Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Monday, March 31, 2014

Giants' Chances? Smoking Hot! Part II

Giants’ Chances?  Smoking Hot- Part II

I have been diligently analyzing the San Francisco Giants’ players for every snippet of pertinent data concerning stats, experience and intangibles, so as to be able to place each team member securely on a scale from 1 to 10.  Yesterday, I appraised the position players in San Francisco Giants’ Chances for Success?  Looking Excellent!  so today I am inspecting the pitching.  By combining yesterday’s input with that of today, I feel I will be able to deliver to you a workable facsimile of the Giants’ possibilities for fulfilling our elevated expectations.

Note that elevated expectations are not the same thing as inflated expectations.  We demand the utmost of standards from the Giants‘ starting pitching because they are capable of delivering.  Four of the five have been working as a unit for three full seasons, and three are going into their fifth season together.  Continuity is a key intangible that must factor into this discussion, because fielders learn the subtle nuances of the men they play behind and can more effectively plug the gaps.  WIth the kind of reflexes that Brandon Crawford has, a step one way or another-in advance-makes all the difference in the world.

I will start with Tim Lincecum (32 starts, 10-14, 4.32 ERA, 197.2 IP, 193 SO, 76BB) because he is our very own enigma...puzzle... mystery...take your pick.  We get to ricochet along with him as he goes from league leader in walks to tossing a no-hitter, to being the savage in the 2012 Playoffs, checking his ego at the door and working out of the bullpen.  We can’t live with him, and we don’t want to live without him.  We’re paying Timmy well for all of his uncertainty.   If the Giants can remain healthy and keep the team on track enough to eke out a Wild Card slot, then we will need Timmy like never before-or like twice before, whichever you prefer.

So we are gambling on Timmy regaining his poise and being able to win fifteen games, after a mediocre spring (1-1, 5.79 ERA, 23.1 IP, 15 SO, 8 BB).  Of course, if he’s tinkering with his pitches on the advice of Hudson, then we might reasonably expect some erraticism.  He doesn’t have to win a Cy Young; he just can’t lose games anymore because of control issues.  

Brian Sabean, the longest tenured manager in the bigs, brought number five starter Tim Hudson into the fold because he knows that Hudson is a fierce competitor who will do anything to win, including sharing the mechanics of his devastating sinker-ball with Timmy.  Can you imagine what Lincecum would be like, if he gained a measure of control over some of Hudson’s nastiness?  Players are so accustomed to swinging at pitches in the dirt from Timmy, that this should really make them whimper.  So I’m throwing caution to the wind and going with Timmy to prove that he will balance out his act, and regain that classic sneer with an element of vengeance.    Scale says 8.8.

I will segue right into Tim Hudson, (8-7, 3.97 ERA, 131.1 IP, 95 SO, 36 BB)  because I am still dazzled that this fighter is now a Giant.  He’s a great athlete who fields his position very well, healing ankle and all.  He has won more games than any other active pitcher, never having had a losing season, and he brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience from being with both the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves.  His pitching style meshes so well with AT&T Park, that it’s uncanny.  His spring stats looked like this: 2-2, 4.26, 25.1 IP, 18 SO, 11BB.  I can’t think of a veteran pitcher of his caliber that I would have chosen over him.  Scale says 8.5.  Hey, he’s 38 and there still may be possible ramifications of his ankle injury.

Ryan Vogelsong came onto the scene like a comet, blazing his way into Giants’ lore for two full seasons, making the All-Star team in 2011, and playing a dominant role in the 2012 World Series.  But though it may seem like a case of What-have-you-done-for-us-lately, it’s actually just a matter of Get-it-together-or-else.  Everyone appreciates the brilliance with which Vogelsong performed, but not enough to let him tarnish this year’s hopes.  After all, the thing about comets is that they appear out of nowhere, and return to that place too soon.  If Ryan struggles, he needs to get back in form in Fresno, not San Francisco.  If he returns to form, after a hideous spring (9.0 ERA, 19 innings), then great success.  If not, Yusmeiro Petit and David Huff will either vie for his spot, or Bruce Bochy will simply select one to start. Scale says 7.

Matt Cain is the longest tenured Giant, and has been a model of consistency since 2005.  Though his stats were not as resplendent in 2013, there were two games in particular, where he gave up vast unlimited quantities of runs, thus skewing his totals for the year.  His list of credentials is as long as a baseball bat, but the ones that count the most are not found in the manual.  Matt Cain is the leader on the team because other players want to duplicate his feats.  He is formidable in size and he has fulfilled his role as senior statesman for long enough to know how to get the job done.  There’s a mystique about a player who can dominate the World Series, the way Cain did it in 2010, that carries over to the regular season.  Maybe it’s the bearing and gait used by Cain when takes his place on the mound, and maybe it’s just that he’s good at what he does.  His credentials are well-established, and he’s anxious to add to them this year.  Scale says 9.5.

Last comes the man who’s up first, having been chosen pretty early on in spring training by Bochy as the Opening Day starter, an honor well-deserved based on his 2013 performance.  Madison Bumgarner (13-9, 2.77 ERA, 201.1 IP, 199 SO, 62 BB) was the only Giants’ pitcher with a winning record last season, and the only Giants’ pitcher to have a spring worth noting (3-0, 1.19, 22.2 IP, 22 SO 2BB).  He never gave up a run until his final spring start, when he surrendered three solo home runs, in the space of five batters.  Personally, I was relieved because I did not want him going into the regular season with a 22 inning scoreless streak.

Ever since Bumgarner’s electrifying World Series performance in 2010, he has continuously blazed his own trail, refusing to allow success to alter him from the single-mindedness of his endeavors.  He is the stuff of which Cy Young Award winners are made.  His temperament seldom strays from path of determination and calm, and if he gets angry, as he did in a game against San Diego last season, when he wanted a piece of Jesus Guzman, you see a cataclysmic transformation, as though Mount Madison is about to blow.  It certainly rocked my little preformed idea of what Madison is capable of doing.  Scale says 10.

So there we have it.  Adding up the numbers (43.8 points) and dividing by five equals 8.76, which is 88% or a B+.  By reaching back into yesterday’s piece, I find that the position players totaled 93%, so that with the pitchers at 88%, the combined percentages average out to 90.5%, which is an A-.  Whether or not it’s good enough to make it into the playoffs, will be determined along the way.

Like Madison Bumgarner, the smoldering Giants, in hibernation for the 2013 season, are capable of causing an eruption during the unfolding of the 2014 season.  With Clayton Kershaw and every one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff suffering from one ailment or another, the Giants must capitalize by rocketing out the gate with force and conviction, or run the risk of being shunted aside, in favor of our high-priced neighbor to the south.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Giants' Chances? Smoking Hot!

                                                            Giants' Chances?  Smoking Hot

What are the numerical chances of the San Francisco Giants playing well enough to make it to the playoffs?  Based on a scale of one to ten, I have rated the starting position players in terms of skill, experience and context, or that which is happening in each player’s career at the present time.  Using  this information, I will be able to more accurately assess this unit’s overall chances of success with a fair degree of accuracy.  Tomorrow I will present the pitching with the same focus on assigning a numerical value to the team’s chances of attaining postseason action.

In order to assign a specific worth to each Giants’ player, I have considered the statistics not only from last season, but those of this spring.   I have also included those intangibles in my reckoning that I feel have bearing on a player’s value to his team.  The goal here is to see how many points each player accrues, so as to be able to assign a numerical percentage to the team’s chances of trumping one of those Wild Cards and making it into the playoffs.  Here we go.

I must begin with the foundation, Buster Posey, (.294, .371, 15HR, 75 RBI’s in 2013) the guy who stores all of that scouting information in his mind, and accesses it as needed to guide the pitching staff.  Buster is coming off of a subpar season for the guy who won MVP the previous year.  I think he tried to do too much and take on the weight of the team during 2013.  Over the winter he bulked up a bit, though he downplays it, and he had one of the best springs on the club (.367, 18 hits in 18 games, 2HR).  One of the intangibles that I mentioned above is that Buster Posey has the key to unlock the potential of our pitching.  Buster is so well-rounded that we simply expect him to excel.  Scale says: 9.9

Brandon Belt is personally the most intriguing to me because of the changes in his batting grip and the results he has already recorded last August and September.  His changes in particular have helped those long arms of his 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.  That’s too vast a difference, over a two-month period, to ignore.  Belt has had the proper demeanor since he arrived in the bigs, and contrary to those who feel his first season was not well-orchestrated, I think the experience he gained led him to the conclusion that he needed to listen to his coaches.  So he did.  Scale says: 9.8

The Marco Scutaro saga is a mess.  What seemed like such an emphatically good idea at the time, is now giving every Giants‘ fan in the building an acute case of deja vu.  Scutaro’s playing time has been pushed back since the week he arrived.  He is starting the season on the disabled list, with Joaquin Arias as his replacement.  I see Marco as out of the picture for the moment, which isn’t fair because he may come back full strength...just like Freddy Sanchez didn’t.  Arias has done a splendid job in stints at third for Pablo Sandoval, and at all three other infield spots, since he has been with the Giants these past two seasons, batting .271 in 102 games last season with 19 RBI’s.  Arias garnered the final out of Matt Cain’s perfect game with a sterling play deep behind the third base bag, throwing the runner out at first.  Scale says 8.

Because there is no Scutaro, Brandon Hicks will make the team along with Ehire Adrianza, at least until Scutaro gets back.  Hicks has played in all of 129 major league games over five seasons, with 50 big-league hits.  In 205 AB’s he has never hit a triple.  I don’t know what to think of his blistering spring, except that sometimes it “takes” and sometimes it doesn’t.  Ehire Adrianza looks llike a good fit, because no matter what he does with the bat, he’s going to speak loudly with his glove.  Also, he showed good pop this spring.  
Brandon Crawford won his starting shortstop position primarily because of his glove, and then developed into a more than capable hitter.  He started off last season very fast, batting .272 in April with 5 home runs, and .293 in May.  However, he was then was hampered by an issue with his right middle finger, which he hurt while sliding into second base in a 5-4 Giants’ win over the San Diego Padres last June 13th.  He never went on the DL and he downplayed the extent of the injury in latter parts of the season, but he only batted .248 for the season, after coming out the shoot so fast.  He has not had an especially loud spring, (19 games, .236, 7 RBI’s) but then he does not have to prove that he is the best option at shortstop any longer.  Praise be.  Scale says 9.5, based on way he came out the gate last year until he got hurt.  He was smoking hot.

Pablo Sandoval, aka The Panda, arrived in camp considerably more twinkle-toed than in recent years.  It made me jump back in my memory- all the way-to maybe a couple/three seasons ago when we saw him running up and down that steep hill and up and down the steep stadium steps and all that drama that accompanied it.  It was hard for The Panda to stick with it and now the Giants have to decide if they want to pay him the hefty salary.  Last season, in 140 games, Sandoval batted .276 with 144 hits and 14 home runs.  This spring, he batted .258, in 22 games with 62 AB’s and three home runs.  

However, the intangibles with Sandoval are significant.  There’s his eternal buoyancy, his charisma and his optimism.  Plus, there’s that electrifying ability to seize the stage at its biggest moment and deliver, as he did against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.  That’s show biz; for purposes of this survey, I am only interested in the here and now.  Scale says 9.6 because Pablo wants to radiate. 

Hunter Pence in right field just capped last season by signing a five-year mega-contract, which is only fitting for the most hustling player on the team.  He played in all 162 games in 2013, hit the most home runs on the team (26) and leads, both on and off the field in the most beneficial and healthy of manners.  He has five home runs this spring, and is capable of delivering in the clutch in a big-time way. I give Preacher Pence credit for emotionally jolting this team back from the dead in the 2012 playoffs, and now we have him locked up and loaded for five seasons.  Scale says 9.8.

Angel Pagan is the conduit through which the electricity of the team must pass, in order to keep it surging forward.  The very thing we admire the most about Pagan is what caused his injury last may 25th.  He wanted to win badly enough to ignore the rebellion going on in his hamstring, and ended up blowing a circuit.  He’s back, another guy who spent time in the off-season working out with iron, trying to build up not only the strength of his legs, but that of his upper torso.  We need to see that salute flashing out again, after he has channeled that electrical current from his bat to put the ball in play.  Scale says he wants to, er, even the Scale from last year: 9.5.

New to the Giants, Michael Morse has not made anyone forget about Barry Bonds, nor is he likely to play more than 130 games this season.  That being said, he has blended well with the outgoing Giants, though he has been slowed by a calf strain that Bochy described as minor, but still needful of time and attention.  The difficulty with rating Morse is that he could be wildly successful without doing a huge amount, because the Giants have had no one in left who could handle the spot since Bonds.  The other side of the coin is that he could get injured early on and Gregor Blanco could be locked in from the outset.  This is where a Juan Perez adds a little insurance.  Scale says 8.

Before I tabulate the results, I would also like to point out that every one of these starters has been to at least one World Series, with a core of nine Giants who have two World Series rings.  That comes under the category of intangibles, because they will need that experience to get past some very formidable opponents.  Let’s see what we’ve got.

If I add up the eight scores, I get 74.1, and if I divide by eight I get an average of 9.2625, which rounded off is 9.3.  Now in the language of the classroom, 93% is an A, making this unit’s chances of making the playoffs excellent.  As I have said all along, the Giants do not have to take the division outright; they only have to net a wild card spot.  Once they gain entry to the postseason tournament, we let history and tradition take over, not to mention our starting pitching.  It’s looking good so far;  tomorrow, I will examine the starting pitching.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Public Enemy Number One: The Southland Blue Crew-Part II

Public Enemy Number One:
The Southland Blue Crew-Part II

Yesterday, I introduced the topic of the SoCal beast which bleeds blue blood, the Los Angeles Dodgers, with their high-profile, high-maintenance boy wonder, Yasiel Puig. ("Know Your Enemy-Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers")   In doing so, I inadvertently misspelled Mr. Puig’s first name in the featured headline, for which I am abjectly sorry.  (Cough)  My complete and total bad.  I examined the Dodgers’ starting eight position players, while leaving the task of evaluating the pitching for this morning.  I find this a ponderous undertaking and I do so with a less-than-light and breezy manner.  The Dodgers’ corps of hurlers is a daunting unit, indeed, with no sniveling  about it being the best money can buy. 

Deep pockets go a long way to providing a winning team, but that’s about as relevant as the idea of scheduling a snowball fight in hell for early morning,  instead of later in the “heat” of the day.  When the game starts, no one cares about salaries; they care about wins and losses.  On paper Dodger pitching would appear to be in line for more than its share of W’s.  As I said yesterday, in reference to not being able to get Andre Ethier into the lineup until there was an injury, the Dodgers are stacked pretty deep.  Just knowing that their numbers four and five guys are Dan Haren and Josh Beckett, is enough to make me flinch, twitch and retch, but enough of all this optimism.  Let’s git ‘er done.

LA Blue vigorously pursued the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes event, but lost out to New York Pinstripes.  What a shock.  With Chad Billingsley still out from Tommy John surgery and not due back until shortly before the All-Star break, things are shaping up like this:  The big K, southpaw Clayton Kershaw is the ace, after signing a seven-year, $215 million contract over the offseason.  Considering LA’s payroll, highest in the majors at $235 million this year, is only 20 mil more, it says something about what they think of K.  

The number two man is righty Zack Greinke, hampered for the moment by a strained right calf.  He was less than enthusiastic about making the trip to Australia, and this calf injury gave him an out.  Being the number two guy on this staff, he will garner a lot of outs, much to the dismay of opponents.  His well-documented social anxiety issues seem to have abated, and I think it bears mentioning that his collarbone fracture, sustained in that April 11th brawl in 2013, placed him on the disabled list and contributed to that hideous start for the Dodgers last season. 

Third comes lefty Ryun-Jin Ryo, suffering from a right big toenail injury, which occurred while running the bases in Sunday’s game in Australia. In rounding third base, he stopped too abruptly, in what has to be one of a manager’s worst nightmares.  Ryo had a minor surgical procedure done since, to remove half of the injured toe nail, but that is some painful stuff for a pitcher to throw off of.
Right-hander Dan Haren is fourth, feeling as though he has to prove that losing 14 games for the Washington Nationals last year was just a fluke.  Haren signed a one-year, $10 million contract and hopes to improve on 2013’s 4.67 ERA.  The fifth starter is slated to be Josh Beckett, who was just placed on the DL with a bruised hand.  Replacing him, most likely, is lefty Paul Maholm, who early on in spring was himself battling some elbow tenderness.  

Kenley Jansen will close for LA, with the bearded one, Brian Wilson, being paid a cool ten million for 2014 (same $$ as Haren) to set him up.  Wilson was obviously miffed the the Giants would not tender him a contract when he came back from his TJ surgery and he found the most suitable way to get pay-back.  I wish him well, though not when he pitches against the Orange and Black.

Together with Kershaw’s well-publicized back tenderness earlier this week, the Dodgers’ pitching is a little beat up, though it must be considered absurdly potent, when it’s functioning on all cylinders.  Like many pitching staffs this season, the Dodgers have had problems.  The more extreme cases throughout the league make the Dodgers’ issues seem trivial, but trivial issues make the difference, at times, in a highly competitive league.  If the Dodger pitching remains healthy, it’s hard to see them anywhere but competing for top spot, especially with Billingsley waiting in the wings.

The San Francisco Giants begin the season with 22 games against National League West foes and altogether play 29 of its first 38 games against the Wild West, including ten against the Blue-Crew.  The Giants must take this ten-game series, in order to establish in the first quarter of the season that they are contenders.  Having finished an NL best 44-32 against the West in 2013, the Giants must rise to the task because I do not see any team being able to overtake the Dodgers should they build up a substantial lead. 

The bottom line, though dotted, seems as solid as a double yellow one.  Everyone knows that you are not supposed to pass on a double-yellow line, and yet teams do it all the time.  Bulky with glitz and baggage, like a cumbersome Winnebago, the Dodgers can be passed; the Giants, well-versed in their chemistry lab, have the ingredients of motivation and pay-back and are the four-wheeling, NorCal team to do it. It’s not a dash-it’s a marathon, and the Giants have the chassis to carry them into first place.  Let the games begin. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Know Your Enemy-Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers

                                    Know Your Enemy-Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers

All San Francisco Giants fans know that their greatest enemy is located in SoCal, a peculiar beast which bleeds blue blood, known as theLos Angeles Dodgers-and many other colorful nick-names, depending on what’s happening in the game!  Rejecting this principle of life, that the Dodgers are the adversary, would be the same as rejecting my morning pot cup of coffee.  I will give up coffee-and I’m paraphrasing here-only when you pry my empty mug out of my cold, dead fingers.

For every time I shook my head in astonishment during the Frank McCourt era of the LA Dodgers, I am now shaking my head in dread, during the Magic Johnson-ownership era, waiting for the next expenditure to be announced.  It’s enough to loosen the bolt affixing my cranium to my shoulders.   It has been a topsy-turvy ownership cycle for the Blue-Crew, for sure.  I actually felt bad for the Dodger organization for a minute or so there, because I think that ownership issues should somehow be placed above the integrity of the game.  I’m not sure how integrity figures into the equation when the issue of money takes on the opposite meaning, in that there is a bottomless well, but that’s not up for discussion.

The topic on the table is whether or not deep pockets equates to great success.  On the surface, even asking the question would make the inquirer seem dense.  Conventional logic goes something like this: Big bucks pay big salaries; players who command big salaries are excellent athletes.  Excellent athletes help win titles; therefore, big bucks buy championships.  Translated, this strongly suggests that the Dodgers are well-equipped to win the division.  

  Polar opposites: Clayton Kershaw is number one on my list of favorite non-Giants players in the universe; he exudes class, style and civility in every endeavor he pursues, not to mention being the best pitcher in the National League.  Then there is Yasil Puig, as mustardy and unlikeable as a banana slug, one that you don’t realize is there until you accidentally lean back along the creekbed, and put your hand smack on it. Ugh, gross!  Yep, that’s our Yasiel.  Even if he were God’s gift to baseball, I would not excuse his behavior.  He’s not, though, and that makes it unacceptable.  Manager Don Mattingly downplayed the tension between Puig and himself after meeting with his 23-year-old right fielder on Tuesday, obviously becoming adept at avoiding any additional wattage on his exuberantly immature star.

Kershaw has won the Cy Young Award two of the last three seasons; Puig has played in just over 100 games.  That’s the trouble with the team from the ‘burbs: They are so scattered along Personality Avenue, that it’s hard to imagine them having each other’s backs.  Each has traveled via a different GPS monitor to arrive in the Southland, as opposed to the Giants, the core of which has come up through the farm system.  Half of the Giants starting eight position players and four of the five starting pitchers have come via Fresno.

For 2014 the projected Dodger lineup has A. J. Ellis at catcher, after a lively battle at backup, won by Drew Butero over Tim Federowicz.  Next is Adrian Gonzalez at first, Hanley Ramirez at short and Juan Uribe at third.  At second base Dee Gordon won out over Alex Guerrero, the player who came from Cuba, and signed a 4-year, $28 million contract.  The Dodgers want him to play every day, because he’s rusty after not being on the field for almost a full year due to the political complications stemming from his defection, so they sent him down to the minors. Expect him to be back.  Seven million is a lot to pay a minor leaguer, no matter how good he is.

The outfield consists of left-fielder Carl Crawford, who was excused from the trip to Australia for paternal reasons, Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier in center and the Puig in right.  Matt Kemp is starting out the season on the DL because of the left ankle injury he has been dealing with since surgery, but any team that has to have an injury before opening up a spot for Ethier, is in pretty good shape.

Last season Puig arrived in June and made the splash that he did, but overlooked by some is the fact that Hanley Ramirez also returned from the disabled list, and batted .345 with twenty homers and 57 RBI’s in just 86 games.  That works out to 38 homers and 107 RBI’s over the course of an entire season.  Whatever it was, the Dodgers’s season was one with more ups and downs than the Santa Cruz Boardwalk’s Roller-Coaster.  It was fun, but in the end, you pile out and go on to the next ride.

Speaking of next rides, I will wait until tomorrow to examine the starting pitching for the Dodgers.  By the way, do try to get that image of the banana slug out of your mind.  It’s hard, especially when he manages a base hit, or a good defensive play, but give it a go.  Try salt.  See you tomorrow.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Giants Overtake Rockies, 8-6, in the Ninth

Giants Overtake Rockies, 8-6 in Ninth
For the second consecutive game, the San Francisco Giants came back in the late innings to win a game in the desert, this time defeating the Colorado Rockies with a Jarrett Parker grand slam off of Nick Masset to tie it in the eighth, and a Hector Sanchez, two-run shot in the ninth to win it, 8-6.  Matt Cain’s line read six earned runs, on nine hits, with three walks and a single strikeout, in five full innings.  A total of four Giants pitchers closed out the final four frames without allowing any runs, with Jean Machi getting the win.  

Colorado got the scoring started in the first off of Matt Cain, when Troy Tulowitzki doubled Charlie Backmon home and then subsequently scored on Carlos Gonzalez’ double, indicating that Cain was still in the midst of that not-quite-there stage, but running out of time to get those pesky mechanics down pat.

Nolan Arenado, who had three RBI’s on the day, accounted for one of them in the third, when he tripled home Corey Dickerson, who had walked to open up the inning.  When Arenado came up in the fifth with two on, he tripled them home and then scored on a force out at second, ending the Rockies’ scoring.  I watched Arenado last year and thought this guy is so much like all the rest of those deadly Colorado bats, and here he scorches a double and a triple and accounts for three runs.  He’s a guy to keep a close watch on.

Hunter Pence finally wiped the goose-egg off the scoreboard for the Giants by hammering a two-run shot in the seventh with Brandon Belt on base.  It was a grand beginning.  When the Giants spotted the Rockies two outs in the bottom of the eighth before they began to get down to business, I confess I was a tad edgy.  However, Juan Perez singled, stole second and Tyler Colvin walked.  Brandon Belt then swung at a third strike and missed, the ball getting away from the catcher and Belt ending up safe at first, with the bases loaded.  That’s when Parker unloaded and tied up the score at six apiece. Adam Ottavino came on in relief to get the final out of the inning. 

In the bottom of the ninth, in typical National League style, Ehire Adrianza drew a lead-off walk from Rex Brothers and Gregor Blanco bunted him along to second.  Electing to skip the step of advancing Adrianza to third, Hector Sanchez went ahead and hit a home run so that the Giants could leave the desert for the Bay Area on a winning note.  The Giants come home for a three-day series with across-town rival Oakland, before they return to Arizona to face a stirred-up den of rattlers for the season opener, who can’t be happy at the way things worked out for them in Australia.  

The Giants will be ready to face the Arizona Diamondbacks when the starting gate opens, don’t you worry about that.  Right now, they just want to get back home, play two nights in front of home crowds, wrap things up in Oakland, and head back to the desert.  At least the Giants finished out spring training with some fireworks, just to let the locals know we’ve got some business to attend to with an outfit of Snakes.   We’ll be back at high noon, or whatever time the Season Opener begins. 

Of Blood and Baseball Bats: The Juan Marichal, John Roseboro Incident

I was watching the San Francisco Giants play the Los Angeles Dodgers on regional television that day in August, of 1965, when Juan Marichal clobbered Johnny Roseboro over the head with a baseball bat. I raced into the kitchen shouting, “Marichal bashed Johnny Roseboro over the head with a baseball bat-on television!” while looking for any one of my then-seven siblings, but unfathomably there was no one to be found.  

  This incident is the basis for a new book out by John Rosengren, entitled “The Fight of Our Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption.”  The book depicts the friendship that evolved out of the disaster of this late-season explosion of violence.  As horrified as I was at the time, I was not surprised.  For countless reasons the two teams did not like each other.  The Marichal/Roseboro “incident” simply highlighted this heated rivalry.

Going into eighth grade at the time, as a Dodger fan in SoCal, I will never forget this game.  All of the past posturing by both teams, milling around while guys jawed at one another-all gone in an instant.  This was not a case of Marichal brandishing the bat and settling for a glancing blow.  No, Marichal clubbed Johnny twice, opening up a two-inch gash over his left eye.  Even in black and white TV, it was apparent that there was a lot of blood.

The Giants/Dodgers feud was a tailor-made setup for a special brand of rivalry, because it had already been in full swing for generations before the two teams relocated to the West Coast in 1958.  Both had at their core, players who established benchmarks during their careers, the most dramatic of acts always seeming to come when playing each other.  The Dodgers had Maury Wills, who set a record in 1962, with 104 stolen bases.  It was his intimidation on the base paths, so essential to the Dodgers’ styIe of play, that set the tone for the one-run games, primarily of the 1-0 and 2-1 variety.  It was the norm.  The Giants had Stretch, Willie McCovey, a guy who started off his career with a four-hit day, and never slowed down.  He played at such an elevated level that they named an award after him, the Willie Mac Award, presented to the most inspirational Giant each year.

There was, of course, provocation.  Earlier in the game Marichal had decked both Maury Wills and Ron Fairly after they each got hits.  When Sandy Koufax was ordered to retaliate, the best he could do was sail one well over the head of Willie Mays in the second inning.  Given his reputation for accuracy, no one bought it.  Koufax was simply not a confrontational guy; after all, he had Don Drysdale to take care of that.

Wills intimidated opponents on the base paths, Stretch at the plate, but Don Drysdale got right down to basics.  Possibly the most formidable pitcher of his time, he threw inside to the batter as routinely as he did outside, almost nonchalantly.  So when he hit a guy, you could rest assured it was not a mistake.  At the plate he had 218 lifetime base hits, with 29 home runs.  Today, a hitting pitcher of his caliber would be inconceivable.  The Giants had the Dominican Dandy, Juan Marichal, so named because he was very fastidious about his appearance, and always presented a very fashionably stylish exterior.  He won 243 games in his career, and had a lifetime ERA of 2.89.  Most pitchers would have career years if one of their season ERA’s were that low.  It is a matter of record that Juan Marichal never received a single Cy Young Award vote until 1970.

So Johnny took matters into his own hands.   He sent a ball whistling past Marichal’s head on its return trip to the mound, and though Marichal got angry, he let it pass.  Then, after supposedly dropping the ball on purpose so it would roll a little way away from him, Roseboro did it a second time, nicking Marichal’s ear, and the Dominican Dandy did a most un-dandy-like thing.  He went postal while holding a baseball bat, on TV, no less

The Dodgers had Sandy Koufax and all he did was throw the most devastating curve ball in existence.  He is recognized as the best to throw it in his era. He had pin-point control at the height of his career, which is amazing considering in the early years he was as erratic as the worst of them.  In other words, he was the prototypical southpaw.  He dominated the National League, competing against a series of left-handed hurlers who exerted similar control: Bob Gibson, Fergusen Jenkins, and Steve Carlton, among them.

Even as the players stormed out onto the field, the whole scene had a surreal feel to it, as the thought of further violence did not seem unrealistic.  In the ensuing aftermath, somehow finding out that Willie Mays was the one applying the towel to his opposing catcher’s temple, helped begin the healing process, one that would not be completed until years later, which is what Rosengren’s book is all about. 
The Giants had “The Say, Hey Kid,” Willie Mays, who could beat a team in more ways than I have ever seen any of the great ones demonstrate.  His great hitting aside, he could also reach over the fence and snatch a home run away from his opponent, while the batter came to a halt on the way to second base, and groaned.  He could make a circus catch, nailing a runner trying to tag from third, on a perfect throw from center field to home plate, and he could do both on the same play.  Two for one.  The man was a god on the field.  

At the time I was shocked-I think the entire baseball world was rocked.  What was not surprising for the time is the fact that the consequences for this assault included a nine-day suspension and a fine of $1,750.  Years later, Marichal was denied entry to the Hall of Fame for two consecutive years after he became eligible, and only got in when Roseboro, now a good friend, lobbied for him publicly. 

Is the rivalry over?  Not.  There’s a new spin on it these days that goes something like this: How much money does it take to buy a Dodger’s team?  Evidently, not enough, yet.  On the other hand, the masters of chemistry, the Giants, have lab all set up and ready to go.  The Dodgers versus the Giants in the NLCS would be the next logical step to test out this storied rivalry.  The table is set; it’s time to feast.  Bring on Clayton Kershaw opposing Madison Bumgarner, and let the Show begin.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Your Site

Your Site

And now, ladies and Gentleman, let me interrupt this baseball blog to bring you an actual, old-fashioned, all-‘Merican, Commie-Hatin’, “normal” piece of writing on the state of the [M]ark.  If it’s March, then I am sailing, sailing, ever upward and onward, without ever leaving my work space.  Fortunately, for the first March in the last four, I have pretty tight control over the reverberations of being manic, and am happy to report great success.

The experience at Around the Foghorn has gone full circle from excruciatingly painful to euphorically enjoyable, with the full blessing from Annie, who has supported every component of the process since its inception.  It was she who sat down with me and started at the beginning, going over both written material and films, when it became obvious after two weeks home from Redding, that I was stuck, unable to go forward and about to let it all fade away, like so many other mood spectrum-related illusions.  There have been a few of those.  So Annie and I began to take notes, we revisited, and I am now in full control of all that is technologically Around the Foghorn.

The barrier to success in the project was so elementary as to make me blush.  However, instead of getting angry or frustrated with myself, it makes a lot more sense to share-in agonizing detail-just how dumb of an error it was.  I do not do this to put myself down, so much as to allow others to see that if I, who is perceived as so intellectually capable, could make such a bone-headed error, there is hope for everyone who thinks that I know it all.

It’s not difficult to explain.  I write for Around the Foghorn.  In the filmed tutorial, potential writers are guided through the process of posting a piece of writing on ATF’s website.  I found the whole thing more than manageable and had a piece of writing all ready to format.  Unfortunately, I could not access the ATF site because I was using the wrong URL.  The directions said, type in “yoursite” followed by the rest of the characters in the address.  So I did.  Again and again, to no avail.

When Annie and I got to this point and she understood what was happening, she just looked at me as calmly as could be imagined.  “So you typed in ‘yoursite’ and it didn’t work,” she said.  I nodded.  “What is YOUR site?” she asked, with emphasis on the “your.”

“My site?  You mean Around the Foghorn?”  And then it hit me like the proverbial sack of cement.  Typing in “yoursite” was wrong; typing in “aroundthefoghorn” was correct.  Oh boy.  It just rammed in how patient the editors at ATF have been all along.  I just hope the investment pays off.  It sure has for me.

And there you have it, as I’m on my way (metaphorically) to Arizona to cover the last game of spring training that I must follow via computer, with my horrid internet access.  See you at CSNBA.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Are We Watching Ryan Vogelsong's Swan Song?

Are We Watching Ryan Vogelsong's Swan Song?

I have repeatedly touted the value of the Giants’ starting pitching this Spring.  Five All-Stars! I keep bleating. Five All-Stars!  That’s an amazing assembly of talent.  Imagine would happen if they each were to actually be able to step up and have a banner year.  Great success, I would say.  However, what would happen if one were unable to assert his way back into All-Star form, and Bruce Bochy were forced to break up this unit?  What if that player were Ryan Vogelsong, and Bochy decided to begin the season with Vogelsong in the bullpen, and a different fifth starter?  Should we be worried?

To begin I am not advocating this approach.  We have seen some amazing performances from this iron-faced, gritty Giant, and I don’t understand what it is that would have to have occurred, in order for Vogelsong to have gone downhill so fast.  I don’t think last year’s injury is a factor, but I don’t know that.  I do know that he has been working on his mechanics-his delivery for one thing this spring.  I also know that working on mechanics is exactly what he should be doing.  So I should not be worried about anything that occurs this spring, should I?  

In working on his delivery, what if the number of hits allowed balloons upwards, and his ERA should happen to follow suit?  We still shouldn’t be worried, should we?  Wouldn’t poor stats be the natural result of tinkering?  And haven’t we established that tinkering is what the desert is all about?  We wouldn’t be especially thrilled to see tinkering at AT&T, would we?  No, deserts are good for tinkering, because you can leave all the mess behind, and arrive in San Francisco, ready for action, ready for danger, ready to assume the fifth spot in the rotation.

Now that we’ve established all of this groundwork, I’m going back to the original “What if?” question concerning Vogelsong’s (I have never been able to call him “Vogie”) readiness for the season, or possible lack of same.  What if he can’t answer the call once the strains of the Star Spangled Banner have faded away?  The fact is that the Giants must be prepared for that contingency, the same as they had to contend with a broken pinkie finger last season.

With spring training cuts having been in full swing all week, we are still waiting to see the final roster.  Still on board are Yusmeiro Petit and David Huff, both fighting for the long-relief role that Chad Gaudin filled so admirably last year.  The left-handed Huff is especially intriguing to me because of his length of service with the Cleveland Indians, and because he was penciled in as the fifth starter for the New York Yankees.  I can’t help but thinking that another southpaw pitching in AT&T Park can’t be a bad thing. 

And Yusmeiro Petit makes it that much harder to decide.  I do not want to put too much stock in that game he pitched last September, in which he came within a strike of throwing a Perfecto.  I don’t want to put too much into that game, but I keep doing it.  I keep going back to that game and shaking my head in wonder that we even have to think about whether or not he has earned the right to pitch every fifth day.  I know there is a certain amount of luck that accompanies an accomplishment of this nature, but there must be a tremendous amount of skill also.  I just think he has some great potential.

Both Petit and Huff pitched in last Saturday’s game against the Oakland A’s, and both had their longest and most productive stints of the spring.  Petit went four, allowing no runs, on two hits, walking none and striking out seven.  Huff worked three perfect innings.  It’s only one game, but it was against those pesky A’s, and it’s hard to combine for seven innings of two-hit ball against any team.  

Ryan Vogelsong is a savage who has earned the right to assume his role as fifth starter is secure.  Vogelsong also recognizes that all players must produce to remain in the starting lineup.  I wonder if my good friend, Sky Emerson, is correct when he suggests that “Vogelsong had a nice year and a half in a late career resurgence, but in reality he is the pitcher he’s been for 90% of his career, not the one he was during that brief stretch.”  Either Vogelsong produces, or he would be the last guy on Earth to expect his spot to remain his.  That’s the way it works, All-Star or not.  Huff or Petit-or even recently-sent-down Edwin Escobar-take your pick.  

So Ryan Vogelsong needs to get his WHIP in place or face the hook.  It’s nothing personal; it’s business.  Bochy is in the business of winning baseball games and for Vogelsong to be a part of that, he must contribute in a positive way.  Otherwise, all we will hear from Ryan is his swan song. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

National League Baseball: It's Not Torture If It's Fun

National League Baseball: It’s Not Torture If It’s Fun

There has been this notion circulating that National League Baseball is tantamount to torture.  By torture I mean agonizing, gut-wrenching torment for extended periods of time, while we watch pitching, defense, clutch hitting and speed on the base-paths, take center stage.  The alternative is setting the table for the big guns, and letting the three-run jack call the shots.  I greatly prefer the former to the latter; however, it’s not torture if you enjoy it. 

I grew up watching the best rivalry in the game, with no apologies to the Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees fans out here.  Neither the Sox, nor the Yankees ripped their baseball diamonds out of New York, not to mention out of the hearts of their fans, and moved them 3,000 miles across the country, where they resumed an already storied competition with a vengeance.

The Giants and ‘Dem Bums set up shop on the West Coast and introduced baseball, in the manner in which it was designed to be played.  The Dodgers employed speed and defense, mixed with clutch hitting, rather than the big fly to win games.  The Giants could club another team over the head with their bats, both metaphorically and literally, and yet simultaneously stymie opponents’ hitters at the plate; they constantly gave the Dodgers fits.

The Dodgers of the sixties featured the best pitching on the planet, and the Giants, no slouches in the pitching department themselves, consistently featured the most feared set of offensive weapons the modern era had seen.  It was a tailor-made setup for a special brand of baseball.  Both teams had at their core, players who established benchmarks during their careers, the most dramatic of acts seeming to always come when playing each other.

The Dodgers had Maury Wills, who set a record in 1962, with 104 stolen bases.  It was his intimidation on the base paths, so essential to the Dodgers’ styIe of play, that set the tone for the one-run games, primarily of the 1-0 and 2-1 variety.  It was the norm.   The Giants had Stretch.  Willie McCovey, a guy who started off his career with a four-hit day, and never slowed down.  They named The Willie Mac Award after him, presented to the most inspirational player on the team.

The Dodgers had Don Drysdale, perhaps the most formidable pitcher of his time.  If he hit a guy, you could rest assured it was not a mistake.  Additionally, he had 218 lifetime base hits, with 29 home runs.  The Giants had the Dominican Dandy, Juan Marichal.  He won 243 games in his career, and had a lifetime ERA of 2.89.  Most pitchers would have career years if their season ERA were that low.  It is a matter of record that Juan Marichal never received a single Cy Young Award vote until 1970.   
The Dodgers had Sandy Koufax and all he did was throw the most devastating curve ball of his era.  He had pin-point control at the height of his career, which is amazing considering in the early years he was as erratic as the worst of them.  In other words, he was the prototypical southpaw.  He dominated the National League, competing against a series of left-handed hurlers who exerted similar control, Bob Gibson, Fergusen Jenkins, and Steve Carlton, among them.

The Giants had “The Say Hey Kid,” Willie Mays, who could beat a team in more ways than I have ever seen any of the great ones demonstrate.  He could reach over the fence and snatch a home run away from his opponent, while the batter came to a halt on the way to second base, and groaned.  He could make a circus catch and nail a runner trying to tag from third, on a perfect throw from center field to home plate.  And he could do both on the same play.  Two for one.  The man was a god on the field.  

For countless reasons the two teams did not like each other.  The Marichal/Roseboro “incident,” which featured Juan Marichal lambasting Johnny  Roseboro with a baseball bat, highlighted this contentious rivalry.  I was watching the game on regional television and will never forget it.  This was not a case of brandishing the bat and settling for a glancing blow.  Marichal clubbed Roseboro twice, opening up a two-inch gash.  Even in black and white TV, it was apparent that there was a lot of blood.  

There was, of course, provocation.  Earlier in the game Marichal had decked both Maury Wills and Ron Fairly after they each got hits.  When Sandy Koufax was ordered to retaliate, the best he could do was sail one well over the head of Willie Mays in the second inning.  Later, when pressure was applied to the unwilling Koufax, and he resisted, Roseboro sent a ball whistling past Juan’s head on its return trip to the mound.  Marichal was angry.  The second time Roseboro did it, the ball nicked Marichal’s ear, and he went postal.  Marichal apologized the next day and subsequently became good friends with Roseboro.

I was shocked-I think the entire baseball world was shocked.  What was not surprising for the time is the fact that the consequences for this assault included a nine-day suspension and a fine of $1,750.  Years later, Marichal was denied entry to the Hall of Fame for two consecutive years after he became eligible, and only got in when Roseboro, now a good friend, lobbied for him publicly.  

The rivalry aside, I simply find it far more enjoyable to see the array of skills and strategies on display during “small ball,” than to see one swing of the bat produce three runs.  What appears to annoy the more casual fans, such as a pitcher keeping a runner close to first, or the ten-pitch battles between batter and pitcher, are the elements that interest me the most. 

The other night in the Season opener, Wade Miley’s first at-bat against Clayton Kershaw in the third inning produced eight pitches.  About the time the pitch-count had hit six, John Smoltz echoed what I was thinking when he commented that Miley was not likely to get a hit, but he could sure help his team if he could run the count up on Kershaw.  He got two more pitches before he grounded out to second.  

The point is, part of any batter’s strategy is to work the count; true fans appreciate this whereas the average fan wants the pitcher to either sit down or to hit one out.  The pitchers take the whole thing seriously.  Later in the game, when Kershaw faced Miley, with a runner on first, he drew six pitches before he fouled out bunting, and let out such a bellow of frustration that it was clearly caught by the microphones and transmitted to the listening audience.  

No, when I watch the Giants play today, and I check out their record in one run games, and note that there is little offense, I do not think of torture.  I think of pleasure, and a sense of kinship with my youth.
I can’t return to the playing field physically any longer, but I’m still there in my mind.  It’s nice to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 


Seven Reasons Why Giants Will Make the Playoffs

Seven Reasons Why Giants Will Make the Playoffs

Giants fans have come to realize, that if we can get to the playoffs, big things can happen.  Don’t babble on to me about the Los Angeles Dodgers being unbeatable this season, because the playoffs elevate the stakes.  Elements of a team that have functioned smoothy all season, come under the glaring spotlight of the Big Stage and are frequently not up to the pressure of the playoffs.  The Dodgers stumbled against the St. Louis Cardinals last fall, the same team that the Giants came back against, down three games to one, the previous year.  Some teams have the mental toughness to take them to the top and other teams lack this component.  I do believe that the San Francisco Giants have this commodity and that they will make the playoffs for the following seven reasons.

First, the Giants have excellent starting pitching, five All-Stars to be precise.  We have watched this spring as all five collectively came rocketing out the starting gate and then, except for Madison Bumgarner, how each has shown that he is human.  As such, they experience the highs and lows that all professional athletes endure.  The fact that last season produced some inconsistencies, does not mean that our very talented staff is deteriorating.  It just means that we have seen a preponderance of lows, and can therefore, reasonably expect that we will see the corresponding highs of a successful pitching staff.  The Giants also benefit from having the steady, knowledgeable hand of Bruce Bochy at the helm.

Second, the Giants have experience; they are a group of veteran ballplayers who will not abandon their hustle and their belief in one another.  They have achieved baseball’s ultimate success, as champions in both 2010 and 2012, and that is not something any other team can say except the St. Louis Cardinals (2011) and the Boston Red Sox (2013).  Having survived one of their most devastating setbacks in 2011, when Buster Posey was shelved, the Giants have proven that they are resilient.  Now Buster is in full swing, with a red-hot Hector Sanchez to provide backup so that first base becomes an option to keep his bat in the lineup.  

Third, the Giants have chemistry.  This is a term that has repeatedly come up over the course of the past four seasons.  It just means that when one player struggles to perform at peak level, the others try to pick him up.  When one pitcher cannot maintain the highest of standards, the others try to compensate.  If someone commits an error, the rest strive to overcome that error, and take away the next batter’s chances of getting on base, because that’s what teammates do.  Hitters try to emulate each other’s success, because that’s what makes an offense a formidable weapon.  The Giants love to play the game, and they demonstrate that repeatedly, especially when it involves coming from behind to compete in the late innings.

Fourth, the Giants have the element of the twelfth man, their loyal fans.  AT&T Park has sold out a Major League-best 246 consecutive times. I do not think it is hyperbole to say that AT&T Park, jammed to the rafters for so many consecutive games, is a significant reason for the aforementioned, late-inning success.

Fifth, the Giants have leadership.  Bruce Bochy is a manager who bridges the gap between management and players very effectively.  He has the capacity to win it all and has done so twice.  He knows how to extract the most out of his bullpen, his experience behind the plate as a catcher coming into play.  He works well with Brian Sabean, who has stocked the team with players who can deal with the expansive boundaries of AT&T Park.  Sabean has provided speedy outfielders who cover a lot of territory, and pitchers who know that it takes a lot to put one over the wall.  And Sabean has proven that he knows how to supplement the team just before the trade deadline, as the acquisition of Mr. Hustle himself, Hunter Pence, demonstrated.

Sixth, the Giants have defensive depth.  They have to in order to be able to competently contend with the unique features of AT&T Park.  Though final cuts have not yet occurred, conventional wisdom says that Juan Perez will stick in the outfield, and with Tony Abreu’s departure, Ehire Adrianza will win out in the infield.  With Gregor Blanco as the fourth outfielder and Joaquin Arias in the infield, the Giants have excellent defensive backups.  In the past Arias has filled in for Pablo Sandoval, with no letup in defense, while handling the bat more than adequately. True, the Giants acquired Mike Morse primarily for offensive purposes, but having Blanco and Perez to replace him in late innings, and having Pence and Angel Pagan also in the outfield, bodes well for our defense.   

I believe that the Giants must take advantage of the facility in which they play to optimize their selection of players.  To pursue free agent power hitters for AT&T Park is to climb aboard baseball’s hamster wheel.  They say the definition of insanity is to perform the same actions repeatedly, always expecting different results.  Sabean knows this and therefore tailors his team to the park’s advantage.  This means instead of emphasizing scoring runs, Sabean emphasizes preventing runs.  It amounts to the same thing. 

Seventh, and arguably the most important, is Buster.  All I have to do is refer to 2011, for Giants fans to know what I’m sayin’/talkin’ about.  Buster is the Man-he runs the show.  He keeps all that scouting information in his head, and accesses it when needed.  He orchestrates the pitchers’ artillery to the max to neutralize the opponents’ firepower.  With Buster Posey we have the heart and soul of our team, indomitable and ready to lead us once again into the playoffs, where big things happen. 

Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong; just don’t tell the Giants.  They’ll have none of it.  They have the talent, experience and camaraderie to complete the journey to the top.  Go ahead and win the division, Dodgers; after all, you won the title last year and what good did it do?  No, the Giants do not have to win the division-they just need to get into the playoffs, where they’ll have Buster Posey, their heart and soul, to take care of business.