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Thursday, September 28, 2006

MLB Playoff Picture Still Unclear

Heading into the final weekend of the season, there is still plenty to be determined before the playfoffs begin. We do know one thing for sure, and that is that San Francisco Giants will be missing it for the 3rd straight season. However, the NL Wild Card, NL West and NL Central are all still very much up for grabs. The St. Louis Cardinals have had a terrible 2nd half battling injuries and bad starting pitching and they now find themselves with just a 1 game lead on the surging Houston Astros. As far as the West and the Wild Card are concerned, 2 teams out of the Phillies, Dodgers and Padres will be heading to October. As far as the scheduling goes, I think the Dodgers and Padres will both make the playoffs. The Phillies have to play the Marlins for 3 this weekend, and unless they take all 3, the likely won't make it to the playoffs. The NL Central is still very close as well, but even with all the tough breaks for the Cardinals this season, I don't see them being passed up by Houston. Albert Pujols has been healthy down the stretch and playing well and how he goes, so go the Cardinals. There are so many question marks surrouding all the teams in the NL Playoff hunt right now, even the Mets who clinched their division weeks ago have huge pitching issues. Pedro Martinez has looked horrible in since his return from the disabled list, as he was topping out at 84 mph the other night at Shea Stadium. The Mets are definetely going to have their work cut out for them. It's a huge difference in going from Pedro Martinez to Orlando Hernandez as your game 1 starter.

The NL is so thin this year that even the Giants would have had a decent chance at reaching the series if they didn't absolutley choke as hard as they possibly could during their last road trip. As I said in my last post before the trip was even over, that was the worst road trip I have seen the Giants take since they moved to this new ballpark. A lot of must win games against very winnable opponents but the Giants blew their chance. The team has played so bad as of late that even Barry Bonds doesen't want to be in the line-up with that pitching staff anymore this year. Bonds announced earlier in the week that he would only play Friday night's game and maybe Sunday's game and that would be it for the season. Bonds' will have surgery on his throwing elbow in the offseason, and he will be back playing somewhere next spring. Both Felipe and Moises Alou's future's are still unclear at this point as well and I'd say that it looks like this may be it for both of them. Moises has been red hot lately it may make him think twice about what he plans to do next year. I hope he continues his hot streak this weekend vs. the Dodgers and the Giants can knock those guys out of the playoffs. I doubt it though, and the only game I will be tuning into this weekend will be Saturday's Matt Cain start and possibly Barry's at bat's Sunday, just incase this is indeed the last we see of the great Barry Bonds in a Giants' uniform.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Friday, September 22, 2006

Giants Season Unofficially Over

I said in my last post that after losing 2 of 3 in Colorodo, the Giants must either sweep or at least take 3 of 4 from the Millwaukee Brewers this weekend at Miller Park. After Friday night's depressing loss, I have finally lost what little strand of hope I had for this year's San Francisco Giants. I was hanging on that last strand of hope due to the fact that the Giants play the last 3 games vs. the Dodgers and if they could have possibly gotten to that weekend 2 or 3 games back, anything could have happened. However, the Giants' pitching staff looks like they have already thrown in the towel and so am I. This has been one of the ugliest road trips I've ever seen the Giants take in recent years. It's just the teams that the Giants' are choking against that is really puzzling me. Even if the Giants aren't that good, they aren't as bad as the Rockies or Brewers, and you'd think that this being the most important part of the season and all, they'd be bringing their best night in and night out. Even the Cardinals were struggling before they got the gift of having the Giants come to town. Barry Bonds is actually finally doing what he was supposed to do all season, and the rest of the offense is playing well enough to put up plenty of runs, but with the way the Giants' starters are giving up runs early and often, the offense can't quite keep up. They have allowed first inning runs in all but one game on the current road trip, and in 4 of the 7 games they have given up 4 or more. The Giants did all they could to play themselves out of this race. After Friday night, they should be 6 games back of the Padres who lead the NL West, and although they are a half game closer to the NL Wild Card, the fact that there are 3 hot teams in front of them makes it almost impossible to win it at this point.

When the Giants get officially eliminated, which looks like it could happen as soon as Sunday or Monday, there will still be things to watch for. I always like checking out the younger call-ups and finding out if the Giants have anybody ready to contribute or not. Once they are eliminated, those guys will start to be scattered throughout the line-up. Freddy Lewis has been a nice story. He is something like 7 for 9 at the plate since being called up and that is one guy who has had a lot of hype around him since he joined the organization. I also would like to see Brian Wilson used a little more these last few games. He has such a good arm and has shown some shades of brilliance, but hasn't been used to consistantly. Brian Sabean will probably start using these last 9 days of the season to finalize decisions on who he wants back and who he wants to let walk. I will not start adressing the Giants offseason situation until after the season, but Sabean needs to study the bullpen very hard over this last week. The bullpen has been such a problem for the Giants ever since the 2003 season and it is the place they are going to have to rebuild from the bottom up. Unfortunetely, Sabean doesn't like pursuing relief pitchers. It clearly cost them the Division in 2004, helped put them behind the 8-ball early in 2005 and I really think that when you add up all that has happened this season, just an adequate bullpen would have the Giants in 1st place in the NL West.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Giants' Backs Against the Wall

The San Francisco Giants are not mathmatically eliminated from the postseason quite yet, but they have put their own backs against the wall with a pair of ugly series' vs. Cardinals and Rockies. Luckily, the Giants barely squeaked out a victory Wednesday to salvage the series in Colorodo, but for a team that had to have a good road trip heading into the final week of the season it has been a horrible trip so far. After losing the 2 games in St. Louis, for the Giants to roll into Colorodo and get smoked in the first two games just shows that they aren't quite a playoff team this year. Playoff teams turn it on at this point in the year when it counts the most, and the Giants blew it vs. a team that they very well should have swept. The Giants threw their best 3 starters at the Rockies and all 3 did terrible. Noah Lowry had his worst career start, Matt Cain had his first bad start in over a month and a half, and Jason Schmidt continued his tough second half with another bad outing Wednesday. Fortunetely, the Giants were able to pull out the game Wednesday thanks in big part to a Barry Bonds pinch hit RBI single in the 8th inning to put the Giants ahead. I know Coors field isn't the easiest place to play, but after getting swept in St. Louis, they showed no urgency whatsover. However, the team is still hanging on. With exactly 10 games to play, the Giants are currently 4 1/2 games back of the first place Dodgers in the NL West, and 4 back of the wild card leading Padres. That will change Wednesday night after the Dodgers and Padres both play their games. The struggles in the first two series' of the road trip now makes the 4 games set in Millwaukee a must win. The Giants need to either sweep or at least take 3 of 4 in Millwaukee or else there season will be done, no matter if they are still mathmatically in it or not. The Padres and Dodgers both have pretty easy weekend match-ups as well, so the Giants could get left in the don't get hot in a hurry.

The biggest let down over the last week of ugly baseball has been the starting pitching. None of the Giants 5 starters had good starts their last time out. As a matter of fact, all of them where downright bad. Jason Schmidt has not been the ace this teams needs over the last month especially, but really over the whole second half. He had a nice 10 strikout game against the Padres September 9th, but he's been getting hit a lot harder lately. Noah Lowry had a huge dropoff over his last 3 starts. He started out the second half really well, but once September hit, it looks like his arm has gone dead. He's givin up 20 runs on 23 hits over his last 10 2/3 innings pitched. It's kind of a mystery because Lowry's only pitched 147 innings this season, but it may be the toll from last seasons' 204 inning campaign catching up with him. I think the Giants will be very lucky if they get much more from Noah Lowry this season. However not all the blame can go towards the Giants starting pitching. The Defense has been pretty bad as well over the last month or so. Ray Durham has had a great year with the bat, but I hace seen countless routine balls bounce off of or out of his glove and all of them seem to come in crucial situations. A struggling staff and sketchy defense don't go well together, and thats why the Giants head into Millwaukee 1-4 on this current trip. The leadoff spot has also been a tough spot to get going over the last month or so. Randy Winn is really struggling and showing he may be another guy the Giants overpaid for. I don't think a .257 average and a .319 on base percentage is quite what the Giants had in mind when they gave him that lucritive 3 year contract. The best thing the Giants have going for them is the reamaining schedule with the final 3 games of the year coming in San Francisco vs. the Dodgers. Let's hope those games mean somehting.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Playoff Races Heating Up

We're about midway through September, and this is when things start getting really important. The Giants are 1.5 games back in the Wild Card race, and 3 back in the NL West race. They have finally leap frogged all other teams that where in between them and the Padres, and it is starting to look more and more like there will be two teams from the NL West in the playoffs. The Giants and Padres have been playing the currently playing the best ball in the division, but the Dodgers are still hanging on to the lead. I 've gone on record already saying I think the Padres will make the playoffs. They have the best bullpen and the most speed on their team, and in the close games, that is what prevails. Nothing will likely be determined until the last weekend of the season when the Giants and Dodgers square off at AT&T Park while the Padres are in Arizona playing the Diamondbacks. After their series with the Rockies, the Giants will take off on their final road trip of the season which they visit St. Louis, Colorodo and Millwaukee. Only the Cardinals have a winning record out of those 3 teams, so the Giants will need to take advantage on that trip or else they will put their own backs against the wall for the final week of the season. The Giants must also take care of business vs. the Rockies. Jonathen Sanchez made his second career start Tuesday night, and it wasn't nearly as good as his first in Cincinatti. Sanchez was officially put in the rotation in Brad Hennessey's spot before the start, and even though he wasn't as good Tuesday, I haven't lost confidence in him.

Giants fans can all take a collective sigh of relief, Armondo Benitez's season is officially over. The Giants put Benitez on the 15-day DL earlier this week with his two bad knees, and it is highly unlikely that Benitez will return this season. Mike Stanton has been closing games in Benitez's absence and has done a great job. I haven't had confidence in a Giants closer since Tim Worell in 2003, but Mike Stanton is starting to gain my trust. Of course he doesn't have the lights out stuff that your typical closer has, but he has shown more composure, poise and accuracy than Benitez in his time with the Giants. The Giants bullpen as a whole has been throwing a lot better lately. Kevin Corriea is really coming into his own this season. For the last 5 years, the Giants have wondered where exactly they would like to use Corriea, but he has clearly found a home in the bullpen. Corriea has always had electric stuff, but his accuracy has always been in question. Corriea has walked only 22 batters in 63 innings while stiking out 48. A 2:1 stikeout to walk ratio is solid, and opposing hitters are hitting only .229 against Corriea. Felipe Alou has obviously noticed Corriea's effectiveness because he has been using him in the late inning, close game situations. The Giants pitching staff as a whole is throwing the best it has all season. Their starting pitching over the second half has been outstanding, and their late relief pitching is a lot safer without the option of Benitez out there. The Giants are definetely ready for the stretch run and the teams that go to the playoffs will be the teams that play the best ball from here on out.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Back To .500 And Climbing

For the second straight year, the Giants are saving their best baseball for the last weeks of the season as they have finally gotten all their starting players healthy and rolling. The Giants have played the last couple weeks like most people including myself thought they would play all year long. I didn't expect this team to win 95+ games, but I definetly didn't expect them to be just a .500 team as they have been. It's no coincidence that Barry Bonds also happens to be playing his best ball of the season as well. Barry Bonds is the leader of this team and how he goes, so go the Giants. When Barry was hitting .235 with little power and run production, the Giants where a team playing well below .500 baseball. Bonds has raised his average to .260, and he's hit 5 home runs over the last 7 games. It just goes to show you that he still impacts a team that much, even at age 42. It doesen't hurt that the guy in front of him (Shea Hillenbrand) and the guy behind him (Ray Durham) are scalding the ball as well. Giants are now only 4 games back in the NL West, and 3 back in the Wild Card race. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the NL Wild Card winner will come from the NL West, and if that's the case, the Giants need to at least leap over one of the teams ahead of them. The Dodgers are starting to lose some games again, and the Padres are on fire so it looks like the NL West standings could shuffle big time in the next week or so. The Padres have the best bullpen in the division, and have a ton of speed, I think they will make the playoffs somehow. This weekends series at SBC Park will be a huge test for the Giants starting Friday with a premier pitching matchup between Jake Peavey and Matt Cain.

The September call-ups are almost all up and they are already paying dividends big time for the Giants. The latest being Wednesday in Cincinatti when Jonathen Sanchez was called upon to take Noah Lowry's turn in the roation due to a sore shoulder. Sanchez was brilliant over 5 2/3 innings as he was shutting the Reds down with 75% fastballs. Sanchez was in the strike zone all day and didn't allow a hit until the 5th inning which tells you how good his stuff was. He struck out 7 and only allowed 1 run on 3 hits. All as I can say after watching that performance is look out Brad Hennessey. Hennessey was having a great season as a reliever/spot starter until he got inserted into the rotation full time for Jamey Wright. Since then, he's added about a run and a half to his era, and has had only one quality start in 5 tries. Hennessey value in the bullpen may best suit the Giants at this point in the season. I'd give Sanchez the ball untill he proves he shouldn't get it, and I'd put Hennessey back in the bullpen in the set-up role. Just a thought, but I really don't see how you could watch Sanchez turn in a performance like that in that type of ballpark, and then send him back to the pen. Speaking of september call-ups making impacts, Lance Niekro and Jason Ellison both had hits in Wednesday's game, a day which the Giants gave most of their veterans off, and still where able to win the game. The Giants now have a few more major league calliber bats coming off their bench. Jason Ellison and Lance Niekro both had periods where they where starters at this level, to be able to call have that type of experience brought up in September is huge.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________