A Streak of Winning! #sfgiants

So, um, yeah, we all saw this coming, right? A nice little six game winning streak after the wheels completely fell off the wagon. Baseball.

I was going to spend this week’s post on evaluating the pitching, but the streak, plus holiday travel, will not make that possible, so just a couple quick observations, and we’ll get back to the pitchers during the All-Star break.

  1. Denard Span and Hunter Pence obviously read this blog, and took it personally when I said they were clearly the problem with the offense. Span slashed .417/.481/.667 this week, and just looked like a good major league baseball player. He lifted his WAR total from -0.6, to -0.1, which essentially puts him back at league average. If he keeps this up he will blast right back into positivity. Pence had a far less impressive line, but played good defense (finally) and was a significant part of the 13 run outburst on Friday night.
  2. Overall, the Giants scored 38 runs this week, and played much, much better defense.
  3. As important as that is, the Giants’ formula begins and ends with starting pitching. This week the Giants got two more excellent starts from Jeff Samardzija who quickly becoming untradeable, a quality start from Matt Cain, a very quality start from Ty Blach (considering how the first inning of that game went), and good enough starts from Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore. There are still too many question marks here for this streak to carry on much longer, but while the offense is humming like this, quality starts will keep the club competitive.
  4. One final note. No one should get overly giddy about Sam Dyson’s first two saves. Not in the sense of “new closer” or anything like that. But a good Sam Dyson will go a long way towards stabilizing the bullpen of the future. His positive performance is a good, good thing.

If the good times continue to roll, how do you evaluate the 2017 Giants? It seems the brass consider the core to be good enough to keep together, tweak a bit, and hope for better luck next year. Since that is the case, there’s nothing to root for here other than the team to keep playing like this. If these are the guys we are going to ride and die with, they may as well be good.

Speaking of good, Buster Posey: starting All-Star!

Week [23] In Review (9/5-9/11) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Welcome back to the pennant race Giants.

The Giants got kicked in the gut big time twice in the last 7 days (Sunday, the 4th in Chicago, and then again on Wednesday night in Colorado), and after the second meltdown I thought it might be over.

It may yet be over, but it doesn’t feel like it today.

It feels like maybe, just maybe, they’ve unlocked something, and good baseball will start to flow once again.

What I want to do now is look at the remainder of the season and make a bit of a forecast (starting today where the Giants sit 77-65, 3 games behind the Dodgers):

  • 3 games at home against the Padres (It seems like perfect symmetry/baseball justice, for the Giants to sweep the Pads this week. After all it was the Padres series to start the second half and that launched the Giants into their funk. I hate predicting sweeps, but that’s kind of what needs to happen so…80-65. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way to New York to face the Yankees, they’ll drop 2 of 3, 82-63.)
  • 4 games at home against the Cardinals (This is a huge series in terms of the Wild Card race. The Giants could potentially put the Cardinals out of the race by the time this series is over…that’s being extremely optimistic, and on the other hand, the Cardinals could very much assert themselves here to the Giants demise. These are two proud teams, and with the Giants missing Madison Bumgarner in this series, I see a split coming: 82-67. Meanwhile the Dodgers have to fly all the way back to the West Coast and play four in Arizona, where they too will split the series: 84-65.)
  • The Giants head back out on the road for the last time, starting with three games in LA. They should have Bumgarner, Cueto, and Moore lined up to go for these big three games. Again, I hate predicting sweeps, but I want to stay positive: 2 of 3, 84-68. the Dodgers, obviously would drop 2 of 3, being a little tired after the travel of the week: 85-67).
  • The final road series takes the Giants to San Diego. Remember: the Giants were 9-0 against the Pads until the post-all-star fiasco. If they can continue the dominance they could potentially sweep this series. Weird things happen in San Diego and this is the end of a road trip and the end of a stretch of over two weeks without a day off. I’ll go conservative here and predict a spilt: 86-70. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finish their home season with four against the Rockies. This is the one place in the schedule where it seems the Dodgers are set up to make up ground. I’ll say they take 3 of 4: 88-68.)
  • The Giants close the season with six home games, and isn’t interesting that I stated the importance of asserting themselves at home as a significant theme for the year. They will need to go 5-1 to capture the division back, and I believe they’ll get off to a good start with a sweep of the Rockies. Meanwhile, the Dodgers will get ambushed by the Padres, losing 2 of 3. Both teams will sit at 89-70 to start the series. A series the Giants will win by taking two of three to finish 91-71.)

Let’s summarize: 20 games left, a 14-6 close to the season (17-6 if you include the sweep of the D-Backs this weekend). Why is this possible?

  • First, he offense is finally starting to get going. This may be too much to ask, but everyone contributed this weekend in Arizona: Span and Pagan homered, Posey had some great at-bats, Belt came up with a couple huge hits, Panik and Crawford continued to produce as normal rates, Nunez looks like he’s in the middle of hot streak, and there are no ends to the superlatives one could heap on Hunter Pence for the series he had. It’s been amazing that the Giants have gone such a long time essentially rotating one hot hitter at a time. The law of averages seems to say they are due for a stretch where multiple guys hit at the same time. Now is the time!
  • Second, the starting pitching continues to deliver, and Matt Moore, in particular, seems to have figured something out. The rotation has four more turns to keep this going. Meanwhile, the bullpen, sans Santiago Casilla, has actually been pretty good. Derek Law should return this week, setting up a nice little debate: who do you want closing games down the stretch, the guy who has been great all year (Law), or the guy who seems to have the hot hand right now (Strickland). Honestly, Strickland scares me a bit because he can give up a home run with the best of them, but his last couple turns have been dynamic, so let it ride I guess.
  • It’s a simple formula, but the Giants have been so good at losing games (bad pitching when they hit, and no hitting when they pitch, some bullpen implosions for good measure) that I believe it will continue to turn around, and translate back into winning games.

Hitter of the Week: No brainer here…hello Hunter Pence! 12 hits, 4 walks, a home run, and 8 runs scored! It’s the walks that are the most encouraging sign…when Pence is right, as he was several years ago back at the beginning of the season (that’s an intentional sentence) his eye was exceptional. He is locked in and playing with passion, and that’s the kind of thing that can propel this team in a positive direction (as we’ve seen several times over the past 4 years).

Pitcher of the Week: Matt Moore had an incredible game on Sunday, but that has to be balanced with his tough start on Monday. It was a Coors start, and he was undermined by Brandon Crawford missing a ball he catches 99% of the time, but he also walked the 8th and 9th place hitters (one of them was trying to bunt too), and so painted himself into a corner. It seems the only thing holding him back, though, is this occasional spell of wildness. I’m going to give the POW to Jeff Samardzija who continues to pitch incredible well down the stretch, something that seems to be under the radar. His last 5 starts he gone 31 innings, striking out 30, with a 2.90 ERA, and only one home run allowed.

This is going to be a great final three weeks. Buckle up. Who needs football?!

Week [4] In Review (4/25-5/1) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Over the last seven days the Giants won 4 games, all of them started by pitchers named Madison, Johnny, and Jeff. They lost two, started by Jake and Matt.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, this is how things look: positivity with the first three pitchers in the rotation taking the hill and closed-eyes/wishful thinking with the last two.

Between Peavy and Cain, I still hold out far more hope for Matt Cain. There’s a lot to suggest, just from the visuals, that he can still be a very effective pitcher, if not the dominant front-line starter he once was. The velocity is good, the movement is there, we are simply watching a guy relearn how to pitch. He lacks the touch and finish and polish that a pitcher his age and experience would normally have. I think this is due to his “new” elbow. I can’t predict when, but I do sense he will figure it out.

Peavy, though, I have far less hope for. McCovey Chronicles point out that it wasn’t that long ago that Peavy was good and producing well for the Giants. It’s a fine point, but the writing seems to be on the wall that end of the line is not too far off for this proud veteran. I lived in Boston when Peavy was pitching there and when he was traded to the Giants Red Sox fans thought he was done then. His reunion-with-Bochy inspired renaissance has been nice, but if the Giants want to make a change in the rotation it needs to be here.

Now, there are two significant challenges: both Cain and Peavy are getting paid very well this season, whether they perform or not. The notion of sunk costs dictates giving them more time to figure it out. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that no one in the minors is really setting the world on fire right now. The veteran loving front office isn’t going to turn it’s back on an old warrior unless someone is knocking loudly on that door, and no one is doing that right now.

All of this has led to wild speculation about Tim Lincecum, and while that might sound nice, do we really want to go down that road again?

One final note here: the Giants are tied for first place, and another good week could see them alone atop the division. There’s no rush, no reason to panic.

My entirely boring conclusion then is that Giants fans need to hope Peavy and Cain figure it out. Even if you don’t look forward to the days they pitch, they are the best option for the foreseeable future. Get used to it.

Week in Review: swept three games from the Padres (which helped salvage a .500 h0mestand), and then took one of three in New York. 13-13 overall, tied for first in the NL West.

Hitter of the Week: Hunter Pence put up a monster slash line this week .421/.500/895 with a double, triple, two home runs, and 10 runs driven in. Seemed like he had been quiet early on, but he’s actually having an extremely good season. Projecting out: he’d finish with a .293 average, 30 home runs, and 120 rbi if he keeps up this pace. That’s a BIG year.

Pitcher of the Week: Madison Bumgarner has “struggled” early on, but he’s also pitched once with the flu, and faced off against Kershaw (twice), Grienke, and then young phenom Noah Syndergard on Sunday. All to the tune of a 3-2 record, a 3.03 ERA, and 45 strikeouts in just 35 innings. He is allowing too many baserunners, and he continues to say he hasn’t found his good mechanics, but he still had a great week wining both of his starts in commanding fashion.

Looking Ahead: The Giants don’t have a day off again until May 16th, which means a couple of full weeks. This week they have three in Cincinnati, then it’s back home for four with Colorado. Theoretically, there are a lot of winnable games this week with 2 Cueto and 2 Samardzija starts to look forward to.

Week [6] In Review (May 11-May 18) #SFGiants

Well, last week I wrote about the Giants run differential issues and how that left a sense of doom in regards to the future. They must have read my post. The Giants went to work with the bats this week and turned that -23 on its head: they now are dead even in runs scored and allowed for a run differential of ZERO.

Aside from all the good vibes around the Giants bats right now (and a good part of that might have to do with the Reds being bad at pitching), when you look at the bigger picture of the season go back to that fateful early spring training day when Hunter Pence broke his arm. When you heard about that and how long he might be out, I think we all hoped the Giants could just survive and maybe be at .500 when he came back.

Well, lo and behold that’s exactly how this all worked out. A lot has not gone right in 2015, but the Giants managed to keep from drowning, got one of their best players back and now have an opportunity to dig into the Dodgers lead in the division. The news does not get much better than that.

Hitter of the Week:

Statistically, several guys had great weeks. Last Monday I predicted we might start to see some home runs from Brandon Belt and sure enough the power flood gates opened up. Posey had the 9th best average and he hit .321 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs. Brandon Crawford had a huge week, knocking in 10. Matt Duffy hit .462 (couldn’t help myself), and even Gregor Blanco got in on the action. But I have to give the HOW to Hunter Pence for not just getting back in the lineup, but returning with mad style: 4 for 8 with a double, a home run, 2 RBI, and 5 runs scored!

Pitcher of the Week:

Madison Bumgarner had a great start in Cincinnati. Chris Heston had a great start in Houston and a bad start against the Reds. Ryan Vogelsong continues to make me feel back for ever questioning him. But the pitcher of the week goes to Santiago Casilla. First, Santi pulled off an incredible feat, striking out the side on the minimum 9 pitchers (aka the “immaculate inning”). But what is amazing to me is that those were the only 9 pitches he threw all week! Not a bad week.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants are off today and then it gets busy. Three huge games against the Dodgers start off the week. If the Giants could pull off another sweep they could close the gap in the division to 1.5 games. Crazy! Included in this series is yet another Bumgarner vs. Kershaw death match. Amazing to think this is the third time already this year they’ve faced each other. After all that the Giants head to Colorado for a regularly scheduled three game visit, with the added bonus of a make up game on Saturday. Four in Colorado isn’t usually fun, but the Rockies have been terrible lately and this could be a great opportunity to keep the bats cooking. I’m hoping for 2 of 3 against LA, and 3 of 4 in Colorado.

Go Giants!

-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.

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3 Thoughts on Game 1 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

1. I’ll Take Bumgarner. I live in Boston and as I drove around yesterday, listening to sports talk radio, desperately hoping they would mention the WORLD SERIES, I finally got my wish during the last 5 minutes of an afternoon show. The guys discussed the “goodness” of the Royals’ story, shared their amazement at the Giants 3rd trip to the Series in 5 years, and wondered aloud about the lack of star power between these two teams.

Which is all fine. There are no Derek Jeter’s, Mike Trout’s, or Bryce Harper’s in this series. There are no Clayton Kershaw’s, or Felix Hernandez’s, or Justin Verlander’s.

One of the guys suggested that Posey is a “rising” star, and that this Madison Bomgardner (how they pronounced his name) was an ok pitcher, not really an Ace, but probably/maybe the best starter between the two teams.

I know that baseball is a regional sport at this point in time, and that guys in Boston may not know much about the Giants, but it is embarrassing that one could talk about sports as a profession and not know a THING about Madison Bumgarner, who is one of the five best pitchers in baseball right now. It’s unthinkable. I hope he gets to start again just so more people can see him pitch.

Of all the things that are amazing about Bumgarner (the scoreless streaks, the postseason wins, etc) this one takes the cake for me: He is STILL younger than Tim Lincecum was when the Giants won it all in 2010. Unreal.

Bumgarner did what he needed to do and more in this game. For the Giants to win this series they need(ed) to win Bumgarner’s starts, get out in front, and take the wind out of the Royals sails. This series could not have started any better for them.

2. Pence and the Law of Averages. One of the reasons I favored the Giants coming into this series is because the Royals have gotten above average play from almost everyone in their lineup. With the exception of Salvador Perez (who promptly homered last night) and Billy Butler, most of the Royals are hitting better than normal (especially in terms of power).

Now, the postseason is short and guys can get on weird power surges (hello Cody Ross), but one could reasonably expect the Royals to come back to earth a bit in this series.

On the other side, the Giants went 8-2 through the first three rounds with exactly zero home runs from the middle of their order. Posey, Panda, and Pence have all had nice enough postseasons, but no extra base hits for Posey and no home runs for any of them. Even though none of those guys is a true power hitter, it is difficult to imagine the Giants playing 14-17 postseason games and not getting a home run from any of those three.

Cue Hunter Pence. While I still fully expect to see some power from both Panda and Posey, Hunter Pence is the kind of player who when he gets hot, he gets ridiculously hot. Pence could carry the offense in a series like this. We’ve yet to see that in two postseasons with Pence, but it is entirely possible.

I’m not saying that is going to happen, but it easily could. And even if it doesn’t I do expect to continue to see these three guys get some big hits in this World Series.

3. Wherefore art Thou, Timmy Lincecum. I texted my dad after Bumgarner came out that we would see Timmy in this game.

We did not.

Which means that we now know, without a shadow of a doubt, why he is on the postseason roster. Lincecum is here because the Giants staff does not trust the 2-4 starters. He’s not here to be a 6th inning bridge. He’s not here to be a late inning strikeout weapon. He is simply an insurance policy.

Some people have criticized the Giants for using him in this way. Why waste a roster spot on a luxury insurance item when it could be used more practically? Why handcuff yourself to a 24-man roster, when you don’t need to?

Here’s a scenario for you, though. Let’s say, win or lose, Peavy pitches well enough to get through 6 innings, and Bochy doesn’t have to use Petit in Game 2. And let’s say that in the second inning of Hudson’s Game 3 start something goes terribly wrong: his hip flares up and he has to come out, or he doesn’t have it and he’s getting hit around the yard. Petit comes in and does his hero act, saving the day (and the bullpen) by pitching 4 strong innings.

That’s all wonderful, but he’s not going to be available the next day when Game 4 rolls around and Ryan Vogelsong’s got nothing left in the tank. Now where do you go? Jean Machi? Hunter Strickland in the 4th? Javy Lopez for a couple of innings? Nope. It’s Tim Lincecum time.

Again, the Giants don’t have enough confidence in their starting pitchers to keep Lincecum off the roster. They obviously hope they never have to use him, but they need him around just in case.

We know this because last night was the perfect time to give a guy a chance (in low pressure World Series situation) to show the team that he can be trusted in a bigger spot later on down the line.

Bochy gave that chance to Hunter Strickland (who handled it extremely well and demonstrated that against this lineup he is a great 6th or 7th inning option).

If you were wondering why Tim Lincecum is still here, now you know.

Looking Ahead: As good as we all feel coming out of Game 1, and we should feel good because that was the best possible outcome, the series changes dramatically today. From here until Game 5, the starting pitching matchups are very even and, especially for the Giants, very difficult to predict.

Will Peavy pitch like he did in Game 1 against the Nationals, or Game 2 against Cardinals? Can these old dogs make it more than two times through the Royals lineup?

The Giants starters are more likely to pitch like Bunmgarner did in Game 1 than any of the Royals’ guys, but they also are more likely to implode. We are dealing with volatile stocks here!

Hoping for good Peavy tonight, and more dingers!

Go Giants!

-SB

3 Question for Game 5 #sfgiants #cardinals #NLCS

Questions/Keys to the Game:

1. Can Madison Bumgarner get through the first inning unscathed? MadBum has not brought his first inning woes with him into the postseason, his only blemish being that weird 7th inning against Washington. But, during the regular season he was most vulnerable coming out of the gate, sporting a 5.73 ERA in the first, but under 3 the rest of the game.

If Bumgarner can keep a clean sheet through 1 then Giants’ fans can sit back, take a deep breath, and watch with just a bit less stress.

2. Can the Giants wear out Adam Wainwright? We will probably never know how badly “injured” Adam Wainwright is right now, but having to throw 50 pitches in the first two innings of Game 1 certainly didn’t help anything. If Wainwright can get through the early innings with minimal pitches and establish a rhythm he will give a great gift to his team. And to himself, because quick innings will keep the elbow from barking.

On the other hand, if the Giants can make Wainwright work hard from the get go, foul off tough pitches, get some baserunners, and prolong counts, it will be a short night for the Cardinals ace and the Giants can then get into the tired bullpen (and into Matheny’s head).

3. Who will hit a home run? Several sites reported today that the Giants could be the first time to win a LCS without hitting a home run since the 1990 A’s (weird). The only time it happened before that? 1919. This is a rare occurence. Part of me hopes they do it, because they are the Giants. Deal with it world.

On the other hand, a home run would be so, so nice. My guess is it will come from Buster Posey, who is locked in, but has no extra base hits. That seems destined to change. On the other hand, Hunter Pence has only hit one postseason home run in his career. Seems like that number needs to go up.

It would be great if the Giants won tonight. Go Giants!

-SB