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

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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

What the Cardinals and Red Sox Can Teach the Giants

It’s been fascinating living in Boston this year, watching people react to the Red Sox. At first, it was apathetic (Napoli who?), than it was resignation (we’re going to suck again), then it was mild interest and excitement (we don’t suck), than it was sentimental (Boston  strong and cute beards), then it got serious (playoffs!), and then it got out of control (the city nearly threw the parade after the game victory).

Now it’s back to worrying about curses, and can a team without stars actually win a world series (um, yes).

Anyway, those are just some thoughts, and now for the real heart of the matter: what this world series teaches our beloved SF Giants.

  • The Red Sox Way:

We’ll begin here because their situation most closely resembles where the Giants are at right now. Last year everything fell apart for the Sox, which led to a major, house cleaning, trade with the Dodgers. In the wake of all that transition the Red Sox did two things: (a) take short term gambles on players who could potentially produce what the needed most (power, defense, and character). (b) they hoped and prayed their starting pitchers who used to be good, got good again.

This is applicable to the Giants because they do not have tons of money to spend on free agents. And there aren’t any big name free agents that really get your blood pumping. And recent history suggests it is very unwise to go all in on name brand free agents anyway (just ask the Angels).

In fact, the Red Sox stole strategy A from the Giants (Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Gregor Blanco, Marco Scutaro, etc). The Giants are going to need to replicate this success somehow this offseason.

And it sure looks like strategy B is where we are headed as well. The resign of Tim Lincecum follows the same kind of logic the Red Sox have employed with John Lackey and Jon Lester. Hope the magic comes back. And it has. I have no idea how, but it has. I’d be shocked if Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t in the rotation to start 2014. Same strategy.

Employing these two strategies together seems foolish (more on this later), but it worked for the Red Sox (and aren’t the Giants the Red Sox to the Dodgers Yankee’s in this crazy new baseball world?).

  • The Cardinals Way:

The Cardinals are in the World Series (and are the best organization in baseball) because they produce their own quality players year in and year out. And there are more on the way. It’s actually quite scary and hard to fathom.

For a while this was the Giants‘ strategy. The core of the two championship teams includes a long list of home grown talent (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford, even Jonathan Sanchez and Nate Schierholz helped with their play and by getting traded for good things).

And there is another wave coming, especially in the pitching department. But, not much help for 2014.

  • And what about Moneyball?

This might seem like a non-sequitur, but hear me out. Let us all remember that Moneyball is not about on-base percentage, it is about market inefficiencies and exploiting resources other teams neglect.

Over the past couple of years, the Giants have (to the surprise of many around baseball) been on the front edge of a couple of trends: (a) run-prevention (i.e. pitching and defense), (b) minor-league free agent gold (like Juan Uribe or Santiago Casilla or Ryan Vogelsong), (c) dramatically undervalued veterans (like Aubrey Huff and Marco Scutaro), and (d) creating a contact heavy, low strikeout lineup.

[a quick aside about D. recent post-season history has borne out the reality that high contact teams are much better suited for playoff success than low contact/high power teams…the last 3 world series bear this out, as does the on-going frustrations of the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, two teams that strikeout way too much. the current world series matchup is, perhaps, the greatest test of this to date: the Cardinals should win this series because they strike out dramatically less than the Red Sox. so far, games 1 and 2 hold true: whoever strikes out the most at the plate loses.]

All of which leads us to the Giants strategy this offseason: last year they pretty much brought everyone back and it didn’t work. So far, the are doubling down on that strategy and paying a steep price for it. Most pundits have been very critical of both contracts, seeing them as overpays and pre-reactions to a yet-to-be-determined market.

Are the Giants crazy, lazy, or are they on to something? 

Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals are testament to the importance of doing hard things. Many, many people in Cardinal nation thought the world was coming to an end when Albert Pujols left. That turned out fairly well.

No one thought there was any way the Red Sox could really get out from underneath the mess they had made with bad contracts and bad hires. They did it (thanks to the Dodgers), and they went deep into the unknown and came out of it with a pennant.

The Giants, though, like to return to what they know. The did it with Barry Bonds, they did it with guys from the 2010 team and with the 2012 team. They are doing it again now.

I’d love to see them be bit less sentimental and more imaginative. However, the Giants have proven to be able to see things that others have not been able to see, and so maybe we’ll never regret paying Hunter Pence so much and maybe Tim Lincecum will pull a John Lackey.

In sum, every pennant winning team is a strange combination of design and great fortune, and if the Giants return to the heights in 2014 this will no doubt be true of them.

In a strange way they reflect both of these “ways” of team building. Here’s to hoping they do know what they are doing.

(-SB)

#SFGiants Week In Review (4/1-4/8)

Yesterday, I finally had the chance to watch a game. I enjoyed, very much, the first three innings…Pagan, Crawford, and Panda all coming through, Matt Cain setting the first 9 down in order. And then it got really ugly.

Really ugly.

Oh well. 3 and 3 is not bad. One of the things that will be hard about this season is that the team is SO similar to the team during the last third of last year (and of course the playoffs). It’s cool to see Gaudin succeed. It’s great to have Torres back. It’ll be interesting to see what we get from Timmy this year. But otherwise, it looks like same old, same old.

When our starters pitch well, we tend to win. When they don’t, we lose. There’s some offense here and there, but it’s all about the starters.

Take comfort in the familiar, I suppose.

Results:

3-3 (3-3); 2.0 GB, 4th place in NL West

4-0 L at LA; 3-0 W @ LA; 5-3 W @ LA; 1-0 W vs. STL; 6-3 L vs. STL; 14-3 L vs. STL

Pitcher of the Week:

As great as it was to see Zito get off to a good start, Madison Bumgarner’s start was huge. He beat LA, in LA, and he dominated. There are reasons to be concerned about MadBum after the way he ended 2012, and it will be critical for him to be strong this year. Good start!

Hitter of the Week:

Another guy to be concerned about based on how he ended 2012 was/is Hunter Pence. His motivational speeches aside, he left a lot to be desired down the stretch. That said, he has been a very good ballplayer since coming into the league. Great to see him pick up a couple of homers to start the season. If he can be a presence behind Posey, it will go a long way to helping this offense improve this year.

Looking Ahead:

3 at home against Colorado who has started hot. Still a series the Giants should pick up at least 2 of 3 in. Then off to Chicago for 4, and another series that should favor the Gigantes. Looking for more consistency this week!

(-SB)

Sweet Sweepness

Nothing like a sweet sweep to wash away the taste of sour Melk (see what I did there). Seriously, though, that was huge, and here are the reasons why:

  1. The Giants, for the first time this year against the Dodgers, had the “big 3” lined up to pitch. Yes, Lincecum has had a terrible year. Yes, Vogelsong has beaten Kershaw twice. Yes, Zito has not killed us against the ‘Bums. But, there is something psychologically fortifying about sending out Madbum, The Freak, and Cainer and getting it done. 3 wins, a 0.87 ERA, 20.2 IP, and this is my favorite: 19 strikeouts and only 1 walk. The Dodgers are spending money and they have definitely improved their lineup over the course of the season, but the Giants have a better rotation and they showed it this week.
  2. The Giants swept the Dodgers in LA when by all accounts, at least nationally, they should have been folding in the wake of the Cabrara suspension. Losing Melky hurts, don’t get me wrong, but the Giants also won a World Series in 2010 without Pablo Sandoval. Yeah, he had a big hit against the Phillies, but he was not a significant part of that run at all. The key to that run was unbelievable starting pitching and having 2-3 guys in the lineup hot at any given time. Sometimes it was Burrell, sometimes it was Cody, sometimes it was Torres, and so it goes. The Giants still have enough firepower to get this done, IF they pitch up to their capabilities.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • Pagan is hitting great right now, Pence will be fine, Belt/Pill/etc will be adequate at first base, the real key to the Giants lineup right now is Marco Scutaro. He’s got second base and the second spot in the lineup on lock down and that makes so many other things fall into place. I think it’s helped Pagan in the lead off spot and it allows Bochy to use Arias/Crawfor/Theriot in spots where they can succeed.
  • Really, I think Hunter Pence is going to be fine.
  • I’ve never been so concerned about hamstrings in my entire life. Please hold up!
  • There is a part of me that desperately longs for Jeremy Affeldt to step and be the guy who can lock down the 9th inning. I don’t think it’s going to happen, which means let’s hope this Santiago Casilla resurgence is for real.
  • I also think it’s time to give the X-Man a shot at left field. He’s a poor man’s Pat Burrell. Let’s make this happen!

(-SB)

Week In Review (8/6-8/13)

Results:

4-4 (63-53, tied for First in NL West)

We’re just going to pretend that last night never happened and instead bask in the glory that was Sunday afternoon…the come-from-behind victory…the amazing Buster Posey at bat…the long-awaited ‘moment” delivered by Hunter Pence. That was a good day. Yesterday not so much. The Nationals are good. This is a tough series. Don’t forget Sunday!

Hitter of the Week:

Buster Posey is amazing. He continues to rake…home runs, walks, great at-bats. But an interesting thing has happened this last week. The Brandon’s live! Belt is hitting .435 with four walks and only 1 strikeout. Huge. Crawford is 9 for his last 19 (.474). Both are encouraging, especially Belt. A strong finish from him, coupled with Panda’s return, will mean a very respectable lineup 1 through 7. And that might make all the difference.

Pitcher of the Week:

It was a good, not great, week for Giants starting pitching. Lincecum was good, not great. Zito got bailed out by some strong defense. Bumgarner was solid, but got stung by the longball again. Vogelsong had a great start against the Cardinals and his worst in the last 2 seasons last night. Matt Cain gets the nod for looking like a man ready for a strong end of season run. There were some rumbles and worries about Cain, but those seem to be receding given his last outing.

Looking Ahead:

Two more with the Nationals, who the Giants have not beat this year. Then back on the road for division games: 3 with San Diego (who is playing well right now) and 3 with the Dodgers.

Giants need some strong starts and consistent at-bats to begin building distance in the division.

(-SB)

Return! (A Modified Week-In-Review)

I know there hasn’t been much posting going on around here, but there has been some preparation for life altering events that have taken precedent. We’re back, though, so let’s talk some Giants.

Record Since the Break:

The Giants shot out of the gate in the second half, winning 5 in a row and 9 of their first 12. Then it got ugly with 5 straight loses. And then they went to Colorado, breathed in the thin Rocky Mountain Air, and learned how to score runs again. Thank you Rocky Mountain high.

The Dodgers improved their squad significantly at the deadline, so we are in for a dogfight. SI recently called the NL West this decade’s version of the AL East. They compared the Dodgers and their new-found wealthy owners to the Yankees, and the Giants to the Red Sox. Seeing as how that seemed to work out well for the Sox, we’ll take it. But, the point is this is a new era and the Dodgers are not messing around anymore.

The Moves:

The biggest, of course, was the trade for Hunter Pence. I like Hunter Pence. He’s weird. He looks  like a Simpson’s character. He doesn’t move around, or do really anything, like other baseball players. I love that. His rookie season he provided a huge boost to my fantasy baseball team. I am still grateful for that.

How good will he actually be? Some people fear this is Rowand, Part Deux. A situation where a player comes to AT&T and turns into a pumpkin. Others love the deal, especially since he will be around for another year.

Personally, I would rather the Giants have resigned Beltran, but that’s a whole other conversation. I think Pence will do just fine. He’s an offensive upgrade and he helps put other parts back into proper roles. I don’t mind what we gave up either.

I really like Marco Scutaro. I felt the Giants should have tried to get him this past offseason. He’s here now and he will help. A little less Crawford, a little less Theriot. Helpful.

The Giants also acquired Xavier Nady. This is an enjoyable fact because we grew up in the same town. He hit a home run off of me a long time ago when we were 13 years old that is still traveling through galaxy. He used to be a nice little platoon player. His 2008 season was actually really good. But he was cut this year by a team that doesn’t score a lot of runs. That’s not a good sign. Will he help? Unlikely. But I love the sentimental nature of X perhaps finishing his career with Giants.

The Rest of the Team:

My unofficial pitcher of the post-break so far is Timmy. He’s hasn’t been great, but he’s been better. This article shows that he’s been in-line with his career norms so far, which is HUGE. He must keep this up for the Giants to have a chance, and if he continues to improve, well all the better.

Last post I said Buster Posey needed to be the guy in the second half. So far all he’s done is this:

  • .456 AVG, 1.278 OPS, 6 HR, 26 RBI, and Melky has scored 22 times. These things are connected

Thank you Buster!

Looking Ahead:

The series in Colorado was nice, but it’s a bit of a mirage. That team is truly terrible. This week is much more of a test. 4 against the tough Cardinals, then home to face the Rockies again before some more tough games against the Nationals.

Go get ’em!

(-SB)