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 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

Big Answers

Yesterday we posted 5 Big Questions the Giants face this offseason. Today we try to answer them.

1) What can we expect from Tim Lincecum:

  • a) He continues to suck, the Giants figure out something to do with him (bullpen?), and let him walk at the end of the year.
  • b) He bounces back fully and the Giants have a big decision to make next offseason about what to do with him.
  • c) The Giants try to sign him this offseason at a discount
  • d) The Giants trade him this offseason. His lowered value doesn’t get the same return as a few years ago, but it could a be a good return and it would resolve (a) and (b).

My opinion is that Tim Lincecum is going to bounce back in a major way next year. I think he will be in better shape, I think he will work out the kinks in his motion, and I think he will prove to be a better pitcher than ever (if not quite as dominant) in 2013.

Tim can’t just throw a 95 mph fastball at the top of the zone and come right back with an 84 mph change that drop off the table anymore. But he can be extremely effective by relearning his fastball and by getting his mechanics to a place where he has better control (if less velocity). He is too good, too competitive, and too young to be washed up as a starter.

  • What should happen: I think the Giants should try to sign Timmy this offseason and enjoy the bounce back at a discounted rate.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will stand pat, let the season play out, and make a Lincecum decision next offseason.

2) Can the rotation back up their performance:

A huge part of the answer to this question has to do with Lincecum finding himself. The Giants had their worst ERA+ as a staff this year (95) since 2006. And this was the first year with a below average ERA+ during this run of success. A lot of that was due to Lincecum posting the worst ERA+ of any starter in the big leagues. Like I said, a Timmy bounce-back is the biggest way the whole team improves in 2013.

I also think Madison Bumgarner will have a huge year next year. I’m a huge MadBum fan, and I think the kid just ran out of gas this year. But he’s a big strong kid who will learn how to build strength as the year goes on. I think he takes another step forward which only makes the rotation that much more solid.

I’m mildly concerned about Matt Cain. He threw 250 innings this year, and while the dude is a horse I think some fatigue showed up in the post-season: too many home runs. However, there’s no reason to suggest he doesn’t do what Matt Cain always does: pitch well.

Ryan Vogelsong is also a concern. Late bloomers tend to fall and fall quickly. I expect Vogelsong to be very effective next year, but I think we will see more ups and downs.

Barry Zito is Barry Zito. He’ll have some starts that make you wish you had never turned the TV on and he’ll have some starts that make you think he could win the CY Young again. In the end he will have an ERA just north of 4.00 and win double-digit games. (One caveat here: If Zito hits 200 innings his 2014 team option vests…I would guess they manage that pretty carefully next year).

  • What should happen: the Giants staff should continue to be the strength of this team and Madison Bumgarner will be in the conversation for the CY Award at season’s end.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will take a flier on a Vogelsong-like pitcher this offseason who will prove to be valuable because Vogelsong will miss time due to injury.

3) Can the lineup stay healthy: The real heart of this question, as I mentioned yesterday, is this…will this be the year we finally get to see Panda and Posey together, at full strength, in the middle of the lineup.

It is obviously impossible to predict health with any reasonable accuracy, but Panda and Posey will be in the 26-27 year old window the next two years, typically two of the most productive years for baseball players. If healthy I think we see a potent 1-2 combo in the middle of the lineup.

  • What should happen: Posey and Panda come to camp next year in shape and highly motivated for personal and team success.
  • What will happen: I think this is exactly what will happen with the addendum that the Giants sign Posey to a long-term deal this offseason.  

4) Will the Giants make the same mistakes from 2010: After the 2010 Championship the Giants just had to bring back Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez. Oops. Aubrey felt necessary because no one knew what to expect from Pablo and there were no other legitimate middle of the order hitters in the Giants lineup. But that was a frustrating signing as it seemed to block Brandon Belt. Freddy Sanchez was blocking no one and even though we all knew of his propensity for injury it seemed like a good idea.

The Giants are in a similar situation with Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt. It is hard to imagine a Giants team in 2013 without those guys on the roster. However, they are all going to be in demand this offseason, and they are not going to be cheap. And they are not exactly young (Pagan being the youngest at 31). I’ve already heard about a Rowand (5 ys/$60 mil) type deal for Pagan, and Affeldt’s market just shot through the roof (no thanks to the Dodgers) now that Brandon League signed a 3 year/$22 mil deal.

TradeRumors has the Giants bringing back all three. I would love to see the three return, but I do wonder if the Giants will end up signing contracts that they later regret. I can’t imagine Scutaro getting more than three years (it really should be 2, with an option at most), which I think is ok, but Pagan for 5? Yikes! Affeldt at $8-10 million a year? Whoa!

Complicating matters is that the Giants have top prospects at CF and 2B. Gary Brown and Joe Panik seemed locks to make at least an appearance in 2013 (if not the opening day roster) after 2011, but they both had years that raised some questions. They cannot be expected to make an impact in 2013. But by 2014? Sure. I’d hate to see them blocked.

Affeldt is a huge weapon, but the Giants have two other lefties coming back next year (Lopez and Mijares). They also have Dan Runzler who actually could fulfill the role Affeldt plays (lefty who can get righties out too) if he can stay healthy.

All of this shapes up to be quite fascinating.

  • What should happen: The Giants should bring them all back, but at reasonable deals. I’d be ok with Scutaro on a 2-year, $18 million deal (with an option for a third), Pagan for 3 years at $36 million, and Affeldt for 2 years at $15 million.
  • What will happen: The Giants will bring them all back, but overpay severely, especially for Pagan.

5) Will the Giants make a splash in Free Agency: Assuming the above happens, the Giants will only have one significant hole and that involves Left Field. (Amazing trivia note from Baggs: did you know the Giants biggest FA signing last year was Ryan Theriot at $1.75 million. They spent a ton of money on existing guys, but that still caught me off guard).

The Giants have come up in a few Josh Hamilton rumors and there is always the possibility that another Championship could lead to (over)confident spending.

The answer to this question really lies in what happen with Scutaro, Pagan, and Affeldt, especially Pagan. If Pagan goes elsewhere the Giants might jump in on someone like Michael Bourn or BJ Upton.

The bigger question here is this: do the Giants take a flier on Melky Cabrera? Do they utilize a Blanco/Nady platoon (or some other right-handed, power hitting outfielder)? Do they have another trick up their sleeve?

  • What should happen: Assuming the “big 3” return, I think the Giants should bring back Cody Ross and use him in a platoon with Gregor Blanco in left field.
  • What will happen: This is the hardest one for me to predict and so much of it has to do with the other impending free agents. I don’t think the Giants will spend big, especially on a left fielder, so I do see them considering some kind of a platoon here, but I honestly have no idea how this one shakes out. I also wouldn’t count out a Cabrera return.

There you have it. I’m sure this will all get revised and mixed up as things progress, but that’s my very early assessment of this offseason. Good luck Sabes!

(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 (5/21-5/27)

Results:

4-3 (25-23, 7.5 GB in NL West)

4-3 W @ MIL; 6-4 W @ MIL; 8-5 L @ MIL; 14-7 W @ MIA; 7-6 L @ MIA; 5-3 L @ MIA; 3-2 W @ MIA

Giants go on a seven game road trip, and a weird one at that (Milwaukee to Miami), right at the end of playing 20 games in 20 days and win a three game series and split a four gamer. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? And yet, there is something unsatisfying about this week. Maybe it was Lincecum giving the game away on Friday or the offense, which was potent most of the week, getting shut down by Mark Buerhle, but is sure felt like this should have/could have been a 5-2, or even a 6-1 trip. Which is kind of how the whole season feels: we’re doing ok, but it really seems like we should be doing better. More on that later this week…

Hitter of the Week:

There are actually a number of great performances to highlight: Posey hit two home runs and had 8 RBI, Pagan hit .348 and drove in 7, Arias hit .345 and smashed his first home run, and, of course, Melky did it all this week batting .452, hitting 2 home runs (plus 3 doubles and 2 triples), driving in 8 runs, stealing 3 bases, and scoring 12 times (with a nice little 1.371 OPS).

But, I am giving hitter of the week to Gregor Blanco for two reasons: one, I’ve talked about Melky enough, and two Gregor’s pretty darn good! It’s like Andres Torres all over again. He gets hits, walks a ton, steals bases, and sees a lot of pitches. That’s what you ask for from your leadoff hitter. He’s made the lineup deeper and stronger by allowing Pagan to hit down in the order. Can’t wait for Pablo to get back because this team might actually have a good offense when all the pieces are together!

Pitcher of the Week:

Matt Cain went 2-0 with a 3.29 ERA this week, and is generally pretty awesome, but check out the bullpen numbers for the week. Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, Edlefson, Loux, and Hensley combined to pitch 20 innings this week. They allowed 21 baserunners (a 1.05 WHIP) and had a collective 0.00 ERA! They struck out 22 batters and walked 9. The only blemish on the bullpen all week were the 4 runs Javier Lopez gave up in the blowout win against Miami (no harm, no foul). He came back strong yesterday, striking out Logan Morrison in a big spot. Hats off to the bullpen for their dominance!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants have three at home against Arizona (Arizona again!) and then, mercifully, have a day off before starting a four game home series against the Cubs. Hopefully they can hang in there against the snakes, and beat on the Cubs…still waiting for that 5-2/6-1 week of dominance.

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/15-5/20)

Results:

4-3 (21-20, 7.0 GB in NL West)

3-2 W vs. Col; 5-4 L vs. Col; 4-1 L vs. STL; 7-5 W vs. STL; 8-6 W vs. OAK; 4-0 W vs. OAK; 6-2 L vs. OAK

On Sunday, after the third inning, I was mentally writing a post about how the Giants had turned a corner. They were not going to be an offensive juggernaut, but their situational hitting has improved tremendously. Timmy was cruising. A four game winning streak and 5-2 home stand was in the works. And then it all fell apart.

The most alarming thing to me about Lincecum’s struggles this season is the big innings. I don’t worry too much about his velocity or an injury. I think it’s mostly mental. I’m not sure why, but, for whatever reason, he has really struggled to shut the door when things are on the brink of getting out of hand. It’s been a huge disaster of an inning or a relatively easy 3 or 4 batter affair. Not much in between.

Here’s to hoping he figures it out soon.

Hitter of the Week:

Overall, the Giants had a pretty good week with the bats. It’s especially encouraging to see them walk more and to know the top three performances of the week belonged to Angel Pagan (.440/.548/.560), Melky Cabrera (.385/.393/.462), and Buster Posey (.381/.462/.476). They need those guys to do this with Pablo out.

The nod goes to Pagan because of all the walks. He’s really set the tone in that area and has helped lengthen the lineup by serviceably filling the 5 spot. Well done Angel.

Pitcher of the Week:

Ryan Vogelsong gets the nod for the second week in a row. He was fantastic in both turns…14 innings, 10 baserunners, 1 earned run. Nasty. Seems to have it all working and seems to know where it is going at all times. Lincecum should take note.

A tip of the cap as well to Jeremy Affeldt. He’s back and looks really good. A nasty Affeldt does a lot to restore order and dominance to the bullpen.

Looking Ahead:

A 7 game road trip against non-division teams we already saw this month. Giants need to get some revenge against Miami for the sweep they suffered at the beginning of May (3 1-run losses) and hopefully take another 2 of 3 from Milwaukee.

(-SB)

Week in Review (7/4-7/10)

Results:

4-3 (52-40, 3 game lead in NL West)

5-3 L vs. SD; 5-3 L vs. SD; 6-5 W vs. SD; 2-1 W vs. SD; 5-2 L vs. NYM; 3-1 W vs. NYM; 4-2 W vs. NYM

Hey, it’s the All-Star break and the Giants are in first place. No big deal, right? I mean it’s been a pretty smooth, rather uneventful first half of the season. FALSE. The monks will spend a few days this week recapping the first half and looking ahead the stretch run. If nothing else, this has been one compelling team to follow this year.

Hitter of the Week:

Tip of the cap to Pablo for keeping the streak alive (21 games now) and for sneaking on to the All-Star roster. I hope he hits a walk off home run against Jose Valverde. But, the hitter of the week has to be Nate Schierholtz who is resembling a real life, everyday major league player more and more. He has now raised his season slash line to: .293/.343/.464 which is pretty darn good. I really, really, really hope he can keep this up!

Pitcher of the Week:

The Barry Zito comeback tour is gaining some serious momentum. His outing against San Diego was easily the best performance by a starter this past week (8 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 7 K) and maybe the best start of his Giants’ career. However (and this is more of a midseason award than a weekly thing), while Brian Wilson does his bit for the All Star team Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Jeremy Affeldt might be the best core of set up men in all of baseball right now. Romo had an amazing week, Lopez is just a joy to watch, and Affeldt is looking more and more like his 2009 self. If Casilla can get back to where he was at the end of last year and Mota and Ramirez keep on holding down their end, I think this is the best bullpen I have ever seen. Period.

Stay tuned, a lot more to come this week!

(-SB)