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Monday, August 30, 2010

"This is not good, folks..."

Man, I am numb right now. The Giants have been eliminated from the playoffs and I feel yet another year has slipped away from the hometown nine. Another season watching good (but not great) Giants baseball only to fall short, as per usual. Another close but no cigar year.

Ok, I'm saving the above sentence and posting it in about 3 weeks... when the Giants are officially eliminated from playoff contention. Because let's face the facts, the Giants are NOT making the playoffs. The Giants just blew a Jonathan Sanchez gem because newcomer Cody Ross got distracted by a broken bat and overcharged a ball that wound up sailing over his head. That was followed by a Freddy Sanchez throw into the dugout to allow the go ahead run to score and effectively put the final nail in the Giants playoff coffin. It was against the Rockies. In a statement game. When all the other teams the GIants needed to gain ground on lost. They went into the 9th with a 1-0 lead and feeling pretty good. They walked off the field with a 2-1 defeat and the season basically over.

Have I given up? Have the Giants players? Yes. And no. The Giants will continue to tease. That's what they do. They are MLB's version of Katy Perry. They tease you all the time, keeping you interested. But they never deliver the goods. I keep fooling myself into thinking one of these years, it'll change. That something has to give. That the city of San Francisco will see a parade down the Embarcadero to celebrate a Giants World Series victory. But then I pinch myself and remember these are the Giants. They live to bring their fans gut wrenching, hair pulling, heart stopping losses. The Giants had a chance to make a huge statement against other playoff contenders. They had a chance to take the reigns of their playoff destiny and excel. They folded. In case you haven't been paying attention...

1-3 vs ATL (the likely NL East division winners)
1-2 vs PHI (2 time NL defending champs and wildcard leaders)
1-2 vs STL (another wildcard rival)
1-2 vs SD (NL West Division leader)
2-1 vs CIN (NL Central Division leader)
0-1 vs COL (there's 2 games left in this series, and I'll be surprised if the Giants aren't in 3rd place by the time COL leaves)

That's a record of 6-11 against every team the Giants would likely face in any playoff scenario. And not only were there 11 losses in these games, but in about 50% of them, the Giants were blown out. Oh yeah, and Zito and Lincecum combined to go 0-fer in the win column. Both guys started the year with 5-0 records. Their records now? 8-10 and 11-9. Not the way guys who start 5-0 should look a few days before September.

The wheels are slowly coming off the Giants bandwagon. As they should. The Giants have never given fans a reason to think they can pull off miracles. In fact, they've been the team where miracles happen against them. A quick recollection of the Giants recent history while in contention. Careful, this will be painful...

1993: Barry Bonds becomes a Giant and has an MVP season. The Giants win 103 games and miss the playoffs. They get eliminated on the last day of the season. The Giants are the only team in history to win 103 games and not make the playoffs. Baseball soon after implements realignment and the wildcard.

1997: Giants have an epic showdown with LA and squeeze into the playoffs as the NL West division winners. They promptly get swept out of the playoffs by the Florida Marlins. The Marlins win the first 2 games of the series in their last at bat. They are the wildcard team but somehow the playoffs were set up that the wildcard team hosted the first 2 games and the division winner hosted the last 3. Makes sense, right? No. And after this season, baseball again changes the rules (1 year too late for Giants fans).

1998: Elite closer Robb Nen coughs up a game winning HR to no power/shit hitter Neifi Perez in Colorado. Instead of clinching the wildcard, the Giants are forced to play a 163rd game against the Cubs. Joe Carter nearly pops one out against former Giants great Rod Beck but it's caught at the wall and the Giants are eliminated from the playoff race.

2000: The Giants achieve the best record in the NL. They promptly lose in 4 games to the wildcard Mets in the first round. One loss comes immediately after JT Snow's memorable game tying HR off Armando Benitez. The other comes off a Benny Agbayani walkoff HR. The 3rd came from a complete game 1 hitter by shit pitcher Bobby Jones. The best team in the NL loses in 4 games and does so meekly.

2001: Bonds breaks McGwire's record against the Dodgers in the 3rd to last game of the season. The Giants and Dodgers go back and forth in the game with the Dodgers eventually winning, hence eliminating the Giants from playoff contention. Bonds gives a bittersweet speech as he tries to appreciate a personal record while the team's playoff hopes are dashed.

2002: The worst heartbreak of them all. Giants are up 5-0 against the Angels in World Series Game 6. They only need 7 outs to achieve that first World Championship. Dusty Baker removes Russ Ortiz (who was pitching a gem) and the tattered bullpen immediately coughs up the lead and the Angels win Game 6 6-5 and then take the Series against a reeling club (the champagne was in the clubhouse!) in Game 7. Robb Nen never pitches again after giving his all (and his arm) to get the Giants a title. As per usual, they come up short.

2003: The Giants again have the best record in the NL. Again they face an NL East team. Again they are upset. Gold Glove outfielder Jose Cruz Jr drops an easy fly ball that opens the floodgates in the 9th inning of a Marlins comeback. Instead of going up in the series 2-1, assuring themselves of at least one more home game, the Giants go down 1-2 and lose the series in 4. When the tying run in the 9th inning is thrown out at home plate to end the game, the series, and the Giants playoff run.

2004: The Giants are 2 games back with 2 games left against the Dodgers. They cruise for most of the game in the penultimate day of the season. Then interim Giants closer Dustin Hermanson, facing the bottom of the Dodgers order, walks the bases loaded. That sets up Giant killer Steve Finley's walkoff grandslam. An elimination grandslam. And the Giants are eliminated with a game to go in the season.

In 2009, you could say the Giants loss to the Rockies in extra innings in Colorado also was a gut punch loss. That was the infamous game in which Kuiper muttered, "This is not good, folks" as a ball was driven in the gap to give the Rockies a huge advantage in the wildcard race. The Giants recovered, then fell apart in September.

Hmm... fast forward to 2010... and the Giants just suffered an incredible loss to Colorado. 2 days before September.

Yeah, maybe I'm giving up on this team. But I've seen this movie before. Over and over and over. And it never is a happy ending.

Monday, August 16, 2010

When did Tim Lincecum turn into Shawn Estes?

Oh boy. Is it the curse of #55? There was another young stud pitcher in the Giants organization who wore #55 once before. In his first full season he went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA and was named to the All-Star team. He was a main cog in a Giants rebirth and he was supposed to be our ace for years to come. He was never the same after that sensational first season. Sure, he had a couple of seasons when he won 15 games but his ERA's never approached sub 4 ever again.

That man? Shawn Estes.

Now, I'm not completely lumping Shawn Estes and Tim Lincecum in the same boat. Estes is left-handed, Lincecum is right-handed. And even in his 19-5 season, Estes had control problems. His WHIP was a very average 1.30 that year and he walked 100! Lincecum is having his worst season as a pro and his WHIP is 1.34 which would still be Estes's 2nd best. However, these two pitchers share a lot more than just the number on the back of their jersey.

Estes was always considered a cerebral pitcher. There were reports he was arguably the smartest guy on the team. When he wasn't focused on pitching, he was doing crosswords. He had all the talent in the world but couldn't reign in the mental aspect so well. Big Time Timmy Jim is having mental issues right now as well. He's not pitching out there. He's thinking way too much. He has become obsessed with his mechanics and obsessed with his missing velocity and it has hindered his performance. Perhaps he's thinking way too much about Bengie Molina. Lincecum was by far Molina's biggest backer in the Giants dugout and he hasn't been the same since Molina was traded. Posey is a god king. He can hit, he can throw out baserunners, and he can actually block balls in the dirt. But somehow Lincecum misses Molina. Maybe not vocally, but you can't think that he doesn't attribute some of his poor recent performances on the fact Big Money ain't catching him no more. Timmy has become too cerebral on the mound. Something Estes was knocked for a lot in his career.

Aside from the mental aspect is the expectations. Estes was supposed to be the ace of a decent SF Giants staff and he faltered and never regained his status of ace. This year, the Giants have a very good starting staff. And Lincecum is the ringleader. He is the rock star, the steady, the constant. The fans absolutely adore him. Has it finally gotten to him? Some believe Sandoval has suffered because he soaked in too much of the adulation (those goddamn panda hats) and let it go to his head. I mean, here he was, a 23 year old sophomore hitter and the Giants based their entire offense around him. At 23, I was anchoring the boat race table and that was stressful! Did Lincecum become too lackadaisical due to his natural talent and can do no wrong acceptance by Giants fans? There was this concern after he won his first Cy Young award. But he came back, was better than the year before, and won a 2nd Cy Young. But don't forget, Randy Johnson was in the clubhouse. A veteran presence who knew what it was like to win numerous Cy Youngs and strive to continue to get better. I think Randy Johnson's veteran presence actually has been missed this year on the pitching staff. The most veteran guy they have on the staff is Barry Zito and he's one of the guys. I mean, there's Guillermo Mota but I'm not so sure that starters go to bullpenners for advice or counsel.

Lincecum seems lost. He changed his windup, then abandoned the new windup for the stretch mid-game, then abandoned the new "old" windup and went back to what got him 2 Cy Young trophies. He struck out the side in the first inning then got dinked and dunked to death by those phucking Padres. He has not consulted his father, the architect of his unique windup, because he thinks he's too old to run back to daddy. Tim, you need to run back to daddy. And the worst part is his confidence is shaken. We saw what happened when a former Cy Young award winner lost his confidence and his grip on his mechanics. Think Barry Zito 2008.

Now, I don't mean to be dramatic. Lincecum isn't going to be 2008 Zito awful from here on out. He's not even going to be Zito bad 2007. But right now, Barry Zito 2010 is better than Tim Lincecum 2010 and who saw that coming? Statistically, Tim Lincecum is now the 5th best starter in the rotation (yes, his ERA is higher than even Big Mouth Jonny Sanchez).

If you're a Giants fan, it's time to be officially worried about The Franchise. I don't see a full collapse like Estes. But Lincecum is too young to have lost 6 MPH off his fastball without raising red flags. Madison Bumgarner scared all of us last year when he came up throwing like Jamie Moyer instead of Cole Hamels but he fixed a mechanical issue and now he's settled in at 91-92 MPH which is perfectly fine. The Giants playoff hopes rely heavily on the hope that T-Linc can do the same... or else the ghost of Estes (the original #55) lurks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Contenders or Pretenders?

So the Giants are leading the wildcard as I post this. They're 2 games back of the pesky Padres. They're opening a 4 game series against the Piniella-less Zambranos and need to have a very good homestand to alleviate some concerns from a less than comforting road trip. Jonathan Sanchez needs to put up or shut up. Emmanuel Burriss is on the team again offering some much needed speed off the bench and we no longer have to sit through Todd Wellemeyer doing his best Brett Tomko impersonations. The Phillies are on the Giants backsides and they're not slowing down. The Cardinals and Reds are swapping first place every day but remain right behind the Giants in the wildcard race as well. And despite the Giants having one of the best July's ever, they're still quite in danger of missing the playoffs for the 7th consecutive season unless they start playing better against quality teams. But before they do that, they need to take care of the inferior ones. And the Chicago Northsiders defintely fit that bill. The Giants need to take a minimum of 3 games in this 4 game set to set up what should be a battle for first place against the Fathers. Now don't get me wrong, if they split the series or god forbid lose the series to Chicago, it's not the end of the world. But the path to October will be greatly impeded, especially since between the Cards and Reds, someone has to be a winner in that series. And the Dodgers go play the Phillies so the LA Smog could gain ground or help the Phillies continue their ascent up the NL East standings and the wildcard crown. The wildcard field has too many good teams. The Philllies, Reds, Cardinals, Rockies, and Dodgers all figure prominently into the picture. And should the Phillies overtake the Braves for 1st in the East, Atlanta would immediately become the favorite to win the wildcard.

The point?

The Giants need to take the division. Their focus should be on the division. The Padres, who have pwned SF 7 out of 8 games, still remain the easiest team for the Giants to overtake and bury. Not because the Padres are a bad team, but because we get to face them 11 or so more games face to face. Yes, we also face the Phillies and Cardinals and Reds (all this month) but we can't worry about what those teams are doing. The Phils and Braves are going to battle it out for the division and the Reds and Cardinals are battling it out for the division. I don't think any of those teams are thinking wildcard. They have the eye on the division crown. That's what the Giants need to focus on. But the Padres are like the 1997 Giants team. No one knows how the hell they've stayed in contention this long but they have the swagger and the confidence. By the way, the Pads also have the 2nd best record in all of baseball the past year. And I don't mean this season, I mean the past year. Meaning, from the 2nd half of last season to this season , only the Yankees have won more games. Unbelievable. Perhaps it's Dustiny. Oh wait, Dusty's got that going in Cincy.

In any event, this month is key in determining how real the Giants playoffs hopes are. They face all of the potential playoff teams so they can gauge how they match-up (unless there's a surprise team that gets hot). They just faced Atlanta and went 1-3 against them. They went 3-4 against Atlanta for the season. They get San Diego after the Cubs and we all know that dismal record. Then it's Philly in Philly (season series: 2-1), St. Louis in STL (season series: 2-1) , and Cincy in SF (season series: 2-2). These games in August will give us a great indicator as to whether or not the (mostly) divisional games in September will mean anything. So it's time for the Giants to step up to the plate. Sabean did not get that bat that was needed so we'll see if this team that, minus a 10 run outburst in Colorado for one game, scored 13 runs in the past 7 games (that's an average of 1.86 runs per game kids) can muster enough runs to get through the elite teams of the National League.

As a veteran Giants fan, we know that the chances aren't very good for us to see October baseball. But hope lingers. But are they contenders? Or are they fooling us again? Are they pretenders?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Major Moves...

Pat the Awesome inks himself into Giants/Dodgers lore! Great win against the dreck of southern California yesterday. Is it coincidence I write blogs during series with LA? Who knows? So the Giants get their first off day since the All-Star break tomorrow. Hopefully we can savor a home sweep of those deplorable Dodgers. And as we try for the sweep, it's going to take contributions from the guys we had on 7/30. That's because Sabean resisted the urge to trade Jonathan Sanchez and flat out refused to trade Madison Bumgarner. So because of that, the Giants are left with the team we had before the deadline. Well, except this equation:

Joe Martinez - Denny Baustista + Javier Lopez + Ramon Ramirez.

Sabean does what he always does at the deadline and that is get relief pitchers. Johnny Bowker and Joe Martinez got shipped off to Timbuktu (aka Pittsburgh) for Jason Christiansen, er, Javier Lopez. On the face of it, it looks like Sabean overpaid for a lefty specialist with a career 4.37 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. His WHIP this year is in line with his career at 1.47 but he's gotten out of more jams as his sterling 2.79 ERA suggests. In the end, he's holding lefties just over .200 while getting knocked around by righties. The Giants, with Runzler and Affeldt still weeks away, needed a lefty and Lopez fills that need. A lot of Giants fans are upset that Bowker was also traded for Lopez but let's face it, Bowker was never going to get a legit shot in SF. While Nate Schierholtz has been up the entire year, even he hasn't gotten a real chance to play everyday with the musical chairs rotation Bochy has going in th outfield. The organization thinks more highly of Nate and if he's not getting his chance, it's hard to imagine Bowker would ever get his. Sabean essentially confirmed this saying that instead of trading maybe lower level prospects that still have unknown upside, he rather trade JoeMa and J.B. because they felt they knew what they were getting from both of those guys and they just weren't long term options. I have no problem with that rationale. I don't think Martinez or Bowker could have been packaged for Scott Downs (the guy I really wanted) and I don't think they were in high demand in general. So shipping them out of SF for a piece the team needed seems reasonable enough to me. Besides, both Martinez and Bowker should get a chance to prove themselves as major leaguers in Pittsburgh.

That being said, was it truly necessary to get Javier Lopez when you had Alex Hinshaw and Geno Espinelli down on the farm? Espinelli has posted solid numbers this year in Fresno (2.61 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 48 IP) and has been closing games for the Grizzlies. It's odd the Giants didn't give him an audition before deciding they needed to target help from outside the organization. Hinshaw has been relatively inconsistent and his numbers aren't very good down south but he has been relatively effective against lefthanders. There was a time I thought Hinshaw was a set-up guy or even closer in waiting. He has fallen off quite a ways in the organization's eyes and with Javier Lopez being arbitration eligible after this season, it's not hard to imagine Hinshaw being non-tendered in the winter. But, Sabean being Sabean, he probably looked at Lopez's "track record" and liked that Lopez has been part of playoff and World Series teams and decided to go with the lefty with experience. Again, I don't mind the trade at all but it wasn't an earth shaker.

I was much more intrigued with the 2nd trade the Giants made. The Giants need a consistent set-up guy. Romo has been good of late, but he has been scary in the role this season. Mota is a guy who has proven time and again that he folds in big pressure situations (yesterday's awesome 1-2-3 save not withstanding). Affeldt seemed to be rounding back into form then got hurt. Casilla has electric stuff but he too has been known to shrink the bigger the situation. And his command has been an issue as well. In the end, we needed a set-up guy and a lefty and I thought Sabean could get both in Scott Downs. Rumors had the Giants going hard after Downs right until the final bell but Toronto was being just too stubborn. Didn't Alex Anthopoulos not witness his predecessor JP Ricciardi get fired for bungling the trade of Roy Halladay? The Jays had decent reasons to hold onto Downs (draft picks) but there was no reason to hold onto Frasor or Gregg. Between he and the GM in Washington, they asked the world and wound up not doing anything. For team's out of contention, that's a cardinal sin. But I digress. With Downs out of the equation, Giants need to scurry and get a set-up guy. So they took a flier on Red Sox reliever Ramon Ramirez. Ramirez's numbers aren't spectacular but he has an okay WHIP of 1.29 both in his career and this season. His ERA is 4.46 but he plays in the tough AL East. Coming to the NL West, he should whittle down that ERA and he could be and will be given the opportunity to lock down the 8th inning. And being with the Red Sox, he too has that playoff experience Sabean craves. We gave up a decent prospect for Ramirez but not anyone we'll miss.

Both trades were decent. I won't miss the guys we traded and I do like Ramirez and Lopez was a void we needed filled. That being said, Sabean didn't make a blockbuster. He didn't even make a splash in the pond. He got 2 relievers. A bat was considered a luxury. I think the Giants might be playing with a house of cards regarding their offense. I don't think they can expect Posey to bat .350 all season or have 21 game hit streaks reoccuring, I don't think they can count on Huff continuing to match Pujols's season through the dog days, and I don't think they can count on Torres keeping up his torrid pace in his first full MLB season. It would have been a shrewd move to get a legit bat that could help carry the load when our guys eventually cool. Maybe we have that hitter in Sandoval, who's been cold all season. That's the consensus, that if Sandoval comes anywhere close to his last season #'s in the 2nd half, we don't need any other hitter. But watching Sandoval all season, I can't believe the Giants think he'll actually come around this year. He has seemingly made ZERO adjustments. I guess if things start heading south offensively, Sabean can attempt a waiver-wire deal. But it would have been a better bet just to go out and get that bat before the deadline.

The Padres restocked and the Dodgers filled some holes. It's going to be a dogfight down the stretch. We'll see what happens. For now, I'm off to watch Cain try to get win #1 against the Douchey Dogs from down south and the first home sweep of the Dodgers since either '03 or '04. Thanks for reading!