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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bonds/Giants rolling into September

Well it took about 4 1/2 months, but we are starting to see shades of the old Barry Bonds again. Along with that, the Giants are playing their best ball of the season, finally stringing together a couple solid weeks of baseball. Unfortunetly, the Dodgers have found their winning ways again, and the Giants are still 5 games back of first place, but they are only1 1/2 games back in the wild card race with still plenty of baseball to play (30 games left). Besides continuing dominance shown by Noah Lowry and Matt Cain, a couple of big bats are just starting to really get it going. The big fella, Barry Bonds is hitting .407 with 3 home runs and 8 RBI's over his last 10 games (27 at-bats). His most impressive game over that span came Tuesday night in Atlanta when Barry went 3-3 with 2 home runs. His game yesterday reminded me a lot of a series back in May 2001 when the Giants where in Atlanta. Bonds' hit something like 7 home runs in the 3 game series at Turner Field doing it against the Braves' best arms. Barry had that same look Tuesday in Atlanta, he was squaring everything up very well and he has been for the last couple weeks. He has raised his average 20 points in the last 8 days alone and it finally looks like he may get out of the .250's after all. I'm not saying I think it will happen, but it wouldn't surprise me the least if he hit 12 jacks in September and won player of the month. I wouldn't put anything past him, and after watching him last night, I know he's still very capable of putting together some streaks. Last night, he got off-balance, way out in front of a Tim Hudson change-up and still hit it to the deepest part of Turner Field with plenty of room to spare (pitcured above). When a hitter can do that with that little balance he's locked in. Shea Hillenbrand is also continuing to get better with more time in San Francisco. Over his last 5 games he's 12-21 with 3 home runs, 8 RBI's and 6 runs scored. That's more of the type of run production the Giants felt they where getting when they dealt away their top young reliever last month. Hillenbrand has been striving in the number 3 spot in the order right in front of Bonds'. I like that combo but I would rather have Ray Durham hit 5th than Moises Alou right now. Alou has been out for a while and his swing looks slow and not up to speed while Durham has been the offensvie catalyst over the second half of the season. Moises Alou is still very important to get going. It seems like the Giants haven't reaped the benifets of his bat consistantly at all this season. If the line-up can stay healthy together in September, we should see one of the better offenses in the NL.

As I said at the top of the post, you can't say anymore about what Noah Lowry and Matt Cain continue to do. Noah Lowry was rightfully named NL co-player of the week for last week. He went 2-0 allowing only 1 run in 17 innings. If it weren't for the Giants lack of run support, Lowry would easely be in the running for another player of the month of August award. Whatever this guy does at the all-star break works because he's put together some stellar second half's in his young career. Unfortunetely, the bullpen has let him down a lot over the month of august. I am still not quite sure why Jack Taschner is up while Jonathen Sanchez and Brian Wilson are down in AAA. Taschner continues proving he isn't a big league pitcher and the Giants already have 2 good lefties in their bullpen. The rosters do expand on the first, and we will be seeing Sanchez and Wilson among others come up and start contributing so we only need to endure another couple days of Jack Taschner getting mop up time. I am really excited to see if the Giants give Eric Threets a call-up this September. This guy has been in the Giants' system for years, but he's still only 24 and he has been dealing in Fresno. He's always had a devastating fastball that hits the high ninties. He still is walking a few more batters than the Giants' want but he's not easy to hit and he's sporting the best era of any Fresno pitcher. These September call-ups are definitely going to bring up some talent.
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Giants Back Within Striking Distance

The Giants' seasaw battle back into the division race will not stop. As I am writing this, the Padres have a 3-1 lead on the Dodgers in the 3rd inning at Petco Park. If the Dodgers lose tonights ballgame, it would put the Giants only 4 games back of them. The Dodgers have finally hit a little bump in the road in San Diego and the Giants have taken advantage. Look no further than the arms of Noah Lowry and Matt Cain and you'll see why the Giants are not only still breathing the the NL West, but are now well within striking distance. Matt Cain turned in another solid outing Tuesday night going 7 innings giving up only 1 run. Unfortunetly he fell victim to Armondo Benitez's latest blunder and it cost him from getting his 10th win of the year. Cain is starting to gain more consistancy as the season goes on and it won't surprise me the least to see him lead the team in wins and strikeouts at the end of the season. Noah Lowry's outing on Monday was his best of the season (and he's had a lot of them), as he completed 9 innings for the second time in 4 starts, this time getting credit for the complete game and the win while only allowing 2 hits. Over those last 4 games, Lowry has a 2.18 era and has allowed only 16 hits in 31 innings pitched. Even though Lowrey missed the first month of the year, he has still pitched well enough in his 129 innings to be about 10-4 rather than 6-7. In his 21 starts, he has had only 3 where he really didn't give the team much of a chance to win and thats all you can ask for from a young pitcher. If Lowry and Cain haven't been doing what they have, I'm sure the Giants would not be in the position they are in now. The Giants rotation could be in very good shape if Matt Morris can get his head on straight for the final month, but that hasn't happened all year, why now?

Barry Bonds has brought up a reason why he has not played up to expectations this season. He said earlier in the week that he hasn't been able to have a normal off-season workout regimen in 2 years. He thinks next year will be a lot different with him being able to resume normal workouts this winter. Bonds has been swinging the bat pretty good lately. He hit the Giants' first splash hit of the '06 season Monday night with a blast off of Livan Hernandez. Bonds went 5-9 against the Diamondbacks and hopefully for the Giants he only continues to heat up. The Giants start a big 4 games series Thursday night vs. the Cincinatti Reds. The Reds are leading the pack in the wild card race, but the Giants are only 4 games back from that as well. The teams ahead of the Giants in the wild card race are hardly impressive. The only team I could see beating out the Giants would be the Padres. I highly doubt the Reds will continue to hang around with their pitching staff. Aaron Harrang and Bronoson Arroyo are awesome, but the rest of the staff has question marks. The Philladelphia Phillies, another team ahead of the Giants in the race, also have major pitching quesitons. The NL Wild Card is still very much up for grabs and I think the winner will come from the NL West.
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Sunday, August 20, 2006

7 Games Back Again

Just when it looked like the Giants may actually get back within striking distance of the first place Dodgers, the Dodgers have taken the air out of their sails. The Giants had gotten withing 5 games of the Dodgers with their 5 game winning streak, but they are again 7 games out and it looks like their slim window for a playoff spot will probably be all but closed by the time September 1st rolls around. Again, the Giants' lack of consistency has forced them from being able to even get back to .500, let alone back atop the NL West. Brad Hennessey had his worst performance of the season Saturday when he didn't even make it through the second inning. Then Matt Morris kept the Giants in the game for a while Sunday, but the offense didn't show up and the game got broken open late. This season is starting to unfold worse than last year did. At least last year the Giants started to make a push late in the season when Randy Winn came over and Barry Bonds returned. This season, everybody has stayed pretty healthy and the high expectations are coming nowhere near being met. I know the team was built based on Barry Bonds being at least half of what he used to be, but he is getting worse as the season goes on. It's not unlikely that he'll finish the season at .230, 20 hr and about 60 RBI. If your cleanup hitter and best player, the player you built around and accommodate so much, is having a season like that then your probably not going to do too much. The team is also the oldest team in the league, I have a hard time seeing them put together a surge in September and winning 10 in a row. With only 37 games left, 7 games back is actually a lot more than it seems. For the Giants to even have a shot at getting back to first place in the west, they would need to go something like 25-12 and the Dodgers would have to play .500 ball the rest of the way. The Giants haven't shown any sign that they are capable of playing that kind of baseball, there's no reason to think they all the sudden will the last 6 weeks of the year.

Todd Linden is the latest Fresno Grizzly call-up to come in and contribute. He's hitting over .300 and has put together some clutch at-bats in some key situations. His best contribution though has been with the glove. He made a game saving catch in San Diego earlier in the week that helped the Giants sweep the Padres. Kevin Frandsen has also looked more comfortable this time around than when he was up earlier in the season. Frandsen had his best game as a pro Wednesday going 3-5 with a home run 2 RBI's and 2 runs then he had to be put on the dl with a broken jaw. I'd like to see more of Frandsen at 3rd base when he gets healthy. Feliz has been ice cold over the last month and his average is dropping steadily. With Ray Durham's bat too valuable to the team, 3rd base is a solid spot to get Frandsen some at-bats although it would cost them defensively. I'd also like to see Todd Linden getting some of Steve Finley's at bats and starts. Finley hasn't gotten it done all season long. I don't remember seeing this guy get a hit in the clutch when it really mattered. He's hitting .230 with runners in scoring position, but only .127 with bases loaded and .184 with runners on 2nd and 3rd. Plus his defense isn't like it used to be, so I really see no reason why he should be getting PT over Todd Linden. I can't until the Giants' hire a manager who will have enough guts to play the young player over the ageing, un-productive veteran. I thought we where done seeing it when Dusty Baker left, but Felipe Alou is almost as bad.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hillenbrand and Benitez Finally Contribute!

Armondo Benitez is two for his last two in save oppurtunities, and while that comes nowhere near making up for the 3 in a row he blew, he has been looking a little better. Monday night in San Diego, he held a one run lead, albeit in typical Benitez fashion allowing 2 runners to reach base before closing the door. On Tuesday night, Benitez may have looked the best I've seen him in a Giants uniform. For the first time in almost 2 seasons, I saw his fastball hitting 95-96 mph, and his splitter was actually nasty and controlled. He held another one run lead but did it perfectly. As bad as Benitez has been, we all know he's not going anywhere anytime soon so hopefully he can continue building off these last couple outings. When he was struggling, his fastball was between 90-92 and his splitter was affected by that. If he can stay up in the mid-90's like he has been in San Diego, he should be fine. Benitez is a guy who feeds a lot of success, and when his confidence is high, that's when he shows he belongs in the 9th inning. Shea Hillenbrand is another guy who hasn't been getting it done since his arrival in San Francisco, but he actually has been heating up a bit over the week as well. Hillenbrand went 2-3 Tuesday night including the game winning single RBI single in the 8th inning which gave the Giants a 3-2 advantage that Armondo Benitez made stand. Hillenbrand has now raised his average to .287 since joning the Giants, but he still has only 2 home runs, 4 RBI and a .290 on-base percentage in over 80 at-bats. Hillenbrand has always been a very streaky hitter, and if he hits a hot streak now, that trade may finally payoff.

Brad Hennessey looked very good in his first start since being officially added to the rotation. Hennessey went 5 2/3 scoreless innings giving up only 2 hits and one walk while striking out 3. He was so effecient that he only threw 70 pitches in those 5 2/3 innings. I think Felipe will want to ease him back into the rotation, and I don't expect him to be throwing 100 pitches already, but I am a little surprised Alou went to the bullpen as early as he did. It did pay off and Hennessey got the win, but I have my issues about making the Giants' bullpen get any more outs than they need to. Hennessey has really been the glue of that entire pitching staff all season long and needs to get more credit than he's getting. Not only was he the teams most consistant reliever for most the season, but he's done more than answer the bell when the Giants have asked him to start games. He's labled as the teams number 5 starter, but outside of Jason Schmidt, I'm not sure there is another pitcher on the team I'd rather hand the ball to. Matt Cain, Noah Lowrey and Brad Hennessey are giving Giants fans at least some hope for the future. Another guy who's throwing very well is Vinny Chulk. My confidence in Chulk is growing, he's only had one bad outing since he's come over from Toronto and I he is now the teams best right-handed set-up option. It seems like He's done more for the Giants than Hillebrand has in their short time here. He has contributed in both the Giants wins in San Diego and it looks like his role is starting to grow with the club as well.
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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Road Woes Continue

Watching the Giants at AT&T Park is starting to get hard enough, but watching this team on the road is becoming impossible. They are 1-11 over their last 12 road games and now their season could be in jeapordy if they can't turn it around over the next week. They are now 6.5 games out of first place and falling faster and faster. By looking at the schedule and standings, it seems like getting back into this race is very doable, but if you've watched this team on consistant basis this season, you know it's going to be tougher than it looks. Their offense looked like it was ready to heat up at the begining of the week, but they have been stone cold since then. The teams defense is also starting to cause some concern as well. Ray Durham has already made two very costly errors in the first game and a half in LA and the outfield is looking slower and slower. Moises Alou and Steve Finley look like they're starting to lose interest in a hurry. You know things are getting ugly when teams' veteran players start making comments about blaming others for the teams woes. Armondo Benitez, Steve Finley and Matt Morris have all brushed off blame for the teams recent struggles in some way. The funny thing is, all of them have underachived this season and if you had to put the Giants failures on a couple guys in particular, Morris and Bentiez would have to be guys right at the top of that list.

Things look like they are just going to get tougher for the Giants. They haven't ever played well at Petco Park, and that's where they end the road trip. If they can somehow come out of LA with a win, which is looking less and less likely, they would still only be 5.5 games back. With a month and a half left, that is plenty of time to get right and string together some wins especially in a division as weak as the NL West. The only problem is, the Giants haven't had a winning streak longer than 5 games all season, and it's going to take a lot more then that just to get back to .500 this season, let alone getting back in the NL West race. They did make a positive move Friday when they named Brad Hennessey the new 5th starter as he will finally take over for Jamey Wright. I've been calling for this for about a month now and I'm glad Felipe Alou did it before September. Hennessey has been a stud this season in whatever role the Giants have asked him to fill and he definitely deserves to get the ball every 5th day. Jack Taschner is also back in the mix as he was recalled from Fresno on Friday. Brian Wilson is being sent back down to clear the spot for Taschner. Wilson has shown flashes of being solid, but is way to wild to contribute night in and night out. Taschner had been closing in Fresno and had been throwing the ball real well lately. Taschner and Mike Stanton are both pretty effective vs. right-handers as well so it shouldn't matter much that the Giants are now carrying four left-handers in the bullpen. Nothing has worked to well yet, so I have no objection with the mixing up of things.
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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Giants Start Off Well On Road Trip

Last time the Giants where on the road, it marked the begining of a horrible losing streak and a fall from the top of the NL West. Now the Giants are going to have to reverse their fortunes this time around if they want to stay alive in this wide open NL West race. Yes the Giants are in last place in the division, but they are only 4 1/2 games back of the Padres, and as bad as things have gotten over the last 3 weeks, they are still very much in this thing. After the series in Arizona, they travel to LA, then San Diego. All 3 of these teams are teams the Giants are chasing, and with a good road trip, this team could amazingly find themselves at the top of the division. The starting pitching for the Giants has been absolutely fantastic. Matt Cain is starting to get comfortable and he's the hottest Giant pitcher going right now. 4 of his last 5 starts have been tremendous, with his latest being a career high 12 strikeout, 7 inning performance vs. the Rockies. The best thing about Cains recent success is that he's doing most of his damage with his 95 mph fastball. I am surprised at how many good hitters he gets to swing through the fastball with 2 strikes. Even when he doesn't hit his intended target, his late rising fastball sneaks by hitters bats'. Noah Lowery also looks like he's locked into a good grove lately. I was at his best start of the season Saturday night when he went 9 innings giving up only 1 run on 4 hits, but the offense could not back him. The only concern I am having is with Jamey Wright, who has been as inconsistent as of late. Over his last 10 outings he is 1-5 with a 6.10 era. It has been mentioned among Giants fans that Jamey Wright may be more effective out of the bullpen, because he always seems to do well the first time through lineups. He showed Friday that he could make that transition well if it comes to that and I think it will. Brad Hennessy has been throwing so well this season, and we all know he's not going to stay in the pen long if he keeps it up. He has a 2.84 era over his 6 starts this season, and he's been just as good in his 18 relief appearances as he has a team best 2.86 era (not counting Armondo Benitez). With the Giants trying to continue building momentum, Tuesday nights start is probably the biggest start of Wright's season so far, and if it isn't a solid one, it should be his last.

The offense has finally woke up in the first game of the series vs. Arizona Monday night as they hit a season high 6 home runs. Even Jason Schmidt got a hold of one and knocked one into the bleachers. Shea Hillenbrand also hit his second home as a Giant and that is one bat the Giants need to get going along with Barry Bonds. Bonds has been swinging the bat better lately. His series vs. Colorado was probably the best he's had all season long as he went 5 for 12 with a home run and a lot of loud contact. That being said, this late in the season, guys who are in their 40's rarely turn their season around, but you can never put anything past Bonds. The one guy who is going to need to stay healthy in the outfield is Moises Alou. If he can stay off the DL for the last 2 months of the season it will be key. He hadn't shown much power since April but has 2 home runs over the last week and is hitting close to .400 so far in August. Alou still has the bat that can carry a team if he gets hot, and if he can get back to his April form, this offense shouldn't have much trouble scoring runs. Ray Durham has continued to stay hot and Omar Vizquel is getting hot again as well. The offense is showing that it's ready to make the late season run, the bullpen needs to start showing the same.
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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Matheny Out For The Year

Mike Matheny's season has officially ended as he will be unable to play again this year. Matheny suffered a series of concussions back in late May and hasn't fully recovered since. Some in the organization fear he may not be able to play again. Matheny's glove, arm and veteran presence has been and will be missed. Elizer Alfonzo has been the surprise of the year so far and one of the things I am looking forward to most over the last 2 months of the season is seeing how Alfonzo continues to perform as the season goes on and he starts facing teams for a second and third time. His .293 avg., 9 home runs and 24 RBI in 140 at-bats is by far the most impressive rookie offensive start we've seen in San Francisco in years. Felipe Alou had planned on playing Todd Greene a lot more than he has with Matheny out, but Alfonzo has made that extremely tough. Mike Krukow was talking about Alfonzo the other night and was mentioning how fun he is to watch. There aren't many Giants on this current squad that are very fun to watch, but I do agree with Krukow in that Alfonzo is. It's been a while since the Giants have had a true rookie position player help out on a daily basis. Bill Mueller was the last one to come in and start performing well from the get go, but Mueller didn't have the power Alfonzo posses. Hopefully Matheny can fully recover over the Winter and come back to give the Giants one of the best catching duo's in the league next season.

Finally the Giants end their 9 game losing streak. It almost took them 2 weeks, but they finally are back on the winning track thanks to in big part to Mike Stanton. Alou brought in Armondo Benitez to try and get the final out, but quickly removed him after a walk before he could blow the game. Stanton stepped it up big time with runners on and the game on the line. I really don't have a problem handing him the ball in the ninth until he shows he shouldn't get it. There isn't a Giant on the staff with more experience, plus he has been pretty consistent over the past month (1 earned run in 10 innings pitched). I know he isn't the flashy closer who can come in and blow people away, but he just might be the best they have for the job at this point. I've mentioned Steve Kline as a possible candidate as well, but he hasn't been throwing well over his last few outings. I don't think the Giants should totally ban Benitez from the roll, but they should use him earlier in the game until he gets back on track. I know they wouldn't admit it if you asked them, but I now that even Benitez's teammates don't have much confidence in him right now. Say what you want about him only having 1 run leads in a few of the blown saves, he's getting paid over 8 million dollars a year to get make those 1 run leads stand. He's too expensive to just kick out of the mix like Tyler Walker and Matt Herges where, so they have to try and get him back on track.
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