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The Giants simply aren't used to blowing leads, and we as fans are not used to seeing them blown. It's disconcerting when the best bullpen in baseball doesn't deliver the goods. Now that Brian Wilson has been elevated to a godlike status not just by the Giants and their fans but by the marketing execs at Major League Baseball™ who know a good cow to milk when they see it — please to consult the Ubaldo Jimenez mini license plate spot ("Zander?") — the ninth inning has a cone of pride and ego enveloping it. And when the cone is pierced, it lets loose a primal roar of frustration.
The Giants' bullpen allows only 24% of inherited runners to score, third in the N.L. behind Atlanta (20%) and Philly (22%) and far below the league average of 31%. And this is not a small sample size situation. The Giants' pen also leads the senior circuit with 99 save situation appearances (league average = 74). Ever heard of Average Leverage Index (aLI)? Well, neither had I before today. Apparently it measures the pressure a reliever faces when he enters the game. The higher the aLI, the higher the pressure. Want to take a wild guess which team leads the league by a long shot? Anybody...? Bueller...? (All of these statistics, btw, are per my good friends who I've never met at Baseball-Reference.com.)
The Giants' bullpen is no more responsible for these recent late-inning collapses than Walter Mondale is responsible for getting virtually blanked by Ronald Reagan in the 1984 Presidential Election. Like Mondale, this band of merry pranksters is not positioned for success. They frequently enter games to protect one-run leads, generally with runners already in scoring position, almost always against the juiciest portion of the opposing lineup. That they dominate the competition on nine out of ten nights should be seen as a tiny miracle in and of itself. Yet we're all ho-hum when things are going well. We only get our emotions up when something goes wrong...
The thing is, we all know it's not their fault. We know we can't blame Sergio Romo for his occasional flat slider. We can't fault Javier Lopez for that one time out of a million he allows a hit to a lefty. And much as we'd like to, we can't get all that pissed at Brian Wilson. For anything really. The guy is a beast. He's been a beast for the past three seasons. It's time we accept that behind all the antics and that tattoos and the beard and the Machine, we have one of the premier closers in the game, and he's constantly nurturing his craft. (That two-seam dart he's developed this year has the potential to make him untouchable.) But even B-Weezy has nights where it's just not working. It just so happened that he had two of those nights this week.
We can't hold grudges against our bullpen because they're tasked on an almost daily basis with covering up the deficiencies of the Giants offense. With Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez on the mend, Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross hovering below league average production, Andres Torres so invisible at the plate he's been benched in favor of Aaron Rowand, and Pablo Sandoval seemingly the only guy in the lineup making a consistent contribution, the 2011 Giants are beginning to bear an eerie resemblance to the 2009 version, and not in appearance alone. Through the first half of 2009, the Giants averaged 4.18 runs per game. The 2010 eventual World Series Champs were even better at 4.44. Thus far in 2011, the Giants are averaging 3.64 runs per contest. (Yes, that includes Saturday's 15-run drubbing of les Tigres.) Read those last three sentences again... Let it sink in... Okay, continue reading...
The '09 comparison certainly holds water in the win column. Through 85 games in 2009, the Giants were nine games over .500 with 47 wins. Through 85 games in 2011, they're just one win better and 11 games over. The difference lies in the standings. The 2009 Giants trailed the eventual Division Champion Dodgers by 7 games for the N.L. West lead and were already thinking Wild Card. In 2011, los Gigantes are three games clear of the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers have fallen into the cellar of a much-diminished division.
To be fair, there's more parity across baseball this year, with the lowly Pirates suddenly competing for the Central Division lead and even the Nationals playing .500 ball. And the Giants still possess the N.L.'s third-best record. But the parallels are there, and that's enough to give any dyed-in-the-wool Orange-and-Black fanatic more a little trepidation.
Having said all that, I can't tell you what Bruce Bochy or Brian Sabean could do to improve the status quo. Yes, there are glaring needs for offensive upgrades up the middle — at catcher, second base, and center field. But who's out there to be had for what the Giants are willing to part with? And what GM worth his salt could ignore how desperate Sabean's situation has become? Even a Carlos Beltran — whom the Giants arguably should have made a run at years ago — would come at the cost of Jonathan Sanchez AND more than a few prospects with names like Belt, Brown, and Wheeler. With organizational depth a cornerstone of Bill Neukom's "Giants Way", I just don't see the brass parting with any studs for a rental fix in the five hole. And if you think Jose Reyes will be wearing anything but a Mets uni in August, well... I'll just leave you alone for now.
But if you insist on thinking a big splash is on the horizon, that Sabean will do anything but nibble around the edges making "minor" moves for lumps of coal that turn to late-season diamonds, that one move can suddenly turn this exasperating offense on its head, have at the comments below and let me hear your dream deals. I promise not to shoot down all of your ideas. Only the truly stupid ones...
In which I scroll through my Twitter timeline to extract the genuine nuggets of wisdom that reveal themselves once every 1,000 tweets...
— June 30, 3:12 pm: We've come back from worse and won a World Series. RT @Buster_ESPN: A gut-punch for the Giants.
The Giants have taken so many gut punches over the years, yet there's something about these most recent squads that allows them to come back time and again from painful defeats to turn the worm. Exhibit A from 2011 is their Friday night performance in Detroit following the horrendous double-down choke job Thursday afternoon in Chicago. Last year, I dubbed them #TeamTeflon, and I'm thinking of bringing the hashtag back...— July 1, 3:25 pm: Our 4th of July tickets just sold, as did the Saturday Lincecum start vs. the Metros. I can now put my kids through college. #SFGiants
It's the most difficult decision a season ticket holder has to make: when to go and when to sell. As a fan, you want to see Lincecum pitch, you want to see the best teams in the league, you want to be at the ballpark on a holiday afternoon. But as a working man or woman, you have bills to pay, a car to fix, and another round of season tickets to re-up for next year— not to mention the ever-more-likely possibility of playoff tickets. So you make the tough call. You sell your Fourth of July tickets for a significant profit, fire up the HDTV and the baby Weber, and hope Timmy saves his no-hitter for another day...— July 2, 12:37 pm: Crunching split stats for #TeamTigerBlood pitchers, finding some fun notes on Lincecum, like a 3.63 BB/9 at home vs. 2.93 on the road.
This was an intriguing discovery during regular analysis of my fantasy team, on which Timmy is the obvious ace — though Ryan Vogelsong's giving him a good run. The first number that caught my eye was Tim's home ERA, more than a run higher than on the road, which is counter-intuitive given AT&T's strengths as a pitcher's park. It also didn't jibe with his lower WHIP & BAA at home, or the fact that he's given up only one home run at home versus a whopping six on the road. So what's the deal? Well, as they tend to do, walks tell the story. Tim gives up almost 25% more walks at home than he does on the road. I honestly don't know what could be causing this, but if he figures it out, I predict a mammoth second half for the kid...— July 2, 9:37 pm: Barry Zito is 1-0 as a Giant when he gets 15 runs of support. #gamer #SFGiants
This was only partially meant as a joke tweet. It's noted just about every time he takes the mound that Zito almost never loses when you give him four runs. Well, I'll go you one better: Give him some early runs, and watch him cruise. With Zito's stuff, the more he's attacking the zone, the more efficient he becomes, the more outs he racks up, and the more hitters he confuses. It's when he starts nibbling around the edges trying to hook that looping curve across the back half of the plate that he gets into trouble. When he's pitching with the confidence of a lead, I've rarely seen anyone smoother. Moral of the story: Don't just score for Zito. Score early and score often. (I know. Easier said...)— July 3, 11:00 am: Thanks, Andy. RT @extrabaggs: @JeffPassan Cain helped him win World Series. Zero ERs in 3 playoff starts. To victors go the spoils.
Jeff Passan < douche ('Nuf said?) To suggest that Matt Cain doesn't deserve to toe the line in Arizona on July 12th suggests a deep-seated ignorance of the game. I, for one, will be giving our true staff horse a standing ovation from my living room...I'll be back with some All-Star analysis later this week. In the meantime, Happy Birthday, America! Pass me a brat and a beer, and not necessarily in that order...