Sunday, November 8, 2015

Loose Talk

An article on csnbayarea about the Giants' planned pursuit of free-agent pitchers and such brought out a lot of chatter from fans regarding the team's current situation and the choices available.  Given the state of the 49ers at the moment, we found a few rounds of baseball talk to be highly refreshing. For those of you who missed it, here are a few of the comments we made in response to several discussion threads:

Outfield
Alex Gordon puts up about the same OBP as Aoki. Not the best, but around .360-.370, which is the acceptable minimum for a leadoff man.  At 32, he may start walking more, which would be good.  

I like Gordon a lot. He will be 32 this year. He's won a couple of Gold Gloves in left. Last year he DH'd only twice. Question is, if we pick him up it will be expensive, and that means another year of Pagan/Blanco in center, and will that be enough?   With pitching a priority, only one position spot is likely to be addressed. Last year CF was weaker than LF.  I'd rather have Aoki and a top CF than Pagan/Blanco and Gordon, though I really like him.

Parker is older than Madison Bumgarner. The chances of him ever being a full time MLB starter are slim.   This said, he has power and will take a walk, and I'd like to see him as the fifth outfielder in 2016. 


Bullpen
Bochy is the best "bullpen" manager in the game. When he says he's worried about the 'pen, then we should be too. Right now he isn't. 


Starting Pitchers: Greinke, Miller, Kazmir, Gallardo

"The Barry Zito contract wasn't a bad idea because they gave a lot of money to one player, it was a bad idea because they gave a lot of money to one player whose skills had been rapidly declining for 3 years, and was barely a league average pitcher at the time of signing." 

Kind of like Yovani Gallardo today, though I hate to say it, being a fan of his. But it's true.

I like Gallardo, but his K-W has been trending steadily down over the past few years while his WHIP is trending upward. He did post a good ERA in the AL last year despite this. He also made 28 times as much money as did Shelby Miller. 

Miller would be an excellent choice. he had a terrific year in Atlanta, ignore the W-L and look at the real stats. And he's only 25, already arbitration-eligible, and makes $500K. If the Braves are willing to trade, Miller is the best option for the money available.

Miller and Leake would make  a fine 2-3 punch. Miller has the most upside of any pitcher available, including everybody. He's only 25 and has not had a bad season.  Question is, do the Braves realize what they have and will they ask for too much in trade?   

I'm all for getting Greinke, he's the BPA right now.  If we could also swing Miller in trade, that would be fantastic, as he has the most upside of them all.

Grienke just turned 32. He is three months older than Kazmir.  Now Miller, he is younger than Bumgarner.  

Kazmir isn't in the same class as Miller. He's two years older than Gallardo. The only place he's really pitched well is in Oakland, so he might do well at AT&T.  He put up 3.3 WAR in only 18 starts for the A's, which is excellent, but over the past 7 years he's averaged around 1.5 per year, which is Chris Heston territory. And he's a lefty, which guarantees him a good job somewhere.  He might be a better choice than Leake for #3, but like Leake he may get offers the Giants won't match, for good reason.


Expect many more installments of this as winter starts rolling in, unless perhaps Blaine Gabbert turns out to be, well, better than "Blaine Gabbert."





Monday, November 2, 2015

Congratulations!



A class act from top to bottom in a great baseball town, the Kansas City Royals are the 2015 World Series champions. Our Giants were able to stop them a year ago. This year, nobody was up to the task. Completing a fine and memorable baseball postseason, the Royals were the unquestioned best of the bunch, relentless from beginning to end, and are a most worthy championship team. 

Jeff Passan over on Yahoo Sports has a fine article on the Royals' epic season and postseason, and the work that was done to build this champion. You can read it here:
http://sports.yahoo.com/news/the-epic-story-of-the-2015-royals-and-their-world-series-championship-150143613.html

Enjoy the moment, Royals fans, and maybe we'll see you again soon!

Friday, October 23, 2015

"Z" is for "Zito"

Barry Zito officially retired from baseball earlier this week after fifteen years in the major leagues, and in Giants-land the overwhelming sentiment has been "Thanks for the memories, and we're talkin' 2012."  A fine Chris Haft article about Zito's Giants teammates' response to his epochal and pivotal NLCS Game Five shutout win over the Cardinals is currently the lead story on the Giants' website, and you all should read it if you haven't already.

Zito went 63-80 in seven seasons with the Giants after signing that ungodly big contract prior to 2007. He had gone 102-63 in seven years with Oakland just prior, without even one losing campaign, highlighted by that 23-5 Cy Young season in 2002. He was coming off a 16-10 year when he signed with the Giants; given that he'd still be in a pitchers' park in the same geographical area, there was no reason to believe another 102 wins weren't waiting for us over the next seven years. Instead, the first four went 11-13, 10-17, 10-13, and 9-14, that last so bad Barry was excused from the postseason roster, a fifth wheel on the pitching express, no more valuable than Todd Wellemeyer. After that came an injury-plagued 2011 in which he started only nine games, and with five years already gone on that seven-year contract, many of us wondered whether the club might just bite the bullet and cut him loose anyway, absorbing the final $36,000,000 as a sunken cost and cautionary tale.

Our first mention of Barry Zito in 2012 was in our annual spring preview, and the comment was brief: "Will Giants release him if he can't cut it?"

From our vantage point, Barry's season of redemption looked like this:

(September 10) "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. ... 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! 

"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."

(September 12) "The Giants' best two starts over the past three weeks have both been by Barry Zito."

(September 16) "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."

(September 21) " 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."

(October 10, prior to the do-or-die third game of the division series at Cincinnati) "It will be Barry Zito today at 4 PM EDT, finally making a postseason start after six years in San Francisco. As "Boch" has said, Barry Z earned this start with his outstanding effort down the stretch. The club has won his last eleven starts, and also has rewarded him with strong offensive support, which all too often has been lacking in his Giants career. There's nothing cheesy about his first winning season with the team, either: 15-8 with a 4.15 (league average 3.94)."

(October 20, after Game 5 of the NLCS) "
Barry Zito pitched the game of his life last night, and should the Giants come back and win this series, Game Five will be remembered as the much-criticized lefthander's moment of personal redemption. Regardless of how the series turns out, Zito's eight innings of five-hit shutout ball stand as the zenith of his checkered San Francisco career. Facing his team's elimination, pitching in a park and against a lineup that has given him trouble throughout the years, Zito worked his way out of two early jams and got better as the game went on. By the time Bruce Bochy came out to relieve him with two out in the eighth, Zito had the Cardinals swinging and missing at everything he threw, and after 115 pitches the only opponent he couldn't defeat was simple fatigue...


(In the Giants'  fourth) "That brought up Zito, not now, then, or ever known as a hitter. Barry can bunt, though, and he dropped a beauty up the third-base line. Sandoval came home on the safety squeeze as David Freese, caught flat-footed by the unexpected bunt, threw late and wide up the first-base line...

"Had anyone come up to us back in April and suggested the Giants' World Series hopes would depend upon Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, he'd have been sent on his way with an indulgent pat on the head and a couple of bucks toward the next bottle of "Mad Dog." Yet there it is. Barry Z's apotheosis has sent the NLCS back to San Francisco... The Giants have taken the first step toward doing to the Cardinals what they already did to the Reds, and regardless of what they say, the defending world champions know their best chance to put this thing away evaporated into the vapor last night, like a confused eighth-place hitter flailing helplessly at one of Barry Zito's big breaking curveballs."

(October 25, after Game One of the World Series) " Zito was sharp and economical in his 81-pitch six-inning effort; his best frames were the third, fourth, and fifth, during which the Giants scored five runs, chased Verlander, and established their dominance...

"The final insult came in the fourth. Verlander appeared to have escaped penalty for a leadoff walk to Brandon Belt by fanning Gregor Blanco and getting Brandon Crawford on a fielder's choice. The play advanced Belt to second, but Bruce Bochy let Zito, who was cruising with a four-run lead, bat for himself. The career .097 hitter had fanned helplessly in the third, but on a 2-2 fastball he cued a single through the hole into left as Belt scored for a 5-0 lead. Few would have blamed Leyland if at this point he'd requested a game stoppage to check under the turf for leprechauns."


You can say that absent that 2012 season, Barry's 48-72 Giants record is truly dreadful, and, frankly, it is. We will say that after 45 years of futility, seeing Our Team win three World Championships in five years is truly glorious, and that without Barry Zito, one of those championships would belong to some other team.  

This is how we'll remember Barry Zito...

(September 30, 2013) "Barry Zito made his last appearance in orange and black yesterday, to the deafening cheers of the assembled multitude, many of whom probably booed his every breath just a few years ago. ...  (H)e leaves with more than enough goodwill to outweigh the cynicism that greeted his arrival in 2007. His glorious redemption in the midst of last season's world-championship charge (it's not hyperbole to suggest that without Barry Z, the Giants would not have won), his consummate professionalism throughout this difficult tenure, his off-field work with veterans and military families, and most of all his quiet, personal blend of courage and modesty are what will be remembered by Giants fans. 

"In a sea of self-serving, hyper-sensitive professional athletes, Barry Zito is and always has been that rarity, a true sportsman in the best sense of the word."

 


Sunday, October 18, 2015

'E' is for 'Expansion'

Three of the four teams competing in this year's League Championship Series are expansion teams. Both the American League entries-- the Kansas City Royals, founded during that crucible of change, 1969, and the Toronto Blue Jays, founded in 1977-- so qualify. And the New York Mets, founded in 1962 and the first expansion team to win a World Series, face the Chicago Cubs, who are anything but an expansion team but have often played like one in the 107 years since they last won the Series. 

This isn't unprecedented. In 1986, the "California" Angels and the Houston Astros joined the Mets to make three of the final four (along with the Boston Red Sox). The Blue Jays and Royals also met in the 1985 ALCS, the first all-expansion postseason series. And in 1969, that year of cataclysmic change in the baseball world, all four LCS teams were  either expansioneers (Mets, again) or teams that had moved away from their original locations (Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves). The Orioles, once the St Louis Browns, and the Twins, once the Washington Senators, had also changed their names, while the Braves, formerly of Boston and then Milwaukee, had already moved the franchise twice. Quite a New World crescendo in the Year of Great Change.

There are fourteen expansion teams out of the thirty major-league franchises today, which leaves sixteen originals who date from the beginning of the Modern Era (generally agreed to be 1903, the year the National League recognized the American as a legitimate major league and the first World Series was scheduled). Of those sixteen venerable ballclubs, six have moved from their original location, which leaves ten teams playing in the same city under (mostly) the same name and the same colors since the beginning. Those would be the Boston Red Sox (Americans, for a time), the New York Yankees (once the Highlanders), the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cleveland Indians (once the Blues), the Cincinnati Reds, the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Cubs (formerly Colts), and the St Louis Cardinals (or Maroons). Of course, many of these teams date back well before 1903.

The Modern Era can be subdivided into the "Original Years" (prior to 1961) and the "Expansion Years" (1961 to present). Enough time has passed since the Los Angeles Angels and the New Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers) first took the field, that now the expansion period (55 years) has lasted just about as long as the pre-expansion period (58).  

During the past 55 years the 14 expansion teams have won a total of nine World Series. No expansion team has won more than two; the Mets and Blue Jays both have a shot to become the first to win three.  Those 14 Series have been won by just six teams: the Mets, the Jays, the Miami Marlins, the Royals, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Angels. Six other expansion teams have reached the Series, and two-- the Seattle Mariners and the Montreal Expos-cum-Washington Nationals-- have yet to play in it.

So given a comparable amount of years to so so, the expansion teams have hardly even dented the domination of the Original Sixteen. We realize this is something of a cheat; it's not as though all 14 were added en masse back in 1961 and have had an equal chance to win all this time, but nonetheless it does give one pause. Can the heritage of a hundred years of baseball as opposed to a few decades really make a difference in a team's performance year after year? It makes no sense, but neither does the inevitable counter-argument, which would hold that expansion teams tend to hire stupid (or at least "baseball-stupid") executives and managers.

Which is the greatest of the expansion teams? Without question, the first great expansion franchise was the Kansas City Royals, who under Whitey Herzog, Jim Frey, and Dick Howser were year-in-year-out contenders for a full decade, 1976-1985, won six division titles, played several memorable ALCS against the Yankees, and finally won it all in 1985. Then there are the Toronto Blue Jays under Cito Gaston, who for five years (1989-1993) were probably the best team in baseball, and were the last team other than the Yankees to win back-to-back World Series (1992-1993). Other expansion clubs have had great, but short, runs of success-- the Mets in 1969 and the early '70s, the Texas Rangers under Ron Washington in 2010 and 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays under Joe Maddon (2008-2013), Milwaukee's "Brew Crew" and the forever-underrated Expos of the early '80s, the Angels under Gene Mauch in the 1980s and under Mike Scioscia in the last decade. The "Killer B" Houston Astros, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, were very similar to the '70s-'80s Royals, except without the ring. And Seattle's team under Lou Piniella in 2000-2001, when they tied the record for most wins in a single season, may have been the most impressive of all.  Had they managed to get past the Yankees and win a Series, there'd likely be no argument. For now, we'd go with the back-to-back Blue Jays of the early 1990s as expansion's finest flower.

So roll on, expansioneers, roll on. As a family member said last night, after KC's amazing five-run seventh inning rally and as Matt Harvey was mowing down the Cubs, all four teams in this fight bring a good story. May the best team win. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Okay...



... so maybe we're full of it and the Giants should've signed Cueto instead of Leake, hah?

Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals, and to the Toronto Blue Jays, both of whom clawed their way back from the brink of oblivion and now will meet in the ALCS. For once, the favorites took the underdogs' best shot and survived; now and then baseball needs the best regular-season teams to also be the best in the postseason. 

Congratulations also to the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros, both of whom came out of nowhere to surprise everyone, each with their own exciting style of play.

And with the elephant now out of the room in the National League as the Cardinals were eliminated, it's wide-open. We get the feeling, though, that Zach Greinke will be the difference tonight, and we also get the feeling that the upcoming World Series is lookin' awfully blue from both sides. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

End of the Regular Season.

W L GB
LA 92 70 - Pressure's on in the postseason.
GIANTS 84 78 8 Did well considering everything.
Arizona 79 83 13 Goldschmidt's our MVP choice.
San Diego 74 88 18 Big off-season moves fizzled.
Colorado 68 94 24 Seems they're always rebuilding.


Considering the concussions, the bad backs, the concussions, the deteriorating hips, the concussions, the broken legs and wrists, the concussions, the strained obliques... yada, yada, yada, and every team's got 'em, but boy, does our team sure got 'em.  That the Giants won 84 games and made an issue of it into the second week of September while missing almost the entire season from Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan and Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and Jeremy Affeldt, and missing significant time from Joe Panik and Nori Aoki and Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, and noting that most, if not all, those injuries overlapped one another for a good part of the time-- well, the accummulated pain and suffering is almost equal to that of having to read this sentence. No excuses, but on the other hand no reason to despair. With a few exceptions, mostly due to age, this Giants team ends the season looking like a serious contender for 2016. Even years, every other season, and all that. Yes, immediate improvements must be made at specific spots, but if this team can win 84 games like this, it can sure win 94 with a reasonable ration of injuries. 

Bright moments: the emergence of Kelby "Clark Kent" Tomlinson as a gotta-get-you-into-my-lineup star-in-the-making; Matt Duffy not only winning the third-base job but turning in a boderline All-Star and Rookie of the Year-candidate season while outperforming the guy he replaced at bargain-basement cost; Marlon Byrd's loud and timely arrival at AT&T Park; Nori Aoki's All-Star first half; Hunter Pence driving in 40 runs and scoring 30 runs in 52 games; Hunter Strickland and George Kontos' combined 0.90 WHIP and 22 walks over 124 innings; Madison Bumgarner's .468 slugging average, higher than all but two Giants regulars; Madison Bumgarner's 6/1 strikeout/walk ratio; Duffy's twelve stolen bases without being caught; Alejandro deAza drawing 12 walks in 61 at-bats (.387 OBP); Brandon Crawford driving in 84 runs while maintaining a Gold-candidate Glove.

Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Giants head into 2016 with a bonafide front-line ace starter and two, maybe three back-of-the-rotation guys (Peavy, Chris Heston, and Cain, if he recovers fully). Likely the first decision to be made is whether Mike Leake showed enough to deserve a "real" free-agent offer, and the second decision will be what to do about him when some yokel from Kanokel offers him 'way too much for 'way too long. Lord knows we gushed about Leake (gushed? Leake? Call a plumber, somebody) when he arrived as a free agent, figuring he was the "sleeper" in the midseason free-agent scramble and would thrive at the 'Bell like an orchid in a hothouse. Well, his last start was a strong one, albeit against a team that had just clinched the division, but his overall Giants record was a rocky one, leavened somewhat by good numbers at the home park. If we do keep him, he's a number three, not a number two, and yes, you do need a few of those guys, and at 27 Leake is younger than all our starters except "Bum." 

That means you go out and get one guy to be Bum's counterpart, and it is a lot easier to find one guy than two. So signing Leake, at a reasonable price and terms (which would be about what he's making now, for maybe three years) is a defensible strategy, because it narrows the eligible field to one. One guy to pair with Bumgarner, the way Cain complemented Timmy in 2010 and Bum complemented Cain in 2012. There's a big list of free-agent pitchers out there, and sometime after the World Series ends we'll go out and study it, but for now it says here the Giants need to add two strong starters, and Leake can be one of them if it's understood he's the junior partner.

We're not especially worried about the bullpen unless and until Bruce Bochy himself openly admits he's worried about it. There may never have been a manager who has handled relief pitching with "Boch's" acumen. If he says George Kontos and Hunter Strickland are essentially the two new components of the "Core Four," we'll believe him, and we'll believe he'll choose right when it comes to the other two (likely Javy Lopez and Somebody Else).

We have an All-Star catcher in Buster Posey (he won't win it, but he'll get some votes), an outstanding infield with two fine second baseman (for the nonce), and a whole lotta uncertainty in the outfield. Hunter Pence is the right fielder unless and until he can't play, and he and everyone else says he'll play, so there you go. Angel Pagan-- does anyone remember he was hitting, like, .350 before the injury?-- has one year to go on his contract and will certainly start the season in center field if ready. But he's had one-- one-- full season in his four-year tenure here, and if he gets hurt again, it's 'adios, amigo.' Gregor Blanco has proved he may be the best fourth outfielder in baseball, and Jarrett Parker deserves, at last, his one and only shot to make a major-league roster at 27.    

Whither Marlon Byrd and Nori Aoki? Byrd is 38 and his defense is so shaky he really ought to DH somewhere-- but he hasn't played well at all in the other league. We'd like to see him return; no other Giant has his latent home-run power. He's worth a one-year deal with lots of incentives; the question is whether he sees it that way. Aoki will be 34 in January. He has never had serious injury issues before, he appears to be fanatical about staying in shape, and he just fits well on this team and in this lineup. The Giants have a team option for five and a half million on him. They should take it.

So that's "If" out there in center and "If" and "If" on the corners.  There was late-season talk about young Tomlinson, who has real speed, working on outfield skills to expand his potential. Certainly if there's an injury-induced hole at any of the spots, he deserves a shot. But we wonder, in this context, about Joe Panik, who turns 25 in three weeks and is already dealing with the nagging back injuries that sideline most second basemen before they get old. We remember the Giants resting Robbie Thompson one game out of a series when they played on artifical turf, while Robbie was still in his late twenties. He was done at 32. We remember Freddy Sanchez and Marco Scutaro, prematurely and permanently sidelined by back and hip issues, at 33 and 38, respectively. Second base, like no other position, requires a great deal of pivot motion and throwing back against one's body; it's been an injury magnet since the game began. To see a brilliant young player like Panik already dealing with veteran-type debilitating injuries at a young age makes us wonder if he shouldn't be groomed for the outfield instead of Tomlinson, who certainly can play second. Craig Biggio and Ray Durham, no slouches they, made a similar move at different points in their careers.

All of which means we don't think the Giants will break the bank for a slugging outfielder this offseason. Okay, enough with the tomatoes already. 

Finally, and parenthetically, we'll note that two years ago we sat at PNC Park in Pittsburgh as Nick Noonan belted his first major-league home run-- only to see it taken away by the vagaries of instant replay. We were notably happy to hear of Nick finally clearing the barrier during the last week of the season, and we'd like to see him  take over the backup infielder/utilityman slot next year.    
  

Mister October

Jeremy Affeldt announced his retirement during the Giants' final homestand, and officially "told it goodbye" on Sunday, moving on to the next phase of his life, which we know will be as successful, as good-humored, and as modestly handled as was his baseball career. Proving President Reagan's dictum that there's no limit to what men can accomplish if they don't care who gets the credit, Affeldt worked almost anonymously, yet so importantly, during the "hinge moments" of important baseball games, getting those two, three, or four critical outs needed to keep a game close, hold a tie, or protect a lead. No saves, few wins, dozens, not hundreds, of innings pitched-- what few stats tell the story live on the margins, sometimes not even counted. Things like coming in with two men on and one man out, and leaving the game one pitch later, the runners still stranded. Sometimes coming in merely to force a move by the opposition; to get a dangerous left-handed hitter out of the game, or to turn a switch-hitter over to his less dangerous side. 

Affeldt pitched for thirteen years, the last half of that time with the Giants. He's a big guy-- six-four, 220, same size as Willie McCovey-- and was eminently durable until this year. The Royals, who originally signed him, wanted him to be a starter; he made 42 starts and then they traded him to Colorado. After one awful year and one good year there, and one more in Cincinnati, the Giants signed him in time for the Season of Promise, 2009. He posted a 1.74 in 62 innings, got no saves-- and finished 28th in the MVP voting. Somebody was paying attention.

In Game One of the 2010 World Series against Texas, Affeldt entered the game in the ninth to face Josh Hamilton with two on, one out, and the Giants coasting, 11-4. Affeldt immediately uncorked a wild pitch, the runners moving up to second and third, then walked Hamilton on a full count to load the bases. Bochy brought in Brian Wilson to end it; he gave up a sac fly and then a sky-high fly ball that dropped untouched for a two-run double,  Hamilton crossing the plate with a run that was charged to Affeldt.

And that was it. Over two more postseasons, six postseason series, 22 postseason innings, 78 postseason batters, some of the most critical situations imaginable, Jeremy Affeldt gave up zero runs. Zip, zilch, nada. ERA: 0.00.  The 2012 NLDS and NLCS, Giants down to their last chance in both series? Eight appearances, no runs. Most memorably, of course, there was Game Five of the NLCS and Game Seven of the World Series in 2014.  

Here are a few of the remarks we made about Affeldt over the last couple of championship seasons:

(Game Four, 2012 World Series) "Jeremy Affeldt, one of four southpaws in the Giants' bullpen, doesn't get a lot if ink, but anyone who strikes out five men over two innings late in a tied World Series game, as Affeldt did in the eighth and ninth last night, deserves his own sentence, don't you think?"

(Game Five, 2014 NLCS) "In came Jeremy Affeldt. Bumgarner won the series MVP award, and no one can say he didn't deserve it. But over three postseasons, making appearances like this, there needs to be some sort of Jeremy Affeldt Award. Four games this series, three games against Washington, a long string of zeroes in the scoring line: Affeldt got Taveras on a comebacker. Threat over, they left 'em loaded."

(Game Seven, 2014 World Series) "Affeldt remarked after the game that he couldn't remember ever pitching in the second inning before. But over the second, the third, and the fourth, he kept his zero Series ERA intact and was rewarded with the most important 'W' of his career." 

You have go to back to Mariano Rivera in is heyday with the Yankee dynasty at the turn of the millennium to find such implacable, almost numbing consistency. And while we respect Rivera and all the great closers absolutely, we've always believed there is just as much, if not more, pressure on a reliever coming in mid-game, cold, with men already on base and his team's fortunes twisting in the wind, than there is coming in to start the last inning of a ballgame, fresh, with lead in hand.    

If somehow you missed any of Affeldt's press conferences over the last few days of the season (they're available on the Giants' website), you need only visit his page at baseball-reference.com to see what kind of man he is. There's a link there to "Generation Alive", Affeldt's nonprofit foundation, which not only empowers youth to follow Christ, but feeds the hungry, shelters the orphans, and aids materially in the battle against child slavery.

Jeremy Affeldt is a true sportsman, a beloved brother in Christ, and one of those rare individuals who makes those around him better people. The Giants will miss him, and so will we, but the world at large will be further enriched.


The Perils of the Postseason

"Be careful what you wish for, you may get it." That old adage may apply to those despised rivals of ours, the Dodgers, who enter the postseason with a monkey-- heck, a freakin' gorilla-- on their collective back. Nothing less than a World Series will do, we believe; after two seasons of being pantsed by the Cardinals, a third straight shortfall will be intolerable. All of this must weigh upon certified Good Guy Don Mattingly, who has done a great job by any estimation.  LA opens this week against the New York Mets, led by Terry Collins, who never played in the major leagues but has previously managed in Houston and Anaheim.  

Won't be no Subway Series this year; the Yankees were excused from the proceedings last night courtesy of Houston's fine lefthander, Dallas Keuchel, who shut 'em out 3-0. Joe Girardi's bunch landed back in the postseason for the first time since 2012 as a wild-card team, and it's no coincidence their resurgence coincided with that of Alex Rodriguez. Nor is it coincidence that A-Rod went 0-for-4 last night and his team went 0-for 9 (innings, that is).


The Four Freshmen

The Mets are one of four teams reaching the postseason for the first time in a long time, especially how time is reckoned in major-league baseball these days. With five postseason spots available in each league now, we might expect that everyone would have an equal shot. The fans of these four teams woud likely argue the point, and win, most seasons, but not this one.

Glory be! The Toronto Blue Jays had not made the postseason in 22 years and had never made the postseason in the wild-card era, until a week or so ago when they clinched the AL East. Toronto has been well-known as a run-scoring machine in recent years; with Josh Donaldson joining Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and more recently Troy Tulowitzki, the Canadians certainly can bring the wood, and they have: 891 big ones crossed the plate this year, over 100 more than any other team. What's changed, and moved them from a .500 club to a pending juggernaut, is decent pitching: David Price, Mark Buehrle, R.L. Dickey, and the missing ingredient, Marco Estrada (3.13 in 28 starts in the AL).  The "simple rating system" tool, which we've blogged about on our Niner page, attempts to measure a team's strength relative to the league by their performance against the best clubs. By the SRS method, the Blue Jays are far and away baseball's most impressive team. 

We welcome now the Houston Astros, who never should have moved to the American League but are certianly making the best of it. Baseball's "joke" team as recently as 2013, when they lost 111 games, the 'Stros are riding the arms of Keuchel and Collin McHugh, who've won 39 games between them, and a lineup that strikes out like mad but almost matched Toronto with 230 home runs. We earlier mentioned Chris Carter as perhaps the archetypal Astro: .199 average but .307 OBP and 24 homers in 391 ABs. Houston doesn't have a big run or RBI man, they just have seven or eight guys who all score and drive in 60-80 runs. They'll face the Kansas City Royals, who like the Dodgers have plenty of unfinished business but likely aren't feeling the same pressure.  The Astros' first AL postseason appearance is also their first postseason bid since 2005, when they lost four close World Series games to the Chicago White Sox.

Now we have the Mets, back in it for the first time since 2006, when Carlos Beltran took a called third strike to end Game 7 of the NLCS against St Louis. (Beltran, by the way, is now with the Yankees. He went 1-for-4 against Houston.) Collins, the Mets' helmsman since 2011, has never won much before, and his charges are kinda the "Rodney Dangerfields" of the NL field. They don't have a .300 hitter, a 30-homer guy or a 100-RBI guy. They finished a respectable seventh in the league in runs, but it's all about pitching with these fellows. The ageless, ever-expanding Bartolo Colon and his four young sidekicks-- Jacob DeGroom, Noah Syndergaard, Jon Niese, and Matt Harvey, will be expected to carry the load against LA, considering the team's only true slugger, Yoenis Cespedes, is iffy for the NLDS with a sore left hand after being hit by a pitch last week.

And the Chicago Cubs, in the postseason for the first time since 2007, just defeated the good old Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park to move into the division series against the Cardinals. 22-game-winner Jake Arrieta was the whole story, pitching a 4-0 shutout to essentially match Keuchel last night. We all know the Cubs have won exactly one postseason series since 1908 (the 2003 NLDS) and we don't think they'll survive the incredibly well-balanced, 100-win Redbirds, but heck, we didn't think they'd win this game either. And the Bucs, after 98 wins this year, second-best in all of baseball, once again have let down the home folks without scoring a run, just as happened against Bumgarner a year ago. 

While the Texas Rangers haven't waited as long as these other guys-- they were in it as recently as 2012-- this is a completely remade club from the Ron Washington-led team we remember from those days. Like no other AL team, the Rangers are among the league leaders in both batting and pitching. Josh Hamilton, whose life story is certainly the most bizarre in the game today, is back and hitting again, alongside familiar faces such as Prince Fielder and Delino DeShields-- familiar, that is, to fans of other teams. But the ineffable Elvis Andrus and the eternal Adrian Beltre are also very much present. Meanwhile, good old Colby Lewis (answer to a Giants trivia question: who was the only Ranger pitcher to win a game in the 2010 Series?) is joined by Cole Hamels and Yovani Gallardo to form a pretty good postseason trio of starters.

Then there are the 2014 returnees-- the Cardinals, the Royals, the Dodgers, and the now-departed Pirates. We Giants fans are all too familiar with all of them.   

So now we await the Cardinals-Pirates, Dodgers-Mets, Royals-Astros, and Blue Jays-Rangers series. In our opinion, that last matchup will bear some serious attention.


Still With Us?

Roll the statistical parade...  Buster Posey was fourth in the league in average, sixth in OBP, and ninth in RBI... Brandon Crawford led all NL shortstops in HR (21) and RBI (84), and was second only to the Braves' phenomenal Andrelton Simmons in range at short... Simmons, amazingly, made only 8 errors out of 687 chances...  No Giant was in the top twenty in runs. Matt Duffy led the team with 77. He also drove in 77. We love this guy... Crawford and Brandon Belt tied for 13th with 33 doubles... Belt's .356 OBP and .478 SLG were almost an exact match for his LA counterpart, Adrian Gonzalez... Yes, Belt will strike out (147 in 137 games). Marlon Byrd was right behind him with 135... Belt led the team in walks with 56. He goes deep in the count-- 21st in the league in number of pitches, but those ahead of him had 50-100 more ABs...   The paucity of names recited here reminds us that Posey, Belt, Duffy, and Crawford were the only "regulars" we had this year... Fourth in wins and strikeouts, fifth in innings pitched, sixth in WHIP, ninth in ERA: that's Madison Bumgarner... Nobody else clocked in; Chris Heston kept his ERA under 4, and Mike Leake's overall numbers were good enough for the top 30 in most positive stats... When you review the league's top starters in ERA and IP, you see Shelby Miller of the Braves right up there. What stands out is his W-L, which is 6-17! Absolutely appalling, and reminiscent of Nolan Ryan's 8-16 1987 campaign in Houston. A year ago Miller was in St Louis, but after the Heyward trade Atlanta's gotta feel like puragtory. Miller's only 24. He stays healthy, he's going to be just fine. Let's hope the Braves' management realizes this... Matt Scherzer, though he kept his ERA under 3 and his WHIP under 1, kinda melted away in the second half, as did his team. Is Matt Williams' job in jeopardy? Everyone seems skittish around MVP-candidate Bryce Harper in that dugout, and that can't be good when you realize he's only 22... Harper's numbers really are fantastic. One of three guys with OPS over a thousand-- Paul Goldschmidt  and the inevitable Joey Votto are the others. Votto, as usual, was tops with 143 walks, while Harper had 124 and Goldschmidt 118. Next was Andrew McCutchen-- with 98...   Add in his 42 homers and league-leading 118 runs scored, and Harper's the top, all right; but will those dugout scuffles affect the vote?... You wanna talk stolen bases and their value, compare Dee Gordon, the league leader, with the number-two man, Cincy's Billy Hamilton. Gordon swiped 58 but was nailed 20 times-- that's a net loss. Hamilton stole one fewer base but was caught only 8 times. Any debate as to who's better?... That's better as a base stealer, not as a player. Gordon is the better player by any measure: .333 average and 88 runs scored to Hamilton's .226 and 56. At least Hamilton's been moved from the leadoff to the ninth spot. (That's how you know Dusty Baker is retired!) Gordon is a leadoff man, and he should be at .333, but if he'd run less and walk more (25 BB in 615 AB!) he'd score 110 runs a year even with the Marlins' tepid offense behind him... Matt Duffy shares one thing with the man he replaced, Casey McGehee. The youngster grounded into 22 double plays, fourth in the league. McGehee, who landed in Miami, batted only 237 times but managed 18 GIDP, still 13th in the league in about one-third of the at-bats of those ahead of him... If we remember correctly, 14 of those 18 were in a Giants uniform... Not a whole lot of outliers in 2015. Goldschmidt had 29 intentional walks, double the total of the next guy (Harper)... Clayton Kershaw picked off 9 batters, while old warhorse John Lackey (13-10 with a 2.77 in St Louis) induced 29 double-play grounders. Our own Chris Heston was second with 26. Hey, we like him better already... Aroldis Chapman was nowhere near the league leaders in wild pitches this year, and not just because he pitches fewer innings. David Hale, of the Rockies, and Justin Grimm of the Cubs both were among the leaders despite being relievers with low IP totals... The Angels' Garrett Richards, who had a pretty good season and stayed healthy all year, led all baseball with 17 errant throws... Mike Trout, as usual, had his own private party atop the AL leaderboard: tops in OPS  and SLG, second in OBP, 41 homers and 104 runs scored. His average was down and his strikeouts up, though... Albert Pujols, at 35, had a solid bounce-back season with 40 homers. He averaged just .244, though; one thing the Angels fans haven't seen from big Albert are those .320 seasons he churned out with the Cardinals.... Baltimore's Chris Davis led the AL with 47 homers and with 208 strikeouts.

Beofre we go we have to mention the incredible back-from-the-dead rally in Texas by the Angels last Saturday. Facing elimination and down 10-6 in the Rangers' ballpark, LA exploded for five runs in the top of the ninth to win it. Going into that inning they looked as downcast as a team can be. Josh Hamilton, whom they still are paying millions of dollars from that ruinous contract, had already hit two big home runs for Texas (and think, people: when was the last time a ballclub actually paid a guy to beat them?) Then came two monster leadoff home runs, both solo shots; Texas was still in control. But after big Albert's popup down the right-field line was misplayed into a double, the wheels came off in earnest with three RBI singles to win the game 11-10. One of our dear family members has the burden of being an Angels fan; the sky-high emotion of Saturday became leaden depression the next as they crumbled in a six-run seventh and were excused from the postseason, for which they'd won 16 games of their last 23. Baseball is a harsh mistress. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Big 'E'

Not Elvis, or even Easy, but Elimination, that is. Tuesday night the LA Dodgers officially eliminated the Giants from further contention in 2015, and they did so Emphatically, with Clayton Kershaw pitching a complete-game one-hit twelve-strikeout Koufax-worthy shutout, while his merry band of teammates ran up eight runs and made a general mockery of the supposed showdown with Madison Bumgarner.

And so it goes. Last year's dreamboat turns out to be a footnote as the 2015 postseason approaches, and whether Kershaw or fellow ace Zach Greinke walks off with the Cy Young Award, you can bet that both will be footnotes themselves if the Dodgers don't, at least, reach the World Series this year. As may be Don Mattingly. It ain't fair, maybe, and Lord knows we rarely squander conceptions of "fairness" on the Hated Rivals down south, but no other team in the National League enters the October pressure cooker with as much to lose as do they.

Let's pause a moment and give some muted but deserved applause to Mattingly, who has now won three straight division titles with his talented and expensive charges, something no Dodger team-- not in Brooklyn, not in LA, not under Alston or Lasorda-- ever did before. Over the weekend, as the Giants squared off across the bay against the disappointing Oakland A's, we morbidly wondered if we ought to go over to the dark side for the nonce and root for Our Boys to lose, thus sparing them, and us, the indignity of having the Dodgers clinch on our home field.  All too fresh in memory was the ugly, unsportsmanlike spectacle of the 2013 Dodgers desecrating Arizona's ballpark with their childish, almost obscene gestures and posturing, and as longtime fans of decorum and respect we wondered whether we'd have to go public with a defense of hypothetical  Giants fans who might resort to physicality themselves if such an event occurred at AT&T Park. Thankfully it didn't. The Dodgers celebrated their win with the obligatory group-hug at the pitchers' mound, followed by a most proper dash to the clubhouse where they could really let loose. Sure, we understand that 2013 was the first time for these guys, and that after three clinchers the novelty would wear off a bit, but we'd also like to think that Mattingly, a certified class act when he played, has imbued his team's character with some maturity and sportsmanship. In any case, here's where we grudgingly but sincerely congratulate our rivals for a job well done over a long season.

And while the bulk of our congratulations to our own beloved Giants will wait until the regular season is complete, we are compelled to add that given the appalling, season-long epidemic of injuries that plagued them, this resilient bunch mounted a most respectable championship defense. Just finishing the season with a winning record, which the Giants assured themselves of with Monday night's exciting twelve-inning walk-off victory, is an achievement against the odds.




A week ago Saturday, Tim Hudson, winding up a great career that deserves a strong vote for, if not actual enshrinement in, the Hall of Fame, faced off against his former Oakland teammate and former Giant Barry Zito in a final farewell for the fans. Both have announced their retirement effective at the end of this season, and despite their long careers the two had never squared off as opponents before. If it wasn't exactly lump-in-the-throat time, it certainly brought back warm memories. Young Hudson and young Zito joined with young Mark Mulder to form the starting trio that was the heart of Billy Beane's innovative and successful "Moneyball" Athletics of the early 2000s.

Zito was the star then, with his back-breaking curveball and 24 wins and Cy Young season in 2002. Though he never reached that peak again, he parlayed his success and reputation into a seven-year, $126,000,000 contract with the Giants as the new "face of the franchise" to replace the departed Barry (Bonds, that is). "New Barry" soon saw his "Face" role intercepted by Tim Lincecum, while he himself took on the "Albatross" tag. But the 2012 season, with 15 wins and two mighty post-season starts, forever changed that. Though to be honest, we'd forgotten he was still in O.B., and toiling in the bullpen for his original team, when this Sunday start was announced.

Hudson, meanwhile, went on to anchor the last few years of the Atlanta Braves' unprecedented championship continuum, and he leads all active pitchers with 222 wins. His own contribution to the Giants is easy now to forget, but early in 2014 he was the team's most reliable starting pitcher, winning seven of his first nine, generating some All-Star Game conversation, and keeping the team in contention through midseason.  Jake Peavy essentially duplicated Hudson's effort over the final two months while "Huddy" himself struggled, but the ace within emerged again with two strong starts, in the Division Series against Washington and in the NLCS against St Louis. Ultimately it was with the Giants that Hudson, after years of shortfall, finally earned his World Series ring.  

The magnificent poster above was sent us courtesy of our old friend Michael Winters, of "OOO! REEBAY!" fame. It was a Labor Day afternoon in 1916 as the season drew to a close, and the two great old National League rival aces, Christy Mathewson and Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, squared off against each other for the last time. Both would retire after the season. Matty was 36, and recently traded from the Giants to the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he assumed managerial duties, with the blessing of John McGraw. "Miner" Brown was almost 40; he had returned to the Cubs after a brief sojourn in the Federal League, where he too had managed. Brown hadn't entered the major leagues until the age of 27, but for a decade he and Mathewson established a great rivalry as the Cubs and Giants traded supremacy in the National League. Matty was by any measure the greater pitcher, but Brown had a special "whammy" on him, winning eight straight decisions between the two during the Cubs' phenomenal 1906-1908 run, when they averaged 107 wins per year. It was kind of like Dave Stewart versus Roger Clemens back in the late 1980s, if you remember that rivalry.

Anyway, as you can see, the promoters spent no little effort promoting this Final Showdown in the second game of a Labor Day doubleheader between two lousy teams, though as you can see there's no hint of anybody's impending retirement here. As it happened, the Reds, and Mathewson, won the game 10-8, scoring in seven of the nine innings. Both Brown and Matty pitched the complete game, Brown surrendering a staggering 19 hits and all ten runs, while Mathewson was touched for 15 hits, including a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth that made the game close. But he persevered and got the win, beating his rival for the last time, although it was clear both were well past "done." Indeed, the two probably had more value as hitters than as pitchers by that point: Matty went 3-for-5 with a double off Brown, and Brown responded in kind with two singles and two runs scored in four at-bats. The notorious crook Hal Chase played first base behind Mathewson, and made his 15th (!) error of the season, though it doesn't appear to have resulted in any unearned runs. "Laughing Larry" Doyle, Mathewson's former Giants teammate, got three hits off his old friend. Whether or not the two former aces were mere shadows of their former selves was probably irrelevant to the fans, though attendance was not reported. And despite 34 hits and 18 runs, the whole thing was concluded in a sprightly two hours and ten minutes.

It was 24 runs and 30 hits (and three and one-half hours) all told by the time last Saturday's Hudson-Zito finale concluded. The Giants won, 14-10, although the A's banged out nineteen hits to match the 1916 Reds. The big star of the game was Giants reserve outfielder Jarrett Parker, a September callup, who belted three home runs, including an eighth-inning grand slam that essentially settled the issue. Most unlike their legendary counterparts from 1916, neither Zito nor Hudson lasted more then two innings. Hudson was uncharacteristically wild, walking three of the 11 batters he faced, while Zito was eminently hittable, tagged for six hits and four runs while retiring only seven batters. 36,000-plus turned out for this short walk down Memory Lane, a nice payday for a team expected to contend for the World Series, not to lose more than 90 games. See, we Giants fans don't have it so bad.


This 'n' That

While we don't want to get all het up about "Parker power"-- remember, he's older than Madison Bumgarner and has never spent a full year in the big leagues-- it is nice to see a homegrown Giant with some real long-ball capability. Parker seems to have the Dave Kingman/Rob Deer schtick down pat: power, low average, and a ton o' strikeouts. But he will take a walk, about half as often as he gets a hit, which is good; his .261 average becomes a .365 OBP. He'll be 27 in spring training next year, and while the number of 27-year-old rookies who secure starting jobs is lower than the average Bernie Sanders voter's IQ, it says here Parker deserves a fair chance to crack what is looking to be a most unsettled outfield.  By the way, the last Giant to hit three home runs in one game was Pablo Sandoval in the 2012 World Series, Game One.

Last night Mike Leake made his bid for a 2016 job with the Giants, pitching a complete-game two-hit shutout against the now-coasting Dodgers. It's been a rocky road for Leake since the trade; he's 2-5 with a 4.07 (including last night) with San Francisco. His innings pitched per start is about the same as it was in Cincinnati, where he went 9-5, and his WHIP (1.19) is comparable. There's some evidence the move to a more spacious park has made a difference; both wins have come at home and his ERA at AT&T is more than half a run lower than on the road. Lord knows, he's the right age (27), he throws the right kind pf pitch (sinkerball), and he seems to be tough enough. Whether the Giants will offer him more dough than he makes now, and whether he'd take such an offer if made, is impossible to know, but what is possible to know is that there is, almost certainly, a team somewhere that is willing to overpay for an established free-agent pitcher under the age of 30.

Whither Marlon Byrd? Is there a place for him, his power bat, and his terrible defense, in the Giants' outfield at his age, in this park?  Unless Parker can deliver a similar dose on a consistent basis, Byrd is the only hitter of his type on the roster, and that value has to be weighed against the preponderance of line-drive hitters the team currently carries.

And going beyond statistics, injuries, positional assignments, and other details, we'll close today by stating our great satisfaction with an organization that has, in less than two years, produced such a fine crop of young players as Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Kelby Tomlinson one after the other. All these guys, if physically capable, deserve to be in the lineup that will contend for the championship in 2016.    

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

W L GB
LA 79 58 -  
GIANTS 71 67 8.5 It's over. 

Yesterday
Giants lost at Arizona, 6-1.
LA defeated the Angels in Anaheim., 7-5. 

Today
Giants continue with the Arizona series at Chase Field. Tim Hudson will get the start at 8:40 PM EDT (6:40 local time), and why not? It may be the last start of his illustrious career, and if so we hope he goes out with a strong effort. "Huddy" will always be remembered for his part in helping the Giants earn a ring in 2014.

Yesterday's Game
It was the Giants' season of shortcomings in miniature. A starting pitcher in whom the team placed high hopes stunk up the joint-- Mike Leake, in his first really bad start as a Giant, gave up 11 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs in 6 innings. The starting lineup banged out ten hits, which is good-- but scored only one run, which is bad, stranding nine and not drawing a single walk. The defense was superb, backing up Leake, George Kontos, and Ryan Vogelsong with three double plays. The bullpen was effective. It all added up, once again, to "pretty good, but not good enough." When your starter digs a 5-0 hole in four innings, chances are you won't get out of it no matter how well you do everything else.

And so it's over. It really is. Even if LA had lost, it'd be over. You have to win the games, and over the last ten, with everything on the line, the Giants are 2-8. Hard to believe it was just a week ago that they arrived in LA knowing it was in their power to take control of the race. The Dodgers gained three games with their subsequent sweep, but they've also gained three more since. And forget the wild-card-- the Cubs are even farther ahead, nine full games. It ain't happenin'. 

And neither are we. This space will go on hiatus for awhile as we get ready for the NFL season, and you all may see some activity over at our sister page (ninerboogie.blogspot.com) if you're so inclined. We'll be back in October to wrap up the season and belabor the "Where did we go wrong?" sobfest well past toleration.    
W L GB
LA 78 58 - Can Angels help derail this train?
GIANTS 71 66 7.5 Panik returns to the lineup.

Yesterday
Giants defeated Colorado, 7-4, splitting the four-game series.
LA defeated San Diego, 5-1.

Today
Giants open a three-game series at Arizona with a Labor Day 2:10 PM start (4:10 EDT). Mike "Hard-Luck" Leake starts against the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin, who pitched well but took the loss in his only start against the Giants six weeks ago.
LA opens a three-game set in Anaheim against the crosstown rival Angels, who are treading water but still very much alive in both the AL West and AL wild-card races. Zack Greinke, whom we know from recent experience is on a regular roll at the moment, faces rookie Nick Tropeiano. 

Yesterday's Game
For the second straight game the Giants' lineup broke out big, with 14 hits, seven of those for extra bases, including Buster Posey's 100th career home run. Marlon Byrd led the attack with 4 hits, and everyone in the starting lineup hit safely except Juan Perez. The big inning was the fifth, when Matt Duffy's two-run triple and Brandon Crawford's two-run double highlighted a five-run outburst that wiped out the Rockies' early lead. Madison Bumgarner, who has endured four tough losses this year, got a rare cheap win, allowing nine hits and four runs over six. "Bum" loaded the bases with nobody out in the first, and two runs scored on a forceout and a sac fly. He settled down for a while afterward as the Giants pulled even and then broke out ahead. Leading 7-2 in the fifth, he let the Rockies back in it with four straight singles to open the frame, cutting the lead to 7-4. Any other pitcher would have been yanked at that point, with two on, nobody out, and powerful Nolan Arenado at the plate. But "Bum" secured his win by gettng the slugger to ground into a double play, ending the threat. He survived the sixth, too, despite allowing two hits, but that was all. "The Usual Suspects"-- that's Javy Lopez, Hunter Strickland, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla-- finished up with  four perfect innings, the save going to Casilla, his 32nd.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

W L GB
LA 77 58 - On pace to win 92 games.
GIANTS 70 66 7.5 One streak over, another must begin.

Yesterday
Giants defeated Colorado, 7-3, to end that brutal seven-game losing streak.
LA won at San Diego, 2-0. 

Today
Giants finish up at Colorado as Madison Bumgarner seeks his 17th win and a critical split of this road series. Game time is slated for 1:10 PM local, or 3:10 PM Eastern, right in the middle of our fantasy football draft. Multi-taskers, we are.
LA is at San Diego; Brett Anderson looks to make it 3 of 4. Hard-luck Andrew Cashner has the temerity to oppose.

Last Night's Game
The offense-- whether sequential, long-ball, or two-out clutch-- that had been missing since the beginning of the road trip showed up yesterday to the tune of fifteen hits, eight of them for extra bases. It wasn't just that the lineup picked up Jake Peavy; Peavy himself picked things up with two doubles, a run scored, and a RBI. Nick "The Forgotten Man" Noonan kicked off the scoring with a RBI double as he got a rare start at first base. Matt Duffy had three hits and two RBI and the top of the order-- Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco-- both hit solo shots out of the park, in Pagan's case his first homer of the year. Peavy lasted into the sixth, allowing but four hits and a walk, and the hard-luck pitcher finally earned himself a win. The bullpen-- Lopez, Strickland, Osich, Casilla-- was its usual impregnable self. The only blot on the proceedings was the Giants' season-long trend of squandering baserunners; fifteen hits and four walks yielded seven runs because they stranded ten and hit into three double plays. 

As the ugly little chart at the top of the page shows, the Dodgers' current pace would leave them at 92-70 when it's over, and the Giants would need to go 22-4 to match it and force a tie and playoff. While it goes without saying that the Giants need to embark on a seven-game (at least) winning streak right now, LA, who are 8-2 over their last ten, need to hit a skid like real soon for this blog to have any continuing relevance. The road trip is by no means over; a Labor Day afternoon game plus two evenings in Arizona await before the Giants return home to face San Diego, Cincinnati, and those Diamondbacks again. Meanwhile, the Dodgers launch the Battle of LA at Anaheim tomorrow, the first of three, then they follow the Giants at Arizona before taking on the Rockies back at Chavez Ravine the week afterward.  We have to hope one or more of those locations contains a land mine of sorts.   

Saturday, September 5, 2015

W L GB
LA 76 58 - Don't expect Padres will help much.
GIANTS 69 66 7.5 Losing streak now reaches 7.

Yesterday
Giants lost again at Colorado, 2-1.
LA defeated San Diego, 8-4.

Today
Giants try again at Colorado, hoping to salvage a split; Jake Peavy carres the tattered banner against Chad Bettis, who has won twice against the Giants this year. 9:10 PM EDT start (7:10 local time).
LA sends lefty Alex Wood out against the Padres, who counter with Tyler Ross, not that it matters much.

Last Night's Game
For the third time in four games, the Giants' starter-- Chris Heston, in this case-- pitched well enough to win, but was supported by one measly run, and for the third time in four games it ended 2-1.  Heston, Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, and Sergio Romo kept things close, but it all came to naught after Marlon Byrd struck out with the bases loaded in the sixth. Heston's sacrifice bunt and Angel Pagan's single had scored Juan Perez, who had led off with a hit, and the Giants pressed Jorge De La Rosa hard, but the lefty pressed back as he got Byrd and Brandon Belt on strikes. As has been their habit of late, that one inning was the only threat the Giants mounted, and the two solo shots Heston had allowed in the first stood up and dealt him his ninth loss of the season.   

Friday, September 4, 2015

W L GB
LA 75 58 - They don't even have to win.
GIANTS 69 65 6.5 Not just losing, but losing U-G-L-Y.

Yesterday
Giants were clobbered in Colorado, 11-3.
LA lost at San Diego, 10-7.

Today
Giants at Colorado; 6:40 pm local (8:40 EDT) start at Coors Field. Chris Heston tries for his 12th win while another lefty, the familiar Jorge De La Rosa, opposes. He's had one start against the Giants this year, also at home and back in May, and it was a pretty good one though the Giants ended up winning in extra innings. As for Heston, let's hope third time's a charm as he was hit hard in both earlier starts at Coors. 
LA continues at San Diego. Without Greinke and Kershaw, they're a .500 club, and it's Mike Bolsinger tonight.

Last Night's Game
Why Ryan Vogelsong had to wait until now to uncork the worst start by any Giants pitcher this season, and perhaps the worst of his career, is a mystery that may help explain why so many fans refer to the "baseball gods" when they run out of adjectives. Nine Rockies marched to the plate in the first inning, four of them scoring, and after three more came racing around the bases to open the fourth, "Vogey" was outta there, and so were the Giants. Perhaps he should have suited up and played in the field; Vogelsong also provided two-thirds of the Giants' scoring with a home run, the first of his career. Note: if you're gonna emulate Madison Bumgarner, bring your pitching game as well. We hate to rag on one of our favorites, but we're at the point where this six-game losing streak will completely end the Giants' chances if it's not arrested like, now.    

Thursday, September 3, 2015

W L GB
LA 75 57 - Kershaw strikes out 15. 
GIANTS 69 64 6.5 Now must win and get help.

Yesterday
Giants lost at LA, 2-1, as Clayton Kershaw outdueled Mike Leake, and the Dodgers swept the series.

Today
Giants soldier on at Colorado. Ryan Vogelsong opens the four-game series tonight at 6:40 local time (8:40 EDT). Lefthander Chris Rusin opposes. 
LA is at San Diego to start a weekend series.

Last Night's Game
Well, for the second straight night, the Giants got a strong start-- from Mike Leake, this time-- only to see LA put up an even stronger start, as Clayton Kershaw fanned 15 Giants in a complete-game victory that drew unavoidable comparisons to our own Madison Bumgarner's classic performances. Each team managed six hits; in the Giants' case, all were singles, while LA saw Carl Crawford drive in Justin Turner with a second-inning double and Chase Utley deliver his first home run since joining the blue crew. It was an answer-back shot in the bottom of the sixth, after Kelby Tomlinson had manufactured a run by drawing a walk, avoiding, with the help of instant replay, an adroit pickoff move by Kershaw, stealing second, and scoring on Angel Pagan's nasty ground ball that eluded third baseman Turner. It didn't help at all that the Giants lost two men on the bases, both victims of the same Kershaw pickoff move that almost nailed "Clark Kent." Opportunities against the big lefty are too rare to waste, and in true Kershaw fashion he got stronger as the final few outs approached. Not since Nolan Ryan fanned 16 on a humid night in Houston back in 1987 had so many Giants batted the breeze. As for Leake, he did his typical low-key job, helped quite a bit by some sharp defense, including a Pagan-to-Tomlinson double play that caught Turner napping off second and may have prevented another run.

The Giants came in here having won 9 of 12 against the Dodgers; that "pwnage" we've been bragging about most of the year now lies mouldering in the dust. With Chicago likewise winning and taking an identical lead in the wild-card chase, the Giants are left facing some extremely unappetizing numbers. If LA goes just 15-15 the rest of the way, the Giants must go 21-8 to tie 'em. As Brandon Belt bravely put it last night, if they gain a game a week over the next three weeks, they'll have a chance to take the lead when LA arrives at the 'Bell for a four-game stand on Monday the 28th. On the other hand, if they don't, that series may not even matter. It might not take a collapse of San Diegan proportions (viz. 2010) for Our Boys to have a chance, but we're on the fringes of that desperate territory now. Needless to say, teams like the Rockies simply can't be allowed to stand in the way. The Giants need three of these next four games, or we may be able to rest our typing fingers for the duration.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

W L PCT GB
LA 74 57 .565 - Will Winters get a playoff share?
GIANTS 69 63 .523 5.5 Season hangs in balance today.

Yesterday
Giants lost at LA, 2-1.

Today
Giants finish up at LA; Mike Leake against Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers go for the sweep and possible KO. 7:10 PM at Chavez Ravine.

Last Night's Game
Well, it comes down to one game, and whether the Giants can get off the ropes and prolong this fight for a few more rounds. Having now stretched the boxing metaphors well past palatability, we are left with the faint hope that Leake, our midseason pickup, will pay off right now and give us a quality start.

Then again, we got a quality start from Madison Bumgarner last night, and it wasn't enough. Zack Greinke lived up to his advance billing and, should LA indeed win this thing, he may have just clinched the Cy Young Award. For six innings Greinke held the Giants near-helpless on two hits, and he had to be that good because LA had managed only one run off Bumgarner. In the seventh, the first chink in Greinke's armor opened up when he walked Buster Posey on several outside pitches after Brandon Belt's leadoff single. A replay-reviewed close call on Marlon Byrd's grounder moved the runners up with one out, and then the Giants' newest acquisition, Alejandro De Aza, took a 2-2 pitch in the same place Posey's ball four had landed. This time umpire Mike Winters decided it was a strike. De Aza, Bruce Bochy, and the Giants bench erupted in disbelief and fury. Winters' lazy-man's strike zone had been floating aimlessly around all night, irritating both Greinke and Bumgarner, and this was the last straw. The rally having died, in between innings Bochy, along with Jake Peavy, was tossed after reading Winters the riot act. Loudly. In the bottom of the frame, slumping Joc Pederson worked an 0-2 count to 3-2, then homered off Bumgarner to make it 2-0. Somewhat predictably, the Giants responded in the eighth with three singles-- Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan, and Matt Duffy with the team's lone RBI-- but finally getting Greinke out of there was not the tonic we had hoped. Luis Avila got Belt to ground into a double play, and the Giants' last threat was snuffed out.
  
A loss and sweep tonight could make this the shortest "pennant race" blog on record since 2005's one-pager. We hope not. Everyone, or almost everyone, is healthy. Let's make like the Cardinals, boys, and give this Kershaw fellow some real trouble. What do you say? 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

W L PCT GB
LA 73 57 .562 - Biggest division lead in six weeks.
GIANTS 69 62 .527 4.5 It's on Bum to prevent the sweep.





Yesterday
LA beat the Giants, 5-4, in fourteen innings.

Today
Giants at LA, second game, 7:10 PDT. Madison Bumgarner against Zack Greinke, the Cy Young favorite.

Last Night's Game
Five hours and twenty-nine minutes, sixteen pitchers (nine for the Giants), LA emptying their bench in a do-or-die fourteenth... yep, it may have been August 31, but it was September baseball, Giants-Dodgers style. Jake Peavy, after giving up a quick run in the first, settled down and pitched four near-perfect innings before Doctor Longball paid a housecall to the LA side in the sixth. Adrian Gonzalez' two-run homer tied it, and Andre Ethier's following shot put the Dodgers up 4-3. In the eighth, Marlon "The RBI Machine" Byrd made it 17 in 14 games with a double that scored Matt Duffy to tie it, and then began the parade of goose eggs, five scoreless innings, two each on our side from Santiago Casilla and George Kontos. It was Mike Broadway who opened the final frame by walking A.J. Ellis. Two short singles loaded the bases with nobody out and on came Yusmeiro Petit, no stranger to long extra-inning games. He got no chance to reach the 18th this time, though; with both outfield and infield drawn in, all it took was a blooper over Nori Aoki in left, appropriately delivered by Gonzalez, who had started the LA rally eight innings previous, and that was that.

The Giants used "small ball" to give Peavy a 3-1 lead in the third; after Gregor Blanco opened with a hit and Peavy blew the sacrifice, Aoki drew a key walk off Brett Anderson. This set up RBI singles from Brandon Belt and the ubiquitous Byrd. Anderson was gone after five-- but Don Mattingly's bullpen wasn't, especially Chris Hatcher, who pitched the final three and got the win. Incidentals: Duffy stealing his eighth base without being caught once; Buster Posey, despite a 4-for-7 night, stranding five runners.    


Notes
The Giants picked up journeyman outfielder Alejandro De Aza from Boston yesterday; he bats lefty, which gives him an advantage over the DFA'd Ryan Lollis. Another indicator that Gregor Blanco will remain the starting centerfielder for awhile, at least until we see whether Angel Pagan can play regularly, or at all... The Chicago Cubs lost to Cincinnati last night; they remain five and a half games ahead of the Giants in the wild-card race... In the American League, no less than six clubs are within four games of a wild-card spot...  It's looking like both New York clubs will reach the postseason for the first time since 2006. The Mets are pulling away from the fading Nationals in the NL East, and the Yankees have a solid lead for the AL wild-card and trail Toronto by only a game and a half in the AL East.