Sunday, September 23, 2012

GIANTS      89-63   ...           * GIANTS WIN IT *
Los Angeles 78-74   11 GB

Giants defeated San Diego, 8-4, to clinch their eighth National League West division pennant.
LA lost at Cincinnati, 6-0.

Giants finish up the San Diego series with a 1:05 PDT start at the 'Bell in something of a 'victory lap' for the home fans. Tim Lincecum is the scheduled starter, but we'll see.

Last Night's Game
It's fitting that a guy who wasn't even on the team at mid-season provided most of the oomph that built this pennant-clinching win. Marco Scutaro drove in three runs with another 3-for-5 game as the Giants scored early and often. It was plenty for Madison Bumgarner, who struck out six in five-plus and was pulled at the first hint of trouble, and who won his team-leading 16th game. Both Brandon Belt (three runs scored on two hits and a walk) and Angel Pagan (two runs scored on a hit and a walk) ensured there'd be enough baserunners for Scutaro as well as for Hunter Pence and Buster Posey, each of whom hit a sacrifice fly early on. With LA already having been blanked earlier on the day, there was a feeling of inevitability about this one, and when Pagan recorded the final out on a fly ball to center, the 42,418 on hand were treated to a high-fiving victory lap around the perimeter after the obligatory on-field group hug.

And so it will be the San Francisco Giants against either the Washington Nationals or the Cincinnati Reds when post-season play opens October 5. Where and when have yet to be determined. The Reds clinched their own division with the win over LA, while Washington still has to eliminate Atlanta, who will certainly be the home team in the one-game wild-card showdown.

As for us, we'll post a few representative photos and then take about ten days off, returning in time to wrap up the regular season and such, a day or so before the division series commence.

Credit to for the above image.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

GIANTS       88-63  ...           It could happen today.
Los Angeles  78-73  10 GB   Postseason still a possibility.

Giants defeated San Diego, 5-1.
LA defeated Cincinnati, 3-1.

Giants host San Diego; a rare 6:05 PM PDT (9:05 EDT) twilight start. Madison Bumgarner has a chance to drive the Golden Spike if circumstances permit.
LA is at Cincinnati; 4:05 EDT. The Giants will know the result of this game by the time they take the field this evening.

Last Night's Game
Ryan Vogelsong hadn't won a game since the end of August, and hadn't pitched a quality start since before that. Last night, over six businesslike innings, he won his 13th game and brought the Giants to the brink of the division title. Plenty of help had he, as the top of the order (Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro) reached base five times and scored three runs between them, as Pablo Sandoval went 3-for-3 with his fourth homer in three games, as Gregor Blanco threw out a runner at the plate from left field, and as three sturdy relievers (Affeldt, Casilla, Romo) finished up with three scoreless innings.

Friday, September 21, 2012

GIANTS      87-63  ...           Magic number: 3.
Los Angeles 77-73  10 GB   Turn out the lights; the party's over.

Giants bombarded Colorado, 9-2, sweeping the four-game series.
LA lost at Washington, 4-1.

Giants versus San Diego in the first of three; 7:15 PDT at AT&T Park. Ryan Vogelsong tries once more to regain his winning ways.
LA is at Cincinnati; 7:10 EDT.

Yesterday's Game
The Giants not only swept through the Rockies in four games, they racked up 24 runs in the process, which is a welcome change from their usual run drought at home. Last night Pablo Sandoval continued to put on a show. The ebullient, switch-hitting "Panda" pulled a Mickey Mantle, belting a first-inning homer from the right side and then highlighting the six-run fourth with another bomb from the left. For the second straight night the Giants pounded out 14 hits, including two more (with two RBI) from Marco Scutaro and Buster (.335) Posey's 23rd home run. The beneficiary of all this largesse was Barry Zito, who was gifted with a rare cheap win for his 13th. Heaven knows Barry's earned his share of those with some tough losses even in this, his best year as a Giant. He struck out six in six innings but was eminently hittable, allowing 11 baserunners. Three infield double plays kept him out of harm's way until the sixth, when Bruce Bochy summoned George Kontos from the bullpen with two on, two out, and 97 pitches in the bag. Kontos retired the side without incident, followed by three guys-- Guillermo Mota, Clay Hensley, and Brad Penny-- who may not make the postseason roster, but who did their jobs and then some.

The Inevitable
The Giants could clinch as early as tomorrow afternoon, especially the way LA is playing of late. If the Dodgers muster up some resistance to the Reds, however, the Giants could end up being the first team to clinch. Cincy's "magic number" is two. If they win tonight and St Louis loses at Chicago, the NL Central is in the bag for our old friend Dusty Baker... Which reminds us, Johnnie B is already in Chicago-- albeit in a hospital being tested for an irregular heartbeat. Another former Giant, Chris Speier, is provisional manager, though Dusty expects to be back in the dugout tomorrow... Milwaukee passed LA in the second-wild-card race last night, but the Cardinals still lead that race by two and a half games... For the Giants to get home-field advantage in the opening division series, they're gonna need some help. They are four games behind Washington and Cincinnati, and therefore will open at whichever of those two doesn't land the wild-card survivor, unless they catch up over the next twelve games.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

GIANTS      86-63   ...          Magic number: 5.
Los Angeles 77-72   9 GB    Kemp's homer keeps them alive.

Giants defeated Colorado, 7-1, as Matt Cain won his 15th game.
LA split a doubleheader with the Nationals at Washington, rallying to win the nightcap after losing the opener.

Giants finish up with Colorado, a 12:45 PM (PDT) daytime start at the 'Bell. Barry Zito will try for his 13th win and the Giants will try for a rare four-game series sweep.
LA and Washington conclude their series at Nationals Park tonight; 7:05 EDT.

Last Night's Game
This one went off like clockwork, with great starting pitching, 14 hits, a three-run first inning, and a general air of inevitability about the whole thing. The Giants can smell that pennant now, there's a better-than-average chance they'll clinch it this coming weekend, and the 41,292 in attendance last night were thus treated to a clinic on winning baseball games. There's Matt Cain, striking out eight in eight relatively mild, 116-pitch innings, allowing four singles and giving his hard-working bullpen mates a night off. There's Pablo Sandoval, taken for granted in the middle of the lineup even as his average dropped 20 points, belting a three-run homer in the first to put the Giants up early and going 3-for-5 on the night. There's Gregor Blanco, the left fielder du jour, with a 3-for-4 in the seven spot, scoring no runs but driving in two. There's error-free defense, a key double play, and three stolen bases with nobody caught (including Sandoval's first theft of the season). Now, this being baseball, we might well see a truly ugly affair today with nothing going right, even if the Giants manage to win, but the occasional glimpse of how good this team can be, such as we saw last night, reminds us of 2010. And, as the song says, you know that can't be bad.

The "Matt Cain for Cy Young Award" campaign faces one major obstacle, and his name is R.A. Dickey. It would not surprise us to see Dickey, passed over for the All-Star Game start in the wake of Matt's perfecto, edge him out for the award, especially if Dickey wins 20 (he currently has 18). Dickey is just ever so slightly ahead of Matt in all the major statistical categories-- wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched, WHIP-- and he plays in New York, whose Mets have had a majorly disappointing season (again). Frankly, we expect him to get it, especially since Clayton Kershaw now is injured... For you Stephen Strasburg fans, take it up with Nationals management. He's the greatest young pitcher in the game, but until he completes a full season, his time has not yet come... Tim Lincecum is second in the league in walks allowed, ninth in strikeouts.... Hunter Pence, sixth in the league in RBI, had 59 in 101 games with Philadelphia and has 36 in 46 with the Giants, though his average has dropped 41 points since the trade... Angel Pagan is eighth in runs scored with 87, leads with 14 triples, and we're still hoping he can hit two more homers. Only four other players are in double digits for doubles, triples, and homers... Since joining the Giants, Marco Scutaro is hitting .353 in 50 games.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

GIANTS      85-63   ...            Magic number: 7.
Los Angeles 76-71   8.5 GB   Weatherman does no favors, either.

Giants defeated Colorado, 6-3, as Tim Lincecum won his 10th game.
LA was rained out at Washington.

Giants host Colorado again; 7:15 PDT at the 'Bell. Matt Cain's turn.
LA have a doubleheader at Washington; early game at 4:05 EDT, nightcap around 7:30 EDT depending on the first game. Aaron Harang and Josh Beckett, two of the Dodgers' mid-season pickups, will start.

Last Night's Game
Don't look now, but Tim Lincecum, after a season of unprecedented struggle, is turnin' the ol' corner. Last night's six-plus shutout innings were his best start since 'way back on July 31. More importantly, it was "The Freak's" fourth straight quality start, officially marking September as his 'turnaround month'. His last bad start was August 15, the day of Melky Cabrera's suspension, and his second-half ERA now stands at 3.06, good enough to lower his season mark to 4.91-- awful by his standard, but a season low nonetheless. The whole line, in fact, looked like typical Lincecum : five hits, six K's, a modest 106 pitches. As for the offense, two RBI singles by Xavier "Welcome Back" Nady and two runs scored by Marco "3-for-5" Scutaro tell most of the story, though Angel Pagan did hit his 14th triple to highlight a two-run eighth that made things a lot easier for Sergio Romo in the ninth.

The Dodgers remain "contenduhs" for that second wild-card spot, which the Cardinals would claim if the season ended today. Should LA sweep the Nats tonight, they could tie if St Louis loses to Houston. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia are one, two, and two-and-a-half games behind, respectively... The Yankees and Baltimore have turned the AL East into a two- team battle, with Tampa fading six games back... Chicago has, for now, beaten back Detroit's challenge in the Central; the Sox lead by three... The LA Angels beat Texas last night in the first game of a series that may be their final chance to stay in either the division or wild-card race. Meanwhile, Oakland still has a shot at overtaking the Rangers... LA skipper Don Mattingly has a major challenge with his pitching rotation, thanks to the rainout, the doubleheader, and Clayton Kershaw's continuing day-to-day unavailability... OK, the earliest the Giants could possibly clinch would be Friday night. They'd have to sweep the next two from Colorado, then win the weekend opener against the Padres, while LA would need to lose all three at Washington plus the weekend opener at Cincinnati. Not likely, but not impossible, either; we're just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

GIANTS       84-63   ...         Magic number: 8.
Los Angeles  76-71   8 GB    Schedule-maker does no favors.

Giants defeated Colorado, 2-1, as Madison Bumgarner won his 15th game.
LA was idle.

Giants host Colorado; 7:15 PDT at the 'Bell. Tim Lincecum, who has pitched three quality starts in a row since September began, bids to join his four rotation-mates in the double-digit-win club.
LA is at Washington for the first of three; 7:05 EDT. The Sena-- whoops, Nationals-- have hit a rare three-game losing skid, and Atlanta has pulled within five games. Maybe the Dodgers have come to town at the right time.

Last Night's Game
It wasn't pretty-- it never is when you walk five men in six innings-- but it was enough, and that's what we look for in September. Madison Bumgarner won his 15th game with big-time help from his fielders. There was a double play, two caught stealing, and a runner thrown out at the plate. Hunter Pence's RBI single in the sixth broke the tie; he has 35 RBI in 44 games since joining the Giants. And the familiar five-man tag-team finished up in fine fashion, allowing one baserunner over the final three.

Monday, September 17, 2012

GIANTS      83-63   ...             Magic number: 9.
Los Angeles 76-71   7.5 GB    Series split not what they needed.

Giants lost at Arizona, 10-2.
LA lost to St Louis, 5-2, in twelve innings.

Giants face Colorado in the first of a four-game home series; 7:15 PDT at the 'Bell. Madison Bumgarner starts. It's the beginning of a ten-game homestand which the Giants hope will serve to clinch the pennant.
LA is idle. They're flying east to open a six-game road trip at Washington and Cincinnati, the other two National League division leaders.

Yesterday's Game
It came apart suddenly for Ryan Vogelsong in the fourth after the Giants had tied the game at 2-2. Joaquin Arias, starting at short, booted a leadoff grounder, and our old friend Cody Ransom doubled (why didn't he ever do that here?). The book says that with one out, you walk the eight hitter to load the bases and get to the pitcher, so Vogelsong did so, and opposite number Patrick Corbin tripled down the right-field line to make quick hash of that strategy. One unintentional walk later, Vogelsong was excused for the rest of the afternoon, but Adam Eaton bid him a proper farewell with a two-run double off reliever Shane Loux. After that it was all academic. Bright moments: Brandon Belt up to .271, Buster Posey's 93rd RBI, Angel Pagan 2-for-3 with a run scored in the leadoff spot.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

GIANTS        83-62    ...           Magic number: 10.
Los Angeles   76-70   7.5 GB   Walk-off rally ties 'em for wild-card.

Giants defeated Arizona, 3-2, as Barry Zito won his 12th game.
LA defeated St Louis, 4-3, and now are tied with the Cardinals for the second wild-card spot.

Giants finish up at Arizona; 2:10 local time (4:10 EDT). Ryan Vogelsong starts.
LA completes the St Louis series; 1:10 PDT at Chavez Ravine.

Last Night's Game
There's no way around it; right now the Giants' three most effective starters are Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Barry Zito, and the first postseason game is only three weeks away. Zito continued to make his case with six-plus innings of six-hit one-run ball, and the Giants have now won eight consecutive Barry Z starts. Arizona's Rookie-of-the-Year candidate, Wade Miley, also pitched well, but Angel Pagan led off the game with his San Francisco-record 13th triple and scored on Marco Scutaro's single. In the fifth, Buster Posey launched his 22nd homer, a two-run shot that was enough to carry Zito, and three relievers, to the finish line, where Sergio Romo got his 11th save.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

GIANTS       82-62    ...             Magic number: 11.
Los Angeles  75-70    7.5 GB    Locked in a wild-card battle.

Giants defeated Arizona, 6-2, as Matt Cain won his 14th game.
LA defeated St Louis, 8-5, after losing on Thursday.

Giants at Arizona, 8:10 PM EDT (6:10 PM local). Barry Zito starts against Arizona's rookie 'phenom' Wade Miley, who has already won 15 games. Amazingly, the last time the Giants lost a Zito start was on August 2.
LA hosts St Louis again, 5:10 PDT.

Last Night's Game
Hunter Pence belted a 2-2 fastball for a third-inning grand slam, and that was all Matt Cain needed for his 14th win of the season. Cain made it into the sixth, was pulled after the first two batters reached base, and the usual parade of relievers, six in all, followed. 34 of Cain's 106 pitches came in a lengthy, improbable first inning in which he gave up three walks and one hit yet didn't allow a run, thanks to Buster Posey throwing out Adam Eaton trying to steal third. After Pence's blast, the only remaining drama came in the eighth, when Bruce Bochy allowed Santiago Casilla to bat with the bases loaded and two out. The reliever then grounded one through the hole into right for a two-run single, his first career hit and RBI. So unfamiliar was Casilla with this whole "hitting" thing, he wasn't sure what to do after he got to first base. And people say Roberto Kelly has it easy over there in the first-base coach's box...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

GIANTS       81-62    ...          Magic number: 13.
Los Angeles  74-69    7 GB    This is turning into a simple countdown.

Giants defeated Colorado, 8-3, taking two out of three at Coors Field.
LA lost again at Arizona, 3-2; the Diamondbacks swept the series and now are closer to the Dodgers than are the Dodgers to the Giants.

Giants have the day off. They're on their way to Arizona for the weekend.
LA opens a four-game series at home against St Louis. Right now the Dodgers and Cardinals are the contenders for the second wild-card spot, with Pittsburgh just behind and (gasp) the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers coming up on the outside, running hard.

Last Night's Game
Dominant no more, Tim Lincecum pitched smart, got himself out of a couple of jams, and let the Giants' five-run first inning carry him home to win number nine. Oh, he can still bring it, as evidenced by eight strikeouts in six innings, but he also walked four and gave up six hits. His game WHIP (1.67) and ERA (4.50) are pretty much in line with his season totals. The good news is, he hasn't had a bad start since mid-August, and folks, that truly is encouraging. As for that five-run first, it was a six-man effort, with Gregor Blanco's leadoff (yes!) triple and Brandon Crawford's two-run double sandwiched around four singles.

Blanco replaced Angel Pagan in center and in the leadoff spot, as Pagan is nursing a split callus (not "callous," as would have it; that adjectival reference is more appropriate for our own attitude toward grammatical and usage errors; snark) that makes it difficult for him to grip a bat... Brandon Belt is hitting .351 over the past six weeks and is spending more time in left field, which ia also good news for Hector Sanchez... All the pennant races are in the American League. Texas can't shake off the Oakland A's, who have closed within three by winning six straight, while Detroit will be trying for a sweep of the White Sox tonight and a flat-footed tie for first place in the Central. Then there's the East, where Baltimore has held on to a tie for first by knocking Tampa back three games, and the Yankees kept pace by beating Boston in Fenway Park last night. The change in status of the wild-card spot has, as we had hoped, made the division pennant much more attractive, and there doesn't appear to be a "settle for" team dampening the enthusiasm in those division races.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GIANTS      80-62    ...         Had same mark at this point in 2010.
Los Angeles  74-68   6 GB   Is this turning into a simple countdown?

Giants defeated Colorado, 9-8.
LA lost at Arizona, 1-0, on Ian Kennedy's five-hit shutout.

Giants finish up at Colorado; 5:40 PM local time. Tim Lincecum starts; since being shelled here back in April he has put up three pretty good starts against the 'Rocks.' Jeff Francis (0-1 against the Giants this year) opposes.
LA concludes the series at Arizona. They'll be opening a four-game set at home against the Cardinals tomorrow.

Last Night's Game
Madison Bumgarner's three-run homer, Angel Pagan's record-tying 12th triple, Brandon Belt's 4 RBI-- it's almost enough to make us forget Bumgarner's fourth straight lousy start and the uncomfortable realization that the Giants' best two starts over the past three weeks have both been by Barry Zito. Well, it was three games in one, actually. The first three innings were all about the Rockies, and "Bum's" inability to get them out-- 4-0, Colorado. The middle three were a 8-1 Giants rout, with the youngster blasting his second homer of the year to tie the ballgame in the fourth, Belt doubling home two in the fifth, and Pagan, in the sixth, tying Willie Mays and Steve Finley (!) as the only San Francisco Giants to hit 12 triples in a season. Over the final three, it was The Search for the Missing Outs, starring five Giants relievers, with their co-stars in the Colorado lineup steadily banging out hits, 17 in all, until Javier Lopez finally got Jason Giambi (yes, he's still around) to end it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

GIANTS      79-62    ...          Quality starts harder to come by lately.
Los Angeles  74-67    5 GB    In same postseason boat as crosstown rivals.

Giants lost at Colorado, 6-5.
LA was idle.

Giants at Colorado, 6:40 PM local time (8:40 EDT, 5:40 PDT). Madison Bumgarner opposes Jhoulys (how do you pronounce that?) Chacin, whom the Giants haven't seen since April.
LA opens a three-game set in Arizona. Clayton Kershaw against Ian Kennedy.

Last Night's Game
Ryan Vogelsong's string of substandard starts continues, and that's cause for alarm with Tim Lincecum likewise inconsistent. Actually, Vogelsong recovered reasonably well after a bad first inning, and the Giants rallied twice, which on many occasions would have been enough. It was in the sixth, after Vogelsong had departed, that the game really was lost. Pablo Sandoval's two-out nobody-on fielding error led to a two-run explosion, turning a 4-2 game into 6-2, and the Giants tried hard but fell short over the final frames. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence both homered in the losing effort.

Today, of course, is the annniversary of the 2001 attack on America. We read yesterday that the year-old Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pa., which opened one year ago, has been attracting more and more visitors. We're doubly glad that the finalized plans for the design have eliminated the odious 'crescent' shape in favor of a true circle, and that urban legends about the number of trees and wind chimes have been debunked. The heroes of '93' deserve a moment of reflection today, and their unflinching stand against evil stands as a reminder to those who still somehow believe appeasement and accommodation are appropriate responses to our enemies.

Monday, September 10, 2012

GIANTS      79-61    ...              Great day to be a 'Frisco sports fan.
Los Angeles  74-67    5.5 GB    Wild-card spot may be more realistic goal.

Giants defeated LA , 4-0, taking two out of three in the pivotal series, as Barry Zito pitched six shutout innings for his 11th win.

Giants at Colorado, 6:40 MDT start. Ryan Vogelsong looks to get untracked in the rarefied air of Coors Field.
LA has the day off. They open a three-game set at Arizona Tuesday.

Last Night's Game
Well, it's been a long time comin'. Six years after signing that embarrassingly large contract, Barry Zito finally won a crucial stretch-drive game for the Giants with a dominant pitching performance against a quality team. His oft-derided fastball settling in at about 85 MPH, the lefty made judicious use of his changeup and big curveball to hit his spots and blank the Dodgers into the seventh inning. The result? The defeated Dodgers trudge out of the 'Bell one game further back than they were upon arrival, with three fewer games left to do anything about it, an intimidating schedule ahead (Cardinals in a week, then road trips to Cincinnati and Washington, the other two NL division leaders), and an overall feeling that this just ain't gonna be the year. Zito's performance also has ignited some debate about the Giants' upcoming postseason starting rotation (assuming as always that the wheels stay on the ol' wagon). It was easy enough to dismiss him in 2010, but it won't be if he wins a few more games like this! The Giants benefited from a weird, possibly workout-related hip injury to scheduled starter Clayton Kershaw, and instead faced Joe Blanton, whom we all remember from the NLCS two years ago. Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence dinged Blanton for two quick runs in the first, Pagan legged out his 11th triple in the fifth and later scored, and Buster "MVP" Posey led off the sixth with his 20th homer. That was plenty. In true Bruce Bochy fashion, five relievers followed Zito, with Sergio Romo getting the last two outs as the sold-out 'Bell erupted in jubilation.

The American League East continues to entertain. Yesterday, the stumbling Yankees righted themselves and slapped down the chasing Baltimore Orioles, 13-3, before a host of disappointed fans at Camden Yards, and regained their fragile division lead. Tampa Bay remains two back. Boston is out of it for a change, but they have a chance to really hurt the Yanks this week at Fenway... What a pleasure it is to listen to Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona talking baseball and pitching during the ESPN games. Both had insightful comments regarding Zito and the razor-thin margin of command and control that separates his strong starts from his weak ones... Kudos to this week's opponents, the Colorado Rockies, for rightly severing their promotional ties with the "Nickelodeon" TV network after its continued support of actor/thug Jason Biggs' bigoted and hateful public comments.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

GIANTS      78-61   ...             Suppose rubber-match was inevitable all along.
Los Angeles 74-66   4.5 GB    Kershaw takes the mound in prime time.

LA defeated the Giants, 3-2.

Giants and LA square off on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball at 5:05 PDT (8:05 EDT) from the 'Bell. It's the rubber match of the series, with two lefties-- Barry Zito and Clayton Kershaw-- starting.

Last Night's Game
Matt Cain would sure like to try again on pitch number 103, which he slung into the dirt and away from Buster Posey, allowing the tying run to score in the eighth. Up to that point, Cain had pitched well enough to win, and the Giants had just taken a 2-1 lead against Chris Capuano, who also pitched well enough to win and even scored the Dodgers' first run. Given a chance to work his way out of a jam after Juan Rivera led off the eighth with a double and was sacrificed to third, Cain instead uncorked his second wild pitch of the game, and Santiago Casilla came in to get the last two outs. In the top of the ninth, Jeremy Affeldt didn't fare so well. Two of those expensive LA pickup players, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, tripled and doubled, respectively, costing Affeldt his second loss of the season. Oddly enough, LA then ran, or perhaps walked, themselves out of a potential big inning. After Andre Ethier walked, Ramirez started jogging toward third, apparently forgetting there was nobody on first! Posey quickly rifled one to Pablo Sandoval for an easy tag. Next at-bat, Ethier took off for second and was nailed by Posey's throw to end the inning. Gregor Blanco's two-out double in the ninth put the tying run at second, but Brandon League struck out Hector Sanchez to end it. For the first time in what seems like weeks, the Dodgers actually gained a full game on the Giants, and should they win tonight they'll leave town having taken two of three and ensuring the pennant race will last for some time yet. For the Giants, a win tonight essentially repels the Hated Invader, though a sweep would have likely delivered the death-blow. Well, the folks at ESPN certainly must be happy at the way things have turned out, especially since the NFL season opens today. Go Giants! (And Niners!)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

GIANTS      78-60   ...            Biggest lead of the season so far
Los Angeles 73-66   5.5 GB    Player-pickup frenzy hasn't paid off yet

Giants defeated LA, 5-2.

Giants face LA in round two at 1:05 PDT (4:05 EDT). Matt Cain opposes southpaw Chris Capuano, whose early-season success has faded of late.

Last Night's Game
The Dodgers have been moving heaven and earth, player-wise, to get a pennant-winning lineup onto the field in the face of many injuries and struggles. Last night Josh Beckett, one-time World Series ace for two clubs, kept a lid on things for five innings, allowing three hits and one run. LA held a 2-1 lead thanks to a small-ball rally in the third and a solo homer by Adam Kennedy-- who certainly experienced both the highs and lows of this game within one hour-- in the sixth. Meanwhile, Tim Lincecum was uncharacteristically wild (seven walks to match his seven Ks in six-plus), but overall good enough to win, though he didn't. The Giants picked him up in the sixth when Angel Pagan, fighting his recent slump, led off with a bunt single that Kennedy couldn't handle. Buster Posey worked Beckett for a walk, and Hunter Pence then grounded one between third and short. It appeared to be shortstop Hanley Ramirez' ball, but Kennedy, perhaps trying to make something happen, waved at it and flicked it into left field as Pagan came in to tie the score. LA manager Don Mattingly, clearly irritated by all this, yanked Kennedy in favor of one Luis Cruz an inning later. It didn't help. Hector Sanchez and Brandon Crawford opened with a hit and a walk; Bruce Bochy, sensing blood in the water, sent Gregor Blanco in to run for Sanchez. With the sold-out crowd sending up a tremendous racket, pinch- hitter Emmanuel Burris dropped a perfect sac bunt to advance the two. Facing the toughest defensive situation in baseball, Mattingly had Beckett walk Pagan to face Marco Scutaro. It was six weeks ago the Giants picked this guy up when it became apparent Freddy Sanchez wasn't coming back; that little deal was completely overshadowed by LA's concurrent acquisition of Ramirez. Well, how do you like me now? Scutaro's broken-bat blooper dropped untouched into right field, two runs scored, and the Giants owned the night, They added another run in the eighth and Sergio Romo got the save with three groundouts in the ninth, but the game truly turned in the seventh. And let's give another hand to Bochy: defying the silly habit of holding back your closer until you have a lead in the ninth, he went with Santiago Casilla in the top of that seventh inning with two on, one out, and the heart of the order due up. Matt Kemp grounded out, but advanced both runners, and then with Ramirez up and the Dodgers one hit away from a 4-1 lead, Casilla struck him out on five pitches, setting up the bottom of the inning and earning Casilla his 7th win. Yes, that's a lot of "sevens" in this paragraph, and with a win today and another tomorrow (on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball") the Giants can stretch their lead to seven and a half games, which is mighty big this time of year.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

GIANTS      77-60   ...            Dropped an eminently winnable series.
Los Angeles 73-65   4.5 GB    How long can this charity go on?

Giants lost to Arizona again, 6-2.
LA "kept pace" by losing to San Diego again, 4-3.

Both teams have the day off as the Dodgers fly north to begin a three-game series at the 'Bell starting tomorrow night.

Last Night's Game
"Losing ugly" comes in many forms, and last night the Giants did their best to offer as much variety as they could. We had the normally jolly Pablo Sandoval exploding in confrontational rage after a tight play at third. Xavier Nady limped off the field with a hamstring injury that may land him on the DL. Trevor Cahill no-hit the Giants through six. Madison Bumgarner turned in the team's fourth straight substandard start, and lost his tenth decision. It all added up to a series lost that ought to have been won. Highlights were few; Brandon Belt drove in both runs with one of the Giants' two hits, but ultimately all that did was get Cahill out of there in favor of three relievers who gave us bupkus. Bumgarner, for his part, wasn't awful, although he wasn't all that good either. Trailing 2-0 in the seventh, he allowed two one-out hits and another run, and was pulled in favor of Jean Machi, who surrendered three runs on three straight hits to decide the ballgame.

Joaquin Arias, Ryan Theriot, and Belt have all been mentioned as replacement left fielders with Nady sidelined. Using Belt might get Hector Sanchez in on a regular basis, with Buster Posey likely to man first base... Angel Pagan is hitting .200 with four walks in 45 at-bats (.265 OBP) over the last ten games. It may be time to move him down to sixth again; that's where he was when he got hot... Over the same period Belt is at .379, though he's only drawn one walk, but who bats their first baseman leadoff? Gotta love that peer pressure... Aubrey Huff also might see a larger role if Belt moves to left, and how great would it be if he had a memorable September after all that's happened to him since 2010... We still think Gregor Blanco can play, but it's what Bruce Bochy thinks that counts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

GIANTS       77-59   ...              Last three starts a worrying trend.
Los Angeles  73-64   4.5 GB      Haven't gained a game in weeks.

Giants lost to Arizona, 8-6, in eleven innings.
LA obligingly lost to San Diego, 6-3, also in 11 innings.

Giants finish up with Arizona; 7:15 start. Madison Bumgarner takes the baton in search of his fifteenth win.
LA conclude the San Diego series, then get ready to fly north.

Last Night's Game
Bruce Bochy's pitching merry-go-'round may have reached its apotheosis last night, or more likely that's just wishful thinking. Ten-- count 'em, ten-- relievers paraded across the stage in support of Ryan Vogelsong, who surrendered six runs before being yanked with one out in the fourth. Three names you may not know-- Dan Otero, Shane Loux, and Jose Mijares-- safely guided the way through the seventh, giving the Giants a chance to rally and tie it up. But in the can't-stand-prosperity department, it took three more pitchers-- Jean Machi, Jeremy Affeldt, and finally Santiago Casilla-- just to get through the eighth. Then Sergio Romo was Da Man in the ninth and tenth, getting six straight outs, but in the tenth it fell upon Javier Lopez, whose whole season has been a struggle. Coming in with one on and one out, facing Jason Kubel in one of those lefty-lefty situations "Boch" loves, Lopez gave up a triple and, later, an RBI single for insurance. The last cast member to take a bow was Guillermo Mota, who successfully closed the barn door after the horse had bolted. Bright moments? Mostly on offense, where Brandon Belt capped a three-hit night with a monster two-run homer into McCovey Cove in the sixth, making it a one-run game. An inning later, Pablo Sandoval, who had opened that sixth-inning rally with a double, singled to tie the game. In the weirdness department, both teams loaded the bases with one out in the eighth and didn't score. This was a fine moment for Casilla, who came in with the sacks clogged and got two popups to end it, and a not-so-fine one for Hector Sanchez, who grounded into a double play in the bottom of the frame to kill the Giants' threat.

It's Fat City for a change here in the mid-Atlantic, where the perennially-awful Washington Nationals have morphed into Murderers' Row, leading the NL East by seven and a half games. And last night the Baltimore Orioles beat the Yankees to tie for first in the AL East, having gained five games in ten days. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, lurks just a game and a half behind. The AL Central also has a real pennant race, with Detroit a game behind the White Sox, and in the AL West the Texas Rangers have yet to shake off the Oakland A's and the distant-but-dangerous L.A. Angels. As for the National League, the Giants and Dodgers are it for pennant-race aficionados, since Cincinnati has sewed up the Central much as Washington has the East.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

GIANTS      77-58     ...           Rallies in eighth, ninth, and tenth to win it.
Los Angeles  73-63   4.5 GB    'Doctor Longball' prescribes a win.

Giants defeated Arizona, 9-8, in ten innings.
LA beat San Diego, 4-3, in 11 innings.

Giants host Arizona; 7:15 at the 'Bell;. Ryan Vogelsong goes for his 13th win against Ian Kennedy, also seeking his 13th win.
LA's at home against San Diego again, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound.

Last Night's Game
Not to put too fine a point on it, but these are the kind of games that pennant-winning teams tend to pull out at this time of year. Barry Zito, given a 4-0 first inning lead, imploded in the sixth along with his bullpen mates, to the tune of four runs allowed and a 7-4 deficit. The Giants then resolutely chipped away. Five ground balls in the seventh-- the first of them a pinch single by 2012's Forgotten Man, Aubrey Huff-- brought one run across. Arizona answered back in the eighth, but a big inning was averted when a series of sharp relays between catcher Hector Sanchez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval resulted in our old friend, Cody Ransom, being tagged out at the plate. In the bottom of the frame, after two were out, three straight hits by Sanchez, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt made it 8-7. Then it was the ninth, and Marco Scutaro's leadoff double followed by Buster Posey's 85th RBI to tie the game. And after winning pitcher Sergio Romo's perfect top of the tenth, it was small-ball all the way: Crawford's single, runner-advancing outs by Brett Pill and Angel Pagan, and then Scutaro coming through with the walk-off grounder through the hole and into left.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Race Is On

Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts. With 28 games left to play in the season, the San Francisco Giants lead the NL West by four and a half games over their great rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year's champions, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have faded back, fallen below .500, and trail by ten and a half. If there's gonna be a race, folks, it'll be a two-team sprint to the finish, like 1951 and 1962 and 1965 and 1966 and 1971 and 1997 and 2004. Fear not, O faint of heart: the Giants won four of those races and they can with this one, too, if they keep doing what they're doing right now.

Just about three weeks ago, the Giants' leading hitter and the subject of what looked like one of the all-time-great 'steal' trades, Melky Cabrera, was suspended for violating the league rule against illegal supplementary drugs. In the wake of the wailing and gnashing of teeth and self-righteous finger-waggling which followed, the Giants have won 12, lost 4, and taken and then widened the division lead.  Playing .750 ball without the "cheater", as opposed to .542 with him, leads us to suggest that those who bray about forfeiting team wins as a further penalty for harboring "cheaters" now own up and award the Giants 24 extra wins, since evidently Cabrera's PED-besotted presence in the lineup was a handicap, not an advantage.

OK, enough of that.  The real point here is that the Giants are as resilient and mature a team as there is in baseball, and this reflects not only on the roster but especially on manager Bruce Bochy.  In those 16 games the Giants have scored 80 runs, five per game, where they averaged 4.2 before. Bochy's handling of the lineup, and his day-to-day decisions as to who will start and where, have not only camouflaged a weakness but actually drawn strength from it. No manager can do more.

The Giants' Pythagorean won-lost projection has them dead-even with LA at 72-62, which means they are about four games to the good. They're eighth in the league in runs scored, which is a major improvement over last year, and fifth in runs allowed, which is a slight slip. Their unusually high ratio of unearned runs to overall runs, which we documented back in May, has flattened out to league average, thank goodness. AT&T Park continues to be a huge help to the pitchers: the Giants lead the league in fewest runs allowed at home, while on the road they are thirteenth. On the offensive side, it will come as no surprise to anyone that the Giants have scored fewer runs at home than any team, but get this: on the road, the San Francisco Giants lead the league in runs scored with 357.  Overall, their home record projects to 36-29, their road record to 36-33.

What does all this tell us? The Giants do not have the dominating pitching that carried them to the championship in 2010; instead they are a more balanced ballclub overall. How this affects their chances in the postseason, presuming they get to the postseason, is anyone's guess.

Speaking of trades, the "other" offseason trade, the one that brought Angel Pagan in exchange for Ramon Ramirez and Andres Torres, is looking better and better all the time. We excoriated Bochy early in the season for batting Pagan leadoff, because it seemed apparent the decision was made only because he looked like a leadoff hitter, in the grand manner of Dusty ("My Centerfielder Bats Leadoff") Baker. When his .284 OBP and the Giants' inability to score enough runs became brutally obvious, "Boch" inserted Gregor Blanco into the spot, and for two months it was a genius move. Then Blanco stopped hitting, to the point where his one-walk-per-game habit could no longer prop up his OBP, and back went Pagan into the top spot. Since then he has been a bonafide leadoff man. His OBP has reached .344 overall and is close to .400 since July. He has hit 30 doubles and ten triples and seems likely to be the first Giant to reach double-digit totals in all extra-base-hit categories since--  oh, shoot, we don't know, you look it up. Point is, Pagan has taken the baton and made a real difference for this team over the past month. And then we see our old buddy Ramon, having walked 30 men in 54 innnings for the Mets, and Torres, with a .650 OPS in 105 games. Good trade?

Bochy's judicious use of Ryan Theriot, recently-acquired Marco Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, and Joaquin (.417 in August) Arias throughout the middle infield is reminiscent of 2010, when he artfully juggled third basemen and shortstops all the way to the World Series. Draft-deadline pickup Hunter Pence and the newest Giant, Xavier "I Got Something To Prove" Nady, are candidates for the Cody Ross Lookalike sweepstakes; yes, we'd like to see Pence do more than he has, but we're sure happy with Nady's three-game stint so far.  At first base, Brandon Belt, one of the few who will regularly take a walk, is up to .267/.360/.404, just enough to keep the job. Across the infield, Pablo Sandoval is still able to slug .443, though it's obvious to just about everyone he's still feeling the effects of two injuries that have obliged him to miss 51 games already.

That leaves the team MVP, Buster Posey (.329, .405, .530, all tops on the club) who could be the league MVP, too. He, along with Pagan and Sandoval and, lately, Belt, are the only sure everyday starters. The rest depends on "Boch", and when you consider this crew is, again, leading the league in runs scored on the road, depend we will.

Anyone who's fought their way through this wordy thicket this far probably knows that the reason the Giants are thirteenth in pitching in neutral parks is because of one guy, Tim Lincecum, and his 5.21 ERA. It balloons up to 6.63 on the road, where the league is hitting .283 against him, and frankly his 5-6 away record is a lot better thn it deserves to be. At the 'Bell, he's still a "good" pitcher (4.01, .245) but sports a 3-8 mark. Then again, the overall season home/road split is so severe--  6.6 total runs per game at AT&T, 9.8 on the road, a whopping  48% difference-- one could make the argument that he's actually pitched better away from home. In any case, Lincecum's well-documented struggles are the Giants' biggest challenge as the stretch drive begins. He's simply too talented to consider not starting him, and he has been somewhat better since the All-Star break, but a September surge such as he had two years ago is simply too much to expect right now. We'd settle for a .500 month.

The triumvirate of Matt Cain (13-5, 2.98), Madison Bumgarner (14-9, 3.07) and Ryan Vogelsong (12-7, 3.02) has kept the Giants' starting pitching on track all year. If we win, Cain will get serious Cy Young consideration, for his perfect game and his years of unrequited excellence as well as his stats. Barry Zito, despite a WHIP almost as high as Lincecum's, has fared better in the decision department (10-8), and he's logged 149 innings coming back from last year's injury. As a fourth or fifth starter, he's perfectly adequate.
In the bullpen, the Giants have used fifteen different relievers so far, with familiar names Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and Sergio Romo getting much of the work. Less-familiar names Clay Hensley and George Kontos have made 87 appearances between them, picking up in part for Javier Lopez, who is not having a particularly good season. Hensley has been the weakest link, and as a result our old friend Brad Penny has joined the group. Meanwhile, Casilla has 24 saves and also six blown saves, while Romo has been the best of the bunch if you go by numbers alone. Lately both he and Lopez have been summoned in "save" situations, to the point where it looks like closer-by-committee for the first time in years.

The remaining 28 games of the season all are against NL West division opponents: nine against Arizona, seven against Colorado, six each against the Dodgers and Padres. 16 are at home, twelve away. It all starts tonight with the Diamondbacks in town for three, followed by three against LA next weekend. It ends with three in Chavez Ravine beginning on October 1. With their recent surge the Giants also remain contenders for either of the two wild-card spots if LA should suddenly get red-hot-- as long as they don't stumble too badly down the stretch. But with a 27-17 mark against their division rivals going into this month, the NL West pennant is there for the Giants' taking. It's time to take it!