Walking (Off)

When you’re 17 games out and you steal a win from a first-place team like the Red Sox, I think that’s cause for a little celebration. The Giants definitely stole one last night, gutting out three runs to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Buster tied it with a sac fly in the 8th, and Scutaro walked on a very close pitch with 2 outs and the bases loaded, and the Sox left the field pouting. I’m not sure when the Giants last walked off, but it feels like it was probably back in May. A literal “walk” off is kind of awkward, and the Giants almost didn’t know how to react at first. Scooter didn’t even think the pitch was a ball. I’m guessing the Red Sox didn’t think so either, but the whole ordeal just made the win that much sweeter.

Thoughts:

Ryan Vogelsong still didn’t have his normal fastball velocity, but he threw over 100 pitches while working 7 strong. That’s the Vogey we’ve all become accustomed to over the past couple years, digging in and working himself out of trouble. It’d sure be nice to see a few more starts like this from him down the stretch. Sabean needs someone to step up and lock down a rotation spot for next season, and the Giants would gladly pick up his option in a heartbeat if he finishes the year strong.

Another 3-hit night for Belt, and this one may have been the most impressive to me. He hit a mammoth triple off the wall in right-center in the 4th, then doubled down the line in right in the 6th. Belt’s bat has been strong all month, but he crushed those pitches last night. I can’t help but think he’s found that next level as a hitter that many players spend their entire career striving for. If he really has turned the corner, that’s a huge positive for the Giants going forward.

Speaking of 3-hit nights, Roger Kieschnick went 3-4 last night with 2 runs, including the game-winner on Scutaro’s walk (off). Roger K. continues to gain confidence at the plate. He still only has one extra base hit in the big leagues, but he’s taken 6 walks to only 4 strikeouts over the last 10 days. After starting his career with a bb/k ratio of 1/16, he’s starting to make nice adjustments. We know the guy has power in his bat, and I think we’ll start to see it as he gains more confidence. For now, he’s taken a pretty nice hold on the everyday left field spot.

Roster News:

Francoeur DFA’d; Machi and Kickham recalled; Dunning and Hembree are probably pissed.

Zito moves back into the rotation… and I can’t find any good reasons why. Not one.

Angel Pagan is getting close to returning from the DL. Pagan’s presence could make the Giants a much happier (and more competitive) team closing out this season.

Francisco Peguero and Juan Perez should be back September 1. I’d think Nick Noonan will be as well. Andres Torres should be sent the way of Francoeur… and that’s that.

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Going Large in Miami

With Buster Posey on the bench, the Giants finally unleashed the offense, and held on to win a long, furious game in Miami. They did it against a good young pitcher in Nathan Eovaldi, a hard-throwing righty who overpowered them in San Francisco back on June 23. Things didn’t go so well for Eovaldi this time around, however, as the Giants’ middle of the order led the way for the second game in a row. In all, the orange and black pounded 19 hits, including 4 doubles, 3 triples and another home run from Hector Sanchez. They scored 14 runs, which they would need on a night when Chad Gaudin couldn’t make it through the 5th inning. The Giants needed a night like this to drive away the bad vibes of the past few months.

Thoughts:

Brandon Belt has completely turned his season around since adjusting his grip on the bat. His 4-hit night yesterday extended his hitting streak to 11 games and raised his batting average to .431 for the month of August. The same guy who was sat down three weeks ago because his struggles had put him in such a funk is now the Giants’ hottest hitter. He’s also got an .842 OPS and 15 HR for the season. Pretty impressive stuff from the young 1B lately. We’ve seen these prolonged hot streaks from Belt lately, so I’ll be interested to see what happens when his bat cools back off. Hopefully he’s turned a corner.

Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval combined for 7 hits (4 XBH) and 8 RBI yesterday. Pence is hitting .359 over the last month, but without a single home run. If he can hit for extra bases like he did last night, the home run power isn’t a huge deal. But I’d like to hope he’d regain some of that pop before season’s end.

Sandoval really couldn’t sink much lower at the plate, but it’s still nice to see him swinging the bat well again. He’s 9 for his last 18, including a 4-4 last night. Still no home runs for the Panda lately either, but for right now, he just needs to keep building confidence. I truly thought Sandoval would be a 30-homer guy this year, but he’s fallen far short of expectations. Next year could be his last in a Giant uniform, so we’re really going to need some steady production from him if we want to compete again. I think he’s got it in him, but there’s really no way to predict how he’ll look come March.

The Giants finally found their bats… and it felt amazing. That’s how you’re supposed to hit the worst team in the National League. Now let’s just hope they saved some offense for tonight.

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Bad Pennies

Damn you, Denard.

The Giants are beyond saving this season. We knew that nearly a month ago. Deep down we probably knew it in June. In the words of Brian Sabean, 2013 has been a “bad penny” year for the orange and black. I’ll argue that poor play on the part of the 25 men who put on the uniform every night is more to blame for this season’s struggles than bad luck. Sure, there have been injuries and some bad breaks, but mostly this team’s undoing can be traced back to its own performance on the field.

Yes, this season is over in the figurative sense. But it’s never too early to play for next season. In baseball, much as in other sports, a little momentum can go a long way. This group of guys we call the Giants aren’t this bad of a baseball team. They know it, we know it, and the rest of the league knows it. They’ve got the rings, and we’ve got the commemorative DVD’s to prove it. Right now, however, the Giants are a team in need of a lucky break. Not to save the season, but to save face.  

Last night, the proverbial bad penny waited until there were two outs in the top of the 9th before it reared its ugly head. For once, the Giants were rallying. After falling into a 6-1 hole to the Nationals in the 4th inning, Brandon Belt sparked some life back into the club with a towering home run in the 8th. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence followed with singles, and Pablo Sandoval doubled them home. The Giants’ 3-4-5-6 hitters – the source of so many offensive problems lately – combined for 9 hits, and 4 (yes, 4) RBI’s last night. In the 9th, the Giants rallied again. Hector Sanchez singled, pinch runner Andres Torres took second, advanced to third on a ground out, and Belt knocked him in. Posey kept the 2-out rally going with a base hit.

That all led to Hunter Pence, who whacked a hanging slider from Rafael Soriano into left-center. For a couple seconds, the ball looked like it was going to split the outfielders. This was going to be the clutch hit that the Giants have been so desperately missing for the past two months. But Denard Span had other intentions, and it became apparent as the ball started coming down that he was going to make a fantastic play. He did, and from the mouth of Duane Kuiper, “that’s the ball game.” A team in need of sign of hope didn’t get it last night, and has now dropped two games in Washington while outhitting the Nat’s 23-17. Span’s game-saving catch was the third such play that has ended a game against the Giants this season. Maybe Sabean was onto something with those bad pennies after all.

15 Hits!

Well, I didn’t get to catch the game last night (a pretty rare occasion), but I heard the Giants’ bats showed up big time for the finale of this series against Cincinnati. With Buster resting on the bench, his teammates pounded 15 hits against an overmatched Reds’ pitching staff, including 5 from Hunter Pence! With Chad Gaudin, or as I like to call him, “The Renaissance Man” on the hill, I’m sure the Giants ran away with this one early. I mean, you just don’t beat a team who cranks out 15 hits in its own park, especially when that team just happens to be the defending world champ. Hang on just a second while I confirm the victory in the box score…

….Oh.

This is getting pretty serious, isn’t it?

Reds 8 Giants 3

The Reds took three of four from the Giants at AT&T Park, and six of seven for the season series. Gaudin got the same royal treatment as the rest of his rotation mates during the series. Five walks and some poor defense didn’t help his cause, but he got hit around pretty good in only 3.2 innings of work.

If you decided you couldn’t take this anymore and took shelter in a bunker somewhere in the Sierra Nevada’s, it might be safe to come out now, as I don’t think we’ll be seeing Joey Votto or Brandon Phillips again this season. On the other hand, Nate Schierholtz hit a home run and drove in the winning run last night in extras to help the Cubs win their series against Arizona. Nate is hitting .277 with 13 HR now, so maybe you might want to wait a few more days before you come back down.

About those 15 hits last night… 14 of them were singles, including all five of Pence’s. It’s pretty hard to win games when you can’t get any extra base hits. I was going to include some stats from Baggarly’s game and series recap last night, but I think it’s best if you just read it for yourself. Here’s a primer: The Reds beat up on the Giants this year, in historic and head-shake-worthy fashion. Give it a look, here.

The Giants are 7.5 games back of the Dodgers now, a season high (or is it a season low? I’m not really sure). Things are starting to get pretty bad. I know that things are getting pretty bad because every time Votto, Bruce, Frazier, Choo, Cosart, Mesoraco – ok, you get the point – launched another extra base hit, I found myself saying to no one in particular, “That’s fine, Bruce. That’s fine. Have all the hits you want. You still can’t take our rings… Nope, you still can’t take our rings… You still can’t…. ah, forget it.”

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.

Put Up or Go Home

*Edit: Congratulations, Ryan Braun. You have become the Lance Armstrong of MLB.

Entering this season, there were three NL teams that you had to think were just chomping at the bit to unseat the Giants. At least that’s how I felt (and still feel). It’s probably not hard to guess either. The Dodgers began 2012 red hot and made some blockbuster trades at the deadline, but the Giants buried them down the stretch. The Cardinals were one win away from heading back to the World Series until Barry Zito toed the rubber in St. Louis for game 5. But I don’t think any team has it out for the Giants as much as Cincinnati.

If you recall, there was already some bad blood between the two clubs long before they met in the NLDS last season. It was one of the few moments during the season where I was truly fired up over something extracurricular, and I remember it like it was yesterday: Vogelsong squares up to bunt, and Bronson Arroyo sends a fastball up and in. Vogey hits the dirt, gets up, throws hit bat down and gives Arroyo one of the best mean-mugs you’ll ever see. I don’t know why, but I love moments like that where you can get the competitive juices flowing.

Long story short, the Giants and Reds had some history when they squared off last year in the division series. After the Reds managed to piss off a collective fan base with two absolute beatings in games 1 and 2, the Giants pulled off the impossible, taking three straight at Great American Ballpark. Tell me when Posey hit that grand slam off of Latos in game five, it didn’t create a little bit of bitterness toward the Giants on the part of Reds’ players and fans.

My intention for all of this is not to create an “us against the world” mantra, but to make a point about the upcoming series with Cincinnati (which is just what the Giants don’t need right now). If the Reds take three of four, or even sweep the series in San Francisco, the Giants’ chances might be all but cooked. This is not so much a “make-or-break” series for Buster and co. as it is a “put up or shut up” series. Basically, the Giants need to split at the least, or they risk falling 7, 8, even 9.5 games out for the division. That kind of deficit is when you start kissing any trade deadline upgrades goodbye.

Do I think Lincecum can beat Arroyo in the opener tonight? Yes, I do, although Arroyo has been on a roll lately. I think the Giants have something to prove against that punk though. I also think Gaudin can take home the finale, although it’s another tough matchup with Mike Leake. It’s Tuesday’s double-header that worries me, with the two soft-tossing lefties Zito and Eric Surkamp taking the mound. The Giants need to pitch well, but the guys not named Buster need to start swinging the bat.

None of us wants to think about what happened the last time the Reds played at AT&T. Thankfully, the Giants improbably ended Cincinnati’s season. There’s no doubt in my mind Dusty Baker’s crew wouldn’t like to return the favor.

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Missed Opportunities

The Giants wasted a great opportunity yesterday, mustering up only five hits in a 3-1 loss to Arizona. The loss came at the hands of Madison Bumgarner, who gave his teammates a great chance to pick up the sweep over their division leading rivals with 7 strong innings (1 ER).

When you’re in a position like the Giants currently are, you can’t afford to shoot yourself in the foot…and that’s exactly what happened in this one. The Giants only mounted two rallies all day, and both of them were squandered by poor judgment on the part of players or coaches. Let’s be honest, when the Flan Man sent Posey home on Pablo’s double in the 6th, you knew it wasn’t going to end well. It usually doesn’t when Posey or the Panda are trying to take an extra base. AJ Pollock got the ball in quickly to Pennington, who gunned Buster at the plate. In case you missed it, the Giants made three outs at home in the final two games of the series. The players who made those outs: Sandoval, Pence and Posey.

For the record, I love Flannery. I think he’s one of the best 3rd base coaches in the game. He probably makes the right call nine times out of ten, and my guess is he doesn’t send Posey in this case if the Giants aren’t hitting .143 with RISP during the series. Seriously, when was the last time the Brandon’s drove in a run? Regardless, I still Flannery think has to hold Posey there and trust that his guys can get a run home in that situation. Last note on this topic: It sounds like many people are shredding Flannery after this one. My guess is that most of those people couldn’t successfully coach 3rd base for a little league team, let alone a 2-time World Series champ.

The Giants scratched a run across in the 9th on a fielder’s choice, and Kensuke Tanaka was promptly thrown out trying to take second after an overthrow to first. The Giants needed base runners at that point, and that was not a smart play from a guy who probably doesn’t have a ton of wiggle room.

I’d like to touch on the upcoming 4-gamer with Cincinnati at some point today, as it’s likely one of the biggest series’ of the year. But for now, we’ll leave it here. The Giants took 2 of 3 from the Snakes, but a sweep would have been very big. With the loss, it’s now a 5.5 deficit in the standings. But hey, at least we prevented the Dodgers from taking over first… right?