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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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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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Giants Game Brain Dump – 6/5/2012

When I watch the Giants, a million thoughts course through my mind. Usually, I have an output for these thoughts. When I’m watching the game on TV, it’s often my wife or a friend. When I’m at the game in person, it is my Giants game buddy, my dad. But when there isn’t anyone…it is you. The following is a rambling, unconnected stream of thoughts that came up during the Giants game. Enjoy.

Man, I love watching Timmy go out there and deal from the mound. Retiring 14 out of 15 batters, striking out 8, countless swing and miss pitches, making good hitters (yes, the Padres still have a few, they won tonight on the long ball) look bad; classic Timmy. Oh ya, I started watching in the 3rd inning. I’m getting tired of saying this; Lincecum looked great…except for that one inning. (I promise that I’ll do some research and figure out his stats on this year without that one inning, but here is a teaser, 30 of his 43 runs come from 8 innings). Since it is fairly consistently one inning that is doing Timmy in, it seems clear to me that it is a concentration issue. Earlier in the year it was a bit easier to accept that it is mechanics or his conditioning is off, but when he deals like he does for 5 out of 6 innings you can’t tell me that his mechanics are off. Even if they are off for that one inning that is just a concentration issue. He knows what it feels like, he knows how to do it, and he just isn’t. He’s got to keep that concentration through that one inning; the Giants are 2-10 in Lincecum starts. That needs to change.

Yes, Timmy should be the ace of the staff. He should be winning games for the Giants. Any starter always shoulders the responsibility of winning the game for the team. But he’s not along; this is a team sport. Lincecum gave up four runs in 6 innings, Affeldt gave up 1 run in 1 inning, and Edlefsen gave up 1 run in 0 innings. Timmy didn’t do his job, and we would have won had it not been for the 2nd inning. But two other pitchers didn’t do their jobs either.

Melky Cabrera has been doing it all year long. He steals bases, he has his signature shoe-top running catch, he throws strikes from the outfield, and he is leading the majors in hitting. And he does it all quietly. Tonight, he decided that people weren’t talking about his base running enough, so he put on a clinic. In the 6th inning, in the midst of a rally, the hottest hitter in baseball comes up with a runner on second and lays down a bunt. I know that statistically the bunt is almost always a bad play; I know 99 out of 100 managers would never have their hottest hitter bunt in any situation…but I admire a guy who can lay down an advantageous sacrifice in the middle of a rally and a personal hot streak. I admire that guy even more when he can beat it out for a single. Cabrera is a good basestealer, he is on par for around 20 steals this year. But he’s an even better base runner. He’s been doing this all year as well. I’ve rarely seen a player who can read the ball and fielders better than Melky. He often runs full boar on balls in the air that would have most runners pausing. Today, on a hit and run, he read Pagan’s line drive perfectly, didn’t slide into 2nd and advanced to third, which set him up to score on the sacrifice from Posey.

Giants fans are spoiled. It’s true. Yes, we have the best pitching staff in the majors. The view from basically all the seats is pretty awesome as well. There aren’t too many ball parks out there with the breadth of food that we get served up to us. But I’m not talking about any of that. Those are perks, but not the spoils. When was the last time you were at AT&T Park and the visiting fans out numbered the home fans? Can you imagine hearing cheering erupt from the seats if Kershaw struck out Posey? Or Tulo chants echoing around China Basin? It can be hard not to take the dedication and spirit of Giants fans for granted, but every time I watch our team play at Petco Park it reminds me that not all teams have that sort of fan base.

When will they start automatically tazing anyone who steps one unauthorized foot on the field? Clearly a night in the slammer, a fine, and an unenforceable lifetime ban isn’t enough to keep the idiots off the field. I’ll bet 50,000 volts would be enough.

 

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14 Innings of Fun

Fun: Watching a 14 inning, 4 hour 34 minute, baseball game, particularly when the Giants win.

Not fun: Watching 12 innings, or approximately 3 hours and 54 minutes in which the Giants don’t score.

I’m a diehard baseball fan; I would be happy if it never ended. You can ask my wife, who every year gets a false sense of hope when the season ends, only to hear me talk incessantly about who is doing well in the winter leagues, how much weight Pablo lost, or who got traded into or out of the NL and how that affects my NL only fantasy league.

So while I would much rather see Bumgarner pitch a gem, get around another costly Crawford error, and take a win home, the prospect of more baseball in extra innings takes a bit of the sting out of a game-tying HR by Ryan “Doesn’t do PEDs on a Technicality” Braun. However, watching the Giants went 4 extra innings in which they could only muster 2 base runners (1 hit and 1 HBP) and went down in order thrice does not make for riveting baseball; particularly against the 4th worst bullpen in the majors. Finally, in the 14th, Hector Sanchez got his 2nd Major League HR to win it for us. He reportedly told Krukow that he isn’t much of a power hitter, with relatively few HRs in the minors. Guess what…he’s 22! He’s got a lot of time to build his power.

A lot has been said about Bochy’s decision to leave Madison in there to face Braun in the 8th. He had Romo greased up and ready to go, and Romo is a better matchup given that he pitches right handed and eats right handed batters for breakfast. But let’s not forget that in 2012, Bumgarner has been eating all batters for breakfast. He has a sub-3 ERA and righties are hitting only .239 off him. He had just struck out 10 batters and had been dominate all game. I think it’s a no brainer to leave him, and I would have criticized Bochy for not doing so. Yes, Romo is likely the most reliable relief pitcher in the majors right now, but I’ve never understood the logic of pulling a pitcher who has been doing it all night, getting outs left and right, in favor of a guy who has been sitting on a bench, usually with a worse view of the game than the fans in the nose-bleed seats.

Aoki and Arias. They have similar names, similar builds, similar skills, and kept getting each other out all night long. It seemed like each was making a point of hitting the ball to the other, as if to say “go ahead, I want you to get me out.” Arias made an amazing off-balance throw from foul territory on an attempted bunt hit to get Aoki out by a couple steps. It will be interesting to see what happens to Arias when Pablo comes back. Bochy has been stacking his lineups defensively rather than offensively of late, and it seems to be working. Joaquin is a magician in the field; he looks like the clumsiest guy out there, yet always manages to coerce his lanky limbs into making tough play. And he has a hell of an arm. Obviously Pablo will need to be in the lineup, so will Arias move to 2B? It looks less and less like Sanchez is going to come back to claim that spot, so it’s a definite possibility.

Now, the best moment of the game. Great defensive work by Arias? 14th inning homer by the rookie catcher? A season high 10 Ks by Bumgarner? All good moments, but the greatest was Casilla’s first official career at bat. He came to the plate sporting an OBP of 1.000 with 1 career walk. It was hard to not laugh as he flailed at the pitches from the extreme edge of the batter’s box, particularly as they kept cutting to Affelt as he was clearly composing his postgame recap of the at bat for the reporters. He went with, “It was embarrassing. He looked like someone was shooting at him.”

Who doesn’t love gifs? @Gidget sure does, and she made some great one’s capturing Casilla’s swings (or lack there off). Below are two of my favorites.

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