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There is nothing like a healthy sweep at home to set the stage for the second half; especially after the devastating road trip with which the Giants ended the first half. And the Giants reclaimed first place to boot. That said, the upcoming road trip to Atlanta and then Philadelphia (the two cities they rolled through on their way to history in 2010), will likely feature some of the most important games of the season.

OK, so maybe that last bit is a lie, but get used to hearing it from every press outlet for the rest of the season. The way I see it, every game is equally important. There was a very unimportant game on Monday, April 12th, 2010, in which the Giants came head to head with the Pittsburg Pirates. They beat the Pirates in that contest even though it wasn’t a critical game. If they had lost that game, there wouldn’t have been a parade down Market St that November.

All the games are crucial, critical, instrumental, foremost, imperative, decisive, vital and momentous; and every team out there is a major league team that can beat you.

Timmy is not back. But it has nothing to do with the fact that his 8 inning, 11 K, shutout performance is diminished in any way by the lineup of the Astros, which is being said on the Twittersphere by some influential people. If the ‘Stros don’t count, do the Giants get credit for those three wins? Or the other two wins they have on the season against Houston? And while we’re at it, let’s strike Cain’s perfecto from the records as well. Who cares if they are the worst team in baseball, you still have to beat them in 9 innings (or 12 as the case may be). Also of note, the Padres had nearly the same record as Houston coming into the second half and they took 2 of 3 from the formerly first place Dodgers. Two of the worst teams in baseball effectively changed the standings in the NL West. There are 162 games in the season, and even the worst teams are going to win some of them.

Lincecum’s accomplishment against Houston was a huge step forward and a great way to start the first half. However, I’m not going to proudly proclaim his revival. He’s had great outings like this before only to be followed by collapses, so he’s still got a lot to prove. His record is substantially better at home so this next start of his in Philly is going to be crucial.

At the end of the year, replays will be shown of the turning point in the season; Evereth Cabrera, hands on hips, taking off from third when Kenley Jansen was busy kicking dirt around on the mound. The third baseman, Hairston, was looking right at Cabrera and didn’t even raise the alarm until he was halfway home. All with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning.

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Giants Reign Over Kansas City

At the beginning of the 2012 All-Star game, it was hard not to feel like the ESPN commentators, Joe Buck and the always eloquent Tim McCarver, didn’t really appreciate the amazingness that is the SF Giants. It might have been in part that at least two Giants trotted out in the first inning in lieu of two NY Mets (Cain for Dickey, Sandoval for Wright). Before the game, they were calling Dickey “unbelievable” and Cain “good”. They brought up the allegations of ballot stuffing and even implied that Yadier Molina should be starting (if you read between the lines with a healthy dose of west coast cynicism). That, of course, was before the Starting Four put on a clinic on how to do the All-Star games right.

After the game, McCarver could only say that they were “freaking amazing” and Buck couldn’t stop talking about how much he wanted a pair of those bright orange cleats. Ok, maybe my DVR screwed up and I didn’t see anything past the 7th (not that there was anything to watch at that point) but I can imagine they said something along those lines.

So yes, the Giants ruled Kansas City, Melky got the much deserved MVP award (for which Pandoval must have been a close second), and the NL is officially on a winning streak. However that doesn’t negate the fact that for about a week, the entire country was a little more anti-Bay Area than normal. But Giants fans didn’t do anything wrong. Aren’t we allowed to vote 25 times each? And if you happen to have more email addresses, aren’t you allowed to use those as well? This is no different from when I used to amuse myself as a kid at Candlestick by making designs in as many ballots as possible. Mets GM Sandy Alderson sent barbs via Twitter at Giants fans, but you know the Mets were trying just as hard to get their fans to stuff the boxes.

When you step back and look at it, the All-Star game is really a popularity contest, not two carefully selected teams showcasing the best of the best. This is unavoidable when the decision is made by a mass of relatively uneducated people who vote as many times as they can for their favorite players. Is Pablo Sandoval the best 3rd baseman in the game? He’s damn good, but David Wright might be a little better than him right now. Is Pablo the most popular 3rd baseman? You betcha! If you want the players with the best statistics, then have a computer pick the All-Star team. If you want the best athletes, have the players vote on all the starters. But don’t whine about the system when it doesn’t work in your favor.

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Giant All-Stars

Today will be the first time in history that four All-Stars don black and orange (figuratively) on the field in the first inning of the mid-season classic. There have thrice been three Giants starters, most recently in 2001 when the front office strategy was to surround superstar Bonds with slightly lesser superstars. While there could easily be more Giants on that lineup, the four that made it each have their own great stories.

Pablo Sandoval is making a return appearance and brings a batting average of 1.000 into this game. While it’s his second appearance, it is his first start. Also, he got snubbed in 2009 when Shane Victorino was chosen by his own manager over Sandoval as a last minute injury replacement. Melky Cabrera gets to return to the stadium of a team that traded him away in the off season. I’m sure you are aware of how that trade went; Giants get a possible team MVP while the Royals get a pitcher who has only thrown 6 innings once this year, is on the DL, and likely would have been released or demoted to the minors by the Giants. It will be interesting to see the reception he receives.

Matt Cain has the third best story of these four. He has pitched in shadows most of his career, most recently in the shadow of Lincecum. He picked a good year to discreetly burst forth and is finally getting that national recognition he deserves. He even was an All-Star quietly, getting to two previous games but never pitching in them. In a rather controversial decision, he gets the starting nod over R.A. Dickey. By far the best story of the bunch is Buster Posey.  A little over a year ago, he was writhing on the ground with a broken leg and multiple ligaments torn. An injury that would have ended many careers, or been substantial setbacks at a minimum. Heck, I probably would have taken more rehab time to get back to my desk job than he did to get back into the crouch. He has shown very little trace of such a significant injury so far this year, and even has a stolen base (bringing his career total to 4). And now he is an All-Star, setting the record for number of NL All-Star votes. (Not that I’m keeping track, but Scott Cousins has hit .190 with Miami this year and is currently in the minors. Correction, Cousins is on the active Miami roster).

Near misses:

Ryan Vogelsong was just edged out for ERA leader by Ryan Dempster, who accumulated enough innings on his last start to qualify for the league leader board. But Vogelsong has been lights out since he came off the DL, and is now one of the top 4 pitchers in the NL (by ERA), all of whom were left off the All-Star roster. In fact, 7 of the top 10 pitchers (again, by ERA) are watching the game from their couch. Vogelsong is tied for second in the league for tough losses (losses despite quality starts) and leads the majors in quality start percentages at an amazing 94%. He has pitched into the 6th inning in every start so far this year. Just a teensy bit of extra run support and he would have likely been on the roster.

Santiago Casilla has been an amazing fill in closer. He is actually 3rd in the league in saves, with 21. However, he has somewhat imploded over his last 5 outings, with one save in 5 opportunities. That also raised his ERA from 1.59 to 2.84. I have to imagine that if he came in with to the break with a sub 2.00 ERA and three extra saves under his belt, he would also be on the roster.

Did anyone else catch the Old-timer and Celebrity game? I almost didn’t watch it, but at the last second I realized I had absolutely nothing better to do. I’m glad I did. It was much more entertaining than the HR Derby (and isn’t this all about entertainment?). It was also amazing and inspiring watching the wounded veterans out there playing ball.  And if I hadn’t watched it, I wouldn’t have seen Jon Hamm hit his HR. I thoroughly believe the only thing that would have made his trot around the bases better (as it is, he officially leads all major league players in HR trots) would have been a three-piece suit and a scotch on the rocks.

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I’ll order the Sweep with the trio of Shutouts on the Side

What a way to greet the Dodgers on their first trip to SF this year. And who would have guessed that this would have been accomplished with Cain and Bumgarner in the dugout, patiently waiting their turn. Even before this series started, it seemed to me that the Giants were a better team than the Dodgers. (Note to self; record thoughts like this before they are mere hindsight.) In the last 30 games, the Giants have been a better team than the Dodgers, consistently gaining ground. On the chart below, that maps the winning %s of both teams, you can see the records slowly merging. The Dodgers have had two other major skids in that time. Whether or not the Giants are better than the Dodgers + Kemp is up for debate; but he will be on the DL for at least another 2 weeks, probably more.  And keep in mind that the Giants haven’t been without their own injuries this year. We lost Pablo for quite a bit, Vogelsong started on the DL, Theriot has been a surprisingly impactful player since he came back from his injury, and Wilson is out for the season. As Zito said, the Dodgers took advantage when the Giants were hurting, and now the Giants have to pay back the favor.

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Lately, Zito has been Zitoing. After such a strong start to the season, in his three appearances prior to Monday he was 0-3 and had given up 17 earned runs in 14.1 innings pitched, raising his ERA nearly 1.5 points. It was good to see him have another strong outing on Monday, particularly against the Blew Crew. Let’s be real, no one really expects Zito to finish the year 16-8 with a 2.84 ERA. That ship sailed long ago; or rather it sank under the weight of that contract. But so far this year, Zito is 4-1 against the NL West. The Giants play the majority of their games against those 4 teams, if Zito can always give them a chance to win against the division, he’ll be an impactful part of the team.

At the risk of sounding like a skeptic (which I am), I’m not going to say Timmy is back. On April 28th, he threw 8 innings giving up only one unearned run. The Giants lost the next 9 games Lincecum started. Frankly, he looked better on April 28th than he did yesterday. Yes, I know he pitched fairly well in Oakland and now has 12 consecutive scoreless innings, but his problem all year has been maintaining that focus for a whole game. So I’m not going to count the Oakland game since he wasn’t good for the whole time.

But I’m also not going to say that this was a huge step in the right direction for Lincecum. Admittedly, that wasn’t exactly a top notch lineup that Mattingly threw our way yesterday, but after 9 straight losses and a no decision, a solid win against the franchise rivals could do a world of wonder for him mentally. Daniel Brown of the SJ Mercury recently wrote an article in which he got Bengie Molina’s opinions on the struggling ace. Having caught both of his Cy Young seasons, Molina was of the opinion that it was a mental issue. Something like an important win against the Dodgers, putting the perfect capstone on a shutout sweep, could be just what Lincecum needs to “regain his swagger”.

As if going 30 innings without scoring, 125 trips to the plate without a run (almost 14 times through the lineup), stranding 23 runners on the bases, and going 0-19 with RISP wasn’t enough…the Dodger’s equipment truck broke down on the way out of SF. Something tells me that they aren’t looking forward to their next trip up north.

Anyone else going to follow the Dodgers game tonight to see how far they can extend their scoreless inning streak?

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It’s only June, but…

I don’t care that it’s only June. I don’t care that we have over half the season to play, or that the Giants and the Dodgers have 14 more games against each other this season. And I know that a large game differential can be made up in a month (see Giants vs Padres circa 2010). What I do care about is that the Giants have shut the Dodgers out twice in a row bringing them within one game of first place; it doesn’t matter what month it is. 

I also don’t care that Kershaw is a brilliant pitcher; he is a Cy Young pitcher and earned himself the Triple Crown of pitching last year. He is a great pitcher, no one is going to quibble over that. This year isn’t quite up to the standard he set last year, but he still has a sub-3.00 ERA, a winning record, and nearly a K per inning pitched. But all that matters this year is that he is 0-2 against the Giants and Ryan Vogelsong.

Vogelsong continues to be one of the best feel good, come back stories in baseball. He is well on his way to proving that last year was no fluke. I have to admit, coming into the year, I wasn’t ready to put my full confidence in him, but he has proved me, and all the other skeptics, very wrong.  And he’s done it quite admirably, with a 2.34 ERA with a 7-3 record and a scary intensity that is well documented. He has turned that intensity up when facing Giants killer, Clayton Kershaw, defeating him in two matchups so far this year.

There are many things that contributed to last night’s win, not the least of which was Vogelsong’s pristine performance and Cabrera’s solo shot. But I think two plays that had an equally important role happened out on the bases. In the bottom of the fourth, Pagan stole second. That set him up to score on Pablo’s single, despite Tim Flannery’s best efforts. That gave the Giants an insurance run, taking much pressure off Vogelsong.

Following that, in the top of the 5th, Dee Gordon decided to show his own speed, but got cut down at second by Posey. That ended the inning and got Vogelsong out of a mini jam getting the largest speed threat the Dodgers have off the base paths. I think that without these two plays, it is possible that the game has a different outcome.

Given two shutouts against the Dodgers, would you have ever guessed that one of those games would be won by Barry Zito and the other lost by Clayton Kershaw?

Cabrera is leading the majors in hits and multi-hit games. Why is he fourth in All-Star balloting? Get out there and vote!

Sweep LA!

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Watching Perfection

There are some things that many baseball fans never get to see. Pirates fans never get to see a winning season. I think there are some Dodgers fans that have never actually seen a game.  And almost no fan gets to see the elusive perfect game. Now I, along with my wife, my parents, and 42K other screaming fans, are part of the Exclusive Order of People who have Witnessed a Perfecto. We can now hold that over other fans for the rest of our lives and have automatic credibility in any sports bar. While I’ve seen many amazing things in my years following the game, like Barry Bonds hit the leather off balls, the Giants win and lose Championships, I don’t think any of them are quite as special as what I witnessed last night.

There was a big difference between a World Series and a perfect game. As a team fan, you have to love and covet a World Series Championship above all else. After all, that’s what they are playing for, right? However, as a baseball fan, it doesn’t get much better than a Perfecto. Lincecum shut the Braves out to start the 2010 post season run, and he ended it on a high note against Texas with 10 Ks. As amazing as both of those games were, he wasn’t perfect. In each of them, he made a few mistakes. A team can win the WS without being perfect, but each AB is an opportunity to blow a perfect game. Even more so, each batted ball threatens the perfection.  I might have let out a high pitched scream when Blanco laid out on the warning track, at the furthest point from home plate possible, with the ball in his hand. There is absolutely no reason that should have been caught; Schafer should have had a triple. While that play instilled some confidence that something magic was happening that night, it also highlighted how fragile a perfect game is. Once Arias double clutched and made a shaky throw to Belt for the final out, the entire stadium let out a sigh of relief in the form of a thunderous roar.

Some of the stats flying around

  • First Giants Franchise perfect game
    • That means 128 years without
    • Those years included Christy Mathewson, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and a host of other greats
  • 22 perfect game in the history of baseball
  • The only other perfect game that included at least 14 strikeouts was thrown by Sandy Koufax
  • Ted Barrett became the first Major League Umpire to call two perfect games
  • Aubrey Huff bruised his knee…jumping over the dugout rail after the 27th out

I think that any long term contract that rivals the GDP of many small countries is ridiculous for any player, especially a pitcher. But as long as they are going to happen, these past two days have made me very happy with some of Sabean’s recent transactions. Obviously, I’m talking about Bumgarner and Cain. In relation to his peers and what he has (and likely will) do, Bumgarner’s contract is a crazy good deal. Looking out to the end of his 5 year, $35 million deal will put Bumgarner at the same point in his career as Lincecum is now; same service time, except two years younger. And I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that he will have similar stats to Timmy coming into this year; he is capable of an ERA in the low 3s, and he got started at the right time (missing the dreaded post-Bonds win drought) to rack up some serious wins by then. The main differences; he’ll make $11.5-12 million in that year (compared to Lincecum’s $22 million this year) and have accumulated about $35 million by that time (Lincecum’s wallet is padded with about $64 million at this point). It makes that contract look like quite the bargain. Heck, even if he crashes and burns, the whole contract is less than what the Giants spent on Zito, Rowand, and Renteria in 2010 alone.

Cain’s contract is quite a bit larger, but it sure feels good to have that guy locked up for so long. He continues to prove that he is worth that long term investment.

Do you think Lincecum’s season would be going differently if he had signed the contract offered to him? It worked for Cain and Bumgarner.

I wonder if when the celebrations in the clubhouse were dying down, Bumgarner went up to Cain and said, in that Southern drawl, “That was cool, but you didn’t hit a homerun.”

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2010 vs 2012: Building a Dynasty

The Texas Rangers are coming into SF for a “2010 WS Rematch”. The only problem, the Texas pitchers will face a whole new lineup. Sure, the pitching staff is nearly the same. Swap out Vogelsong for Sanchez and you have the same starting rotation (if we had to choose right now, would Timmy be the starter left off the WS roster? That’s a weird thought). Ramirez, Mota, and Wilson are missing from the bullpen. But Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, and Javier are still anchoring the late innings for us. Yes, the Giants are built on pitching. But who from the WS lineup remains? Buster Posey. Sandoval and Freddy Sanchez are the only other members of that lineup that have a shot at starting this year, but they are both on the DL. Schierholtz and Huff are the only other two left over from that team; neither are starting now.

But when the Rangers come to bat, it’s going to look very familiar. Elvis Andrus, Nelsen Cruz, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, and Michael Young all remain in the Rangers starting lineup. They are only missing Bengie Molina and Vladimir Guerrero from the 2010 team. Is it any wonder they were back in the WS last year? Or that they are first in their division this year? It’s the same team!

I want to make it clear that I loved the 2010 Giants, I don’t know who couldn’t have loved them. They put SF on the map as a legitimate baseball town and filled out of town ball parks with orange and black. That was the team where Timmy was Timmy and real men wore red thongs. Huff and Burrell reigned supreme, rewarding homeruns with solid punches to the chest and holding court in the Marina after home games. But that was a team of stop gaps. Everything went right, everyone performed as advertised, or better. Everyone was healthy. But most of the players weren’t chosen based on their long term potential; based on their ability to form a baseball dynasty.

Let’s look at some of the 2010 Giants hitters:

  • Aaron Rowand – I don’t need to talk about him that much. He was meant to be a key component to the team when he was signed in 2008, but by 2010 he was a bench player and clearly declining at a player
  • Andres Torres – I love this guy and he was a significant part of the World Series team. His value was even greater given that he filled two very glaring holes; CF and leadoff. But looking at the rest of his career, the Giants clearly got lucky with him. Even if he had been able to do a repeat performance in 2011, he was already entering his mid-30s, so his long term value in terms of building a dynasty was limited
  • Juan Uribe – Signed to be a utility infielder, Uribe definitely supported a rather shaky infield in 2009. He split his starts evenly between 2B, SS, and 3B (35,34,35). He established himself as a SS in 2010, starting there in about half of the games. Given what he has done with the Dodgers, the Giants were wise not to bet on him for the long term. In 2010, he was only 30 (if you believe his birth certificate), but was never intended to be a long term part of the team
  • Edgar Rentaria – I always thought this was a bad signing. Again, they Giants were buying high. Yes, he was still relatively young, but you can’t sign a 32 year old middle infielder and expect him to be an impact on the team for years to come (unless, of course, his name is Omar Vizquel). Best case scenario, he over performs for his 2 year contract…which would have meant being an average player
  • Huff – The Giants had a back log of promising first-basemen in the system, they had all but given up on Ishikawa as a starter, so they bought low after a bad year from Huff. They were hoping to get the 2008 Huff (.304, 34 HR) rather than the 2009 Huff (.241, 15 HR). Turns out, they got a satisfying compromise, .290, 26 HR, plus a good clubhouse presence. But despite that, it’s clear that he was never intended to be stationed on the right corner of the diamond for the next 5-8 years
  • Jose Guillen – no comment
  • Burrell – He is one of my favorites from that team. I will never begrudge Sabean from signing a player past his prime to a minor league contract, just like Brad Penny this year, in the hopes that a fresh town and start will revive a storied career. If Burrell couldn’t cut it, he wouldn’t have made the team. But he could and did and was a huge part of that team. That said, even he didn’t see himself as a long term member of the orange and black
  • Cody Ross – the NLCS MVP was a great pickup. But let’s face it, he was a mistake. Sabean claimed him off waivers to keep the Padres from getting him. He was sure surprised with the Marlins just let him go. He was great for us and had the potential to be a longer term player at just 29 in 2010, but we all know that didn’t pan out (currently hitting .271 with 8 HR in Boston)

Now you look at 2012 Giants lineup:

  • Posey – We know he is going to be on the team for a long time, and a key contributor on the field, at the plate, and in the clubhouse
  • Brandons – While these guys are still a little shaky, I don’t see the Giants giving up on them as long term prospects. They have both proven they can do it in the field, they are both young and under team control for quite some time, they just need a little confidence with the bat to be key contributors to this team for years to come
  • Pagan/Cabrera/Blanco – Not only does he anchor the trio in CF, Pagan is also the elder statesmen in the OF at only 30. Blanco is 28 and Cabrera is 27. A lot has to happen for this trio to be long term contributors, including repeat performances, but they have the tools and age on their side
  • Pablo – His ability to contribute to the team is directly related to his ability to grow up. Once he realizes that he can’t do (or eat) whatever he wants, that he can’t be at bars at 1am when he should be rehabbing (even innocently), that goofiness is fine and good in the clubhouse but he has to be serious at times, then he can be considered a long term solution. If he grows up, I can see him anchoring the IF for the next 3-5 years. And by then, Selig will have likely forced the NL to adopt the DH rule, so Pablo can do that
  • That only leaves 2B unanswered, and possibly RF. But it is potentially 5-7 players who can produce for this team for the long term

I, and the rest of Giants Fandom, will forever remember the winning, unique, thong-wearing, beard-growing team of 2010 very very fondly. There is nothing like seeing a rag-tag bunch of outcasts get a second chance, pull together, win the World Series, and make a whole city go crazy with Giants mania. I will forever dedicate a substantial portion of my limited memory to that year. But it was hard to feel the promise of that team. Even as the streamers stopped falling and the dried champagne was cleaned off the floor at Texas Stadium, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those guys we would see again. Two years down the road, I know the answer, and I couldn’t be more excited about the Giants I’ll see for the next five years. Lock ‘em up, Sabes!

 

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