Orioles Come to Town

Interleague play in August… crazy, huh? The Giants welcome 63-51 Baltimore to AT&T Park for a weekend series, with Ryan Vogelsong returning to the mound for game one tonight. In a normal year, it would make sense to suggest that a strong performance from Vogey might inspire the troops. But this isn’t a normal year, and the Giants have had excellent starting pitching lately (with no help from the offense). It hasn’t really mattered lately whether the team has played at home or on the road, they’ve been pretty lousy at the plate and in the field everywhere. Brandon Belt hit clean-up yesterday in the finale of a four-game series with Milwaukee, and hit a 3-run home run. Belt and Brandon Crawford knocked in all four runs, and the Giants managed a split with the last-place Brewers. When a 4-run performance feels like a breakout, you know the cabinet is getting pretty bare.

Belt and Crawford have hit well of late, but they’re about the only players driving in runs. Pablo Sandoval, on the other hand, has now dipped his average below .260 again. The Panda has been dreadful at the plate for quite a while now. He’s been benched before, but I just don’t think you can sit a guy like him down, as we all know one swing of the bat might start a hot streak. Plus, the only realistic options for 3rd base right now are Joaquin Arias and Nick Noonan. If Pablo doesn’t break out next year – the final year on his contract – I’m guessing Brian Sabean will be looking for someone new to man the hot corner going forward. Adam Duvall, it’s time to step up.

Yes, there is so much going wrong with the Giants right now. But if one thing has gone incredibly right in the second half, it’s been the starting pitching. Yesterday, Tim Lincecum continued that trend with an 8-inning, 1-hit masterpiece against the Brewers. Add 8 K’s and 1 BB, and Timmy was flat out filthy. I’ll say this; Lincecum has been very good lately outside of his one disaster of a start in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago. Depending on how you look at it, the Freak’s performance could be a great sign or a terrible one for the Giants. If he’s willing to re-sign next year, he may be returning as an above average #3. However, don’t doubt that many other GM’s are watching his every start right now, and you’d have to believe there are some teams who’d be willing to give him a good chunk of change in the offseason. Yes, the Giants will likely shoot him a qualifying offer, meaning teams will lose their first round pick (if the pick is below the top 10) in order to sign him, but I doubt that would keep teams like the Angels, Orioles or Rangers from making him a nice offer.

So the Orioles are coming to town. I’ll be tuned in tonight to see the return of Vogey, as well as Baltimore’s big bats. It would be a welcome surprise if the Giants bring their bats to the party this time.

Advertisements

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!

****

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.

Writing on the Wall

The Giants split an old-fashioned double header last night with the Reds, dropping the first game in ugly fashion and gutting out a win in the night-cap. The split kept the Giants at 8 games under .500, but they lost a half-game in the standings to the division-leading Dodgers, who made a furious comeback last night in Toronto.

Game 1: Reds 9 Giants 3

Eric Surkamp made his first big league start in nearly two years after recovering from Tommy John surgery… it did not go well. Surkamp’s start was eerily similar to Mike Kickham’s against the Reds in Cincinnati earlier this month; after breezing through a 1-2-3 first inning, Surkamp could not locate his pitches, and the Reds teed off. Apparently somebody forgot to tell Votto, Cosart, Bruce and the rest of the Cincy hitters that AT&T Park is not a hitter-friendly stadium, because balls seem to leave the yard frequently whenever they’re in town. Ultimately, Surkamp was tagged for 9 hits and 7 runs in less than three innings of work. Yusmeiro Petit, who was called up with Surkamp to provide some bullpen relief, did just that, eating 5.1 IP and allowing 2 ER. I know it probably wouldn’t have been a popular decision among the fan base, but maybe Petit should’ve taken the start rather than rushing Surkamp up before he was ready. Either way, Petit’s efforts may have saved the night for Bruce Bochy, who needed all the bullpen help he could get in the second game.

Game 2: Giants 5 Reds 3

After two embarrassing losses to start the series, the Giants needed a win badly in the night game. Luckily, the offense came out hacking, posting 3 runs in the 1st and another in the 2nd. Sandoval and Pence had two hits apiece in this one, which was nice to see. The four early runs were enough to earn the win, although it didn’t come easy. Zito allowed three ER and couldn’t make it out of the 5th, but Bochy used five relievers to seal the win, including a 4-out save from Romo, who allowed a hit but recorded all four outs by way of the K. The win marked #1,500 for the skipper Bruce Bochy, who is building himself quite a lengthy list of accomplishments. Way to go, Skip!

A few thoughts here:

The Giants are 6.5 back of the Dodgers right now, with a week left until the trade deadline. That really isn’t a huge deficit, especially for how the Giants have played. But let’s be honest here, are the Giants really a good baseball team this year? To me, the eyeball test is sometimes a better indicator than any statistic on how a team is performing. They’ve been battling injuries and inconsistency most of the year. They’re still not scoring many runs. They’re not playing good defense. They don’t have three, let alone five reliable starting pitchers. They can’t beat anybody outside the NL West, and they haven’t proven they can compete on the road… they play nine games against the AL East alone in August.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are surging. They’ve won 22 of 27 and 9 straight on the road – and they’re doing this with a cooled-off Puig and almost entirely without Matt Kemp. To me, it’s pretty clear that one team is headed in one direction, while the other is headed in the complete opposite.

You’d have to think that Brian Sabean and his team know all of this much better than any of us, and I hope they use the trade deadline to make some tough decisions. There really isn’t one player out there who can transform the Giants into a contending team, but this certainly isn’t a time to completely sell the ranch either. The Giants are a proud franchise, but 8 games below .500 is a steep hill to climb. I think it was a mistake to publicly declare Lincecum safe at the deadline, but maybe they toss Romo’s name out there in the next couple days. Why not get some value for a few of these guys while we can? Yes, you’ll probably lose some casual fans in the process, but if the sellout streak at AT&T Park ends and the team is forced to lower ticket prices, allowing the die-hards to start attending more games again, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

The Giants have given its fan base so much to be thankful for in the past few years, so there really shouldn’t be too much complaining here. And if today marks the start of a historic resurrection and they end up playing their way back into the playoff race, I’ll gladly look like an idiot for saying all of this. But I just don’t see it happening this year. At this point, though, what takes place between now and July 31 is really anybody’s guess.

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?

Notes from the Break

Some stats and notes from the Giants’ (mostly) forgettable first half:

Overall Record: 43-51 (4th in NL West, 7th in WC) – 6.5 GB

Home: 25-20 | Road: 18-31 | Vs Div: 27-20

Run Differential: -40

Top Hitters

*Buster Posey: 90 g, .325(ba)/.395(obp)/.536(slg), 27 2b, 13 hr, 56 rbi – Truly one of the game’s young stars, and he’s still getting better!

*Marco Scutaro: 81 g, .316/.367/.400, 17 2b, 2 hr, 22 rbi – Below average defender, but he still puts on a hitting clinic despite nagging injuries.

Hunter Pence: 94 g, .262/.305/.455, 22 2b, 14 hr, 48 rbi, 14 sb – Streaky bat with lots of power, never takes a day off, and hasn’t been caught stealing yet. Classic Pence.

Top Pitchers

*Madison Bumgarner: 10-5, 3.02 era, 125 ip, 85 h, 122 k, 34 bb – True ace of the staff now, and still only 23 years old!

Javier Lopez: 39 g, 1.61 era, 22.1 ip, 19 h, 4 er, 25 k, 9 bb –Rock solid all year. Untouchable against lefty’s. May be a nice trade piece at the deadline (as he was for the Giants in 2010).

Chad Gaudin: 24 g (6 gs), 3-1, 2.39 era, 64 ip, 50 h, 55 k, 23 bb – Giants took a low-risk gamble on him before the season and it’s paid off big time so far.

*Sergio Romo: 38 g, 3-3, 21 sv, 2.86 era, 34.2 ip, 29 h, 38 k, 7 bb – Romo’s had a few rough outings, but overall he’s held the closer job down nicely.

*= MLB All-Star

Letdowns

Angel Pagan: 46 g, .262/.317/.374, 10 2b, 3 hr, 24 rbi, 6 sb – Walk-off inside-the-parker in Colorado (late May) will likely be his last time on the field this year.

Hector Sanchez: 26 g, .231/.318/.231, 0 hr, 3 rbi – Came to camp overweight and really hasn’t contributed at all this year.

Barry Zito: 4-7, 4.88 era, 103.1 ip, 130 h, 67 k, 41 bb – Giants are 0-8 when Zito starts on the road. Not what the team hoped for after his magical ’12 run.

Jeremy Affeldt: 37 g, 1-4, 3.55, 33 ip, 25 h, 21 k, 16 bb – After signing a nice contract this offseason, he’s been out of whack and unreliable for most of the year.

More to Prove

Pablo Sandoval: 76 g, .266/.317/.397, 12 2b, 9 hr, 42 rbi – Pablo went from out of shape and red-hot to out-of-shape and ice-cold after another stint on the DL. He’s not a .266 hitter, and he needs to show that in the 2nd half.

Matt Cain: 5-6, 5.06 era, 112 ip, 95 h, 103 k, 37 bb – Cain’s first-half ERA is alarming, but it’s mostly from a few disaster starts. He needs to cut those out if the Giants want to even sniff a winning record.

The Freak Makes History!

There have been two no-hitters thrown in MLB this season, and Tim Lincecum has been involved in both. After falling to Cincinnati during Homer Bailey’s no-no last month, Big Time Timmy Jim made his own history for the first time last night in San Diego.

Here are recounts of Tim’s epic night from Andrew Baggarly and Alex Pavlovic. 

I missed the first few innings of this game, but picked it up at 4-0 in the 4th. Even then, Lincecum was already making me gasp. Stealing strikes with his curve, getting hitters to chase his darting split-change, painting the corners with his fastball… he literally had his full arsenal in this one. I said in the 6th inning that his pitch count was getting a little high for a realistic chance to go the distance. But the Giants blew the game open, and Lincecum came back with a very quick 7th inning. That’s about when it set in for me that he could do it.

Tim’s stuff has been pretty electric for about a month now, but until last night he only had one win to show for it. The Giants’ defense was mostly a spectator last night, as the Freak sent down 13 Padres by way of the strikeout. But when he needed his teammates to save the game, they were there. Pablo ranging into foul territory to field a grounder, then throwing a seed across the diamond to end the 7th. Pence darting in for the shoe-string catch to preserve the no-no in the 8th. It really was a team effort last night.

Looking forward, I still think it’ll take something unexpected for Lincecum to be a Giant next year, but with performances like that, I just can’t see the team parting ways with him until the offseason, despite his increasing value.

It seems like ages since Lincecum was the best pitcher in the game… thanks for reminding us what it felt like last night, Tim. 

Image

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. 

Image