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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cain's Curse Continues

Three trends continued in Wednesday's loss to the Padres. The first is a trend that should prove to all Giants fans that still have hope, that this year just ain't the year. After an inspiring series vs. the Yankees in which the Giants took the last two and looked like a solid team in doing so, they roll over and lay an egg vs. San Diego. If there was ever a time to put together a nice little winning steak, that was the time. They had a chance to win all 3 vs. San Diego and they were at home, but they just couldn't get the job done. If they take those 3 vs. San Diego, then roll into Arizona on a nice 5 game winning streak and 2 series victories in a row vs. quality teams, then you start to look at things a little differently. But they didn't and they won't go on any big winning streaks at all for the rest of the season. Even with the quality starting pitching, the inconsistent and creaky lineup is getting more tired and inconsistent as the season wears on, and they aren't going to put up enough runs to put together any kind of winning streaks. Even when this team was winning at the begging of the year, the offense was barely doing enough to get by and that was in April and early May, when they were fresh, and Barry Bonds was playing at a very high level. Now as we hit July and August, I don't see why things would get better.

The other two consistencies that continued Wednesday are that Matt Cain continues to pitch well, and Matt Cain continues to get quality starts turned into Losses because of the pathetic offense or horrible bullpen. Take away his last start vs. the Yankees, and Cain hasn't has only given up 4 or more runs twice in a start since May 3rd. The Giants are managing a measly 2.55 runs per game every time Matt Cain takes the hill, and his record has now fallen to 2-9 because of it. If the Giants gave Cain the run support they're giving Matt Morris or Barry Zito, he'd be an all-star this year. He has brought some problems on himself because of his wildness at times, and even had a stretch a while back where he strung together a few below average starts, something he hasn't done much in his young career. However, for the most part this guy is nails. Even when he gets in trouble, he has the stuff to get out of it. You know your team is bad when you have a starter with an era in the 2's and double digit losses, two things that are well within Cain's grasp.
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Monday, June 25, 2007

Schierholtz Helps Carry Giants

The Giants moved back within 10 games of .500 after they took the last two vs. the Yankees at AT&T Park. It was actually the most exciting baseball I've seen the Giants play in over a month. I think having the Yankees in town lit a little bit of a fire under the Giants' and the old legs and bats showed a little bit of life over the weekend. I am also getting more impressed by Nate Schierholtz the more I watch him. Not only did he win a game with a base hit on Saturday, but he came up with a crucial sac fly, behind in the count vs. Roger Clemens, a spot where many Giants have failed all to often this season. Schierholtz hasn't shown much power at all since his promotion, but he puts the ball in play a lot, and his batting average is showing it. The exciting thing about Schierholtz is that he seems to be more polished with the bat at the big league level than Ortmeier and Lewis, and he's 3 years younger. I think his power will come with time, but the thing I like about him is he is coming up with clutch hits in big situations. For now, I would really consider getting him in the lineup as much as possible if I were Bochy. I know it would be quite an expensive platoon, but I wouldn't mind seeing Dave Roberts and Randy Winn share center field for a while to give Schierholtz 100-150 consistent at bats.

I'd like to take part of this post to give my condolences to Rod Beck's family and friends after his tragic death over the weekend. I have many memories of Beck on the field and even had the opportunity to talk with him a few times over his years with the Giants. He was never a guy who left any of his fans unsatisfied and would never hesitate to sign an autograph or have a conversation with someone. The best memory I have of Beck on the field is when he struck out Greg Vaughn of the San Diego Padres to clinch the 1997 NL West division title (Pictured). It sent the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since '89, and there was an atmosphere at the 'Stick that I will never forget in my life. Thanks for the memories Shooter, and rest in peace.
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Friday, June 22, 2007

All-Star Team Picks

With the official halfway point in the Major League Baseball season right around the corner, and the all-star game approaching, here is my opinion on how the 30-man all-star rosters should fill out:

American League:
Starting Lineup:
CF Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle)
SS Carlos Guillen (Detroit)
3B Alex Rodriguez (New York)
LF Magglio Ordonez (Detroit)
RF Vladimer Guerrero (LA Angels)
1B Justin Morneau (Minnesota)
C Victor Martinez (Cleveland)
2B B.J. Upton (Tampa Bay)
SP Dan Haren (Oakland)

Bench:
OF Grady Sizemore (Cleveland)
DH-OF Gary Sheffield (Detroit)
OF Torii Hunter (Minnesota)
DH-1B David Ortiz (Boston)
SS Derek Jeter (New York)
IF Brian Roberts (Baltimore)
IF Mark Teahan* (Kansas City)
C Jorge Posada (New York)
IF Mike Lowell (Boston)
OF Alex Rios (Toronto)
IF Ian Kinsler* (Texas)

Pitchers:
SP Johan Santana (Minnesota)
SP Josh Beckett (Boston)
SP C.C. Sabathia (Cleveland)
SP Kelvim Escobar (LA Angels)
SP Justin Verlander (Detroit)
SP John Lackey (LA Angels)
RP J.J. Putz (Seattle)
RP Francisco Rodriguez
RP Bobby Jenks (Chicago)
RP Jonathon Papelbon (Boston)

National League
Starting Lineup:
SS Jose Reyes (New York)
2B Chase Utely (Philadelphia)
LF Matt Holliday (Colorado)
1B Prince Fielder (Milwaukee)
3B Miguel Cabrera (Florida)
CF Ken Griffey Jr. (Cincinnati)
RF Carlos Lee (Houston)
C Russel Martin (Los Angeles)
SP Jake Peavy (San Diego)

Bench:
OF Eric Byrnes (Arizona)
OF Aaron Rowand (Philadelphia)
OF Adam Dunn (Cincinnati)
OF Barry Bonds (San Francisco)
C Begie Molina (San Francisco)
1B Albert Pujols (St. Louis)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (San Diego)
IF Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati)
IF Hanley Ramirez (Florida)
IF J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee)
IF Ryan Zimmerman* (Washington)

Pitching:
SP Brad Penny (Los Angeles)
SP Cole Hammels (Philadelphia)
SP Ben Sheets (Milwaukee)
SP John Smoltz (Atlanta)
SP Ian Snell (Pittsburgh)
SP Brandon Webb (Arizona)
RP Francisco Cordero (Milwaukee)
RP Brian Fuentes (Colorado)
RP Trevor Hoffman (San Diego)
RP Takashi Saito (Los Angeles)

*Chosen by rule to represent their teams
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Things Getting Worse!

Tuesday's loss marked the 6th in a row for the Giants, and their June fell to a pathetic 5-13. Things have gotten so bad that the Giants are not only 12 games out of first place, they are trailing the Rockies by 6 games and are in the NL West cellar. Say what you want about the average age of this team and yes they have one of the worst bullpens in the NL, but based on their starting pitching alone, this team is underachieving. Coming into this season, I, like a lot of people, expected the Giants to be a team that would hover around the .500 mark for most of the year. I thought that maybe in the open NL West, and NL in general, they would be in position at the deadline to possibly add a bat and a reliever to make a push for a playoff spot. I knew there were holes in this team, but I didn't think that they were this blatant. The fact is, the Giants are and will continue to be the team you are currently watching. I hate to say it, but there isn't going to be a turnaround. Sure, the team may string together 5 or 6 wins and restore some hope and life back into AT&T Park, but I highly doubt this team will come within striking distance of first place again. Omar Vizquel's and Rich Aurilia's bats falling off the face of the earth, and the starting pitching is now starting to return to earth. The Giants were a bad team when all their starters where pitching terrifically, now look what they are when they get average pitching. One of their top hitters (Bonds, Durham, Klesko) are always injured and never in the lineup together. If they are, they're hurting. And I don't even want to mention the bullpen today.

There have been some ups and downs from the Giants' rookie class this season. One of the only bright spots on the team as of late has been Nate Shierholtz. Shierholtz came up for Daniel Ortmeier over a week ago, and has really seen the ball well up at the big league level in his small sample of time here. He has 7 hits in only 18 at-bats and has hit safely in all but one game he's taken an at-bat in. A very small sample, yes, but with this bunch these days, a small positive gets magnified, and Shierholtz has been that small positive. I am looking forward to seeing Freddy Lewis returning from injury and seeing watching when he and Shierholtz are both in the lineup along with Kevin Frandsen. If the Giants are still 10 or more out in July, which is looking more and more probable by the day, why not play the youngsters the rest of the way? At least Giants fans would be getting a glimpse at people who could help turn this around in the future, rather than the guys who are sinking the franchise into the cellar.
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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Where's the Run Support?

After the Giants got shut out for the third time in a week on Saturday, Matt Cain's record fell to 2-7. In April, If you would have told me that Matt Cain would be 2-7, while sporting a 3.15 era through June, I would have said you were crazy. But here we are, June 16 and Cain is looking like the best 2-7 pitcher I've ever seen. Cain has gotten back on track over his last couple of starts. He's cut back on his walks and his pitch count has been helped because of it. I can't recall exactly how many times Cain has lost a game due to lack of run support or because of the bullpen blowing it, but there have been far to many. The bats seem like they're already tired, and were barely halfway through June. The only players who are performing at or above league average at their respective positions are Bengie Molina, Barry Bonds and Randy Winn. Both Molina and Winn have cooled off a little after tearing it up during the month of May and Bonds just seems like he hasn't been right at the plate in over a month. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that this home run chase will be living for a while. Some of the blame has to go to the hitters protecting him because they've done nothing to force pitchers to give into Bonds. If he keeps at the pace he's been at over the last month, he will not break the record this season. I don't think Barry is done, but I know he's not 100% physically, and it may be time to seriously consider sitting him down for 2 weeks, just to give his legs a mid-season rest. If the Giants are going to even have dreams of resurfacing in the NL West race, they are going to need Bonds at 90-100%.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lincecum's Struggles Continue

Tim Lincecum turned in his 3rd straight sub-par outing on Wednesday, a game in which the Giants had a chance to sweep a series, something they haven't done in about a month. Lincecum's lack of control continues to be his downfall. His stuff is amazing, but he's consistently getting himself behind in counts and putting himself in situations where he has to give in to hitters. Wednesday's start was his worst start of the season, even worse than his debut outing vs. the Mets, and it was the second time in a row Lincecum failed to complete five innings. His recent struggles have raised the question to some as to whether it's time to start thinking about Lincecum in the closing role? My feelings on that... No Way. You can't decide to alter a guy with this much potential because he's had a few bad outings early in his rookie season. We all know young pitchers go through ups and downs in early on, and even guys praised as highly as Lincecum are not always going to come up and dominate right off the bat. Most other 22 year old pitchers are either still in college or in the low minors. This guy hasn't even been out of college ball a full year yet, he's going to go through some struggles. That being said, I did expect a little more out of Timmy right off the bat. Giants scouts and personal all felt he was further along than Matt Cain was when Cain was promoted, but Cain's first 7 starts of his career looked a lot better than Lincecum's. I would expect to see Lincecum keep improving, and there is no way I would move him to the pen. If anything, send him back to Fresno if he has another couple of bad starts, but not to the bullpen.

Jeremy Accardo got to show Giants fans, and Brian Sabean especially, what they are missing out on. Accardo saved the series finale win for the Blue Jays and did it in impressive fashion. He struck out Barry Bonds to end the game and in Barry's at bat Accardo featured nothing but filthy, 96-97 mph fastballs away at the knees, reminding me a lot of Francisco Rodriguez. Accardo is a legit closer, the 2nd one the Giants have let get away in the last 4 years, 4 years in which they have been searching for one themselves. I hope that by watching Accardo dominate the ninth inning, it encourages Sabean to keep all his young arms this summer. In fact maybe it will encourage Sabean to go out and try to take some steal some young arms, or bats, from some other team for once.
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Monday, June 11, 2007

Draft Coverage Part 2

The Giants have plummeted to a season low 6 games below .500, and the same problems they've had all year continue to hurt them. I thought today would be a good day to continue focusing on the draft. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Brian Foley, a college baseball enthusiast who does a terrific job covering NCAA hardball action at http://www.collegebaseball.blogspot.com.

SFGBLOG: What are your thoughts on Madison Bumgarner? Was he worthy of a top 10 pick in your opinion?

BF: I personally don't like to see High School kids especially left-handers drafted in the first round of the draft but based on the reports I have read about Madison he is well worth the selection. He is a big left handed pitcher who has some good weight behind him since he weighs 220 already. It is very rare to see a pitcher this big coming out of high school which is a plus. The Giants do have to work with him in the minor leagues in developing some breaking pitchers as he has a poor breaking ball and he change up is just average. I believe he is still at least five years away from getting into the conversation for the MLB rotation.

SFGBLOG: Many Giants fans wanted the Giants to get a hitter with their first pick and they passed up Beau Mills, the apparent top college bat in the draft. Will they regret that?

BF: I grew up near Boston so I am a diehard Red Sox fan and Beau Mills is the son of Brad Mills who is the Red Sox bench coach. Mills wasn't the top bat in the Draft as I believe Matt Wieters is a better pure hitter. Mills picked up the coveted Top Prospect in the Alaska Summer League by Baseball America. Mills stats were skewed some since he was playing at NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State College.

SFGBLOG: Do you think the Giants could have done better with the 3 first round picks they had? Did they pass anyone up that they'll wish they hadn't?

BF: The Giants with their first pick in the first round passed on Phillipe Aumont from Quebec. He is a big right handed pitcher who was getting talked about extensively by New England scouts after appearing at the Cape Cod High School Classic last season. The second pick I think the Giants should have drafted James Simmons who had a dominant season at UC-Riverside. He led the team with an 11-3 record and a 2.40 ERA. Riverside plays in a very competitive conference in the Big West which has sent Cal-State Fullerton and UC-Irvine to the CWS. Simmons also pitched well last summer in the Cape Cod League with a 4-2 record and 1.18 ERA in the premier summer league in the country. I don't know the Giants minor leagues that well but Todd Frazier was passed over by the Giants and the player had an excellent season at Rutgers as he led the team with a .377 average including 22 homers. He also was impressive last summer on the USA National Team. He also played on the Toms River Little League team that won the American title in 1998.

SFGBLOG: Looking at the list of Giants draftees, who jumps out at you as a name that Giants fans will become familiar with over the next couple of years?

BF: I really like Andy D'Alessio out of Clemson who was a ninth round pick last season of the Dodgers but did not sign. His biggest problem is that his swing needs to get a little quicker as he seems to have a very long swing. He did lead the Tigers with 17 homers in the tough ACC. As I am typing this, Evan McArthur of Cal-State Fullerton just made an outstanding play at third base and threw a player out at the plate. McArthur is a solid prospect that the scouts have overlooked as he struggled in his senior season batting only .257. He could be a huge sleeper in this draft class for the Giants.

SFGBLOG: There are scouting videos available for most of the top round picks in the draft, but there wasn't one for Jackson Williams, catcher from Oklahoma taken at pick 43. What can you tell us about Williams?

BF: Jackson struggled last year with the Wood bat in the Cape League. He hit only .245 in 27 games against some elite pitchers. He also showed zero power numbers as he only had one extra base hits out of his 25 on the year. He was named the All-Big 12 Second team behind the plate after batting .344 with 44 RBI. It seems that he needs to change his hitting style to succeed at the next level.

SFGBLOG: What grade do you give the Giants for this draft?

It is really tough to grade a MLB draft but I would give them a B as they have picked many solid players with some of their late picks like Lars Knepper out of Hawaii-Hilo and Ramon Corona who is a solid second baseman. I have had the chance to see Corona play three times in the last year and he is always a solid defensive player and needs to work on his hitting though.

SFGBLOG: 10 years from now when we look back at the '07 Major League draft, who will be the top 3 players we are talking about from the class?

BF: David Price is expected to be one of the top pitchers in MLB for years to come and I really like Aumont that the Mariners picked up. Matt Wieters is by far the best catcher in this draft and with his 6-6 frame behind the plate, he should be a rock back there for years to come with the Orioles. Plus, Wieters is a switch-hitter who can hit for power from both sides and threw off a mound last spring in a game attended by myself 95 MPH.

The biggest disappointment in this draft is going to be Matt Laporta. He struggled mightily in the CCBL last season as he was recovering from an injury and really has been unimpressive with a wood bat.
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Friday, June 08, 2007

2007 Draft: Giants Take Pitching Early

Sticking to their same formula they have kept over the past 5 years, the Giants targeted pitching with their first pick in the 2007 major league baseball amateur draft. With the Giants lacking position playing talent in their system, the general thought was that the team would try and re-stock their positional talent this draft, but they took two pitchers right off the bat and let one of the draft's more intriguing bat's pass through. I was not an expert on this draft, but have studied projected first round picks over the last week or so. What was considered a high-school rich draft, it shouldn't be too surprising to see that all 3 of the teams' first round picks were taken out of high school. Here is my breakdown of the Giants top 3 picks of the draft:

1. LHP Madison Bumgarner (10th overall): After watching scouting videos on this guy, it's easy to see why the Giants made him worthy of the number 10 pick. He has a smooth, easy delivery that somehow slings the ball out of his hand at 94-95 mph with consistency. His arm motion is very similar to Billy Wagner's. The only knock on him is his lack of secondary pitches. He throws out of a high three quarter release, which tends to flatten out his breaking pitches. His curve has been clocked at 81 mph, but it's more of a slurve-slider than a curveball at this point, and he has an average changeup. Some felt that the Giants should have taken the drafts top power hitter, Beau Mills, with this pick. Draft Grade: B+

2. RHP Tim Alderson (22nd overall): The physically intimidating, 6'-7''Alderson was the surprise pick of the first round for the Giants. A lot of people felt Alderson had the stuff to be worthy of a top 10 pick, but his uncanny delivery raised red flags for a lot of teams. After taking a guy with the same type funky delivery and the same concerns last year (Tim Lincecum), the Giants may feel like they have gotten another steal. Alderson has pitched his whole high school career out of the stretch so placing him into the bullpen could make some sense. I would have rather seen the Giants get Fred Porcello with this pick even though he did come with Scott Boras. Grade: C+

3. OF Wendall Fairley (29th overall): This is the guy I am most excited about for the Giants in this years draft. He is one of the top athletes in the draft and has a very smooth left-handed swing. He can run, hit and throw (touched 97 mph as a pitcher) and he is a guy who I think can catch the fast track to the bigs. Another guy who could have been a top 10 talent, except for some troubles off the field. Scouts who have watched him extensively say that he controls at bats with his patience and ability, the same thing a guy named Bonds has done for the past 20 years in the big leagues. He has been compared to Carl Crawford at this stage in his career. Draft Grade: A

More draft coverage to come......
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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

No Relief In Sight

The Giants bullpen once again has to take the blame for the teams' loses in Philadelphia and Arizona. Armando Benitez is gone, but it seems like the Giants are giving up more games late than they did with him here. I have been a supporter of Kevin Corriea all year, and I have posted numerous times that I think he is the toughest Giants' reliever to hit, when he's on. I still think Corriea has good stuff and I still think he is one of the better relievers on this staff (not saying much) but this guy has blown a lot of games, whether they've been his fault or not. However, You can't really put all the blame on Corriea, even though it's the popular thing to do. The ball Shane Victorino hit out of the park on Saturday wouldn't have even made it to the warning track in San Francisco. And sure, on paper it looks like Corriea is the gofer for Saturday's game, but it was Jack Taschner that gave up the game changing, 3-run home to Ryan Howard on a 1-2 fastball right down the middle. The brightest spot for the bullpen over the weekend was the way Ryan Messenger pitched. Messenger has showed his wildness, but hasn't given up a hit in 2 1/3 innings. With this bunch, that's almost good enough to anoint him the new setup man.

The Giants have fallen 3 games back of .500 now and while it's still very early in the season, they've made it pretty clear that this team is not a playoff team. With the July 31st trade deadline slowly approaching, the Giants are going to have to make a decision as to whether they think they have a shot at making a run and adding players, or if they are going to concede and sell some players. The Giants haven't been sellers at all for about 12 years now, so I would expect the trend of adding at the deadline to continue. I was reading the Oakland Tribune this weekend and came across this piece:

" -The Giants need a veteran closer to anchor their pen. With a starting rotation that ranks with the best in the NL, a closer who has been through the pressure of a pennant race will help keep the Giants in the race. GM Brian Sabean should make an offer to the Rangers for Eric Gagne. The former Dodger still has the stuff to
make big league hitters look silly."

Interesting theory. He has been lights out when healthy this year. He'd definitely be a guy who could really turn the pen around. Imagine having a reliable closer, and reliable 8th inning guy like Henny with a staff like this that pretty consistently is going 7 innings a start. Pat Misch, Travis Blackley and Brian Wilson for Gagne? Doubt Texas would do it, but I guarantee Sabean would. That being said, I personally think this season is a good year to be "sellers", seeing this team has too many holes to make any real run. Plus they have a few guys who some teams could use (Vizquel, Morris, Klesko, Ortiz, Feliz). Who knows, only time will tell.
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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Benitez Gone, Not Much Changes

The Giants opened their weekend series in Philadelphia with a bang, scoring 13 runs against the Phillies while getting another dominant performance from Matt Morris. This all came fresh off of a tough series in New York, and right after the team traded the enigma that is Armando Benitez. The popular theory around the bay area sports radio stations and among the media was that the problem had been removed from the team, so the team would and should play better. I can see how not having Benitez around could ease some of the tension in the clubhouse and it saves the Giants fans the agony of watching him pitch for this team any longer. However, the fact that Benitez is no longer on the team does not change the fact that this lineup is still very old and unproductive. It doesn't change the fact that the rest of the bullpen, outside Brad Hennessey and occasionally Kevin Corriea, is so poor, that any reasonable lead late in a ballgame is never safe, no matter who it's against or where it is. No, the fact that Benitez is gone does not change the fact that this team is still a .500 ball club at best, and that's only if they are clicking well together in a facets of their game. I'm not at all trying to defend Benitez, I'm just trying to point out that Brian Sabean has messed this team up in a lot more ways than just Armando Benitez, and even though Benitez is gone, the expectations should not change at all with this team. Right now they are still 2 relievers and a decent hitter away from even being mentioned as playoff contenders. The division has gotten a lot better, and the Giants haven't.

We got a little taste of Brad Hennessey as a closed the night after epic blow up in New York and I think Hennessey will do an adequate job. He gave Giants fans a perfect ninth inning, which is something we haven't seen in a while. Will he be a lights out type closer? Probably not, but he should be better than what they've had there for the past 4 season's, really ever since Tim Worrell saved 38 games in 2003. Hennessey was brilliant out of the bullpen last season before being moved into the rotation, and he's been the Giants best so far this season. But as Brian Sabean said, it really won't matter who's closing if the team can't score runs. They have looked a lot more live in Philadelphia this weekend than they did at any point in New York. They ran into one of the best young pitchers in the game in Cole Hammels on Saturday afternoon, but have scored 21 runs in the other 2 games. Ray Durham and Ryan Klesko both were back in the lineup this weekend and it showed. They just haven't been able to get a consistent offense and consistent relief pitching together. The starting pitching continues to carry the weight, and is keeping the team in every game, but it's either the offense or the bullpen that let's the team down night after night. When a team keeps finding new ways to loose, they aren't a very good squad, and that's where the Giants are right now.
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