Sunday, August 28, 2016

Panik Attack

You buys your ticket, you takes your chances.  Folks who spent this Sunday at the ball park (as I did two weeks ago), got a really great day, and an historic one.

It was the San Francisco Giants biggest offensive game in the park's history.  They broke a record with three triples in one inning.  The Giants haven't had a game with four triples and four homers since 1900, and their opponents, the Atlanta club, haven't given up four triples in a game since the club was the Baltimore Bees.  One of those triples belonged to Brandon Crawford, his 21st, the most in SF Giants history.

Joe Panik led the way with two homers, his first multi-homer game.  Jarrett Parker had 4 RBIs, Nunez and Span homered.  With an 8 run outburst in the 7th inning, the Giants won 13-3, and most importantly, won the series against Atlanta--their first series win at home since the break.  Madison Bumgarner went 7 and got the win.  The Dodgers also won, so SF remains 2 back.

If that wasn't fun enough, it was Mike Krukow bobblehead day at the park--the popular Giants on-air commentator and a 20-game winner.  Before the game, the National Anthem was sung by three of his kids, in 3-part harmony.

Panik's return to form is a big booster.  And his home run rivalry with former third baseman Matt Duffy continues, as Duff went deep for his new club in Tampa Bay.

Nunez homered and made a spectacular play at third, and another damn good one to end the game.  People are still talking about Matt Moore's near no-hitter, and how calm he was when he lost it. That these new guys are showing character as well as contributing is a big boost, too. If the Giants truly recover this year, that win and today's will look like the start of something big.

But the Giants continue to deal with injuries.  Their brightest new addition to the bullpen, Derek Law, is on the 15-day DL with elbow strain, though it's not expected to need anything but rest.  Matt Cain is rehabbing, but that starting spot is still up in the air.  Fortunately Arizona comes in Tuesday, and once again the Giants have to take advantage of a lesser team before they head to Chicago.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Almost September

Are the post-All Star game San Francisco Giants (with the worst record in MLB) the real 2016 Giants, or are the first half Giants (with the best record in MLB)?  Those who lean towards the second proposition--or at least to the Giants as division winners--have been waiting for the team to finally turn the corner.

It looked like they might when they won the first two games of the Mets series at home.  But then they lost the next two, and the first two in LA against the Dodgers, scoring five runs in the first game but giving up 9, and then losing 1-0.  They fell 3 games back.  A Dodger sweep might finish them.

But then they got an electric almost no-hit performance by Matt Moore and won 4-0.  Moore threw 133 pitches, and had a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth.  Spoiled by a bloop single to right (and if Hunter Pence hadn't left the game with the injury that's keeping him out of the lineup until maybe Tuesday, he might have gone for the catch.)

Then back home to dominate the Braves 7-0 with all facets of their game: Jeff S.'s stingy pitching (gave up 7 hits but no runs; the Giants had 10 hits and 7 runs), solid relief work, timely hitting in multiple innings, a homer by Pagan, superior fielding--especially by Brandon Crawford.  The Dodgers lost to the Cubs and so suddenly the Giants are just one game out.

But the team is still dogged by injuries.  They lost another starting pitcher--Jake Peavy--who was back in the rotation to replace injured Matt Cain.  (Suarez takes his start tonight.)  And Pence out of the lineup again.  The Giants still have to feast on the clumsy Braves (3 errors last night) with a trip to the Cubs looming.  And the Dodgers won today, so the Giants have to win just to stay 1 back.

It's a long season, August was never a great month for the Giants or for players like Bumgarner, but they are going to have to regain their confidence over a stretch of winning--at least more than they lose, which would be a second half change. September's coming, and it's then or never.

Friday, August 19, 2016

At the Ball Park

The Giants beat the Mets on Thursday night 10-7, behind Madison Bumgarner who also homered to put SF into the lead.  It broke a 4 game home losing streak.

I was there for two of those games: the 8-7 loss to the Orioles, another Casilla blown save after the Giants were leading 7-1; and Monday night's loss to the Pirates 8-5, which they also led 2-0 early.

The Pirates-Giants game was double loyalty for more than me.  The Pirates starting pitcher was Ryan Vogelsong, a Giant until this season.  He got a warm ovation before the game and an even warmer one when he left, despite getting the victory over his old team.  At an on-field event celebrating the retirement of another pitcher late last season, Vogelsong famously said, "I don't know where I'll be next year, but I'll always be a Giant."  At the game Monday I was close enough (thanks Cameron!) to see how moved he was when he tipped his cap to acknowledge the SF applause from the dugout, after he'd been lifted.

There were a surprising number of Pirates fans at that game, attending in team regalia as elaborate as the Giants fans in theirs.  I talked to one, another exile of the steeltown diaspora, who was transferred to SF in 1986, but is still a Pirates fan.

Despite the Giants losses, which I find really hard to take at home, I enjoyed being at the games.  The Giants played well--fine fielding by Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence and Nunez, who got knocked to his can by a hot grounder and threw out the runner from that position, then hit the deck again to spear the next hot grounder but this time got to his feet to throw him out. And a Crawford-Panik-Belt double play which I've long wanted to see.  Some big hits, including homers by Pence, Nunez and Span.  On the Pirates side in that game, a homer by Polanco and the deciding moment of the game--a fantastic catch by Andrew McCutchen in center that saved at least two runs.

But the Giants couldn't put it together--the Achilles heel of relief pitching against Baltimore (it will be awhile before I can erase the image of Pagan climbing the wall in vain for the 3-run homer that won the game), and some crucial baserunning mistakes against Pittsburgh.  Giving up too many home runs, which continued for the Pirates series, which they swept, enhancing their playoff chances as the second wild card.

Meanwhile the Giants finally fell out of first, and have to be thinking about the wild card now themselves.  They have a crucial series upcoming against the Dodgers in Los Angeles which will determine a lot.

Thursday offers another Pittsburgh connection--it tied Bruce Bochy with Jim Leyland on the career win list for managers.  Leyland was the manager of the last Pirates team before the current one to get into the playoffs, during the early 90s. When the Pirates essentially sold off that team (and Barry Bonds went to San Francisco), Leyland went on to Florida where he finally got his much-deserved World Series ring.  Then he went to Detroit and won another pennant.

Leyland finally retired--to Pittsburgh.  Between jobs he was often seen in the stands at PNC Park, in the company of Chuck Tanner (who managed the last Pirates world championship team in 1979.) Leyland had succeeded Tanner as Pirates manager, and the two became close friends. I saw a bunch of games at Three Rivers Stadium when those two managed the Pirates.

" Jim is somebody I've always revered," Bochy said. "What an unbelievable career. I'm humbled to reach this milestone with somebody who's done so much for the game and is one of the best managers ever in the game. I've said this so many times: I'm fortunate to have been doing this as long as I've been doing it."

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Schzoid Giants

For the past four games the SF Giants are schzoid, and I'm afraid it might go on like that for awhile.

Two of those games were gutcheck victories.  Two of them the Giants were shut out, while their starting pitchers gave up just one and two runs respectively.

At the moment they are likely to be tied for first with L.A., but a continued drop down the division is not out of the question.  Both the Dodgers and the Rockies have played better than the Giants since the All-Star break.

The first of these four games looked like a sure loser--their fifth starter, Matt Cain, against the nearly perfect Steven Strasburg. But the Giants got to him and to the Nationals bull pen, with three extras by Eduardo Nunez (plus some much improved fielding) and three hits by Brandon Belt, including a homer.  Cain pitched strong though not very deep into the game.  The Giants won 7-1 and suddenly it looked like the bad days were over.  The game by Nunez made the Giants GM look good.

Then the next game in Washington, Madison Bumgarner pitched 8 innings, and gave up one run on a dinky homer that only would be a homer in Washington.  The Giants squandered chances and got nothing.  They lost 1-0 and the effort made some commentators question the team.

Then came the 14 inning, 5 plus hour game in Miami.  Cueuto wasn't sharp again, gave up back to back homers, the Giants fell behind but came roaring back, went ahead, fell behind, tied the game at 7.  And squandered chance after chance, runner on third less than two outs, bases loaded, whatever.  Until Brandon Crawford got his seventh hit of the night in the 14th.  The bull pen pitched magnificently, and Crawford's bat went to the Hall of Fame--he was only the 2nd National Leaguer in the modern era to get seven hits in a game.  The other was Pirates Rennie Stennet in a blowout in the 70s.  Crawford's hits came in a closely fought game in pressure situations.

So that had to be the game that turned it around, right?  It was just hours later than the Giants took the field again and squandered a three hitter by new Giants starter Matt Moore, his second quality start since becoming a Giant.  The Marlins got 7 innings of quality pitching from Koehler, their best starter recently, and their big star Stanton came through with a clutch if unusual hit in the first inning.  The bull pen, which after 14 innings would seem likely to be a weakness, performed well (including its latest addition, Jake Peavy)--the Marlins didn't score after the first.  But SF didn't score at all, again.  2-0.

It's a long season, and it's probably going to seem longer if it remains an inconsistent team that can't get all the elements of winning baseball together at the same time.

Things aren't any better for the Pirates--and it looks like one of the games I'm going to see in SF pits my two teams against each other--Giants v. Pirates.  It would be a lot more fun to anticipate if they were both going great.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Touching Bottom

The Giants touched bottom in Philadelphia, leading 4-0 on a Cueto 3-hitter in the 7th, losing in 12 innings 5-4.  With a day game tomorrow.

Cueto gave up--what else?--two homers and once again Duffy's third base replacement's error ultimately cost them the game.

And yet, the Dodgers got blown out, and the Giants are unaccountably still in first place.

 I say they touched bottom instead of hit bottom because they didn't hit much of anything after the fourth inning, against a losing team's losing bullpen.

The only question now is whether, having touched bottom, they stay there.  This is looking like a discouraged team in disarray, a team that is not a team anymore.  Even through the radio it seemed once the game was tied they didn't believe they'd win it.

You have to feel for Cueto, who seemed near tears after the game.  Nobody can figure out what's going on.  They keep saying, it happens, it's baseball, but they don't sound like they believe it anymore.

The last place Phillies beat their two top starters.  Sound familiar?

Apart from being haunted by giving up their best third base glove, the guy they traded Duffy for is making his first start tomorrow.  No pressure or anything.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Here Comes the Grump

Infield of Dreams
The problem of what's been happening to the Giants is what's been happening to the Giants.  Their pitching giving up tons of homers, two homers by the same hitter more than once, and a hitter with three homers in one game--pretty much unheard of in recent Giants seasons.  Their hitting wilting with runners in scoring position.  Managing to avoid being no-hit by one to a journeyman pitcher up from the minors that morning.  And the baserunning indignity of a triple play against them--and a particular triple play that no one can remember seeing before.

Add to that the uncharacteristic errors--or at least, they used to be uncharacteristic.  And the kind of bullpen failures, especially in the 8th and 9th, that just didn't used to happen to the Giants, not so regularly for sure.

So how does the front office respond?  By trading away the linchpin of the best defensive infield in at least the division, for an iffy starting pitcher, and depleting future choices (and a solid third string catcher) for an iffy left handed reliever, who in Bochy's scheme, is usually a specialist who faces one or two batters.

It all came back to bite them on the first day of the rest of their season in Philadelphia, when Duffy's replacement made a costly error at third that led to four unearned runs, and the reliever put the tying and winning runs on base in the 8th inning, after the hitters had come back from a six run deficit.  To eventually lose the thing by five runs anyway, to the Phillies, about as bad as the Reds, who swept the Giants quite recently.

The announcing team and the pr people and the bleacher site all paint a rosy picture of these trades, but I do not.  I do not like them.  I would like to be proven wrong.  But that hasn't begun to happen yet.

I admit that part of this disappointment is personal.  I'm going to be in the Bay Area in a couple of weeks and plan to catch at least one game.  I'd recently calculated the injury rehab schedule to tell me  that I would quite possibly see the starting infield I love and longed to see in person--Duffy, Crawford, Panik and Belt, plus Posey.  I'm crushed that I never will have that chance.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Trade

It's been a long time since the San Francisco Giants traded away a fan favorite.  The highest profile position player they've lost was the Panda, and he left them.  They've traded some pitchers and failed to sign Tim Lincecum.  But mostly they managed to acquire players through their farm system and by trading minor league prospects.

That changed today, when they traded one of the mainstays of their popular infield, third baseman Matt Duffy.  It's a risky move, beyond the sour taste it leaves.  They traded for pitcher Matt Moore, another in the line of pitchers with past potential but recent troubles.  That was the pattern before the season started, and arguably Johnny Cueto is the proof that it can work, while Jeff S. is still a question mark.

Both Moore and the other new pitching acquisition, reliever Will Smith, have shown talent but are under-performing this year.  In dealing a solid everyday player--one who fit perfectly in that infield, on and off the field--the Giants take a tremendous risk, and in that trade and the trade for Smith, are fast depleting the young talent in their farm system, which has served them so well recently--including giving them Matt Duffy.

The Giants had earlier acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez, whose bat made an immediate impact.  But he too is something of a reclamation project going forward.  He looks to be the starting third baseman now, perhaps alternating with rookie Conor Gillaspe until their minor league phenom Arroyo is ready.

Dealing for pitchers is more of a risk always, and the impact on the fan sentiment that after all drives dollars to the ballpark is really risky if they don't perform, specifically when there's somebody missing from the everyday lineup, a player that fans--especially young fans--really looked forward to seeing.   Moreover, it's not clear how a left handed reliever helps the bullpen all that much.  Unless he's a closer.

By the way, I'm not among those who see Cain and Peavy as weak starters in the rotation.  They may not be able to get very deep in the game, but they've pitched as well recently as any of the other starters.  Jeff S. especially.

The Giants also traded Andrew Susac, who was stuck in the minors because the Giants carry only two catchers.  It isn' t all that rare for a team to need that third catcher, and right away.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Pirates traded starting pitcher Francisco Luriano, and I detect some hometown dissatisfaction with recent personnel moves.  I'm not following the team that closely but they do seem to be dealing more than usual.

But that's baseball these days, I guess.  The Dodgers have added some rent-a-team philosophy since their buy-a-team hasn't worked out, but all that rarely does.  You build a team, and even with some vital late season acquisitions in their World Series years, the Giants built a homegrown infield that was among the best in the league.  And now they've broken it.