#SFGiants Week in Review (5/6-5/12)

Since our last past, which took the temperature of the starting rotation, each of the Giants’ 5 starters got to take a turn. It went like this: Zito=Great, Vogelsong=Terrible, Cain=Very Encouraging, Bumgarner=Great, Lincecum=Very Encouraging.

So, mostly what we’ve come to expect/encouragement. All of which translated to 4 wins and 1 loss. Very Nice! The deep concern is still very much Vogelsong. How long do you wait this out? Like they did with Lincecum a year ago my gut tells me they wait this one out a long time. (A) There is no one knocking on that door (2) The Giants are in first place and have the luxury of waiting.

Results:

4-3 (23-15); 2 game lead in NL West

6-2 L vs. PHIL; 6-2 L vs. PHIL; 4-3 W vs. PHIL; 6-3 L vs. ATL; 8-2 W vs. ATL; 10-1 W vs. ATL; 5-1 W vs. ATL

Hitter of the Week:

How about Marco Scutaro! His line of .467/.467/.767 is pretty tasty. And take note of this, his average is now over .300. I know batting average isn’t as revered as a stat as it once was, but for a guy like Scutaro is pretty important…his value to the team is average and on-base-percentage, as opposed to power. He is the perfect #2 hitter for this team and every runs a little more smoothly when he is going well.

Also, don’t miss this fact, while we are talking about batting average: Scutaro is at .305, Sandoval at .320, Posey at .294, and Pence at .281. That is a very good sign for the 2-5 spots.

Here’s my prediction: this team has the capability of putting together at 10+ game winning streak. Their ability to put long streaks together in the past (based on excellent starting pitching) has always been stunted by the offense. Hard to maintain a streak when you are prone to the 1-0 caining loss.

Pitcher of the Week:

Tempting to give this to Lincecum but I’m going with Matt Cain. He still got burned by the longball, but a very, very encouraging sight to see him go 8 after getting hit by a ball and dominating.

Looking Ahead:

Very interesting road trip: 2 in Toronto and then 4 in Colorado. Neither team is playing well right now, but  it is weird to go to Canada and play with the DH and then go to Colorado where weird stuff happens. I’d be pleased with 3-3 but am hoping the success against the NL West leads to a 4-2 week.

(-SB)

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Pitching, Trades, and Cliff Lee Rumors

I promise that next Monday we will bring back the week’s in review and hopefully establish a good rhythm again.

For now though, the Giants season has been a sort of bizarro world. The starting pitching has been poor. The hitter has been good, if not great. The comebacks have been awesome. Who saw that coming?

Good vibes aside, for the Giants to have a shot at repeating they need to get better starting pitching. No way around that.

Here is my assessment thus far:

  • Matt Cain has not been good, but the amount of home runs he has allowed do line up with his career averages. Some might argue that such an extreme fly ball pitcher is finally having the law of averages catch up with him, but I don’t see it continuing at this rate. More important, Cain’s control has been lacking. I see him righting the ship and being the ace. Level of Panic: low.
  • Madison Bumgarner has had 6 great starts and one not so great start. No worries here. Madbum doesn’t have the video game stuff to dominate every time, so there will be times when it doesn’t go well. That said not worried. Level of Panic: extremely low.
  • Tim Lincecum is the most maddening player in a Giants’ uniform since Barry Zito who is still in a Giants’ uniform. He can look so good on one pitch and so bad on another. Dominate a batter than watch the pitcher. Provide a ray of hope with a clean start and then dash it with another start ruined by the big inning. What do you do? I still hold out hope that he is smart enough, talented enough, and not injured enough to figure it out. Level of Panic: moderate.
  • Barry Zito: Barry Zito is Barry Zito. I really don’t know how else to say it. Here’s what Barry Zito does: for every 5 starts, he will give 2 great turns, 2 good turns, and 1 huge turd of a turn. And that all works out to a perfectly acceptable league average 4th starter. Barry Zito. Level of Panic: low (Giants’ fans left panic a long time ago in regards to Zito).
  • Ryan Vogelsong: Ryan Vogelsong is the baseball definition of house money. In 2011 he was around to do one thing and one thing only: provide rotation depth. He started the season in AAA and only came up because of Jonathan Sanchez (remember him). Then it was because of Barry Zito. He made the All-Star team and it was a great story, but it was never part of the plan. And then it got even better. Another good season and a post-season transformation into THE ACE. But, when does the clock strike midnight and the coach turn back into a pumpkin? It might have happened, in a way, last August. It sure seems like it is happening now. The problem is that Vogey is now part of the plan. So, where do we go from here if this is the end of the line? Level of Panic: Red Alert!

So, what happens now? The hot rumor of the week is the Giants should go after Cliff Lee should the Phillies continue their downward spiral (a spiral the Giants are not helping in this current series).

The Cliff Lee idea is not unlike an idea I proposed this offseason which you can read about here. (By the way, Anibal Sanchez is off to a GREAT start).

Do the Giants pursue this?

Here’s the case against Lee:

  • He is old. 35 in August. 
  • He has an injury history. Been on the DL at least once in each of the past four seasons.
  • He is expensive. $25 mil for the next 3 years (including 2013).

Here’s the case for Lee:

  • He is very good. He is even better in the post-season.
  • The Giants could move Lincecum or Vogelsong to the bullpen.
  • The Giants will lose some combination of Lincecum, Vogelsong, and Zito after this season. Their good young arms are probably not going to be ready for opening day 2014. They will need outside help at some point to fill out the rotation, so why not Cliff Lee.

A couple of other factors. First, would the Phillies even want to do this? Maybe, they could get financial relief and some prospects. Second, would the Giants have what it takes to pull this off? Maybe…but their thin system would essentially be depleted. Third, Cliff Lee has a limited no-trade clause. The Giants could be one of the 21 teams on that list.

If the Giants could pull this off by trading only 1 decent prospect, than I say do it. They can manage the expense (especially with Lincecum, Pence, and potentially Zito coming off the books at the end of the year).

If it requires 2-3 top prospects, I say no.

It’s a long season and we are still just getting started. While the early returns have not been great from this rotation, there is plenty of time to right the ship. As bad as it’s been, the Giants are only a half game out of first place.

So, true panic should not set in until June. Let’s hope this magical group of five, who have been so good the last several years, turn it around quickly.

(-SB)

#SFGiants Week In Review (4/15-4/21)

What a weird week. Absolutely horrible in Milwaukee (a place the Giants seem to do well, and against a bad team), and then awesome at home against the Padres. The Giants are now 8-1 in the division…since losing to LA on opening day they have not lost a division game. That’s a fantastic start…let’s hope they keep it up against the Diamondbacks and the Padres again this week.

Results:

3-3 (12-7); 2nd place, 1.5 games back in NL West

10-8 L @ MIL; 4-3 L @ MIL; 7-2 L @ MIL; 3-2 W vs SD; 2-0 W vs. SD; 5-0 W vs. SD

Hitter of the Week:

Brandon Crawford is the hitter of the week and possibly even the year, given the expectations for him heading into the season. I think we all hoped for improvement, but .250 with 10+ home runs was a goal we would have all paid top dollar for. It’s early and there will be slumps and streaks but he sure passes the eye test right now. Power to the opposite field, not trying to do too much…he just looks dangerous at the plate. And that might be the best sign of all.

Pitcher of the Week:

Tim Lincecum was the enigma of the week last week and he pitched beautifully on Saturday night. Yes, he was at home (but we all know he’s been good and bad everywhere, park doesn’t really seem to matter to Timmy), and yes it was the Padres, but he looked like vintage Lincecum. Guys swung at nasty pitches out of the zone, and most importantly, he pitched with purpose and it sure seemed like he knew what he wanted to do and put the ball where he wanted it to go. The great question of Lincecum is not “will he get his velocity back” (probably not), but rather “will his crazy mechanics allow him to become a control pitcher” (a difficult task). The jury is still out, but saturday night was a huge step forward.

Enigma of the Week:

This is the enigma of the year: the Giants’ starters have all shown flashes of brilliance. I was floored by this article. But each of them seems to be too susceptible to (a) the Long Ball, and (b) the Big Inning. Cain and Zito got it big time in Milwaukee this week. Could be flukey early season stuff, but certainly it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Looking Ahead:

6 more division games: 3 against Arizona in SF, and then 3 in San Diego. Let’s hope the team keeps rolling against the NL West!

(-SB)

#SFGiants Week In Review (4/9-4/14)

It is tough to argue with, or nit-pick, a 6-1 week, which the Giants just pulled off, but it doesn’t feel like they played all that well. I think this is due to the fact that the way they won was decidedly out of character.

Perhaps the hangover from 2012 is this: the Giants don’t fear playing behind. Typically, you think of this team as one that has to get ahead early and protect leads. It’s not a team that appears designed to be able to come back.

But comeback they did, and they continue to do. Of course, some of that is due to very poor play on the part of the Cubs. Nonetheless, they swept a division rival and took 3 of 4 from a team they should take 3 of 4 from, regardless of how it is done.

Bottom line: 6-1 is a good week.

Results:

6-1 (9-4); 0.5 game lead in NL West

4-2 W vs. Col; 9-6 W vs. Col; 10-0 W vs. Col; 7-6 W @ CHC; 4-3 L @ CHC; 3-2 W @ CHC; 10-7 W @ CHC

Pitcher of the Week:

Come on down Barry Zito. Yahoo! Sports insinuated after Zito’s start against the Rockies that this is simply a contract year phenomenon, but Giants’ fans know Zito has pitched well at times, especially early in 2010 and late in 2012. It seems that he has finally make peace with his stuff, he is learning how to be a control artist, and most of all, he is comfortable with who he is as a pitcher. He will have some bad starts, he just walks too fine a line not too, but who in this rotation inspires as much confidence right now as Zito?

Hitter of the Week:

Zito! Just kidding, but the dude’s gotten just as much press this last week for his hot “hitting” as he has for his pitching.

How about that Nick Noonan. Here’s a guy a lot of us had pegged for opening day 2013 a few years back. Then he stalled out at AA and was forgotten in the wake of Gary Brown’s and Brandon Crawford’s and Joe Panik’s. But, again, a few years ago he was as legit a position prospect in the Giants’ system as anyone. He’s blocked by Scutaro for now and would probably struggle after the league gets a book on him, but he has such a nice swing, and he beat good pitches against the Cubs…that wasn’t a cheap 5 for 8!

Enigma of the Week:

Tim Lincecum had 2 bad innings. Taken together it looks like this: 2 IP, 9 ERs, 4 BB (including the opposing pitcher), 5 H (including 1 double and 2 home runs), 1 wild pitch, and 2 Ks. For those who like ratios that’s an ERA of 40.50 and a WHIP of 4.50. Not good.

The rest of those outings, though, look like this: 9 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 H (all singles), 0 WP, 9 Ks. That’s an ERA of 1.00 and a WHIP of 0.67.

So, what to make of all that? First, and this a duh observation, Lincecum needs to avoid the bad inning. Second, he is striking a lot of guys out, which means his stuff is still nasty. Third, and this is the most important, Lincecum needs to identify EARLY what is working and what is not. Yesterday both of the home runs came off poor change-ups. Lincecum can’t feel it out and ease in to what is on and what is off in a start anymore. He needs to know when the game starts what he has to work with.

To me, it seems to come down to concentration. When it’s there he is still a really good pitcher, when it is not, it is really ugly.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants head to Milwaukee for 3, and then get 12 straight against division rivals San Diego and Arizona. I’d love to seem them stay hot, but clean up the starting pitching a bit and work from ahead instead of behind.

(-SB)

Posey For Life

I have to admit, I’ve been pretty bored with spring training this year. What is there to get excited about?

Brandon Belt having a great spring? Yes. Tim Lincecum got a hair cut? No. Barry Zito might be good again for real? Yes. Chad Gaudin will be the 12th pitcher? Not really.

But, then these two things happened on the same day.

My thoughts: the Posey deal is a great deal. The Giants get their best player locked up for the next decade at a less expensive rate than Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki, or Joey Votto. I’d take Posey over all of those guys because of the position he plays (and because he is awesome).

The Posey deal is also cheaper than the one the Twins gave Joe Mauer, another win for the Giants.

It’s also interesting to me that the deal was done the same day as Verlander’s. Remember: the Giants just beat the Tigers in the World Series. Now, Verlander is amazing. But, he plays every five days and he’s older than Posey. One could argue that Verlander is more important to the Tiger’s franchise than Posey, but that would be an all-out cage match of a debate.

Posey’s deal is less expensive than Verlander’s. Amazing.

Not only that, but Verlander’s deal makes the Matt Cain deal look like a bargain. Who would have thought that. The Giants are locking up their core, a core that has two rings already, at rates that are less expensive than the “market”.

All of which leads to a question/observation.

Is this the end of the Tim Lincecum era?

A lot depends on what he does this season, but either way I think he’s gone. If he has a great season he will be too expensive, and if he sucks the Giants will want to go in a different direction anyway. The Giant’s best move of the past two seasons might have been NOT signing Lincecum to a long term deal.

Baseball starts tomorrow, and the Giants are off and running in two days. I’m ready now.

Bring on the season!

(-SB)

Let’s Ask Some Questions

At the beginning of the off-season I asked 5 questions and tried to make predictive answers. Things have gone more or less as I thought.

The Giants got the band back together, probably paid too much to do so, but overall did well to keep the team very competitive without handicapping their future (i.e. Posey extension).

As we head into FanFest weekend, the reporting of pitchers and catchers, and Spring Training here’s a new set of questions to ponder, debate, and worry about.

1) If the key is pitching, what can we expect? Probably more of the same: really, really good pitching. But that’s a boring answer. There are a lot of questions here. Tim Lincecum: can he rebound? Will Matt Cain wear down? What’s up with Madison Bumgarner? Will Ryan Vogelsong keep it going or turn back into a pumpkin? Can Sergio Romo be the closer all season? Will the Giants bring back Brian Wilson in the end? Will Brett Bochy or Heath Hembree be the closer at the end of the season? Can Casilla, Affeldt, Lopez, and others continue to be awesome? And Barry Zito needs 200 innings to get an $18 million pay check…will the Giants let him get there?

2) Can the team stay healthy? In particular, it would be great to see Posey and Panda together for a full season. Is this that season?

3) Can the team score runs? One would think that Scutaro and Pagan will not play a whole season the way they did in the postseason. There will be a regression, but how much? Can Posey and Panda exceed expectations? Can Belt and Crawford continue to establish themselves as major league hitters? And, what up Hunter Pence? 2012 suck or 2007-2011 All-Star?

4) Can the Giants stay hungry? Two championships in three years is awesome. A third in four would make this team legendary. Will they stay motivated and eager to reach baseball immortality or will they descend into an abyss of individual greediness and self-focus?

5) What will happen in Left Field? We’ll take another post soon to ponder the rest of the division, but for now the most pressing question outside of short-haired Tim Lincecum is this: can Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres really hold down left field? Will the Giants need to make a trade? At what cost?

Answers coming soon.

(-SB)