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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Giants Are the Best Worst Team in Baseball or Something

On June 8th, after completing a 3-game sweep of the New York Mets, the Giants were standing as the best team in baseball.  They were 42-21, had a 9.5 game lead over the Dodgers, were dominant at home (22-9), and could seemingly do no wrong.  The bench was a problem but everything else was effing great.  Fans were not just asking if this team was really a 100+ win team, but if this was the best Giants team in the history of ever.

Well, it was fun to dream.

With the final game in the books for the Giants in June, they have erased that entire 9.5 game lead they built, they no longer look frightening at home (24-21), and they seemingly can't do anything right.  The bullpen has fallen apart with the biggest move being Sergio Romo losing his closer's job.  The starting pitching had an ERA of about a billion in June which didn't help things.  Then Tim Lincecum threw his 2nd career no-hitter and turned the starting staff around a bit.  But then the bats completely fell silent. Defensively, things have been shaky.  The Giants kept saying they didn't want to bring up Joe Panik or Adam Duvall and then they turned around and called up Joe Panik and Adam Duvall.

It's not like the Giants are playing behemoths of the sport either.  The Giants losing (they have now lost 11 of the past 15 games) has come against the Nationals who are a good team and the Reds who are (pun intended) red hot.  Aside from that?  They've lost to the Rockies, White Sox, and Padres.  All of those teams are well under .500 and the only series they've won since sweeping the Mets has been against Arizona, a team that is looking to sell off it's entire roster.  They've lost a 4-game series to the Nationals at home and got swept in a 4-game series AT HOME for the first ever at AT&T Park.

It is all very depressing and frustrating and angering and disappointing.

When the team was the best in baseball, no one could point fingers (except you bench) because everyone was doing their job.  The starters were keeping the team in ball games, the bullpen was pretty much unhittable, the offense was getting clutch hit after clutch hit, and the fielders were fielding cleanly.

So how and why did they fall apart?  It seems pretty simple actually.  The starters kept putting the team in holes early, the bullpen became unreliable, the offense stopped knocking in runs, and the fielders had some lapses in the field.  Oh, and the Giants finally started feeling the loss of Brandon Belt who broke his thumb on May 9th.  It didn't help that Angel Pagan tweaked his back and missed a handful of games before joining Belt on the DL as well.  And then there's been the merry-go-round at second base.  Brandon Hicks stopped hitting homers which basically nullified his value.  Joaquin Arias has been awful all season and Adrianza wasn't the answer either (and now also on the DL).  So the Giants turned to Panik and you can see why the Giants weren't really thrilled about calling him up.  He's been shaky in the field and aside from a couple hits early, hasn't provided much at the plate.  The Giants probably realize they need to make a trade for a 2B at this point even with the possibility Scutaro could return at some point in some capacity.

So the Giants stopped doing everything they were doing great and also had a slew of guys get injured. Meanwhile, the Dodgers found their groove, got healthy (for the most part), and have basically decided not to lose ever again.  That's a recipe for losing 9.5 games in a blink of an eye and feeling all doom and gloomy.

But if you're looking for that ONE thing to point to for these failures, look no further than Pagan.  It's hard to believe that one player can have such an effect on a team but with Pagan that seems to be the case.  The 2013 season went down the tubes when Pagan hit the DL for 2 months.  The 2014 season? Two major blunders in the outfield by Pagan led to the tide turning Rockies series where the Giants collapse really got going.  Instead of winning perhaps one, two, or even 3 games the Giants got swept at home by the Rockies and they haven't stopped losing since.  That also coincided with Pagan missing games and going on the DL.  Blanco has been awful in the leadoff spot as a replacement and the Giants have had trouble getting any sort of offensive rhythm without him.  There are many reasons the Giants are scuffling but Pagan's absence has to be right up there as a primary one.

So how do they fix it?  And what team are they?  The team that was on track to win 105 or so games or the team that has the worst record in baseball the past 3 weeks?  The answer is neither.  They're a happy medium of the two most likely.  Right now, the Giants are going the internal route to fix their issues. They're trying out Panik at 2B because they need to see if they need to trade for an established 2B (they do, preferably Ben Zobrist if you ask me).  Romo's struggles are even more of a headache because the Giants didn't see it coming.  Tacking on another need at this stage when they already have needs at 2B, the rotation, and the bench puts Sabean in a tough spot.  He has limited resources despite the fact the Giants sell out every game.  Adding to those needs is not ideal.  Do the Giants really plan on having Casilla and Affeldt close games the rest of the way?  Are they going to audition Hembree soon like they're auditioning Panik?  With Derek Law on the shelf after Tommy John surgery (joining Mac Williamson, another Giants top prospect losing a season due to TJ surgery) you'd think the Giants will have to see if Hembree can be a legitimate relief option sooner rather than later especially if they plan on letting Romo walk after this season.  So trading for help is one way this will get better and Sabean WILL make a move in the next 30 days.  The question is, what move will he make?

The other way they fix it is to play better.  The calendar is flipping to July and that in and of itself is good news for the "June Swoon" Giants.  Baseball players are weird.  It could be this whole June Swoon business actually got into their heads.  Not likely, but possibly.  With a new month, maybe they turn the corner.  They also are going to get healthier.  Belt should be back shortly.  Pagan even sooner. The rotation, starting with Lincecum's no-hitter, seems to be turning the corner.  Now it's the offense's turn to get better.  Once this happens, the Giants should start winning again and winning more than they're losing.  But the waiting has been real frustrating during this stretch.  But such is baseball.   Reinforcements are coming this month, be it current Giants getting healthy or new players coming via trade.  The good news is the Giants still share first place.  This awful stretch hasn't cost them the division lead.  If they get hot again or even just start playing closer to .500, they'll be fighting Los Angeles the rest of the way for the rights to the West title.  Hopefully the worst is behind them.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is Yasiel Puig the new Barry Bonds?

Yeah, I said it.

Barry Bonds was hated by most baseball fans.  He was hated by some IN baseball.  You would never hear anyone deny his talent however.  Even his harshest critics claimed Bonds was a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer before all the steroid nonsense came about.  But boy, did Bonds get it from every direction.  Fans, the media, teammates, ex-players... Bonds was always a hot topic.  He was vilified and respected.  Hated and beloved.  But no matter what view you had of Bonds, you simply had to watch.

Bonds was a circus attraction.  From the beginning of his career when he was getting in yelling matches with Jim Leyland in Pittsburgh to his final season in San Francisco where he broke the all time home run record, Barry Bonds was THE main event.  During the peak of Bonds's career, the Giants were a huge draw in road stadiums.  How could a man so hated bring so many to the park?  Well, he did.

AT&T Park was built practically by and for Bonds.  While other teams fans hated everything about him, Giants fans (and previously Pirates fans to a certain extent until he left) showered him with nothing but adoration.  The bleacher creatures often did the Wayne's World "We're not worthy" any time #25 stepped out to left field.

It was with good reason.  Bonds produced like no other player when he was between the lines.  For most of his career, that was in San Francisco.  Most non-SF fans loathed Bonds but none more than Los Angeles Dodgers fans.  I mean, could you blame them?

That little dance above was against the Dodgers, as many of you will remember.  Bonds was never short on flare.  He was the best in the game, he knew it, and he acted like it.  He always put on a show and he wasn't afraid to hot dog it to prove it.  In other words, he didn't give anyone outside his home fans a reason NOT to hate him.  He even rubbed some teammates the wrong way.  

Which leads me to the subject of this blog entry.  Is Yasiel Puig the new Barry Bonds?  

It's a legitimate question.  Puig, as far as I can tell, is universally despised by everyone that is not a Dodgers fan.  Well, except for ESPN, who seems to love the guy almost as much as they love(d) Brett Favre.  Like Bonds, Puig seems to have detractors within his own organization, namely his manager Don Mattingly and Dodgers broadcast icon Vin Scully who at times can't seem to fathom the antics he's seeing on the field daily by the young Cuban.  He's allegedly already had to apologize to teammates multiple times for his transgressions and let's not forget he was scratched from the Opening Day line-up this year because he was late to the ballpark.  On Opening Day.

But like Bonds, no one can deny his talent.  In his rookie season he hit .319 with a near .400 OBP and a .925 OPS.  He chipped in 11 steals and had 8 outfield assists.  His arm has already been compared to one of the best recent right fielding arms of this generation in Vladimir Guerrero and he loves to show it off.  So far in 2014, Puig is hitting a cool .340 with a .430 OBP and a 1.036 OPS.  And oh yeah, he was named player of the month for May after batting .398 with a .492 OBP and setting the Los Angeles record for hits in a month (43) during that period.  

Now, Bonds played 22 seasons and put up extraordinary numbers in almost all of them.  He finished his career with 14 All Star appearances and 7 MVP's.  Not to mention he's the all time home run king and is the only member of the 700/500 club.  Puig barely missed the All Star game in his rookie season but undoubtedly will be named to the squad this year.  Regardless, he has a long ways to go to even come close to what Bonds accomplished.

With that being said, Puig seems to be the best candidate out there to become MLB's next great villain. He has all the makings:  the attitude, the talent, the showmanship, and the ego.  ESPN loves him now but if he blows off the media or makes enemies with them, it wouldn't be so hard to imagine them turning on him.  Baseball hasn't had a supervillain since Bonds retired.  Ryan Braun REALLY tried to become that guy but gosh darn it, the guy just seems too likable no matter how many times he gets caught cheating or throwing innocent people under the bus to try to save his own skin.  Albert Pujols definitely had the talent but he was way too boring.  Modest.  Hard to root against a guy like Pujols.  

But now there's Puig.  On Twitter, I use #DouchePuig to refer to anyone or anything that is douchey. Kind of seems fitting.  Douchebag and DouchePuig sound kinda sorta similar, right?  And I'm a Giants fan.  So of course I can't stand him.  Especially not when he and our ace pitcher seem to hate each other as well.  

So after years and years of Dodgers fans having to endure Barry Bonds, the tables may have turned.  It is now Giants fans who must endure Yasiel Puig.  Hey, what goes around comes around, right?  

And I guess the silver lining here is that with Bonds, the Giants never won a World Series.  So despite all the angst he brought Dodgers fans that we, as Giants fans, reveled in we never truly got the last laugh because we never won.  Not until 2010 and 2012 of course.  So let the Dodgers have their Puig. I mean, he was the player of the month for May.  But the Giants had the perfect complement... the pitcher of the month for May:  Mr. Madison Bumgarner.  And oh yeah, the best record in baseball to boot.  

So sure, Puig may terrorize us for seasons.  But as long as he truly follows in Bonds footsteps and doesn't produce a ring for Los Angeles, then in the end, the Giants still come out on top.  Especially if we can add on to that San Francisco 2-ring total.