Monday, November 24, 2014

The Panda Blues

It's not a decision that is easy to understand, and as this piece implies, one that Pablo Sandoval may come to regret, but the Panda is gone from San Francisco Giants baseball.  He's signed with the Boston Red Sox for about the same contract as the World Champion Giants were offering.  Anyway, a really good piece on Sandoval and the Giants, and their respective futures.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

They Might Not Be Giants

The constant is change in the three recent San Francisco Giants world championship teams.  At the same time, the teamwork and clubhouse attitudes were at the core of the team's success.  Manager Bruce Bochy is known for his loyalty to his players, and GM Brian Sabean is known for going the extra mile to re-sign his best players.

Still, next year's team is bound to be different.  Among the free agents now are pitchers Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo.  Jeremy Affeldt nears the end of his two year deal.  Position players include Michael Morse and the one everyone is talking about, Pablo Sandoval.

There was a lot of "this may be the last time in a Giants uniform" in the World Series, but negotiations start with Sandoval's uninhibited declaration that he wants to remain a Giant for the rest of his career.

Who could blame him?  Among the best fans in baseball come to watch "the Panda", he's a beloved player even when he's not playing all that well, his teammates and the culture of the clubhouse are nurturing and fun, and he's on a persistent winner.

Fortunately for the Giants, they've already signed Madison Bumgarner, or they might not be able to afford anyone else.

It seems likely that the Giants will want to resign Romo and Morse.  But Bumgarner's dominance can't long mask the problems the Giants have with their starting pitching rotation for next year.  Peavy and Vogelsong, as well as Hudson and Lincecum are big question marks in terms of coming back. Nobody knows how effective Matt Cain will be, coming back from his injury.  That's a lot of spots to fill.

The relief corps may also need to be refreshed.  Affeldt had a rocky season but he was stalwart in the postseason, so he'll be back.  Hunter Strickland demonstrated that he's not quite ready for prime time, so he probably won't, at least to start the season.

The rookies that the Giants would be nuts not to hold onto are Joe Panik, who can be their second baseman for the next decade, and Andrew Susac, who didn't play in the Series but showed signs of being a good backup catcher and pinch hitter, who can spell Buster Posey behind the plate during the season.

But this is going to be an active offseason for the Giants management.  Signing Sandoval is their first priority, but that's just the start.  The starters is where the real problems are.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's MadBum Time--Giants Are World Champs

An improbable year for an improbable championship team ends with an historic pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner in five scoreless innings of relief, just two days after his complete game masterpiece in the fifth game.  The final score was Giants 3 Royals 2.

Records fell all over the place with this win, including many for Madison Bumgarner, quickly named MVP of the World Series.  But this was a team that led the Majors for the first half of the season, and fell so far so fast that it squeaked into the postseason with the last possible playoff spot.  It started the playoffs with its best hitters in slumps, with Angel Pagan and Matt Cain out for the season, with Brandon Belt just returning from injury, and Michael Morse still not back from his injury.

The Giants won the World Series with only one starter who got a victory, and two who didn't get out of the second inning--but Madison Bumgarner got three of their four wins, though an scoring change gave the official win in this one to Affeldt.

The quote of the night belongs to Jeremy Affeldt: "Sometimes we sit around wondering if Madison is human.”

The most dramatic moment had to be in the last of the ninth, when just one out from victory, an error in the outfield by normally excellent fielder Gregor Blanco put a man on third for the Royals.  It seemed like one of those awful portentous plays that forecasts doom.

But on a 2-2 count, MadBum induced a pop-up with a pitch that rode high inside, the Panda squeezed it before falling to his knees, and the San Francisco Giants became 2014 World Champions.

Major contributions on offense by Pablo Sandoval (who set a Major League record for hits in postseason play), DH Michael Morris (2 of the 3 RBIs, including the winning run) and Hunter Pence (two hits this game, .444 average for the Series, and hit in all seven games.)  Major contribution on the mound by Jeremy Affeldt, who pitched 2.5 scoreless innings, stopping the bleeding after Tim Hudson was knocked out in the second, and before MadBum took over.

Major contributions on defense by Perez in left, Crawford at short and by Joe Panik at second, whose great grab in the third stifled a rally and started a double play (which was assisted by Bruce Bochy who appealed the safe call at first.  After lengthy review, it was overturned.)

When the Giants went back ahead 3-2, Bruce Bochy seized the moment to get MadBum into the game.  It was a perfect baseball move, and a perfect psychological move, since the Royals knew he had completely mystified them in two previous games.  Bochy's decision to play Perez in left for his defense also paid dividends.

In the end, this is Bruce Bochy's championship.  He managed the Giants through this crazy year, and made the right moves when they counted in the postseason.  It's no coincidence that Bochy was the manager for three championships by three quite different Giants teams in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Finally, there is the resilience and the attitude of this team.  I was really surprised by the buoyancy with which they and everybody with the Giants (including their announcers) greeted their wild card berth, which they backed into.  It was as if the burden of the questionable season were lifted.  They were a new team.  They played like one.

And so, San Francisco celebrated.  In Pittsburgh, the Pirates are the city's longest love, but the Steelers are the most intense.  But in San Francisco, it's the Giants.

Except for the Panik photo from Fox, all the photos--like all the articles linked to--are from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Royals Erupt in Game 6

It was their night, as Hunter Pence so aptly said.  The Royals piled up 10 runs and the Giants got 0.  So the seventh game of the 2014 World Series is tomorrow in Kansas City.

Once again, it wasn't as bad as it looked.  Some errant play, especially by Brandon Belt, allowed KC to keep the second inning going, when they eventually got 7.  The really bad news was that they got to Petit after sending Peavy to the showers in near-record time.

It isn't just history that's now against the Giants.  The Royals are pumped up at home, and they finally got to SF's best long reliever.  Tim Hudson starts, with everybody else--including Bumgarner--in reserve.  The Royals obviously didn't have to use their late inning relievers, but neither did the Giants.  Except for Petit, everybody else that's been getting the Royals out is rested.

The Royals got an excellent start from Ventura on Tuesday.  They'll need an excellent start on Wednesday as well.  The Giants got six hits, and they've won games on fewer.  So it's game on.

6:50 Pacific: Sure didn't see this coming.  Instead of the game of his life, Jake Peavy had one of the worst starts of his career (which with the Giants may be over.)  The Royals had another of their explosive innings and in the fourth lead 8-0.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Seize the Sixth

It was the last day of baseball in San Francisco for the season, but it's not yet time for a retrospective of an interesting year.  Monday's a travel day before the sixth game of the World Series, so that's topic A.

It's looked like a seven game series and it may yet turn out to be.  But I'm feeling more and more that the Giants have the edge in the sixth game.  I base a lot of that on how the Giants have improved as the series has gone on.  They've now seen the entire pitching staff and hit starters, middle and late relievers.  This is their second look at Ventura, a young fireballer.  Curt Schilling said something interesting at ESPN.  He said Ventura is a thrower, not a pitcher.  He expects the Giants to be looking for fastballs to hit.  If Ventura's stuff is not exceptional, they could get to him.

Then what does Yost do?  He has to go all out with his staff, none of whom (except for his closer and his 7th game starter) have gone untouched.

On the Giants side, Jake Peavy is a veteran who has been in pressure situations before.  He knows that this is potentially the game of his life.  He pitched well in the second game, and that hellish inning wasn't entirely or even mainly his fault.

Nobody knows what pitchers have until the game is well underway.  But I think Peavy has the edge this time.  And the Giants have a "rested and ready" bullpen (as reliever Jeremy Affeldt said.)  So far the Royals have not touched Petit or (in a couple of innings) Lincecum, and hardly grazed Affeldt, Lopez, Cassia and Romo.

This is the Giants' second trip to Kansas City this Series.  It didn't bother them in the first game, which they won.  So it's unlikely to bother them tomorrow.  They have two games to win one, but the Royals must win tomorrow--that can help them, and that can hurt them.  The Giants, many of whom have felt World Series victory, can smell it.  They won't get tentative.

The Giants bats are hot, the Royals are cold, and though that can change, it looks more to me like series adjustments by the Giants hitters, and their pitchers. Every game is itself, but I like the Giants today.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Giants Behind Bumgarner Win 5-0 to Take Series Lead

In a dominant complete game performance, Madison Bumgarner pitched a 4-hit shutout, and the San Francisco Giants got to the Royals late relievers to add to their lead.  The 5-0 victory in the last game of the season at their home park, sends the Giants off to Kansas City needing to win one of the next two games to win the World Series.

He pitched the first World Series shutout since 2003.  Bumgarner set all kinds of other marks, as summarized here.  He threw eight strikeouts, many swinging, and many with the batters looking silly.  He walked no one.  It was an historic performance, and if the Giants win the Series, he's likely to be named the MVP.

But going forward it was the Giants' hitting that was most encouraging.  First their ability to scratch out runs from timely hits but also productive outs, bunting and base-running, and taking advantage of mistakes.  Second, they got to two of the Royals' previously untouchable late inning relievers.  So they've touched up starters, middle relievers and now the finishers.  They've seen everybody the Royals have.

Also important for the Giants: Sandoval and Pence continued hot hitting.  Brandon Crawford produced in the clutch (3 RBIs this game.)  Blanco was the only Giant besides Bumgarner not to get a hit in this game, and Blanco has gotten some key hits in the Series.

The Series is not won, of course.  The Giants now face the two starting pitcher that beat them in the second and third games.  From the Giants perspective, they need just one of the next two.  From the Royals' perspective they've accomplished what they needed to: won one of two at home, and one of three away.  Both teams have now won two games in a row, so the Royals winning two at home is hardly a stretch.  But the Giants are playing their best baseball right now, and the Royals aren't.

For the last pre-game of the year at the home park, I'd expected some acknowledgement of the players who helped the Giants get here but aren't on the roster, namely Matt Cain and Angel Pagan.  Maybe that's happened and hasn't been reported.  What is documented is the pre-game ceremony honoring the late Robin Williams, who was among other things a San Francisco Giants fan.  His son threw out the first pitch, caught by Billy Crystal.

630 p. pacific: Through four innings, it's Giants 2 Royals 0.  Bumgarner is very sharp but Shields is almost as sharp.  It's his infield that's let him down, and the Giants have cashed in a couple of opportunities.  Singles, a smart bunt by Belt, contact to move the runners, and the Giants manufactured two runs.

6:51: Bumgarner bears down with a man on second to get out of the inning without damage in the top of the fifth.  In the bottom half, the Giants get two on, Pence hits a titanic drive but excellent outfield play rescues Shields, who may have pitched his last inning.  It remains 2-0.

7:12: Bumgarner cruises through the sixth, Shields does pitch, gives up a single but the Giants strand the runner on second.  However their hits and at-bats have stretched Shields pitch count past 90.  Hererra, one of their big three late innings relievers, was warming up so he's likely to pitch the seventh.  After 6, the score is still 2-0.    Bumgarner starts the seventh with 7 strikeouts and no walks.

7:24: The Royals get a hit but Bumgarner pitches out of it in the top of the seventh.  It seems likely that barring a jam he'll finish the game, regardless of how that affects the possibility of relief in the seventh game.  Yost uses his late relief trio for one inning each, and with a travel day tomorrow, the risk of using them all in this game in terms of the next two games are pretty minimal.

7:38: The Giants strand a runner but they forced Hererra to throw a lot of pitches in the bottom of the 7th.  His pitch count is way up from the regular season.  He doesn't look unhittable anymore. Yost made some other roster moves that will play out in the 8th.  After seven, Giants 2 Royals 0.

7:49: Bumgarner pitches a strong 8th and though just over a hundred pitches, is likely to start the 9th.  Sandoval begins the bottom of the 8th by hitting the unhittable Hererra.  Then so does Pence. Hererra is gone.

8:04: Dominant Davis comes in.  Belt takes him to 3-2 before taking strike three.  Then light hitting Juan Perez also takes him 3-2, then launches one into center for a triple.  Two runs score.  Crawford comes up and singles Perez in for his third RBI on the game.  It's 5-0.  Cassia was warming up but now Bumgarner is batting, and he'll pitch the ninth.  After 8 innings it's Giants 5 Royals 0.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

11 by 11: Giants Even the Series with Come From Behind Win

Dark clouds turned into a rainbow: Coming back from a 4-1 deficit, the SF Giants lit up their home ballpark with an 11-4 victory to even the World Series at two wins apiece.

Bruce Jenkins of the SF Chronicle placed it in context: "This was the one, the performance for the Giants’ time capsule. If any future historian wants to know exactly why this team kept showing up in the postseason, and winning, bust out the four-hour spectacular from Saturday night. Who knows if the Giants will even win this World Series? It was only Game 4, with a trip back to Kansas City now guaranteed. But this 11-4 win over the Royals was about the restoration of faith and reputations. So much was on the line. And about 19 guys came to the rescue."

Down 4-1, the kids threw some 11s: 11 runs on hits by 11 different batters--a World Series record. Buster Posey got his 16th single of the postseason and drove in a run, tying him with Barry Bonds for the club WS RBI record.  Pablo Sandoval had key hits, including driving in the winning run, unusual only that he was hitting from his far weaker right side.  Joe Panik had two doubles, scoring and driving in two runs.  Hunter Pence had 3 hits, 3 RBIs and at least one fielding gem.

  Ryan Vogelsong started but it was Petit who was the pitching hero, shutting down the Royals and even getting a hit.  He has yet to give up a run in the postseason.

Yesterday was Royals Friday but this was Giants Saturday.  They won the key pitching battles, they got the breaks.  Their baserunning was daring again, but this time it worked.  They had a bad inning that included a mental error, but they overcame it.  Yost's moves failed, Bochy's moves succeeded.

The Giants eventually got to the Royals' starter but even more to their middle relievers.  That was absolutely the key to this game.  So the Giants learned one good lesson (the middle relievers are vulnerable) but they won't see this starter again.  It's back to the top three in both teams' rotation.  The Royal's Shields hasn't had a good outing in awhile, but Bumgarner has the most trouble this year at home.  The Giants know they need to get ahead in those first six innings.  Fifth game winners usually win the Series, but for the Giants this last game at home is almost essential.  (For what it's worth, Curt Schilling has the Giants in seven.)

It was a great game for the San Francisco fans, who rallied along with the team.

Jenkins also comments: The Giants’ organization has become known for staging the classiest pregame ceremonies in baseball, and this one stood out: Henry Aaron, the Little League champions from Chicago, 13-year-old Mo’ne Davis throwing out the first pitch (beautifully), Carlos Santana performing the national anthem, and Bryan Stow — flanked by his magnificent benefactor, Tim Flannery — shouting “Play ball!” from a wheelchair.  Stow is the Giants fan crippled by a Dodgers fan outside the stadium in LA.  Davis was the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series.

Royals Up a Game with 3-2 Win

The Kansas City Royals won the third game of the World Series 3-2.  Tim Hudson pitched a fine game for the Giants.  Javier Lopez gave up what turned out to be the winning run but it was more a case of an excellent 11 pitch at-bat than anything he did wrong.  The Giants were in position to tie a few times but the KC relievers are pitching extremely well.

The Giants have to take advantage of any scoring opportunities against the starter of the next game, scheduled for Saturday but with rain in the forecast for San Francisco.  The more times they see the relievers, the better they should see them.  But they've got nothing to hang their heads about.  The Royals outplayed them and got the breaks.  It could be the other way tomorrow.  And then comes Bumgarner.

Whatever happens, the fifth game is going to be a great one for the folks lucky enough to be there at the park in San Francisco--the last home game of this strange season.  From second Wild Card to National League champs in itself is worth celebrating, and I'm sure that's what they'll do Sunday, no matter what happens.

Because if things continue like this, they won't be bringing home a world championship.  But that's the great thing about baseball.  Things don't always continue the way they are.  A couple of feet from foul to fair, a liner that falls instead of staying up, and they could have won this game.