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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Benitez Nightmare Comes To An End

Giants fans got the news they have been waiting to here all season, matter of fact the last two seasons. The team announced Thursday that they had traded Armando Benitez to the Marlins in exchange for Randy Messenger. Who they got in return was not the issue, the mission was to get Benitez off this roster and out of that clubhouse as quick as possible. All things considered, I am a little surprised the Giants actually got a ML caliber reliever, especially one with the potential of Messenger. After the latest Benitez blunder, one that summed Benitez's reign as the Giants closer up in 1 inning, it was made pretty obvious that the Giants were ready to get rid of Benitez, even if it meant that they were going to have to release him. I think the Marlins could have had him for a low level prospect if they wanted to, but the Giants were able to squeeze Messenger out of the deal. Now, Messenger is no savior, and at this point his numbers would indicate that we are getting nothing better than another Vinnie Chulk or Jack Taschner. However, he is only 25 years old, and coming into the season, he was being mentioned as a closing candidate in Florida. I've seen him pitch once or twice and don't know too much about him, but according the Marlins fans his stuff is good, but his control is something that needs some work. This now changes the whole makeup of the bullpen. Brad Hennessey goes from set-up to closer and I would assume that Russ Ortiz will move into the set-up role. However Messenger turns out, the Giants gained in addition by subtraction in today's move, and Sabean finally showed that he is actually watching this team.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Giants Blow One In NY

Coming off one of the toughest series of the season, and heading into one of the toughest road trips on the schedule, a lot of people where picking now as a point in the season that will define what this team will do the rest of the way. The Giants got swept by Colorado for the first time in the teams' history, and the losing streak continued in New York on Tuesday. The Giants once again got a terrific performance from their young phenom, Tim Lincecum as he threw another 7 quality innings in which he looked un-hittable at times. He made one mistake to Carlos Delgado and paid for it, but other than that, he did what he has done in his previous 3 starts. The bullpen even kept the team in the game until Armondo Benitez was called upon to try and close it out. Benitez, making a return to the place where he pitched for the majority of his career, showed the Mets' fans what they certainly haven't missed over the last 4 years. I don't want to let the offense off the hook on this one, as they had some opportunities that they didn't cash in on, but Benitez does have to shoulder this loss. Two brain farts in the form of balks, in one inning, are you kidding me? Not to mention walking one of the most dangerous base runners' in the game to lead off the inning, with a 1 run lead. The Giants battled in extra innings to keep the game tied and finally broke through with a run. I'd have to say the worst blown saves happen when your team gains a lead in extra innings, only to have the closer blow it away in the bottom half of the inning. I have tried to defend Benitez as much as I possibly could and really thought that this year would be an improvement on the last 2, but the only improvement I have seen in him is his health. His fastball is still around 90-91 and his control with his slider and split are so sporadic that they are almost unusable in certain situations. I think it's time that the Giants swallow some pride (and some cash) and let Benitez go. At least the other unproductive relievers on this team (Chulk and Kline) are good guys to have around the clubhouse. Benitez is truly hurting this team more than helping at this point, and it's not even close. Time to start the "Russ For Closer" campaign if you ask me.

The Giants played Tuesday's game without 3 of their top 5 hitters in the lineup with two of them out because of injury. The news on Dave Roberts seems to be positive as he is targeting Friday, June 8th as a return date from his elbow injury. This offense could certainly use Roberts' bat and legs at the top of the lineup. Winn has been awesome in the leadoff spot in Roberts' absence, but the number 2 spot in the order has been a black hole this season. Vizquel has slumped there so far, and Freddie Lewis has gone stone cold since his first week in the bigs. Ideally, I'd like to see Winn in the 2 spot and Klesko in the 3 spot when Roberts returns. Hopefully when Roberts gets back, Ray Durham will still be in the lineup. He strained his abdomen over the weekend, and isn't likely to play until Friday at the earliest. There is still a good chance he could get put on the DL, which would mean Kevin Frandsen would take over as the everyday 2nd basemen. I like Frandsen, and he has been making some loud contact lately, but the Giants need Durham's run production in the middle of the order. The offense is struggling right now, no question about it, but they aren't at full strength. Hopefully that changes over the next 10 days.
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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Strikeouts For Troops

I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend "Barry Zito's Strikeouts For Troops Giants Jam Fundraiser" this week and it was one of the coolest events I have ever been to. All the proceeds from the event went to the Strikeouts for Troops project which helps aid war wounded troops in their recovery and rehabilitation. Barry Zito put on an excellent show as he played his guitar for his sister's band and even sang in a few songs. I was not able to make it in time to see Omar Vizquel's performance, but other than that, I don't have any complaints. One of the highlights of the event was the auction, in which a few Giants' players jerseys were auctioned off, and the auctioneer was none other than Mr. Barry Bonds. Even Bonds didn't disappoint when he got the microphone in his hand. Among a few of the players I had a chance to speak with were Noah Lowry, Mark Sweeney and Russ Ortiz. I must say, Mark Sweeney is one of the coolest ballplayers that I have had a chance to meet. I also had a chance to meet Fox Sports Net Warriors' sideline reporter, Matt Steinmetz. I hope to soon have link up with a spot where you can donate to the cause if you would like.

I wish I could keep the positive vibe going throughout this whole post, but the Giants happened to suffer another heartbreaking loss to Rockies late on Friday night. It was almost identical to the one that they coughed up back in Denver about a month ago, and it was Matt Cain who was victimized both times. However, the Giants didn't deserve to win the game Friday night. If you take away that Bengie Molina pop-up that Todd Helton lost in the wind, the Giants would have scored 2 runs. It's frustrating when the offense does so little vs. a team like the Rockies, who have the worst pitching in National League. Matt Cain was also shaky all night, and I am very surprised it took until the 7th inning for the Rockies to finally get to him. Until Cain can start using his pitch count more effectively, he isn't going to put himself on that next level of the elite starters in the league. His stuff is awesome, and if he just stays in the zone, he is very difficult to deal with. When he starts walking people, and he gets to 3 ball counts with every other batter, he gets himself in trouble. That being said, he's only 22 years old, so I expect to see some inconsistency in him. Even when he doesn't have his command, he has proven that he is still a tough assignment for opposing hitters. If he's this good without his command, imagine what he'll be like when he gets a consistent release on the ball?
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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Giants Rotation As Strong As Ever

I know it's only late May, and there is still about 2/3 of the season left to play, but I think it's safe to say that we are witnessing the best, most complete Giants' rotation since at least 1993. In '93 they had two 20 game winners in John Burkett and Bill Swift. While it's likely this staff won't have a single 20 game winner this season, the Giants' quantity and quality of starting pitching is second to none in all of baseball. Tim Lincecum as a 5th starter is just unfair. He's already out dulled Roy Oswalt twice in the last week alone, and seems like he is getting better and better each time out. Then there's Noah Lowry, who is having possibly the best season out of all of the Giants starters. I think Lowry has benefited the most from having Barry Zito around. His curveball has caught up with his changeup to give him 2, very good off-speed pitches. Matt Morris has rebounded beautifully from last year, and has looked like the second coming of Greg Maddux on the mound in his 9 starts this year.

The Giants have been having this success without two of their better arms pitching up to their capability. While Matt Cain certainly hasn't been bad, I think he will be the first to tell you that his record and era could and should be even better. He has been victimized by a sketchy bullpen and disappearing offense on more than one occasion this year, but he still has some room for improvement. The only questionable arm in the rotation so far has been Zito. The Giants are still waiting for Zito to get going. He has always been a better second half pitcher throughout his career, and I think we will see better starts from him as we hit June-July-August. Remember, he is still adjusting to the NL, and I don't think it's time for Giants' fans to get into a frenzy because he's 3-5. When August rolls around, and Zito is still below .500, then we worry. Right now, sit back and enjoy, because the Giants starting pitching is giving them a chance to win every single game they play, and they are doing it with dominance.
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Monday, May 21, 2007

Matt Morris: The Un-expected Ace

When you look at the Giants starting rotation on paper, seeing names like Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Tim Lincecum, you kind of lose track of the guy who has been the team's stopper this season. Matt Morris continued his 2007 dominance on Sunday in Oakland with a complete game, 2 hit masterpiece vs. a streaking A's offense. Morris still isn't blowing people away, as his fastball didn't get over 88 mph Sunday, but his tremendous curveball, and uncanny command have carried him to a 5-1 record and a 2.93 era, both of which lead the staff. I think everybody was certainly expecting Morris to rebound from last years nightmare, but I don't think anyone was predicting this. I was hoping to get a .500 season out of Morris with an era in the low 4's, but a 17+ win season is not out of the question at this point, even with the sketchy Giants bullpen and offense. His recent success also has to have the Giants wondering about trading him while his value is peaking. The one spot where the Giants have some depth is in their starting rotation, so if they are going to go out and add another hitter (Richie Sexson, Bobby Abreu, Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay?) or a few relievers, it would probably come at the expense of at least one of their starting pitchers. Morris would seem to be the most expendable at that point, but I'm not so sure Sabean would jump at the opportunity to deal him right now.

Whether it's through trade or whether it's mixing up the lineup some more, the Giants have to do something to jump start this offense. Say what you want about the bullpen, the reason why the Giants are struggling to stay at or above .500 is because of their light-hitting offense. Fred Lewis and Dan Ortmeier have helped. Ortmeier had his best game as a pro on Sunday and he did it from the right side of the plate. Lewis has raked righties so far, but lefties have given him trouble. I think those guys will work into a nice platoon in right field while Dave Roberts is out. It's the veterans that need to pick up the slack. Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia and Omar Vizquel have all underachieved so far this season, and those are 3 guys the Giants were counting on filling key spots in the lineup. I like how Bochy has showed he isn't afraid to play the young players and with Omar hitting .208 vs. lefties, I wouldn't mind seeing Kevin Frandsen given a few more starts at shortstop.
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Friday, May 18, 2007

Giants Notes

The team's May struggles continued in Houston, as they once again received terrific starting pitching, but the bullpen and/or offense could not pull their weight. They managed to salvage the final game of the series, thanks to the first, real dominant performance by Tim Lincecum. He pitched well in Denver on last weekend, but he really arrived Thursday night. Lincecum out-pitched an idol of his in Roy Oswalt by going 7 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 unearned run and striking out 10 Astros. He looked like he was right back in Fresno, throwing against AAA hitters, rather than against an offensive powerhouse, in one of the most live yards in the league. Now the Giants need to figure out what to do with Russ Ortiz, as it looks like Lincecum is here to stay, and the rest of the staff is pitching well. I think Ortiz will be a solid reliever, as long as he keeps his focus. He does walk a lot of batters, but he has one of the better cutters in the game and if you shorten him down to an inning or 2 per appearance, he could really let it fly. He certainly cannot do much worse than what 1/2 of the other relievers have done on a consistent basis. It seems like the most logical move is to send Jonathon Sanchez to Fresno and insert him back into the rotation. Sanchez has showed that he has a live arm and could become a good pitcher eventually, his outing vs. the Cardinals was the best relief appearance by any Giant all year, but his future is in the rotation.

The Giants start up a big series vs. the A's Friday, which also marks Barry Zito's first return to Oakland. This is going to be a big game for Zito in more ways than one. Obviously he is returning to the place where he won a Cy Young and pitched the first 6 years of his career. More importantly though, is that he has been scuffling a little on the mound lately, and he needs to get himself on track. Zito has been pretty good overall this year, but he has arguably been the 5th best starter on the team so far. A good start from Zito pushes the team back over .500, and they may be able to gain some momentum. A loss and the team drops back below .500, and their 126 million dollar man falls to 3-5 on the season. Hopefully the offense gives him a little bit of help, unlike they did for Lincecum and Noah Lowry (who continues to look like his '05 version) in Houston. Barry Bonds will get to DH all week and can rest his aching knees for the weekend, hopefully it puts some life back in his bat as he's gone stone cold over the last week. When Barry goes cold, the Giants offense goes from serviceable, to way below average. It would help if the guys surrounding him could give him some help as well. The only two Giants' swinging a good bat right now are Randy Winn and Freddy Lewis. The two guys hurting the most are the two guys who protect Bonds, Ray Durham and Rich Aurilia.
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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lewis and Lincecum Give Giants a Lift

The Giants finally made a couple of roster moves heading into the weekend series vs. the Rockies. It was no secret that Todd Linden was not getting it done at the major league level, as he was having trouble just making contact with the baseball, so the Giants designated him for assignment. It was also evident that the Giants would need another center fielder after Dave Roberts had surgery Friday. They called up Dan Ortmier to take Lindens spot, and Freddie Lewis to take Roberts' spot, and the two call-ups have already made an impact. Ortmier along with Kevin Frandsen both swung the bat very well in Denver, but the surprise was Lewis. Freddie Lewis became the 23rd major league rookie in history to hit for the cycle on Sunday as he went 5-6 with 4 RBI's and 3 runs scored. Lewis hit a home run, drove in 7 runs and is had 7 hits in his 14 at-bats over the weekend. Lewis has already done more in a couple of games than Linden did in a month and a half with the team. Matter of fact, he had more home runs and RBI's on Sunday alone, than Linden had all year. Lewis, at 26 years of age, is a little older than your average big league prospect, but for a Giants team that hasn't produced a productive big league hitter since Bill Mueller, watching a home grown player come up and succeed with the team is definitely refreshing. Giants fans can get used to him because he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Roberts is out for at least a month, and Lewis will lead off and play center field in his absence. Coors field or not, a 7 RBI weekend by a rookie is impressive, maybe the Giants have themselves something here. They have about 6 weeks to find out.

Another positive to take out of Sundays' series finale in Denver is that Matt Cain righted himself after a couple of starts where he got knocked around pretty good. Cain was baseball's toughest starter to hit in April, then hit the wall in his first two starts this month. Cain had command of his fastball Sunday, something that he lacked in his last two starts. He also wasn't leaving 0-2 and 1-2 pitches over the plate like he did vs. the Mets in his last start. The Giants also got a good start from a different 22-year old this weekend. Tim Lincecum won his first major league game on Friday in a game that probably lifted a lot of weight off his shoulders. The Lincecum and Cain reign has officially begun. Lincecum looks like he isn't going anywhere for a while either. He is slated to start in Houston on Thursday against one of his childhood idols, Roy Oswalt. A lot of scouts feel that Lincecum will develop into an Oswalt-type starter so Thursdays match-up should be a terrific one. I am curious to see what happens with Russ Ortiz when he comes off the disabled list on May 17th. If Lincecum has another good outing on Thursday, Ortiz could be slated for relief when he returns. I would be all for Ortiz taking Vinny Chulk's spot in the bullpen if it comes down to that. Chulk has been a noticeable weak link in this bullpen, his days in SF could be numbered.

I also wanted to point out that Barry Zito and the Giants are putting on a concert/event as a fundraiser for "Strikeouts for Troops," a charity founded by Zito. It's a great event for a great cause. For information and tickets check out www.strikeoutsfortroops.org.
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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lineup Analysis

It seems like the Giants problems have reversed as the calender turned from April to May. While their starting pitching is still doing a decent job for the most part, they have certainly came back to earth early this month. Matt Cain, arguably the Giants best starter, has been hit uncharacteristically hard this month, as he's given up 18 hits in 10 innings after only giving up 12 hits through all of April. It seemed like, through the first month, it was a given that a Giants' starter would go at least 6-7 innings, keeping the team in the game. The only question's were: will the offense score enough runs to win and will the bullpen hold onto the lead if they got one? Now all of the sudden, the offense is starting to heat up, and it's the pitching that has been lagging. A big reason for the offensive explosion in may is due to the fact that Randy Winn and Omar Vizquel are swinging it well, and Bengie Molina has been playing at an all-star level at the plate. Besides that guy named Bonds, who happens to be on pace for 50 home runs, the Giants have struggled to hit the ball out of the ballpark as a team this year. Seeing Molina hit 2 home runs in the same inning was a refreshing to say the least. Winn has also stepped it up as he has raised his average over the .300 mark for the first time since the end of the 2005 season. While Winn still doesn't look quite like the player the Giants got back in '05, he has looked much better than he did last year. I am not going to expect him to hit 20 home runs again, but the Giants need him to be a .300 hitter for him to have value to the team. Vizquel is still down around .250, but has added about 20 points to his average over the last week.

I think the Giants best lineup right now, on May 10th, 2007 is to have Vizquel 2nd and Winn 3rd in front of Bonds. It seems the best thing Aurilia has been doing in front of Bonds lately is walking. His double plays are killing offensive rallies and preventing Bonds from hitting with runners on. Not only is Winn slugging better than Aurilia and getting on base at a better clip, Winn's speed effect the chances of double plays in front of Bonds. Not saying Winn is a choice number 3 hitter, but with this team, I think it makes some sense. The only problem with Winn moving to the 3rd spot, is that it would cluster together 3 right handed hitters at the bottom half of the lineup. If Dave Roberts' elbow injury is serious, which is looking like a strong possibility, then that throws this whole thing off and Winn would likely move into the leadoff role for the time being. There is a better than 50/50 possibility that Roberts bum left elbow will require surgery, which would result in 4-6 weeks of Todd Linden manning center field. It tells you all you need to know about this teams outfield depth when you see that Todd Linden is the 4th outfielder getting a good number of at-bats, even though he has a better chance at not making contact with the baseball than making it, and he has made two outfield mistakes that have cost the team 2 wins. If Roberts goes under the knife, the Giants are in trouble.
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Monday, May 07, 2007

Lincecum Learns In His Debut

The Giants most praised farm prospect in years, even more than Matt Cain and Jesse Foppert, made his much anticipated major league debut on Sunday. It wasn't a debut to write home about for Lincecum as he gave up 4 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings work. He gave up to long home runs to a new Giants' nemesis, Shane Victorino, as well as a majestic shot to reigning MVP Ryan Howard. Besides the two mistakes to Victorino and Howard, Lincecum's location was a little shaky as he walked 5 batters. For a highly hyped major league debut on national television, I wasn't too surprised with the results we saw from Lincecum. There was no doubt he was amped, making his major league debut and all so It shouldn't come to any ones surprise that he hung a few pitches and walked some guys. The only thing that I noticed that gave me a little concern was how Lincecum's velocity seemed to drop as his pitch count rose. He came out of the gate throwing 97-99 in the first inning, but by the 5th, he was down around 91-93 consistently. To critique his start, I would like to see him use his slider a little more. His fastball is a great one, but this is the major leagues, and if you keep piling on fastball after fastball, regardless of the velocity, hitters will start catching up. Part of the reason why he I think he resorted to his fastball more than usual was because of the hanging 1-2 curveball that Victorino hit out to right in the first inning. There was no doubt he lost confidence in that pitch after that.

All in all, Lincecum came out of it relatively well. You never want to see your starter fail to get through 5 innings, but things could have gotten a lot worse. He showed his capabilities by making a few of the best hitters in the league (Howard and Chase Utley) look foolish in a couple at-bats. But he also showed that he still has some things to learn as far as pitching goes. He said himself after the game that this start was a huge learning experience for him, and he found out what to and what no to do in certain counts. The Phillies really got to all Giants starters this weekend so for them to hit Lincecum hard should not be discouraging to anybody. Even Matt Cain got touched up this week for the first time in 2007. He will get at least one more start in Ortiz's place on Friday, but then in all likelihood will be sent back down to Fresno. The Giants starting pitching has hit a wall here in May after sporting one of the leagues best era's through April.
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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Spot May Soon Open For Lincecum

The Giants may have a spot for Tim Lincecum without trading anyone after all. Russ Ortiz has separated himself from the rest of the pack of starting pitchers on the team with an awful start vs. the Rockies at home. Ortiz raised his era to 6.44, and also raised some questions as to how many more starts he'll get until the young phenom, Lincecum, is indeed called up from Fresno. Tuesday night's start was the first time all season in which Ortiz was real bad, but besides his start in Pittsburgh, there really hasn't been any flashes of Ortiz pitching that well. He has had a couple of below average starts vs. the Dodgers, one in which he had to get a little bit of luck in order to avoid being knocked out in the 3rd inning. That being said, the Giants are a lot better off having Ortiz be serviceable so, I am not ready to quit on him. If the Giants are planning on trading one of their starters for some much needed offensive help, they are going to need Ortiz to be in the rotation. However, the Giants shouldn't be too patient here. He is only one more bad start away from an era in the double digits. I'd give Ortiz 2 more starts for sure, depending on the outcome of those, I'd make a decision on whether to make a move or not. Lincecum us clearly ready and at this point I think it's clear that he would give this team a better chance to win than Russ Ortiz will. The only question I would have in bringing Lincecum up this early, is counting on him to be a staple in the rotation for the next 5 months. If where to be called up by mid May, the Giants would be asking this guy to make 25 starts on top of what he's already done in Fresno. I think I'm ready to find out. Tuesday night was the first game this season in which the offense actually showed up early and the pitching couldn't hold up to their end of the deal. The Giants are going to struggle to put up big runs night in and night out, when they put up 7 runs in a ballgame and don't win, it hurts.
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