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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Giants Force Game 5 (!!!)

Who here saw this coming?  Ok, the question was not who HOPED this would happen.  Who actually thought this was going to happen?  Let me clarify... who actually thought this was going to happen after the Giants fell behind 0-2 in the NLDS after losing two straight AT HOME and after the Giants bats looked about as hot as Antartica?  You, in the back, really?

The Giants are looking to advance to the NLCS for the 2nd time in 3 years with a victory over the Reds tomorrow morning (for us pacific timers).  It's not going to be easy.  But this is Giants baseball and it's never supposed to be easy.  In fact, winning the division so easily felt kinda sorta odd, did it not?  It felt almost wrong.  No grinding the teeth, no biting the finger nails.  Just business like wins that eventually eliminated the Dodgers with about a week left in the season.  Well, we knew the torture would have to come at some point.  And it took the form of two ugly losses to the Reds at home to open the NLDS.

In my previous entry, I noted the positives I saw after Game 1.  Well, those positives were snuffed out by Game 2 which arguably was the worst SF Giants postseason game ever played (yes, there was that infamous Game Six but that game was likely the most heartbreaking, not the worst game ever played).

Game 2 was so atrocious that Giants fans that stuck around for the Croix D'AT&T could only make jokes about the putridness instead of actually crying, which we all pretty much felt like doing after seeing that awfulness.

But then Giants baseball happened.  Torture returned.  The Giants won a game they had no right winning by squeaking out an undeserved run in the late innings after essentially being no hit by Homer friggin Bailey for the majority of the game.  The script was vintage modern Giant baseball.  Some small ball, a game (series) changing error, a solid start by Vogels[tr]ong, a clutch 2 inning performance by Jeremy Affeldt (whom I rarely praise), and then the regular back end guys Casilla (who you never want to see anymore in key situations but who did his job), Lopez, and 2 innings by the replacement Fear the Beard closer of the year Sergio Romo.  And a crisp, tidy (ha!) 2-1 Giants victory that prevented a Reds sweep.

But not only did the victory prevent the sweep, it sent the Reds into upheaval.  The loss of starter Johnny Cueto that this blogger thought would alter the series in Game 1 and Game 3 (positively for the  G's) actually didn't wind up being a factor until Game 4 due to Mat Latos stepping up for the Reds in Game 1 and Homer Bailey coming into his own in Game 3.

But Game 4 was a different story.  With Cueto unavailable and Dusty Baker not wanting to pitch Latos again on 3 days rest (and feeling under the weather) the Reds moved Cueto off the roster and selected ASU alum Mike Leake to start.  Mike Leake is no Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos.  And the Giants feasted on him like the #5 starter he pretty much is supposed to be.  Angel Pagan, who the Giants desperately needed to get hot, set the tone with a lead off homer.  And after a rocky 2+ innings by Barry Zito (man Zeets, we were really rooting for you to do well), the Giants bullpen came in and dominated.

Of course, that bullpen included Tim Lincecum.  And gosh darn if Big Time Timmy Jim didn't look reinvigorated and, well let's just say it, he's BACK.  Tim Lincecum is back.  He may not be throwing 96 MPH but this banishment to the bullpen has awoken The Freak.  The Giants rolled to an 8-3 win and now the stage is set for Game 5.

Mat Latos.  Matt Cain.  Notorious Giant killer/prick vs nice guy understated ace.

Can Matt Cain become Big Game Cain?  He hasn't fared well against the Reds in 2012 in the regular season or the postseason.  But in Game 5, anything goes.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Boch have Cain start, bring in Vogelsong, then Bumgarner, Billy Swift, John Burkett, Mike Jackson, and god bless him, Rod Beck's ghost.

In a series that I had pegged as a 5 gamer prior to an 0-2 hole, I was relieved after Game 3 that the Giants weren't going to be embarrassed by a sweep.  Now, the fifth game is here.  And the Giants have a chance to go back to the NLCS and make history while they're at it.  No NL team in the NLDS has ever come back from 0-2 especially in this wacky 2-3 format but the Giants have a shot.

Besides, Bochy vs Baker?  I hold no ill will toward Dusty but Bruce's head is bigger for a reason.  He's a better manager.  It's science.

Go Giants!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Looking for Signs of Hope After Game 1 Loss

SFGiantsGuy was at Game 1 last night and will be heading out to Game 2 in a few hours. With that being said, here was my takeaway from last night's loss:

Got into AT&T about 6pm. Great vibe. Tons of people. Expected the Blue Angels to do the fly over but I guess the Giants couldn't pony up for that. Alex Smith threw out the first pitch. Not sure if anyone saw this but when they announced the rosters Freddy Sanchez was announced (and was in uniform). So was Brian Wilson for that matter but at least Wilson played a game this year. Was really kinda awkward seeing Freddy back in uniform and standing with the team prior to the game.

Right away the strike zone seemed "off" and then I heard Phil Cuzzi was behind the dish and I realized the game was in for a frustrating night at home plate. I noticed Cueto's injury IMMEDIATELY when it happened. And my first thought was "the Giants just caught a massive break". Getting into the Cincy pen early was supposed to be a huge advantage. But no sooner had Sam LeCure got out of the inning that Matt Cain coughs up a 2 run homer to Brandon Phillips on an 0-2 pitch. For me, that was the ball game. Not at the time, still thought the Giants could rally for 2 runs but I was very frustrated Cain gave up a tater on an 0-2 count. One of my biggest pet peeves in baseball is giving up a hit in strong pitching counts. Well, this wasn't just a hit, it was a 2 run bomb. That is inexcusable. In an 0-2 count, that third pitch has no business being anywhere close to the zone. Cain would frustrate me further when he did the same thing to Jay Bruce on a 1-2 count. My takeaways on Cain? He struggled against the Reds this year (2 starts, 5 runs given up in each of them - one at AT&T and one in Cincy). There was no way Matt Cain was NOT going to start Game 1 but he doesn't match up well with the Reds as they are a good fastball hitting team. I had no problem with Bochy's quick hook. When I look at the Reds line-up, there's 3 guys you just can't let beat you. Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Joey Votto. Cain allowed 2 of those guys to beat him. The Giants must pitch those guys carefully moving forward.

It just was not the Giants night. I thought when Cueto got injured the Giants were feeling some magic. But that quickly shifted. No one was hitting the ball for awhile and then, when they did make solid contact, as everyone noted here, those rockets were caught. In the mid to late innings they did have some opportunities and some hard hit balls but nada. You could argue that Pence would have had two homers last night in a different yard. That's a positive take away, Pence hit the ball hard just for outs. To me, Pence is a big key to the series as I see Posey getting walked more often. The Blanco strikeout was annoying as I don't think he even swung the bat once but again, Cuzzi sucks. I don't think this is the end all. Let's face it, even though the Giants home and road record is nearly identical they play better on the road offensively. 

Here are some things that give me reason for optimism as the Giants head into Game 2 of the NLDS. 

1) In 2010, they left AT&T 1-1. Tonight's game is a must win no doubt. But if they CAN win it, I'll feel confident going into Cincy. 

2) Latos was used tonight which means he'll be unavailable for Game 3. I am not sure what Cueto's situation is but it means it'll either be Cueto or Homer Bailey in Game 3. I am hoping it'll be Bailey. 

3) Arroyo is on the mound tonight. Arroyo has had a nice year but he doesn't scare me. The Giants offense should be able to do more against him tonight than they did against the parade of Reds pitchers last night. 

4) The Giants made Aroldis Chapman work. Damn near 30 pitches.

5) The Reds Game 2 starter Bronson Arroyo has a terrible track record in the playoffs (career 6.04 ERA) and at AT&T (0-4. 4.11).  

6) Everything (minus the Cueto injury) went the Reds way last night. Baseball balances out. I don't think they'll be quite as lucky tonight. 

The Reds are a very good team.  I wanted to play the Nationals in the LDS because if we were going to play the Reds, I wanted to face them in a 7 game series. Unfortunately, we're getting them in the 5 game series. So we'll just have to win tonight and roll the dice in Cincy. The Reds are good but the Giants are good too. We did not beat ourselves last night, the Reds beat us. I'd prefer it that way than kicking the ball around. Cain made two mistake pitches that got crushed and Casilla helped ice the victory for the Reds with the wild pitches (oops, I mean passed balls) but give credit to the Reds. They played a solid game and won. We need to come right back at them tonight and counter.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Giants 2012 Playoff Run Begins

For a diehard Giants fan who lives and breathes Giants baseball, follows every Giants blogger, fan, player, seagull, etc I really don't update this blog as much as I should.  I thought I'd post once a week like Grant used to do on Waiting for Boof but like Tim Lincecum this year, I just haven't been consistent.  My last blog entry was about Melky's suspension and the effect it could have on the Giants chemistry.  Well, I was right... it had a huge effect on chemistry.  It bonded the team so close together that they forgot they were supposed to go in the tank after yet another punch in the gut this season.

What about that ride!?  The Dodgers acquired every expensive player in baseball and THEY were the ones that went  into the tailspin.  The Giants got an unimpressive Hunter Pence and a utility infielder and wound up winning the division a week before the end of the regular season.  And here I thought they were doomed because they didn't acquire Chris Perez at the deadline.  Or any closer for that matter.

Nope, the Giants are NL West Champs and have as good a chance as any to make it to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Bochy is playing coy with announcing who the Game 3 starter is going to be at Great American Ballpark but we know who Cincy is throwing out there:  Cueto, Arroyo, and Latos.

Arroyo in Game 2?  Really Dusty?  Interesting call.  Latos is very much familiar with the NL West and AT&T Park and I'm actually thrilled the Giants are not facing him in Game 2.  Although the Giants lit up Latos in Game 162 in 2010 to clinch the NL West, pretty much every other game Latos has pitched against the Giants has been Kershawian.    Having him pitch in a live yard like Cincy's is a positive.

Bochy announced the NLDS roster today and I really do not like having Mota on the team and no speed on the bench (when Blanco starts at least).  This burned the Giants in 2003 when Eric Young was left off for an extra reliever and we all know how that worked out.

Regardless, it's playoff time in San Francisco.  Orange October is in full effect (in Baltimore as well and wouldn't it be neat to have an all Black and Orange World Series around Halloween?) and it's time to get back on the roller coaster known as playoff baseball.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Farewell Melky and... the season?

I didn't know what to make of this team.  I hadn't been able to really figure out if it was a good team, a just good enough team, or a not quite good enough team.  Part of that was rarely getting to see the 3-4-5 hitters of this team all hit in the line-up together: Melky Cabrera, Buster Posey, and Pablo Sandoval.  Cabrera and Posey were fixtures except on days when Hector Sanchez needed to play.  But Sandoval was in and out of the line-up due to his injuries and the line-up never got a sustained look at its true 3-5 hitters.  Then along came Hunter Pence.  And he did his best to be a Pablo replacement except he wasn't very good initially.  But that didn't stop us Giants fans from fantasizing about what could be.  All of a sudden, this crazy line-up that scored runs aplenty on the road but barely at home started taking shape in our Giant fan minds.  Thoughts of a 3-6 line-up featuring the Melk Man, Posey, Pablo, and Pence was inspiring.  All of a sudden we had legit hitters in the middle of the order, any of whom could pop a home run or knock in a run.  Just wait until we had them altogether!!  Yeah, the Dodgers got Victorino and Hanley but what about that patchwork rotation of theirs?  Joe Blanton?  Bahahaha.  We had a line-up that now could match up with LA and the better rotation.  We just needed Panda to hurry up and get healthy so he could be added to this new middle of the order. Not to mention Angel Pagan had rediscovered his hitting stroke and the Brandon's seemed to be finally finding their groove.  The runs were bound to pour in.  We were going to be scoring like Wilt Chamberlin - a lot!

Except we only got to see that magical line-up once.  It came. It saw. It scored 6 runs. It won.  And then Melky Cabrera - beloved new fan favorite, unwitting creator of The Melk Men and the Melk Shake, All Star Game MVP, top run scorer and hits leader of the National League - tested positive for testosterone and was suspended for 50 games.

Um.  Really?


Look, the Giants were a flawed team even with the magical new line-up.  I had them clearly behind the Nationals and Reds but thought they were about even with the Braves and Cardinals.  I thought they had a slight edge on the Dodgers and Pirates and Dbacks. But there were red flags.  The closer by committee approach has historically failed by teams that have tried it and the Giants are using one.  The rotation is statistically strong but really, the Giants have little leeway in regards to poor outings by Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong because Lincecum and Zito have become such wildcards.  That's what made this team so hard to evaluate.  Were they a true playoff team?  Were they just good enough to get in?  Once in, could they survive by having the Big Three dominate?

Now Giants fans might not have the opportunity to find out.  The loss of Cabrera isn't just a blow to the line-up and the defense, it's a blow to the team morale and chemistry. Melky Cabrera was one of the guys.  He and Pagan and Blanco had seemed to develop a close friendship as outfielders and Latin players.  Melky was respected for his work ethic and his consistency.  Now all of that has been called into question.  His teammates feel betrayed as well they should.  On a club where the team has been emphasized, Melky has issued a huge blow to the Giants playoff chances by being selfish.  And let's not mince words, it was an incredibly selfish act.  He was using performance enhancing drugs so he could stay in this game and make money.  A lot of money.  And he did it knowing there was a risk of getting caught.  Especially in a time when baseball is stressing testing and trying to clean up the sport.  He did it anyways. He got caught.  And now his season is over and he has dragged 24 other guys seasons down with him. Guys that thought he was on their side.  Guys that thought he was a cog in the machine to help them reach their goal of making the playoffs.  And let's not pretend that the Giants players are not upset.  All you need to do is listen to their curt comments regarding the suspension to realize how much simmering anger lies below the surface.

And for what?  Why did Melky Cabrera choose to cheat?  Was he cheating in 2011? Everything is called into question now and in my opinion I think he did cheat last year. And this year he kept it up as his free agency approached.  Had he not got caught, he would have suckered some team (likely the Giants) to give him a huge multiyear deal. Not only has he potentially cheated his own teammates of a playoff run but he has cheated himself.  Earlier comments from this year indicated that Melky was in love with San Francisco.  He felt comfortable here.  He loved the vibe.  He could envision being here for awhile.  He had not had that since his Yankees days.  He was playing on his 4th team in 4 seasons when he opened the year with the Giants.  He wanted some security and a place to call home where he knew he would be for awhile.  Well, good luck Melky. You have assured yourself of playing for another team next year.  Brian Sabean will not resign you.  Brian Sabean doesn't like to be made a fool and you have made him look foolish.  He will send you packing without hesitation and you will likely have to settle for another 1 year deal to prove yourself all over again.  Most fans will have turned on you, especially if the Giants now fail to make it to the second season.  You will be seen as THE reason the Giants failed, if they indeed fail.  Everything you were working so hard for, you have lost.  Including the goodwill of Giants fans and millions upon millions of dollars.

That being said, is this a nail in the coffin for the Giants?  They'll go in one of two directions.  They will fold or they will steel together and get stronger.  When this happened to the Dodgers with Manny Ramirez, Juan fricking Pierre became Rickey Henderson and the Dodgers surged into the playoffs.  Could Gregor Blanco be our Juan Pierre?  We can only hope.  He did go 2 for 4 today in his first game P.C. (Post Cabrera). Still having a 3-4-5 of Panda, Posey, and Pence is at least not as agonizing as our line-up sans Buster in 2011.  But those guys will have to provide a lot of key, clutch hits and the surrounding guys will need to get hot or stay hot.  Belt has been tremendous in August but he and the Giants can't afford for him to follow it with a cold streak.  Crawford needs to keep being clutch.  And Blanco and Pagan really need to have good AB's.  The Giants do not have a fork in them.  But the issues that already plagued the team (no closer, questionable offense, shaky starting pitching from 2/5 of their rotation) will be harder to gloss over without the steady bat and glove of Melky Cabrera in left field.

We'll see how it pans out.  The only thing we can deduce from here is that the Giants will have an additional 12-16 million to play with this offseason that they will NOT be using on the previous fan favorite formerly known as The Melk Man.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Is This Team Good?

This team is confusing, isn't it?  The Giants have been over .500 for most of the season.  They aren't as baffling as, say, the team they're chasing in Los Angeles because there are several players on this squad that are legitimate All Star candidates.  But is this team good?  Are they good enough to secure one of the wild card spots or win the division outright?  Looking at the NL West, the Dodgers are finally starting to come back to earth but the Diamondbacks are showing signs of life.  I've thought all along the serpents in the desert were going to be the Giants main competitor for the NL West title but I can't ignore what the Dodgers are doing and have done.  If the Phillies make Cole Hamels available, the Dodgers could very realistically get him and that would be bad.  The fact that the new Dodgers owners want to make some sort of splash is already scary.

But let's examine the Giants.  They have 3 lights out starters in Mr. Perfect (I can't believe I didn't post an entry on Cain's amazing Perfect Game but life got in the way and many other Giants bloggers pretty much said all I would have about it anyways), Mr. Vogelsong, and the emerging Mr. Bumgarner.  Lincecum may have just had a turnaround game against the A's.  He's claiming the light has gone on.  And it sure looked that way after a nightmare first inning against Oakland but let's see, oh, one more start before we proclaim the Freak is all Freaky again.  And Zito has come back to earth but his first 2 months were such a glorious surprise that we'll just be happy if he can go 6 innings giving up 3 runs from here on out for most of his starts.  When the rotation has 4 excellent starters, this team can survive many other warts.  When the team has 3 excellent starters and 2 not so good starters, it creates a lot more pressure on the Fab 3 and the offense.  It is imperative Zito does not have a full blown collapse and that Lincecum really does rediscover his awesomeness if this team hopes to keep the NL West title in sight.  With the extra wildcard this season, there is hope even if only 3/5 of the rotation is clicking but it'll be much more difficult given the parity in the National League and how many teams will be contending for those two playoff spots.  The goal HAS to be the division.

So even with the rotation as hot and cold as it's been, what about the other aspects of the team?

The bullpen has been scary lately.  When Brian Wilson went down, the Giants were hoping and praying someone would claim the closer role.  Santiago Casilla has done that.  Up until this most recent A's series, one could argue Casilla has been more effective than B-Weez in the 9th.  But his latest blow up can not be overlooked.  He was atrocious against the A's.  Dismal.  He pitched in all 3 games of the series and almost blew each game until he actually did blow the final game of the series.  His final line against Oakland this series?

1.2 IP, 5 ER, 2 HR, 6 H

Yikes.  The Giants have to hope this had something to do with adrenaline and with Casilla facing his old team.  Maybe he just needs a break.  But the Giants absolutely need for Casilla to be the rock at the end of the bullpen that he had been all season up until this past series.  The roles must be defined and the last thing the pen needs is to have Bochy start mixing and matching roles.  We don't need Sabean going out there and trading Gary Brown for Francisco Cordero but gosh darn it, if Casilla doesn't fix whatever is wrong with him fast, you never know.  Even before Casilla's blow up in Oakland, it has become clear the Giants need bullpen help.  Only Romo has been lights out in set up.  Javier Lopez has still been pretty solid despite a ridiculously high WHIP (1.83) but the Giants need some consistency.  In fact, most of the WHIP's in the bullpen are troubling and point to an eventual collapse.  So Sabean will be on the look out for relief.  This is ironic given the team's most ready arms in the minors were supposed to be bullpen guys but Hembree, Otero, and Edlefsen have all laid collective farts so far (Hembree not so much, but he just doesn't seem ready).  The only question will be if Sabean has to look for a closer as well as middle relief this time.  Hopefully Casilla reverts back to dominance and makes the issue moot.

The last aspect of the team is the line-up.  They're healthy altogether for the first time all season and they're showing they can score runs.  Nothing has been more huge in the past couple of weeks than Brandon Belt's arrival.  Once Brett Pill got sent down and Aubrey Huff got injured, Belt has become what the Giants and fans have hoped for all along.  He is hitting for power and he's displaying good patience.  Aside from Gregor Blanco, there is no Giant that has demonstrated a better eye at the plate.  The difference is Belt is now punishing pitchers who throw him a good strike as opposed to missing that pitch.  It has made the line-up stronger and has helped pick up the slack for Sandoval, who's essentially going through Spring Training 2 coming back from his wrist surgery.  While the entire outfield has cooled off offensively, Posey and Belt and Theriot have been heating up.  What is the old axiom?  A team just needs 3-4 guys to be hot at once to score runs?  The Giants are striking a decent balance.  The honest truth is that this line-up, when healthy, should be able to score enough runs for the pitching staff.

And finally, it has to be noted that the Giants started winning more consistently when they started playing better defense.  Early in the season they were kicking the ball all over the place.  Now, Brandon Crawford has settled down.  Brandon Belt is anchored at 1B.  And the outfield defense has been incredible.  It makes a huge difference.

So are the Giants good?  Are they good enough?  Well, right now they are 3 games back of the Dodgers for the division crown and begin a 3 game set against them tomorrow.  They lead the wildcard.  So yes, effectively, they ARE good enough.  If Lincecum and Casilla can be who they have been in the past and Sabean gets some bullpen help and the rest remain at the status quo then this team might not only be good, it might be great.  But time will tell.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Reviewing the 2012 Giants After One Month

What can you say about the 2012 Giants after 22 games? Well, they're looking awfully similar to the 2011 Giants and have some shared traits of the 2010 team (say like a distant cousin). That is, their starting pitching is rounding into one of the top rotations in the National League as we've come to expect and they're struggling to get key hits that would break games open and make things a lot less, well, torturous. But there are some striking differences as well. The 2012 Giants have been kicking the ball around an inordinate amount. At first, it could be attributed to beginning-of-the-season jitters. But April is over. And the defense remains suspect. Brandon Crawford has made some spectacular plays but has a surprising 4 errors already on the young season. Angel Pagan has had some misplays in the field and his defense seems to be about as average as was advertised when he was acquired. Sandoval has been inconsistent with throws and Buster Posey has had a share of bonehead plays early on. This team should be better defensively but they're still making questionable defensive miscues. I will say it's less maddening than seeing Aaron Rowand miss the cutoff man for the umpteenth time but it's a problem that needs to be rectified. The Giants modus operandi is pitching and defense so they have got to tighten it up.

The other concern is the bullpen. Brian Wilson has been lost for the year which is not only a blow to the bullpen but for the clubhouse. It's nice to hear B-Weez say all the right things and still be visible in the dugout but will his attitude stay positive as the months go on? As the frustration of not being part of the team on the field mounts? That's yet to be determined. Wilson's been notorious for being cranky if he's not on the field. It won't be easy for him if Heath Hembree is eventually called up and starts making the Giants believe he could be the heir apparent. That likely won't happen until the summer (if then) and I doubt Hembree gets many closing opportunities unless Santiago Casilla completely tanks. Brian Sabean has always been a believer in legitimate closers and Bochy and Sabean are both big on set roles in the bullpen. If Casilla can hold on to the closer's role (and he's done a nice job so far and made the 9th less stressful than Wilson ever has) the Giants still need to fulfill Casilla's 7th inning slot. Right now middle relief is shoddy at best. Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt haven't found their way and can't be trusted in close games at this point. Guillermo Mota has been thrust into short relief and the results haven't been good. Right now, Bochy seems to have the most trust in Hensley and Romo and they've earned that trust but Sabean isn't one to rest on his laurels if he thinks the bullpen needs help. The Giants have minor league depth with the likes of Otero, Edlefsen, Runzler, and Hembree but expect Sabean eventually to go out and get another bullpen arm or two around the deadline. It's about as much a sure thing as the sun coming up tomorrow.

Aside from the inconsistent defense and the unreliable middle relief, the team is looking competitive and should be in the hunt for the NL West all year. Barry Zito had a great start in 2010 (lest we forget) so his awesome start to 2012 comes with that caveat. If he can continue to be a decent #5, it'll go a long way in making this team legit contenders. My one concern was Ryan Vogelsong. After a career year in 2011, I wasn't sure what to expect. But Vogelsong looks every bit as focused and poised as he was last season. He may not have the 4th lowest ERA in the National League (like he finished 2011) but it seems like he'll be an above average #4 starter who'll pitch a good amount of quality innings. Tim Lincecum's diminished velocity likely means his Cy Young days are over but he is still the anchor of the staff, despite Cain and Bumgarner starting to strut their ace like stuff more consistently. The offense, while struggling with runners in scoring position, still has shown the ability to score runs which is a nice departure from 2011 and reminiscent of 2010. I remember the 2010 team would plod along scoring 2,3, or 4 runs then explode for 8, 9, or 10 runs on any given night. The 2012 Giants seem much more willing to score the benchmark 4 runs than the 2011 squad but they MUST not give those runs back in the field. Melky Cabrera and Hector Sanchez have been revelations while Pagan has begun to heat up. Pill has been as advertised off the bench and against lefties while fans still clamor for Belt to be given a sustained opportunity to prove himself. With Huff out indefinitely due to anxiety (and there's no guarantee he'll be activated after his 15-day DL stint is over) and Nate Schierholtz asserting himself as the right fielder, the Giants are getting to see more of their younger players and although they're not saying it, you have to believe they're hoping one of the triumvirate of Belt, Pill, or Hec-Chez claims the starting spot afforded to them due to Huff's absence.

All said and done, the Giants finished the first month 2 games over .500 at 12-10 with some issues clearly needed to be worked out. With the loss of Brian Wilson and Aubrey Huff (two big blows to the clubhouse as well) and Freddy Sanchez still no sure thing to return regularly as the second baseman, the Giants are looking to their youth to provide answers. Right now one can say there are no veteran leaders on the team which could affect the team when it goes on its first extended losing streak. Even with the starting pitching in fine form, all teams eventually go through cold spells. And just as Sabean is addicted to veteran bullpen arms, he's also partial to veteran leaders. If Huff has an extended absence, Sabean's biggest trade season shopping items may very well be a grizzled veteran for the bench and dugout and bullpen depth. But we can worry about that in July. For now, the Giants need to fix the issues with their current team and continue to win each series (5-2 overall). With a nice homestand to begin May, it's a good time to rack up some W's.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Yes They Cain: Giants 2012 Offseason Review

It all came down to Matt Cain. The Giants entire offseason was going to be graded on whether or not they could lock down Matt Cain. They succeeded.

In case you didn't hear (snicker), the Giants signed Cain to a 112.5M 5 year extension that could potentially keep Cainer in a Giants uniform through the 2018 season.

This is very good news for Giants fans. It means even if Lincecum bolts after 2013, the Giants have Cain and Bumgarner to lock down the front of the rotation for the foreseeable future. It also gives the Giants a legitimate window to win more championships while they have The Mighty Four intact.

The extension has been well received by all. The Giants seem happy about it, Matt Cain is happy about it, Giants fans are happy about it, and baseball executives and scouts seem to think it's fair.

The Giants wanted to lock in their pitching this offseason while also trying to improve their offense. Overall, they succeeded.

Cain: 5yrs/112.5M extension

Lincecum: 2yrs/40.5M (giving the Giants cost certainty over his last 2 arbitration years)

Vogelsong: 2yrs/8M

Affeldt: 1yr/5M

Lopez: 2yrs/8.5M

They didn't buy out any of Lincecum's free agent years but they can worry about that next offseason, as well as a team friendly extension for Bumgarner who'll be eligible for arbitration after this season.

In terms of the offense? They didn't make any big splashes. They didn't get a big bopper. But with the return of Posey, they get a cornerstone back and they revamped the outfield with the acquisitions of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera. Both are on one year deals which means they'll be playing for a contract which always seems to bring out the best in players. Could Sabean have done more? With an inflexible 130M budget, he did what he could.

Offseason Grade: B+

On the eve of roster announcements, I might as well give my prediction for the Opening Day roster. Here is my guess as to who will be toeing the foul line for the anthem this Friday against the Diamondbacks...

C: Posey, Stewart
1B: Belt, Pill
2B: Burriss, Theriot
SS: Crawford
3B: Sandoval
LF: Huff
CF: Pagan, Blanco
RF: Cabrera, Schierholtz
SP: Lincecum, Bumgarner, Cain, Zito
RP: Wilson, Romo, Casilla, Lopez, Affeldt, Mota, Hensley, Otero

Sunday, March 25, 2012

MLB 2012 Predictions

With the season about 2 weeks from opening, it's time for my annual predictions. I had some hits and misses last year (MLB Prediction 2011) if you want to check the track record. Fair to say, my guess is as good as yours. I do live and breathe baseball however so consider these predictions to be based on well informed guesses at the very least. Bold = division winner, italics = wildcard.

AL West: Rangers, Angels, Mariners, A's
AL Central: Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Royals, Indians
AL East: Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles

NL West: Giants, Dbacks, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres
NL Central: Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Cubs, Astros
NL East: Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Nationals, Mets

AL MVP: Prince Fielder, DET
NL MVP: Joey Votto, CIN
AL Cy Young: David Price, TB
NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, SF
AL ROY: Yu Darvish, TEX
NL ROY: Trevor Bauer, AZ

ALDS: Tigers vs Rays, Yankees vs Rangers
NLDS: Giants vs Marlins, Brewers vs Braves
ALCS: Tigers vs Yankees
NLCS: Giants vs Brewers

World Series: Giants vs Yankees

A look at the AL West: Like last year, it's going to be the Rangers and the Angels. The A's traded away all their pitching and while they'll be interesting due to Manny and Cespedes they're not going to contend. The Mariners are still trying to figure it out. The Angels have their shiny new toy in Pujols and depth in their starting rotation due to signing CJ Wilson away from their rival Rangers. Unfortunately for them, the Rangers replaced Wilson with Japanese sensation Yu Darvish who might not only replace Wilson's production but surpass it. The last wildcard spot will be a dogfight between the Red Sox and Angels but the Angels will snag it.

A look at the AL Central: I have the Tigers as being the AL's best team in 2012. They should easily win the unimpressive AL Central. They shouldn't have much competition. The Twins always manage to put together competitive seasons out of nowhere but I don't see them having the pitching depth this year. The White Sox are caught between rebuilding and winning but don't seem like a true threat. The Royals are going to be really entertaining but again, just don't have the pitching. The Indians will be improved and could be a sleeper but I think it'll be a lost year for the Tribe in a division Detroit will feast on.

A look at the AL East: Baseball's toughest division will house three of the league's best teams with the Blue Jays getting close to being legit AL East contenders. The new wildcard format was supposed to help teams like the Blue Jays make the playoffs but I don't think they have all the parts quite yet but they will soon. I've had the Yankees missing the playoffs in my predictions season after season mostly because I was unimpressed with their pitching. Not this year. The Yankees surrounded CC Sabathia with Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, and unretired Yankee legend Andy Pettitte. And in case one or more of those guys don't pan out, they have Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia as well. They have a strong line-up and above average pitching. The Yankees should win the division and finally figure out a way to beat the Rangers in October this season. The Rays pitching is better than the Red Sox which is why I see them finishing ahead of Boston, winning a wildcard slot, and keeping the Red Sox out of the playoffs for the 2nd straight year.

A look at the NL West: The Giants return a healthy Buster Posey, arguably the league's strongest rotation, and a strong bullpen. If Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera can be improvements over what the Giants had last year their offense should give the pitching staff enough runs to work with to give the Giants a chance to win the NL West and go deep in the playoffs. The Dbacks rotation is deep with the addition of Trevor Cahill and uber pitching prospects Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer waiting for slots in the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt could become one of the NL's best first basemen and the bullpen remains strong. Arizona has one of the most balanced teams in the NL but I see them missing the playoffs in 2012 by a sliver. Colorado and Los Angeles could finish above .500 but I don't see them challenging for a playoff spot. The Rockies may have a good line-up but their pitching is extremely questionable and while the Dodgers are returning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and runner-up MVP Matt Kemp and finished 2011 on a tear, they don't have enough surrounding Kershaw to be legit contenders. The Padres traded ace Mat Latos and will spend another year trying not to lose 90 games.

A look at the NL Central: I'm very intrigued with the Central as the top three teams all have obvious strengths and warts while the bottom 3 aren't true contenders at this point. The Brewers lost Prince Fielder but some of his production will be replaced by ex-Cub Aramis Ramirez who stays in the division and can almost always be banked on to hit 30 homers with a .300 average. That softens the blow of losing Fielder and the Brewers still have Greinke and Gallardo fronting their rotation. They seem to be the best bet to win the NL Central. The Reds and Cardinals will battle for 2nd place and the wildcard. The Cardinals lost Pujols and Chris Carpenter is injured. However, Wainwright is coming back and the Cards are going to try to replace some of Pujols's offense with Carlos Beltran. Can Lance Berkman continue his renaissance? Can David Freese carry over his October run into the regular season? The Cardinals have a lot of questions but I think with Wainwright and Jaime Garcia, a potential return of Chris Carpenter, and pitching prospect Shelby Miller in the wings, the Cards will win the wild card and have a chance to defend their title. The Reds, even with the Latos addition, will have trouble keeping up with the pitching and it'll cost them in the end. The loss of Ryan Madson compounds the issue. The Cubs, Pirates, and Astros aren't yet close to contention.

NL East: This one was my toughest call. It's hard not having the Phillies in October. Not with Halladay, Lee, and Hamels still in the rotation. But the truth is the Phillies are without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley until who knows when and those are two of their major offensive cogs. Yes, Rollins is still around after testing free agency and Hunter Pence will have a full season in Philly and Shane Victorino is in a contract year but without the big guys, it's hard to imagine the Phillies can win what will be a very tough division. The Marlins were the offseason darlings. They have a new stadium, they have shiny new free agents (Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell), and they are going to be the stars of The Franchise this year. But like the Giants realized last year, The Franchise is a blessing and a curse. A distraction. If the Phillies were fully healthy, I'd have them winning maybe not just one of the wildcard spots, but likely the division crown. However, the Phillies are not healthy which will allow the Fish to sneak in as the wildcard behind a healthy Josh Johnson and a revamped line-up. That is, if Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes can stay healthy. Health will play a big part in who winds up with the NL East title as I could see any of the top four teams winning this division. The Braves have strong starting pitching, a superb bullpen, and a balanced line-up and should be the favorite. The Nationals are so very close. They have the pitching now with the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to surround Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. And the line-up seems only to be missing one more thumper. Could that thumper be Bryce Harper come say, midseason? It could. And if he comes up and pulls a Buster Posey, he could propel the Nats right into October. The Mets are a lost cause and could very well finish the season as the worst team in the National League.

Overall, it should be a fun and unpredictable 2012. There are a lot of good teams on paper this year. A lot of perennial bad teams are coming up (Royals, Nationals, Blue Jays) and with the new playoff format, there should be some great excitement in September and October like what we baseball fans were graced with last year. Only two weeks until we see how it all begins to play out! And like always, we'll check back in November and grade out these predictions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cain They or Cain't They?

The Giants kept telling us fans all offseason that their priority was to lock up their pitching. That's all we heard. Pitching, pitching, pitching. They didn't go after big free agent hitters because they wanted to lock up their pitching. I'm pretty sure locking up the pitching didn't mean just signing Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez to above market contracts. I'm pretty sure they meant they wanted to lock in Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Matt Cain. Maybe even get some cost certainty over Madison Bumgarner. Well, one out of four is great, right? The Giants signed Vogelsong to a team friendly 2yr/8M deal with an affordable option for a third year. But aside from that? They settled with Lincecum on a 2 year 40.5M deal that did not buy out a single one of his free agent years. And while they discussed a long term deal with Bumgarner, they couldn't come to an agreement and settled on a one year deal. And Matt Cain, the potential free agent, remains unsigned 2.5 weeks before the season starts.

Way to lock up that pitching, Giants.

Cain set a soft deadline of Opening Day to get an extension done. If you've ever followed baseball, you know that if a player entering his walk season doesn't have a contract by the time the season starts, that player will undoubtedly become a free agent and most likely leave.

Most recent example? Albert Pujols. Did anyone really think he wouldn't be a Cardinal this year? Yet there he is sitting in a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim jersey. The Cardinals couldn't work out an extension before he hit free agency and even despite extra revenues from winning the World Series St. Louis couldn't keep their star player.

Now, why Cain remains unsigned is up for debate. Is it because the Giants aren't willing to meet Cain's demands? Or has Cain decided he wants to test free agency? From all accounts, Matt Cain loves San Francisco. His wife is from the area. And they have a young baby that they're raising. San Francisco loves him back. He's a team leader in the clubhouse. He's won playoff games and a World Series. So what's the hold up?

No RHP has landed a bigger contract than Kevin Brown's 7yr/105M contract with the Dodgers from way back in 1998. Cain undoubtedly would break at least that dollar amount if he hits free agency. And his agent has made it clear he won't be taking a hometown discount from the Giants. And since the Giants failed to sign Lincecum beyond 2013, they know that if they want to retain Big Time Timmy Jim it's going to take a monster contract, possibly rivaling that of the Yankees CC Sabathia (originally 7yrs/161M and then extended for 5 years/122M). And with Bumgarner and Posey going to be due big contracts in a few seasons and Brian Wilson a free agent after 2013 then the Giants may not be ready to commit the super mega bucks Matt Cain's agent knows he's worth on the open market. What will it take to keep Cain in SF? 6yrs/120M? How high are the Giants willing to go?

Obviously not high enough this offseason to get Cain to sign. At least not at this juncture. There's still 2.5 weeks. But make no mistake, if Cain makes his first start of the season against Arizona without a contract, you can fully expect that 2012 is Cain's last year as a Giant. He will get offers from big market teams that will blow away anything the Giants would likely offer. Half the league would want Cain at the front of their rotation. The Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox would all be interested. If Cole Hamels (who's in the same boat as Cain in Philly) doesn't get re-signed, then Cain likely lands on the Phillies radar. And that's just the obvious teams. The Angels and Rangers could hop in if they make room in their budget. The Braves could be a dark horse. And the Nationals and Marlins haven't been shy of throwing money to free agents of late either.

In other words, the line for Cain will be long. And it'll be hard for him to turn down the highest offer even if it means leaving a place where he's revered, loved, respected, and familiarized.

So keep close attention the next couple of weeks because if nothing gets resolved, be prepared to watch Matt Cain pitch in his first walk year and likely last season as a San Francisco Giant.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ranking the teams in the National League

With pitchers and catchers reporting in about a week, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the Giants competition in 2012. I've already broke down the NL West by position but what about the NL as a whole? The Senior Circuit lost some talent this offseason. Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols left for mega contracts and future DH opportunities leaving Joey Votto (and a recovering Ryan Howard) as the only true slugging 1B in the NL. However, the NL should have a more competitive 2012 than it did last year when only 7 of the 16 teams ended the season with a winning record (by comparison, the AL had 6 of 14). I will post my predictions closer to the start of the regular season but for now, let's take a quick look at who the NL's contenders should be, who the sleepers are, and which teams don't look like they have a real shot.


St. Louis
San Francisco


Los Angeles


San Diego
New York

I know some of these are controversial and I'll explain my selections more when I post my predictions but I see the contenders as being the Giants main competition. It's ridiculous to think that Opening Day is less than 2 months away and no one knows if there's going to be 8 teams or 10 teams vying for playoff spots and that can skew some things but for now, my contenders list are teams that I expect to be right in the mix in their division race while the sleepers could potentially compete for a wildcard spot or a division title if breaks go their way. The wait for next year gang might be putting some pieces together but it'd take a miracle for these teams to have a winning season, let alone a playoff type of drive. Every year a team comes out of nowhere which is what makes baseball (and sport in general) awesome but for now here's my power rankings for the National League in February. Keep in mind these will differ from my predictions as these rankings are based on talent on paper and how I view the teams objectively while my predictions will be more subjective.

National League Power Rankings

1. Philadelphia
2. Atlanta
3. St. Louis
4. Cincinnati
5. Arizona
6. San Francisco
7. Milwaukee
8. Florida
9. Washington
10. Colorado
11. Los Angeles
12. Chicago
13. Pittsburgh
14. San Diego
15. New York
16. Houston

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Look At How the NL West Is Shaping Up

Prince Fielder is still looking for a home and the calendar just flipped to 2012. In other words, there's still roughly 6 weeks of the offseason. However, it looks as if the NL West clubs have made most of their big time offseason moves. We're still waiting on that Matt Cain extension and that Timmy signing but aside from that it's not too early to start assessing what should be a competitive Western division this upcoming season. I thought I'd look at a position by position analysis of the 5 NL West clubs to see who is strongest at each position. The 49ers may be in the playoffs but it's never too soon to start talking Giants baseball.

CATCHER: Miguel Montero (AZ), Ramon Hernandez (COL), AJ Ellis/Matt Treanor (LA), Nick Hundley (SD), Buster Posey (SF)

If Buster Posey comes back as expected, he's one of the games best young players. He also is an above average defensive catcher and game caller. While Montero offers solid offense and Ramon Hernandez could do some damage in Colorado, Posey by far has the highest ceiling and is the all around best catcher. (San Francisco)

FIRST BASE: Paul Goldschmidt (AZ), Todd Helton (COL), James Loney (LA), Yonder Alonso/Jesus Guzman (SD), Aubrey Huff (SF)

The closest the NL West has to a prototypical 30 homer slugging first baseman may very well be Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt. It also sucks that he seems to own Tim Lincecum and isn't intimidated by SF's pitchers (or ballpark). Helton has been Mr. Steady for years and he's coming off another good year but you never know if his power numbers are going to be there. Alonso is very intriguing but how will he perform at Petco? Loney flies under the radar but doesn't seem to have a high ceiling anymore. And then there's our own Rally Thong Huff who has sworn he's taking the offseason serious this time. Huff gave us great production in 2010 and awful production in 2011. His 2012 should be somewhere in between. In the end, Goldschmidt seems to be the best bet to be the NL West's most productive first baseman. (Arizona)

SECOND BASE: Aaron Hill (AZ), Eric Young/Chris Nelson (COL), Mark Ellis (LA), Orlando Hudson (SD), Freddy Sanchez (SF)

A lot of mediocrity here. Freddy Sanchez could be the best of the bunch if he comes back 100% from shoulder surgery. But Freddy has been sort of like Mr. Glass since being in SF so it's hard to assume he'll play 140 games. Orlando Hudson is usually pretty consistent and can steal a bag, which gives him a leg up over Sanchez. Ellis was unremarkable in his first NL West stint in Colorado so it's hard seeing him being much better in LA. His replacements in Denver are basically unknowns. I think Hudson gets the nod over Sanchez as he's just an all around solid pro. (San Diego)

SHORTSTOP: Stephen Drew (AZ), Troy Tulowitzki (COL), Dee Gordon (LA), Jason Bartlett (SD), Brandon Crawford (SF)

Another no-brainer. Tulowitzki is arguably the best offensive shortstop in the game and he plays Gold Glove defense. The rest of the field is far behind. Gordon could provide a spark at the top of the Dodger line-up and Stephen Drew consistently underachieves but still puts up respectable numbers for a shortstop but even if Drew fulfilled his potential he'd be hard pressed to match Tulo's production. Bartlett had an awful first year in a Friar jersey and Brandon Crawford will be lucky to hit .250. (Colorado)

THIRD BASE: Ryan Roberts (AZ), Jonathan Herrera (COL), Juan Uribe (LA), Chase Headley (SD), Pablo Sandoval (SF)

If the Kung Fu Panda hits like he did in 2009 and 2011 then the Giants easily have the best third baseman in the NL West, if not one of the best third sackers in the league. He was a first time All-Star in 2011 and had he not missed a month of time due to his wrist injury, he would likely have hit 30 bombs all while playing Gold Glove level defense. Chase Headley is the only other 3B in the division that can rival Panda's offensive contributions but Panda is the better, more consistent, overall player. (San Francisco)

LEFT FIELD: Jason Kubel (AZ), Michael Cuddyer (COL), Juan Rivera (LA), Carlos Quentin (SD), Melky Cabrera (SF)

Two former Twins are making their NL West debuts in 2012. Cuddyer has been relatively steady in Minnesota and he could represent the best all around player. However, recently acquired Carlos Quentin could put up monster numbers as well, even in the vast expanses of Petco Park. Melky Cabrera is, to me, a complete question mark. If he really had a career awakening last year, then he should be a solid outfield contributor but I can't see him having a better season than Quentin. I give the nod to Carlos Quentin as he has the highest upside of the 5. (San Diego)

CENTER FIELD: Chris Young (AZ), Dexter Fowler (COL), Matt Kemp (LA), Cameron Maybin (SD), Angel Pagan (SF)

The third no-brainer. Matt Kemp arguably was the MVP last year. He was a homer shy of going 40/40 last season. If he keeps his game up after his monster extension, he should have another great 2012. Matt Kemp is one of the best players in baseball when he wants to be. The other 4 centerfielders will be hard pressed to make the All Star Team as a reserve unless Chris Young puts it all together. It's Kemp in a landslide. (Los Angeles)

RIGHT FIELD: Justin Upton (AZ), Carlos Gonzalez (COL), Andre Ethier (LA), Will Venable (SD), Nate Schierholtz (SF)

Right field has some real nice players in the NL West. For this analysis, I'm assuming Brandon Belt, Brett Pill, and Huff will form some sort of triumvirate at first base while Nate gets one more shot to prove he's an everyday starting right fielder. Justin Upton was an MVP candidate in 2011 and Carlos Gonzalez was an MVP candidate in 2010. Ethier has turned himself into a very good right fielder as evidenced by his Gold Glove award this offseason and he always puts up pretty decent stats. Carlos Gonzalez could go 30/30 while Upton could become a perennial 20/20 guy. Which guy would you rather have? Both are awesome but I have to go with Carlos Gonzalez's track record by a smidge. (Colorado)

STARTING ROTATION: Ian Kennedy/Daniel Hudson/Trevor Cahill/Josh Collmenter/Wade Miley (AZ), Jhoulys Chacin/Jorge De la Rosa/Kevin Slowey/Drew Pomeranz/Tyler Chatwood (COL), Clayton Kershaw/Chad Billingsley/Ted Lilly/Aaron Harang/Chris Capuano (LA), Edinson Volquez/Clayton Richard/Tim Stauffer/Cory Luebke/Dustin Moseley (SD), Tim Lincecum/Matt Cain/Madison Bumgarner/Ryan Vogelsong/Barry Zito (SF)

The Rockies and Padres have question marks all over their rotations entering 2012. They're without clear cut #1 starters and they're putting a lot of hope into some young arms. The Dodgers and Giants have legit aces fronting their rotations while the Dbacks have done a great job of adding depth to their starting 5 with the addition of Cahill. Ian Kennedy pitched his way into the Cy Young discussion and would have been a deserving winner had Clayton Kershaw not had an incredible year. The NL West is known for pitching and rightfully so. The Dbacks and Giants should have the best starting 5 in the division while LA has 2011's Cy Young award winner. Overall you have to give the nod to San Francisco who has 3 guys that could legitimately front a team's rotation and a 4th who had the best year out of all of them. But Arizona has done a good job in closing the gap. (San Francisco)

CLOSER & SET UP: JJ Putz/David Hernandez (AZ), Rafael Betancourt/Matt Lindstrom (COL), Javy Guerro/Kenley Jansen (LA), Huston Street/Luke Gregerson (SD), Brian Wilson/Sergio Romo (SF)

If Brian Wilson comes back 100% healthy, he and Romo make up the best 8th/9th inning combination in the division. However, Putz/Hernandez is right there with them and if Brian Wilson has any lingering shoulder or arm troubles, they become the best shutdown arms in the back of the bullpen in the NL West. Bud Black always seems to manage to cobble together a solid pen and Huston Street shouldn't be a major downgrade over Heath Bell while the Rockies and Dodgers seem to be going with the guys that were in house replacements during 2011. Sergio Romo had one of the best reliever seasons ever and he'll have a hard time replicating it but even if he reverts to his career norms he'll be an elite set up guy. (San Francisco)

So which team has the biggest positional advantage?

Arizona (1)
Colorado (2)
Los Angeles (1)
San Diego (2)
San Francisco (4)

Maybe it's bias but with a lockdown pitching staff and the division's best guys at the hot corner and behind the plate the Giants actually have the positional advantage in the division. Will that translate on the field? We'll see in 3 months...