Thursday, July 30, 2015

Now It Begins

In some ways, it is unfortunate that the Pirates are in the same division as the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cards have the best record, the most wins, in baseball.  Nobody is even close.  The Pirates however have the second best record.  In just about any other division of either league, they would be in first place.

But if the Cards push them to keep up, it is not so unfortunate, because they have a clear path to the postseason.  If the season ended now, they would have the first Wild Card berth.

The Giants on the other hand don't have as clear a path.  They are competing for their division championship, mostly with the Dodgers.  If they don't get that, things get chancier.  Because the race for the second Wild Card spot is unclear.  Even a half game out (as they are at the moment), they might not make the postseason--they are even closer to the record of the Chicago Cubs for the second Wild Card.

In the past two or three weeks, the Giants have done what they needed to do.  Playing mostly teams who are not in contention, they dominated.  On Wednesday they broke a pitcher's duel open with a five run inning, and took their home series with the Brewers, after breaking their latest winning streak at six with Tuesday's loss to the Brewers.  So they have won 12 of their last 14 games.

But after an off-day Thursday, things change.  They're on the road, playing better teams than they have been playing, in less congenial circumstances (like a lot of hot weather.)  The rest of the season is going to be challenging.

Both the Pirates and Giants (who play each other four more games, in Pittsburgh; the Pirates swept the last series in San Francisco) play a series with their main opponent in the last week of the season, and they both do so at home.  The Cards-Pirates games probably won't be meaningful for the division title unless the Cards have a last month swoon, and the Pirates streak.  Most Giants observers expect the Dodgers series to be meaningful, and possibly determine the division.  Probably there's a greater chance of that, but of course it's not guaranteed (besides which, both teams have another series after it.)

But that's late September.  There are a lot of games to come in the dog days--the period when the Giants faltered last year--and this year, it seems less likely that they will back into the Wild Card.  Manager Bruce Bochy seems really conscious of this--he's resting players, keeping his starters to pitch counts, and sacrificing hitters on the bench for a large pitching corps.  So this is when it gets interesting, in terms of season outcome (the Giants are an interesting and fun team to watch game by game anyway.)  This is when it begins.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Weekend Update, and Giants over the former Seattle Pilots

The weekend ended with the Giants sweeping their 3 game series with Oakland and the Pirates winning 3 of 4 from the powerhouse Washington Nationals, both at home.  The Pirates victory on Sunday meant Cole remains the win leader among starters in the league, and Melancon the league leader in saves.

One Pirates tradition from my youth still seems observed--Monday off.  But the Giants had a night game with the Milwaukee Brewers, and beat them 4-2.  For the second game in a row, their victory was aided by an inexplicable base running mistake by the opposition, with Buster Posey throwing out both runners trying a really ill-advised steal in the late innings.  On Sunday Matt Duffy had a towering home run, and on Monday Brandon Crawford sent a 3-0 fastball into the deepest part of the park, where it bounced off the low wall and into the hands of an absolutely thrilled young woman in a Giants jersey, a two-run homer.

So the Giants now have two six-game win streaks separated by one loss.  This has put them suddenly 11 games above .500 and a game behind the Dodgers for the division lead.

Chris Heston pitched seven and got his 11th win, so he remains tied for club lead with Bumgarner.  He was shaky early, even after the lead (he usually is stronger with a lead) but 3 double plays got him out of serious trouble. Aoki rejoined the team, but nobody even mentioned him in the post-game wrap.  He went 0 for 3, and Bruce Bochy wisely had him batting 8th.  And at his first opportunity, Bochy got Blanco into the game, as a pinch-hitter for Heston in the bottom of the 7th.  Blanco promptly hit a double, drove in the insurance run, and stole third.  Bochy respects team chemistry and individuals in the zone (like Blanco lately).  He's an if it ain't broke don't fit it guy.  At the same time, he can't ignore past heavy contributors coming back from injury.

 Bochy says he's committed to his current starting rotation, including Hudson, who looked better if not stronger in his victory Sunday--a victory over the As that meant he'd beaten every team in the majors over his long career.  He's the 15th pitcher to do it.  That's spectacular, although I'm surprised there were that many.

Before Crawford's homer, the Giants manufactured their first run in the classic Giants way--a Duffy double, Posey ground ball to advance him to third, Pence a long fly to score him.  The Brewers compounded the caught stealing with a hissy fit, and their cleanup hitter and manager got tossed.

Years ago, probably after 2010 WS win, Margaret gave me a Giants daily calendar--one of those small square jobs that you tear off a page every day, this time with a baseball fact on each page.  I saved a bunch of them for bookmarks.  Yesterday I grabbed one from my stash and for some reason actually read it.  It happened to be about the Milwaukee Brewers, and it was something I didn't remember.  The Brewers originally were the American League team, the Seattle Pilots, in 1969.  Even after they moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers, they remained in the American League, until switching in 1997.

I wasn't paying much attention to baseball in 1969, and hardly ever paid much attention to the American League, so I don't even remember the Seattle Pilots.  They lasted one season there, and after protracted legal and other shenanigans, a judge declared the team bankrupt, and Bud Selig took them to Milwaukee, which had lost its Braves to Atlanta.  I should have remembered the Pilots, though, because Jim Bouton's famous Ball Four was about his season with them.