Sunday, July 05, 2015

Giant Goose Egg

That the SF Giants lost their three game series at Washington was less of a shock than their 3 duds in Miami, but it still had to be discouraging.

 Washington proved to be the better team, and the Giants didn't even see their best pitcher.  The Nationals' infield woes receded, and they have right now a superior outfield that took away several extra base hits from the Giants, who couldn't score a run for two of the games except for two solo homers.The final game was additionally frustrating for all the bad calls on balls and strikes.  Ryan Vogelsong was still pitching well when he was ejected, which didn't help matters.  George Kontos, who hadn't given up a run in ages, gave up the winner on a home run.  It ended up 3-1.

Bryce Harper of the Nationals was the top All-Star vote getter, and he showed why even in this relatively quiet series for him.  He's something of a Mickey Mantle figure, with incredible potential and putting up incredible numbers, but whose career has been marred by injuries.  And instead of off-field excesses like Mantle, he's prone to on-field temper.

The Giants return home from an 0-6 road trip depleted and exhausted, 4 games back in second place.  It could have been worse, since the Dodgers also lost on Sunday.  They have to rest Pagan or risk losing him later, and they are going to rest Panik as they did Duffy today.  Their latest roster moves bit them today when Travis Ishikawa returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates on waivers. That's an experienced bench player the Giants won't have for late season, but the Pirates now will.

 The Pirates are ending the first half going in the opposite direction of the Giants.  They won their series against Cleveland, with a 1-0 gem by Jeff Locke and a 5-3 win by league leader Gerrit Cole (his 12th victory), with a 5 run fifth capped by a double by Andrew McCutchen, who didn't make the All-Star starting lineup but will probably start anyway due to injuries.  The Giants' Aoki was the 4th outfielder in votes, but he's injured, too.  The Pirates have no starters, and the Giants only Buster Posey.  So that's exactly one of my selections that start, two if you count Cutch.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Fall of the Lakers

This week's NBA news has all the major free agents wooed by the Los Angeles Lakers going to other teams.  The best the Lakers can do is trade for a center (Roy Hibbert of Indiana) who is slow, has no shot and rebounds poorly.  He could bounce back from a bad year, he could suddenly click with the Lakers, but it's unlikely.

The Lakers aren't used to being snubbed.  And while the sports world likes to blame Kobe Bryant, it's pretty clear to me that its the Laker management.  The team has not been the same since baby Buss took over for his father.  The elder Buss was universally respected, loved by his players (Magic Johnson for one revered him.)  In the years that Jerry West was also in the front office, the Laker organization was the classiest, most astute and most powerful in the league.

Now that mantle has likely fallen to the San Antonio Spurs, who were able to take away free agent star power forward Aldridge.  I have my doubts that Aldridge will work out on the Spurs, but if he does, it will be another indication of that organization's skill.  He was a malcontent in Portland for no real reason, and if the Spurs can quell his jealousy of other players, it will signal to other stars that their organization and team ethic is for real.

In any case, top players making obscene amounts of money aren't necessarily following just the dollar signs or the major market endorsement possibilities.  Whatever it is they are looking for, the Lakers don't have it.  And it's not just prospects for winning, and it certainly is not playing with Kobe Bryant.  Whatever the word is among players, they are being cautious and skeptical at best.  This year's failures don't auger well, after last year's etc.  The pattern is set, and top players aren't getting on the Buss.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Limping to the Break

The Giants wasted a very impressive return performance by Jake Peavy to lose 2-1 to the Washington Nationals.  Things only get harder in Washington now.  Next game is Bumgarner v. Strasbourg.

The Giants made a number of roster moves prior to the game.  As mentioned here, depth in the outfield was really getting to be a problem, and they addressed that by bringing up Ryan Lollis, a fairly good hitter who has been on a tear in the minors recently.  He has speed and can play all three outfield positions.  He's said to be an enthusiastic player in the Hunter Pence mold.  He bats left.

The Giants really need him or someone right away, as Angel Pagan is obviously hurting and pressing.  I think he's in pain all the time, though that's just intuition.  But he needs rest, as the Giants limp to the All-Star break with potentially none of their original starting outfield.  Fortunately Blanco is hitting very well, Justin Maxwell not so much.  If Lollis can contribute right away, he might get them over the hump.

As it is the Giants are wasting Buster Posey's amazing hot streak, and it won't last forever.  But he's playing more first base and that's good for the long term.  He's not bad at that position, and Brandon Belt is improving as a left fielder.

Apparently Casey McGehee is gone--I missed that--and Tim Hudson is on 15 day DL.  The team sent down pitcher Broadway as well as outfielder Ishakawa, and brought up left handed pitcher Josh Osich, who pitched late against the Nats and had a scoreless eighth.

So for the short term at least, Cain and Peavy join the starting rotation, replacing Hudson and Lincecum.  Romo is apparently going to be the closer, and Hunter Strickland is likely to be the late innings rightie in Romo's previous role. Along with Cassia.  Osich joins Lopez as left hander relief, though manager Bochy said that Osich will pitch to right-side hitters as well, as he did today.

I was puzzled by the news that the Giants paid major money for the contract of an international player, just 18, who plays middle infield and is a contact hitter.  Don't they have a bunch of them on the squad now, all pretty young?

The Giants have lost 4 straight now, and like many losing streaks, bad luck is playing a part.  But they've been a streaky team all year, and the dynamics keep changing with injuries, as Bochy is forced to change batting order and player positions.  Still, with Aoki and Pence both out, it could even be worse.  The problem could be if they lose too much ground before the break.  They were nearly tied for first just a few days ago, and they're 3.5 out now, with the Dodgers playing tonight.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

On the Road: Woe and Flow

The Marlins swept their three game series with the visiting Giants, and the only team more surprised at that than the Giants would be the Marlins.  A bottomfeeder this year, reeling from organizational woes, the Marlins probably did not expect to even win the series at home against the world champs.

But Justin Bohr, who the rest of the league has "figured out," beat them three times with homers, two of them with two on base.  These constitute a third of his year to date total (he had six, now he has nine.)  His walk-off was the stunner.  With the Giants leading by two runs in the last of the ninth and their closer on the mound, the first two hitters reached base and he promptly homered.  It was all over in minutes.  Before that, the Marlins had committed three errors and didn't seem to be in the same league as the Giants.

Thursday Matt Cain returned to the mound, and so did the Marlin's young ace, Jose Fernandez.  Cain was reportedly pretty sharp for four innings but lost it in the fifth, when Fernandez homered and Bohr hit another three run dinger.  Fernandez had a better first outing, going a strong six, as well as homering.

What hurts the most is that these were supposed to be the gimme games.  The tough ones are ahead, with the strong Washington Nationals.  And the Giants will start off with another season debut by an injured pitcher, Jake Peavy.  The Giants kept the Marlins from scoring after the fifth mostly because of pitcher George Kontos.  But he's unlikely to be available for long relief if Peavy gets in trouble or tires early.  Apparently the Giants will also be going to a different closer, as manager Bochy diagnosed closer Casilla's problems Wednesday as arm fatigue.

Stuff like walkoff losses and a closer losing a game happen during the course of any season.  But it should also motivate being smarter.  If the rest of the league had figured out Bohr, and he hit his three homers on pretty much the same pitch in the same location, shouldn't the coaches take notice and figure out what they missed?  Same with Casilla's arm.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates went to Detroit and swept that three game series.  The first they won with grit, the other two with power.  Neil Walker hit two homers in the middle game.  They got great pitching, especially from Liriano today.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sprinting for Midseason

An off day Monday for the Giants and the Pirates, so taking a breath to take a longer view.  One of those assessments of the season so far makes a persuasive case that neither will win their divisions.  The Dodgers and the Cardinals are dealing with more injuries than many other clubs, even the Giants at this point, but they're holding down first place--the Cards by a considerable margin.  It's true the Giants had that commanding lead at the All-Star break last year and lost it, so it isn't impossible.  But the reasoning is sound--it is more likely that the Giants and Pirates will again face each other in the Wild Card game.

As for the Pirates, since its been awhile since I've been back in the Burgh for any length of time, I read with interest this claim that the Pirates have replaced the Steelers and Penguins as the most popular sports team in the city.  The article quotes a Pittsburgh sports fan's blunt assessment: “The Steelers are thugs, and the Penguins are crybabies. The Pirates are good guys and work hard. It’s easy to root for this team.”

The piece is mostly about the supposed decline of the Steelers but what this guy says about the Pirates rings true.  They do seem like good guys that work hard.  I would attribute my own distance from the Steelers to my dismay over professional football in general.  I've been unhappy for some time with the emphasis on hard hits (fed by sports media) over other aspects of the game, and the revelations on concussions kind of sealed that deal for me.  Of course, I still secretly read everything I could find on this year's Steelers draft picks.

But as a more active fan, baseball has really become my game.  I admire the Giants team--they're good guys who work hard, too, and they are easy to root for.  So I've filled out my All-Star ballots with a combination of Giants and Pirates.  Mostly Giants I must confess--I recently switched my third baseman to Matt Duffy, how could I not after the week he's had?  But I also switched out one Giant for the Pirates' Sterling Marte in the outfield (I still have Aoki out there, though.)

How many Giants fans today would trade Matt Duffy for Pablo Sandoval?  Pretty much zero I'll bet.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On A Clear Day You Can Hit Forever

On a clear day you can hit forever, at the San Francisco Giants home park at least.  Blue skies and at times blinding sun helped 31 hits happen, including a bunch by San Diego in their strange eighth inning.  A parade of pinch-hitters dumped hit after hit off Giants relievers and the Padres turned a 9-2 laugher into a 9-8 squeaker, at least until the last half of the inning when the Giants scored 4.  The distinctly un-SF final was Giants 13 Padres 8.

The Giants not only hit 19 times, they seldom settled for singles.  They hit four triples for the first time at home in San Francisco (Belt had two), plus 4 doubles (Posey had two.)  Seven players had more than one hit in the game (including 3 with 3 hits), and 9 Giants hit safely (including pitcher Chris Heston, who drove in a run.)

The hit stats obscure the great outing that Heston had on the mound.  The no-hitter two starts back was a career achievement, but how he pitched in this game I think turned him into a starter for SF for a long time to come.  He's also an asset fielding his position and hitting.

(Now that I said that I had a weird feeling that the Giants may be about to trade a pitcher for more bat.  But let that pass.)

Anyway, three excellent starts against San Diego, one bad luck (and dead bat) loss, so a series win.  Colorado next, another division foe.  The Giants hit the Padres best starter and best reliever, so this hitting thing may be for real, even at home.  Travis Ishikawa rejoined the club yesterday, got a great ovation by fans taking their first opportunity to recognize his home run last season that won the pennant.  He wasn't among those getting hits today, and he didn't figure in the scoring.  But with Pence and now Aoki out for several more weeks, they need gloves in the outfield at a minimum.  Blanco continues to perform well at the plate and in the field.

  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Slam

They needed this one.  On the strength of Buster Posey's second grand slam in his last five games, the San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 6-0.  A victory, yes, but a victory at home.

Ryan Vogelsong pitched 6 innings of shutout ball, but Madison Bumgarner did the same the night before, only better: he had 13 strikeouts in 7 plus innings, and a shutout into the 8th.  But the Giants had scored just two runs, and a two-strike double brought in two runs for the Padres.  The game stayed tied until San Diego won 3-2 in extras.

That was the first game of the homestand, and brought back melancholy memories of the last one.  But Wednesday's victory at least changed the mood.  The Giants are even more hitter-depleted than the last homestand, with their potent hitter Aoki injured, and Hunter Pence now not expected back for weeks.  They are about to get richer in starting pitchers with Peavy and Cain returning, but it's bats they need.

Good things in the batting department though: Blanco is hitting well, and now so is Joe Susak.  He had his first triple tonight, and scored the sixth run.

Odd thing about those two Posey grand slams.  Today I had just turned on the radio, and the first pitch I heard called was the one he slammed.  Something very similar happened in the game in LA, although I think the home run call had just been made.  So I'm improving.  As I tuned in I was thinking that what the Giants needed the most was a big win.  And turns out they got it.