Ouch

What else can you say at this point? The Giants needed to go 7-3 (or better) on this second-half opening homestand… They went 3-7. They needed to pick it up with the bats… They scored three runs in three games against the Cubs. In April and May, the Giants were hitting but not pitching. Then there were the injuries. Then, they weren’t pitching or hitting. Now they’re pitching but not still not hitting. Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum were amazing against Chicago this weekend. They allowed a combined 3 ER, and the Giants were swept.

The trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and the Giants are now rapidly deflating. I really don’t know what will happen next. At this point, does Brian Sabean even know? I honestly don’t see a flurry of trades coming before Wednesday’s deadline. Maybe they deal Javier Lopez for a marginal prospect. Maybe, just maybe the Rangers beat down the door for Hunter Pence. I don’t quite see it happening, but you never know.

I do know this: Our defending champs have severely wet themselves this season, through injuries and poor play alike. At this point, the front office has a responsibility to put a competitive product on the field. I can think of a few guys in Fresno who deserve a shot on the big stage. Brett Pill is one of them, but there are others. Maybe it’s time for them to get it.

But honestly Giants, ouch.

Nate HR

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Decision Time

Under a week until the July 31 trade deadline, and the Giants are 7.5 back in the NL West. We all know they’re trending in the wrong direction, while the Dodgers are on an incredible roll at the moment. Mattingly’s club has won 22 of its last 28, and is the hottest team in baseball. Make no mistake, they won’t keep playing .785 baseball, but the Bums really do have the starting pitching and lineup to run away with the division, in my opinion. They’ve already acquired Ricky Nolasco, and I’m sure they’ll try to bolster their bullpen at some point too. The Giants, however, are in a completely different situation.

Here’s the funny thing about the next five days: Depending on how the Reds do in Los Angeles for their big time four-game series with the Dodgers, the Giants may have a chance to move within four games or so again. That is, if they can take care of the Cubs this weekend. The Cubs will enter AT&T Park on Friday only a half-game worse than the Giants, record-wise. Both teams are in 4th place. Tell me who would have predicted that to happen back in April.  Both teams are 5-5 over their last 10, so it’ll probably be a pretty even series. But what if the Giants sweep? What if the Dodgers lose three of four to Cincy? Again, that’s not likely to happen either, but the Reds just showed us how good they are, so it’s not completely out of the question. Potentially, the Giants could hit the road next week with only a 4.5 – 6 game deficit in the division.  If that happens, there certainly won’t be any Pence’s or Lincecum’s or Lopez’s being traded from San Francisco, although it doesn’t sound like the front office wants to part ways with those guys this year, anyway. If the Giants are still close in the standings, that’s all the justification Brian Sabean would need to hold onto his trade pieces.

Most likely, the Giants will head to Philadelphia next week 7-9 games back with only two games until the deadline. That’s when Sabean has some real decisions to make. If you haven’t seen the August schedule, it includes 20+ games outside the division, with nine games against the AL East alone. If you’re a realist, you have to look at this team and figure there’s no way in hell they’ll come out of August with anything close to a .500 record. They don’t win on the road, and they don’t win outside the division. That’s a bad combination.

Considering all of this, let me pose a question for you. If you’re running the Giants, do you use the trade deadline to rebuild? If you hold onto guys like Pence and Lincecum, do you plan to re-sign them? If they go elsewhere, especially Pence, can you replace them in free agency? If the Pirates call for Pence, do you pull the trigger? What if a team like the Yankees asks about Pablo? These are tough questions, and I truly don’t know all of the answers to them. I have my opinions, and I’ll try to get into them at some point in the upcoming days. But for now, the Giants are running out of time to improve the team, both for this season and down the road. What are they going to do to fix that?

Lopez Pence

Humiliated at Home

The Giants suffered a double whammy last night, getting absolutely demolished by the Reds (11-0) on the same night the Dodgers moved into first place in the NL West. I have no way to prove this, but I’m sure there haven’t been many follow-ups to a no-hitter that were as bad as Lincecum’s last night. He got into trouble in the first, but was one strike away from getting out of the jam unscathed. Instead, Todd Frazier doubled in three runs and the game was never close again. Timmy’s final line: 3.2 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, and a whopping 3 HR, although George Kontos helped make sure the runners Lincecum gave him in the 4th came around to score as well. Kontos allowed 7 H and 3 ER in 3.1 IP to make sure the game was out of reach.

What a crazy two starts for Lincecum. One minute the guy is the toast of the town. He’s all over the national news. Stories of his resurrection and return to stardom are being pumped out by every (clueless) major sportswriter. His general manager goes on the airwaves to dispel any rumors of his trading, and fans are all of a sudden dying to keep him in San Francisco forever. Ten days later, he’s serving up beach balls to Cincinnati hitters, who made AT&T Park look like anything but a pitcher-friendly venue.

After the no-hitter, I said that I thought it would still take something unexpected for Lincecum to be a Giant next season. Games like last night are the exact reason why. The Giants absolutely need to win games at this point, yet he gets shelled on his home field. The writers at CBS can talk all they want about Tim “Cy Young” Lincecum finding his new way as finesse pitcher, but most knowledgeable fans know it’s going to take more than a no-hitter to undo two years of subpar pitching.

A few thoughts on this one:

Unfortunately, the Freak could have allowed one run on this night and he would’ve taken a loss all the same, as the offense was again nowhere to be found. Zero runs and 11 runners left on base. Right now, Posey is literally the only hitter of the group that isn’t replaceable, and that’s sad. The Giants continue to hit singles, but cannot drive in runs. Bronson Arroyo tossed a shutout to earn his first career victory at AT&T. Man, I don’t like that guy.     

Prior to the season, I thought Shin-Soo Choo would have been a great addition to the outfield, but the Giants really didn’t show any interest. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, and he’s 31 years old. Maybe that’s why we stayed away. The Reds decided he fit into their plans, and he’s batting .294 with 14 HR as the leadoff hitter this season.

While the Dbacks continue to squander opportunities against lineups that include Cody Ransom and Cole Gillespie, the Dodgers pounded Toronto to move into first place. To be honest, I don’t think Arizona has what it takes, and Magic’s big spenders are continuing to get better. Meanwhile, the Giants lost only a half-game in the standings. They’re now 6 games back.

Tonight’s double-header couldn’t come at a worse time for the Giants, but they really don’t have anyone to blame but themselves. Eric Surkamp makes his return to the big leagues in game one. I’m very happy for the guy, but this definitely isn’t an ideal situation to be in. Let’s hope the Reds don’t do to him what they did to Kickham in Cincinnati a few weeks ago.

Put Up or Go Home

*Edit: Congratulations, Ryan Braun. You have become the Lance Armstrong of MLB.

Entering this season, there were three NL teams that you had to think were just chomping at the bit to unseat the Giants. At least that’s how I felt (and still feel). It’s probably not hard to guess either. The Dodgers began 2012 red hot and made some blockbuster trades at the deadline, but the Giants buried them down the stretch. The Cardinals were one win away from heading back to the World Series until Barry Zito toed the rubber in St. Louis for game 5. But I don’t think any team has it out for the Giants as much as Cincinnati.

If you recall, there was already some bad blood between the two clubs long before they met in the NLDS last season. It was one of the few moments during the season where I was truly fired up over something extracurricular, and I remember it like it was yesterday: Vogelsong squares up to bunt, and Bronson Arroyo sends a fastball up and in. Vogey hits the dirt, gets up, throws hit bat down and gives Arroyo one of the best mean-mugs you’ll ever see. I don’t know why, but I love moments like that where you can get the competitive juices flowing.

Long story short, the Giants and Reds had some history when they squared off last year in the division series. After the Reds managed to piss off a collective fan base with two absolute beatings in games 1 and 2, the Giants pulled off the impossible, taking three straight at Great American Ballpark. Tell me when Posey hit that grand slam off of Latos in game five, it didn’t create a little bit of bitterness toward the Giants on the part of Reds’ players and fans.

My intention for all of this is not to create an “us against the world” mantra, but to make a point about the upcoming series with Cincinnati (which is just what the Giants don’t need right now). If the Reds take three of four, or even sweep the series in San Francisco, the Giants’ chances might be all but cooked. This is not so much a “make-or-break” series for Buster and co. as it is a “put up or shut up” series. Basically, the Giants need to split at the least, or they risk falling 7, 8, even 9.5 games out for the division. That kind of deficit is when you start kissing any trade deadline upgrades goodbye.

Do I think Lincecum can beat Arroyo in the opener tonight? Yes, I do, although Arroyo has been on a roll lately. I think the Giants have something to prove against that punk though. I also think Gaudin can take home the finale, although it’s another tough matchup with Mike Leake. It’s Tuesday’s double-header that worries me, with the two soft-tossing lefties Zito and Eric Surkamp taking the mound. The Giants need to pitch well, but the guys not named Buster need to start swinging the bat.

None of us wants to think about what happened the last time the Reds played at AT&T. Thankfully, the Giants improbably ended Cincinnati’s season. There’s no doubt in my mind Dusty Baker’s crew wouldn’t like to return the favor.

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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.

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. 

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A New Low Every Night

The turnaround will have to wait yet another night.  Two months ago, the Giants were making us immune to comeback victories.  Now, eight games under .500, we’re becoming immune to bad baseball.  On a night that started so promising, Buster kept his red-hot bat alive by taking Matt Harvey deep for a two-run shot in the first.  On the other end, Timmy was as good as he’s been in two years.  Heading into the 5th, he hadn’t allowed a hit and his split-change was something straight from 2008. The park was alive, and for a short time all the recent bad vibes were forgotten.  The Freak would go on to battle for seven innings, allowing three runs while striking out 11… seriously, ‘08 stuff (albeit against a team 11 games below .500).

In the end, Lincecum’s vintage performance and Posey’s career-high five hits weren’t enough to propel the Giants, who stranded runners for SIXTEEN innings on their way to a bitter 4-3 loss.  After tying the game at three in the bottom of the 7th, the Giant bats posted nine consecutive zeroes on the board, and a Brandon Crawford botched grounder allowed the go-ahead run to score in the bottom of the 16th.

The Giants signed Jeff Francoeur this morning, who was recently released by Kansas City, and who hasn’t been referred to as “The Natural” by Sports Illustrated in years.  He’ll play a few games in Fresno to get his bat going before coming to SF. His .208 average is rough, but he’s a decent hitter against lefties, and, come on, can we really get any worse at this point?