Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When the Wheels Came Off

What happened to the San Francisco Giants in their two games hosting the Oakland A's was shocking but perhaps not so surprising.  That Jeff Samardzjia was ineffective again on Monday is troubling enough, giving up 6 of the A's 8 runs.
But much worse on Tuesday, when Suarez started and pitched well, the bullpen fell apart completely. .  The bullpen gave up all but one of Oakland's 13 runs. They gave up multi-run leads three times. The Giants actually outhit the A's but what killed their chances was walks.  The failures included this year's two most reliable relievers, Cory Gearrin (who walked the first two batters in the eighth, when the Giants lost a 3 run lead) and closer Casilla (who let a one run lead for the As balloon to 4.)

No matter how carefully Bochy has managed this bullpen, it has been stretched, and so a total meltdown, while it wasn't inevitable (and certainly wasn't pretty), wasn't against the odds.

Then the series moved to Oakland and the Giants incredibly found another way to lose--with an epidemic of errors and bad plays.  The makeshift infield was probably due, but the outfield?  Matt Williamson had a terrible day in the field and at the plate, but he's a rook.  It was Angel Pagan in left, who had one of those games he used to have in center field.  Is there a more schzoid player on the Giants?  He's been the hero with timely hits and some dazzling catches.  But on Wednesday he was just plain sloppy.  He so clearly cost Jake Peavy the game that even Peavy was visibly and audibly angry.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, since the series started the Giants have lost two more players to injuries.  Another infield starter, Joe Panik, began experiencing concussion symptoms from a fastball to the head several games ago.  He's on the five day DL.  Now the promising infield replacement, rook Pena, got stomped on in a collision with Williamson in the field, and is out for an undetermined time.

The Giants already had to bring up Ruben Tejada, who they acquired and sent to the minors where he has been less than impressive, and his first day in the field was not good either.  Kelby Tomlinson is starting to play in his recovery regime in the minors but he's not yet available.

Is it surprising then that for the last game of this series in Oakland, the Giants aren't using a DH--Madison Bumgarner is pitching, and he's hitting.  He's one injured player away from being asked to play third base.

The sort of good news is that while the Giants have lost three straight, the Dodgers have lost two of three.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

800=8

The SF Giants left Pittsburgh with a 6-1 road trip, looking forward to a couple of home series against non-contenders, beginning with one of the weakest teams in the majors, the Philadelphia Phillies.  Plus two of the three games would be pitched by their aces, Bumgarner and Cueto.

But it turned out to be not that easy.  All three games were decided by one run.  As happened in Pittsburgh, the Giants couldn't score for MadBum and he took the 3-2 loss.  The others were victories, and on Sunday, it came down to the last of the ninth--with an erratic Cueto long gone-- and consecutive doubles by the rooks Pena and Gillaspie to notch Bruce Bochy's 800th win as Giants manager, 8-7.

Meanwhile back in Pittsburgh where the Giants had taken 2 of 3, the Pirates beat the Los Angeles Dodgers three games straight (with a fourth coming up Monday), and the Giants division lead is extended to 8 games.  Sunday's game saw yet another brand new pitcher on the mound for Pittsburgh, as the Pirates touched Clayton Kershaw for 4 runs and only his second loss of the season.

Sunday's game in San Francisco was out of kilter, with 4 hit batsmen, numerous lead changes and strange plays.  The root of it all may well have been the unpredictable calls behind the plate.  It unnerved everybody when balls were called strikes, and some highly obvious strikes were called balls.  There's nothing that can turn this game unstable more than an erratic plate umpire.

Besides Gillaspie's winning hit, the game featured four hits by Angel Pagan, who came very close to homering twice.  The first time it was barely foul, the second hit off the top of the wall, which scored a run but which ended up with Pagan called out trying to stretch it into a triple, although possibly trying to draw the throw to make sure the run got in.

The Giants' bullpen was tested in this series and seemed tired.  Denard Span seems to need a day off badly, judging from his plate appearances on Sunday.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Giants On Top

The Giants in Pittsburgh.  John Miller describing the evening sun lighting downtown, Dave Fleming describing the fans streaming over the Clemente bridge, and so on.  Heavy nostalgia for me, even if I've only been in that particular ballpark a couple of times.

After sweeping the Rays in Tampa, the Giants won three of four in Pittsburgh.  The one they lost--the first game--was the weirdest, as it was Madison Bumgarner pitching eight innings and giving up one run on a homer that just got over the outstretched glove of Angel Pagan in left.  But the Giants scored nada and lost.

The remaining games showcased the Pirates pitching woes and a suddenly unhittable Giants bullpen.  A 15-4 blowout, mostly against the Pirates relievers, followed by a come from behind 7-6 win, again mostly on the Pirates relievers, and in the second-weirdest game, the Giants rookies beat the Pirates 5-3.

 Mac Williamson had himself a couple of games after being called up to take Duffy's DL roster spot, including a titanic home run (460 feet or so), making it less likely that he'll be the guy sent back down next time a starter comes back on the roster. (Though Jarrett Parker is also playing well, and hitting.) Two rookies, Ramiro Pena and Conor Gillaspe, played short and third Thursday, and split third in other games, in the absence of injured Matt Duffy.  Both hit well, with Pena being the bigger surprise, showing RBI power.

Joe Panik has gotten hot finally, and was instrumental in all 3 wins in Pittsburgh.  Johnny Cueto won his 11th game, keeping pace with the league leaders, in that 15-4 bash.  Angel Pagan hit a grand slam, Gillaspe had four hits that included a homer, and Blanco was on base five times.

So while the Dodgers went on a six game win streak, the Giants won five out of six on their road trip, and the Dodgers picked up nada on them in the standings.  On Thursday the Giants went 20 games over .500, and are tied for the most wins in baseball with the Cubs and the Rangers (both of which have lost fewer games, however.)

Meanwhile the Pirates are in desperate shape.  They are still home run threats--as the Giants saw--and they have a great defensive outfield, and at times a terrific overall defense.  But key players are injured or are just coming back.  They're 14 games out of first, which doesn't bode well for contending this year.  The Cubs are running away with the division so far, 9 games ahead of St. Louis, so for a change the wild card might not come out of this division this year.

Now the Giants come home, and we'll see how resilient the rooks are.  To survive with starters Pence and Duffy, prime infield and even outfield backup Kelby Tomlinson, reliever Romo and starter Matt Cain all on the DL (with only Romo likely to be back before the All-Star break), the rooks are going to have to play above their pay grade.  And Bochy has to remain successful with his orchestration of the bullpen.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Next Year?

The stage was set, the score was tied.  Even after the debacles of games 5 and 6, the Warriors were poised to win the seventh game and the championship.  All they had to do in the final minutes was what they did so well and so often in a season without precedent: make shots.  A couple of 3s.  Or maybe just one.

And like some nightmare, the basketball version of the actor's nightmare maybe, they couldn't do it.  They could not sink even one.

For all the credit that LeBron James is getting, this was the Warriors' game and the Warriors' series to lose.  And they lost it.  Draymond Green's suspension and the back and forth between the teams and the NBA killed their game at home in the fifth game.  But all they had to do was win one more game.

They had beaten the Cavs in Cleveland just a week before, but they couldn't come all the way back from a devastating first quarter and they lost game 6, wire to wire.  Draymond was back but Andrew Bogut was down.  So the team that had beaten the Cavs three times in this series didn't take the floor.

It didn't for game 7 either--Bogut wasn't there to guard the basket. Iguodala was not himself. Draymond had an efficient game, his best since the first game.  But the Dubs needed the Splash Brothers to come up big, and they didn't.  But they've had poor shooting games and still come through at crunch time.  And they didn't.

In some weird way it may have been the price of their long winning season, and all the expectations every day.  I can't help thinking that Steph Curry trying to introduce a new product in his shoe line in the middle of the Finals was really dumb, and distracting.  But what do I know?  Nothing, really.

We'll remember the greatness of the season past, and the physical wounds hopefully will heal.  I'm still a fan, but I wonder if a team comes back from this next season, especially a team like this one that depends on confidence.

On a brighter note, Jake Peavy pitched a phenomenal game against Tampa Bay on Sunday, although the SF Giants didn't score for him, winning in the late innings with a four run outburst to take their eighth game in a row 5-1 and sweep the series.  They have a quick turnaround to Pittsburgh, though not as quick as the Pirates themselves have, after a night game in Chicago where they were swept by the Cubs.  Pirates pitching has been sagging and they are falling behind in their division.

The Pirates are hurt by injuries but the Giants so far seem to be surviving theirs remarkably well, though they are dangerously thin.  The Giants are doing it with relentless hitting but mostly with starting pitching, and they go into Pittsburgh with MadBum, Johnny Cueto and the Shark.  And an apparently rejuvenated Jake Peavy.
Brandon Belt had another homer on Sunday, he leads the team with 10--he's seems to be playing relaxed and professional since his contract.  Brandon Crawford responded that way, too--he's now the Giants' leading RBI guy.  Despite the frustrations--too many left on base, the adventuresome bullpen--it's once again a fun team to watch (even, as I do, on the radio.)  

Friday, June 17, 2016

10-1

On Wednesday, Johnny Cueto won his 10th game as a SF Giants starter this season, 10-1, which is also his won/loss record.  No pitcher in the major leagues has more wins, and only one has a better record.  With lots of run support for a change, the Giants swept the Brewers and ended their homestand on a five game winning streak.

The news is much more dire for the Golden State Warriors.  They left Cleveland with a 3-1 lead and the chance to grab the championship with a game 5 win at home.  But at LeBron's behest, the NBA suspended the Dubs' keystone player, Draymond Green.  Not only were the Warriors thoroughly beaten in the fifth game, they also lost Andrew Bogut to injury.  As I suggested, Klay Thompson did carry the Dubs early in the game, but Curry failed to close the gap at the end.

Without Bogut defending around the basket, the Cavs had a much too easy time scoring in game 6 in Cleveland, and the Warriors got blown out in the first quarter.  Still, they were coming back in the fourth when Stephen Curry was called for his sixth foul and when he objected, he was ejected.  Coach Kerr after the game called out the ref for three bad foul calls against Curry.  Both Curry and Kerr were fined.

Normally the return home for game 7 on Sunday would make the Warriors the favorites.  But while the odds aren't quite 10-1 against them, they are against them.  Not only is Bogut still out but Iguodala was hobbling, and the Warriors' defense looks fatally porous.  The Cavs have been beating up on Curry and the Warriors in general.  It will take all of Kerr's genius and an heroic team effort for the Warriors to come away as champions again.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Another Challenge

Congrats to the Pittsburgh Penguins who won the Stanley Cup Sunday.  They missed the chance to win a championship at home, which no Pittsburgh team has done in awhile, but fans in Pittsburgh filled the area to watch them on TV, and to celebrate on Carson Street, not far from where I once lived and, for even longer, worked.

The Golden State Warriors took another strange hit on Sunday as Draymond Green was suspended for Monday's game because of accumulated flagrant fouls.  As a weird byproduct, the Warriors must place another player on the Inactive list, so they lose two players for the potential close-out game at home.

After Curry's injuries and all the rest, this is yet another challenge for the Warriors, this one a bit out of left field. Green's absence shakes everything up, including probably the Cavs lineup as well as the Dubs'. Green has played every game this year, so the Dubs have no recent experience with this, except in rotations.  It clearly provides new opportunities for the Cavs, and especially LeBron (who Dubs fans generally believe baited Draymond into the reaction that drew the flagrant on review.)  But it also energizes the Warriors.  Look for a big game from Klay Thompson, especially early, with Steph Curry taking over down the stretch.  But it will be a team effort, with maybe an unlikely hero or two. Concentration won't be a problem.  And Oracle will be rocking, mocking and angry.

Draymond is not even permitted in the arena during the game.  But I'll bet he'll be nearby, so he can get there for the championship celebration.  Apart from what this does to the Warriors, it also probably puts Draymond out of the running for series MVP, and he was a solid candidate.

Also on Sunday, the San Francisco Giants closed out their 3 game series with the Dodgers.  All 3 were one run games, and the Giants won two, and should have won the third. They go back up 5 in first place. Jake Peavy got the win.  Speaking of MVPs, for the Giants so far this season their MVP is the same player it was for most of last year: Brian Crawford, with timely hitting and spectacular fielding--his play to end the game being one of many fine examples.  Matt Williamson has been playing the rookie outfielder position and wowed fans with a spectacular catch.  He homered earlier in the series at a crucial time, so he's doing pretty well.  In a bullpen that continues to be an adventure, young Cory Gearrin is as close to money as there is.   Buster Posey keeps hitting the ball hard, and the ball keeps finding fielder's gloves.  The outfield play on both sides in this game was exciting and excellent.

The Pirates however are hurting.  The Cards swept their 3 game visit to the Burgh.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

One More Time

No team has played a longer season than the Golden State Warriors, in the sense of expectations and concentration.  They started the season by breaking the record for consecutive wins, and ended it with a new record for wins in a season.
Every team played them every game to be the among the few that defeated them.

And the season has been longest for Steph Curry, the focus of so much attention.  In the playoffs Curry has been injured, worked his way back, then got injured again more seriously, and worked his way back from that.  The Warriors had to battle from a 3-1 deficit against the best team they've played this year, the Thunder at their peak.

So maybe Curry and his Splash Brother were a little numb for the first games of the Finals. They played well enough to win the first two at home, giving scoring opportunities to other players who made the best of them.  As I suggested last time, the Dubs would need a big game from at least one of them to win on the road in Cleveland.  In the third game of the series, neither had that game, and the Warriors got blown out.

In the days between games, most of the media focused on Curry--what's wrong with him?  Is this the MVP?  Is he done, is he going to be an epic fold?  No.  Actually, no.  On Friday Steph Curry scored 38, Klay Thompson scored 25, the Warriors broke the record for made threes in a finals game with 17--11 of which the Splash Brothers made.  The Warriors won their 88th game of the season--no NBA team has ever won more.  They return to Oracle Arena up 3-1 in the series, ready to close it out at home and repeat as NBA champions.

But it wasn't just the Splash Brothers--again it was Strength in Numbers, including one player (James McAdoo) who hadn't played in the previous finals games. With defense and their fast paced runs in the third and fourth quarters, they wore out the Cavs.  Credit Kerr again for game management.  ESPN tells the story.

Update: Check out this account of a single fourth quarter play that the writer says won the game and essentially the series, while showing the Warriors' strengths and the Cavs' dilemmas dealing with them.