Week [6] In Review (5/9-5/15) #sfgiants #weekinreview

There was more awe than odd this week (see last week’s week-in-review), as the Giants exacted some revenge against the Arizona Diamondbacks, sweeping them in Phoenix (in 4 games) having been swept in SF by the same D-Backs earlier in the season.

Many positives abound, most notably the marked improvement of Jake Peavy and Matt Cain. Cain, in particular, looks like he’s figured something out. He may never be vintage Matt Cain again, but we’ll take this version, especially as the fifth starter.

That said, the odd factor has not gone away. The defense continues to lapse at times, Posey went ice-cold for a while, and the bullpen perplexities persist. And the oddest story of the year, in some ways, came from the bullpen this week when Santiago Casilla and Bruce Bochy had a very public disagreement.

It hasn’t exactly been pretty, but the Giants are riding a five game win streak and now have a 1 game lead in the division. It still feels like they have much better baseball ahead of them, and if they continue to get good starts they could really put together a nice streak once some of these other issues get ironed out.

Time for a quick ode to Tim Lincecum. All signs are pointing to him signing on with the oh-so-detestable Los Angles Angels of Anaheim, which makes a lot of sense, but now that we are actually at the moment, it feels weird. And I am a little sad.

Timmy was always our Timmy, good or bad, and more than anyone else was at the forefront of the great Giants turnaround.

Over my years as a Giants fan I can remember Scott Garrelts taking a no-hitter to the 9th inning. I remember Big Daddy Reuschel and Dave Dravecky. I loved the emergence of Shawn Estes. I saw Livan Hernandez and Russ Ortiz spin some magic. I took Jason Schmidt in the first round of a fantasy draft, and I won that season. I watched him strike out 16 guys. We finally had an ace.

I lived and died with Barry Zito.

I remember well the debut of Matt Cain. The epic battle against Todd Helton. I watched Cain’s perfect game and Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter and all of the greatness of Madison Bumgarner.

But, for me, the best game I ever watched by a Giants pitcher was Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS when Lincecum dominated the Atlanta Braves. He gave up a leadoff double and at that point, right out of the gate, all the horrible playoff memories came flooding back: the Giants would turn into pumpkins…again. But then he got out of it, and at that point it was pretty much over. I will never forget that game because it was awesome, in and of itself, but it was also a foreshadowing of what was to come: this was not 1989 or 93 or 97 or 2000 or 02 or 03 or 04. This was something different.

And it was.

Thank you Timmy!

Week in Review: 1 of 3 against Toronto at home, and then the road sweep of Arizona in 4. 22-18 overall, 1 game lead in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: The Giants had a pretty poor week with the bats, which makes the 5-2 result a bit surprising, but there were some highlights. Denard Span got it going, and had, easily, the best average of any of the regulars. Buster Posey started to come out of his slump and actually had 2 significant moments this: walking in the game winning run on Wednesday, and then his big game winning double on Saturday.

But, the hitter of the week will go to Joe Panik. He only hit .222, but he is showing signs of heating up, and he his two home run week puts him at 5 for the season, a very interesting development. What if Joe Panik can hit for power?

Brandon Crawford grew into some power, and while we would still prefer to see Panik hitting .300 and getting on base a ton, the added pop is kind of nice.

Pitcher of the Week: I’ve been very forthright with my unabashed desire for Matt Cain to be good again, so I will stop apologizing for that, but ole’ Matt earned it this week:

  • 15 IP, only 15 baserunners allowed, to the tune of a 1.80 ERA, and, in true Matt Cain style, went 0-1 (the team went 1-1).

This is significant development, and it looks like Cain is starting to break through the 5 inning barrier as well. The big questions for Cain moving forward: is this the ceiling, and if so can he do this consistently, or can he continue to get better?

Looking Ahead: A much needed day off today, and then this becomes a week to curse the scheduling gods a bit: 3 games in San Diego (one of the worst offenses in baseball) where the Giants will send their 3 best pitchers to the mound, and then 3 games at home against the Cubs (the best offense in baseball) where the Giants will send Peavy, Cain, and Bumgarner to the bump. Imperative that the Giants keep the wins coming in SD.

See you next Monday.

 

…And We’re Back…#SFGiants #2015 #SpringTraining

Well, after relocating from Boston back to the Bay Area, having another kid, starting a new job, and finding a place to live, we’ve been quite busy. But, don’t worry baseballmonk has not gone away.

We’re just getting started.

Luckily this was a boring off-season. Ha ha.
No reason to go over the Lester spurn and the trades that weren’t.

Let’s break the team down into pitching and hitting, talk about the pessimistic and optimistic views of each, and make a couple radical suggestions. Here we go:

Hitting:

  1. The Pessimist: The Giants have no power, and will be the worst lineup the team has put on the field since the 2008-2009 wasteland years. Losing Pablo Sandoval, while good in the long run, will hurt this year and Casey McGehee isn’t going to make anyone miss the Panda any less. The high contact, average dependent lineup will be fun to watch on the rare occasions that it is working, but the lack of dingers will be painful. Finally, this team is not incredibly deep, and losing any combination of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan, and Hunter Pence will be deadly.
  2. The Optimist: The Giants lineup is not what it was last year when it had home run potential up and down the order, but don’t freak out just yet. The Giants still have three guys with 25+ HR potential (Posey, Belt, Pence), a healthy Pagan, a full year of Joe Panik, and the ever improving Brandon Crawford. They don’t need McGehee and Left Field to be awesome just average and the runs will come.
  3. A Radical Suggestion: We keep hearing about how there is no way Posey is moving positions (and that’s fine), and that Brandon Belt will only play first base, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the best possible lineup from a hitting perspective involves Andrew Susac catching, Posey at first, and Belt in Left. Or Posey in left =) It seems like a no brainer to give Belt 30 games in left, put Posey at first 25% of the time, and use the catching depth (Susac and Hector Sanchez) to the team’s advantage. If/when the Giants return to the playoffs, by all means use Posey behind the plate. I see this more as a way to pace Posey than a true position switch. Whatever they do, there is a lot of pressure on Brandon Belt to produce. Go get ’em baby giraffe.
  4. A Second Radical Suggestion: Ok, I have two for the offense. I know the organization has staunchly said there are no internal 3B solutions all off-season, but I think Giants fans have to root for the elevation of Matt Duffy to everyday third-basemen. Duffy gives the Giants a similar profile to McGehee (high average dependence and low power), but brings better range and arm to the position. Plus he’s a much better athlete, which pays off on the bases and in lineup flexibility. The good news about left field and 3B is that there is no one who is so deeply invested in that they can’t be moved for the hot hand or improved on in a trade, but if McGehee was truly the best option, then why not Duffman?

Pitching:

  1. The Pessimist: The Giants have 7 starters, but every single one of them comes with a significant question mark. How will Madison Bumgarner bounce back from a heavy post-season work load? What does Matt Cain have left after ankle and elbow surgery? Will the Giants get the Jake Peavy who sucked for the Red Sox and faded in the playoffs, or the stud they saw down the stretch? Tim Hudson is 40 and falling apart, can he even make 20 starts this year? Tim Lincecum has been average to bad for three years now, is he ever coming back? Yusmerio Petit is awesome, but can he start on a regular basis and don’t we need him in the bullpen anyway? And Ryan Vogelsong continues to be a great story, but isn’t he redundant on a team that already has several guys on the wrong side of 30? Oh and that bullpen. Yeah, it’s been great but they are another year older and the magic has to end at some point.
  2. The Optomist: Bumgarner’s a horse and history shows that if he is going to suffer ill-effects from the 2014 post-season epicness it won’t come until 2016 or 2017. He’s an ace. Matt Cain is finally healthy, good reports are flowing, and there’s another really good season or two left in that arm. He’ll be fine. Peavy doesn’t need to be as good as he was down the stretch, he’ll benefit from a full season in the NL and pitching in this ballpark, all he needs to do is make his starts and be the third guy. Tim Hudson will be a perfectly adequate 4th starter. The Giants can pace him with the depth (i.e. Vogelsong) that they have. Huddy will go out on top. Lincecum’s been working with his dad and has his mechanics down again. Plus he’s been one of the unluckiest pitchers of all time. It all evens out this year. Plus he’s the 5th starter and the pressures off. Petit will get to do his bullpen wizardry all year, and Vogelsong is here to caddy and fill in. The Giants will actually pitch better as a team in 2015 than they did last year. Oh, and the rest of the bullpen…they’ll be fine.
  3. A Radical Suggestion: For the record, I take the more optimistic view of the pitching staff. I feel especially confident about Bumgarner and Cain and think that excellent years from both of them will take the pressure off the back three and allow the Giants the freedom to figure it out. I also predict that Lincecum will have a good year. Not a great year, but a good one…good enough that he’ll make the decision to let him go a tough one on the front office. While I would love to suggest that Lincecum go to the bullpen (and for the record I still think this is a good idea), I think he’ll be a really good 5th starter. The real radical suggestion has to do with Vogelsong. In my opinion, the Giants never really figured out the closer role once Sergio Romo gave up the gig last summer. In some ways this worked to their advantage and created even more flexibility for Bruce Bochy. However, we all know that managers and players like consistency. I think Vogelsong should close. He’s got the mentality and he can still bring mid-90’s heat when he needs to. Plus, he’s already got the beard for it.

Well, there you have it. We now are doomed to a bunch of silly story lines until we get closer to final rosters and opening day. I do hope to post a few thoughts about this off-season and what it all means. But, let’s start the games huh!

-SB

World Champions Again. #SFGiants

Just a couple of thoughts, more thoughtful writings to come later.

First, go read Grant.

Second, the Giants just won a World Series without a number 2 starter (man did they miss Matt Cain in this World Series), without their best hitter hitting (no home runs for Buster Posey who I think played hurt, but still played like a boss), without their leadoff man and center fielder Angel Pagan (and as good as Blanco was, Pagan was missed at times, especially with the LF situation), and with several other roster question marks (Hunter Strickland, Tim Lincecum, Michael Morse, just to name a few).

Third, when all is said and done, Jeremy Affeldt is one of the great Giants of all time. I will fight you to the death on this one.

Fourth, remember when the Giants tried Dan Uggla at second base for two games. I LOVE JOE PANIK has been my mantra all postseason. So good. Can’t wait to watch him for several more years.

Fifth, my worst case scenario basically played itself out, and Bruce Bochy went in a different direction than I would have thought, bringing in Affeldt early. It was the right move. Then he went to Bumgarner for what he/we thought might be 2 or 3 innings. He never had to make another move. Sometimes the best move is the move you don’t make. Bruce Bochy for life, man. He’s the best.

Sixth, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval had GREAT series’ with their bats and gloves. They covered for Posey big time.

Seventh, the Royals are good. Hat tip to those guys. I’ve been hyping them to my KC friends (who are a cynical bunch) for two years and it nearly came back to bite me. But, they are good.

Eight, Brian Sabean cries every time. Without fail. He’s the best.

Ninth, Michael Morse will make you want to eat your hat. He also drove in the winning run. He was huge in his limited action this postseason. CobraPower.

Tenth, odes will be written to Madison Bumgarner. Boy names in the Bay Area are pretty much taken care of for the next year. There’s not much left to say. All I know is that what he did this postseason, from Pittsburg on, is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen in 25+ years of watching baseball.

bumg_635x250_1414639848

How the Giants Can Win Game 7 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

Score more runs than the Royals. The end.

Ha ha.

Take 2: Score a bunch of runs early off of Jeremy Guthrie. The end.

Ok, ok, seriously though. Here the best and worst case scenarios:

Ultimate Worst Case:

This would essentially be a repeat of last night where Hudson goes down in flames early and the game gets away from the Giants before anything can really be done about it. Chances of this happening 1%.

Worst Case Scenario:

Let’s face it. No matter what this is the LAST game of a WEIRD season. This game is going to be close and it’s going to be weird. It’s going to make you feel things. Bad things like your worst break up, and good things like the birth of a child (or the last time the Giants won the World Series).

Tim Kawakami posited his theory on how the bullpen will shake down today. Check it out.

Along those lines, the worst case scenario is that Bochy has to start thinking about replacing Hudson early. The chances are good that this will happen. A sinkerballer usually needs to throw about 20 pitches to really get it going. It might take even more for Hudson to get that “good tired” thing going given that this is FREAKING GAME 7 OF THE WORLD SERIES and the adrenaline will be pumping. If he can get through the first 20 pitches without damages, he could go 5 or 6 innings. But the first part of the game will make you barf so many times.

The question of this game is when will Madison Bumgarner make an appearance. Best case scenario is that he never has to come in, but Bochy’s got a dilemma here. Put him in too early, and you might be left with a MadBum shaped vacuum when he comes out. Wait too long and the game might have already gotten away from you. Have I ever mentioned that I am glad I’m not the manager.

Ok, back to the worst case scenario:

  • Hudson for 2+ innings.
  • Bumgarner to clean up a mess and get through the 4th (I think this is too early for this night to end well)
  • Petit/Lincecum to get through the 6th (If Lincecum is in this game something went really wrong)
  • Affeldt for the 7th
  • Romo/Lopez for the 8th
  • Casilla for the 9th

The problem with this scenario is two-fold: Bumgarner is in the game too early, and too much rides on Petit and Lincecum to get big outs in the 5th and 6th.

Chances of this happening: 49%

Best Case Scenario:

Again, the ultimate best case scenario is the Giants jump all over Guthrie, Hudson cruises through 7 and we all breathe easy and go to bed early (chances of this happening 1%).

The more likely best case would look like this:

  • Hudson for 5
  • Bumgarner for 2
  • Affeldt/Romo/Lopez/Casilla to get the final 6 outs

Chances of this happening: 49%.

Final Thoughts:

The Giants need 2 home runs. That’s what I’m calling right now. Hit 2 home runs and they win.

The Giants need Posey’s moment of greatness.

You are going to hear, ad naseum, about how road teams can’t win game 7’s. Here are Grant’s thoughts. One interesting insight from that article: the road team usually got out to lead and still lost. Don’t read too much into that. The Giants need to get a lead.

The Giants really don’t want to be down once the game turns over to the final third. BUT, they’ve more than held their own against Kelvin Herrera. They’ve made him throw a lot of pitches. He’ll come in throwing gas and just try to throw it harder and harder if he gets in any trouble. Patience will pay off here. Let him get frustrated. A 102 mph fastball outside of the zone is just a really fast ball (ha).

Furthermore, the Giants finally got to Wade Davis in Game 5, and he’s the one guy of the big 3 I really fear. That’ll boost their confidence. Finally, Greg Holland is one of the 5 best closers in baseball, but he’s been wild and he hasn’t pitched much recently. Again, patience is the key. They can get to him. I’d feel so much better if those guys were pitching to keep the game close and not to protect a lead, but they aren’t invincible.

I’ll say it again: they can do this. They’ve done this. Not in the World Series, but they’ve done this.

They can do it again.

Score more runs than the Royals.

-SB

3 Thoughts Before a HUGE Game 6 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

1. Madison Bumgarner.

What else is there to say? The last time I attended a game at AT&T, it was 2011. It was my birthday. Madison Bumgarner started. His how the first inning went:

  • Single
  • Double
  • Infield Single
  • Double
  • Single
  • Double
  • Single
  • Double
  • Strike Out (Pitcher)
  • Single

0.1 innings, 9 hits, 8 ER, 1 K.

Needless to say it was not a great game to watch.

But, I guess I’ll always be able to say I saw the worst game of Bumgarner’s career. This postseason performance is MadBum’s apology to me for having to watch that meltdown in person.

What’s really interesting to me about all of this is that after that game a popular MadBum theory was solidified. The idea was that Bumgarner was good but not great, and the problem was that his stuff lacked something. He didn’t throw hard enough, didn’t have a great out pitch, didn’t have that “thing” that separates the great from the merely good.

In particular, the idea was that Bumgarner walked a fine line: when everything clicked, his mechanics, his control, his stuff, he could put together an awesome game. But, he didn’t have the pure stuff to get around the games where he didn’t have it all working at the same time.

I heard the same thinking expressed on sports radio here in Boston before the Series started. He’s a good pitcher, but he’s not an ace, not great.

If you’ve been watching Madison closely since that day in 2011, you know he’s an ace. You know he has great control. You know he can strike guys out. You know he can make batters look foolish. You know he has great stuff. You know he can beat any other team’s ace on any given day.

You know he’s great.

He may not light up the radar gun (although the 94 he’s been sitting at this postseason isn’t anything to take lightly), but he’s as bona fide an ace as there is in baseball.

Remember when Matt Cain was the chosen one?

Remember when Tim Lincecum was the chosen one?

Both those of guys are great, and have had some INCREDIBLE moments during their Giants careers. But maybe it was really Madison the whole time.

2. Managers.

There are still no circumstances under which I would pitch Jean Machi if I were the manager of the Giants, but Bochy went to him in Game 4 in a very logical situation (he needed a pitcher to get 1 out before being pinch hit for).

Bochy did in that moment what great managers do: put their players in a position to succeed. He didn’t need Machi to go through the heart of the lineup in the middle of a tight game. He basically needed him to strike out an AL pitcher. Machi got it done.

I also would have started Michael Morse in Game 4, but having him off the bench was huge psychologically (plus Morse had a great at-bat to draw a walk as a pinch hitter). Juan Perez started instead and made a couple of great plays in LF that Morse would have NEVER made.

This is why Bochy is the manager. And he’s good at it.

Ned Yost hasn’t had an egregious error that clearly cost the team a game. In fact, my opinion of him has gone from liability to neutral.

But, Yost hasn’t figured out the final step of managerial greatness, which is putting his players in the best position to succeed. The Royals success has to do with the fact that they are very talented, and have some great options in certain roles.

Yost’s use of the bullpen in Games 4 and 5 demonstrated a lack of skill in some ways, but also reveal that the Royals have a significant talent drop off from the big 3 to everyone else.

That’s not Yost’s fault.

But, he also doesn’t do some of the smaller things Bochy does (like how Bochy used Machi in just the right spot) to take his team from an 9 to a 10.

3. The Great Players.

Pablo and Pence have been huge in the past two games. Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Juan Perez have had their moments.

I would argue that Yusmerio Petit and Jeremy Affeldt have been just as valuable this postseason as anyone, non-Bumgarner category.

But, I still think the Giants need/will get something great from Buster Posey before this all over. They need it. Remember he saved his World Series home run for Game 4 against the Tigers.

I also think, amazingly, that Tim Lincecum will have a moment, most likely tonight in Game 6, where the Giants need him to get a couple of outs. Can Timmy deliver?

  

No idea how this all ends. It really does feel like 2002 in so many ways, but these are not the 2002 Giants. These are not Dusty Baker’s Giants. If any team can figure out how to shut this thing down tonight, it’s these Giants.

Get it done tonight boys! Go Giants!

-SB

Pre-Gaming Game 3 #SFGiants #Royals #WorldSeries

Some intrigue before Game 3:

  • First, the lineups…the Giants go back to the NLCS lineup…this means 5 left-handed hitters. Left-handed hitters have Buster Posey type numbers against Jeremy Guthrie, so as nice as it would be to have Morse take a couple of at bats (plus his bat doesn’t play as well against the righty-heavy bullpen off the bench), you can’t deny the history there. The Royals are mixing it up quite a bit. No Aoki. Gordon in the 2 hole (he’s a great player, but not having a great postseason), Moustakas in the 5 hole (this is the big shocker, the dude hit 9TH most of the year), Jarrod Dyson in the 8th spot, and of course no Billy Butler. This decision gives the Royals more speed and defense, and ensures that if guys get on base they will running and bunting like crazy. It also means the temptation for Yost to meddle and get over involved in this game will be immense.
  • Second, the national media continues to harp on the Giants totally bullpen meltdown. The issue with the bullpen in Game 2 was not that the Royals beat the Giants bullpen aces. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The got to the Giants 6th and 7th options. The issue was with who Bochy chose, not with the bullpen (especially the core 4). If the Royals beat Affeldt, Casilla, etc then we’d really have a problem. Until then Game 2 was a bummer, but clarity providing bummer.
  • Third, it sounds like Tim Lincecum is available. This is either great news or ulcer inducing information. It also sounds like there is a slim chance that Bumgarner goes tomorrow in Game 4 on short rest. The only way I see that happening is if (a) the Giants lose, and (b) this game goes extra innings and the Giants burn Petit and Lincecum.

I’m heading out of town this weekend for a series of important meetings, so I’m not sure how much blogging will happen moving forward.

Until the next time. GO GIANTS!!!

-SB

3 Thoughts on The Game 2 Debacle #SFGiants #Royals #WorldSeries

1. Don’t Panik. Or is it panic? I forget now.

There are two ways to look at last night:

  1. THE SKY IS FALLING. EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE.
  2. The Giants won the game they needed to win, got a split in KC, and now have home field advantage in a best of 5 series.

I can tell you right now that the actual players on the San Francisco Giants share the perspective of point 2. There are some clear issues (see below), but if you take out the emotions you were feeling in the 6th inning last night, this is far from the worst case scenario heading back to SF (in fact, we more or less predicted this here).

One of the big keys for me was seeing how the Giants looked against the “Big 3” of the Royals pen. They all came in throwing gas and looking nasty, but the Giants looked far from overwhelmed. They had some especially good at bats against Kelvim Herrera. Greg Holland will blow a save in this series I am convinced of it. Hitting these guys is no easy task, but to quote Krukow: “one to measure, one to rake.” The Giants don’t look completely overmatched here, they can hit these guys.

The Giants walk away from round one impressed but not intimidated.

2. Let’s Freak Out For a Minute. Bochy has done so many great things in managing games and the bullpen over the years that he’s more than earned the right to have a mulligan. But, like Game 2 against St. Louis, I thought he made a critical mistake in how he handled Peavy, and in relying on Machi and Strickland.

Despite Jake’s low pitch count he should have had guys warming up at the start of the inning, and he should have had a “get outs/stay in…give up a baserunner/come out” policy for Peavy for all innings after the 5th. The only issue he’s had since coming over to the Giants come up the 3rd time through the order (astutely pointed out on the broadcast by Tom Verducci…Harold Reyonlds should be muted but listen to Verducci!). I would have liked to see Peavy come out when Cain singled. (Actually, I would have loved to see them start the inning fresh with Petit). Then you bring Lopez in for Hosmer and go from there.

The second mistake was bringing in Jean Machi. He has failed, again and again, down the stretch and in the postseason. He threw 2 balls that weren’t even remotely close to the strike zone and did nothing to set up the batter, and then he threw a fastball right down the middle of the plate that he was fortunate to only give up a single on.

In a moment I’ll share my thoughts on Stickland and Lincecum and all that, but for now, the game was really lost for me in the first 3 batters of the inning.

The real issue, underneath all of this, is that the Giants starters after Bumgarner just don’t have what it takes at this point to get deep into the ballgame. This is where the Giants really, really miss Matt Cain. Bochy should have been thrilled that Peavy recovered and got through 5.

The three guys most responsible for the loss against the Cards were the culprits again (Peavy, Strickland, Machi). Bochy learned his lesson and you never saw those guys again the rest of the way in the NLCS. I think the same applies here.

3. Oh, hello Tim Lincecum. Yesterday I broke down how Bochy used Hunter Stickland in Game 1 and what it revealed about Tim Lincecum. Five batters into Lincecum’s first 2014 postseason appearance I was ready to throw that out. Then Timmy tweaked his back. The word is that it’s probably not serious. He’s dealt with this before.

But, it is serious because can you really trust a guy who is a pitch away from tweaking his back? He was so close to being back in the circle of trust, especially with the next three game in SF. He may be fine and he may pitch again, and pitch well, but whatever air of confidence was building up around Lincecum late in the game last night, seems to have been let out rather quickly by his balky back.

Looking Ahead: The Giants have some serious issues with their bullpen moving forward. I don’t see how Hunter Stickland can be used again in a high leverage moment in this series. He may well be the Giants closer in 2016 (the next time we do go through all of this), but he can’t go out there again with the game on the line.

Neither can Jean Machi.

Which means, and it seems entirely impossible that this can be true, but Yumseiro Petit just got even more valuable. Bochy has to hope he can get 5 to 6 innings from Tim Hudson, use Petit as a bridge, and then go with the trusted 4 (Lopez, Affeldt, Romo, and Casilla) in the late innings. Maybe Lincecum works his way in there too.

But Petit can no longer be a caddy for the starters, he needs to be a primary bullpen weapon.

To reiterate, as ugly as things got last night, pull the camera back and the end result (1-1 tie heading home) is a good result. The Giants are experienced, know how to shake it off, and will play Friday loose and confident. The Royals lose Billy Butler, and loss of a DH allows Ned Yost to meddle, which is a good thing.

No reason to freak out yet, Giants fans. The biggest things to look for now: The Posey/Panda/Pence dingers and can the Giants bridge the middle innings?

Go Giants!

-SB

Trying to Predict the World Series #SFGiants #Royals

Here is the final chapter in this amazing postseason drama. I went 0-4 in DS round, but came back with two correct predictions in the LCS. I also continue to predict longer series than they turn out to be.

Which leads to the challenge in predicting the World Series. These two teams are so evenly matched it seems destined for the Series to go 6 or even 7 games (haven’t had 7 games since 2011, and before that since 2001 and 2002). However, both teams tend to grab a lead and never let go, so it is entirely possible that one team runs away with it in 4 or 5 games (though they would be close games).

I think the Giants should win the World Series. They have some decided advantages: the better manager, the true Ace in Madison Bumgarner, the once-in-a-generation player in Buster Posey (perhaps Eric Hosmer will be this for the Royals but even with his strong postseason he has a way to go to earn that kind of label, despite being drafted ahead of Posey).

They also have some subtle advantages. A lefty heavy lineup, a flexibility to their roster and bullpen that either the Royals don’t have or don’t utilize, and a wealth of postseason experience to pull from.

If the Giants are going to win the World Series I think they need to win it the way they beat the Cardinals: in 5, by staying a step ahead and constantly putting the pressure on the Royals to deviate from their game plan.

Game 1: Shields vs. Bumgarner. I wrote way back when this all started that the Giants must win every Bumgarner start, and then changed my tune for the Cardinals series. I’m back on this tune. James Shields is a very good pitcher, but this is the one match up where the Giants have a clear advantage. They must win when Bumgarner takes the mound.

This is a critical game for the Giants. The Royals haven’t lost. They win Game 1 and they continue to think they will never lose. Immediately put them in the hole, though, and the whole mindset of the Royals, and the complexion of the series, changes.

My guess is the Giants will be able to score some runs, maybe 3, and Bumgarner shuts down the Royals offense. Giants 3-1.

Game 2: Ventura vs. Peavy. Yordano Ventura throws hard and has good stuff, but he’s not as dominant as one might think. He will be at some point in his career, especially if he keeps his velocity, but right now he can be had. Peavy will be coming off a lot of rest and so should be good to go and feeling strong. Much like the Cardinals series, this game will go to the bullpens early and be there for the taking by either team. The Royals will pull it out, and pull even. Royals 4-3.

Game 3: Hudson vs. TBD. This will likely be Tim Hudson going against another wiley vet in Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie is the kind of guy who would be a good starter in the NL West. He doesn’t strike out very many guys, has twice led the league in loses (on bad Orioles teams), has allowed the most hits in the AL once, and is the very definition of slighty above average pitcher (think Zito in his best years with the Giants). In other words, he’s exactly the kind of guy who would give the Giants fits if he played for San Diego.

A couple of other factors to consider in this game. First, the Royals will be without Bully Butler. There is no room in the field for their portly DH so he goes to the bench. Even thought Hudson is not a great hitter, the Giants gain an advantage with the Royals subtracting a DH and adding the pitcher to the lineup. Second, this will be Hudson’s first World Series start. He’s going to treat it like it might be the last time he ever pitches. I think he will pitch well enough and the Giants will have one of their better offensive games of the series: Giants 5-3.

Game 4: Vogelsong vs. TBD. Once again we don’t know who will start, but in all likelihood the Giants are looking at facing off against Jason Vargas. And, just like the Cardinals series, I see this being a boon for the offense and early exits for the starters. Game 4 is Yumeiro Petit time. Once again, the advantage goes to the Giants here, with Petit bailing the team out for the third time. This could also be a walkoff game, so we’ll say Giants 4-3 walking off in the bottom of the 9th.

Game 5: Repeat Game 1 starters. The story of Game 5 will be Madison Bumgarner putting the finishing touches on a remarkable postseason run. He will put his home field issues behind him and drive the nail into the Royals coffin. In the end, the story will be that Bumgarner was too good, and the Giants never allowed the Royals to settle into their preferred rhythym of playing ahead and relying on the bullpen. Giants 3-0.

Having said all that, there is very little that could happen in this series that would be shocking. The Royals could sweep. The Giants could sweep. It could go the full 7. I don’t know! About the only thing that would surprise me is one team completely falling apart: bad starting pitching, no help from the pen, no hitting. I expect every game to be competitive, to be close and tense, and to add some more gray hairs to my head.

About the only constant this postseason has been the completely unexpected, so buckle up and get ready for a wild ride! I’m going with the Giants in 5 but look forward to all the twists and turns this series will undoubtedly take.

One Final Thought: Who is the key player in this series for the Giants? In many ways it is Madison Bumgarner because he’s the ace, and the one significant advantage either team has at its disposable. In many other ways it is Buster Posey because he’s the Giants leader, he plays such an important position and, again, is the one, true once-in-a-generation talent in this series.

But in a very practical sense I think the most important player for the Giants is Brandon Belt. The Royals are extremely dependent on their right-handed power pitching out of the bullpen. If Belt (or any of the lefty swinging Giants) can get hot and establish themselves as a dangerous presence, it will force Ned Yost to think about mixing and matching, rather than sticking to the script. And once you see Yost mixing and matching, then you know the Giants are in his head. Watch for that.

Go Giants!!!

-SB

Early Thoughts on the World Series #SFGiants #Royals #2014WorldSeries

1. Pitching

Both the Royals and the Giants can pitch as well as anyone in the game. There are plenty of serviceable starters and some really nasty options in the bullpens.

Two critical differences. First, and no offense to James Shields, but Madison Bumgarner is the best pitcher in this series. The Royals will start four really good guys, but they have no one to match MadBum.

Second, the Royal bullpen is so, so good. They’ve been good all year. But, they deploy their weapons in a fairly rigid manner: Frasor (if needed in the 6th), Herrera in the 7th, Davis in the 8th, and Holland in the 9th. All of those guys are right-handed. There is very little mixing and matching, or deviating from that pattern (although Ned Yost did use Herrera for a few extra outs in Game 4 of the ALCS).

One of the things the Giants do so well is put extreme pressure on the opposing team to match up properly. Matheny got it right a few times in the NCLS, but he also got it wrong several times. Matt Williams got it wrong several times, and he got it wrong by going with the formulaic, “that’s out 7th inning guy,” thinking, when using his actual best pitcher would have been a much better move. That tends to be how Royals manager Ned Yost approaches games.

The truth is, the Royals guys are so good they may not need to do any mixing and matching. But, with a Giants lineup featuring 5 left handers (and I think Bochy will spread them out in Kansas City), there is going to be pressure put on Yost to figure out how to use guys in ways he didn’t have to against the Orioles (who used 6, 7, or 8 right-handed batters).

Meanwhile, Bochy is a genius at mixing and matching. He did not use his relievers in the same pattern in any of the 5 games in the NLCS. That backfired a bit in Game 2, but it also worked beautifully in the 4 wins. I’m sure Giants’s fans would take a similar result this time around.

2. Offense

Much like the Cardinals, the Royals are acting a bit out of character this postseason, hitting home runs at a much higher rate than the regular season. The Giants, on the other hand, are hitting home runs at a lower rate, even with the 3-home run breakout in the clinching Game 5 performance.

My initial thought here is that this favors the Giants. The Giants continue to score and win despite not hitting the long ball, and that always bodes well in the postseason. I also think it means they could be due to break out the home runs in the World Series. Posey, Sandoval, and Pence have yet to go yard in the playoffs. One would think that has to change.

The uptick in home runs for the Royals makes me think they are playing over their heads and have to come back down at some point. That could be in March, or it could be in this series.

I do think the power will be suppressed playing in two pitcher’s parks, but the Royals are able to score runs in a lot of different ways, and so even if the power disappears they can still put pressure on the pitchers and defense with their speed and contact game.

3. The Managers

Most people consider Ned Yost one of the worst managers in the Major Leagues. I don’t know if that is totally fair, and even if he is, he’s on a hot streak right now, and if you’ve ever played poker you know sometimes a bad player can beat you if they get the right cards. Yost may just have the right cards right now.

Most people consider Bruce Bochy one of the best managers in the Major Leagues. I tend to agree with that assessment.

The biggest issue (and I’ll say more about this in a moment) is that Yost hasn’t really had to second guess himself, nor has he been forced to deviate from his game plan. Bochy almost always seems to do better when he is forced off course. I don’t know that Yost has the ability to make those kinds of adjustments, especially if this series goes deep. I get the impression that he will just do the same thing over and over and hope it keeps working.

Bochy will never do that, and it’s his ability to adapt and change based on each series and each game that makes him so valuable in the postseason.

4. The Experience Factor

I haven’t really seen anyone write about this yet, although I’m sure someone will, but the Giants are far and away the more experienced club. Yes, they have more older players, but that’s not really what I’m talking about.

The Giants have 7 (8 if you count Tim Lincecum) players for whom this will be their third World Series in the last five years. Some of those guys are pretty young (Posey, Sandoval, Bumgarner). Those players are 8-1 in the World Series (which is a VERY good record).

Beyond that the Giants have another 7 guys (Ishikawa, Blanco, Pence, Belt, Crawford, Arias, and Vogelsong) who are playing in their second World Series with the Giants. (Plus Peavy who was just in the Series last year with the Red Sox). That’s 16 out of 25 guys with quite a bit of experience at this stage.

Then think about guys like Michael Morse and Tim Hudson who have never been here before and are old enough to realize they may never get back. That’s makes for one hungry, but experienced group.

This Giants’ team knows how to handle this, knows how to finish, and senses the opportunity to pull off the truly unbelievable feat of 3 championships in 5 years.

The Royals are young and hungry, but have only 2 players who has been here before (James Shields and Omar Infante, he of the losing 2012 Detroit Tigers).

5. Momentum

Here, I am not referring to the mystical idea of destiny or that some teams get on a role, grab the moment right out of the air, and ride it victory (although there may be some of this with both teams).

But, what is most interesting coming into this series is that each team has been able to get ahead in its series and never let go. The Giants won the first game in both the NLDS and NLCS. The Giants got out to a critical 2-0 lead in the short series, and the critical 2-1 lead in the longer series. The Royals of course have won every game.

One of these teams, I can actually guarantee this, will start the series off with a loss and be in a 0-1 hole. Neither have had to face this predicament this postseason.

Both teams have been able to play out in front, put the pressure on their opponents, and then but the proverbial boot to the proverbial neck and end it.

Again, one of them will not be able to do that in this series and so will have to play catch up for the first time.

Playing catch up could benefit the Giants because they’ve done it before. The core of this roster has won 7 straight elimination games. However, the 2014 Giants seem to be following the script of the 2010 Giants: yeah it’s close and tense, but they are the aggressor putting their opponents on their heals and forcing them to be perfect (which they have not been able to do).

It would seem that it would continue to benefit the Giants to jump in front.

The Royals haven’t been behind much in this postseason either (the obvious exception being the Wild Card game). Since they’ve been so in control for so long it could really rattle them if they lose Game 1 and the Giants start turning the screws.

On the other hand, the Royals are young and loose and confident, and might be one of those teams that’s too dumb to know it should be scared. They may thrive on being behind.

My sense, though, is that Game 1 is huge, and whoever can jump out to the lead in this series is going to be well on their way to another party when it is all said and done.

-SB

3 Thoughts on Game 4 #nlcs #sfgiants #cardinals

Sweet goodness that was an awesome game. Seriously, that’s the kind of game baseball has to learn how to market better because it was INTENSE from beginning to end. Who says baseball is boring!

1. The Common Thread. Name the 6 Giants who have made significant contributions to each postseason run since 2010?

  • Of course, there is the manager: Bruce Bochy (another gem of out-managing the opposing manager)
  • And there’s Buster Posey, baseball immortal at the age of 27.
  • And you might guess Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Pablo Sandoval and you would technically be correct. But Panda rode the bench in 2010, Lincecum is doing the same this time around, and Matt Cain is recovering from elbow surgery.
  • The other 4: Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Santiago Casilla
  • CORRECTION: Madison Bumgarner has been a MAJOR contributor to all three teams. MY BAD!

That is truly unbelievable continuity at the game’s most volatile position: relief pitcher. In the last five years here are some other guys the Giants have used out of the bullpen (think about what they are contributing at this point in their careers):

  • Brian Wilson
  • Guillermo Mota
  • Brandon Medders
  • Waldis Joaquin
  • Ramon Ramirez
  • Dan Runzler
  • Chris Ray
  • Clay Hensley
  • George Kontos
  • Jose Mijares
  • Shane Loux
  • Chad Gaudin
  • Jean Machi
  • Sandy Rosario
  • Jake Dunning
  • Heath Hembree
  • Guillermo Moscoso
  • David Huff
  • Juan Gutierrez
  • Hunter Strickland
  • Barry Zito/Tim Lincecum

All those guys, just planets revolving in the orbit of Casilla/Lopez/Affeldt/Casilla. Lot’s of great stuff in this article, which put into words my thoughts as I watched the game unfold last night: no bullpen core stays this good for this long. No one.

Casilla, right now, is pitching as well as any Giants’ closer I have ever seen. Romo looked vintagely good last night. Lopez came through, as he always does, despite nearly walking the one guy he needed to get out.

And then, bold statement of the day, Jeremy Affeldt may be the most under appreciated great Giant of all time. I just don’t think we recognize enough what he has done over the years and the weapon he represents as a lefty who can get right-handed batters out, and who can get 4, 5, or 6 outs. That is awesome.

And then this: 17 straight postseason appearances for Affeldt without allowing a run.

2. Depth. On the broadcast they kept calling the game a “manager’s game,” and they were right. And once again, Bochy comes out on top. Which leads to another thought. This Giants’ team is deep. Consider the guys who contributed in various ways:

  • All the pitchers of course
  • Joaquin Arias: pinch hit single, run scored
  • Juan Perez: walk, run scored, late game defense
  • Michael Morse: first as a decoy, then as a pinch hitter (he didn’t do anything in that at bat, but his presence changed the game)
  • Matt Duffy: huge, successful sacrifice bunt
  • And all the pitchers of course

Everyone Bochy called on contributed and changed the course of the game in a positive direction for the Giants.

3. Petit. There’s not much left to say about what Petit has done. He’s essentially thrown a two hit shutout this postseason. The difference in this game was that Bochy had Petit and Matheny did not.

(Side note: Bochy’s taken heat from people, and I am chief among them, for letting Peavy stay in Game 2 and pitch to Matt Carpenter in the 4th inning with the bases loaded. It paid off in the moment for Bochy, who then had Javier Lopez available later in the game. In Game 4 Matheny brought in his version of Lopez, Randy Choate, to get an out. It worked for Matheny in the moment, but then he did not have Choate available later in the game and it really backfired in the 6th and 7th when there were multiple times Choate would have come in handy. Another point for Bochy).

To summarize: Petit is a bearded ball of awesome.

Tonight: I appreciate Grant’s thoughts on this…the series is NOT OVER. Tonight will be stressful stress, nothing is certain, and the Giants need to take care of business now and not mess around. WIN TONIGHT!!!! Go Giants!

-SB