Category Archives: Game

Thoughts and notes on Giants games

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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Opposite Day at AT&T Park or The Love of the Baseball Gods

The Giant’s celebrated Opposite Day yesterday. The Board of Directors took tickets at the gate while the normal ticket takers sat in the owner’s box. People with club level seats were directed to the bleachers while the standing room only folk found themselves in the luxury boxes. Beers were given away for free, but the shirts that the Orange and Black Squad threw out into the crowd had to be paid for. On the field, Matt Cain struggled mightily with his control and gave up 4 runs with a season high 7 hits; but the team picked him up and got him a win. Manny Burriss made a great baserunning play by making a double play impossible allowing a run to score. The offensive outburst was led by the Brandons. The Giants batters walked an impressive 9 times with only 1 strikeout. The Cardinals drew only 1 walk with 8 strikeouts. And the Giants may not have won had it not for a bad fielding error.

No, this isn’t the latest Giants promotion, though maybe it should be. Yesterday morning, on the Murph and Mac show on KNBR, Sergio Romo said, “It’s gotta bounce our way sometime, right? Baseball gods have to love us at some point, right?” I think I might want Romo to be my new investment advisor. As he predicted, the Giants got some of that good luck that has been eluding them all season. Or you could attribute it to the hard work of some of the younger players who have put in lots of extra time with the coaches; correcting flaws in their swings and fine tuning their fielding. Either way, it worked.

The two young Brandons were a collective 4 for 8 with a walk, 3 RBIs, and 2 runs scored; and maybe most importantly, not a strikeout between them. That accounted for half the hits and RBIs of the whole team. Both hitters worked extensively with Bam Bam Meulens to fine tune their approach, which seems to be paying off. Another difference is that Crawford was batting in the two spot rather than right in front of the pitcher. This likely gave him more quality pitches to hit and maybe even a little confidence.

Matt “The Horse” Cain gave up 4 earned runs, his second highest of the season, and 11 baserunners, his highest by 3 on the season. He didn’t look great to start the game, giving up 7 hits and all 4 runs in the first 3 innings. Prior to yesterday’s start, the Giants offense has scored an average of 0.33 runs for each inning that Cain has pitched, or 2.99 runs for every 9 innings he pitches. Cain’s career average is 3.6 runs per 9 innings pitched (the MLB average during that time is 4.6 runs). However, yesterday the patched together lineup scored 5 runs in the 6 innings that he pitched (or 7.5 runs per 9 innings). And Cain, who is so often the victim of fielding errors, benefitted from Freese’s 6th inning throwing error that led to the go ahead run for the Giant, putting Cain in line for the win.

Some other oddities in the game last night;

  • 9 walks in one game for the G-men. They had drawn 95 walks in 37 games before yesterday, which averages to about 2.5 walks a game
  • There was only one strikeout; they’ve averaged almost 6.5 per game so far
  • Burriss, who is frustratingly bad at baserunning for a player whose speed is supposed to be his main asset, made a great move on the bases. Rather than running into an out at 2nd, he slowed up forcing Schumaker to chase him down for the out, eliminating the chance for a double play

I think the Giants got plenty of favor from the baseball gods in 2010. The roster was nearly devoid of any injuries to key players, and everyone got hot just when the team needed them to. Maybe that is why the team wasn’t graced in 2011, the Giants used up their allotted favor on the epic World Series run. For whatever reason, that favor seems to be back. Whatever baseball prayers the Giants are saying, whatever superstitions they are embracing, whatever ladies undergarments they are wearing…I hope they keep it up.

 

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Small Ball, Its a Good Thing

The Giants play in a ball park with very unusual dimensions and deep gaps. The line up doesn’t have a whole lot of power, especially with Pablo out. Melky hit 18 HRs in his best season. Posey is capable of 25-30 HRs if he has a good year. Other than those two (and the hurt Panda), there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity for power on this team right now. Some of the guys (Pill, Belt, Sanchez, etc) have potential, but they are unknown quantities at this point.

However, the team does have a lot of speed (ever think you could say that about a Giants team?). For about the last week we have consistently seen a line up that includes Melky, Pagan, Arias, and Blanco.  Pagan has had two 30+ SB seasons, plus one minor league year when he swiped 67 bags. Melky peaked at 20 steals. Blanco’s MiLB seasons range from 25-40 steals a year, while Arias has gotten 40-64 a year in the minors. All guys who can cause an impact on the base paths if they hit well, which they are all doing at the moment. That seems like a team  primed for playing small ball.

Then why don’t they play small ball?

After the game in which they left 13 runners on base and went 2-17 with runners in scoring position, Bochy lamented that the hitters have to do better in those situations. Let’s take a look at some. In the first inning, after Timmy threw a very rare 1-2-3 11 pitch top of the first, our table setters immediately did their job and got on first and second with two consecutive walks. With our lead-off hitter at second, we got a strikeout and two flyouts to end the inning. What would the game have looked like if Bochy had played some small ball there to get his struggling ace a 1-0 lead to start the game? Instead, he plays for the big inning with three players who have 6 hits all year with runners on first and second and are hitting a combined .225 with runners in scoring position.

I know some would argue that it doesn’t make sense to play that way with the heart of the lineup coming to the plate, but what about at the bottom of the lineup? In the 4th inning, they had Charlie Culberson at 3rd and Crawford at 1st with one out. Burris (.227 at the time) was up with Lincecum on deck. This was a great time to try some small ball, something like a squeeze play. What’s the worst that could happen? An inning ending double play with the pitcher on deck, that’s all. Instead, Bochy let his 8th place .227 hitter swing away, striking out, leaving it to the pitcher to get it done (which doesn’t happen). In the 6th inning, there were again runners on 2nd and 3rd, this time with three sub .230 hitters coming to the plate; Bochy has them all swing away. In the 8th inning, after Rex Brothers (who has one of the best names in baseball) walked the bases loaded with 12 balls and 1 strike, Bochy sees and opportunity for the big inning (at a time when we only need 1 run to take the lead) and Belt hacks away at the first pitch. A pitcher who clearly couldn’t find the strike zone strikes out Belt and Cabrera swinging on 7 total pitches.

I know that small ball isn’t always the proper tactic and the Giants have some hot hitters right now. But this team and this ball park seem custom made for that brand of baseball, why not give it a try?

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What are the odds of the Giants making the post season if they end the season with 207 errors, which they are on track to do?

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Giants Beat the Dodgers!

Dodgers: 6  Giants: 2  Matt Kemp: 0/5

As far as I’m concerned, keeping Matt Kemp off the bases right now, particularly with the bases juiced in the 8th, is more impressive than beating the Dodgers, so I’m chalking this up as a win for the Giants. Kemp is putting up video game numbers (as Kruk and Kuip like to say) and he looked lost up there at the plate. Clearly he was expecting Timmy to be as ineffective as he has been in his previous starts, not the 93 mph fastball and a slider that got its bite back.

Aside from the obvious issue of losing to the Dodgers, there were some other concerns I came away with.

I’m a huge Nate Schierholtz fan and think the GMen are a better team with him in RF. I think he isn’t given fair opportunities at the plate. So I was overjoyed to see him in the lineup today. He continued his ownage on Chad Billingsly and went 1 for 3 with a walk. But his base running has gotten increasingly worse. I don’t know if the steal was his initiative or called, but that and overrunning second cost the team at least 2 runs.

Why is Posey striking out so much? Yes, he is under more pressure with no Panda in the line up, but his strikeout rate is way up from where it has been, roughly double what it was last year. Many of his swings just look ugly! Last night was just the third time in his young career that he had 3 strike outs. One of my favorite aspects of his game when he first game up was his plate discipline; he never seemed overwhelmed and was never pressing at the plate.

A positive note is that Joaquin Arias is killing it in the field. He reminds me of a less talented Jose Uribe. Doesn’t look good doing it, but somehow manages to pull of great plays. And he is nearly as ugly as Uribe as well (either Uribe).

I’m glad that Magic Johnson lowered the price of parking to $10. Now, why don’t they add a line item to the budget to allow the ball dudes to toss the foul balls in the stands. Just saying.

I guess if I’m going to blog about the Giants, I can’t ignore Tim Lincecum. His line wasn’t that great yesterday, but I feel good about what he did.

IP 5 H 8 ER 4 BB 2 K 8

He gave up some runs, but not in the first. 4 runs in 5 innings is and inning and a run away from a quality start. In the first three scoreless innings, he struck out 6, 8 overall; that’s the old Timmy we all know! Only 2 walks is a good sign as well. And most importantly, his fast ball was back to the 91-93 mph range. That is what was worrying me the most. I know, I know, his mechanics were off. But you see so many good pitchers turn bad, mostly because they lose velocity. Seeing his quirky motion shoot 93 mph fastballs and some sliders with good movement in the strike zone gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

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Is Vogelstrong for Real?

Is it a coincidence that I decide to start this blog after a significant win at Chavez Ravine against Giants killer, Clayton Kershaw? I’m not gonna say, but it does give me good subject matter for my first post. Ryan Vogelsong had one of the best stories in baseball last year. A long time journeyman returning to American baseball with the team that originally drafted him, resurrecting his career and emerging as one of the strongest, most consistent pitchers in a rotation made up of mostly studs. A perfect baseball fairy tale.
Naturally, the skeptics come out after a season like that. Can he keep it up? Was it a fluke year? The same questions were asked of Andres Torres after his breakout season in 2010, and unfortunately, with no help from injuries, he couldn’t lay those skepticism to rest in 2011. I was a little hesitant to fully back the next Giants comeback kid and wasn’t totally sure if Vogelsong could continue what he started on April 28, 2011 in Pittsburgh, when he earned his first major league win since 2005 (when he ironically was a relief pitcher for the Pirates). So far this year, before last night, he hadn’t impressed me. Yes, he hurt himself and didn’t get a full ST to warm up, so one could argue that could excuse his first few starts. Not that they were all that bad; his first four 2012 starts went 6 innings or greater, with two of them counting as quality starts (a stat I’ll get into more in a future post). He even managed to keep his WHIP respectable. I’ll excuse his 0-2 record, because, you know, it’s the Giants. But his 3.42 ERA wasn’t inspiring and he never seemed all that confident on the mound. So going into yesterday, I wasn’t ready to proclaim that 2011 Vogelstrong was back for good.

He laid my skepticism to rest.

Maybe it was the hour long mental prep at his locker. Maybe it was watching Magic Johnson sing along with the National Anthem. Maybe the customary wave that the Dodgers fans started got his mind focused. Whatever it was, he was in every pitch last night. His pitches were vintage Vogelsong (and by vintage, I mean last year). Abreu showed his amazing plate discipline by taking those sliders that were a hair off the plate on both sides. 9 out of 10 other professional hitters would have struck out in that AB. It was such a shame to watch Vogelsong leave the game with the bases loaded. Luckily, Javy Lopez was in 2010 form as well. Not only did Vogelsong pitch masterfully last night, he did it against the (sorta) red-hot Dodgers, managed to not let Kemp beat him (despite two hits), and most importantly, out dueled Kershaw, who turns into Cy Mathewson whenever he sees Black and Orange.

Both the Giants and Ryan Vogelsong have a long season ahead, but last night at Dodgers Stadium was a crucial step in the right direction. Let’s hope that Lincecum can capture what he has been sniffing at the past two starts and get us a series win against the Dodgers!

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