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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Battle of the Letdowns

In a battle between two of the most disappointing clubs this year, the Giants again disappointed in Washington, DC. A long rain delay cut Madison Bumgarner’s night short, and the Giants’ offense managed only 2 runs on 10 hits (9 singles). Joaquin Arias had 4 of those hits himself, but all of them came with nobody on base. The one at bat where he had a chance to drive in runs resulted in a flyout to second.

Andres Torres was back in the leadoff spot while Brandon Crawford was dropped to 8 in the order again. Torres was 0-3 and came out on a late double switch. I’ve said this a few times before: if you’re going to be a last place team, at least see what you’ve got for next season. Playing Torres, and Jeff Francoeur (who’s hitting .207 for the year) for that matter, make no sense to me at this point. Not that anybody else is really contributing at the plate right now, but it makes games very tough to watch these days when you see Torres’ name at the top of the order.

Let’s get something straight. Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero are not superstars waiting in the wings in AAA. They are players with decent tools who are .300 hitters in Fresno, but will certainly need some time to learn how to hit ML pitching. Same goes with Roger Kieschnick. Call up Peguero and Perez, and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. If you want to keep running platoons in CF and LF, that’s fine, but do so with an eye on the future. That’s all we as fans can ask for.

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?

Fighting

The Giants did something last night that I hadn’t seen them do in almost two months: they fought. When the Phillies threatened to add more runs in the 7th and 8th innings, the Giants fought to prevent those runs. When Bruce Bochy chose to leave Cain in after Jimmy Rollins’ triple in the 8th, Cain fought to finish the inning. In the top of the 9th, facing Jonathan Papelbon with a 1-0 deficit, the offense fought to build a rally, tie the game, and then pull ahead. In the bottom of the 9th, when Murphy’s Law took over Sergio Romo’s save effort, Romo fought back with the bases loaded and nobody out. Most importantly, the Giants, as a team fought to steal a game – and a series – from the Phillies on the road. If you’re following along at home, you know that road series wins have been a rarity for the defending champs this season.

Wow, it’s good to string a couple of positive posts together here in August. I was looking back at some of my content from last month (my first full month with Cove Chatter), and there was so much negativity. That’s not how this blog was intended to be, but I can’t say the Giants have really provided many positive moments in the past couple months.

Last night’s win felt good. You know those times when one win feels like more than just a win? This was one of those games. You had 8 innings of a pitcher’s duel between two of the National League’s finest pitchers, Cain and Cole Hamels. You had defensive heroics in the 7th, when Michael Martinez attempted to score from 2nd on a single to left field. As Martinez was rounding 3rd, I actually found myself hoping he would try to score. The second he turned toward home, you knew it was over. Jeff Francoeur scooped, loaded and unleashed a seed to Posey, who applied the tag on a diving Martinez. Francoeur just isn’t can’t seem to get the bat going these days, but man, what an arm.

In the 9th, you had all kinds of drama. I don’t know why, but I just had the feeling in this one that Cain wasn’t going to take the loss after 8 brilliant innings of work. And the Giants made sure that didn’t happen. Pence reaches on a slow roller to short. Pill singles the other way on an 0-2 mistake from Papelbon (side note: Pill absolutely crushes pitches up in the zone, doesn’t he?). Roger Kieschnick pinch hits for Frenchy, drives in the tying run with another single (how about those kids?!). Arias singles in the go-ahead run. Four singles, two runs in the 9th, and a fuming Papelbon. That’s the resiliency this team has been missing since May, and it was refreshing to see.

Romo loads the bases with nobody out after three zany plays to start the bottom of the 9th, and all of the hard work on offense looks like it’ll turn out to be a waste. But Romo comes back by inducing two shallow fly balls, and a grounder to third ends it. Game, Giants. Series, Giants. From here on out, win or lose, I don’t think I’ll look at the standings. There’s really no need to. But this was still a win that felt good, for a team who needs a few of those.

Time to see just how much fight those Giants have this weekend in Tampa Bay, where the Rays have been awfully tough this summer. No matter how it turns out, this is a series I’m looking forward to. Keep the good vibes flowing, boys.

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.

Roger Kieschnick’s Debut (and some other stuff, too)

**Edit** I should know better than to post during the trade deadline. Forget what I wrote about Wilson. He took a minor league deal with the Dodgers. Can’t blame the guy for wanting to join a contender, but come on man, the Dodgers?!

Yesterday was a pretty eventful off-day for the Giants, including a visit to the White House (if you haven’t seen the picture of the team with President Obama, it’s pretty awesome, and I might have to tag a link to it) and a bus ride from D.C. to Philadelphia. Also included in the day was a major stir created by the greatest BS’er among the Giants’ beat writers, Baggarly, in which the Giants were making some roster moves and a trade was possible. Of course, people are already on edge this time of year with the trade deadline so close, so you can imagine the fiasco that ensued. It’s amazing to see the bevy of emotions people have regarding Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum.

Ultimately, the scandalous roster moves resulted in Brett Pill and Roger Kieschnick getting called up from Fresno, with Kensuke Tanaka optioned and Tony Abreu placed on the DL to make room. For Pill, the return to the bigs came just a day late, as he was on a plane while guys like Moscoso, Francoeur and Tanaka were on the White House lawn. I know this game is a business, and I’m sure Pill would never put up a stink, but it’s pretty embarrassing to me that they couldn’t have gotten him to D.C. with the club. He’s put in his dues for the organization, that’s for sure. Oh well.

Kieschnick will be making his big league debut, which is pretty exciting for those of us who have followed his play since the Giants drafted him in 2008. Four years ago, Kieschnick was the Mac Williamson of the organization, putting up impressive power numbers in the California League. Like many prospects, he stalled out a bit in AA thanks in large part to nagging injuries. After spending a second season in Richmond, he worked his way up to Fresno for Opening Day 2012. He started the season on fire, flashing his signature power with 15 HR by the end of May. But another injury likely cost him a shot at a promotion last summer. He returned to Fresno this year, healthy, and has had an up and down season to date. He’s a .273 hitter with 13 HR and an impressive 49 extra base hits, but he still averages a strikeout per game… Contact has always been an issue with him.

Now, Roger K. is on his way to The Show, and I for one am excited. He’s a big, athletic guy with a powerful left-handed bat and a very strong outfield arm. Let’s hope the Giants give him a real chance to show what he’s capable of. I mean, he can’t do any worse than the rest of the lineup has lately.

Some other thoughts:

The latest report on MLBTraderumors has the Giants now saying they will definitely move Javier Lopez by tomorrow. I think most of us were expecting this. He’s one of the best situational lefties in the game, and Bochy’s bullpen will significantly take a hit when he leaves. But the story goes that he wants to be closer to his home on the East Coast. Yesterday I read Sabean was asking for a ML ready starting pitcher for Javy, which is probably not going to happen now that they’ve made it known he’s going to be dealt. That kind of lowers your leverage a bit, if it doesn’t kill it altogether.

Not much change on Pence and Lincecum. The Giants want to bring them both back next year, or at least make them a qualifying offer. However, they still won’t say they aren’t going to trade them. It’s a bit of a strange situation, but I don’t think you’ll see Tim going anywhere. There’s no way he’ll get much of a return, in my opinion. Pence is another story, but I get the feeling the Giants think they will regret trading him. Honestly, who knows what happens here. I don’t think the Rangers have enough to offer, but Pittsburgh and Cincinnati certainly do. If one of those two really wants the Rev, Sabean can get pretty particular with names. Both clubs have some serious talent on the farm, so that could be fun.

Lastly, it sounds like we’re down to three teams in on Brian Wilson: Pirates, Dodgers, and Los Gigantes. Personally, I think we are the best fit for Wilson (if the money is right). The Giants are looking for someone to give them a shot of life, and Wilson is looking to audition for an offseason contract. Both may be able to happen if he spends the final couple of months in San Francisco. Many probably see him as a waste of time for the Giants, but I really think the team needs him as much as he needs them at this point. Just my take, maybe you disagree.

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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