Thursday, April 17, 2014
Vastly Surpassing Excellent! or Well-Played, Giants
When I wrote that the San Francisco Giants had to take two out of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers on the current homestand, and that anything less was unacceptable, I did so with the recognition that if things went poorly, I would adapt. If Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong had not come through, then I would be continuing to speculate as to what was “wrong.”
The fact is that Giants’ starting pitching has asserted itself big-time, the third go-through in the order, and this indicates that the team has shaken out the lethargy of the long winter months, and flexed its collective muscles in all phases of the game in the early going. The awareness that 29 of the first 38 games on the schedule were against National League West teams, and that ten of them (one more than half of the season total) were against the Dodgers, gave the Giants a plan of action and one that required implementing immediately.
For the Giants to have allowed the Dodgers to get an arm up on them in the early going, would have meant having to play catch-up. As good as the Giants are, no team in the game can afford to spot the Dodgers any kind of lead and expect to overtake them. Los Angeles is a formidable opponent and only a pitching staff as capable as the one the Giants possess, is going to be able to accomplish the task.
When the Giants’ bats erupted so early, it took the focus off of the fact that the starting pitchers were having trouble zeroing in on their targeted performance levels. Now that the pitching is establishing itself, the offense will undoubtedly balance out. What that means is that Angel Pagan, who scrambled out of the frying pan and into the fire, after getting off the disabled list, in an effort to ignite his team, can now retreat to mere mortal levels and conserve his energy for the long haul.
Balancing out means that Brandon Belt will stop swinging for the fences and go back to making solid contact, and drawing walks when he doesn’t draw strikes. It means that Buster Posey will continue to swing the potent bat that accompanied him to spring training from the first day. Balancing out means that Brandon Crawford will be given the occasional day off, as he was yesterday, and that he will not have to look over his shoulder to see who it is that may be platooning with him, when left-handed pitchers are on the mound.
Most importantly, balancing out means both Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval join the starting pitching in shaking out the cobwebs, so we won’t see opposing pitchers walk Pence to get at Sandoval, as we did in yesterday’s game. On the other hand, the strategy failed when the Panda delivered with a run-scoring single, the one run he drove in being the difference in the game.
No one could have foreseen Clayton Kershaw’s back issues, but they played right into the scheme of things, because the Dodgers have been without their ace, a guy who has tortured the Giants since he came into the league. Now with the Giants having seized the first two games of the series, and with Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner taking the mound, San Francisco is in position to deliver a demoralizing kick in the backside to the egotistical Blue Crew.
For San Francisco to not be able to take advantage of Kershaw’s absence would be a pity. In this wild, wild NL West, a team has to trump when the ace is away, and that’s exactly what the Giants have been able to do. They just need to keep on piling it on, so that when the hand is over, they hold as many of the cards, in the form of victories, as possible.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Vin Scully-The Voice of Reason in that Den of Iniquity
Just as I do, you may think whatever dastardly thoughts about the Los Angeles Dodgers you wish, but please go along with me on this one: You can’t disrespect their voice, Vin Scully, an iconic presence in an industry which features the immortal actions of such luminaries as Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax. Vin Scully is the cultured voice of not only the Dodgers, but of Every-Team, USA.
I enjoyed the way that the San Francisco Giants presented their tribute to Jackie Robinson, employing both Vin Scully and Giants’ broadcaster Jon Miller, to introduce their respective teams. The two Ford Frick Award winners make all fans appreciate what a fine art they have elevated their game to.
Vin Scully represents the voice of reason, in an age often devoid of any semblance of rationale. His well-modulated tone is one that others attempt to emulate. His unique style is one that will forever draw fans into his circle, or at least allow them to feel comfortable and at ease, standing at the fringes, occasionally, for a sweet taste of childhood and home, down on Fellowship Street.
Although I do NOT like to make this a habit, I do look upon the Dodgers from one angle as a civilized and even cultured organization, for this is the organization which opened the door to Jackie Robinson, and for that I will always be grateful. The feats accomplished by those subsequently allowed to play the game as a result of Robinson’s actions belie truth.
On the other hand, Yasil Puig makes it as easy to toss aside my noteworthy impressions, as it was for him last night to stroll six or eight steps up the first base line, after hammering the ball into the right field corner, finally stopping to grimace in disgust, as Hunter Pence gloved the ball on the track. I have never seen anything so arrogant on a baseball diamond, nor do I wish to do so again.
Vin Scully, born November 29, 1927, has been with the Dodgers since they were in Brooklyn, his 65 seasons with the Dodgers, the longest tenure of any broadcaster with a single team in professional sports history. Wikipedia described his voice as dulcet, which means sweet and soothing. I can’t attest to the sweet, but soothing certainly works for me. Though he broadcasts for the team I love to hate, I forgive him because without the Dodgers, the Giants would not be the team they are.
Jon Miller is noted in baseball circles for his dead-on impersonation of Scully. Why do other announcers want to sound like Scully? Among his countless achievements, he was named Sportscaster of the Century in 2000 by the American Sportscasters Association, which also named him top sportscaster of all time on its Top 50 list (2009).
Among his calls are four perfect games, one each by Don Larson (1956), which he described as “the most dramatic and well-pitched ballgame in the history of the game,” Sandy Koufax (1965), Tom Browning of the Cincinnati Reds (1988) and Montreal’s Dennis Martinez in 1991. He called Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Bill Buckner’s muffed ground ball in the 1986 World Series, Will Clark’s pennant-clinching base hit off Mitch Williams to clinch the 1989 National League Championship Series, and Kirk Gibson’s winning home run, in Game One of the 1988 World Series. He is a god in the broadcast booth.
I must say that I do not believe my impression of “Vinny” is influenced in any way, shape or form on my growing up in the balmy SoCal climate, listening to the Blue Crew play all though the sixties. We would lie out under the stars, my three older bros and I, and listen as Frank Howard would provide all the offense needed, to win another 1-0 game, with Koufax pitching. When the San Francisco Giants would roar into town, the fireworks would begin.
No, my impression is based on a lifetime of listening to baseball on the radio and the fact that I have never heard any broadcaster who does it as fluidly and seemingly without effort as does Vin Scully. Considering he announces for the team I love to hear beaten more than any other, I must say that if the Dodgers are going to lose, they might as well have the best in the business describe it. It’s only fitting, say I.
The Good, the Bad and the Bodacious
The San Francisco Giants derailed the Los Angeles Dodgers’ steam-roller for at least one night, Tuesday, as Hector Sanchez came through in walk-off fashion, yet again, and the Giants regained a share of first place in the National League West standings. As always, there was an inexplicably wide range of accountable actions, some of it splendid, some of it in the tank. With that in mind, I want to examine the good, the bad and the bodacious.
The Giants ranked second in the National League in scoring going into Tuesday Night’s game, averaging almost 5.1 runs per game. That compares to 3.9 runs per game in 2013.
Newly acquired Michael Morse is off to a .350 batting average and has been knocking in runs at a furious pace. He and Angel Pagan share the team lead with ten RBI’s.
Pagan is batting .412 going into Tuesday’s game and that’s after going 0-8 leading up to his two-run single in Sunday’s game.
Tim Lincecum pitched well in last night’s start against the Dodgers, leaving after five innings and 93 pitches, having given up one run, struck out five and walked one.
The Giants won three of the first four series this year, all against NL West opponents.
Both Buster Posey and Brandon Belt have lit up the scoreboard this season, and subsequently begun to cool off. Better to start off hot, than to struggle out the gate, because at least you had your stroke at one point. Belt has been experiencing great success with his new batting grip and Posey has been swinging well since the first day of spring training. They have eight home runs between them.
Non-roster invitee Brandon Hicks has wrestled the second base job away from Joaquin Arias, partly because of his defensive skills, but mostly because he is sporting a .368 batting average so far this spring. He was on base three times in Tuesday night’s game.
The Giants are batting .272 with two outs compared to .253 last season. They are also batting .306 with runners in scoring position, compared to .256 last year.
Because the game ended after midnight, it turned out to be an early birthday present for Bruce Bochy, who turned 59 today.
Tim Lincecum has given up five home runs in three starts.
Brandon Belt has only drawn one walk so far this year. I like the home runs, but I also liked what was happening last August and September too.
Hunter Pence is off to a slow start, batting .157 going into the series with the Dodgers.
The Giants loaded the bases three times in Tuesday night’s game, without being able to score, stranding sixteen altogether.
Pablo Sandoval is also off to a slow start, batting .180 early in the season, and playing defense with an unPablo-like inefficiency. It’s the mental mistakes that are more disturbing than the physical ones. I think Pablo is feeling the pressure of it being a contract year.
Yasiel Puig did not run in the twelfth inning, when he hit a ball to the right field wall, that hunter Pence flagged down. Reprehensible. As Mike Krukow editorialized, he needs to respect the game.
The Giants were one for ten with runners in scoring position tonight and 0 for 5 with the bases loaded.
Tim Lincecum has struck out seventeen batters this season and walked one.
Back-to-back walk-off victories-that’s a statement that cannot be mistaken.
The Giants were hitting .404 with runners in scoring position, going into last night’s game, best in the major leagues, after batting .238 last year under the same circumstances. [That stat will take a hit after Tuesday’s game.]
Tim Hudson has not allowed a walk in three starts to begin this year, his streak having reached 23 innings. Atlee Hammaker had the San Francisco record with 21 innings without a walk, to start off a season.
Hector Sanchez’ walk-off hit was his fourth, all in extra innings. As Amy Gutierrez said to him, “You have a knack for it.”
The Giants have taken three of the first four from the Dodgers this year. This must continue; nothing short of dominance over the Dodgers will suffice.
Brandon Belt had three hits, the third one knocking in Angel Pagan, tying the game in the ninth.
In the Giants’ last twelve games, their relievers have recorded a 0.68 ERA, giving up just three earned runs in 39 and two-thirds innings.
The Giants refuse to anoint the Dodgers as head kingpin in the National League West, despite what the pundits keep muttering. Well, the Giants have been doing some muttering themselves, along with some motoring, right into first place. It’s early, I know, but it’s never too early to take up residence in your deserved place in the ranks and right now the Giants deserve to be number one.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Crawford, Giants Splash Rockies in Ten Innings, 5-4
Brandon Crawford hit a first-pitch fast ball in the bottom of the tenth for a splash home run, his first career walk-off shot, and the San Francisco Giants got past the Colorado Rockies 5-4, today, at AT&T Park, giving the Giants their third series victory out of four to begin the season. Tim Hudson was masterful for most of the game, but ended up giving up four runs on five hits, while Sergio Romo got the win, pitching to the minimum three batters in the top of the ninth.
Angel Pagan continued his red-hot hitting, singling in two runs to break a 1-1 tie in the fifth, Pablo Sandoval went 2 for 3, including a solo home run, and Brandon Hicks went 2 for 2 with a walk, as the Giants broke through their scoreless streak of seventeen innings, taking a 4-0 lead in the sixth.
Tyler Chatwood pitched well also, but gave up a key 2-run single to Pagan and a solo shot to Sandoval. Through five innings, Tim Hudson had thrown 57 pitches, Tyler Chatwood, 56 pitches. It was a very taut game through the first half of the game. Hudson gave up solo home runs to Wilin Rosario and and Justin Morneau, and then back-to-back doubles to lead off the eighth to Arenado and LeMahieu, and that was almost the extent of responsibilities. Hudson has yet to walk a batter this season.
The big story is Crawford, of course. His well-publicized struggle with left-handers, makes his splash shot off lefty Rex Brothers that much more telling. Crawford also had a sacrifice fly in the fifth, when the Giants scored three runs. Michael Morse hit one so hard during this inning, that it hit off the left field wall so hard that it was impossible for Morse to consider taking second.
But a smaller story is that of Pablo Sandoval right now, in light of his strikeout in the eighth inning of yesterday’s game, against Rex Brothers. Sandoval is a career .295 hitter, going into today’s game batting .150 (7-46). I watched Greg Papa interview Giants insider Andrew Baggarly, before the game today, and Papa asked Bags about Pablo being dropped in the batting order.
Baggarly said that Bochy didn’t want to comment publicly on any guy’s status, but that with the Dodgers coming into town, he needed Sandoval to be at his best, and moving him lower in the order, did not exactly instill confidence in the third baseman. Baggarly went on to say that Bochy thinks Sandoval has a good approach, but that if he keeps struggling, then he’d have to lower him in the order. After today’s pair of hits, Bochy is looking pretty smart.
Today’s game was crucial, with the Los Angeles Dodgers coming into town on Tuesday, for a series rematch of the earlier one, in which the Giants took two out of three. The Dodgers are the team to beat, but taking the series from the Rockies is a good warm-up. Tim Lincecum is up Tuesday, and it’s a good bet he would like to do his part to keep the ball rolling, all the way into first place.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Colorado Rockies Defeat San Francisco Giants 1-0
The Colorado Rockies defeated the San Francisco Giants 1-0 at AT&T Park, on an afternoon when the Giants’ starting pitching came to play, but the offense did not. Though Matt Cain worked seven strong innings, five Colorado pitchers combined to shut out the Giants, with Brett Anderson starting and going three and leaving with a right index finger contusion, and Latroy Hawkins pitching a perfect ninth for the save.
Troy Tulowitzki knocked in the game’s only run with a sacrifice fly in the third. The irony of Tulowitzki getting the only RBI, is that he came into the game with a lifetime batting average of .328 off of Cain, and Cain kept him bottled up. Tulo still found a way to get it done. The Giants, conversely, have had one hit with thirteen runners in scoring position over the last three games.
The story today was pitching, beginning with Cain. He pitched seven full innings, allowing one run on four hits, with three walks and eight strikeouts. He got stronger as the game went on, retiring the final nine batters he faced, after giving up a lead-off double in the fifth. Going into today’s game, Cain had a lifetime mark of 17-7 against the Rockies. As a team the Giants were 83-43 against the Rockies at AT&T Park, including 14 of the last sixteen.
Brett Anderson’s numbers looked like this: three innings pitched; no runs on one hit, with a walk. Tommy Kahnle pitched two innings, allowing a walk. Matt Belisle pitched the sixth, Adam Ottavino the seventh, and Rex Brothers the eighth.
The Giants managed only three hits and only mounted one threat after the fourth, when they loaded the bases in the eighth, on Crawford’s double and walks by pinch-hitter Brandon Hicks and Hunter Pence. pablo Sandoval, with an opportunity to put his name in lights, for a rare appearance this season, flailed at a third strike, and the Gianrts went meekly in the ninth.
Tim Hudson starts for the Giants tomorrow, and they can still take the series with a victory in the finale. In any case, a game like today’s was bound to come along, and the Giants need to forget this one quickly, all except the part where Matt Cain stepped up and answered the question about what was wrong with him: Absolutely nothing.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Giants Dismantle Diamondbacks in Season Opener, 7-3
For the twelfth Opening Day out of the fifteen played at AT&T Park, the fans went home happy, as Brandon Belt hit a first inning home run, scoring Angel Pagan, and San Francisco Giants went on to dismantle the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-2, as the D-backs dropped their fourth home opener of the young season.
Tim Hudson pitched eight strong innings of three-run ball and became the first Giants’ starting pitcher with two victories, as San Francisco continued its scorching start to the season, going to 6-2 with the win, all against National League West opponents. Michael Morse (7 hits in 20 at-bats coming into the game) had two more hits, knocking in two runs with the second one and Belt, with his homer in the first, now is tied with Mark Trumbo for the league lead with five. Pagan and Crawford each had two hits as well, as the Giants collected ten all together. This was Morse’s fifth consecutive game with at least one RBI.
Trevor Cahill (7.90), who pitched creditably in a 2-0 loss at Chase Field last week, gave up five runs on eight hits in three-plus innings, as the Giants continued to score early and often. Cahill departed in the fourth for Ryan Rowland-Smith (3.00 ERA, 3.0 IP), who pitched out of the fourth, before running into trouble in the fifth. Pence drew a two-out walk, and then when Mark Trumbo couldn’t handle Gregor Blanco’s high fly to the warning track, which bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double, Pence ended up at third. Crawford then came to the plate and lined a single into right, scoring both Pence and Blanco. In a close play at the plate, Blanco slid wide past Montero, who missed the tag, making the score 7-2. After Hicks was walked intentionally, Hudson struck out to end the inning.
Mark Trumbo, who led the league with home runs coming into the game (5) knocked in the D-backs’ first run with a ground ball force out in the second inning. Then, in the top of the fourth, Paul Goldschmidt led off with a double, the third inning in four that the D-backs got their leadoff batter on base, and Martin Prado followed with a single to right field, Goldschmidt stopping at third. Miguel Montero (.200) came up with no one out and runners at the corners and though Hudson got ahead on the count 0-2, Montero still managed to hit it to center for a sacrifice fly, Goldschmidt scoring on the play. Mark Trumbo lofted a high fly to Morse in left for the second out, and Angel Pagan made a fine running knee-high catch on a liner by Chris Owings, to end the inning.
The D-backs scored once more in the eighth when Tony Campana led off with a triple off the wall in right and scored when Parra grounded out to Hicks. J. Putz closed out the final inning for the D-backs.
It was the sixth consecutive Opening Day victory at AT&T Park, and showed that the Giants’ bats are reacting favorably to the home field as well as the air in the drier climates in which they have played their first seven games. In a season resplendent with scorching bats, it’s also comforting to see Tim Hudson begin his career with the Giants with two quality start victories.
The goal was to get out the gate competitively against the National League West opponents, and the Giants have surpassed our expectations. The key is to not let up, especially when the Los Angeles Dodgers come into AT&T Park for the first time later in this home stand. We always rely on our pitching first and just enough offense to get the job done, but I’m good with the bats doing the talking too. Right now they’re clamoring for attention and getting plenty of it. It’s hard to ignore all of those beautiful two-out hits we are seeing, not to mention the home runs.
Matt Cain gave up three solo home runs to two Dodgers in the finale in Los Angeles, after being the only starter to not get a win for his team the first time through the rotation, and fans are asking, “What’s wrong with Matt Cain?” He is 29 years old, has been a Giant since 2005, and his nickname is “The Horse” because he is a stud in every sense of the word. He takes the mound every fifth day, he doesn’t care who is catching behind the plate, and the answer to the question about what’s wrong with him is, “absolutely nothing.”
Though this is Cain’s ninth full season as a Giant, he will not turn thirty until October; he is a veritable spring chicken, when talking about a baseball career, especially for a guy whose only appearance on the disabled list was the result of being hit by a batted ball, just last August 23. If the injury were related to either shoulder or elbow, then there would be reason for concern. Cain’s injury is the type that you figure goes under the heading of “stuff happens,” and having healed, will not impact him in the future.
So let’s look the numbers, both for Cain’s career, and also for his last full season, 2012. He has averaged 220 innings per year (219.1 in ’12) since his first full year in 2006; his ERA has averaged 3.37 (2.79 in ’12); he has given up an average of 184 hits (177 in ’12); and his average walk to strikeout ratio for ten years is 74-184 (51-193 in ’12). Cain improved in four out of these five categories (with a push on the number of innings pitched), dramatically so when it comes to walks versus strike outs, in the last full year he pitched. That’s significant because his control is improving over time, so why would he suddenly be going into some kind of unfathomable decline at such a young age?
The qualites most attributable to Cain are his longevity and his consistency. This is his tenth season as a Giant and his ninth full one. In the course of a career, or a season, or a month, or sometimes even within the same game, a pitcher will go through periods of highs and lows. No one minds talking about the Perfecto he threw in 2012. Well, by contrast, last season he set a franchise record by giving up nine runs to the Cardinals in the same inning.
That’s some extreme we’re talking about. He had a raunchy inning and it made his ERA soar to four, for the first time in his career. Nobody should expect him to do it again, any more than we should buy tickets every day, waiting for the next perfect game. However, ups and downs do occur, especially when you’ve been in the game-with the same team-as long as Matt Cain has. Besides, If Matt actually did develop a technical difficulty, he has the advantage of having one of the best pitching coaches in the business, Dave Righetti, and that’s no lightweight in your corner. I think back to that issue that Madison Bumgarner had around the start of the 2012 playoffs, and how Righetti got him back on the track.
That’s Matt Cain, right on track. I like what MLB’s Byron Kilpatrick said about Cain when he was doing a preseason evaluation of the NL West. “Cain is only 29 years old and has retained his fastball velocity for three years running, so it’s unlikely that wear on his treads caused the subpar  season. It’s much more likely that 2013 was an outlier, and that Cain will return to terrorizing opposing hitters this season.”
They call Cain, The Horse, but I think it should be The Train, because once he gets rolling, no one can stop him, and the funny thing is, the other pitchers try to hook up and go along for the ride, all the way to the playoffs. Once they get there, they know what to do, because Cain showed them that too, back in 2010, when he didn’t give up an earned run in the World Series.
No, Cain’s not broken; he’s just warming up. Settle down and enjoy the show and don’t worry about wear on the treads ‘cause trains don’t got no treads.