Monday, September 29, 2014

End of the Regular Season

LA               94-68      ...                Finished with 5 straight wins.
GIANTS     88-74      6  GB          Same record as wild-card foe Bucs.
San Diego   77-85     17 GB          Ready to return to contention?
Colorado    66-96      28 GB          Seems like they start over a lot.
Arizona      64-98      30 GB          Awful start stayed with them all year.

For the first time since 2009, two National League West teams have qualified for postseason play. The Dodgers, who reached the NLCS a year ago, were the preseason favorite and are sitting just about where everyone expected. They face last year's nemeses, the St Louis Cardinals, in the semifinal round upcoming.  The Giants meanwhile are stuck in some weird perceptive limbo, in-between their old role as  Plucky Underdogs and their new one as two-time champions who somehow frittered away a nine-game June lead. You can't go back, only forward, and so the Giants would do well to remember the 2011 Cardinals, a team who started the postseason in a similar spot.

Did the Giants pull an el foldo, or did the Dodgers mount a historic charge? While it's an oddity that both Bay Area teams dominated their leagues at midseason, and that both subsequently lost those leads to their SoCal rivals and wound up qualifying as second-tier wild-cards, the two races aren't that similar. The Giants pulled an epic nosedive right out of first place in three weeks, and while LA certainly took advantage, they hardly ran away with it. Even after thrashing about in the darkness for two full months, the Giants remained close enough to make a battle of it deep into September. By contrast, the Angels simply went off like a delayed Atlas rocket over the summer while Oakland essentially stood still. People point to the Jon Lester trade as the date of the A's undoing, but our take on it is that LAA would have won going away regardless, so hot did they burn. Now we see which of these teams, built to win over the long haul, can best adjust to the short (Short? 43 games is short?) postseason.

All three possibilities for Monday do-or-die playoff action faded yesterday. Pittsburgh lost, giving St Louis the division, and in the AL Central Detroit won, making Kansas City's win irrelevant. Finally, the A's regained their form for at least one day with a shutout win over Texas, and thus Seattle, after denying the Angels their 99th win, head back to the barn empty-handed. No "City of Champions" designation for Raintown this year, even if the blasted Seahawks do repeat.

The Postseason
It all begins tomorrow night (7 PM local time, 8 PM EDT) at Kauffmann Stadium in Independence, Missouri, home of the Kansas City Royals. Expect a frenzied sellout crowd to cheer the Royals' every move as they host the Oakland A's in KC's first postseason game since the 1985 World Series, back when Ewing Kauffmann was very much alive.

Wednesday it's the Giants' turn at PNC Park in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. Madison Bumgarner, winner of 18 games, starts against Edinson Volquez, who has resurrected his career admirably in Pittsburgh (13-7, 3.04 ERA, 15th in the NL and just behind "Bum" at 2.98), The Giants did not face Volquez this year but they remember him well from his Cincinnati exploits.

The LA Angels await the winner of Tuesday's game for a likely 5 PM PDT (8 PM EDT) kickoff on Thursday, while Detroit plays at Baltimore the same day, probably at 1 PM EDT.  Friday the NL series begin, with Washington and LA the hosts, and it's anyone's guess which game will get the prime-time nod, though we lean toward the Dodgers and a 5 PM PDT (8 PM EDT) start against the Cardinals.

There are five California major-league baseball teams, and all have operated in the state since 1969. This year marks the first time that four of those five teams have made the postseason.  On two previous occasions-- in 2002 and in 2006-- three of the five made it. There have been several seasons where two made it, and there have been four California World Series: 1974, 1988, 1989, and 2002. The first two of those matched north and south (A's and Dodgers), we had the Bay Area "Earthquake Series" in 1989, and the "Wild Card" Series in 2002 between our Giants and the then-Anaheim Angels. The closest we've ever had to a "LA Series" was in 2009, where the Angels and Dodgers both reached the LCS, but both lost. 2014 offers perhaps the best opportunity of all for the SoCal fans-- and this year the San Diego Padres are the inevitable odd team out.

End-of-Season Notes
The Giants scored 665 runs this year, up from 629 a year ago, and a little better than that, actually, since overall league runs declined about 2% from 2013. This was good enough for fifth in the league, behind the Dodgers, Nationals, and, yes, the Pirates (Colorado led all NL teams with 755). The Cardinals, who plated a whopping 783 a year ago, fell off by 164 runs and still won their division! Considering their team ERA stayed about the same (3.50 to 3.42), and they barely outscored their opposition (619-603), all we can say is it's no surprise their wins fell off from 97 to 90 and their Pythagorean projection is seven games worse than their actual record, and four games behind the Pirates'. The big story in the NL Central this year remains the Milwaukee Brewers' late-season collapse and the void it left behind.

Okay. The Giants, fifth in the league in runs scored, were tied (with the Cards) for seventh in ERA at 3.50. For the first time in what seems like ages, they were below-average in both strikeouts and walks. Encouragingly, they were third in K/W ratio, behind LA and Washington (whose pitchers approached 4:1).  And-- saints presairve us!-- the Giants actually led the league in fewest pitches thrown, both in toto and per plate appearance. Credit Messrs. Hudson, Peavy, and Bumgarner for this amazing turnaround.

Going back to the plate, we see the Giants were below average in homers, walks, and strikeouts. They stole only 56 bases, but were caught only 27 times (both the Rockies and Cubs were caught more than half the time. Just stay put, willya?) You want stolen bases, go to Washington: 109 thefts and only 26 caught; league leaders Cincinnati were nailed twice as often but stole only 13 more. One reason the Cardinals didn't score a lot of runs is that despite a fine .320 team OBP, they were at or near the top in both GIDP and LOB.

Of the postseason teams, Oakland has a huge disparity between expected W-L (99-63) and actual (88-74, same as the Giants). We seem to remember them winning a lot of lopsided games earlier in the season, and they were only 21-28 in one-run games. They outscored the opposition by over 150 runs, more than anyone, including the Angels and Washington, and three times that of the Giants. Either the early-season success seriously skewed their numbers, or they're going to be a postseason dark horse and a danger to anyone if they reach the division series. On the other side, St Louis appears the most vulnerable team, and we expect the Dodgers to defeat them. All the other teams, including the Giants, are about where their run scored/allowed ratio would predict.

Roll the statistical parade... Only seven National Leaguers hit above .300 this year, and Justin Morneau won the batting title at .319. Buster Posey was fourth at .311... Hunter Pence's 106 runs scored were second to Andrew Renton of Washington's 111. The Nats' Denard Span was fifth with 94... Posey's 89 RBI were ninth. Pence was next, 'way down at 27th with 74... Brandon Crawford, with 59, led the Giants in bases on balls, lifting his OBP to .324, still bad but not so bad for a .246 hitter. Distressingly, his SLG dropped below .400. He maintained average defensive stats-- good DP, below-average percentage, middlin' range... Cincinnati's Joey Votto, in 220 ABs, had as many walks as did Buster Posey, in 547 ABs. Clearly Buster was carryin' a heavy load this year... Expand Angel Pagan's numbers out to a full season and you get .300 with 31 doubles and 84 runs scored... A question to be answered this offseason: what is Pablo Sandoval's .739 OPS at third base worth? On the defensive side, only three other third basemen played 150 games and "Panda's" range factor was better than all of 'em. The answer to the above question may depend on what, if anything, the big guy does in the postseason...  Andrew Susac's .466 SLG is fourth on the team, and better than every regular except Posey. The others ahead of him are Michael Morse, who's day-to-day, and, yes, Madison Bumgarner, who maybe ought bat about fifth on Wednesday... Certainly we'd rather see Gary Brown, even after only 7 at-bats, leading off instead of Gregor Blanco, and starting instead of Juan Perez or Chris Dominguez, whose OPS is slightly below Matt Cain's... With three homers in 73 at-bats, Adam Duvall certainly has power. It's the 20 strikeouts that are terrifying... Bumgarner was fourth in the league with 18 wins and 219 strikeouts and 217 innings pitched. He was 14th in ERA, 7th in WHIP, and he walked only 43... Good ol' A.J. Burnett of the Phillies walked 96 to lead the league. He kept his wild pitches down to a manageable 9, though; Wednesday's opposing starter, Volquez, led everybody with 15. For that matter, what's with the Buccos and wild pitches? Three of their starters were among the league's top ten in misdirected heaves, with Francisco Liriano slingin' 12 to the backstop and Gerrit Cole contributing 9. Not that these guys can't pitch or anything; Liriano's W-L was unimpressive but his ERA is 3.38 while Cole checks in at 11-5 and 3.65... Anyone miss Zack Wheeler yet? 11-11 for the mediocre Mets, with a 3.54 and 187 strikeouts in 185 innings... How many players have led the league in both runs scored and RBI the same season? Mike Trout just did it, and he's the AL MVP... You want to talk wild pitches, let's bring in the Angels' fine young starter Garrett Richards. Despite missing the last six weeks with injury, he ran away with the MLB crown: 22, count 'em, 22 wild pitches. Of course 11-4, 2.61, 164 K's and a 1.04 WHIP ain't exactly bad. That the Angels made their run without him is all the more amazing. He'd have been a Cy Young candidate... Jered Weaver (18-9, 3.59) and Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04) make a fine one-two punch for LA, with C.J. Wilson a decent third option... Justin Verlander took a back seat to teammate Matt Scherzer this year, but can anyone match Detroit's quartet of starters-- Scherzer, Verlander, David Price, and Rick Porcello? All won at least 15 games and only Verlander was above 3.50... Baltimore offers two strong starters, righty Bud Norris and lefty Wei-Yin Chen, both of whom have knocked around the majors for a while without a whole lot of success-- until now... The Oakland-KC wild-card game matches teams with the second- and fourth-best ERA in the AL. The A's offer up graybeard lefties Jon Lester and Scottt Kazmir as well as young Sonny Gray; KC's James Shields, late of Tampa Bay, is ten years old than 23-year-old Yordano Ventura. Both have won 14 with ERAs in the 3.20 range... Oh, let's go and find the outliers! David Price is the hardest-workin' man in baseball, having thrown 3730 pitches to beat out Cincy's Johnny Cueto... Drew Smyly, whom we remember from the 2012 World Series, picked off 7 baserunners this year, tops in MLB... Wanna steal a base in the playoffs? Run on the A's Kazmir, who allowed 18 while catching only two, and only picked off one guy. He's a lefty, too... Get out of the way, dummy! Jon Jay of the Cardinals was hit by 20 pitches this year... Unhitch the trailer, big guy! Albert Pujols grounded into 28 double plays, but Casey McGahee of the Marlins captured the crown with 31. Despite only 438 at-bats, Michael Morse made the leaderboard with 19... Most Likely to Pop Up: Chris Carter of the Houston Astros will put the ball in the air nearly twice as often as he'll it it on the ground. His opposite number is the Phillies' fine young centerfielder Ben Revere, who hit .306, absolutely refuses to draw a walk (13 in 601 at bats-- !) and stole 49 bases while being caught only nine times. He's 26; if he learns some patience at the plate, he could increase his runs scored total (only 71) by at least half... Last year it was Nori Aoki, this year we're looking at (or should we say, picking on) the Reds' Billy Hamilton. Who says Dusty Baker isn't managing here anymore? You couldn't prove it by Hamilton. Despite a .292 OBP, 117 strikeouts against 141 hits, 34 walks in 563 at-bats, and 23 caught stealings against 56 stolen bases (which is significantly worse than just staying put) Hamilton batted leadoff in 137 of 152 games this year. Why? Need you ask? He plays center field, of course! This is not to say Hamilton can't be a valuable player, though he's unlikely to be confused with his Hall-of Fame namesake, "Sliding Billy" Hamilton. In center, though his range is only average, he did throw out ten runners and start three double plays, and with his speed his range is likely to improve with experience. But frgawdsakes he should be batting about eighth. Then, maybe Cincy will score more than 72 measly runs out of the leadoff position, and perhaps win more than 76 games... Speaking of throwing arms, Home Run Derby winner Yoenis Cespedes, traded from Oakland to Boston in the Lester deal, threw out 16 runners from left field in 125 games (he was DH in 22 games). And something's sure goin' on in that Boston outfield: teammate Jackie Bradley cut down 13 runners from center field in only 113 games. They still finished last, pulling a first-to-worst.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pittsburgh   88-72       ...                 Still only one game out of first place.
GIANTS      86-74     2  GB            Wild-card playoff will be a road game.

Giants lost to San Diego, 4-1.
Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati, 3-1. With the Giants' loss, this win clinches home-field advantage for the Pirates in next week's wild-card playoff.

Giants host San Diego; 1:05 at the 'Bell. Jake Peavy starts against his former team. Eric Stults, who has lost 17 games this year, opposes. Though 8-17 against the league as a whole, Stults is 2-1 against the Giants, and doesn't that just figure?
Pittsburgh is at Cincinnati; St Louis at Arizona.

Last Night's Game
One way or the other, lately it seems Ryan Vogelsong finds a way to lose. Again this time, he wasn't shelled, he wasn't wild, but a three-run sixth was enough to tag him with his 13th loss even as his ERA continued to drop. With Buster Posey resting his aching back, the Giants managed five singles and an unearned run for offense, while going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Encouragingly, Brandon Belt was 2-for-3 with a walk and scored the only run, and Travis Ishikawa had his daily hit. Andrew Susac suffered through a terrible night: 0-for-4, 6 runners stranded, and two passed balls. He did, however, throw out the only baserunner who attempted to steal. And Javier Lopez pitched a three-up three-down seventh inning, which is a hopeful sign.

Closing Up
With the Giants' postseason position thus essentially decided, we'll take a short hiatus before returning for the wild-card showdown, which will be played on Wednesday the 1st, not Tuesday the 30th as we originally surmised. (Tuesday is the date of the American League game.)  Most likely the Giants will face Pittsburgh at PNC Park, with a starting time around 8 PM EDT. As we've moaned and groaned before, that's at least one hour too late to start a baseball game, but who will listen?

As we commit these bytes to memory, Washington has clinched the home-field advantage throughout the NL postseason, with LA set to host the other division series. In the AL, Kansas City gained another game on Detroit with a win and a Tigers' loss last night; they now trail by one game. The Los Angeles Angels are the boss AL team, if they win today and tomorrow they'll reach 100 wins.  Baltimore will host the other ALDS.  Both the Tigers and the Royals are ahead of the Oakland As for the top wild-card spot, and the A's themselves lead Seattle by two. The Mariners' lone remaining shot is to sweep LA while the A's are swept by Texas; that would force a Monday elimination game for the second wild-card spot. Fun, huh?

While the Padres are doing their best to finish the season strong, Arizona has reverted to their early-season doldrums, losing nine of ten; they are the only team in the majors below .400, though at least they'll avoid losing 100 games. Colorado ain't much better, while even the Cubs have moved up to near-respectability at 72-88.  Over in the AL Texas, just three years removed from Game Seven of the World Series, will capture the booby prize (66-94, .413). And who would have figured the Houston Astros and the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox would both be 70-90 at season's end?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pittsburgh   87-72       ...                 Only one game out of first place.
GIANTS      86-73     1  GB            * GIANTS CLINCH WILD CARD *
Milwaukee  81-78      5  GB           Took themselves out with loss.

Giants defeated San Diego, 9-8.
Pittsburgh defeated Atlanta, 10-1.
Milwaukee lost at Cincinnati, 5-3, and were eliminated from further contention.

Giants host San Diego; 7:05 at the 'Bell. Ryan Vogelsong could use a strong start here to earn a place in the postseason rotation plans. Ian Kennedy opposes.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati in the first of three. For reference, St Louis, the NL Central leader, plays at Arizona this weekend.

Last Night's Game
The Giants went into the game knowing they'd clinched a postseason spot, and for the first five innings they played like it, rolling up a 6-0 lead behind Yusmeiro Petit's eight strikeouts. They knocked around Andrew Cashner, who'd so bedeviled them last weekend, scoring in each inning. Homers by the Brandons, Belt and Crawford, and two RBI from Pablo Sandoval built a nice cushion that began to evaporate as soon as the Padres called on "Doctor Longball." Two homers in the sixth, by Will Venable and Yasmani Grandal, put three on the board and chased Petit. Then came two more blows in the seventh, including a grand slam by the aforementioned Grandal off suddenly-vulnerable Jean Machi. As you might expect, a walk-- unintentional, this time-- immediately preceded the grand salami. Rene Rivera's solo shot made it a five-run frame, a 8-6 San Diego lead, and set up a most embarrassing back-in scenario for an alleged "playoff team." Thankfully, that team rose to the occasion right away-- four straight singles in the bottom of the frame by Joe Panik, Andrew Susac, the inevitable Sandoval with his third RBI, and Belt, with his second RBI to tie the game. With first and third and one out, Matt Duffy pinch-hit and dropped a perfect bunt down the line to score Susac with the game-winner. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla made it hold up, and Tim Lincecum, who came in to stop the bleeding in the seventh and retired the side on two pitches, got the win. Now, that's more like it!

It wasn't Ted Williams with a home run and a heads-down trot around the bases and into the clubhouse, but Derek Jeter made his last at-bat in New York memorable with a walk-off RBI base hit in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Baltimore. And gamer that he is, Jeter won't walk off completely after his 'moment'; he'll be in the dugout tonight and this weekend at Fenway Park, even if he strikes out as a pinch-hitter in his last at-bat. Your ticket to Cooperstown was punched long ago, Mr Jeter...   Detroit is still trying to clinch the AL Central, leading the KC Royals by two. Both won last night... One look at Mike Trout's numbers and you know who the American League MVP is... Most encouraging to see the Giants score nine runs last night, their highest total in two weeks. Since that opening win against LA in the three-game home series, they'd scored five once, four once, two five times, one once, and been shut out three times. Not surprisingly, they went 3-8 in those games... If we had to pick a division-series rotation it would be Peavy, Petit, and Bumgarner for the first three. That's a no-brainer, right? Should a Game Four be necessary-- well, that's what Bruce Bochy is pondering right now, and that's why Vogelsong's effort tonight is so important, for himself and for the team.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

LA               91-68      ...                   Dodgers clinch the division.
GIANTS     85-73    5 1/2  GB       96 days in first place not enough.

Pittsburgh   86-72       ...                 Second straight year in postseason.
GIANTS      85-73     1  GB              "Just win, baby."
Milwaukee  81-77      4  GB           Giants control their fate.

Giants lost at LA, 9-1, and were eliminated from the division race.
Pittsburgh lost at Atlanta, 6-2.
Milwaukee defeated Cincinnati, 5-0.

Giants lost at LA, 4-2.
Pittsburgh defeated Atlanta, 3-2.
Milwaukee lost at Cincinnati, 3-1.

Giants open the season's final series, at home against San Diego. Yusmeiro Petit gets the start at 7:05 local time (10:05 PDT). The Giants will clinch a wild-card spot if they win this game.
Pittsburgh finishes up at Atlanta.
Milwaukee concludes the Cincinnati series with a day game. If they lose, the Giants back in.

The LA Series
After some question about whether he'd be replaced in the starting rotation, Tim Hudson went out last night and quietly delivered his best start in a month. It wasn't all that great by the numbers, but for five innings Hudson matched Clayton Kershaw just fine, and thanks to some small-ball and a balk by Kershaw in the third, he even had a 1-0 lead.  It started to unravel in the fifth when Kershaw himself burnished his ample MVP credentials with a RBI triple to tie the game.  In the sixth, Yasiel Puig's homer and Matt Kemp's double were enough to end Hudson's night, and Javier Lopez was then bitten by the old intentional-walk bug. Meant to set up a inning-ending double play, instead it ensured Carl Crawford's subsequent double would bring in two more runs. Out went Lopez, in came Jean Machi, and up came former Giant Juan Uribe, who added an exclamation point with a RBI single.

What happened after that was anticlimax, at least from our perspective. The Dodgers ran around the bases as in a nightmare in the three-pitcher eighth; Erik Cordier took most of the abuse as four of the five batters he faced scored. Then it was celebration time for the home team and crowd, and it was a much more restrained on-field party than that Arizona travesty from a year ago. LA coaches even tipped their caps to their Giants counterparts, who returned the gesture, however grudgingly.

After Monday night's thirteen-inning comeback win, the Giants knew they had at least a chance to sweep this series and turn the upcoming weekend into a suspense thriller, as they took the field Tuesday. But the dream began to fade as soon as Justin Turner launched Madison Bumgarner's seventh pitch of the night into the stratosphere. "Bum" then provided some excitement by plunking Yasiel Puig, which resulted in back-and-forth dugout barking, but considering it was the fifth pitch of the at-bat, any thoughts of retaliation sprang from pure fantasy. And Puig soon scored after Kemp-- who's on fire right now-- launched another blast, this one to deepest center. It was 3-0 just like that, and while this wasn't an elimination game, given the Giants' desperate straits it might as well have been, and it sure felt like it.

Bumgarner provided the Giants' offense himself in the third, with a two-run homer, his fourth of the season, making it a one-run game. But on a night when all runs would come via the long ball, Turner belted his second of the game in the eighth, giving closer Kenley Jansen a nice cushion. "Bum" thus took his tenth loss against 18 wins; he won't get twenty this year. His opposite number, Zack Greinke, shrugged off Bumgarner's homer and retired 15 of 16 batters from the fourth through the eighth in a one-run game, which earned him his 16th win.

In the meantime, Pittsburgh clinched a wild-card spot with a Tuesday night win at Atlanta, and Milwaukee capitalized on the Giants' Wednesday loss with a win at Cincinnati to stay alive one more day.  We shouldn't discount the Pirates' shot at the division title, either; they're only a game and a half back, and it's not impossible the Giants' first postseason game of 2014 might be at Busch Stadium instead of PNC Park.

The Road Ahead
At the moment it appears the Giants are not too concerned about home-field advantage for the Pittsburgh playoff. While Bumgarner is scheduled to start Sunday to conclude the San Diego series, there was open talk in the clubhouse yesterday about his being held back for the wild-card showdown Tuesday.  The Giants appear likely to back off a bit once the wild-card spot is clinched, as opposed to throwing everything they have into a battle for home field. Given this team's been running on empty for close to a month, that's a defensible strategy. The Giants are 42-35 at home and 43-38 on the road this year. They're 1-2 at PNC Park, but for goodness' sake, that was back in the first week of May.

Should the unthinkable happen-- Giants swept at home by the Padres, Brewers sweep the Cubs-- there would be a one-game wild-card-qualification playoff, either at Miller Park or AT&T Park depending on a coin toss, on Monday.  Presumably if the Giants lose the first three games of this upcoming series, we'll see Bumgarner Sunday, and worry about Tuesday's playoff game later.

Elsewhere, the Kansas City Royals are about to make the postseason for the first time since their 1985 World Championship, probably as one of the AL wild-cards. They trail Detroit by two with four to play in the division,  and they have a record identical to that of the Oakland A's, the other wild-card favorite. Seattle trails both by three. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals just keep on winning; 9-1 over their last ten, leading their division by 16 (!) games.  LA will have home-field advantage over the NL Central winner, no matter who it is, in the division series.  Baltimore is in a similar position in the AL.

And, of course, should the Giants clinch this thing and then win at Pittsburgh (or possibly St Louis) next Tuesday, they'll be coming to Washington to open the division series a week from now, and you all know what that means, right?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

LA               89-68      ...                  Greinke carries the torch tonight.
GIANTS     85-71    3 1/2  GB       It took 13, but it was a huge win.

Pittsburgh   85-71      ...                 Second straight 1-0 shutout win..
GIANTS      85-71      ...                 Won't go quietly, if at all.
Milwaukee  80-76      5  GB          Two more losses will end it.

Giants defeated LA, 5-2, in thirteen innings,
Pittsburgh defeated Atlanta, 1-0.
Milwaukee was idle.

Giants at LA; 7:15 local time. The Big One. Madison Bumgarner versus Zack Greinke.
Pittsburgh is at Atlanta, Milwaukee at Cincinnati.

Last Night's Game
Gregor Blanco's leadoff homer was the only hit the Giants got off Dan Haren, but thanks to some sloppy LA fielding and Jake Peavy's bulldog toughness, it was sufficient to extend the affair into extra innings. The bats came alive then: nine hits in all from the tenth through the thirteenth against five of the eight Dodger pitchers employed by Don Mattingly. But all of them went to waste until Andrew Susac, pinch-hitting for wining pitcher Santiago Casilla, drilled a RBI single in the top of the thirteenth. Blanco-- and what a night he had-- followed with a double to right that scored two more runs before he himself was himself thrown out at third trying to stretch it. Hunter Strickland, a 23-year-old rookie callup, got through the bottom of the frame without incident for his first major-league save.

Blanco, whom we've excoriated as a leadoff hitter this year, did the job last night and then some. His drive to right in the third was misplayed into a three-base error by Matt Kemp, and he then scored the Giants' second run on a sweet little squeeze bunt by Joe Panik. When it became clear that the opening homer was the only hit the team was going to get against Haren, it became Peavy's mission to keep the game close until Haren was out of there. He did-- barely, as LA tied it in the fifth on a homer by Carl Crawford and a double by our old friend, Juan Uribe, who later scored on a sacrifice fly. But keep it close he did, allowing nothing more through seven. Then began perhaps the greatest bullpen performance of the season. Sergio Romo, Jean Machi, Casilla, and Strickland pitched six innings, eight through thirteen, and didn't allow a single baserunner-- no, not one. While the awakened Giants were pounding the LA corps and leaving men on base, these four kept that dangerous Dodger lineup on ice until the inevitable breakthrough. Hats off to those guys; they're as big a reason as any that tonight's game still matters.

Numbers Game
That excruciating sweep at San Diego means the Giants have to sweep this series or the division is lost. Taking the first step last night was huge, and with "Bum" on the hill tonight, things can really get exciting. Of course, "Cy" Kershaw waits in the wings for the finale, and the situation is dire enough that taking two of three in Dodger Stadium, normally cause for celebration,  would leave us right where we are now, three and a half back-- but with only four games to play. The Dodgers would need to lose all three weekend games at Colorado while the Giants would need to sweep San Diego, four straight, at home just to tie and force a playoff. That's how pretty LA is sitting. They only need one win here to essentially clinch the thing. That's how much the San Diego disaster has cost the Giants.

On the wild-card side, things are looking up with each win. Milwaukee really can't afford to lose at all, and the issue now is whether Pittsburgh or the Giants will get home field for that one-game showdown., The Buccos have three more at Turner Field before finishing the season on the road at Cincinnati. The Reds, who are hosting the Brewers in the first of three tonight, thus have a matchless opportunity to be spoilers for two teams-- both of them division rivals.

The NL wild-card showdown is scheduled for next Tuesday.  Looking down the road, the Giants have a decision to make regarding who starts Wednesday. Will it be Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, or a surprise starter from among the September callups?  Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Vogelsong open the San Diego series at home, with Peavy and Bumgarner, for now, scheduled to conclude it. That would leave the wild-card starting spot wide, wide open-- at the moment. Of course, if things are settled prior to Sunday, Bruce Bochy could hold back Bumgarner for the Pirates. But given the way this nutball season has gone, who would expect things to be "settled" any time at all?

Monday, September 22, 2014

LA               89-67      ...                  Good hitting overcomes bad pitching.
GIANTS     84-71    4 1/2  GB       Hitting?.... How's that again?

Pittsburgh   84-71      ...                 Won 3 of 4 to establish pole position.
GIANTS      84-71      ...                  Likely to qualify here, but then what?
Milwaukee  80-76    4 1/2  GB      Two more losses will end it.

Giants lost to San Diego, 8-2, and were swept in the three-game series. Unbelievable.
LA defeated Chicago, 8-5, behind seven different pitchers.
Pittsburgh defeated Milwaukee, 1-0.

Giants open a three-game series at LA that will determine whether the division "race" continues. Jake Peavy starts against Dan Haren.  7:15 PDT (10:15 EDT).
Pittsburgh is at Atlanta.
Milwaukee opens at Cincinnati tomorrow.

Yesterday's Game
A weird line for Ryan Vogelsong, who did not pitch badly but who saw everyone that got on base against him score, one way or another.  It was 1-0 Pads entering the bottom of the sixth, and "Vogey" allowed two singles to open the frame,  He then got the double-play ball he needed, but Pablo Sandoval made an error for the ages, a wild throw which loaded the bases and opened the floodgates. Evidently this unhinged Vogelsong sufficiently that Bruce Bochy immediately called upon Javier Lopez. The lefty did his job, sorta, getting the first out on a sac fly, but then compounded the problem with a walk that reloaded the sacks. George Kontos came in and got the second out, but also at cost-- a run-scoring slow grounder. Then came disaster: an intentional walk to load the bases (with two out? What were they thinking?) followed by Cameron Maybin's two-run single-- also known as "Goodnight and Goodbye!"  Signs of life: Brandon Crawford, 2-for-4; 26-year-old rookie Chris Dominguez' first major-league homer, a two-run shot in the seventh that chased Ian Kennedy (like it mattered).

Sunday, September 21, 2014

LA              88-67      ...                  Wrigley wind magnifies pitching woes.
GIANTS     84-70    3 1/2  GB       Once again the bats are MIA until too late.

Pittsburgh   83-71      1      GB       Status quo for leaders in both races.
Milwaukee  80-75    3 1/2  GB      Shutout win keeps them alive.

Giants lost at San Diego, again, 3-2.
LA lost at Chicago, 8-7.
Milwaukee defeated Pittsburgh, 1-0.

Giants finish up in San Diego; 1:10 PDT (4:10 EDT). Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched well his last time out, faces Ian Kennedy, the Padres' workhorse whose only start against the Giants this year was Tim Lincecum's no-hitter.
LA concludes the Chicago series with Jamey Wright, the well-traveled one-time Giant, making only his second start since leaving SF back in 2007. And we thought we were desperate...
Pittsburgh and Milwaukee finish up at PNC Park.

Last Night's Game
Once again the innings mounted and the hits didn't as the Giants snoozed their way through eight innings, making Andrew Cashner look like Cy Young. The big righty allowed only two hits while himself going 2-for-2 with a walk. For his part, Yusmeiro Petit did not pitch badly, allowing one unearned run until the sixth, when Rene Rivera's two-run double ended his night early. And once again the bullpen made a game of it-- fruitlessly, it seemed, until Hunter Pence opened the ninth with a booming home run, his 20th. Joe Panik then singled, chasing Cashner, and the tension rose as closer Kevin Quackenbush came in. Pablo Sandoval and Gregor Blanco singled around two outs, making it a one-run game. With men on first and third, Brandon Crawford got a 3-1 fastball and lined it directly at left fielder Seth Smith, and that's all she wrote.

The St Louis Cardinals won yesterday, extending their lead over Pittsburgh to three and a half. The Central and West division races are now in lockstep, with LA-SF one game better than the Cards-Pirates duo... No more off-days for the Giants until Monday the 29th, the day after the regular season ends. LA has a day of rest next Thursday, before their season-ending home series against Colorado... Both Angel Pagan and Michael Morse may miss the entire LA series. While the club has hung in there without Morse, losing Pagan is a killer blow. Hunter Pence does well in the leadoff spot, but no one is replacing Pagan's bat in the lineup. Bruce Bochy must consider starting Andrew Susac at catcher, Buster Posey at first, and Brandon Belt, though he's yet to hit a lick since returning, in  left. There is no way this team is going to win with both Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez in the starting lineup. No Way.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

LA              88-66      ...                  Greinke, Kershaw come through as usual.
GIANTS     84-69    3 1/2  GB       Held to 3 hits by Padres' Despaigne.

Pittsburgh   83-70      1      GB       Closer to division top than are Giants.
Milwaukee 79-75     4 1/2 GB        One-time division leaders still reeling.

Giants lost at San Diego, 5-0.
LA defeated Chicago, 14-5, as Clayton Kershaw won his 20th game.
Pittsburgh defeated Milwaukee, 4-2.

Giants at San Diego; 5:40 PDT (8:40 EDT). Yusmeiro Petit against Andrew Cashner, who has not faced the Giants this year, but who is doing quite well despite a 4-7 record.
LA's at Chicago with Roberto Hernandez filling in for Hyun-Jin Ryu. C'mon, Cubbies!
Pittsburgh hosts Milwaukee again, with the chance to make the wild-card a two-team race.

Last Night's Game
We can bemoan Tim Hudson's wretched second half-- he's 2-10 since the break-- but when you only get three hits, you may not win even if you have Sandy Koufax out there. Still, for the second straight start, Hudson's first inning was a disaster-- four hits, one walk, four runs, and a most fortunate pickoff to end the thing-- and he had only one 1-2-3 frame before being yanked with one on and one out in the fifth. With the horse now safely down the road, Javier Lopez, Tim Lincecum, and George Kontos allowed only one baserunner the rest of the way, but with nobody but Joe (2-for-4) Panik able to hit, the point was moot.

The Races
As you can see, we've added the wild-card race to the division race above, a concession to reality if ever there was one.  Atlanta and Miami are still mathematically alive, but teams with losing records don't make even the B-List here. If Pittsburgh sweeps Milwaukee out of town this weekend, the only remaining drama will be whether either the Pirates or Giants can catch their respective division leaders, and which if the two will host the wild-card playoff if they don't. Pittsburgh trails the St Louis Cardinals by two and a half, so that race isn't over either.

LA did clinch a playoff spot yesterday, and reduced their "magic number" over the Giants to 6. Washington has long since clinched the NL East. Over in the American League, the "other" LA team, the Angels, are in the midst of one of the greatest stretch drives in memory. Remember how dominant the Oakland A's were all season? Well, 'long about August, the Angels began to play up to the level of their payroll, and the results are simply staggering: they wiped out a double-digit Oakland lead and now themselves lead by ten and a half games over Oakland and Seattle, who are fighting over the wild-card scraps with Detroit and Kansas City, the Central contenders (Detroit currently leads by one and one-half games). The Angels have a serious shot at 100 wins and will almost certainly hold the home-field advantage throughout the AL postseason grind. Baltimore is the third team to clinch; the AL East is so weak there's not even a wild-card contender among them.

Will Bruce Bochy swap one Tim for another? Several have been asking whether Tim Lincecum will replace the struggling Hudson in the Giants' rotation next time out, and "Boch" left the door open to the possibility when questioned. Timmy pitched two perfect innings last night... Angel Pagan left early with back tightness and Michael Morse came in late. Brandon Belt started at first and went 0-for-3...  LA has the same issue as the Giants at the moment-- thin starting pitching. Hernandez, today's starter at Wrigley, has been shelled worse than has Hudson through September. Sunday's starter may be Carlos Frias or somebody out of the bullpen (or maybe out of the stands), since Don Mattingly's preference is to hold Dan Haren back to open the Giants series at Dodger Stadium Monday. We'll see how Mattingly's resolve is tested if the Cubs beat 'em today and the Giants manage to gain a game... That LA opposes a southpaw, Felix Doubront, today is no comfort; they are 25-15 against lefties. The Giants, meanwhile, are 28-29; they've faced more southpaws than any other team in baseball, by a wide margin. Only Minnesota and Seattle have played as many as 50 games against left-handed starters; the Braves have played only 30.  Relax: Cashner, tonight's opposing starter, deals from starboard.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

LA             86-66      ...                  Can they wrangle three wins at Wrigley?
GIANTS    84-68     2  GB            Another hopeful weekend ahead.

Giants defeated Arizona, 4-2, to take the three-game series.
LA lost at Colorado, 16-2, dropping the last two games by a combined 27-5.

Giants have the day off.  They open a weekend set at San Diego against those "pesky Padres," as Mike Krukow calls them, tomorrow night.
LA's at Chicago in the first of four. Greinke tonight, Kershaw tomorrow, and then... what?

Yesterday's Game
Madison Bumgarner did not win his 19th game, but he and the rest of the Giants will take this one anyway, thankyaverymuch. "Bum" and Arizona's Andrew Chafin engaged in a rather lugubrious pitchers' duel, one marked more by offensive failure than by razor-sharp pitching-- the teams combined to strand 17 runners. Arizona had a man thrown out at the plate in the first and wasted a leadoff double in the fourth; their first run scored on a RBI single by Chafin himself, and their second came about on a wild throw. For the Giants, successive sacrifice bunts plated one run, while Brandon "4 for 4" Crawford continued to revive his bat with an RBI double for the other. It came down to the ninth, with walks by Pablo Sandoval and pinch-hitter Brandon "Welcome Back" Belt sandwiched around Crawford's fourth hit of the day. Matt Duffy then batted for Sergio Romo and drilled a two-run single to center, enough to make Romo a winner and give Santiago Casilla opportunity for his 17th save, which he nailed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

LA             86-65      ...                  "The Invincibles" they're not.
GIANTS    83-68     3  GB            Lead wild-card race by two and a half.

Giants defeated Arizona, 2-1.
LA lost at Colorado, 11-3.

Giants finish up at Arizona; 1:40 PM local time (3:40 PM EDT). Madison Bumgarner goes for his 19th win, and few would be bigger. Rookie Andrew Chafin opposes.
LA finish up at Colorado, also a day game. Then it's off to Chicago. Don'tcha just love that schedule?

Last Night's Game
With LA falling behind quick up there on the scoreboard, it was imperative that Jake Peavy keep a lid on it and that somebody step up early. That "somebody" was Buster Posey, with a fourth-inning homer that put the Jakester out in front. After the 'Snakes' tied it in the sixth, the Giants answered back immediately with a little small-ball: singles by Hunter Pence and Travis Ishikawa (Pence taking third), and a sacrifice fly from Brandon Crawford. Critically, Peavy then shut down Arizona quickly in the seventh, and after he got into a two-on two-out  jam in the eighth, he was bailed out by Sergio Romo, who got the dangerous Mike Trumbo to end the threat. Romo then yielded to Santiago Casilla, who pitched a quiet ninth for his 16th save.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

LA             86-64      ...                  Three straight wins and counting... down.
GIANTS    82-68     4  GB            The wild-card is looking more realistic.

Giants lost at Arizona, 6-2, their third straight defeat and a particularly untimely one.
LA defeated Colorado, 11-3.

The Weekend
Giants lost two of three to LA. After a rousing 9-0 rout to start things off on Friday, they were embarrassed in turn, 17-0, on Saturday, and then lost the rubber match Sunday, 4-2. LA thus left town with a three-game lead after seeing it cut to one.

Giants at Arizona again; the game is underway at the moment and SF holds a 1-0 lead in the fourth behind steady Jake Peavy. Josh Collmenter opposes.
LA is at Colorado, they currently trail 5-2 in the sixth. There's always hope.

Last Night's Game
Will Mike Trumbo be remembered as the man who sank the Giants' division hopes? The former Angel launched a third-inning grand-slam home run off Ryan Vogelsong, and folks, that pretty much tells the story. Dinged for four homers in his last start, Vogelsong is one of several Giants starters who seem to have lost the ol' mojo as we head into the final weeks. It sure ain't pretty, and neither is stranding nine runners on base, eight of them in scoring position, five of them by one guy, Gregor Blanco. Oh, don't pick on him; the last three days have truly been a team effort. A week after sweeping these guys, the Giants are in danger of losing a series to a team that trails them by twenty games in the standings.

The Lost Weekend
Yeah, that's what it was. The math was simple: win two of three, we've got a pennant race likely to go down to the wire. Lose two of three, and the numbers start to add up in the opposite direction.

It turned in the third game, the rubber match, after each team had taken a turn blowing the other completely out of the ballpark. Clayton Kershaw started for LA on Sunday against Yusmeiro Petit, but it was by no means the mail-in victory many expect when Kershaw takes the mound. The Giants had their chances against the big lefty; trailing 4-1 they put two on wth one out on sigles by Joaquin Arias and Andrew Susac, but Kershaw allowed only pinch-hitter Matt Duffy's bloop single, retiring Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan to deny the big inning. Getting Kershaw out of the game in the ninth ws no help; Kanley Jansen and his 95-MPH fastball ended the game in the grand manner, with back-to-back strikeouts of the selfsame Susac and Arias. Petit, for his part, pitched reasonably well; his only real blunder was surrendering Matt Kemp's two-run shot in the sixth which turned 2-1 into 4-1; with hindsight we can see Kershaw's 19th win was pretty much assured at that point.

No question the high-water mark of the season so far was reached Friday night as the Giants unloaded on the visitors, pounding Hyun-Jin Ryu for five hits, three of them doubles, and four runs in the first. Madison Bumgarner put 'er on cruise control en route to his 18th win, and the Giants went on their merry way with a two-run homer from Brandon Crawford and a three-run shot by our old friend, Travis Ishikawa. The rout capped a magnificent 14-3 run for the Giants, leaving them only one tantalizing game back, and suddenly the chance to sweep the Hated Foe and kick them out of town in second place was very real, and there for the taking.

Ryu left that game early with an injury; no such excuse awaited Tim Hudson Sunday as he suffered through the shortest start of his career. Excused after surrendering eight hits and six runs while managing only three outs, Hudson leaves the question hanging as to whether he can still be an effective starter down the stretch. Early on he and Bumgarner were the reliables; lately Peavy has taken the sidekick role, but can the Giants win anything with only two effective starters? Keeping in the spirit of things, five relievers followed and only one, Chris Heston-- in his first major-league appearance, no less-- escaped severe damage. In case you were wondering, Tim Lincecum was first to relieve-- if that's the word-- Hudson, and himself allowed five runs on seven hits, albeit over three innings. (New degrees of awfulness, we are discovering.) For the record, LA had 24 (!) hits, received four walks and three hit batsmen (one courtesy of  Bruce Bochy's son, Brett), plus two errors. Scoring seventeen, they left fifteen men on base. Heaven knows how many runs they might have scored had they hit with a little more efficiency! Strangely, and most charitably, the affair was over in 3:15, thanks mostly to the Giants lineup, which tapped out five hits and didn't draw a walk. Oh, the humanity!

Friday, September 12, 2014

LA              83-63      ...                  Have the 3 pitchers they want ready to go.
GIANTS    81-65      2  GB            Now is the time!

Giants defeated Arizona, 6-2, to sweep the three-game series
LA was idle.

Giants shut out Arizona, 5-0, while LA shut out the San Diego Padres, 4-0.

Giants host LA in the beginning of a titanic three-game home series at the 'Bell; 7:05 PDT (10:05 EDT). It's Madison Bumgarner tonight, against Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-6, 3.16).  "Bum" has started three games against the Dodgers and pitched well in two, but all three starts were in April and May. For his part Ryu has also pitched well in two of his three against the Giants; most recently he beat Jake Peavy in the latter's Giants debut at the end of July in a Sunday night game at the 'Bell.

It goes without saying this is a critical series for the Giants. Sweep, they take the division lead. Take two, they cut the lead to one and gain the momentum. Anything less-- well, let's not talk about it right now. Looking ahead, Tim Hudson faces Zach Greinke Saturday evening, and the series concludes with Yusmeiro Petit opposing Clayton Kershaw on Sunday afternoon-- unless ESPN decides to show the game in prime-time.

Yesterday's Game
Jake Peavy pitched well into the sixth, and that was enough for the Giants, who held a 3-1 lead when he left and added three more in the bottom. Buster Posey, back behind the plate, went 3-for-5 with a RBI; Travis Ishikawa, starting at first base, singled, walked, and scored a run. Angel Pagan scored two, but the day really belonged to Hunter Pence. By now the video of his first-inning RBI single has gone viral. As he swung, the bat slipped out of his hands, and while free-flying it struck the ball on the nose. The bat went left, the ball went right, Arizona pitcher Delgado did a slip-and-fall fandango, and it (the ball, that is) ricocheted off the second-base bag as Pagan scored. The bizarre scene immediately recalled the selfsame Pence's shattered-bat hit in Game Seven of the 2012 NLCS. Second in runs scored, leading the league in hits and headlines, Pence is getting mentioned in the MVP talk these days, though he was quick to disparage such remarks and deflect attention over to teammate Posey when the subject came up.

Wednesday night Ryan Vogelsong carried a shutout into the seventh and left with the score 0-0; the Giants then erupted for four in the bottom of the frame to make a winner out of Jean Machi, who had relieved Vogelsong, faced one batter, thrown two pitches, and gotten the third out. C'est la vie.

Brandon Belt has been cleared to "resume baseball activities" after extensive concussion recovery and treatment; we're grateful his career was not derailed in the manner of Mike Matheny's. How much playing time he gets is hard to predict right now, especially with Andrew Susac doing so well at catcher. We might see Belt patrolling left field if Michael Morse's oblique strain continues to keep him out...  The moldy old canard that "Pitchers shouldn't be eligible for the MVP Award" has reared its ugly head again; the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton went on record with it the other day when asked about Clayton Kershaw's chances. That a position player starts 150 games and a pitcher 30 games sounds like a compelling argument-- until you consider the number of at-bats that position player has against the number of batters the pitcher faces. Let's look at 'em. Stanton has 633 plate appearances-- 539 ABs, 94 walks-- while Kershaw has faced 662 batters.  You could argue that Stanton also has 332 total chances in the field, but then Kershaw has 56 at-bats. Whether the defensive part of the game relies more on one of eight defenders, or on the one pitcher, seems fairly obvious. There's no argument here. Kershaw's impact on a season is equivalent to Stanton's.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

LA              82-63      ...                  Pads still got a little fight left in 'em.
GIANTS    79-65     2.5  GB          Petit brilliant when needed most.

Giants defeated Arizona, 5-1.
LA lost to San Diego, 6-3, after winning Monday.

Giants host Arizona; 7:15 PDT (10:15 EDT). Ryan Vogelsong hopes to shake off his last outing. Ryan Collmenter, who has won his only start against the Giants so far, opposes.
LA finishes up with San Diego; Dan Haren for the Blueboys against Ian Kennedy, who's already made five starts against them without a win. Law of averages, eh?

Last Night's Game
Yusmeiro Petit, who replaced Tim Lincecum in the rotation two weeks ago, made his second outstanding start of the stretch drive. This one was a masterpiece worthy of Lincecum himself at his best-- a complete-game four-hitter with nine strikeouts and no walks. Andrew Susac, settling in as the everyday catcher, called a fine game as Petit needed only 84 pitches to dispatch the 'Snakes.' Offensively it was all about the top of the order-- literally, as Angel Pagan went 4-for-5 with three runs scored, and Joe Panik continued his amazing tear with a 5-for-5 day, though oddly he neither scored nor drove in a run. His five singles did advance Pagan into scoring position four times, and Pagan scored three of those times. You lovers of "small ball" will rejoice at that, and we sabermetric savants will note that two of those runs scored on bases-loaded walks! Panik's sixth-inning single actually did bring in a run, albeit on a throwing error from the Arizona outfield.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

LA             81-62      ...                  40-21 record against division opponents.
GIANTS    78-65     3  GB            Must take 2 of 3 at home just as LA did.

Giants lost at Detroit, 6-1.
LA defeated Arizona, 7-2.

The Weekend
Giants took two of three against the Tigers; LA did the same against the Diamondbacks. Status quo.

Giants have the day off; they're back home by now awaiting the Arizona Diamondbacks. The three-game series opens Tuesday night at the 'Bell.
LA stays home to host the San Diego Padres for three, starting tonight.

Last Night's Game
It was the ESPN Sunday night "Game of the Week": the two teams which met in the 2012 World Series battling for their respective division leads down the stretch to the postseason. Tim Hudson and rookie lefthander Kyle Lobstein, neither of whom pitched in that series, started the game. Hudson lasted a little bit longer, but also took on more damage, including a monster home run by Miguel Cabrera, resulting in his 10th loss. After the Giants squandered a two-on nobody-out seventh, Detroit tacked on three more against Javy Lopez, George Kontos, and Jeremy Affeldt just to make things a little more certain.

Weekend Series
Madison Bumgarner won his 17th game Saturday afternoon with a tepid effort bolstered by a four-run first inning. The big blows on the day were struck by the catchers: Andrew Susac's two-run double which keyed the opening salvo, and a fifth-inning homer by Buster Posey, his 20th, as he started at first base again. Buster's hitting .500 over the last couple of weeks and is increasingly mentioned in the MVP talk. Detroit's Victor Martinez is an AL candidate, though the Angels' Mike Trout is the favorite, but the Tigers' weekend definitely belonged to Cabrera, who hit three homers in the three games.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

LA             79-62      ...                  Play much better on road than at home.
GIANTS    77-64     2  GB            Apres nous, le deluge.

Giants defeated Detroit, 8-2, in a game interrupted for three hours by a rainstorm.
LA defeated Arizona, 2-1.

Giants at Detroit, 1 PM EDT. Madison Bumgarner goes for his 17th win against David Price, late of Tampa Bay, whom the Tigers picked up for the stretch drive.
LA hosts Arizona again this evening.

Last Night's Game
Pablo Sandoval took one mighty swing, hit the ball a mighty long way, and for a moment it was October 2012 all over again as the Giants poured it on in a one-sided win at friendly Comerica Park. Then-Series MVP "Panda"'s blast came shortly after the weather had "poured it on" for two hours and forty-two minutes' worth of rain delay, a most worrisome delay for Bruce Bochy. The Giants had already hammered starter Rock Porcello for six runs in three innings before the skies, threatening for hours on a humid 93-degree Michigan evening, opened with a vengeance in the fourth. "Boch" made sure the umpires waited it out, and when the game finally resumed, back came starter Jake Peavy on three hours' rest to earn the win with six good innings of work-- three early and three late. Not too many starters these days are allowed to go back in under such circumstances, but Peavy is a bulldog, and after starting the season 1-12 (!) with Boston, he's 4-1 as a Giant. The only downside last night was the Giants remaining in lockstep with LA; it's been a steady two-game gap since last Sunday.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

LA             78-62      ...                  "Postseason preview" not to their liking.
GIANTS    76-64     2  GB            2012 Series rematch on tap.

Giants lost at Colorado, 9-2, their tenth loss out of 18 games against the Rox.
LA lost to Washington, 8-5, in 14 innings, dropping two out of three to the Nats.

Both teams have the day off. Giants travel to Detroit for three this weekend, while LA awaits the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Yesterday's Game
Ryan Vogelsong gave up a career-high four homers, including two to Corey Dickerson, who is having quite the season there in Denver. That was pretty much it. Giants cuffed starter Christian Bergman around for nine hits, but couldn't draw a walk and grounded into three double plays. "Vogey" hadn't had an ugly outing since mid-July, so we can surmise he was due, and we can hope it'll be November before he's due for another.

Madison Bumgarner (4-1, 1.57, 56K in 46 innings) was named NL Pitcher of the Month for August. He remains Clayton Kershaw's main rival for the Cy Young Award, and whichever team comes out on top in the division may tip the scale...  If you want to claim the Rockies beat the Giants' "B-team" yesterday, go ahead. Michael Morse, Angel Pagan (stiff back) and Pablo Sandoval all sat, while Juan Perez started in center and Joaquin Arias at third. Bruce Bochy was quick to note he was just taking advantage of today's off-day to give the two a little added rest. There won't be much of that from now on...  The Kansas City Royals will be pulling for the Giants this weekend. They lead Detroit by half a game in the AL Central, and the KC fans haven't had a postseason since the 1985 World Series championship.

Pennant Parade
Along with Dodgers-Giants and Royals-Tigers, the remaining pennant races are in the NL Central, where St Louis has moved three games ahead of the plummeting Milwaukee Brewers, whose eight-game losing streak was helped mightily by the Giants a week ago, and in the AL West, where the LA Angels have pulled off a fantastic August surge to overtake the Oakland A's, whom they lead by four and a half. Meanwhile, the two East divisions are runaways, with Baltimore leading by nine and a half and Washington up by seven. Teams like Seattle, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh remain in contention for the wild-cards but are division longshots.

If the season ended today, it'd be the Angels, Orioles, and Royals in the AL, with Oakland and Detroit the wild-cards. In the NL, Washington, the Dodgers and the inevitable Cardinals would be in, while the Giants would be hosting those friendly Brewers in the wild-card playoff.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

LA             78-61      ...                  Can they depend on anyone except Kershaw?
GIANTS    76-63     2  GB             One team's meltdown is another's rally.

Giants defeated Colorado, 12-7, rallying from an early 6-0 deficit, highlighted by a six-run sixth.
LA defeated Washington, 4-1, as Clayton "Cy Young" Kershaw won his 17th game.

Giants finish up at Colorado; 1:30 PM local (3:30 EDT) daytime start. Ryan Vogelsong takes the hill.
LA hosts Washington in a rare daytime start at Dodger Stadium.

Last Night's Game
"You turned the tables on me..." goes the old song, and that holds for the Colorado Rockies right now. A day after the "Rockettes" had overcome a 7-2 Giants lead and cast a disturbing pall across Our Boys' recent postseason-bound surge, Buster Posey and the gang led a payback comeback in the grand manner. Yusmeiro Petit unwillingly proved you don't always need a quality start to win the game, as he was hammered for six runs in three innings. How sweet it was to see the Giants' lineup thus respond. Posey's line (5-3-3-4 with two doubles and a homer) is the unquestioned highlight, but there's also Joe Panik (2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored), Andrew Susac (three-run homer, and yes, Posey was tearin' it up from first base again), Brandon Crawford with a RBI triple, and Gregor Blanco with three hits and two runs scored. Blanco simply has to step it up with Michael Morse sidelined, and so far, he has. We know it won't last, but he's done this before, and Morse should be back by the time Blanco cools off. Bruce Bochy used his usual quota of relievers-- six-- along the way, and five of 'em were outstanding, with George Kontos getting the win as he retired all five batters he faced while his buddies were mounting their epic rally.  


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

LA             77-61      ...                  Obliging us for now with timely losses.
GIANTS    75-63     2  GB             Second bullpen meltdown in 8 days.

Giants lost at Colorado, 10-9, blowing a 7-2 lead in the sixth and giving up the walk-off in the 9th. Prior to this game, the Giants won the suspended game from May 22, 4-2. Thus the Giants gained half a game in the race, despite the horrific loss, because...  
LA lost to Washington, 6-4.

Giants continue at Colorado; 5:40 PM MDT (7:40 EDT). Yusmeiro Petit, who set a major-league consecutive-retired-batters record the last time he faced the Rockies, opposes Jordan Lyles.
LA hosts Washington again.

Yesterday's Game
"The horror... the horror!" Championship teams don't blow big sixth-inning leads twice in eight days, do they? Well, before we call out the Giants' bullpen to run a few dozen punishment laps in the outfield, we must admit that Tim Hudson, whom we love dearly, began the meltdown by failing to retire any of the four batters he faced to open the sixth, and all of those people eventually scored. The key play, sorry to say, was a fumbled catch by Joe Panik, whom we extolled just yesterday, which wiped out a possible DP and set up the four-run frame. Hudson's relief, the normally reliable Javier Lopez, surrendered two of those runs. Jean Machi came in, stopped the bleeding, and had a chance to be the hero. But he uncorked a strike-three wild pitch to open the seventh, leading to three more runs and a 9-7 Colorado lead. Panik partially redeemed himself by opening the ninth with a double, leading to game-tying RBI singles by Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. But poor ol' Sergio Romo gave up three singles in the bottom of the frame, and that was it. Bright moments: Hunter Pence, who won the suspended game with a homer, belted another one in this tilt, and Brandon Crawford went 3-for-4 with three RBI.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Either-Or" Means One

So said our tenth-grade English teacher back in the day, as she gamely attempted to drill the niceties of the language into our motley collection of jocks, stoners, and nerds. We don't know if Miss Dottie Schmiedeler was a baseball fan, but even if not perhaps she'd feel some relief that at least one student stumbled into a way to apply this rule.  That is, with a little over three weeks-- 24 games, to be exact-- left in the regular season, we can say the San Francisco Giants are either going to win this thing, or they aren't.

Ah, baseball-- the great simplifier and reducer of life's lessons.

As the sun comes up on this early Labor Day, the Giants are back on a roll the likes of which we haven't seen since spring semester was still in session. They have won six straight games, including a three-game sweep just completed of the Central Division-leading Milwaukee Brewers, no slouches they. Shaking off a paralyzing home-field funk over the past two months, the Giants have concluded a 6-1 homestand that saw them cut the LA Dodgers' division lead in half while taking the NL lead in the wild-card scramble. They trail the Blue Meanies by two and a half games as they open a September schedule which-- absent a weird upcoming interleague series in Detroit next weekend-- will be exclusively against NL West opponents. Six each-- three home, three away-- against the Padres, Diamondbacks, and of course the Dodgers, and three in the rarefied air of Colorado beginning today.

It's been a wild ride since we proclaimed the Giants "golden" back in early June. The apogee was a 42-21 mark on June 8 after a three-game sweep of the Mets. Then quickly came a brutal reality check against powerful Washington, losing three of four, and by the Fourth of July the Giants were in a 5-18 nosedive and had lost a nine-game division lead. Thankfully, there was time to recover, and now, two months later, recovery, of a sort at least, has begun. At 74-62 today the Giants are still nine games to the bad since their peak, but the Dodgers have hardly run away with it in the meantime and so, dear readers, it's all up for grabs as we start the stretch drive.

The Giants' current starting pitchers have posted seven consecutive quality starts, and none has posted a truly wretched start in a month (note the use of the word "current" in this sentence). After some initial misfortune, Jake Peavy, who arrived via trade with Boston to replace the disabled Matt Cain, has been a solid workhorse. Tim Hudson, whose early success and midsummer struggles mirrored those of the team almost exactly, seems to have regained his minimalist form of late. Madison Bumgarner, the unquestioned ace, has a shot at 20 wins (16-9, 2.97), and Ryan Vogelsong continues to put in enough good starts to outweigh the bad ones.  On the relief side, nobody has been terrible, although Sergio Romo lost the closer job, at least temporarily, to Santiago Casilla. When the bullpen is bad, it's bad all at once: witness the nightmarish game a week ago in Washington, just before this latest homestand started. Leading 6-2 in the sixth, "Boch" turned matters over to his relievers, who surrendered twelve unanswered runs over three innings in a grotesque 14-6 loss. Well, if you're gonna melt down, best to do it all at once and get it over with, hah? And, there hasn't been a recurrence. Yet.

The blackeye in the game is Tim Lincecum. Aside from Bumgarner, he was the only starter who pitched well during that dizzying ten-week downward spiral. Timmy racked up six quality starts out of seven between June 13 and July 25, including his second career no-hitter, and helped keep the ship from sinking altogether. But over the past month he's pitched so badly that Bruce Bochy finally replaced him in the rotation with Yusmeiro Petit last week. It worked for one start, but whether it will for five more is the question-- and if Lincecum doesn't pitch better in relief than he did yesterday against the Brewers, "The Freak" may not even make the postseason roster, if there is one, unthinkable as that may seem.

While we're loath to jump on small sample sizes or make wide-eyed speculative opinions about new players, it's hard not to correlate the Giants' recent surge with Joe Panik settling in at second base and, lately, the second spot in the order. The club wants nothing more than a new, younger Marco Scutaro at those positions, and that's what the 23-year-old has delivered in 48 games: .309, lots of singles, a strikeout-to-walk ratio that compares with Buster Posey's, and solid defense. Certainly second base was a black hole all year and is no longer. And, though it may have taken awhile, Angel Pagan's return to center field and the leadoff spot is yielding its usual fruit. He doesn't have the stats, but he makes things happen when he's in there.

The rest of the offense resides on the shoulders of those who've carried it all year: Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Michael Morse. The latter, after a two-month snooze, is finally contributing at the plate again, and Sandoval has really been slugging away of late. The Giants  outscored  Milwaukee 31-8 over the three-game series, and it seemed half those runs were produced one way or another by the "Panda." Pence, of course, remains the team's leader in almost all offensive categories and lately has been batting third, with Buster fifth. Speaking of Posey, the stats show he hits much better as a first baseman than as a catcher, and with Brandon Belt still sidelined with concussion syndrome, expect to see a lot more of that as long as newcomer Andrew Susac (.467 SLG, 12 RBI in 45 AB) keeps producing. The one non-producer is and has been the mystifying Brandon Crawford, who continues to regress offensively and defensively.
The Colorado series will open today with a resumption of May 22's suspended game. It's the bottom of the sixth with the score tied 2-2. Afterward, the stretch drive officially begins as Tim Hudson, whose 2.90 ERA is a lot more indicative of his season than his tepid 9-9 record, takes the hill. LA, after losing two of three in San Diego, are home against the league's best team, the Nationals. You all know what that means, right? Sure you do.

Here We Go!