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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Giants' mid-season report card

As a team limping into it, the all-star break couldn't have come quick enough for the Giants after their downward spiral that started in early June.

Over the last several weeks, they've demoted their closer, lost their leadoff hitting center fielder and have gotten next to nothing offensively from the second base, shortstop, center field and left field positions over the last 4-6 weeks. That's 1/2 your lineup vastly underachieving so it's easy to see where the chunk of the Giants' downfall blame should lay. Hunter Pence has been about as steady as they come after a quiet week or two to start the year, and he earned himself a trip to Minnesota because of it. I'd say, that despite his major slump and lack of production since the team started losing, Michael Morse has been a plus. His surge early in the year helped the Giants build that record and lead in the NL West, so I'd say when all things are considered, you have to  be happy with what you got from Morse (overall) in the first half. Posey has been decent but far from the superstar he can be. Pablo Sandoval had a tale of two quarters, as he was downright dreadful the first 1/4 of the year, but bounced out of his funk in a big way in May and has gotten his numbers to a respectable spot. Other than that though, there hasn't been much to hang your hat on for the Giants offense. Pagan has been great when out there, but has only played 63 games. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt have each had some hot spots, but neither of their numbers impress you too much at the break. Now if Belt stayed healthy and didn't hit the DL for 6 weeks, he very well could have been a representative in Monday's Home Run Derby, but unfortunately it wasn't the case.

As for the pitching, the rotation had it's bumps early and some along the way, but they've really been about as good, if not better than expected. Madison Bumgarner had an all-star half with 10 wins, a 3.47 ERA and 127 K's. Giants newcomer Tim Hudson also made the team as a replacement with his 2.87 ERA and 7 wins over 119 innings. I think the real surprise though, even more than Huddy, has been the recent re-emergence of Tim Lincecum. Even before his no-hitter, Lincecum was making waves towards consistency, and it's like that second no-no snapped him back into his groove for good. Over the last 30 days, he's gone 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 25 K's over 36.1 innings of work. Although his K's are down slightly, his WHIP and ERA are lower than they've been since '11, so he'll gladly take it. At 9-5 with a 3.66 ERA, he's more than capable of reaching 16-17 wins with a sub-4 ERA and 175 K's if he keeps up his new found consistency. Another Giants' starter who's got their swagger back this year is Ryan Vogelsong. Although his first half ended in 4 straight loses where the Giants scored a total of ONE run for the man (posted a 3.27 ERA in that span), he's been giving the Giants solid outings and their certainly their money's worth. Despite the frustrating lack of run-support, he's kept his head straight and will look to build off his tough luck, 5-7/3.84/1.28 line over the last 11 weeks of the year. Now that Lincecum and Vogey have gotten going, the Giants really hope big things lay ahead in the second half for Matt Cain as they need him to be himself down the stretch. He hasn't been as bad as his 2-7 record indicates, but this is definitely one of the worst seasons of his career all around.

As a whole, the Giants rotation is sporting an ERA of 3.67 which isn't bad by any stretch, but not as good as some of the front-runners in the NL, and certainly not up to par with their SoCal nemesis LA Dodgers (3.08). The Brewers are the only first or second place team in the league with a higher rotation ERA, but they also have one of the better offenses in all of the league to help make up for the difference. So, in short, the rotation has done enough to win but if they're going to ensure their spot in October, it wouldn't hurt to see that rotation get that ERA maybe down to 3.50 or below to help for the inconsistent offense.

The other part of the pitching staff, the bullpen, has really been a strength. Take away Sergio Romo's recent hiccups during this losing streak, and the Giants have had one of the deeper, more effective bullpens in the league. Giants' relievers hold a 2.82 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Juan Gutierrez (3.11) and Sergio Romo (4.86)
are the only two with 20+ games that don't have a sub-3 ERA. Jean Machi (1.64/0.99) and Santiago Casilla (1.02/0.79) have been flat out stars and Jeremy Affeldt is having the best year of his career at 35 (1.64/0.99). Javy Lopez, Yusmiero Petit and Goerge Kontos can't go unmentioned, as Lopez continues to be the left-handed destroyer he's always been. Petit has quietly put together a nice half too after a slow start. He leads the Giants staff with a 10.6 K/9 rate, and gives the Giants an ideal spot starter or fill in when someone needs a breather or gets hurt down the stretch. I really like the way the bullpen has shaped up, and I like the depth they have with guys like Kontos, Dave Huff and Jake Dunning proven and ready to contribute when need be. However, as good as they are as a unit and even though Casilla seems to have righted the ship in terms of the closers spot, I think this is one area the team could definitely still build on by the trade deadline or possibly the waiver-deadline.

As far as the grades, the offense started out so hot and had this team playing so well which got them to the point they were at the 1/3 point. It has allowed them to take on water without completely drowning and they can't go completely unnoticed. The pitching has clearly been the foundation of the 2014 squad though, both the pen and the rotation. The rotation sports 4 guys who are on pace for double-digit wins, and the one who isn't is Matt Cain, who's capable of being an ace again at any given moment. He did finish off the first half well, throwing three consecutive quality starts, including one 7-inning shutout. Hopefully it's a sign of things t come over the next couple of months. Overall, I give the Giants rotation a B for the first half, and the bullpen a B+. Both solid, but neither perfect by any stretch.

Now, onto the offense. Had I done this at the quarter point after May, your looking at quite possibly a high B, maybe even low A. They were hitting for power, average, stealing bases, getting the 2-out hit and production all over the lineup (including from a seldom known second basemen). However, things have gone in the opposite direction the last month and a half. All things considered, I give the Giants offensive performance a letter grade of C- for the first half. The defense has really been a non-issue for the most part, which is a good thing. Michael Morse has been less of an adventure in left field than I thought he'd be so far, and even though the Giants haven't gotten any offense out of second base, the defense there has been stellar.

Looking Ahead: As we look toward the second half, there are both things that we have to look forward to, and questions that still need to be answered. Hopefully the return of Marco Scutaro yields positive results and allows the Giants to erase second base as one of their areas of concern. Hopefully we have Angel Pagan to look forward to returning before the end of the month, because as good as this pitching can be, I don't think the Giants are a Wold Series contender without a legit leadoff man. If that means they need to venture into the trade market should Pagan not be ready in time, so be it. As I've said here before, the Giants have 3 main question marks right now. One is hopefully being answered in the form of Marco Scutaro, but is very much still in question at the moment. The other two are the center field spot and the closers spot. The Giants don't have the trade ammunition to go out and take their pick of available 9th inning guys or all star outfielders, but they may be able to pluck one useful piece from somewhere if they play their cards right. Again, time will tell as to what exactly they need, but I do expect the Giants to do whatever they can to make a push towards another World Series ring, if that means making another deal or two, so be it. It also wouldn't surprise me to see Scutaro start hitting, Pagan come back and Sabean stand pat. Either way, it'll be a telling couple weeks ahead as we prepare to hit the stretch.

First Half MVP: Hunter Pence  (.300, 12 HR, 67 Runs, 8 SB)
Top Starter: Tim Hudson (119 IP, 7 W, 2.87 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)
Top Reliever: Santiago Casilla ( 31 G, 1.01 ERA, 0.82 WHIP
Biggest Surprise: Jean Machi (41 G, 5 W, 1.64 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Biggest Disappointment: Matt Cain (2-7, 4.18 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

*Cain gets disappointment both because his number of losses and lack of impact he's had. Romo is a close 2nd though. Bumgarner and his 10 wins make a case for top starter, but I don't think you can't forget Huddy's impact early on when MadBum started a bit slow.
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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Giants counting days until All-Star break

For a club with the recent struggles the Giants have had and the way they're banged up and in need of a rest right now, the All-Star break cannot come soon enough.

Last week, we discussed at length some of the issues with the pitching staff, both relief and in the rotation, but right now the team's offense looks tired and are in the midst of a prolonged slump. This offense went through the first 2 months of the season hitting for both power and average, making run-scoring pretty much a non-issue. It helped them get out to that huge lead in the West and to the best record in all of baseball. However, injuries have struck, and some of the guys that started out the year on a tear have mellowed out a bit, and all of the sudden the offense is looking like it's 2013 all over again. OK, not quite that bad, but not certainly not good. The Giants are hoping to get Angel Pagan back soon after the All-Star break, but an exact date has yet to be determined. Losing him really has caused a ripple effect as it's left the team without a true leadoff hitter, forcing Hunter Pence into duties with Gregor Blanco struggling. The Giants need Pence in the middle of the order in a run-producing role. He's been successful in the number 2 hole for most of the season and would probably do fine in the leadoff spot, but it's best for the team when this guy is somewhere towards the middle. Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse each had hits in Tuesday's loss in Oakland, but they've been cold over the last couple of weeks and haven't been driving in runs in the limited opportunities they've been given and moving Pence down would be a huge boost.

The move may not be far off either, as the Giants could be getting some real good news in the next week to ten days. Marco Scutaro, who's been MIA all spring and throughout the season to this point, started a rehab assignment with Fresno Monday and had a hit in three at-bats. The veteran second basemen says he feels very good, and at this point it's just getting him back up to game speed and building his endurance to handle the 9 inning game day after day. So long as he avoids and set-backs though, which as we know is no certainty, he could be back soon after the all-star break himself. Assuming he does come back and can play nearly everyday, he very well could assume the leadoff role until Pagan returned, at which time they'd each go back to their regular spots. Again, it's a big if, but if they can get Pagan and Scutaro back in the next two weeks, this team will be at full strength for the first time all year. I'd imagine Belt would stay in the third spot, Posey fourth, Pence fifth, Sandoval sixth and Morse seventh. It would finally give the Giants and Bochy the lineup they envisioned this winter after they inked Morse.

I'm gonna stay optimistic on Scutaro just because he sounds optimistic about his health for the first time since before last season. Also because Giants' second basemen are hitting a combined .179 this season and they desperately need that steady bat back in the lineup. Pagan is still worrying me a bit because he's now being sent to where Scutaro spent the first 3 months of the year in Arizona at extended spring training but Bochy's expecting him back soon after the break so I guess it can't be too bad. It's just that leadoff role is so crucial and Pagan has been so good there and makes such a difference in this lineup when he's healthy that he'd be tough to replace. Hopefully they won't have to.

Notes: Brandon Crawford is one of the guys who is in desperate need of the all-star break. The Giants have been unable to rest him much in the first half and his production both at the plate and in the field has taken a hit lately... Santiago Casilla (1.08 ERA) is a perfect 2 for 2 in save opportunities since being named closer last week. He hasn't allowed a run since April 27th and if the Giants don't add a closer before the deadline, appears to be the main man down the stretch... As further testament to the team's offensive struggles, they mustered just one run in the two-game set across the bay vs. a strong Oakland pitching staff. On top of that, All-Star Madison Bumgarner got raked hard for the third consecutive start on Tuesday, giving up 6 runs on 10 hits over 7 innings.
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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Changes on horrizon after rough June?

One Month ago today, pretty much everything was going in the Giants favor. They were the ones getting the big hit late in games and getting the excellent starting pitching which led to the best record in baseball and a comfortable led in the West.

Fast forward four weeks, however, and all of the sudden they're neck and neck with the Dodgers for a stranglehold on the division with the All-Star break quickly approaching.

It hasn't just been one area of the team that caused the 10-16 June and a 1-6 stretch over their last 7 games. The lineup has been struggling majorly as they try and endure some missing components and I'm not going to rip them too much in this one. The starting five is fully in tact and apparently healthy and need to be setting the tone for this team right now. The rotation has had each guy (sans Tim Lincecum) has been hit hard in recent outings. Even Tim Hudson, who's essentially been "Mr. Perfect" since dawning the orange and black, had a losing month and has been shelled in two of his last three outings. The real concern in the starting rotation though has to lie with Matt Cain, dreadful start to 2014 (now 1-6 with a 4.38 ERA through June) may be on the way towards getting branded the rotation's new whipping boy. Especially if "The Freak" keeps throwing the way he has been. Opposite to Cain's struggles, Timmy's been peaking lately, following up his no-hit effort vs. San Diego last week with 8 shutout innings against a much more challenging St. Louis club on Tuesday. Lincecum struck out 6 and allowed just 4 hits and 2 walks. His stuff has been live and most importantly, he's been in command of it. He was throwing crisp breaking balls in the 8th inning of Tuesday's game, and I saw him hit 93 on the radar gun a few different times, which is another good sign. His ERA has dropped to 4.06 and WHIP to 1.29 with his solid showing over the last few weeks (4 out of 5 quality starts) and he's carrying a winning record at 7-5. It's the first time he's had a winning record this deep into a season since 2011. Not to say the 2009 "Franchise" Lincecum is back, but he's showing he's still got the ability to be a good, even dominant at times, starting pitcher in this league and it'll be huge if he can sustain it.

Getting back to Matt Cain though real quickly, he did have a nice start his last time out vs. Cincinnati and didn't get any run support, but the Giants have to be somewhat concerned about him after going this long into the season without finding a groove yet. Especially when you factor in last season's mediocre end results. Unfortunately for the Giants over the last several seasons, their most expensive pitcher has been turning out to be their weakest link. I know that has mostly been because of Barry Zito, let's just hope Cainer doesn't fall into a similar rut now that he's $20 million man on the staff for the next half decade.

Now, although the starting pitching get's most of the the noise and attention, the bullpen hasn't fully been pulling it's weight and has done their part in contributing to the team's rough play, in large part due to Sergio Romo's struggles. The right-hander has given up 15 runs in his last 15 innings of work with his latest blown save coming Saturday vs. Cincinnati and has simply become way too inconsistent to be used in save situations. As good as he was down the stretch in 2012 and for most of 2013, I've always had the feeling that Romo wasn't the long-term answer at closer. I feel he's at his best being used more as a set-up guy and someone who can come on to get those tough right-handers out, almost like a right-handed version of Javy Lopez but more versatile. I like the idea of my closer being able to throw one by a hitter when they have to, and Romo just didn't have that kind of fastball. Eventually, guys are going to see the slider enough that they're going to figure it out. Now, Boch has made the decision to go with more of a two-headed closer with Casilla and Affeldt for the time being. They aren't ruling out the possibility of Romo returning to that role, but if he has success back in the set-up role and the Giants start winning again, I don't think they'll move him.

That leaves the question as to what to do down the stretch with the closer's role as we rarely see any team succeed into October with the closer-by-committee approach. It's possible one of the two guys takes the job and runs with it, but both have had their shot numerous times in the past and have never been able to fully seize the job. As we inch closer to the July 31st Trade Deadline, the Giants pressing needs are appearing much more clearly. Obviously, they're going to be keeping their eyes and ears open on the possibilities at second base, and they now should also be very much in the market for a closer or someone with ample closing experience. There certainly should be no shortage of potential options. Huston Street is one guy that immediately comes to mind, although significant inner-division deals can be tricky to get done sometimes. Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon and Joakim Soria in addition to Street are guys who may be available if their respective teams drift further out of the race by the end of the month. Papelbon may be the most attainable, and may not be a bad choice for the Giants either. He's under contract for next year and wouldn't just be a rental. Plus he's having one of the better seasons of his career right now with a 1.39 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 18 saves at the mid-way point. He could provide a Hunter Pence-like lift for the bullpen and solidify it as one of the premiere units in all of baseball.

As far as who their number one priority will be come deadline is still to be determined. If Angel Pagan's bulging disk decides not to go away and he has to get surgery (very much a possibility), then finding a leadoff hitter would probably immediately take priority over the other two. We'll just have to wait and see, hopefully Pagan's back and proving strong and dependable before the All-Star break and make it a non-issue. We all know how much better that offense goes when Pagan's out there and it's no big surprise this offense endured Brandon Belt's absence almost seamlessly, but really hit a wall when Pagan departed a few weeks back.

Medical Watch: Speaking of hurting Giants, we talked a bit about Pagan, who's been shelved since June 15th with a bad back, and now has been diagnosed with a bulging disc in his lower back, pushing back his expected return date of July 1st at least a few days, possibly even a week or more. At the moment, Pagan expects to be able to heal on his own with some more time, but no concrete timetable has been given yet... Brandon Belt, out since early May with a fractured left thumb, has been tearing it up to the tune of a 10-17 line with 3 big flies in his rehab assignment in Fresno. He's still at least a few days off though as well, as he's working out some soreness with the thumb. He could be back as early as Friday, or as late as Tuesday next week, depending on when Boch feels he's ready. Once these two return (hopefully within a few days of each other), the offense should get a major boost and hopefully start putting up runs like they were back in April.
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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pitching, untimely hitting has Giants in rut

Entering play about 10 days ago on June 9th, the Giants had the best record in baseball and sat nearly 20 games above .500. However, a 1-8 run since that date has dropped them back down to earth and has shrunk their lead on the 2nd place Dodgers to just 4 games.

A big reason for the Giants rut has been because of some unstable pitching, from the top of the rotation through the back end of the bullpen. Tim Hudson had his worst outing as a Giant this week in Chicago vs. the White Sox, giving up 7 runs on 12 hits in just 4 1/3 innings. Matt Cain followed up Hudson's outing with his worst outing of the 2014 season as well, giving up 8 runs om 10 hits in 5 innings. All those short outings have caused the bullpen to be called upon quite frequently, and while they've done an admirable job, the workload may be takings it's toll on the most important arm in that pen. The starting pitching has shown it'll have some downs here and there, but for the most part, they're going to do their job and provide quality outings. I'm not too worried there. As we inch toward the halfway point in the season however, the Giants' energetic closer sits at a pedestrian 3-3 with a 5.04 ERA and 20/24 in save opportunities. While the save ratio isn't terrible, he was nails up until about the last month, when he's seen his ERA balloon from 2.21 up to where it stands now. As of now, Sergio Romo's job is not in any kind of jeopardy, but one has to think that if his ERA hovers around 5 and his ineffectiveness continues through the All-Star break, talk of change will certainly surface.

I've always liked the idea of being able to use Romo freely anyway, and not tying him down to the ninth inning only. As we all know, the saves don't necessarily always take place in the 9th inning, and Romo was as good as any in those situations. Not that I'm abandoning hope of him rebounding though. In fact, if I were to bet, I'd expect him to bounce back and I doubt anyone else but #54 will be getting consistent save opportunities anytime soon in San Francisco. It is worth keeping an eye on nevertheless.

Elsewhere with the squad, the Giants have gotten some good news in regards to Brandon Belt's rehabilitation, as the first basemen is on track to rejoin the team sometime in the next two weeks. I've been hearing the end of June as a target date, but My guess would be sometime in that first week of July. Either way, it'll be great to get the big first basemen back, as it will significantly deepen this lineup and allow Bochy to start using a more consistent day-in and day-out lineup like he prefers to do. While Belt is on the mend, the Giants leadoff hitter and center fielder, Angel Pagan, had to leave the team earlier this week to get has back looked. Pagan's ailment is being labeled as "lower back stiffness" but the fact that he had to leave the team to get a second opinion does raise some red flags. Already without their steady #2 hitter Marco Scutaro for what could be the entire season, they absolutely cannot afford to lose their leadoff guy for any long period of time, so expect the Giants to be cautious with Pagan. We've seen the Giants do a good job in being able to fill Brandon Belt's shoes while he's been down, but Pagan is almost like Posey in a way that nobody comes close to doing what he does as well as he does. That's how important Pagan is to this lineup and hopefully we see him back out there this weekend without missing a beat.

Giants All-Star Watch: I'm about to fill out my All-Star ballot, and although I'm a die-hard Giants fan, I don't sit there and punch in all Giants to start the game. This game means something now, and it should be treated as such. There really is no Giant that is worthy of starting this years game, not even Buster Posey, but there are a handful of guys deserving to represent the NL at Target Field next month. Although plenty can change in the 4 weeks before the game, as of now, I'd say their are four players that should make the cut with one on the fence. Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence, Tim Hudson and Jean Machi all should be virtual locks with the way they've played and the impact they've had on the Giants great start. I'd put Michael Morse right their on the fence as he's put up big numbers and seems to always put them up when they really count.

2nd Base Watch: Despite Brandon Hicks' abysmal slump and Ehire Adrianza's in-ability to get anything going with the bat, the Giants don't have any immediate plans to bring up either of their two most logical in-house replacements, Adam Duval or Joe Panik. The 25 year-old Duval has a better chance since he's on the 40-man and can also play some first base. Plus he's having a monstrous season in Fresno, leading the PCL with 22 jacks, a .293 average, 64 RBI and a .983 OPS. Panik, a first round selection in 2011, is finally playing up to his capabilities in Fresno and the Giants aren't likely to disrupt the 23 year-old at the moment (.313/5/43/.811).
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Saturday, June 07, 2014

A look at Giants' top pick Tyler Beede

One of the bright spots coming out of an otherwise dreary 2013 season was the fact, thanks to the 10-game below .500 finish, the Giants ended up with a decent slot in this year's amateur draft.

With the 14th overall selection in the first round, the Giants nabbed one of the top collegiate arms in the draft in University of Vanderbilt ace Tyer Beede. The Junior right-hander was the 12th ranked prospect in this years draft, according to Baseball America, and was selected in the first round once before in 2011. Needless to say, the hype is there and the expectations will be big. He's got the size, at 6'4" and 215 pounds, the power arm (fastball averages 93-94 and tops out at 97) and already has some pretty nice secondary stuff as well. Coming into this season, he was projected to go as high as the top-5, but a slow start knocked him down about 10 spots, making him a great value pick for the Giants at 14 after some feel they "reached" on shortstop Christian Arroyo last year. He exactly why the Giants were so high on him in his last start before the draft on May 31st vs. Xavier, striking out 14 batters and allowing just 4 hits over 8 shutout innings. The reason why he was so hyped coming into the year was because he was coming off a 14-1, 2.37 ERA, 103 K line (over 17 starts and 101 innings) in sophomore season. His Junior year, while solid, wasn't nearly as dominant, as he's gone 8-7 with a 3.20 ERA.

He has cut down on his free passes, which is really the only glaring weakness in his game at the moment. He's allowed 138 BB in 271 collegiate innings. When he gets in trouble, it's usually a command issue, as opposing hitters are hitting for a ridiculously low average off him, but his WHIP doesn't quite reflect that just because of all the walks he allows. Needless to say, this guy's pure upside, coupled with his past dominance screams great pick. Plus, you mix that with the fact that the Giants have had great success with first round pitchers this last decade really should have fans feeling pretty good about this selection. Here's a video of the kid throwing an inning, as you can really get a good idea of his smooth, compact delivery and his electric arm.

Overall, I like the pick a lot. The MLB draft is a value based draft and I feel like the Giants got great value and a kid that has a more than legit shot at making the big leagues and being a factor at that next level. It wouldn't surprise me if this kid is ranked as the Giants top prospect for 2015 if he signs quickly and can get some professional time under his belt this summer.
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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sandoval getting hot at right time

When Brandon Belt went down with the broken thumb a few weeks back, the Giants were going to need someone to step up in his place. Now despite missing 1/4 of their projected 2014 lineup, they have managed to not only keep the team afloat, but become one of the more potent offenses in league.

Through the first 6 weeks of the season, Brandon Belt was off to one of the better starts of any hitter in this lineup and was pacing the team in home runs and seemingly coming up with big hit after big hit. However, as hot as Brandon Belt was those first few weeks in April, Pablo Sandoval has been hotter since the big first basemen went down with the fractured thumb. He continued his torrid May with a 1-3 with his 8th home run of the year and 2 runs scored. The Panda was terrible in April and didn't really get it going until the 2nd week of May when he had his first 3-hit game of the year (3-5) vs. the Dodgers on May 11th. Since that game, the all-star third basemen has 25 hits in 67 at-bats (.373) with 6 home runs and 17 RBI. His average was sitting at .175 on the 11th of this month, and now he'll carry a .247 mark into Friday's game in St. Louis. What was shaping up to be an abysmal walk year is starting to turn into something special for the big man. More importantly though, it's a big reason why the Giants sport one of the most potent lineups in the game, even with Brandon Belt and Marco Scutaro shelved and them not quite getting Buster Posey-like production from their franchise backstop.

I also wanted to recognize Hunter Pence's strong run this month as well. Pence is another guy who was really slow out of the gate (although not to Pablo's extent), and has really seen his bat come alive in May. Pence really just had a slow first couple of weeks, and has been raking since mid-April. It's not just the home run/RBI boost that we're used to seeing out of Pence either as he's really filling up the stat sheet. He's been used predominantly in the 2nd spot this month, and has done a terrific job there slashing .315/.386/.500 with 5 HR, 15 RBI and a whopping 32 runs scored in 44 games. For the year, he's scored 40 runs which slates him second in the NL and is second on the team with 7 steals.

Michael Morse and Angel Pagan have really been consistently solid since day 1, and Brandon Crawford looks like he's evolving at the plate but it's been Pence and Sandoval's recent surge that have really paced this offense and it's a good thing too because the starting pitching is really starting to pull it's weight. These two units are starting to get it going simultaneously and when that happens in apparent why the Giants have been the class of the NL throughout the first 1/3 of the season. The two starters who were lost for much of April have really gotten a grip on things. Ryan Vogelsong has been especially stingy lately, posting a ridiculous 1.64 ERA along with 3-1 record, 1.03 WHIP and 29 K's in 33 innings this month (not including Thursday's start). I'll admit that I was skeptical of Vogey coming into the year and throughout April, but he's thrown like the same pitcher that thrived here in 2011-12 long enough now that I think it's safe to say he's back. Tim Lincecum hasn't been as dominant as Vogey, but has gone 3-2 with a 2.86 ERA, 34 K's and 29 hits allowed in just over 34 innings. The only area over that span that's really weighing him down still is the WHIP (1.47). While none of his numbers really jump out at you right now, he's had only 2 starts this year in which he's allowed 4 or more runs, but what's still hampering him is his high pitch count forcing him to leave games early. He had to leave the game with a no-hitter in tact Wednesday after making it through just 5 innings, thanks to 4 free passes and too many 3-ball counts. Lincecum looks like he's on the up though, and that WHJP/ERA will keep on dropping and his innings pitched should spike if he can just stay in the zone with a little more frequency.

Extras: As far as the two injured Giants are concerned, their really is no update in Scutaro's rehab, as he's still trying to get different opinions from specialists on how to speed up the healing of his back. I certainly don't expect to see him anytime before the All-Star break, and still think it's better than 50/50 that he misses the entire season... Brandon Belt, on the other hand, does have a time table for his return but it's still a ways off. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, which would put him out anywhere from late June to after the All-Star break. Ryan Zimmerman had a similar injury to Belts in mid-April, and he's still a week or two away from returning (though his injury didn't require surgery to put pins into his thumb). With the offense performing well, the Giants likely won't rush Belt back and I'm thinking that after the All-Star break is most realistic... Matt Cain has battled some minor aches and pains throughout the early season is currently dealing with a sore hamstring though he is slated to start Saturday's game in St. Louis. With Vogey and Timmy coming around and MadBum and Huddy each throwing the way they are, the Giants would hate to disrupt the rhythm they have in that rotation so hopefully Cainer can alleviate all health concerns Saturday.
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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Giants Notes: Bullpen the unsung heroes

Through the first month-plus of the regular season, every starter in the Giants rotation aside from Tim Hudson would tell you they need to be pitching better. A huge reason why the Giants are 10 games above .500 despite the hot-and-cold starting pitching has been because of their rock solid bullpen.

Look no further back than Monday night's slug-fest with Pittsburgh in which Yusmiero Petit couldn't get the job done filling in for Cain, yet the bullpen came in and combined for 8 2/3 innings of 2 run ball. Juan Gutierrez had a rare hiccup in his 1.2 innings of work, allowing the two runs to score, but the other five relievers went the remaining 7 shutout innings allowing 5 hits, 2 walks and 8 strikeouts. Everybody in that bullpen is doing their job, top to bottom. Petit had a forgetful outing Monday, but was dominant upon being pressed into duty for Cain last week, and should rebound in his next start. The three guys who have really been nails in getting the ball to Romo have been Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Jean Machi. Affeldt came off the DL towards the end of April, and all he's done since has thrown 10 scoreless innings in 9 games, allowing just 5 hits and 3 walks with 10 K's. Casilla has been as tough to hit as any reliever in baseball, period. He's thrown just under 20 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 12 hits. He's started to really rack up the strikeouts of late too and has opposing hitters at just .182 against him.

The true unsung hero in that bullpen though has to be Jean Machi. This guy kind of came out of nowhere last season and threw up some pretty solid numbers. That pretty much ensured him a spot in the 2014 bullpen but he still had to do his part in the spring. Now, all of the sudden, he's probably the Giants most dominant reliever, closer or otherwise, and seems to be thriving in key situations, as evident by his 5-0 record. He's pitched in 17 games, throwing 17 innings and allowing just 1 run (0.53 ERA) and 12 hits while carrying a 13:3 strikeout/walk ratio. The 5-0 tells a bigger story though, as he's amongst the league leaders in wins as a middle reliever. For him to be pitching in that many tight situations with the game on the line and come up on the winning end 5 times already speaks volume for how he when the games on the line. He hasn't coughed one up yet. For now, Casilla will continue to be Romo's set-up man in the 8th, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Machi used there more and more too in real tight situations.

Now, getting back into the rotation a bit, I wanted to talk a little about Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum. Don't look know, but Ryan Vogelsong may in fact have finally found a consistent release point again, and his
last few outings have been vintage 2011-12 Vogey. He had the one rough outing in Colorado last week, but if you take that blow up out of the equation he's had three other starts since April 16th, and has been really strong in all of them. In those three starts vs. the Dodgers, Braves and Indians, Vogey went 19 innings allowing just 11 hits and 2 runs with 14 k's. Unfortunately, lack of run support only allowed him to claim a victory in one of those outings, but if these last few starts are any indication, Vogey just may have re-found his formula for success. His stuff does look better, as he's staying down in the zone and his heater is back in the low-90's consistently. Lincecum, on the other hand is coming off his best start of the 2014 season by far vs.Atlanta and the Giants are hoping this kick starts him after a rough first month. Despite Lineceum's struggles, he still has some decent numbers, including his 2-1 record and 31:9 strikeout/walk ratio. Everything else though, needs to improve, including the 5.12 ERA, 1.6 WHIP, .318 BAA and his 6 big flies allowed in just 30 innings of work. He'll have a great opportunity to go out and build momentum from his last start Wednesday vs. a run-of-the-mill Pittsburgh offense.
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