Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: Spring training is upon us!

Rockin' and rollin'

Rockin' and rollin'
The author of Mark's Work

Coleus flowers

Coleus flowers
Why I grow flowers

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast
Love is the greatest power.

Beauty abounds!

Beauty abounds!
Heinz tomatoes, used for catsup

If you've seen one butterfly, you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.

If you've seen one butterfly,  you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.
Painted Lady

Fall Jewels

Fall Jewels
Praying mantis, attending services on a zinnia...

My souvenir from Reggae on the River, 2017

My souvenir from Reggae on the River, 2017
Something I have always wanted...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Bitter With the Sweet


The Bitter With the Sweet

Here is what I have to say to all of you out there who complain about the number of one-run games the San Francisco Giants seem to stockpile, as they attempt to align both the pitching and the offense: One-run games are far preferable to games like last night’s 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Colorado Rockies.  It was over in the first inning, after the second of two home runs exited the playing field, giving the Rockies a 4-0 lead.  
I’m not suggesting that a four-run lead is insurmountable; after all, we did that on the opening day of the season, against the Arizona D-backs, eventually taking a lead when Buster Posey hit one out in the ninth, and going on to defeat the Diamondbacks.  But when your team just completed a three-game string of only scoring one run per contest, and you’re really not sure where your next run is going to come from, your spirits plummet proportionally to the ball(s) sailing over the outfield wall.

Nothing lends credibility to the man dealing from the mound, than being staked to a lead-any lead-in the first inning.  All of the sudden he becomes the reincarnation of Cy Young   He’s no longer the guy who’s been struggling, or the guy whose control is only a distant memory; he’s a lean, mean pitching machine and he challenges every hitter to hit the ball out of the park.

They try, believe me they try.  It’s no fun to be mired in a team-wide slump, especially when the pitching has come on like gangbusters, and you’re losing 1-0 and 2-1 games with the same regularity as your Aunt Gertrude, who hasn’t missed an opportunity to criticize your life’s choices, since she moved into the guest room back during the Clinton Administration.

So players go up to the plate, determined to make something happen, and they do.  They strike out five consecutive times, at one point in the game, and eleven times altogether.  They forget that it takes concentration to wait for a pitch they can handle, not for a double off the wall, but for a seeing-eye grounder that darts through between the shortstop and the diving third baseman.  You get that first guy on and it sets into motion an entire different approach, now, one that involves moving the runner along, and playing for the rally.

For instance, Angel Pagan engaged in a ten-pitch plate appearance in the first inning of last night’s game, before popping up to the first baseman; conversely, Justin Morneau did the same thing in his half of the inning to Ryan Vogelsong, requiring ten pitches and fouling off seven balls to stay alive.  Only he ended up doubling to set the table for Wilin Rosario’s three-run jack.  It worked for them and not for us.  You just have to keep plugging away.

I’m sure Bruce Bochy has had numerous discussions about the need to wait on pitches, to be selective, to protect the plate, et al.  He will take steps to vary routines, so that players don’t get too fanatical about trying to fix the problem by going bananas on the practice field.  He will do anything and everything to right the problem, except panic.

He won’t panic because he knows his guys, he has seen what they can accomplish, and he is certain they will get it together.  He just can’t give you a timeline.  He knows that the more the magnifying glass focuses on the lack of runs, the more likely it is that no flame will occur, and that’s just the way it is.  Had Pagan been able to emerge from that ten-pitch sequence with a base hit, then the entire complexion of the game may have been altered.  

The Giants strung three consecutive singles together at the start of the third inning, only to have a double play and a strike out end the threat, after only one run had scored.  Yes, when you are going that badly, you only score runs with the bases loaded and a double play.  

The last thing I will say is I didn’t mind chortling at the vulgar display of power at the outset of the season, so I must accept this current lack of clout for what it is: the other side of the coin.  Unfortunately, the coin does not stand on edge, so we get one or the other, and we’re never sure  which side of the coin will show up.  



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vastly Surpassing Excellent! or Well-Played, Giants


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


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 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 Good

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.

The Bad

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.




The Bodacious

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


                                           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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Giants Dismantle D-backs in Season Opener, 7-3


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.

No Treads


                                                                     No Treads

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 [2013] 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.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Get Used To It



Get Used To It

The San Francisco Giants have begun the 2014 season with an offensive burst of firepower, surpassing anything fans might have hoped for.  In hitting nine home runs in their first six games, they not only lead the major leagues, but it took them nineteen games last year to reach the same plateau.  The question is, are we seeing an anomaly to start off the year, and things will return to “normal,” or is this the real deal?

The Giants are on a pace to hit 243 homers for the year, six off the all-time national League record of 249, set by the 2000 Houston Astros.
OK, that’s never going to happen, so let’s back the truck up and suggest, strongly, that hitting home runs is not the goal.  Hitting the ball hard is the idea and some of those balls go out.  Ultimately, I see five reasons why the Giants’ hitting success, no matter what form it takes, will continue as long as injuries to not rear their ugly head.

Number one is Michael Morse, whose first home run of the season in yesterday’s 7-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, was the fourth consecutive game in which he has knocked in at least one run.  Brian Sabean had on his wish list over the winter, to acquire a left fielder who could provide some offensive power, consistently, for the first time since Barry Bonds left the building.  Morse went about the business of preparing for the season during spring training, with a specific goal in mind: to return to the player he was in 2011, when he played in 146 games, hitting .303 with 31 homers and 95 RBI’s.  He has begun the season on track.

Second is the fact that persistent injuries last season kept many of the Giants’ players from attaining that level of consistency, needed to get the whole team offensively firing on all cylinders.  Those injuries included Angel Pagan’s hamstring, Pablo Sandoval’s ongoing issues with hand and foot bones, Brandon Crawford’s sprained right middle/index fingers, and Hector Sanchez’ right shoulder.  With nagging injuries off the slate, the Giants are in a position to maintain their excellent hitting.

The third reason the Giants are the real deal is because they are engaged in an intramural competition, formerly used only during spring training or during a period of struggle to try and get back on track.  I watched a Mindy Bach telecast, in which she described how Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval had been selected as captains of the two squads-within-a-squad, to see which could accrue more points in their hitting competition.   

The way it works is that each player earns points by his performance at the plate, particularly when there are two outs.  Being patient is the most important element, but all of the fundamentals come into play, such as bunting, advancing the runner(s), two-strike counts, et al.  I find it typical that the Giants would employ this kind of device, because it emphasizes that element of chemistry, which elevates the game to a higher level, than a team that plays together, but does not share that bond of emotional closeness.

Fourth there is Brandon Belt’s readjustment of his hands on the bat, which did not take place until August of last season.  In August, the changes were particularly helpful in allowing those long arms of his to reach outside pitches more effectively.  Through July 31st, he hit .191/ 
.321/ .267 on outside pitches.  From August 1st onward, he hit .373/   
.424 /.542 on outside pitches.  In the first six games of this season, Belt is bating .296, with a .630 slugging percentage.  He has taken what he learned last season and applied it early in a successful manner, leading the team with three home runs.

Finally, leadership plays a huge role in the form of Brian Sabean, who is the longest tenured general manager in the big leagues.  This means he’s good at what he does, and that consists of scouring baseball for the individual players who can best help his team.  His acquisition of Michael Morse is only the latest in a series of telling moves, which have enhanced the Giants’ playoff plans.  Sabean’s ability to pull off last minute deals before the trade deadline, like the Hunter Pence deal, is something the Giants rely on, in the case of injury.

So for these five reasons, and others that I have not factored in, such as Brandon Hicks and Ehire Andrianza emerging as offensive threats, the Giants will continue to swing healthy bats.  That doesn’t mean they will break any home run records, though you never know.  Hunter Pence, who led the team last year with 27, has yet to hit his first, so we still have nowhere to go but up.  

Sitting atop the standings right now, the Giants are not as up as they need to be in order to ensure that the Dodgers get the message: San Francisco is a force with which to reckon.  Get used to it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Giants Lead the World in Home Runs-Defeat Dodgers, 7-2


Giants Lead the World in Home Runs-Defeat Dodgers, 7-2

Madison Bumgarner (1.83 ERA) threw six and a third innings of two-run ball, and the San Francisco Giants kept up their torrid hitting by clubbing three more home runs, as they subdued the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-2 today, under sunny skies at Chavez Ravine.  The victory marked the second series win on the road for the Giants, in the early going against National League West rivals.  Paul Maholm, 10-11, 4.41 ERA with the Braves last season, started in place of Clayton Kershaw.  His line read five earned runs, on seven hits, in four and a third innings innings for the day.  Bumgarner allowed two runs on eight hits, with ten strikeouts, in a much-needed quality start by the Giants’ ace.

San Francisco scored first in the top of the second when Michael Morse drew a four-pitch walk, and Brandons, Belt and Hicks, each lined singles, Hicks’s so hard that Morse was unable to score.  Brandon Crawford then grounded a ball far enough to the right side of the infield that Hanley Ramirez, after forcing Hicks at second base, did not even attempt a throw to first to get the hustling Crawford.  Morse scored on the play and Bumgarner struck out to end the inning, forcing Maholm to throw eight pitches during the at-bat.  

In the bottom of the second, after Kemp struck out on a checked-swing, Van Slyke walked and Juan Uribe doubled to left-center.  This was not a pitch that was served up by Bumgarner.  On a knee-high ball that was way out away from the plate, Uribe reached for and stroked the ball into the gap, with Van Slyke scoring on the play.  Ellis lined out to Pagan, and Maholm then struck out swinging on ball four, to end the inning.

Pagan led off the top of third with a hard-hit grounder to Uribe, and Hunter Pence followed with a ground-rule double, pretty much down the left-field line.  Sandoval lined out to Kemp in right-center field and Pence easily advanced on the play, but Posey popped out to Ramirez at short to end the threat.  In the third Puig led off with a hard-hit grounder up the middle that Crawford made a dazzling play to snag, and then do a spin-around, throwing wide to Belt and pulling him off the bag.  On the play, Puig made a head-first dive into first, jamming his left arm against the bag as he did so.  He stayed in the game and after Turner struck out, Ramirez took a called third strike and was not happy.  But when umpire Joe West took off his mask, Hanley was smart enough to walk back to the dugout.   Madison then poured salt in the wound by picking Puig off first, thus sending the Dodgers back onto the field.

Michael Morse unloaded to lead off the fourth inning, the fourth consecutive game that he has knocked in a run, and the Giants assumed a 2-1 lead.  Belt grounded out to Gonzalez at first and as Crawford approached the plate, the Dodger PA announcer displayed his droll sense of humor by intoning, “Another Brandon, Crawford.”  Three groundouts later, the top-half of the inning was over.  For the Dodgers, Gonzalez led off the bottom of the inning with an opposite-field double that split the gap between Pagan and Morse, but Bumgarner then proceeded to strike out the side.  

Bumgarner led off the fifth with a little inside-out swing that deposited the ball in right field.  Pagan then followed with a rifle shot to left, giving the Giants runners on first and second with nobody out, but  Pence lined out to Van Slyke, for the first out of the inning.  Sandoval, who had hit the ball hard twice in the game with nothing to show for it, then hammered one out for a 5-1 Giant(s) lead.  Posey decided to get into the act and blasted the third home run of the game out to left field.  Considering the Giants were tied for the major league lead for most home runs going into the game, there’s a good chance they are now in sole possession of the top spot.

Bumgarner pitched a shut-down inning in the bottom of the fifth.
By his own admission, Bumgarner did not have a feel for the ball in his first start; he was behind in the counts and it didn’t help that the defense played spotty behind him.  To see him strike out eight in the first four innings (ten altogether), and then shut the Dodgers down after Sandoval’s blast, was key.   

In the sixth Hicks struck out swinging, Crawford walked, Bumgarner put down a perfect bunt and Pagan doubled him home for the seventh run of the game.  Yusmeiro Petit came in to pitch the ninth and retired the side in order.  The victory was exactly what the Giants needed to continue their red-hot start to the season.  The formula before the year began was to get a hot start out the gate; The Giants, 5-1, are sizzling, and the summer’s not even here yet.
Noteworthy:

Hunter Pence gunned down A.J. Ellis at the plate to end the seventh on a close play that was reviewed by the umpiring crew, which upheld the call.

Gregor Blanco then made a Sports Center-type catch to rob Ellis of extra bases in the ninth. 

On the play, Hunter picked up his third outfield assist of the season, in the first six games of the season, after having only two all of last season.

Pablo made a full-out, horizontal dive to snag a sizzling grounder, got up and made a laser shot of a throw to nail the baserunner at first.  
When Sandoval batted in the inning immediately following, he took an outside pitch for ball four, on what I’ve seen him swing at so wildly in the past.  He is trying to be more patient at the plate.

The Giants were tied for the major league lead at the start of play for home runs with six and now have nine.

Yasiel Puig was back in the lineup “after a bump in the road yesterday,” according to Duane Kuiper, when he reported late for batting practice and was benched by Don Mattingly.

Santiago Casilla speared a come-backer in the eighth and started a timely double play, Casilla to Hicks to Belt. 







Back in the Zone


Back in the Zone

I’ve got the San Francisco Giants/Los Angeles Dodgers’ game on the tube, aroundthefoghorn.com dialed in on my Mac, a glass jug of chilled spring water at my elbow, and that deep, satisfying feeling I get when I’m back in the zone.  The baseball zone, that is.  Someone I know just made the comment, “See you in November,” with the oh-so-casual confidence of a fan who follows a winner and expects to be thusly occupied through the end of October.

Being in the zone means that when I come down off the mountain and get my hands on a Sporting Green, I have to go through it at least three times, before I feel as though I have gleaned everything there is to be found.  Being in the zone means having box-scores to examine, beat writers to check in on, and a wealth of new opportunities with the internet.  Best of all, being in the zone means a baseball game just about every day of the week.

I like to go to Giants’ opponents’ home-town sports web-sites, and see what kind of trash they’re talking about the Giants.  I like to get different perspectives from different parts of the country, but most of all I like to sit around and talk Giants’ baseball with my homies.  I’m not a boozer, though I do enjoy the occasional shot of Jamison, strictly for medicinal purposes, you understand, but I do drink vast quantities of ice water.  It come from the spring and is as sweet as the nectar from the gods.

As enjoyable as the aura of Spring Training is, there is still the knowledge that it’s all for show and that it will all dissipate, the minute the real season opens.  For the Giants it meant the sixth consecutive time we have opened on the road, a minuscule price to pay for playing on the West Coast.  It also meant a come-from-behind victory in Arizona that still makes me glow just thinking about it.

What’s more, I am as anxious for the game to start today, as I have been each day, because there are more questions being answered, more pieces of the puzzle falling into place, and so many teams and players to monitor and keep track of.  It’s a full-time job, and one for which I am paid quite handsomely, in that aforementioned satisfying manner.  

Football comes but once a week, but baseball’s here every day.  The ritual of comparing standings, stats and stars is one that keeps me occupied in a most satisfying manner.  There’s that word satisfying again;  it seems to come up a lot these days, especially when I contemplate the way in which the Giants exploded in the first two innings of yesterday’s Dodgers/Giants game, scoring eight runs and sending an Opening Day crowd home disappointed.

The Rolling Stones sang about not being able to get any satisfaction.  Maybe they should have become Giants’ fans.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Giants Need to Turn "Head of Steam" Into "Runaway Train"


Runaway Train

The San Francisco Giants (3-1), victors in three out of four contests with the Arizona Diamondbacks to begin the season, now head down to SoCal to confront the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers (5-1), where pundits say they must continue their hot start, if they are to be able to contend this year.  The Dodgers are the pace car even though they have been hampered by the loss of Matt Kemp, and now that of Clayton Kershaw.  Fortunately, the Giants’ locomotive has picked up momentum in Arizona, is gathering velocity in the desert, and is barreling down to Los Angeles under a full head of steam.

Matters went well for the Orange and Black in Arizona, where their starters, led by Tim Hudson’s sterling debut in a 2-0 win on Wednesday, pitched well enough to keep them in the other games, and their bats blazed up like Halogen headlights, particularly from the seventh inning onward.  That ability to come back, which they had to do twice in the first four games, is a characteristic that the Giants retained from last season, when they came back 35 times to win, twelve of them in walk-off fashion, all for a third-place finish.  Comebacks are a team ritual, deeply ingrained into the fiber of San Francisco lore.

The Giants cannot afford to dwell on what just occurred at Chase Field, because a team does not advance by looking backwards.  No, the focus must be on the immediacy of the moment, and the fact that through the misfortunes of the game, the Dodgers are without the services of the nemesis to beat all, Clayton Kershaw.  Without dwelling for one instant on the foibles of Lady Luck, the Giants must strike with the quickness of the rattler, ironic because the rattlers’ assault in the desert, turned out to have little venom in its bite.

Bruce Bochy must utilize his weapons efficiently as he did yesterday, in featuring a lineup that held its own, while keeping volatile firepower on the bench, in the persons of Buster Posey and Michael Morse.  When called upon to deliver, they were able to fulfill their obligations by getting on base in front of Angel Pagan, just before he launched his deep drive into the pool region of Chase Field.  

Momentum, you see, momentum.  Angel Pagan is like that.  He provides that explosive infusion at the top of the order, which can dovetail nicely when he steps to the plate, with the bags already primed and ready, as was the case in the eighth inning of yesterday’s game.  The energy he propels into the arena is absorbed by all, to be released in the immediate future as needed, such as in the upcoming series against the Dodgers.

Ryan Vogelsong starts today on Opening Day in Los Angeles, the Dodgers now playing in their third opener this early season.  They won the one Down Under and spoiled the San Diego Padres’ opener on Sunday.  They are trying for their third straight today and they have momentum of their own.  They are a formidable opponent.

Nothing comes easy for Vogelsong these days and this will be no exception.  However, no one takes a back seat to this veteran, when it comes to grit, and I must assume that he will keep the Giants in the ball game long enough for them to ignite another offensive explosion.  After all, neither Hunter Pence nor Pablo Sandoval has gotten into the act so far, and both would like nothing more than to do so in Chavez Ravine.

Momentum feeds off of success; if the Giants are to succeed this season the time to step it up is now.  Therefore, taking two out of three against the Dodgers, who do have Matt Kemp in the lineup today, is essential in order to thrive on this seven-game, opening season road trip, one in which we have seen the locomotive gain a full head of steam.  
What I’d really like to see is a full-blown runaway train, one that is programmed to remain in runaway mode until November, one that departs from the depot at Chavez Ravine.  All aboard!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

These Cards Have Backs on Them


These Cards Have backs on Them

The San Francisco Giants lost a game last night by one run, a difference that was the direct result of a blown call by the home umpire. Bruce Bochy responded immediately as his pitcher, Matt Cain, sprang up from his prone position at home plate, and seriously got into the home umpire’s face.  They argued, nothing changed, and they adjourned to the dugout.  Bochy could not challenge the call because he had already used his one opportunity available during the first six innings of each game, only two batters before.

The question is, not so much whether or not replay should be implemented, but what is the best way to utilize it?  In a situation like the one described above, the decision to use the challenge on a play at first base, meant it was not available to use on a play at the plate only two batters later.  Should Bochy not have challenged the play at first, thinking a more opportune moment might come along later, just as occurred last night?

The answer is no.  After the game, Bochy responded to questions about his use of the new rule, on that play at first base involving a runner diving back to the bag.  During an interview with Chris Haft, Bochy stated that he would not have done anything differently and here’s why.

“If we think the play is wrong, we’re going to challenge it,” he said.  “Doesn’t mean it’s going to be overturned.  Sure there could be another play, but you don’t know that.  These cards have backs on them...that was a pretty big pick-off if we’d had got the call.  Would I change anything?  No.”

Haft then asked, “So when you get the play at the plate immediately afterwards, and you don’t have a challenge to use...”

Bochy didn’t let him finish the question.  “...you just hang with them...that’s what you call just hanging with them.  You can’t do anything at that point,” he finished.

He’s right, of course, and I’m glad to see our skipper has the sense to recognize it’s just baseball.  If you beat yourself up after the game for every possible thing you can find to blame yourself for, you’re not going to be in the business for very long, at least not in an enjoyable capacity.  You just can’t go through life questioning every decision.

The new rule is long overdue, but now that it’s arrived, it’s nice to see that it won’t be the source of any new drama.  The umpires are more than capable of providing that.

Get Rid of the Middle man


Get Rid of the Middleman

I read with acute interest the article from the New York Times called “What Umpires Get Wrong.”  The thrust of the piece is that umpires error calling non-swinging pitches 14% of the time, for a variety of reasons. The authors, Brayden King and Jerry Kim, present a number of explanations for some of the miscalls, but ultimately recognize that as long as humans are running the show, stuff is going to happen.  I say, just because there have always been umpires, does not mean that we still need umpires.  Better still, keep the umpires, with all of their theatrics, but if they call the pitch incorrectly, let the buzzer tell the story so the whole stadium hears it.

All of the possible explanations the article presented for consistent patterns of errors, ignored a big one for me: What about the hot dog, the player who is as rude and obnoxious as they come?  He arrives at home plate and greets the umpire with, “Hey, Blue.  When are you going to remember to bring your your glasses to the ballpark?”  

The umpire says to himself, I won’t need any glasses to call balls and strikes, whenever you come up to bat.  On the exterior, all he does is smile.  In the article the concluding paragraph opines, “Technologically, Major League Baseball is in a position, thanks to its high-speed camera system, to enforce a completely accurate, uniform strike zone.  The question is whether we, as fans, want our games to be fair and just, or whether we are compelled to watch the games because it mimics the real world, warts and all.” 

My response is that I watch the game to see the masters at work, pitchers who get paid millions per year to ply their trade.  I want the pitches they throw for strikes to be called strikes and the pitches they throw for balls to be called balls.  I know that a tailing fastball away from the batter, one inch outside the strike-zone can be devilishly difficult to distinguish between a ball thrown one inch inside the strike-zone.  

However, unlike the authors of the article, I do not welcome the warts and I do not seek for fodder to keep the conversation going in the staff room.  I can find plenty to prattle on about besides yet another blown call, or trying to figure out why the umpire doesn’t realize that the opposing catcher keeps setting up with his glove six inches outside the strike zone.  The catcher never moves his glove, the ball hits it with a resounding smack, and the batter is called out on a pitch that is ridiculously outside the zone.  And the umpire wonders why everyone is upset.  Forget it!

Therefore, I put forth the proposition that all strikes shall be forever more called strikes, and balls should be called, well, balls.  Why should this  demonstration of precision detract from our enjoyment of the game?  I watch baseball to see the best athletes perform the most extraordinary of feats.  I am tired of seeing umpires make mistakes, for any reason.  Why should we continue to allow human error to contribute to bad calls which result in games being lost-or worse, being won without due merit?  

The pitcher throws the ball, the batter gets to swing or not, and the scoreboard indicates whether it is a ball or a strike.  Let’s get rid of the middle man.