Elimination

The Giants managed to avoid being mathematically eliminated from contention with a pair of walk-off wins on Sunday and Monday. They couldn’t avoid it last night, however, blowing a 6-0 lead over the Rockies. Trailing 8-6 in the 8th, Hunter Pence tied the game with a 2-run single, but Sergio Romo gave up a go-ahead home run to Michael Cuddyer in the 9th, and the Giants were cooked. To lose like that at home is both heartbreaking and embarrassing, regardless of the standings. So, the team that made it look easy down the stretch last season is now officially eliminated, with 3 weeks still to play… although realistically they were eliminated two months ago.

A tough night, in an even tougher season. But last night really highlighted a lot of the difficult decisions the Giants’ will be faced with in the offseason. Let’s look at a couple of them.

At the top of the list, Pence stayed red-hot with 4 hits and 6 RBI. That’s right, the Rev knocked in each of the Giants’ 6 runs last night. He did it with a 3-run HR, an RBI double, and the 2-run single in the 8th. The homer was his 20th of the year, and he’s the first 20-20 Giant (20 HR, 20 SB) since Barry Bonds 15 years ago, and only the 7th San Francisco Giant to accomplish the feat. That’s impressive stuff. That’s impact player stuff, and you can be darn sure the rest of the league is watching. The Giants want the guy back (as they should). Pence wants to be in San Francisco. He’s prime real estate in a thin outfield market, and someone is going to give him the big bucks. If the Giants don’t make a deal before he hits the open water this offseason, you can kiss his hustling behind goodbye. That’s the way I see it, at least.

So, how important is it to bring Pence back? Well, let’s take a look at the picture without him. If Pence leaves, what you’re left with is oft-injured Angel Pagan and a slew of guys who probably aren’t MLB starting material – Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Francisco Peguero. That absolutely will not cut it. Maybe they (the front office) makes a push for Jacoby Ellsbury or Chin-Soo Choo, the other top outfield names on the market. But if they aren’t willing to pay for Pence, why would they be willing to throw down big dollars for another fragile player in Ellsbury or a guy about the same age as Pence (Choo)? All three of these players are going to get big bucks, and the Giants have not been big into the bidding war for free agents lately. Ideally, I’d like to see them lock up Pence AND go after Choo as well. Will they? I’m really not sure.

Pence is 30 years-old, and he’s a career .286/.339/.475 hitter. After his down year in 2012, he’s back to .289/.340/.474 in 2013 – literally right on par with his career line. He’s also swiped 20 bases this season for the first time. He’s one of the best athletes in baseball, and one of the only guys who you can pencil in every single night. Put it this way; if the Giants give Pence 5 years, I’d be willing to bet he makes good on those 5 years, even playing into his mid-30’s. You just can’t say that about a lot of players these days. The dude wants a long term home. Lock him up, Sabean!

The next order of business is Ryan Vogelsong. Vogey pitched last night, and had a 5-0 lead going into the 5th inning. Then, it all fell apart, as it has in so many of his starts this year. He finished the 5th, but not before allowing 5 ER. He also didn’t record a single strikeout last night. A few weeks ago, it seemed pretty likely that the Giants would pick up Vogelsong’s option for next season (which I believe is in the neighborhood of $6-7 million), but now I’m not so sure. The Giants need starting pitching, it’s true. But are they really willing to spend that money on a 35 year-old journeyman with a 5.82 ERA? Don’t get me wrong, Vogey has been a huge part of this team for the past couple years, and he’s as competitive as they come. But right now, Yusmeiro Petit looks like a better option than he does.

Lots more decisions to be made for the eliminated Gigantes, and we’ll get to them in due time. But for now, I say give the Rev a home, and let Vogey walk if he can’t pick up the pieces in his final couple starts. If he wants to come back on a cheap, minor league deal, great. If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.

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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?

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.

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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Playing for Their Lives

The Giants scratched out another win against the Dbacks tonight, and scratched may be an understatement. Matt Cain improved his record to 6-6 with the win, and was more resilient than sharp in his five innings of work. He allowed 8 base runners, but only surrendered 2 ER. It seemed to me that Cainer got a little upset about the strike zone early on, and never quite bounced back, issuing 4 BB. Maybe he was just off, maybe it got in his head. Either way, he ultimately gave the Giants a chance to win. His ERA now sits at 5.00 for the season.

Cain departed with a 2-1 lead, which Buster Posey padded with a monster home run to center in the bottom of the 5th, the Giants’ 30th long-ball of the year at AT&T Park (they hit 31 at home all of last year, and went on to accomplish a few nice things if you recall).

So Cain took care of the first 15 outs for the Giants. The final 12 broke down like this: Kontos 1; Affeldt 1 (left the game with a groin injury); Mijares 1; Casilla 3; Rosario 1; Lopez 2; Romo 3. Think that bullpen needs a little help? Romo allowed a run in the 9th before striking out Cody Ross for the final out.  A wild night, for sure, but another win over the division leader.

The Giants are now 4.5 back and in great position for a sweep with Bumgarner taking the ball tomorrow. The Snakes’ lead in the West is down to only a half-game…over the Dodgers. Baseball is a funny game.

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Ten Games

Ten games. Three against Arizona, four against Cincinnati (including a double-header), and three against the Cubs – all at home. That’s how long the Giants have to figure out what they’re doing at the trade deadline. Are they buying, selling, or leaving the roster as is? There’s definitely an opportunity to win the weekend series with Arizona, and if we dream of a sweep, it’s only a 3.5 game deficit. It seems unreal to me that the Giants could begin next week that close in the standings.

On the other hand, we could be looking at a near insurmountable deficit if the Dbacks bring the brooms to AT&T this weekend. At this point, nothing’s out of the question. Hank Schulman has a piece from the Chronicle on the Giants’ second half chances. You can find it here.

Here’s my point to all this. We’ve gone back and forth on the Giants’ chances for two months, but I think the crossroads has finally arrived. You’ve got 13 games left before the deadline, with the first ten at home. If you want to be a contender down the stretch, you need to get yourself back to .500 (or as close as possible) by the deadline. That means it’ll take at least a 10-3 record over the next couple weeks. Is that realistic? Your guess is as good as mine. If so, I think you see a push for a Bud Norris or a decent LF, as the Giants go for it. If not, maybe Sabean takes calls on guys like Lopez, Romo, Lincecum or Pence, although I really don’t see them selling any major pieces this year.

Whatever the plan is, I’m guessing we’ll know after these next ten games. If everything turns sour again, maybe sooner.  Either way, at least the end of the most boring week of summer is almost over.

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.