30 July 2009


With one more day for Sabes to pull a rabbit out of his ass before the non-waiver deadline, I’ll reserve all commentary on this week’s wheeling and dealing for a full recap tomorrow night.

In other news...

Monday, July 27th
Giants 4, Pirates 2
WP: Lincecum (11-3, CG, 15 K); LP: Maholm (6-5)
HR: None

See my live blog for notes from this game.

Another gorgeous, foggy night at the Cove. Timmy had electric stuff, nearly untouchable, and the offense came through with early runs to give him a cushion. My fantasy stud Matt Cain has more wins and a lower ERA, but his teammate could sprint right past him in the Cy Young voting on the back of dynamic performances like this.

Quote of the Night

"If you don't give my old team a whooping, I'm going to beat your (expletive deleted)." - Barry Bonds to Tim Lincecum prior to the game

Tuesday, July 28th
Giants 3, Pirates 2

WP: Romo (3-1); LP: Morton (2-3); S: Wilson (26)
HR: SF - Velez (1)

What do ya know? Another Zito start, another lackluster offensive performance. Anyone familiar with baseball’s sick sense of humor knew as soon as “The Other” Barry was pulled for Serg with two out in the sixth that the G-Men would come up in the bottom of the inning and break the 1-1 tie. (Or that the Bucs would explode for five runs and put the game out of reach. Either way, a bum night for Baked Ziti.)

He was obviously frustrated with being yanked, but one thing you can say about Zito is he keeps his emotions to himself and sticks to the clichés when it comes time to talk to the media.

The 0-for-4 debut of Ryan Garko (nickname needed) was overshadowed by the hitting display of one Eugenio Velez, who’s putting his mark on this series in a major way. His big-boy dinger to the Arcade in the second and double in the sixth would’ve sealed the deal had Brabndon Medders stranded a Jeremy Affeldt baserunner in the eighth. As it worked out, Affeldt lost his streak of 28 scoreless innings — over 81 days! — and the insurance run knocked in by the Panda Express in the seventh proved to be the difference.

With all the talk of Freddy Sanchez swapping clubhouses before he leaves San Francisco, the outburst from Velez was more than welcome, but it provided a perfect example of why this team needs an upgrade at the cornerstone. If this guy is the best thing they’ve had at the position all season, a three-time All-Star and former batting champion would be a significant upgrade.

P.S. Looks like the Big Unit has himself a rotator cuff tear. Not a good prospect for getting him back in the rotation this year. Sabes might go looking for another arm, unless they’ve got a backup plan for “The Big” Sadowski, who seems more and more lost out there with every start.

Quote of the Night

"If you keep your eye on the ball, everything's going to be fine... If you play hard, something's going to happen... I just have to play my game." - Eugenio Velez, who must’ve taken cliché tips from Crash Davis while in the minors

Stat of the Night

The victory lifted the Giants back into a tie with Colorado atop the Wild Card standings and improved their record at the Cove to 33-15 (.688), moving them ahead of Boston (34-16, .680) for best in the Majors.

Wednesday, July 29th
Giants 1, Pirates 0 (10)
WP: Wilson (3-4); LP: Capps (2-6)
HR: None

Ah, a fantasy owner’s dilemma: Pick players from your favorite team and you can celebrate twice as hard when they succeed. But you suffer twice as much when they don’t perform. This game was one of mixed emotions for my fake team, as much as it was for my “real” one.

Matt Cain’s been my top-of-the-rotation guy since day one. Brian Wilson has combined with Heath Bell and George Sherrill to give me the league lead in saves — by a comfortable margin. When Wilson saves a Cain victory, I score big time. When Wilson blows a Cain lead, I don’t get much sleep.

When Cain throws nine innings of shutout ball, I’d normally get a huge points payoff. When he cedes to Wilson, who gets the W in a 1-0 victory after Randy Winn sneaks one inside the first-base line in the 10th, I do very well, but there’s that nagging voice in my head that wishes the G’s could’ve pushed one across just an inning or two sooner.

I try to ignore the voice and tell myself to be happy for 10 scoreless innings to shrink my team ERA, which has ballooned of late thanks to the not-so-fine performances of Kevin Correia and Jeremy Guthrie. But I’m a Giants fan, after all. We want the world and we want it... now.

Quote of the Day

"It's nice to strike out a lot of guys, but I figured I'd waste a lot of pitches." - Cain, who doesn’t talk like he’s only 24 (He’ll be 25 on October 1st.)

Stat of the Day

Cain lowered his ERA to 2.12, moving him ahead of Arizona’s Dan Haren for the National League lead.

Series Debrief

Pundits are bound to say this was a weak showing from the Giants. On the surface, I’d agree with them. Sweeping a lowly Pirates club in the process of shedding all its Major League talent while scoring only eight runs over three games does not compute to a landmark series.

But when you consider the Giants struggles with the Bucs over the past few years — 6-16 since 2005 prior to this series — this sweep is quite the psychological boost, for the fans if not the players. And when you have the hottest team in the league coming to town, you need all the boost you can get.

Meanwhile, the Hated Ones are grappling with their first full-fledged losing streak of the season. They dropped their third straight for the first time this season on Tuesday (10-0 in St. Louis), and yesterday blew a lead in the bottom of the 11th and lost to the Cards in 15.

This is the kind of demoralizing stretch that the Giants have already fought through more than once. If you come out of it with all limbs intact, you end up a stronger team. But if you hit your first speed bump this deep into the season, it could cause quite the crisis of confidence, especially in the midst of a trip like the Hated Ones are on now.

I'm not the team shrink. I'm just sayin'.

27 July 2009

Live Blogging Pirates @ Giants

First pitch, 7:17 p.m.

The boys just took the field. There was a short but sweet ceremony to honor Giants majority share holder Sue Burns before the game. Tasteful, with the whole team on the field. A full youth orchestra played the national anthem. Did I mention the former Giant who made an appearance to catch the ceremonial first pitch?

Now, it's Timmy time!

7:23 p.m.

Check out Curtis Pashelka's pregame notes filling in for Baggs.

Lincecum strikes out two in dominating fashion but needs help from new callup Velez on a diving catch to end the inning. Noah tells me I should mention the thong the girl in the next row is wearing. It is, indeed, pretty hot.

7:32 p.m.

I can't express in words how sweet it looks to track a Panda drive from the Club Level. Very nice. We upgraded on the way in by trading four at the back in 104 for a pair in 208. We've got a straight-ahead view up the first-to-second base line. Funny how I've never been scammed by scalpers, yet everyone else seems to think it's common practice.

Anyway: G's 1, Bucs 0

7:34 p.m.

There goes the no hitter.

7:49 p.m. End of the 2nd

I've got some kids behind me doing play-by-play that's good enough for radio in most major baseball markets I've vistited, Particularly San Diego.

Major props to Andres Torres for bailing out Timmy, who didn't do badly at the plate with the bases juiced and nobody out — though he did just enough to hit into a runless double play. Either way, I'm not gonna complain about the results.

A freaky play just added another run. Looks like a short liner kicked off Jones in right center and was caught barehanded by a diving Delwyn Young... and they called it a hit. Winn thrown out in the confusion, but I'll take it. You'll probably see that on SportsCenter.

G's 4, Bucs 0

8:16 p.m. Garko trade

Baggarly just jumped on to his blog in relief of his reliever, Curtis, to tell us that Brian Sabean just wheeled a deal and may not be done...

Meanwhile, Lincecum is dealing as well, and the Peanut gallery behind me couldn't be giddier. Strikeout, throw-out double play. Was he out? Sorry. My MLBTV.com free trial expired last week.

8:38 p.m.

Sure enough, I start talking about the game, and Timmy goes out and throws up an inning like that. Noah quips, "He's been hanging out with Zito too much." Let's hope sixth inning implosions aren't contagious.

Meanwhile, Russ and Lon are behind me tearing it up. Second and third, no out... "Lincecum needs a strikeout." 0-2 count... "He should waste one here." Double off the bricks... "Tough bounce, but Randy Winn knows the yard. No problem."

G's 4, Bucs 2

8:44 p.m.

Some might ask, whither do you live blog? I prefer to go down.

8;52 p.m.

I don't know much, but I know that Bonds would've had none chance on that one. I also know that Velez's dive was all style points. Looks like they're letting Timmy hit. Just in case Kruk and Kuip haven't brought it up, the Giants' single game strikeout record is 16, set by Christy Mathewson in October of 1904 and matched — I believe — by Jason Schmidt a few years ago. Research!

9:01. p.m.

Every time I see a baby at the park, all dolled up in Orange and Black, I get a little weepy eyed. But not because it's cute or anything. These are tears of empathy. I know what this kid's gonna go through, and it kills me a little bit. I look into his wide eyes and I see years of frustration, game after game of torment, and eventual resignation to the vagaries of being a Giants fan...

But who wants to hear all that? Panda's up.

9:12 p.m.

Let it be known, Jack Wilson is putting on a clinic at shortstop. The fog rolled in during Panda's last AB, and one of our young neighbors screamed: "The baseball spirits are upon us!" After Pablo beat out an amazing, diving, hurling play by Wilson, Bengie went ahead and grounded into that double play Noah and I called about three innings ago. Eh, he was due.

With the bullpen empty, looks like Timmy's coming out to pitch the ninth. Don't know how wise that is, but if he strikes out the side, he ties a team record. There are times I'd like to be a manager, and this isn't one of them.

9:17 p.m. LAST LIVE POST

Interesting tactic from Grabow, trying to freeze Lincecum by walking two and bringing out the grounds crew to fix a hole in the mound. Timmy's hole.

Lincecum came out and dug the hole out again. Love this kid. The crowd's on it's feet.

Gotta run to the car afterwards, so nothing more until after this is over.

Final score: Giants 4, Pirates 2

Thanks to everyone who paid attention during this little experiment, all three of you. I gotta say the whole live-blogging thing is a bit distracting from the actual event, and one definitely sticks out like a sore thumb with a MacBook in their lap at a ballgame — though maybe not so much on the Club Level. But they offer the free WiFi, and we lap it up as happy 21st Century consumers.

Big win for the team, especially on the night they remembered their Team Mom. Huge game for Lincecum — btw, the two runs he gave up were unearned thanks to a Renteria error. Crafty deal from Sabes to hold onto prized talent and still grab a healthy corner infield bat. What this means for Ishi is anyone's guess. Probably a glorified pinch hitting role. Time to finally drop him from the ol' fantasy team...

In case you were wondering, the "Home Run King" stayed until the final out.

There's No Place Like Home

Did you know there are three Major League stadiums named after beer companies?

Friday, July 24th Giants 3, Rockies 1
WP: Cain (12-2); LP: Hammel (5-5); S: Wilson (25 - N.L. Leader)
HR: SF - Schierholtz (4)

If karma does indeed surround us like a warm blanket, there is no greater evidence than the career arc of Main Cain. Should he sustain his level of play, should the defense continue to play Gold Glove defense at all positions behind him, should the Giants capture national attention and reach the playoffs, this team might be fielding another Cy Young triumvirate in the 2010 rotation... without Randy Johnson.

There, I said it. Remember: Jinxes are bullshit. Players make plays. Or they don’t. It’s as simple as that.

The good vibes from Thursday’s afternoon affair in Hot-lanta carried over here as the offense awoke for just long enough to do critical damage, and Matty laid down the law over seven nearly-spotless innings. But the real hero of the game didn’t do it (all) with his bat...

The Kung Fu Panda made a pair of unbelievable backhand plays down the line to rob speed demon Dexter Fowler. If you want an idea of how athletic a rolly-polly of a human being can be, have a look at this and also this.

Stat of the Night
“Nasty” Nate Schierholtz's fourth-inning home run was the Giants' first since July 12th, breaking a dinger-less string of 75 innings and 284 ABs.
Quote of the Night
"That's a pretty good feeling. Obviously, they're rooting against us, but it was fun to have that kind of excitement in the stadium. You make it work for you." - Matt Cain
Saturday, July 25th Rockies 8, Giants 3
WP: De La Rosa (8-7); LP: Sánchez (3-9)
HR: COL - Tulowitski (18)

Jonathan Sánchez has definitely learned a lot about himself since being demoted to the bullpen and rising like a phoenix to throw the first no-no for Los Gigantes in 33 long years. But he still hasn’t learned how to control his temper. Yes, Johnny, the rain came at just the right time to screw with your mojo. But the rain didn’t put two guys on base or groove one to Tulowitski. You did. And you can’t decide when it’s too wet to pitch. You’re on the umpires’ time, and they said play ball.

The Giants offense couldn’t even manage to make it interesting after that. Sánchez nearly took himself out of the game with a temper tantrum in the fourth and eventually went to the showers after surrendering a two-spot in the sixth. The bullpen had a decent showing... provided you discount a wasted outing from Merkin Valdez, who gave up three runs on four hits and a walk while navigating the eighth.

I gotta say, that dinger really lit up the Rockies dugout. The Giants staff had moseyed into town and promptly shut down the league’s second-most-potent offense. The home side had been perched on the doorstep but couldn’t seem to get home. Well, that all changed after Tulo returned to the first-base dugout. The fire was relit, and it carried his team to victory.

Quote of the Night
"I gave up two hits in the first five innings and there were three runs. I was like, 'How that happened?' Just one pitch, it went out of the park and you know the score." - Jonathan Sánchez
Sunday, July 26th Rockies 4, Giants 2
WP: Cook (10-3); LP: Sadowski (2-3); S: Street (25)

Call me on it if I’m full of shit, but the Giants never perform well against sinkerballers. Brandon Webb and Derek Lowe always spring to mind as card-carrying members of this band of tricksters who’ve played their pranks on all-too-gullable Giants squads over the years. Add Aaron Cook to the rolls.

The simple truth is that eager bats mixed with sinking pitches lead to ground balls, lots of them, sixteen of them for outs in this game alone, including a poorly-timed double-play ball from Edgar Renteria. To be fair, Edgar drove in one Giants run and set up the other one, but it’s always the failures that we remember. Such is baseball. Such is life.

Right now, this offense couldn’t hit a beach ball, and there’s only so much a pitching staff can do. I’m not abandoning my position that this team can win as constituted, but you’re going to hear a lot of whispers around the Cove when the team returns this week. As pointed out by Baggarly, trade topic Freddy Sanchez will be at AT&T with the Bucs to start the homestand.

Btw, the non-waiver trade deadline is Friday, July 31st at 1 p.m. PT.

Road trip post mortem

If the Wild Card race comes down to the Giants and Rockies, I think we’re all in for quite a treat. Both teams have obvious strengths and just enough of everything else to make them winning clubs. They both have a lot of youth mixed with just enough veteran leadership. Neither team was predicted to do much of anything. And both of their parks have been filled of late with loyal fans hungry for the postseason.

The folks at Coors Field are rising to their feet with two strikes and two outs. And I’m pretty sure I heard some die hard fans of the Gothams chanting “Lets go Giants” in the later innings — along with at least one rendition of “U-RIBE!” It’s plain to see the faithful on both sides understand the significance of these games. There was a playoff atmosphere enveloping that park all weekend, and it came through even on television.

I hope we all find that passion within ourselves and welcome our team home with relentless support.

25 July 2009

Franny Watch: Special Edition

As a vociferous Giants fan and a graduate of Bellarmine College Prep, it’s been difficult for me to deal with the seemingly endless vacillation of Kevin Frandsen’s career with the Orange and Black.

The 12th-round pick who received only one college scholarship offer — and proceeded to break batting records at San Jose State — has fought tooth and nail to carve out a place in this organization, but as beloved as he is by fans and coaches alike, no matter how much talent he displays at each and every level, a consistent spot on the 25-man roster has been near-impossible to come by.

This all could have ended last year had Franny’s Achilles tendon not snapped like a twig during Spring Training. He had a lock on the second base gig thanks to a .295 average over the final two months of 2007, spent almost exclusively in the starting nine thanks to Ray Durham’s gimpy knees. (Frandsen hit .370/.427/.479 in 73 September ABs.)

One freak injury and a lost season later, and the world’s biggest Giants fan finds himself the odd man out, most recently demoted in favor of Fresno Flavor of the Month, Matt Downs. The former Spartan’s been up and down three times this year alone, wearing a groove in the asphalt on Pacheco Pass. He was recalled for three days in June to replace Travis Ishikawa while the first baseman was on the bereavement list.

There are many excuses with how Frandsen is handled, so much so that’s it’s clear the team understands the level of interest from South Bay fans who want to see their hometown boy make good. The most common excuse goes something like, “He’s just not getting enough at-bats at this level, so he’d be better served starting every day in Triple-A.”

This, of course, leads one to ask the question: Why isn’t Frandsen getting a serious look at the major league level?

Well, the most obvious answer would be his lack of production at the plate in a big league uniform this season. In 16 games, he’s had 39 ABs and collected five hits for a robust .128 average. Looking only at those numbers would have you believe Johnny LeMaster would make a better second bagger for the 2009 Giants. But when you’re picking up starts to spell your teammates or coming in as a pinch hitter after cooling on the bench for eight innings, you can’t say you’re getting quality time to shine.

And it’s not like the kid has anything left to learn with the Grizzlies. Check out his line in 65 games at Triple-A this season:

.304/.354/.451, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 39 R, 20 XBH in 257 ABs

With Manny Burriss on the DL to close out the season, Matt Downs looking like a flash in the pan, and Juan Uribe one poor week away from becoming a pumpkin, there is no reason Kevin Frandsen should not be getting a serious look at second base for this team. He’s hit the ball hard all year, really picked up his glove game — even at short, where he struggled in the shadow of Omar Vizquel — and played with the kind of passion you rarely see once a guy straps it on in the Show.

Of course, all of this mess could’ve been moot had Brian Sabean not gone out and paid what now appears to be far too much to acquire Edgar Renteria’s veteran presence for the shortstop position. I dare anyone to prove to me that a Burriss-Frandsen double play combo wouldn’t have worked out just as well for the Giants as Renteria-Uribe (and I say that as Edgar’s fantasy owner and Uribe’s biggest fan for the Turning Point moment in Seattle).

In my mind, any success this year is icing on the cake of player development. That this team is in contention a year or two early only speaks to the talent we’re already seeing from the under-30 set. You don’t have to look much farther than Molina’s poor performance since April and the inconsistency of “gamers” like Rowand, Winn, and Renteria to know who’s been carrying this team on their unlikely run toward a pennant.

If this year is s’posed to be about a youth movement, then let’s have a youth movement. If the Giants get to October baseball, they’ll have as good a shot as anybody, no matter who’s playing up the middle.


24 July 2009

The Long and Winding Road

Butch’s recap of Giants @ Braves...

Monday, July 20th
Braves 11, Giants 3
WP: Hanson (5-0); LP: Romo (2-1)
HR: ATL - Anderson (7); C. Jones (11); Church (3)

Somebody finally got a hit off Jonathan Sanchez, and boy what a hit. But apart from GA’s bomb and a two-run shot from Chipper, Sanchy was pretty clean. A surprise removal in a 3-3 tie after making only 86 pitches in six innings precipitated the first, honest-to-god, absolute and complete bullpen meltdown of the season.

Not the best start to a four-game marathon in Hot-lanta, but the offense managed to plate a few for the second straight day, and most importantly, Sanchez seems to be finding a groove for the first time in his career as a starter. I’ve got a feeling his name is coming off the trade boards as I write these words. Of course, that has more to do with the condition of Randy Johnson’s rotator cuff than his performance on the mound, but at least he hasn’t looked like a stop-gap recently.

Stat of the Day
Sergio Romo gave up four runs without recording an out and saw his ERA jump over two and a half runs to 6.59.
Tuesday, July 21st
Braves 8, Giants 1
WP: D. Lowe (9-7); LP: Sadowski (2-2)
HR: ATL - McCann (10)

Looks like the honeymoon’s over for the perpetually frightened-looking Ryan "The Big" Sadowski. As eager as I am for everybody to get their chance to shine — just like in tee ball — I wasn’t all that hot on the kid before today, and I soured even more around the time he gave up back-to-back crooked numbers.

Here’s the rook's line from this gem:
SADOWSKI - 3.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, HR (ERA 4.15)

I know all the arguments in favor of a much bally-hooed “trade for a bat,” but there is no reasonable way to contend that one bat would prevent losses of 11-3 or 8-1. You know what could prevent them? Pitching we were seeing just before the break. Baby, baby, where did our staff go?

Good point from Haft’s gamer:
The Giants have climbed above .500 largely because their bullpen has been just as effective as the rotation. But all it takes to upset that favorable balance and overwork the relievers is a few more abbreviated performances such as Sadowski's within a short span.
I’m beginning to think the whole All-Star break thing is a really bad idea. Maybe next year, we can just play through. You know, like in golf.

Quote of the Day
“I can do nothing to help the team." - Edgar Réntería, to which I would add: “No shit, Sherlock.”
Wednesday, July 22nd
Braves 4, Giants 2
WP: Jurrjens (9-7) ; LP: Lincecum (10-3); S: Soriano (14)
HR: ATL - Y. Escobar (10)

Not much to say when Lincecum gets out-pitched except: Damn. I will say that this offense is starting to look pretty pathetic, but at the lowest point of the season in mid-May, they weren’t scraping across runs in the late innings. They were just giving up.

I’ll take a team “trying to do too much” over one that rolls over and dies. You can see it in the eyes of everyone in that dugout. They’re searching for the spark they lost over the break (or somewhere in the middle innings of that afterthought of a loss to the Padres that closed out the first half).

Fear not, reactionary Fringe-dwellers! The worm still has time to turn again, but we may have to give up on last week’s pipe dream of an NL West championship. From here on in, it’s Wild Card or bust!

Quote of the Day
"We're not playing with the same intensity." - Bengie Molina
Thursday, July 23rd
Giants 5, Braves 1
WP: Zito (6-10); LP: M. Gonalez (3-3)
HR: ATL - Y. Escobar (11)

There may be no such thing as a “must win” game in July, but this has to be as close as it gets. The chartered flight to Denver would’ve been rather quiet coming off a four-game sweep with only one win in seven games. Not that two outta seven sounds much better, but the dynamics of a baseball season can change from day to day. When you’re about to enter the house of the team that just passed you in the Wild Card race, you need all the swagger you can get.

The need to pull one out of their ass became even more pronounced after Barry Zito completed the seventh inning, snapping a thread of Jekyll and Hyde performances going back to mid-June. He’s now the proud papa of two quality starts in a row. All for only $5K a pitch.

As previously reported, the Z-Man gets the lowest run support in the league, and that’s really the only reason to feel sorry for him. In his last start, the Giants offense plated none runs. They only managed a run before he left the game today. A four-run outburst of seeing-eye groundballs and generous errors saved him from another workout and handed him his sixth victory. He didn’t win his sixth last year until August.

While I’ll be the first to defend my fellow Trojan, and he’s shown some real progress this year, especially in April/May, they call these the “Dog Days” for a reason. Looking back at his career arc, Zito’s numbers are appreciably better in the second half — ERA about three-quarters of a run lower, reduced WHIP, and BAA drop of .27 — but his problem has always been consistency. It makes you wonder what he was smoking in 2002.

Whatever it was, I want some of that shit.

Quote of the Day
"You know, you get your dauber down and when you're not hitting, you look flat as a team. To get a win does a lot for the morale of this club.” - Bruce Bochy
We'll have a much better idea of where this team's "dauber" is at after three games at Coors...

P.S. I know many of you are anxious to hear my take on K-Fran's most recent demotion to Purgatory, er, Fresno. Look for a special edition of Franny Watch, coming soon to a Blogspot near you.

20 July 2009

As the Worm Turns

Recapping the weekender in Pittsburgh...

Friday, July 17
Pirates 2, Giants 1 (14 innings)

WP: Meek (1-0); LP: Howry (0-5)
HR: PIT - G. Jones 2; SF - none

Oh, the pain of being Bob Howry. The offense goes 0-6 with RISP and fails to plate an earned run over 14 innings, but who gets all the blame from post-game callers and Saturday morning pundits on the 50,000-watt juggernaut? Even after this outing, Howry sports a 3.55 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, very respectable numbers for a reliever, especially one consigned to entering into losing efforts or extra-inning logjams such as this. But because he always seems to be the guy on the hill when the other team walks off (hence the 0-5 mark), he tends to take all the heat, even though he hardly deserves it. Don't forget that career minor-leaguer Garrett Jones — on whom the Giants had none book — also took Timmy(!) deep in the first. But Giants fans are likely more concerned with another road L than the symmetry of Jones' bookend dingers.

Quote of the Day
"You're not going to win games without a hit with runners in scoring position unless you hit the ball out of the ballpark." - Bochy
Saturday, July 18
Pirates 2, Giants 0
WP: Morton (2-2); LP: Zito (5-10); S: Capps (20)
HR: None

The Giants can brag about their two ten-game winners, but now they have ther first ten-game loser, and like Bob Howry, Barry Zito can make the argument that he deserves better. Sure, the guy earns $5K per pitch, but he's (finally) posting some pretty decent numbers in his third year with the Orange and Black. The former Trojan has been slipping of late, but this game was more reminiscent of his April and May performance than his June swoon, and despite the loss, it bodes well for a strong second half. He still gets the lowest run support in the majors — a paltry 1.68 per start.

Once again, the offense fizzled against an unimpressive pitcher. The good news is they only went 0-for-4 with RISP. The bad news is, they only had four at bats with RISP. Even more tragic, two of those at bats came in the ninth when they put the tying runs at second and third with only one out. But Travis "Hapa" Ishikawa struck out and first half hero Juan "The Dictator" Uribe bounced feebly into a force play. Just another dreadful day at PNC Park, where the Giants have dropped their last five games and nine of 11 going back to 2006.

Quote of the Day
"I definitely need to have a better plan at the plate." - Ishikawa
Sunday, July 19
Giants 4, Pirates 3
WP: Cain (11-2); LP: Duke (8-9); S: Wilson (24)
HR: PIT - Moss

Breakfast with the Giants began on a sombre note as Kruk and Kuip relayed the passing of Giants majority shareholder Sue Burns in the early morning hours Sunday. She had been diagnosed with late-stage cancer last week, and her sudden loss reverberated throughout the organization. Bochy told the team during BP. Randy Winn led the team in prayer. Then, the Giants went out and won one for their "Team Mom."

Matt Cain put any doubts about his bruised elbow to rest with a dominant performance — a Brandon Moss home run notwithstanding — and the offense finally sprung to life with four straight doubles and a pair of sac flies in the top of the sixth to chase All-Star starter Zach Duke. Given their recent history, a sweep at the hands of the lowly Bucs would not have been surprising. This was, after all, the Giants first win in Pittsburgh since 2007 (a Noah Lowry victory). Still, a W on this getaway day was absolutely critical to keep them atop the N.L. Wild Card race and energize the players for the rest of this 10-game trip.

Franny Watch: Bellarmine/San Jose State product (and man crush of yours truly) Kevin Frandsen got the start at second base and collected his first extra base hit of the season with a double in the ninth to raise his BA to a blistering .128. He's 5-for-39 on the season.

Quote of the Day
"The Giants attack first pitches very well, and you have to make quality pitches from the first pitch of the at-bat." - Pirates starter Zach Duke
Stat of the Day
Matt Cain is a perfect 10-0 this season when he receives three or more runs of support.
On Deck

It's off to Hot-lanta for a brutal four-game set. Let's see which Jonathan Sanchez decides to show up tonight against Tommy Hanson...

16 July 2009

How the Giants Can Win the West

I could sit here and tell you how the Giants will likely hold onto the National League Wild Card slot, winning at Petco Park for the first time this season in Game 162, a 1-0 squeaker with Jonathan Sanchez tossing his third complete game and Pablo Sandoval stroking an opposite field homer off Heath Bell in the ninth.

I could break down the first half stats and second half projections for the six teams within five games in the “Wild Card Division.” I could break down the nine teams within 6½. I could tell you about the strengths of their schedules and their bullpen ERAs. I could compare rotations and home records. I could spew a mess of numbers and charts that would make Bill James blush.

But this is baseball we’re talking about. No matter how many detailed statistics the game gives us to obsess upon, there is no statistic for the rocks on the infield or divets in the outfield, for muscle pulls or minor league call-ups, for the will to win or the resignation to failure.

Numbers will tell you a player’s worth can be determined in the abstract. Numbers will tell you that Major League pitching has improved because HR averages are down. Numbers will tell you a team can still prevail in Game 7 after blowing a 5-0 lead in what would have been a series-clinching Game 6.

The numbers of baseball often lie.

Of course, I’m not being completely honest either. I’d love to break down the race for the N.L. Wild Card in a nine-part series over the next day or so before we go back on our medication. But I just don’t have that kinda time. Who does, really?

I do, however, have the time to say a few things about another race in which the Giants are still a serious player. And to analyze this race, I only need to dissect two teams: Us and Them.


It’s the 300-pound gorilla in the room, so why don’t we talk about it in depth right off the top?

The Giants are scoring 4.2 runs per game, which for most teams wouldn’t stop the presses. But given the lackluster hitting performances turned in by this team over the past few years, it’s a watershed. And they’re only getting better as the season progresses. Their RPG has risen every month, with a low-point of 3.85 in April and the current peak of 4.75 for the first half of July.

Yes, they lack that big-name threat in the middle of the lineup, they’ve drawn 64 fewer walks than any other team in the N.L., and some nights they still manage to make another team’s shell-shocked rookie look like vintage Greg Maddux.

The Hated Ones, by contrast, have the best team batting average in baseball (.275) and a run differential (+105) a full 20 better than their nearest competitor (Boston). Russell Martin and Orlando Hudson have been struggling, but this team gets contributions up and down the lineup and can beat you in a variety of ways.

And then there’s Manny.

But day after day, a new hero emerges to lead the Giants’ much-maligned offense, and very quietly they’ve amassed a run differential of +44. Of course, a lot of that is due to the pitching staff’s league-leading 3.51 ERA. But it also tells you this team is learning how to do just enough to win as opposed to doing just enough to lose.

You can pinpoint the moment when this worm turned. It was a brisk Saturday night in Seattle. The Giants were three games under .500, losers of eight of their last nine. They’d fallen 2-1 to the M’s the previous night in 12 innings, their only run coming on an Aaron Rowand homer leading off the game. They’d only managed seven runs in their past five games.

It was the top of the eighth. There were two outs. The Giants were trailing 1-0. The team scoreless streak was at 18 innings. A pair of two-out hits from Molina and Winn and a walk to Burriss loaded the bases against Mark Lowe (one of the aforementioned shell-shocked rookies). That’s when it happened.

Juan Uribe, nephew of former Giants fan favorite Jose, stroked a double into the right-centerfield gap. It rolled to the wall. Three runs scored. After a Fred Lewis dinger, the Giants led 5-1. Matt Cain finished off a complete game, and in 46 games since the Giants are 29-17.

Over than span, evidence of a rebirth can be found in the elevated game of a cadre of young talent. Travis Ishikawa picked himself off the schnide and has six homers and a .300-plus average since the Turning Point. Nate Schierholtz has been a five-tool revelation in right field, replacing problem child Fred Lewis, whose days in the orange and black may be numbered. Eli Whiteside, called up the day after the Turning Point, has provided a viable option backing up Molina and was the mastermind behind the plate for Sanchez’s no-no.

And you cannot deny the impact of Pablo Sandoval. I’m not even talking about the time he spends in the batters box — which have to be the most exciting moments loyal Giants fans have seen since Barry’s home run chase in years of lore. If you follow this team, you’ve seen a little Panda taking root. It’s in Timmy’s smile, Wilson’s mohawk, Rowand’s grit. It’s infectious like a rare disease, and it’s spread through the Giants clubhouse a year or two earlier than expected.

There are a lot of folks calling for a trade to bolster the lineup with the addition of a big bat (or two). And it’s not just the Lunatic Fringe. Columnists, beat reporters, bloggers, and pundits all agree something must be done.

I, however, do not fall into that category.

I agree that, with growing parity throughout the league, a team must embrace every chance it has to reach the postseason because — as was oft-repeated during the Bonds era — anything is possible in October. However, I don’t agree that the Giants must sacrifice young talent or the fragile chemistry they’ve developed over the past few months (and years).

I am a firm believer in the intangibles of sports success (see later in this post), and I believe this team must have its chance to sail or fail as constituted. Any honest appraisal of what’s out there to be had yields a long list of Shea Hillenbrands and Sidney Ponsons, all of whom come with hefty contracts and histories of injury.

If the Giants are honest about building for the future, this season must be seen as what it is: a pleasant advance on an investment. We’re playing with house money, and I’m ready to go all in down the home stretch with the girl that brought me to the table. Just sayin’.

Starting pitching

I’ll say the least about this subject, because it’s the one bright spot about this team that the national and local news media have already beaten to death, brought back to life, and beaten to death again.

I think a lot of the fire behind the Vote for Pablo campaign stemmed from the relief that someone other than Lincecum or Cain was getting attention. Kind of like when the DJs start to play that quirky song off that popular band’s album that you always liked even though nobody’s heard it because all they do is listen to the single. Then that quirky song becomes a single and you have to find a new song to dig. (I don’t think this will happen anytime soon with Pablo. Just finishing my analogy.)

I will go so far as to point out that the Giants’ rotation led the majors with a 3.62 ERA while the Hated Ones’ starting pitchers have thrown quality starts only 42.3 percent of the time, second-worst in the National League.


Matching the starters in a game of tit-for-tat, the Giants bullpen leads the majors with an ERA of 3.29. To a man, they are a well-rested bunch thanks to the deep outings and durability of the starting staff. Jeremy Affeldt has been a revelation in the set-up role, and Sergio Romo has the stuff to be a closer in his own right.

Yes, Brian Wilson has had his share of blown saves, and even a couple three-run-lead-blowing disasters. But every time, he’s rebounded to go on blistering runs of dominance. He seems to be on one of those runs now, so let’s hope it lasts. But if the Giants miss a playoff spot by a game or two, the blame cannot fall squarely on Wilson’s head. Even the best closers aren’t perfect, and a stronger offense would save more games than he blows.

Down at Chavez Ravine, closer Jonathan Broxton recently got a cortisone shot in his right big toe, and set-up man Ronald Belisario is on the disabled list with irritation in his right elbow. The Hated Ones’ bullpen has already logged 302 innings — second most in the majors. Added to that, L.A. is 18-9 in one-run games and 9-2 in extra innings — so a lot of their guys are probably running on fumes. The Giants pen has logged only 245 innings to date.


This is one of the most impossible aspects of the game to quantify because range (read: Edgar Rentería) and mental errors (read: Fred Lewis) don’t show up in a box score. That said, the Giants are more than holding their own with a converted catcher at third, an aging shortstop, and liabilities at various positions. They’ve committed the fifth-fewest errors (47) in the league. The Hated Ones have made 40 errors, third best in the N.L. And with Schierholtz replacing Lewis, the outfield defense has already shown marked improvement. This is key with flyball pitchers like Matt Cain anchoring the staff.


Depending how you break it down, this could be a strength, a weakness, or an area where the two teams simply break even.

The Giants open the second half tomorrow with a 10-game roadie to Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Colorado, so we should know pretty quickly whether they’ll be able to improve upon their 18-24 road record, which they’ll have to do to make a serious run at the Hated Ones or the Wild Card.

If this trip doesn’t do them in, they’ll have a second chance to fold on an 11-game, three-city jaunt that will take them to New York, Cincinnati and Colorado (again, sheesh) right smack in the middle of the dog days of August.

While Giants are off on that brutal trip, the Hated Ones will be on the road to Arizona and home to the Cards and Cubs — not a horribly rough stretch, but it’s never a cakewalk playing in the N.L. Central.

I’m willing to predict right now that if they’re still standing after that monster trip, the Giants will make the playoffs.

By the way, the Giants finish with 16 of 25 games in the friendly confines of 24 Willie Mays Plaza, where they enjoy a 31-15 record, among the best in the majors. One of the exceptions, however, is that three-gamer at Petco to close out the season. Don’t think for a second that anybody involved with this team isn’t staring at that series like a loaded gun.

The Hated Ones close with three at home against the Rockies, but before that, they’re on the road to Washington, Pittsburgh, and San Diego. While those teams are all pushovers, a trip to the East Coast that late in the season could really take a toll.

Now, number junkies will tell you in order for the Giants to simply catch — not pass — the Hated Ones, they’ll need to make up seven games in the standings. This means if the Hated Ones went .500 the rest of the way — not likely — the Giants would need to post a record of at least 44-30. In reality, they’ll have to do better than that to take the division, but with nine head-to-head contests remaining between the arch rivals, anything’s possible.

(Returning to the Wild Card race for just a sec, a 44-30 record in the final months would all but seal a Giants postseason berth, no matter what happens in the West.)


Despite my aversion to using stats as a predictive factor, I’m a sucker for the law of averages.

With that in mind, I’ll have you know the Hated Ones haven't lost three consecutive games all season. Their record is far and away the best in the league, and they rarely lose a series — though they did drop rubber games at the White Sox and home to the Mariners in late June. But while they’ve got talent and swagger, the ’27 Yankees they’re not, and something’s got to give.

The Hated Ones were 29-21 without Manny Ramirez, and any Giants fan who lived through the Bonds era will tell you that steroid-using, press-infuriating, egomaniacal prima donnas don’t go over well in the clubhouse. While his teammates talk about welcoming him back with open arms and adding a huge piece to a successful machine, our experiences help us read between the lines.

It may not happen today or tomorrow or even by the end of July, but you can set your clock on this thing blowing up in their faces down in La-La Land. And the Giants are in position to capitalize on their misfortune and mismanagement.

The Giants, on the other hand, have nothing to lose, and I expect them to play that way in the second half. It’s difficult to admit, but I see a lot of the 2003 Marlins in this team: dominant young pitching, a nucleus of rising stars, and veteran leadership from Manager Bruce Bochy and players like Randy Johnson.

The simple fact is, nobody expected this team to do much. Most prognosticators had them treading water around the .500 mark pretty much all season. They’ve exceeded expectations, but I don’t think they’re getting cocky and I don’t think a team this loose could ever tighten up with nerves — Timmy’s All-Star performance aside, the kid smiles and talks to the press before the games he starts!

We should have a lot of fun at the Cove in the second half, and if we’re a little bit lucky, we’ll be able to enjoy baseball by the Bay well into October...

If we’re a little bit lucky.

Until then, Go Giants!

11 July 2009

Miracle at 24 Willie Mays Plaza

There's going to be an awful lot written about Jonathan Sánchez no-hitting the Padres Friday night at the Cove, and I don't want to repeat any of what's already been said. This opening salvo of Under the Bleachers is about a personal moment for me, for my family, and anyone who truly, madly, deeply cares about this team.

Around noon, a friend Facebooked that he had an extra ticket to the Giants game and would anyone like to join him? Normally, I would've been the first to comment back that hell yes I would love to go to the Giants game and when and where can I meet you? But last night, I had a previous engagement. So I declined. And why not?

Tim Lincecum had thrown a gem the previous evening, Matt Cain was scheduled to go today, and in between was the problem child with confidence and concentration issues, starting only because the Big Unit had just landed himself on the DL by taking what has to be one of the ugliest swings in baseball history. I'm not going to say our chances for a W were slim. After all, we've got the second-best record in the league, and the Padres are, well, the Padres. But the matchup certainly left a lot to be desired. So I declined.

I went to the dinner I'd planned to attend, figuring I'd leave around 8:30 and pick the game up on the radio around the fourth inning. I was one frame off. By the time I returned to my car, I was listening to Sánchez set down the side in the top of the fifth. I remember hearing Kuiper say the Pads had none baserunners through five and thinking, "Well, 'bout time for our head case pitcher to fall apart."

After stopping by work to pick up a forgotten file, I got back in the car in time to hear Panda's monster three-run jack land somewhere in Hayward. If you'll allow me to digress from the no-hitter thread for a moment... After watching a replay later in the evening, I'd have to say that's right up there among the two or three most impressive dingers in the short history of our waterfront ballpark. The other two I'd place alongside it on the mantle? The Big Cat's bomb to the left field promenade above the bleachers in '01 and Bonds' 10th-inning Splash Hit walk-off against Ray King and the Braves in his return to the lineup direct from his father's deathbed in August '03. (The former for sheer audacity, the latter for the pure emotion. Did I mention Bonds hit another extra-inning walk-off in the same series?)

By the time I reached my abode and had the TV tuned to Kruk-n-Kuip-ville, Little Johnny Sánchez was striking out the side in the top of the seventh. The knowledge of Giants fans in the park who cheered the K of Tony Gwynn, Jr., really impressed me and filled me with a sense of pride. All year, I've felt like the faithful have been slowly but surely taking back the ballpark from the wine-and-cheesers more interested in saying they were there for another Bonds milestone than actually pulling for the team. It says a lot about our progress that the majority of the 30K in attendance last night recognized that Gwynn had broken up Timmy's no-no in the very same inning one night before.

My eighth inning was absolute hell as I struggled to resist the temptation to call every Giants fan on my cell's contacts list, but Sánchez looked cool as the other side of the pillow, especially after "El Dictador" U-Ribe! got hit with the wet noodle of bad karma. Most pitchers can't get over moments like that. Hell, we just watched The Great Lincecum practically fall to pieces after Gwynn got his aforementioned hit on Thursday. It only took one pitch to bring Johnny back into the game. He threw one to the backstop, but recovered to retire the next two batters, including former Giants catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, who I thought for sure would break it up for the sake of synchronicity.

After Eliezer swung over the top of another perfect breaking ball, I called three people: my younger brother, my father, and my mother. I didn't have to say a word to my brother. He was a nervous wreck, watching the game with our middle brother and a room full of friends with no concept of baseball or the implications of what was transpiring on the television. Consequently, they couldn't utter a word to each other for fear of having to explain the situation and thus "jinx" it.

Satisfied, I rang my father, who it turns out was in another room of the same house as my brothers surfing the net and chatting on the phone — a.k.a. snurfing. I demanded he turn on the game or go watch it with his sons.

"Why?" he asked, and I almost cursed him out.

"Dad, how many times in this life have I called you and ordered you to turn on a game?"

"Why? What's happening?"

"Turn on the game. Look at the line score. That's all I'm gonna say." And I hung up.

Mom was the easiest of the bunch. All I had to do was say, "As your son, I'd advise you to pause the movie you're watching and switch over to the Giants game." Her response? "OK. I won't say a word." I love my mom.

Waiting out our rally in the bottom of the ninth was agony. I bit my lip when Sánchez took a huge rip on an 0-1 fastball at the letters. Just our luck that he'd pull an oblique right there. By the time he came out for the ninth, my heart was racing, the crowd was on its feet to stay, and my immediate family was poised in front of three different televisions in three different rooms, watching something a full 3/5ths of them had never seen in their lives.

Again, there is much that could be written about those last three outs, and much of it has already been said. All I remember is kneeling before the television like a penitent man in church. I had to stop pacing, but I couldn't sit down.

When Rowand went into the wall to save it all I pounded the floor with my hands until they stung.

When Cabrera watched that last back-door slider slip through a corner of the strike zone, when Brian Runge rung him up with the gusto of a trained actor who knows he's playing the role of his life, when Sánchez met Whiteside for a hug about 30 feet, 3 inches from home plate, I didn't cry, I didn't pray. I just kept uttering the words: "Unbelievable... Absolutely unbelievable..."

It was as close as I'd been to that level of bliss since Game 5 of the 2002 NLCS. I went so ape shit I missed eight calls and spent the rest of the night on the phone. Then, I woke up this morning and figured it was about time I dust off my fingers and finally put some content up on this here blog thingy. Because there's something happening at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, and if you don't believe I suggest you attend a game sometime soon. (Did I mention Matt Cain is pitching tonight?)

I'm no fairweather fan. I'll tell it like it is, and I'll opine as to why it is. But I pride myself on being honest about my team. In many ways, I think the true fanatics are the only ones who can achieve the level of objectivity we all wish could be found in sports journalism. Reactionary I'm not. Passionate I am.

If you want wall-to-wall doom-and-gloom or non-stop homerism, you're gonna have to go somewhere else.

Such is baseball. Such is life.