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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Giants appear to be runners up for Sandoval

With Pablo Sandoval visiting Boston this week, it caused quite a stir on the East Coast and has every media outlet predicting the free agent third basemen will land with the Red Sox.

Now, the Giants are certainly not out of the running, but based on every indication being made from Pablo's camp and the Giants' behalf leads one to believe that the headlines are most likely true. The San Diego Padres have made a late push here as well, and although they're likely third in line behind Boston and San Francisco, their interest likely jacks up the price just a little bit. My guess is that whatever he decides, his decision will likely come sooner than later, and as much as it sucks to admit, I really do see him departing for Boston on a deal in the neighborhood of 6 years and $115M. With the ability to DH him when the time comes, the Red Sox should have no hesitation giving him an extra year or two than what the Giants will offer and you can't really blame the Giants in this case. It just makes sense for Pablo, the Red Sox and even the Giants. San Francisco is said to have offered Panda a deal in the same ballpark as the one they gave Hunter Pence (5 year/$90M), maybe even increasing the total salary up to $100M, but I don't think they'd go beyond that.

So, with the likelihood of the Giants facing life without Pablo Sandoval becoming a legitimate scenario now, the Giants need to be prepared to put a plan B in action, so let's just hope they have one. While they haven't been publicly linked to any free agent third basemen aside from Sandoval, they appear as willing as ever to make a splash in the international market. They had genuine interest in Jose Abreu last winter, and after witnessing his success and all the success recent Cuban defectors have had in the States, they could feel the time is right to make a move in that direction. They're one of about a half-dozen teams to have serious interest in the consensus number one international free agent, Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas. The 24 year-old right-hander has tremendous power and looks to be right in the same category as Yasiel Puig and Yeonis Cespedes. Not to say he'll have the success those two have had, but has a similar talent level not only at the plate, but also in the outfield as well. He was said to be Cuba's most prolific power hitter after Jose Abreu departed last year, but had a down season (due in large part to injury) last season. Tomas first hit MLB scout's radar with a big season at age 21 in 2012 and backed it with a nice showcase in the 2013. In the WBC that year he hit .412 (6-16) with 2 HR, a 2B and 4 RBI, then backed it up with a solid .289/.364/.538 line with 15 jacks, 54 RBI, 34 BB and 52 K's in 81 games during the regular season.

Tomas is not a player without his flaws though. He's got 30-HR/year potential as a big leaguer right now with plenty of room to grow after just turning 24 last week, but has some holes in his swing that he's reportedly been working on. Like with many of the incoming power bats from Cuba, his big power comes with a lot of swing-and-misses and the biggest concern may be whether or not he has enough discipline to hit for average in the big leagues. Like with all international players, it's a risk/reward type of signing that you have to figure out if the potential rewards outweigh the risks. Tomas isn't the only Cuban defector the Giants are looking at either. In addition to Tomas, the Giants are also interested in 19 year-old third base prospect Yoan Moncada. Unlike Tomas, Moncada isn't quite ready to be thrown into the fire in the big leagues, just because he doesn't have as much experience at 19, but he'll have plenty of time to develop and is said to have the most overall upside of any Cuban player available this winter. Tomas has the huge power, but Moncada may have a more polished all-around game and certainly should refine it even further at the minor league level.

Extras: Aside from the two international free agents, there haven't been many new names linked to the Giants in recent days and I don't think they'll really get serious with anyone until after the situation with Pablo sorts itself out. The Giants' brass all expect a decision before Thanksgiving on that front... Elsewhere, the Giants have expressed high interest in bringing back Sergio Romo, though Santiago Casilla is likely locked in as the closer for 2015 and Romo may be seeking a return to that role with a new team. I could easily see him departing for one of the SoCal teams, either the Dodgers or Angels, as he's from LA and both could use late inning relief help and have the funds to throw Romo a 3-year, $27-30M deal or whatever he's seeking. I just can't see the Giants giving him much more than $6-7M a year for 3 max though... The one possible replacement for Pablo Sandoval, should the situation present itself, who I've been monitoring and have talked about here is Chase Headley. He doesn't seem too close to a deal yet, but there are more teams in on him than Pablo as he's going to cost half the money annually and probably half the years that Pablo will. He's no Panda, but if the Giants could grab Headley, upgrade in left field and bring in another #3-type starting pitcher, they'd be just fine without Panda.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Friday, November 14, 2014

Giants focused on Sandoval, looking at LF

Just as expected, in the two weeks of offseason there's been since the Giants won the World Series, their primary focus has been on retaining postseason machine, Pablo Sandoval. However, as they try diligently to persuade their incredibly popular third basemen into returning, they've also begun to ponder over some of the outfield options that are on the market.

I don't think the market for Sandoval was quite as big as The Panda was anticipating, but apparently their is at least one other team who's interest is rivaling the Giants, and that is Boston Red Sox. He's scheduled to visit with Boston in person sometime early next week, and my guess is he's probably gonna sign somewhere sooner than later. I don't see this thing really dragging out past Thanksgiving. I've always felt that if Pablo leaves San Francisco, he'd wind up in the AL East somewhere, and both the Red Sox and Blue Jays have shown interest and although they've been quiet, you can't count out New York. The 'Sox may make the most sense for Pablo should he leave the Bay Area. David Ortiz is an idol of Sandoval's and with the two being close friends, Ortiz is believed to be doing his best to convince Pablo to join him in Boston. Also, while Pablo may have had his best defensive season of his career in 2014, his body type may prohibit him from playing the hot corner well into his 30's and he almost certainly will end up a DH at some point in his career so long as he keeps that bat. This gives even more incentive to an AL team to swoop in on him and a big reason why I'm surprised there more teams aggressively pursuing him.

Nevertheless, the Giants can't be complaining about the fact they have just one known serious competitor for Sandoval as there really is no equal to Pablo at third base out there on the free agent market. I've heard Hanley Ramirez's name tossed out there but HanRam is hardly the type of personality that would fit in this clubhouse and his history of injuries makes even Pablo Sandoval look like Cal Ripken. After Pablo and HanRam, things drop off quickly though in terms of third base options, another reason I'm surprised there isn't more interest in Pablo. Chase Headley would be the only other starting caliber third basemen on the market after those two. Asdurbal Cabrera could be a backup plan as he may be able to slide over to third and provide solid defense and a semi-decent bat, but again, a far cry from Pablo. I mentioned Headley here last week as the guy who would probably make most sense should Sandoval sign elsewhere. His switch hitting bat could be inserted into the middle of the order somewhere and although he doesn't have the explosive bat Pablo does, he did have a .283/31/115 year in San Diego of all places just 2 seasons ago. Since that breakout campaign however, he's totaled just 30 HR and 99 RBI in two full seasons, so expecting anything more than a .260/15/70 line (roughly his career 162-game average clip) out of him would probably be unreasonable. In today's market though, with his solid glove and playing a position that's sorely thin in Major League Baseball right now, he's gonna get a multi-year deal worth $10M+ per year.

Now, with all this focus on Sandoval, the Giants must not overlook their other areas of need, and apparently they've inquired about some outfielders. There were whisperings at the start of the GM meetings that the Giants were interested in Torii Hunter as a possible replacement for Michael Morse in left field. At age 39, Hunter has hinted at possible retirement, but would have to have some interest in making one last run at a tittle before retirement should the Giants' interest be genuine. Hunter did have a solid .286/18/83/.765 line in 2014 and still is one of the better defensive outfielders in all of baseball, so he could certainly make some sense on a very short-term deal. Hunter is likely attractive to them because of his still relevant production and the likelihood that he'll seek just a one or two-year contract because to get his production from a player younger than him will likely start costing multiple years and much, much more money. Nelson Cruz isn't going to be a Giant, as interesting as that would be, and the market isn't too deep with outfielders this winter either. Besides Hunter, Morse and Cruz, there's Alex Rios, Colby Rasmus, Nick Markakis and Nori Aoki. Rasmus is semi-intriguing, just because he too will likely be looking for a short-term deal to rebound from last season. He's right in the prime of his career and is a pretty good bet to rebound, health permitting. The options just aren't great ones in the outfield, which makes keeping Pablo's bat at third all the more valuable.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

After third tittle, Giants aren't done yet

After winning their third World Series Championship in five seasons a week ago, celebration time has wound down for the front office and Brian Sabean as they have multiple big decisions ahead of them.

First of all though, I wanted to just say a couple of final words about the World Series. It was an incredible battle between the Royals and Giants, coming down to the final out of Game 7 with the tying run just 90 feet away, but the Giants' grit and experience paid off as Pablo Sandoval (fittingly after the postseason he just put up and quite possibly playing his last game in the orange and black) reeled in the Salvador Perez foul pop-up to end another epic run by San Francisco. The Giants, underdogs in every postseason series they played in this October, just don't wilt under the pressure of the big stage, and actually seem to thrive on it. It also helps when you have one of the best pitchers in postseason history basically win three games for you in one series. They've had a lot of change-over from the 2010 championship team, but 2014's squad was eerily similar to that which won it all in 2012 (sans the starting pitching, second base and left field). What was most impressive for me though, was the way this team just kept finding ways to win despite dealing with a multitude of injuries. The Giants didn't have a deep bench this year and had to deal with replacing Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and even Michael Morse down the stretch and most of October. They also didn't have the strongest starting pitching staff in the playoffs (without their #2 Matt Cain), as Madison Bumgarner was the only one to post an ERA under 5. That's just a testament as to how good of a job Bruce Bochy does with this team and why he's become a sure-fire Hall-of-Fame skipper.

2014 was basically a tale of 3 seasons for the Giants. They had that epic start in which they were 20+ games over .500 in early June. Then they had the meltdown in the middle of the season as guys started dropping, barely battling their way into that last wild card spot. Part three was the historical October run, in which the San Francisco Giants became a modern day dynasty. However, as exhilarating and nerve-racking that October was, we've entered into November, and while the players may take some more personal time before they start training for 2015, the front-office has no such luxury. The Giants have been able to hoist the World Series trophy in three of the last five seasons, but they've yet to put together back-to-back winning seasons during that span. After 2010's run, they dealt with the Buster Posey injury and a meltdown in 2011. Then in 2013, they dealt with a ton of injuries and wound up 10 games below .500 at the end of the year. Now their goal has to be avoiding that post-World Series let down that they've gone through those last two times, and that all starts now as they begin to piece their roster together for next year. Luckily, they don't have a huge number of players entering free agency, but the ones that are have been extremely important to this team's success, and will be very tough to replace should they depart.

Obviously, the first name that pops up is Pablo Sandoval, who the Giants did extend the qualifying $15.3M offer to on Monday. For most of the year, I was thinking this was going to be it for Panda in San Francisco. Although he turned it on in the second half, his numbers at the end of the year weren't particularly outstanding. However, you factor in what he did in October, and recall what he did in October 2012, and you start to see just how valuable he is when he needs to be. The lack of free agent third basemen makes Pablo an extremely hot commodity this winter though, so there will probably be a handful of teams that will be willing to overpay to get the postseason hero onto their roster. If I'm Sabean, I would be trying to get Pablo to bite on a shorter-term deal even if they had to overpay him in that span. Heck, I'd give him $20M a year for three seasons if he'd take it, maybe even four. I just know there will be some American League team offering him 5 or 6 years knowing they can DH him towards the back-end of the deal though and that's a little risky for a guy who's notoriously overweight and relatively injury prone, even if he is just 28. That being said, despite the weight issues, his defense at third base this seasons was probably in the top-5 at the position in all of baseball so he's not just a DH waiting to happen.

As to how valuable he is for the Giants to retain, they have to figure out what's out there should they need to replace him, and who they have in house in case they can't. They don't really have a back-up plan to Pablo in-house, and their is no equal at the position on the free-agent market. The one scenario that has been mentioned (albeit not by Sabean, Bochy or anyone of merit in the organization) in the event Pablo does depart and they aren't able to replace him would be to move Buster Posey out to third base and plug impressive rookie Andrew Sussac into the full-time catcher role. At some point in the next few seasons, the Giants will be moving Buster out from behind the plate, and logic has it being either to third or first base. He hasn't played third at the professional level yet, but has collegiate experience everywhere in the infield and has plenty enough baseball skills to adapt to a new a position. The thing is, I don't think they'd be ready to head into 2015 with Buster as their starting third basemen quite yet. The one guy out there who is semi intriguing should Pablo leave is Chase Headley. He had a couple of off-years offensively after a breakout in 2012, but would probably provide similar offensive stats as to what Pablo did this regular season, maybe with a slightly lower average while providing a solid glove at third.

Although he's the most important, Pablo isn't the only key Giant hitting free agency though. They'll have decisions to make on Michael Morse, Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo and Ryan Vogelsong. They also have to figure out just what they're going to do with Tim Lincecum, under contract for 2015 but jettisoned from the rotation in August and hardly heard from again the rest of the season and playoffs. The rotation is really going to be a focal point outside of third base, as they'll have at least one spot, maybe two to fill. Peavy was solid down the stretch but largely disappointing in October so my guess is the Giants will try and bring him back on their terms or not at all. I'm a big fan of Vogey and Romo's, but I could see both elsewhere in 2015. Morse is going to be an interesting one though. There are a bunch of mid-tiere outfielders out there this year so Morse likely won't have a bunch of big multi-year offers, but after a solid season and clutch postseason (when he played that is), he should have no trouble finding a 2 or 3 year offer at around $10M/per and the Giants need to figure out if they go that high for a guy who's very injury prone, or if they look elsewhere and maybe try and roll the dice on a player much like they did with Morse this year. My guess though, is the Giants don't really do anything in left until they figure out third base cause if they need to replace Pablo's bat, it may end up being in the form of a left fielder.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Monday, October 27, 2014

SF heading back to KC in driver's seat

After the Royals came into town and took the first game at AT&T Park Friday night for their second straight win, games 4 and 5 became the real momentum changers of the series so far.

Through the first three innings of Game 4, it looked like KC was gonna run away with this game and take a 3-1 series lead, but the Giants showed why they've won 2 tittles the last 4 seasons and came up with an impressive comeback to not only win the game, but completely blow KC out of the water, 11-4. I think that was the big turn of the series, or at least I'm hoping it was. Had the Royals held on to win that game, they take a commanding 3-1 lead and would have forced San Francisco to win the last 3 games in a row in order to take this thing. However, with the comeback, the Giants sapped all the momentum KC had been building off the back-to-back wins and completely swung it in their favor with that thrilling Game 4. It seems like everyone got involved a little in Game 4, with Pablo Sandoval providing clutch hit after clutch hit, Joe Panik coming up big and the big days from Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. But the real hero of Game 4 has to be Yusmiero Petit, who really took over and completely stopped the bleeding that Vogelsong had started, and gave the Giants the chance to come back in that game. If you follow us on Twitter, you'll know that after the NLCS, I stated that I'd prefer Petit over Vogey as the Game 4 starter, but somehow it all worked out in the end.

Then came the ever so pivotal Game 5, a game in which I think all Giants fans had a pretty good feeling about heading in with their ace and one of the better starting pitchers in the postseason history at this point. And Madison Bumgarner certainly did not dissapoint. With the groove he was in early, I figured the Giants may only need a couple runs tonight in order to take this game. They scored 5 of course, but could have done with just 1 with MadBum in complete "beast mode". Sandoval and Pence got the offense going, but Brandon Crawford and Juan Perez came up with the big hits tonight, both driving in multiple runs on the evening and cruising to a easy 5-0 victory. Bumgarner was the talk of the night though, and really has been the talk of the series. He shut the Royals potent, speedy offense out, holding them to just four hits and allowing zero free passes on his way to striking out 8 in the complete game victory. Like a true ace, MadBum just gets tougher as the game goes on, and If the Giants are able to go on and win this thing in Game 6, I think Madison get's the World Series MVP. Now, not to get ahead of ourselves though, cause they still have to win one of these next two in KC. The thing the Giants do have slightly in their favor, besides the 1-game lead, is the fact their pretty darned good on the road in the postseason, and they have two pretty solid bets going in Jake Peavy and Timmy Hudson lined up for the next two starts.

Yordano Ventura may be the toughest Royals' starter to hit when he's on though, and he already handed the Giants a loss in this series, so Game 6 will be no cakewalk. Still, the Giants have complete momentum, have the experience closing out teams, obviously, and should be the clear front-runners at this point to take the 'Series and officially be categorized as a Dynasty in baseball's rich history, but that conversation is for a later date. First off, they need to finish this out, and although Jake Peavy has had some hiccups his last two starts in the playoffs, I expect him to be on his game Tuesday night.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Game one should dictate entire Series

Both the Giants and the Royals have pretty much steam-rolled their way into the World Series as the obvious two best teams in their league during the playoffs. While the Royals have gone undefeated to this point in October, the Giants have lost just two, and both teams have plenty of momentum heading into Tuesday night's game one.

There's been so much breakdown of this series over the last few days, and I'm sure we've heard just about every body's opinion at this point, so I'm just gonna keep it short and simple. Each team will send their ace to the mound in game one, with Madison Bumgarner facing James Shields, giving the edge in the pitching match-up to the Giants. That should be the theme of the series, as the Giants' starters are stronger and more experienced than KC's. However, when we get into the bullpen, it's a whole different story. The Giants' pen has been nails, for the most part, this postseason, though they've been prone to giving up the long ball. The Royals' pen has been stingy, and they have a line of guys who can dominate innings down there. This is not a team the Giants will have an easy time coming from behind against like they were able to do against Washington and St. Louis, especially in the late innings, so the theme for San Francisco should be getting some runs on the board early. You may see more bunting and hit and runs earlier in the game than usual for that reason.

The Royals are gonna run on the Giants like no other team the Giants have seen this year, and it's going to be a challenge for both Buster Posey as well as the Giants pitchers to keep those guys from running wild. Kansas City led baseball in stolen bases this season, and have pretty much run at every opportunity in the playoffs. I said these two teams were very similar in the way they both put pressure on the defense, but they do it in different ways. The Giants will grind out at-bats, work counts, make the defense stay on the field and challenge them to make plays. They've gotten thrown out at home a few times, but for the most part, that formula has worked. The Royals, however, are going to try and get on base and run on you. They do have some pop throughout the lineup, but really play more like a National League team than any other American League team I saw this year.

Now, I read a position vs. position breakdown of this series a couple of days ago, and I think it ended up pretty even. I think this series is going to really come down to who pitches better, makes less mistakes in the field and can jump out to early leads. Neither of these bullpens are likely to give up leads late, so whichever team has the lead into the seventh inning is more than likely gonna keep that lead. The big wild card for me in this series will be the DH for the Giants. They'll finally get to use Michael Morse Tuesday and Wednesday in games one and two, which will drastically help out their lineup. The Giants haven't hit many long balls this October, but the ones they've hit have been huge, and one of those came off the bat of Morse, who's only had a couple at-bats since mid-September and hasn't played steadily since mid-August. Even if Morse tears it up in the two games in KC and can play the field for 6-7 innings, I don't think Boch will tinker with left field when the series moves back to San Francisco, especially with how clutch Ishi's been.

With the Giants experience in the playoffs and superior starting pitching, I think you have to give the slight edge to them, even though nobody has been able to figure out KC this month. Of course, Vegas has the Giants as underdogs, as you can see the odds at AllPro, and many are calling this series a match-up of destiny vs. dynasty. I'm gonna put my money on the dynasty and say the Giants win this thing in six. Game one will be huge though, cause if they can hand the Royals their first loss of the playoffs, it may rattle them a bit, whereas if KC knocks around MadBum and takes game one, they may feel like nobody can stop them (if they don't already). I'll probably check back in tomorrow after the game as I wont be able to post again tonight.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Giants take NLCS, off to Kansas City

Well folks, this is a feeling I can certainly get used to, and if your reading this blog, most likely your in agreement. For the third time in five seasons, the San Francisco Giants will represent the National League in the Fall Classic after a thrilling game 5 win over St. Louis at AT&T Park Thursday night.

In what was a series that was determined by who played the better situational, team baseball, the Giants ran away with it. It was a bit closer than the 4-1 series win would indicate as the Cardinals flexed their muscles on multiple occasions with big home runs while the Giants manufactured runs, put pressure on the defense and forced their way across homeplate, so to speak. It was two different styles of play clashing, and the Giants superior pitching, defense and timely hitting won out. The Giants didn't hit any long balls in the series until game five, but they got them at the opportune time when they needed them the most. Madison Bumgarner's performance was brilliant once again, and he deservingly took home NLCS MVP honors, but how about Travis Ishikawa in this series. Not only did he come up with the big, base clearing double in game three that set the tone for the Giants to take that game early, he ends up hitting the walk-off blast to send the club to the 'Series. What a long way to come for a guy that was pondering his baseball future in recent months. Despite his bad miss-judge on that Jon Jay double, the dude has gone out of position and held it down while providing some clutch at-bats. Bochy should have no problem rolling with him in left field when the Giants head to KC Tuesday, at which time they can finally get some at-bats from fellow game 5 hero Michael Morse as the starting DH.

Now, to me, this series came down to the Giants out-pitching St. Louis and really making less mistakes them them in the field. Bochy had a very interesting, yet somewhat generic quote the other day when he said the postseason is built into this teams DNA and it really is. All the sudden the playoffs role around and free-swinging Pablo Sandoval has become an extremely patient and dangerous hitter. Gregor Blanco is looking like an adequate leadoff hitter. Joe Panik, another guy who played a huge role in Game 5, looks like he's a five-year veteran out there. The bullpen looks untouchable and Travis Ishikawa of all people becomes one of the offensive mainstays of October. They grinded out at-bats, made the Cardinals defense stay on the field and force them to be perfect and as we saw in Game 4, they aren't perfect all the time. The Giants did what winning teams do, what teams who've been here before and know how to play at this stage do. They may not have as much talent as the teams they're beating in the playoffs the last few years, but they play harder and smarter baseball, and have ice water in their veins when the game is on the line.

There's numerous other things I can point out about Thursday's clincher, including the move to Affeldt in the ninth which was brilliant, and how MadBum willed the Giants to another win despite not having his A+ stuff the whole night, but if you've watched these games closely, then you already know. No Pagan, No Morse (until now of course), no Cain, no Lincecum (for different reasons), no Scutaro? No Problem!

Now, that being said, we'll celebrate this one tonight, but this journey is far from over. The Royals are no joke, and a much different team than the Giants beat in their last two World Series appearances as well as the three teams they went through to get to this point now. The Royals are much like the Giants in a way where they'll manufacture runs, get on base, steal, take advantage of an error and stretch out innings with patient at-bats. We'll breakdown that upcoming series much more at some point this weekend (including the who takes the ball in game four, Yusmiero Petit or Ryan Vogelsong) but for now, I want to stop typing and get back to celebrating. As a dedicated fan and blogger for this club, this truly just gets better and better the each time you get here, and I can't wait to see what next week has in store for us.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Giants vs. Cardinals in NLCS: Part 2

Two years ago, the Giants downed the Cardinals in the NLCS and eventually cruised to their 2nd World Series tittle in 3 seasons. After winning a tight NLDS Game 4 over Washington at AT&T Park Tuesday night, they'll have a chance to do it again.

Ryan Vogelsong showed up in yet another crucial October start and did exactly what he had to do and that was throw up some early zeroes. In fact, he was so sharp tonight it took Washington a few innings to hit him. Vogey kept to the script in what has been an extremely well-pitched October, not just on the Giants behalf, but on both the Nationals as well. The Giants put pressure on Washington in this one, and although they couldn't quite come up with that big multi-rbi hit, they were able to set themselves up to take advantage of Washington's mistakes. The Nationals would have had to play a perfect baseball game in the field Tuesday night in order to beat the Giants and they couldn't quite do it.

There were a lot of Giants that played a role in this series, and guys that don't always get the big headlines like Sandoval, Posey, Pence and Bumgarner. One is young Joe Panik. It's taken Panik a few games to catch up to the advanced pitching in the postseason, but just as he did after an initial slow start with the Giants this summer, he turned it on at the right time. I can't stress to you how important that kids emergence was for this team. Without him, the Giants may have never found an answer at second base and I doubt they'd be in the position they're currently enjoying. There wasn't a more important Giants hitter in Tuesday's game than Panik, as he went 2 for 4 with an RBI and scored the game winning run. The other guy I wanted to highlight was Brandon Crawford. B-Craw had the huge hit in the Wild Card game, and had a solid NLDS. Still just a .250 hitter with average power in the regular season, Crawford has always shown a knack for making the hits he does get big ones and it seems like he's involved in virtually all of the Giants big offensive innings this October. The Pence catch at the wall in right, the way Hunter Strickland and the rest of the pen buckled down after giving up that mammoth game-tying shot to Bryce Harper and even Gregor Blanco getting on base a couple of times at the top of the order, all played big roles in this game as well. In fitting Giants' fashion, they got contributions from guys all over the roster in this one and once again found a way to get it done.

The way the Giants have come into this postseason, complete underdogs with reserves making up 2/3 of their outfield and the question marks within the rotation after MadBum and Peavy towards the end of the year is a complete testament to how experience can play a huge role in October. Once again, Blacno has been plugged into a role in which he's filling some pretty big shoes (Melky Cabrera in '12, Angel Pagan this year), but it's not much mattered to this point as he's done his job. He got on base twice in Game 4 and I think he's going to be huge to the Giants offensive success vs. St. Louis if he can get on base consistently like that. There's also some speculation the Giants may get their starting left fielder back for the NLCS. Even if they could play him just 6 innings in the field and get him a few at-bats, it would be a huge boost to an offense that could desperately use another shot in the arm. Travis Ishikawa has held down the spot and provided a some decent at-bats and a reliable glove in left, but the Giants need that big right-handed bat to break up Belt and Crawford in that 7th spot. He seems optimistic though, and even if it's in a limited role early, you'd have to think the Giants will role with him over a guy like Gary Brown, who's likely a little out of his element at this stage. Perez obviously has the leg up with experience, ability to bunt but I like Brown's upside and how unknowns can be big in October. All in all, it was impressive the Giants took down the 96-win team with as thin of a positional roster as they had. Getting Morse back, again even with limitations, could help a ton with St. Louis.

Some other good things the Giants have going for them heading into the NLCS is a well rested rotation and pretty rested pen. All Giants starters in this series were able to get relatively deep into their starts and no reliever was taxed heavily at all. Not to mention, Sergio Romo's slider looks like it's in 2012 postseason form, Santiago Casilla, Javy Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt look like their usual stingy selves and at least no more Bryce Harper in 2014 for rookie phenom Hunter Strickland. The pen is definitely a strength for the Giants right now. As for the rotation, well, we saw what they did vs. the potent Washington bat's. Many thought that MadBum would be tough, but you could get to the Giants starters after him. That it wasn't the dominant Giants' rotation of the past two World Series runs. Maybe not as dominant, but so far just as effective. Peavy has looked like a reborn ace in a Giants uniform and outpitched his younger counterpart Strasburgh in Game 1. The big question though was how Hudson's arm was going to fare, and I think he answered that one with a vengeance in Game 2. Huddy's never been here before, he's pumped and I expect him to be every bit as tough against the Cardinals as his arm seems to be taking well to this downtime between series'/starts. They have the pitching to keep them in every ballgame, and it's going to come down to which team can get an early lead more often with St. Louis, and whichever team that is, likely goes onto the 'Series.
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