Friday, August 28, 2015

Super Kelby!!

Once again the mild-manner re-, ah, second baseman surveys the scene.  The game is tied, bottom of the ninth, Giants against the Cards, the team with the best record in the majors.  The Giants have squandered a 4 run lead, left a lot of runners on base all game, but now, the bases are loaded.  And this looks like a job for...

Super-Kelby!  With two strikes he scorches a liner past the overshifted infield, and the Giants win 5-4.

True, the ball didn't go nearly as far (and again I repeat myself) as the home run by Marlon Byrd.  Not a three run shot to center this time.  Nah.  A grand slam to center.  Yesterday Kelby hit the seventh grand slam of the year for the Giants, tying a club record.  Tonight the record was broken with the eighth.

Kelby Tomlinson also made a terrific play in the field in the top of the ninth that helped keep the Cards from scoring, and set up his own dramatics.  With his slam yesterday and the winning hit tonight, both before sold out crowds at home, he's becoming a social media star.  Only a matter of time before the oversized Clark Kent glasses show up in the stands, if they haven't already.

Mike Leake pitched his second strong game in a row at home, and again doesn't get a win.  His wild pitch however was costly.  Gregor Blanco was back in the lineup and had two hits, and drew a walk in the ninth.

Brandon Crawford was really missed this game in the field, and the news of a faster recovery yesterday was reversed today.  The soonest he'll be back in the field is in L.A.  Matt Cain went on the DL, Chris Heston was recalled to replace him, he starts on Sunday.  Angel Pagan also won't rejoin the club until Sept. 1.

The Dodgers also won so the Giants only stay at 2.5 back, but the more games they win now, the more pressure there is on the Dodgers when they go to L.A. next week.  The Pirates won, and so thanks to the Giants, they gain a game on St. Louis.

It's kind of amazing but with all these injuries, the only conspicuous weakness the Giants have in the field and at bat is Adrianza when he's at short (that's with Aoki and Blanco back).  The starting rotation still has some gaps but the bullpen is making good use of young arms like Strickland, Osich and Broadway as well as the veterans.  The expanded roster is going to help the starting situation, if not directly,  then with long relievers.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kelby!

It was the eighth inning, runners on second and third.  The Cubs elected to intentionally walk Byrd-man (who earlier in the game hit a three run homer to put the Giants comfortably ahead) to load the bases for the mild-mannered reporter--er, second baseman--Kelby Tomlinson.  Who, on a 1-2 count and without even taking off his Clark Kent glasses, turned into Superman, and launched his first major league home run--which also happened to be a grand slam.

Look, up in the sky!  It's a bird, it's a plane--no, it's a baseball!  And it's gone, it's bye bye baby, it's outa here!

It's true that Marlon Byrd's homer to center was about 100 feet longer, but Tomlinson's was special--the home crowd responded with a standing O, and Kelby flashed his super smile.

And arguably it wasn't even his most important hit of the game.  He got the Giants' first hit with two outs in the second, and was running when Perez doubled and scored the tying run from first.  The Cubs were ahead in the game for exactly a half inning.

 Madison Bumgarner had an uneasy second but otherwise dominated, with 12 strikeouts in 6 innings.  Manager Bochy took him out with a four run lead, which Tomlinson turned into eight.  Final score was 9-1.  MadBum got the win, which makes him 5-0 in August.  He's once again sharing a club record with Juan Marichal--the only two Giants pitchers to go 5-0 in a month three times.

The standings didn't change today, as the Dodgers, Pirates and Cards all won.  This was only the second Giants win against the Cubs this year, but the Chicago team suddenly looks vulnerable.  They are such a young team that they could take a dive to follow this incredible hot streak.  It bears watching.  (No, that's not a Chicago joke, exactly.)

Tomorrow night the Cards and their ace Macha.  The Giants played well enough in St. Louis that home field could be the difference in this series.  I look for them to win two.  Their upcoming road trip to Los Angeles looms ever larger.

Duffy's ankle was good enough for him to play, and play well.  Crawford's injury reportedly not as bad as first reported.  Yet the Giants won two games against the Cubs with only three players who started the season at their position--and only one of them (catcher Buster Posey) hasn't lost games to injury this year.  (One starter lost his job to Matt Duffy and is gone.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Running Wounded

It's why they play the game, and why this team is so much fun to follow.

Injuries seemingly have been rampant almost everywhere this year but with the San Francisco Giants it is getting ridiculous.  Missing three starting position players already and a rotating two or three starting pitchers, the Giants on Wednesday lost their All Star shortstop, home run leader and RBI leader for most of the season, Brandon Crawford.  And the player who came off the bench to become an offensive as well as defensive mainstay in center field, Gregor Blanco. This was but a few hours after reliever Jeremy Affeldt had another of his habitual weird household accidents and was out.

And then in Wednesday's game, their rookie of the year Matt Duffy sprained an ankle.  He stayed in the game and was instrumental in the Giant's victory, but he's day to day.

Did I say victory?  Their first win over the Chicago Cubs this year, 4-2.  Timely hitting and running by rookie replacement Kelby Tomlinson, a gut-check pitching performance by starter Jake Peavy, and bullpen perfection won the day, ending with Casia's incredible ninth inning--he threw 8 pitches, all strikes, and got two strikeouts and a ground out.  And no drama.

As for the walking wounded, Duffy is day-to-day, Crawford will sit out tomorrow's game (rubber match with the Cubs, Bumgarner pitching) but hopes to be back for the first game with the Cards.  No word on Blanco, but Angel Pagan is scheduled to be back for the Cards series.  Encouraging words on Joe Panik's return soon as well.

Tim Hudson may return early to pitch Sunday in Matt Cain's spot, or Chris Heston could be recalled, to replace an injured pitcher.  Pence is not even in the conversation yet.

The Cubs victory on Tuesday sent several local writers into despair about a wild card spot, but I thought that's been pretty much out of reach for awhile.  Even with this loss, the Cubs are 21-5 in their last 26 games.  The Mets aren't quite as hot but they're close.  While the Giants lost one and won one, the Dodgers won two, and are 2.5 games in front.  The schedule just doesn't favor the Giants the rest of the way, and a musical chairs lineup doesn't help either.

But then there are games like this one, that started like it was going to be an absolute disaster, almost got into keystone kops territory again in the sixth, and then a few key hits and a mesmerizing bullpen turned it into an electric evening in San Francisco.

Meanwhile the Pirates beat up on the Marlins, as Cutch hit a 3-run shot, his 20th homer of the year.  St. Louis also won, over Arizona.

 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

How to Win at Baseball

If baseball games were won on style points, the SF Giants would be returning from their road trip with at least five wins.  Unfortunately, the team that scores the most runs wins the game, and on that basis, the Giants went 2-5, winning one game in St. Louis out of three, and one out of four in Pittsburgh.

The last two in Pittsburgh were those style point victories, including Sunday's 5-2 loss.  The Giants did everything better but score runs, and not coincidentally, hit homers.  The Pirates again won with power on Sunday--dingers by Cutch and Alvarez.  But they need to be careful of relying on it too much--their baserunning was sloppy on Saturday, and their defense was sloppy on Sunday.

But if revenge for the Giants' victory in last year's Wild Card game that kept them out of the postseason was the motivation, the Pirates got it.  They've won the regular season series 6-1.  That alone might ensure they won't meet again in a wild card game this season.

In Sunday's game Ryan Vogelsong had a bad start, lasting only 3.5 innings after giving up 3 runs in the first.  Again the bullpen gave up solo homers, but again the biggest problem was the Giants inability to cash in runners.  For the Giants hit pretty well on this road trip and in this game, but not when it counted most.  Duffy had 3 hits Sunday, Crawford doubled deep, and Tomlinson, Aoki, Perez and Blanco hit.  Though Crawford was robbed of RBIs by his double bouncing into the stands, Buster Posey again went 0-5, as did Byrd.  Both left men on base.

The only saving grace is that the Dodgers lost 5 in a row, and SF actually picked up a game on the roadtrip.  But even now at home they will be tested: by the Cubs, who started their current torrid winning ways by dominating the Giants in Chicago,  and then the Cards.  The Cubs are so hot that they are locking up the second wild card, while Arizona and San Diego are moving closer to the second place Giants in the division.  As Bruce Bochy said before today's game, there's only one task to concentrate on for the rest of the schedule: win games.  And you do that (let's review) by...scoring the most runs in each one.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Are the Bucs Going All the Way?

So today, in the third game in Pittsburgh between the two teams I follow, the Pirates prevailed 3-2, showing their postseason potential.

They crushed three solo homers, two by Kang and the walk-off in the ninth by Marte, who earlier in the field had robbed a homer from Brandon Crawford.  The Giants dinked their two runs and had plenty of chances for more--twice they had a man on third with one out, and didn't cash in.  As good as Byrd looked yesterday, he looked woeful today.  Duffy, Belt and Blanco are all playing well, but when your RBI guys--Posey and Crawford in this lineup--aren't hitting, chances to win decline severely.

Mike Leake had a very good start, giving up just one hit--unfortunately it was Kang's first homer.  Cole had a bumpier time for the Pirates but he pitched out of jams most of the time.  The Giants stole bases, the Pirates got caught.  The Pirates' second-string catcher had a real tough game.  But the Pirates' difference-maker is power up and down the lineup.

So after Hunter Strictland picks off a runner at third and there are two outs, on the next pitch Kang hits a long home run.  And in the ninth, as Kontos seems very sharp and in command, and with two strikes on the batter, Marte hits a long one to end the game.

I'm finding it impossible to root against the Giants or even remain neutral--I've just listened to too many of their games.  But I had a familiar feeling when the score was tied in the eighth.  It was the feeling that the Pirates, playing with assurance, were going to find a way to win it, in the ninth or the fifteenth, whatever it took.  It's the same kind of confidence as with the 1979 champions.

The Pirates just have that feeling about them now.  This could be their year.

Meanwhile the Giants didn't lose ground, as the Dodgers lost to Houston again.  The Pirates picked up a game on St. Louis, which lost big to San Diego.

Correction: The Giants sent Chris Heston down to make room for Marlon Byrd, not Mike Leake.  They subsequently sent down outfielder Ryan Lollis to make room for Leake.  It sounds as if Pagan's return is still a week or so away, pretty close to--and perhaps past--Sept. 1, when active rosters expand from 25 to 40 when Heston and perhaps Lollis rejoin the Giants.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Byrd in the Hand

Marlon Byrd made the SF Giants front office look mighty good by launching a two-run homer in his first at-bat as a Giant, in Pittsburgh Friday.  He also doubled and singled in the game, going 3 for 5.

With that homer, Byrd instantly became the Giants' home run leader with 20 for the year.  Brian Crawford has been stuck at 19 for awhile.

Madison Bumgarner pitched 6 and a third gritty innings, giving up but two runs, which he got back with a 400 foot plus homer with one on.  He's homered in his last two starts.

The Giants offence then stalled and the Pirates chipped away in their usual relentless fashion, but the Giants' bullpen bent but did not break, and the Giants won the second game of this four game set, 6-4.

All the heroics (that included some excellent fielding by Duffy and Blanco) obscured the shocker of the day--to make required roster room in activating Mike Leake (who will start on Saturday), the Giants sent their second-best pitcher back to the minors.  Chris Heston will get some rest and some less pressured work for 10 days, until the rosters expand and he can rejoin the club.

Maybe others expected this but I sure didn't.  Still, it makes some sense, especially after a strong couple of starts by Vogelsong and a promising start by Matt Cain.  Heston is, after all, a rookie, and his shaky starts recently could indicate some bad habits that need to be corrected before they get worse, or even just a breather from big league pressure before it gets really intense in September.

Manager Bruce Bochy didn't want to give up a position player--his bench is replete with good gloves but not so many bats.  In a pitching emergency, Tim Hudson could be quickly activated.  The next decision point may be when Angel Pagan is healthy.

Marlon Byrd started in right field, which is the short side in Pittsburgh but the long side in San Francisco.  I'd look for him to start games there but be platooned with a younger fielder in the late innings of close games.  His three hits Friday came on his first three at-bats.  Aoki was in left field, and he had a three hit day as well, leading off.

Blanco has started hitting again after a slumping start to the road trip.  Buster Posey is slumping in terms of hits but he drove in the first run with a sac fly, and he's hit some very deep balls on this trip.  Brian Crawford, who got his hitting streak broken yesterday, got a hit today.

So far the series works for me, as I'd like to see it even at 2-2.  Mike Leake starts Saturday, against the Pirates ace, Gerit Cole.  Leake normally pitches well against the Bucs, but this is his first game off the DL.

The Pirates also got back their leadoff man, Josh Harrison, who started at second base.  When Mercer comes back, the Bucs hope to soon be in the enviable position of having 5 infielders who can start (and hit) for three positions.  They're going to be something in the postseason.

Speaking of postseason, one of the heroes of the 2013 postseason for the Pirates was none other than Marlon Byrd.

In today's races, the Pirates lost no ground as the Cards lost, but the Giants picked up a game when Mike Fiers of the Astros threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers.  The last LA batter was up as the Giants announcers were beginning their postgame wrap, so they did an improvised and hilarious fake play by play (Ronald Reagan-style, by picking up the pitch off the wire and making up the rest) on Fier's final strikeout.  I'm sorry but I'm absolutely spoiled for any other announcing team--they all sound like fake automatons next to these guys.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pop

The Giants' dilemma became really obvious in the past two games.  After the bullpen gave up the one run lead to St. Louis, the best the Giants could do in the ninth for a pinch-hitter was pitcher Madison Bumgarner.  They lost 4-3.  At the end of the next game in Pittsburgh, the last two batters including pinch hitter Andrew Susak had below .250 averages.  The Giants lost 4-0.

So today the Giants acquired Marlon Byrd, a right-side hitting outfielder, who even late in career has as many homers as the Giants' current leader, Brandon Crawford, at 19.  Without Pence in the lineup, this move was inevitable, and cost the Giants another young pitching prospect.  Will it turn out to mean anything?  A very qualified maybe.

Byrd is probably a liability in the field however, and though lacking pop, the current roster of Giants outfielders have proven to be excellent fielders, robbing opponents of hits and runs.  Juan Perez got a rare start in St. Louis and took away a home run with a spectacular fence-climbing catch.

In this game Giants infielders made the great plays: Crawford and Duffy, and Tomlinson not too shabby either.

The Giants did get one of three in St. Louis, and the last game hurt.  But Matt Cain had his best start, so in that way it was a positive.  Now the Giants will have to struggle for a split in Pittsburgh to get three wins on this road trip.  It won't be easy.  However, Aoki is back (and got a hit), and Mike Leake is expected to start on Sunday.

Neil Walker had a titanic homer, Charlie Morton pitched very well for the Bucs.  The Pirates are very strong at home, and their versatility at bat and on the bases is really formidable when their starters pitch well--which they do, better than anybody in the league except St. Louis.