in. Let’s hope the Reds don’t do to him what they did to Kickham in Cincinnati a few weeks ago.

Giants Win!

No, seriously. Apparently the Padres are falling harder than the Giants these days. I had my doubts about this one when San Diego put 2 on the board in the first inning. But Bumgarner was locked in after that, and Tanaka’s RBI single tied it in the 6th. Again, I had my doubts when Pablo and Belt struck out in the 7th with a chance to take the lead. Pablo missed a ball at his eyeballs, while Belt left the bases loaded to end the inning. Blanco and Posey saved them in the 8th, driving in two to put the Giants ahead for good.

The Giants are like that last-place Little League team right now. Every win is cause for celebration. But this one really may have been good for the soul. They received another ace performance from Bumgarner, who has truly become the “stopper” of the rotation. Baggs pointed out this morning that the Giants are 5-1 with MadBum on the hill since June 14. They’re 2-18 with everyone else! That’s just unreal, but it really does put things into perspective.

On the offensive side, every position-player starter came away with a hit. Pablo hit his first big fly in what seems like ages. He’s starting to have better at-bats, as are Blanco, Crawford and Belt (the slump brothers).

Three more to go against the also floundering Padres before then the All-Star break. Can you imagine the lift the Giants could get from taking three of four heading into the second half? You just never know in this fickle game of baseball, folks. 

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