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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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?

Giants Drop Final Two in Tampa

The Giants lost by a run for the second day in a row in Tampa Bay this afternoon. The Rays took two of three from the Orange and Black, who probably feel like they should’ve had a road sweep against one of the top teams in baseball. If this were any year but 2013, the Giants probably would have swept the Rays. Guillermo Moscoso made his first start since coming over in a trade with the Cubs, and was decent for four innings. His control wasn’t great, he didn’t have amazing stuff, and he served up a monster home run to Wil Myers. But he gave the Giants a chance to win. Ultimately, he didn’t make it out of the 5th, but I’d say he was effective enough. This might have been his only start anyway, as Ryan Vogelsong cruised through another rehab outing in AA Richmond. I haven’t heard anything official yet, but I’d guess we’ll see Vogey back in SF some time next week.

Moscoso wasn’t the reason the Giants lost today. Nor has starting pitching been the reason the Giants have lost six of their last nine. Take a look at what the starting hurlers have done during that span, starting with the Cubs’ series: 

7/26 vs Chc: Cain 7 ip, 1 er, 7 k (ND)

7/27 vs Chc: Bumgarner 8 ip, 0 er, 7 k (ND)

7/28 vs Chc: Lincecum 7 ip, 2 er, 10 k (L)

7/30 at Phi: Zito 3.1 ip, 4 er, 2 k (L)

7/31 at Phi: Gaudin 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (W)

8/1 at Phi: Cain 8 ip, 1 er, 7 k (W)

8/2 at TB: Bumgarner 7 ip, 1 er, 11 k (W)

8/3 at TB: Lincecum 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (ND)

8/4 at TB: Moscoso 4.2 ip, 3 er, 3 k (ND)

Total: 9 gs, 59 ip, 14 er (2.13 era) 57 k (3-2)

That’s pretty impressive stuff. Take Zito and Moscoso’s starts out, and you get seven starts that rival even the greatest stretches from 2010 to 2012. The difference; the Giants are 3-6 during is stretch. So, no, starting pitching is not the problem right now. Actually, if Vogelsong can post even average numbers the rest of the way in the #5 spot, the Giants will have a very strong rotation. Essentially, guys like Vogey, Gaudin and Timmy are auditioning for spots on the team next season, so I’d expect them all to be competitive this month and next.

Honestly, the dominance of the Giants rotation right now makes those lousy two months of play sting even worse. Had the team been able to win a few more games against the Marlins, the Mets, the Cubs, or anyone else for that matter, we may be looking at a very exciting last couple months of the year. Instead, it’s 12 games below .500 and an offense that inspires little confidence these days. In a 162-game season, all you have to do is avoid the awful month, because you never know what might happen down the stretch. The Giants couldn’t do that this season.

I read a tweet from Baggs this afternoon that Giants’ leadoff hitters own a .150 average since the All-Star break. Can we please see someone besides Blanco or Torres out there? What’s Francisco Peguero doing these days? How about Juan Perez? If you don’t like those options, maybe you move Scutaro up. Wanna get crazy? How about Javier Herrera in AA? Either way, this offense needs someone to be a rally-starter at the top, and neither Blanco nor Torres is doing that anymore. I think we all understand why the Giants gave Angel Pagan $40 million this offseason. You have to have a good leadoff hitter, and Pagan is ours.

The Giants head back home for four with Milwaukee, which may be a great opportunity to get some momentum going into a tough stretch of games. With the offense still sputtering (aside from an upstart Brandon Crawford), here’s what I would like to see: address the leadoff position – try someone different! Also, no more platoons please. Play the hot hitter. Belt nearly hits for the cycle against Chris Archer, then sits the next day against David Price. Francoeur gets three knocks off of Cy Price, then he sits today. I don’t care if lefties aren’t supposed to hit lefties and righties aren’t supposed to hit righties. If a guy is swinging the bat well, let him hit against whoever is pitching.

Ok, that’s enough ranting for one day. The Giants are at least playing better ball lately, and hopefully they can defend AT&T with a little more authority this time around.

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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.

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.”

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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2nd Half Baseball: Gaudin Rolls, Giants 5.5 Back

The Giants opened the second half like a team bound to forget about the last three months – which is exactly what they need to do. It sure felt like a classic Orange Friday last night, a 2-0 victory over the Snakes. And the Giants used a classic formula for the win: Offense scores early, starting pitcher goes 7 strong, bullpen locks the door, and it’s good night. That’s how playoff teams play, and it’s going to take many more games like that down the stretch if the Giants want to be a playoff team. But for now, the deficit is 5.5 with a chance to gain more ground tonight and tomorrow.

Some thoughts from the win: In case you forgot what kind of pitcher Chad Gaudin was before the Giants gave him a shot this spring, allow me to remind you. Since making his ML debut in 2003, he’d been with 8 different teams, hadn’t made a start since 2009, and hadn’t had a full-season ERA under 4 since 2006 with Oakland. Now, he’s the Giants’ #2 starter, and he just keeps getting stronger. Last night’s line: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K. That’s domination for any pitcher. For a pitcher with Gaudin’s history, that’s an epiphany.

Ryan Vogelsong is getting ready to start pitching in live games again, and could be back by early August. Tell me Gaudin isn’t the perfect source of motivation for Vogey to regain his 2011-2012 form…

It was nice to see the bats jump on Ian Kennedy early, but they really could’ve gone large in the 1st inning. Instead, Crawford flies out on one pitch, leaving the bases loaded. 17 runners left on base for the night. That has to get better.

That 8th inning… whoa. Four pitchers, Lopez (does his job), Rosario (does not), Mijares (does not), and finally Casilla, who promptly walked Aaron Hill in his first action since returning from knee surgery, loading the bases for the pitcher, which he easily…. Wait, no, he loaded the bases for Paul freaking Goldschmidt! A note for future reference: That can’t happen.  Goldy grounded out sharply, and the Giants were lucky to get out of the inning with the lead, let alone a shutout. If we’re going to climb out of this hole, that group has to pitch better.  But hey, a win’s a win, right?!

Matt Cain can make the Giants a very confident team tonight with a strong performance. 5.5 back.

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