Big League Dreamin’

Well, I learned the answer to a question I thought I’d never have to ask yesterday morning: What does -50 degrees feel like? The answer: About how you’d think it would… way too cold. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but there is one thing I’m sure of: Montana will never make national news for weather. It’s dangerously cold out here, but we just go about our lives like nothing’s changed. Snow day? There’s no such thing. Another thing I’ve learned during my time in Big Sky Country; spend a year in Montana, and you’ll be prepared for just about anything life throws your way. I’ll be headed for the Golden State on a work trip in a few weeks, and it can’t get here soon enough.

But this is a baseball blog folks, not a “KG’s life story” blog. And boy, could I sure use some baseball in my life right about now. We’ve spent so much time on the prospect front lately, I think it’s about time we get back to the 25 men who are the envy of every minor leaguer in the organization. This isn’t really intended to be a formal post, but more of a place to chat about a few things that have been on my mind lately. It may seem a little random, but try to stay with me here.

The Big Question

The big question everyone seems to be asking these days is, “Did the Giants do enough this winter?” There’s definitely some major disagreement on the part of the fanbase regarding Sabean’s offseason work, but there’s also a good chunk of the fanbase who would fire Sabean in an instant. Most of that crowd doesn’t hang around here, which is just fine by me. Honestly, how can anyone actually tell you a team did or didn’t do enough before a Spring Training game has even been played? I don’t think they can.

When I look at the overall body of work Sabean and his staff put together this winter, I see every major roster hole filled. Maybe you have an issue with the individual players who they signed to plug those holes, but it’s hard for me to be overly critical when the only position battles in camp are for bench and bullpen jobs. There are certainly other teams in baseball who would like to have that kind of certainty this time of year.

Weaknesses

For me, the key to this season will again be depth. And I do feel like that is still an area of weakness, despite Sabean talking so much about it during his end-of-year press conference. I really don’t know how much more could have been done about the starting rotation (I’m not going to nitpick the Lincecum and Vogelsong signings), but the Giants just don’t have an Archie Bradley or Jameson Taillon sitting in AAA right now ready to move in at the first sign of trouble. Between Petit, Huff, Kickham and Escobar, there should be enough options in case one of the regulars hits the 15-day DL. If someone suffers a more extensive injury like Vogey did last year, then you may have to start looking at trade options. Obviously, you can’t plan for things like that.

When I talk about depth, the two areas that concern me the most are the infield and bullpen. I really think this roster could have used another proven reliever, so guys like Hembree, Kontos and Machi would have been battling for one spot rather than two. Another MLB arm, lefty or righty, would have really tied things together. There are a couple kids lurking in the minors like Derek Law and Josh Osich, but I can’t envision either of them in San Francisco before mid-season.

I also would have liked a more reliable option to take time off Scutaro’s hands at second. This is really where I feel the front office didn’t do enough, as the options were certainly out there. Shankbone talked very early on in the offseason about the Dodgers’ utility guys that would hit the market, and I certainly thought the Giants would have looked at one of them. As it went, those guys didn’t stay unemployed for very long. The A’s scooped up Nick Punto in a hurry, the Cards brought in Mark Ellis to provide Kolten Wong insurance, and Cincinnati plucked Skip Schumaker. Any one of those guys would have been a good fit for the Giants, and probably could have seen plenty of playing time. Even the Dodgers – after losing all three of those guys – got back into the infield market recently by giving Justin Turner a minor league deal. He was a non-tender guy, and it wouldn’t have taken much to bring him in for a look.

These are certainly small problems to have in the grand scheme of things, but I do think there will come a time this season when depth will be an issue again, and the lack of proven options off the bench might come back to haunt the front office. The Giants just have too many players with injury history to ignore that possibility. At that point, maybe a trade or two would need to take place. We’ll see how that all plays out.

Posey’s conditioning

Have you seen the pictures of Buster from the commercial shoots and Fanfest? Wow, he looks good. There’s been all kinds of talk about his offseason regimen, building strength to get through the grind this summer. Well, he certainly looks bigger to me, both in his arms and upper body. He’s supposedly up to 215 lbs now, and I have no problem with that. Personally, I think he’s as upset as anyone about what happened last season. When he was needed most to pick things up (in the second half), the production just wasn’t there. Buster seems to be one of those guys for who it only takes one time to learn a lesson, and his poor second half was likely a wake-up call. I’m looking for big things from him this season. He’s a leader on this team, and the Giants will go as he goes in 2014.

Final Word

Sorry if this seems a little scattered, I know it’s a little different from most of my posts. But there are so many things to catch up on right now, so many different storylines to discuss. Rather than writing one exasperating post, I figured I’d break them up into some smaller ones, touching on three or four topics each time. We’re less than a week from pitchers and catchers reporting, and the days are moving slower. If you’re like me, you need some baseball chatter this time of year to keep your spirits up.

So, hit me with some feedback. Did the Giants “do enough” this winter? What are the weak areas of the team? What are you expecting from Buster this year? Feel free to chime in, and I’ll be working on a few more of these to get us through next week. As always thanks for reading, and stay warm… it’s chilly out there. Seriously, seriously chilly.

Buster Posey

(Sfgiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

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Winter Shopping: Pitching Part I

Been on the road this week with an iPad. Lots of reading, but writing any posts was pretty much out of the question. Back home now, and so much to catch up on! I was able to draft a tentative Opening Day 2014 projection, but after much reading and speculating, I feel there are changes that need to be made. Predicting the Giants’ offseason moves is never easy, as they really do play things very close to the chest. I’d always followed the offseason pretty passively until last season, but this blog has given me an outlet to follow along much more intently this winter. So many things are up in the air right now, and I’ll admit I’m not sure how aggressive the front office will get in rebuilding this team for next year. We do know what the needs are though, and it never hurts to take a closer look at the options.

The hot stove is upon us, and Uncle Brian’s going shopping kids. Wonder what he’ll find…

For starters, he’ll need to find two more starting pitchers to join his 3 first round picks, who’ve all been rewarded handsomely for their efforts. Matt Cain, $20 million next season; Tim Lincecum, $17 million; and Madison Bumgarner, 2013 ace, maybe getting the short end of the stick at $3.75 million next year after his arbitration years were bought out. Over $40 million going to 3/5 of the 2014 rotation, and the dude with a sub-4.00 ERA gets 3.75! This group is getting expensive, but they’ve got the rings to back it up. So, who do you get to join them?

There really are a ton of starting pitchers on the market, but the high-end talent is very thin, as I’m sure you already know. I’ve taken 21 of the “premier” names out there (20 free agents + David Price), and sorted them into some groups.

Qualifying Offer Gang: Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana.

The only three to get the qualifying offer. The Giants goofed up and won a few too many games down the stretch, missing the protected pick. They aren’t giving up their first round pick, plain and simple. I don’t know that any of these guys would have been a great fit anyway. Kuroda’s steady but nearly 40. Ubaldo could be interesting, but not for the money he’ll get. I told a buddy Santana was looking for $100 million; his response was “Where? Under his couch cushions?” Not happening!

Damaged Goods: Doc Halladay, Johan Santana, Josh Johnson.

The former elite, currently busted up group. Some team might get a steal with Johnson on a one-year deal. Maybe Halladay too. It also could be money down the drain. Sabean needs to fill two spots, and he needs some certainty. I don’t see him calling this group.

No Thanks: Ricky Nolasco, AJ Burnett

Nolasco was intriguing for the brief period when the Giants had a winning record last spring. The guy has his first above average season (101 ERA+) since 2008 and they project an Edwin Jackson 4-$52 million deal? How’s that contract working out for the Cubs again? Burnett, like Kuroda, is considering retirement. No thanks.

A-List: Masahiro Tanaka, David Price, Matt Garza

Here’s the cream of the crop. You’ve got the international phenom in Tanaka, the prized trade piece in Price, and arguably the top free agent starter in MLB with Garza. The Giants have been connected in some form to Tanaka and Price, but a trade with the Rays is highly, highly unlikely to me. The high-ceiling prospects just aren’t there to make it happen right now. Kyle Crick would be a given, but I think Tampa would ask for Bumgarner or Belt as well. I just don’t see it happening. Peter Gammons can see a Price trade happening for the Dodgers, though… that’s scary.

That leaves Tanaka and Garza. Had you asked me about the Giants’ going for one or both of these two even a week ago, I’d probably have told you it wasn’t going to happen. But something seems to have changed this week. If you read the Baggs chat transcript on CSNBayArea.com yesterday, you might have read this: “The Giants are being very quiet and kind of trying to deflect interest. Which is precisely what makes me think they’ll make a push. That and they sent almost everyone who owns a panama hat (stereotype!) to see him pitch in Japan.” Those are Baggs’ words, followed by an article this morning. John Shea also wrote a Tanaka/Giants piece too. What’s going on here?

After giving it a lot of thought, I think Sabean will indeed make a run at Tanaka, and I for one cannot fault him for it. 25 years old…mid-90’s heat… dirty splitter… reports of intelligence and poise not shown by Yu Darvish… that’s hard to beat, regardless of the price. The kicker, though… like Price, Tanaka’s already been connected to the Dodgers. Again, that’s not good. Sabean has said he needs to build a rotation to compete with the big dogs. Tanaka could go a very long way in making that happen. It’ll be damn expensive outbidding the likes of the Dodgers and Yankees (estimates have been as high as $150 million for the posting fee and contract), and certainly a risk, but consider the alternative… Kershaw, Greinke, Tanaka, Ryu… Price? Can you handle that? I know I can’t…

The only real concern I have with Tanaka is his stamina going forward. He’s 25, and he’s already pitched 1,315 professional innings. He threw 160 pitches in his final postseason start in Japan… I’ll bet it wasn’t the first time.  There certainly aren’t any guarantees in baseball, but I think Sabean has to make a competitive bid. That’s all we can really ask for.

If the Giants come up short on Tanaka (which I ultimately think they will), I think Sabes needs to look to Garza next. He’s not an ace, and there are some injury concerns, but he’s really the top arm that doesn’t require draft pick compensation. He’s 29, and it’ll take a 4-5 year deal in excess of $15 million per, but Garza’s another guy who would add significant depth to the rotation. Will the Giants get involved with him? If they miss on Tanaka, I almost think they have to…

That’s it for tonight. In part two, we’ll take a look at some of the more realistic starting pitching options (or what I call the B and C-Lister’s) that Uncle Sabes may find at the market this winter.

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Two More Years for Timmy

Tim Lincecum won’t be wearing a different uniform for the next two years. I’m sure you’re already aware of the 2-year, $35 million contract Lincecum signed with the Giants yesterday. There are numerous reactions and perspectives to Timmy’s new deal that you can find all over the internet, and I’m sure most are more insightful than mine. But this wouldn’t be a San Francisco Giants blog if we didn’t discuss a new contract of one of the most influential players in franchise history. So, here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

I found out about the Lincecum deal by way of Twitter yesterday afternoon, and I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t catch me completely off guard. For the second time in a week, reports on CSN Bay Area had us believing one thing, while in reality something entirely different was going on behind the scenes. I love the coverage their website provides (I don’t get the local CSNBA channel anymore, so I’m strictly an online follower), but between the misleading reports about the Jose Abreu sweepstakes, the Lincecum contract talks, and all of the recent posts tied to the Dodgers, they’re beginning to lose a little respect in my eyes. Baggs and the crew over there need to take a breather and let things play out a bit before they start making conclusions. Lately, I feel like I get a more realistic outlook on the Giants in the blog scene than I do with Comcast.

Let’s not get off track here. The point is, as of a couple days ago, the CSN report had me believing that Lincecum’s days in orange and black were all but done. Supposedly, he’d rejected their two year offer and wanted to see what he could get on the open market (most likely from Seattle). That, however, is quite the opposite from what Bobby Evans explained on KNBR yesterday. What I took from Evans was the Giants and Timmy had a tentative deal in place for a while, but were finalizing the numbers for a while. Either way, the reports of Timmy spitting on the Giants offer and heading for greener pastures don’t seem to have much backing now.

Along with being surprised that Lincecum had re-signed with the Giants before hitting the market, one of my first reactions to the terms of the deal was that it was a significant win for Lincecum and a drastic overpay by the organization. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to react that way, but I sure was blasted by a few people on Twitter for making my feelings known. After two very un-Timmy-like seasons, he’s essentially taking a measly $2.5 million pay cut to stay with the team. For a guy with diminishing velocity and plenty of hiccups throughout his last two-year contract, that’s highway robbery in my book…

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My initial reaction to the Lincecum deal was very negative, as is often the case for me. But over the years, I have learned to step back and try to look at the bigger picture, instead of griping about money that isn’t even mine. Instead of running to the blog and criticizing the Giants for something I clearly hadn’t allowed myself ample time to process, I decided to read as much about the topic as I could. And I read a lot, including Shankbone’s take at “You Gotta Like These Kids”, DrB’s at “When the Giants Come to Town”, and OGC’s at “Obsessive Giants Compulsive.” Those blogs are run by some of the most dedicated and intelligent fans in Giants Nation, and I admire them highly. I also read the beat writers’ takes, from Baggs to Pavlovic to Kawakami and even Ratto, that eternal pessimist… and all had their own unique take on the Freak’s new contract. And I’ll tell you what, they sure helped me put things into perspective.

Here’s what I know about the Giants and the way they do business in the modern era: They are a players-first organization. If a player comes in (via the farm system, free agency or trade) and has success, generally Larry Baer, Brian Sabean and company reward that player for his contributions with a nice, shiny contract. This is especially true for the guys who gain admiration from the fan base – the Cain’s, the Posey’s, the Romo’s, etc. The Giants value players who buy into the team mentality, and they have a squad full of those type of players right now. Think about it: it’s pretty hard to have a beef with anyone on the team… maybe Pablo for his lack of conditioning, but even he’s an upbeat person who contributes to the clubhouse camaraderie.

In my opinion, the biggest reason the Giants didn’t offer Carlos Beltran a contract in 2011 was the way the fans perceived him. Beltran had pretty good numbers in his short time with the club, but the fans didn’t think of him as a team player. It turned out the Giants might have been able to bring him back at a reasonable cost, but they sent him packing anyway. In the end, he didn’t fit the “Giants way.” Really, about the only recent case I can think of where a fan favorite type of player wasn’t offered a contract was Cody Ross. Even Ross was a little different to me, though, in that he wasn’t ever really seen as a full-time player. He didn’t even take over an everyday position in 2010 until the playoffs started, and platooned for the most part in 2011. Still, it was a little surprising when the Giants let him walk after the 2011 season, after the adoration he’d earned in those 2010 playoffs.

My point here is this: Nobody embodies the modern day San Francisco Giants as much as Tim Lincecum. They call him the Franchise for a reason, and his emergence as a young ace was the catalyst in changing the course of history for the organization. And he’s still a fan favorite, six years later. As his fastball velocity and strikeout rates have diminished, his leadership and maturity have grown substantially. The general word around the organization is that Timmy is a very hard-working player, and one who is well respected by his teammates. All of those things have made him a very valuable commodity to the Giants, even if his in-game performance isn’t what it was three years ago (and probably never will be).

I want to be clear about something: I don’t think a player with Lincecum’s numbers over the past two seasons deserves to be paid anything close to $17.5 million. So, in that regard, I do feel the Giants are overpaying for his services. But baseball is a very wealthy sport, and that’s how business is done in this era. Really, that’s a completely different issue, and one which I’m not prepared to tackle at the moment. In regards to the Giants and Lincecum, I can now clearly understand (after my initial frustration) why the Giants made the offer they did, even if Timmy’s performance last year doesn’t reflect the offer.

Lincecum wanted a short-term contract. He always has, and in this case the shorter deal benefits the Giants. Their crop of talented arms in the minors should be near MLB-ready in 2016, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get when #55 takes the hill anymore. You always hope for good Timmy, but it’s been bad Timmy showing quite often recently. Just look at his two starts which separated the first and second half of the season. Final start of the first half, he puts on one of the most dominant performances in Giants’ history (and one nobody was expecting) by no-hitting the Padres,  striking out 13 and throwing 148 pitches in the process. His first start of the second half? How about 8 ER and 3 HR allowed in 3.2 IP against Cincinnati. The same guy who used to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game now has the ability to get absolutely obliterated when his stuff isn’t on.

Back to my point about the contract offer. The Giants had already made it clear that they were going to give Lincecum the qualifying offer, which would have been a one-year, $14 million contract, which he would have reportedly declined. So, with that in mind, Sabean really had no leverage in offering his former ace anything lower than $14 million per year. With Timmy’s previous contract earning him $40.5 million over two seasons, it seems pretty clear now that the two sides had to meet in the middle to get a deal done. $17M for next season, $18M in 2015. Full no-trade clause. The Freak may be a northwest kid, but he likes playing in San Francisco (and why not, for that kind of money?).

Sabean said re-signing Lincecum was one of his offseason priorities. He wasn’t lying. Like the Pence deal, he got Timmy locked up rather quickly. Now it’s on to Javier Lopez, who should be getting a two-year offer this week, I’d expect. The Giants like their guys – they’re a players-first franchise, like I said. But here’s the biggest question I have in regards to the Sabean offseason plan? Are the Giants going to be a better team when they step on the field next spring, as a result of these moves? With Pence, I’d say that’s a resounding yes. But what about Lincecum? Does an inconsistent mid-rotation starter who’s still figuring out how to make it as a finesse guy really make you that much stronger? If this were 2015 and Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar or any combination of the Giants’ top young arms were ready to step into the rotation, I would say the team could afford to let Lincecum go. But with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots guaranteed heading into the winter, the Giants needed another sure bet in the rotation. And make no mistake, Timmy is as much of a sure bet to take the ball every 5 days as anyone in baseball. In his 6 full seasons in the bigs, he’s made at least 32 starts every year. That’s consistency, and it’s something the Giants need… even if he can’t give you top of the line production anymore. So, at this point, after some serious consideration, I will say that bringing Lincecum back does make the Giants a stronger team – or at least more stable.

So, Timmy’s coming back to the Giants for a couple more years, for a bit more money than some of us would like. Can he improve? Of course he can. Will we see him as the leader of the staff again? I think that’s unlikely, but I guess you never can be sure. He’s only 29, so he could potentially still have some quite a few seasons left in him. He’s a former Cy Young, and a fan favorite. For the sake of putting butts in the seats, Sabean had to make this deal. For the sake of being a competitive ball club, I hope Sabean continues to shop for starting pitchers. He has said that is a priority area for the team, and they simply have too many holes right now to stand pat. But for now, I’d say it’s been a pretty productive postseason for the organization. Hopefully they’re doing a little less negotiating and a lot more competing by this time next year, though.

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.

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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Brandons, Bumgarner Stun Rays

I’ve made it a personal goal not to use the word “sting” during this series. I’ve got too much self-respect for that, as opposed to most headline-makers out there, who think they’re so clever. I mean, “Cain is able?” Come on, that one ran its course about 8 years ago…

Anyway, the Giants have strung a winning streak together folks, all on the road to boot. We wondered how much they could take. What would be the breaking point? Well, apparently getting swept at home by the Cubs did the trick (although our starting pitching was phenomenal in that series). After taking the final two games in Philly, the Giants opened a weekend series at the Trop with the red-hot Rays in impressive fashion. One game in, and they’re already off to a much better start than the last time they played an AL East team on the road in a dome.

I’ll say this about the Rays: Their pitching staff is ridiculously talented. When Chris Archer is your #3 pitcher, you know you’ve got a talented rotation. This was the first time I’d seen Archer pitch, but had heard all about his recent two-hit shutout over the Yankees. The kid has impressive stuff. Touches 97 with the fastball and spots his slider exactly where he wants it. He’s got to be a top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, and he was pretty filthy yesterday… which makes it all the more impressive (or shocking?) that the Brandons lit him up.

Brandon Belt was in the lineup after sitting out the entire Philadelphia series. It’s amazing what a little mental rest and extra practice can do for a slumping hitter. While the rest of the Giants’ starting nine were struggling to make solid contact against the young Archer, Belt looked like the second coming of the Babe at the plate. He tattooed a changeup in the 5th, tying the game at 1-1 with a solo shot to right. That was his second hit of the game. In the 7th, Belt and Brandon Crawford put Madison Bumgarner in position for the win. After a base-hit by Hunter Pence, Belt went after a pitch below his knees, ripping toward deep center. The ball bounced off the upper half of the wall, and Belt had a triple – although, again he wasn’t running very hard out of the box. What is his deal?! Crawford followed with a blast to right (his second HR in three games), and the Giants had all the runs they’d need. Belt and Crawford hadn’t exactly been contributing at the plate lately, so yesterday’s offensive output was very, very nice to see. When the Brandons are producing, the Giants are tough to beat.

While Belt and Crawford powered the offense on this stormy night in Tampa, the real story of the game was Bumgarner. As impressive as Archer was for the home team, Bumgarner was downright dominant against one of the better lineups in baseball. Aside from a pitch Wil Myers took to the deepest part of the yard for a long flyout, no Rays hitters even made solid contact against the Giants’ southpaw. In another 7-inning performance, Bumgarner allowed 7 hits, 3 BB and 1 ER. He struck out 11 while winning his 11th game and lowering his ERA to 2.69. Dave Flemming mentioned a couple times how MadBum had pitched at least 7 innings in every start since June 8. That’s 9 consecutive outings folks, and he’s 7-2 during that span.

Bumgarner has undoubtedly become the ace of the staff, and one of the top young lefties in the game. He seems like a wily veteran already, but he’s still only 24 years old. If the Giants can get Matt Cain back to form next year (and it seems he’s picking it up since the All-Star break), and just average performance from the rest of the rotation, they’ll be back in contention again.

So, an impressive night for the Brandons and Bumgarner, and the Giants take game one from Tampa. Tim Lincecum matches up against David Price tonight in a battle of former and current Cy Youngs. These AL East matchups are going to be fun. The Giants may be 10 games out, but you know they’d love nothing more than to play spoiler down the stretch against teams like these Rays. If they can compete like they have the last few days, we should have some pretty great matchups ahead.

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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.