Thursday, May 14, 2015

Getting Sober

The Giants last two losses--the last of two in Houston, then the first of a 4 game set in Cincinnati--suggest why they may be a .500 team this year: without home run hitters, their margin for error is small, especially on the road.

The two games were very similar: the starting pitchers were shaky, and left on the mound an inning or a batter too many.  Managerial gambles didn't pay off, there was sloppy play especially on the bases.  More than anything, there was a lack of key hits with runners on base.  So even though the Giants took a lead or at least a tie into late innings, the likelihood of them losing seemed pretty high.

When this team does well, they win by one run.  When they are less than near perfect, they lose by one run.  As they did both of these games.  The difference in both--since pitching was less than stellar for both teams--was clutch hitting and especially home runs.

The Giants only home runner hitter now in the lineup is Brandon Belt, and he's been striking out consistently again, after a nice streak of hitting at home.  He has yet to hit a single home run this season.  Other Giants, like Posey or Crawford or really almost anyone, are certainly capable of homering in these homer-friendly parks on the road.  But none are consistent at it.

Michael Moore's homers carried the Giants early last year, and he's gone. It might be awhile before Hunter Pence can be expected to return to form, even after he returns to the lineup.  It's hard to see what the Giants have to offer other teams in trade for a power hitter, but they've pulled rabbits out of a hat before.  Failing that, the law of averages suggests they're going to be a very good team that can't put away lesser teams, and so are always in danger of losing because of one mistake, or one whiff with runners on base.  The games will still be exciting, but to get to postseason will likely take a lucky streak at the right time.

As to what's wrong with the Pirates now, I've got no clue.  They've lost two low-scoring games to the Phillies.  So maybe they haven't turned the corner after all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Young and the Great

They're an old team, say the critics.  But youth was served up piping hot today as two young Giants starred: rookie pitcher Chris Heston--brought up last month from the minors because of injuries to the aging starting rotation--pitched a two hitter, a complete game with 10 strikeouts, which only two veteran pitchers could match all last year.  And for the second game in a row, young Matt Duffy brought in the winning run with a key hit--this time with a 3 hit, 5 RBI game.  The SF Giants beat the Astros in Houston 8-1.  In the Giants last game of the homestand on Sunday against the Marlins, Duffy got his first walkoff hit in the majors, winning the game with two outs in the last of the ninth. That's his swing in the photo above.

Granted that Houston is struggling, and key errors gave the Giants a bunch of runs, but it was highest run total for the Giants all year.  I'm guessing what impressed baseball execs throughout the league was that Heston knew how to pitch with a lead.  He stayed aggressive, as evidenced by those ten strikeouts (even granted that the Astros strike out a lot.)

Can't say enough about Duffy.  Maybe pitchers don't know him yet but he's taken advantage of situations and shown some power.  His double with the bases loaded in the third inning bounced over the wall or it would have been a triple.  Duffy has twice as many hits with the bases loaded as the rest of the team combined.

It's fun when the young guys are coming through.  The announcers add to everything.  A few days ago, when the Giants had completed their fourth shutout of the homestand, one (Kiper or maybe Miller) noted in the deadpan but enthusiastic voice used to announce meaningful records, "and the Giants won every one of them."  "Amazing!" Dave Flemming said.

Last night, Barry Bonds chose two of these announcers--Duane Kiper and Mike Krukow--to introduce him at the awards dinner inducting him into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.  Here's something very interesting they said earlier:

Asked for his favorite memory of the slugger, Kuiper pointed not to the diamond but to a plane ride. They were on the team flight headed for Atlanta, where Greg Maddux was scheduled to start for the Braves. Krukow and Kuiper were talking about Maddux when the hitter said, "You want to know something? I'll tell you the first seven pitches he's going to throw me." Bonds was so sure of the sequence that he insisted that the broadcasters write it down. 

 "It never got to seven, because he hit the sixth pitch," Kuiper recalled. "But the first five were right. He knew exactly what Maddux was going to do to him. "

So if he knew what Maddux was going to do him, then he knew what most guys were going to do to him. You don't think that's an advantage?" Krukow said: "Bonds is the best player I ever saw that I was old enough to appreciate. I saw Willie Mays when I was a kid, so I couldn't really appreciate how great he was -- I mean, I knew he was fabulous.

 "But you can actually see Bonds' genius at the plate. If you break down the mechanics of his swing, they were perfect to hit for average. They were perfect to hit for power. And he had one of the most brilliant minds ever to step into a batter's box."

Barry Bonds unites my baseball enthusiasms--I saw him play for both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the SF Giants.  He was one of my favorite players to watch on those Pirates teams, and what he did as a Giant is amazing. Beyond the whatever,  Krukow suggests why.

Meanwhile, the Bucs are continuing to stay hot, matching big hits with solid pitching.  They've also recently climbed just above .500  but like the Giants they've dug themselves a hole in their division.  They are both about six games behind.  The Pirates when they are hitting is the more formidable club--but you know, that was also sort of true last year.