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Monday, September 29, 2008

Lincecum Makes Final Pitch for Cy Young

The 2008 Major League Baseball season came to an end Sunday, and the Giants went off in style with Tim Lincecum throwing one more gem in a final effort to boost his Cy Young chances. The new face of the Giants' franchise posted his 18th win of the season by going 7 strong innings and striking out 13 batters and allowing only one run while defeating the Diamondbacks. His 265 strikeouts this season are the most by a Giant since I've been following them (early 90's and too lazy to luck up official historical stats) but I'd say that would be a Giants record as well. I posted my early final season awards here, and I think I am going to have to stick by the Lincecum pick for Cy Young, even with Johan Santana's late surge. Santana has Timmy in era, but that's it and I can't help but think that if Lincecum were pitching in with the Mets offense and defense behind him, he'd have won 20 games easy. The writers will likely choose Brandon Webb because of the fact that he won 22 games, but common, for the first month and a half, the guy was getting close to 7 runs a game as support. Lincecum was the most dominant starter in the NL this season and his final start once again proved it.

Lincecum's dominant start wasn't the only bright spot the Giants got on the final day of the '08 campaign. Kevin Frandsen, the man who was supposed to be the everyday second baseman this season, made got into a game and got an at-bat in what was thought to be a lost season for him. All he did was ground out, but the mere fact that he got on the field of play, albeit a small sample, this season will help him out going into next spring. I said last post that one of the spots that is unsettled for the team at the moment is second base and if Frandsen can go have a monster fall league and come back strong in the spring, that job should be his. He led the team in hitting over the final 2 months of the '07 season so expectations should still be there for the 26 year-old infielder. Eugenio Velez's .337 batting average over the season's last 2 months might put him in the mix as well, but he should be back as one of the Giants primary utility guys. Emmanuel Burris also received some time there this year, but the Giants are leaning toward molding him into the shortstop of the future.

I will be posting a full season review within the next few days as I get all my thoughts together on what was a very strange but predicting 2008 Giants season. Before ended this post though, I wanted to give my opinion on who should win the Willie McCovey Award (given to the most inspirational Giants) which is voted on by the team. Last year Bengie Molina got it and even though he probably deserves it again, I would have to go with Lincecum again on this one. Take him away from the Giants and they are a mess; he really was the guy who lit the fire for them this year and he should be rewarded.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

2009 Roster in the Making

Yes, there are still a handful of games to be played before the 2008 regular season officially comes to an end, but the Giants have used this year to access some of their younger talent which has allowed them to begin to shape their 2009 squad before we enter the winter. Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa are two guys who have proved over the last 6 weeks that they will need regular playing time next season, the only question is how to work them into the lineup. I wouldn't look for the Giants to trade Bengie Molina this off-season, so a full on platoon of Sandoval and Ishikawa could be what's in store in 2009. First base has been a revolving door for the team since J.T. Snow left and the two rookies could finally solidify that spot. With the Giants' track record, or lack there of, it's tough to get too excited over their young talent, but these guys look the part. So far, in 215 at-bats between them, Ishikawa and Sandoval are hitting a combined .320 with 6 home runs and 36 RBI. Again, not the biggest sample, but they have been doing it against some of the best pitching in baseball during the pennant race so you have to take that into consideration as well. At this point I would feel completely confident with that platoon starting off in 2009.

With a crowded outfield, a few solid catchers and a few options at first, the only spots that are yet to be determined heading into the winter are second base, third base, and shortstop. Emmanuel Burris looked to have been gaining the Giants trust as an everyday shortstop, but he hurt himself a couple weeks back and that may have thrown a wrench into the plans of handing him that job. He should still be very much in the mix to start their next year, but it isn't as much of a sure thing now than it was when he was healthy and playing well. Second and third base are much more of a mystery. Kevin Frandsen, Travis Denker, Eugenio Velez and Ryan Rohlinger should all be in the mix for the two spots if nobody is added from outside the organization, but I would have a hard time handing any one of these guys a full time job until they earned it and so far none of them have looked like MLB caliber starters. Frandsen didn't play this year so it remains to be seen what kind of player he'll return as after destroying his ankle in the spring. The other guys just haven't been that good and don't have very high ceilings.

With the holes in the infield, I can't help but think that Sabean will dip into the free agent market, even as thin as it is. If that's the case, one guy to steer clear from is Rafael Furcal. Sabean seems to like to make a splash if he can and he may think Furcal would make sense for this team but I could see something like that ending up like the Edgardo Alfonzo fiasco. Please, no more players in their thirties with injury history, Sabes. The same can be said for third base. I would hate to see them throw big money into Joe Crede or Hank Blalock. Yes, they are all-star players when healthy, but they aren't healthy enough to warrant that. The Giants appear to have options at second and short, but third base is still their one gaping hole and we will have to wait until the winter to find out who fills it.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

2008 MLB AWARD PICKS

With the season winding down, and not much new going on with the Giants (Matt Cain is still getting no run-support and the team looks like it's just playing out the schedule, sans Tim Lincecum), I am going to go ahead and pick who I think should win the major awards in each league. Yes, there is still 2 weeks left and a lot can change, but if the season were to end today, here's my pics:

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

NL MVP: Ryan Howard, PHI: The .249 batting average aside, he has been the best player in baseball this year. It's amazing what he's done after such a slow start, and he is the main reason the Phillies are ahead in a tough NL East. Albert Pujols is a close second, but he hasn't carried the Cards' like Howard has Philly. Honorable Mention: Pujols, Stl.; Lance Berkman, Hou.; David Wright, NYM.

NL CY YOUNG:
Tim Lincecum, SF: Call me biased, but there has not been a pitcher better or more dominant in 2008 than Tim Lincecum. Yes, Brandon Webb has the 20 wins, but put Timmy in Arizona and he'd have darn near 25. C.C. Sabathia has been great, but he's only been in the league for 2 months. Lincecum leads the league in era and strikeouts and may even make it to 20 wins with a team that should only win 72. No knock on Brandon Webb or even Sabathia, but you ask any ML hitter right now who they'd rather face, and nobody would say Lincecum. Honorable mention: Webb, AZ; Johan Santana, NYM.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR:
Charlie Manuel, PHI: He's had the Phills at or near the top of a very tough division all year long. Whether it's as a wild card, or the NL East winners, they will be in the playoffs and IMO, they'll be the team to beat in the NL. Honorable Mention: Freddi Gonzalez, Fla.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
Geovany Soto, CHI: Soto's 22 home runs and 83 RBI topped all NL Rookies in 2008. He also sported a solid batting average all-season long and has been nails behind the plate for the Cubs. He's a big reason why the Cubs lead the NL Central by 9 games, not the other, more headline worthy rookie on this team (Kosuke Fukudome). Honorable Mention: Jair Jurgens, Atl.

NL COMEBACK POY:
Jorge Cantu, Fla.: It's tough to imagine that this guy had trouble finding a job this spring. A lot of teams are kicking themselves for turning down his services, including the Giants who could have desperately used him. All he's done after barely squeezing onto the Marlins OD roster: .274, 27, 86, which would be about 26 home runs and 72 RBI better than last years effort. Honorable mention: Fernando Tatis, NYM.


AMERICAN LEAGUE:

AL MVP: Josh Hamilton, Tex.: I'm usually one that likes to take the MVP's off of winning ball-clubs, but Hamilton has been special this year. He did slow down in the second half, but him, Milton Bradley and Ian Kinsler have single handily turned Texas into a competitive ball club. Like the NL though, there isn't a clear cut winner and there are 3 or 4 guys that deserve it just the same. I take Hamilton just because I think he's been the best player, from start to finish, in the AL this year. Honorable Mention: Alex Rodriguez, NYY; Carlos Quentin, ChW; Dustin Pedroia, Bos.

AL CY YOUNG:
Cliff Lee, Cle.: Just when you think the veteran lefty will come back to earth, he puts together another amazing start. Minus the strikeouts, he's done to the AL hitters what Tim Lincecum has done in NL. He leads the league in wins and era and even though his team isn't going to the playoffs, Lee should run away with this award. Honorable Mention: Roy Halladay, Tor; Daisuke Matsuzaka, Bos.; Francisco Rodriguez, LAA.

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR:
Joe Maddon, Tam.: This is really the easiest pick of all end of season awards in 2008. Joe Maddon had the Rays atop the division all year long and even if they somehow miss the playoffs, which is highly unlikely, this guy has done a helluva job with a team most picked to finish no higher than 3rd or 4th in the division. Not only will he win this award with ease, but he will also entrench himself into the baseball managerial elite. Honorable Mention: Ozzie Guillen, ChW; Mike Sciosia, LAA.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Evan Longoria, Tam.: Another Ray destined for hardware after the season, Longoria could have been in the MVP talks had he started the year with the team instead of AAA. In less than 400 at-bats, Longoria has 22 bombs and 74 RBI to go along with a .278 average. If it weren't for him, Tampa Bay isn't in first place. Honorable Mention: Chris Davis, Tex.; Alexi Ramirez, ChW.

AL COMEBACK POY:
Edwin Jackson, Tam.: The Rays are number 1 in the best division in the game for a reason, and that's been their starting pitching. Jackson's put together his best year as a major leaguer after years and years of disappointment in LA and Tampa. 11 wins and a 4.33 era aren't earth shattering numbers, but he now only has 22 wins in 113 big league games, so half of them have come in the last 5 months. Not quite living up to expectations fully yet, but the 25 year old looks like he's finally molding into that top of the rotation pitcher everyone thought he'd be. Honorable Mention: Eric Hinske, Tam.; Octavio Dotel, ChW.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Is Cain the Real Deal?

Matt Cain has been one of the Giants' premiere pitching prospects to come up in the new millennium and has been dubbed a future ace after being taken with the teams first pick in the 2002 draft. And before I get started, I just wanted to reassure that I am not down on Matt Cain, and I still do believe he has a bright future. Heck he hasn't even had his 24th birthday yet. However, Matt Cain has been as unpredictable of pitcher as any this season, and he hasn't shown much progress over the last 2 years. Last years' 16-loss season was due mainly to the fact that he was getting less than 2 runs per game as support, but this year, that hasn't necessary been the case. Cain is getting hit hard, when he used to be one of the tougher pitchers in the league to hit, and he's walking a lot of guys as well. It also has some people concerned that his fastball has dropped down to the low 90's rather than the 94-96 mph heater he was bringing over the last 2 1/2 seasons. Also, not saying that Cain is on the level that Tim Lincecum is, but Lincecum is 16-3 pitching for the same squad that Cain is 8-12 for. I still think he has a future as a #2 starter in this league, but he's just not making the progress that he should be. There have been times when Cain has looked like a future ace and a guy who could eat 220 innings a year easily and successfully. However, as we close in on the end of his 3rd full big league season, a benchmark year for pitchers, Cain hasn't established himself as a top end starter in this league. He's actually kind of becoming somewhat of an enigma. Every time you think he's going to start putting it all together, he seems to take a few steps back. Normally teams look for young pitchers to take that next step in their third full season, but year number 3 has been the worst of the young right-handers career. It's tough to get too concerned about a guy who hasn't even hit his 24thLincecum is, but Timmy is in the hunt for a Cy Young award while pitching for the same squad that Cain is 8-12 for, so you can't blame everything on the 8 guys behind him. The Giants need Cain to be a 15+ game winner and if he doesn't start showing that in 2009, he may be the guy dealt for that power bat the Giants so desperately seek.

Speaking of power hitters, getting one will likely be at the very top of the Giants wish list heading into the off-season. The only question right now is where are they going to put someone? The emergence of Travis Ishikawa and Pablo Sandoval may keep the Giants from looking at first basemen this winter, but third base will still be a glaring hole. The team also looks committed making Emmanuel Burriss their everyday shortstop next season (even with his recent injury), so it looks like the two spots that will be looked to improve the most are 2nd and 3rd base. The free agent market will once again be thin with difference makers this winter so finding a trade partner seems like the best bet in order to add offense. The only potential free agent third basemen that have power are Joe Crede and Hank Blalock. I don't think I would really consider either of those guys a difference maker, so I would hate to see the Giants throw 50-60 million at another injury-prone veteran. This is going to be an interesting winter for Brian Sabean as he will have some money to spend and some trading chips to work with.

Note: Fred Lewis, one of the Giants most consistent offensive performers, had season ending surgery on his foot. He had a problem with a bunion that had been bothering him for over a month and really affected his play. Still, Lewis established himself this year as an everyday player and will be starting in left field and likely hitting at the top of the order in 2009.
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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Giants Bring up Gillaspie

It's been less than 3 months since the Giants drafted Connor Gillaspie with their supplemental pick back in June, but they feel he's ready to be thrown into the fire. The Giants have really begun a full on youth movement over the last couple weeks, but the Gillaspie call-up was definitely not on the radar. Gillaspie didn't even sign his deal until about 6 weeks ago, so I don't think anyone was really expecting too much from him at even them minor league level. He was only hitting .268 with 8 RBI and only 4 extra base hits in 84 at-bats in low-A ball. However, the Giants' brass obviously feel that he's close enough to at least get his feet wet in the bigs. The 21 year-old third basemen had great success last summer in the 2007 Cape Cod league, winning MVP honors while hitting close to .400 playing against the best amateurs in the nation and excelling with the wood bat. Part of the reason the Giants feel he can ascend through the system so quickly is because he has hit so well with the lumber in the past, but asking him to start doing that against big league pitchers, fresh out of College might be a stretch. Regardless, it's not going to hurt anything by giving him a few at-bats this year. He hasn't played yet, as of Tuesday night, but it should only be a matter of days before we see the kid being dubbed "The Next Bill Mueller".

The Giants top young rookies have continued to carry the team offensively over the last couple weeks. It was good to see Nate Schierholtz connect for his first major league home run of his career on Saturday. One thing I've noticed about Schierholtz this September as opposed to last is his patience at the plate, He's only walked 1 time in 23 plate appearances, but he's working the count more and his .500 batting average is showing it. He's joined Traivs Ishikawa and Pablo Sandoval as guys' who are certainly working themselves into a role in 2009 with this team. In a perfect world, the Giants could convince the Braves, or maybe the Mariners to take Randy Winn back this winter to open up right field for Schierholtz, but all signs are pointing to another log jam in the Giants outfield heading into 2009. As of now, Dave Roberts, Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand and Fred Lewis are slated for roster spots in 2009, with Jon Bowker in the mix as well. There is a good possibility that Roberts could get dealt this winter if the Giants eat the majority of his remaining contract, which would make Nate the 4th outfielder and ensure him around 400 at-bats. Still, I think one of the Giants' top priorities heading into the off-season has to be finding Schierholtz an everyday spot in the 2009 lineup.
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Lincecum for Cy Young?

With the way he's been throwing the ball lately, it is becoming more and more clear that Tim Lincecum deserves the NL Cy Young Award as much, or more, than anyone else. He did get roughed up in Colorado in his most recent outing, but I don't think it's going to hurt his chance as long as he just finishes out the year with quality starts. Right now, Lincecum's numbers for the season are significantly better than the next tear of Cy Young hopefuls. His era is the lowest among all NL starters at 2.60 and he leads the league in strikeouts by a large margin. He also sports the lowest BAA amongst Cy hopefuls which I always look at as a biggest indication to a pitchers dominance. Brandon Webb, the guy who's been everyone's favorite for the award since his ridiculous start to the season, has seen his era go from 2.74 to 3.19 over his last two starts, and even though he leads the league with 19 wins, his other numbers pale in comparison to Lincecum's. C.C. Sabathia has been the best pitcher in the NL since he was traded to Milwaukee in July, but he hasn't been in the league long enough to get consideration. Now, there is still a solid month of baseball left to play, which means everybody still has 3-4 starts before the voting will be made, but at this point, seeing what Lincecum has done while pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, I think he's the leader.

The Giants have made a lot of their call-ups for September, and they have wasted no time throwing them into the mix. Nate Schierholtz was called up Tuesday and started both Tuesday and Wednesday's games. After his first two games back up in the bigs: 5-8 with 2 doubles and 4 runs scored. Giants fans have been yearning for the guy all season long and he's showed why in his first few games. Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa also continue to look solid as they have been playing pretty much everyday over the last few weeks. Ishikawa has shown his ability to drive in runs as he has 10 RBI in only 48 at-bats while hitting .271. Sandoval is really starting to become noticed around the league with the way he's played since dawning a big league uniform for the first time. After Wednesday's game, Sandoval is hitting .353 with 2 home runs 6 RBI's and 11 runs scored in 68 at-bats. No, it's not big sample for either player, but from what we've seen so far, both have given us reason to be optimistic. Sandoval is especially intriguing because of his age (21) and his ability to play 3 positions at a major league level. With him and Buster Posey now in the mix, the Giants look to have themselves a bright future behind the plate. Also, although I wouldn't necessarily bet on it, Sandoval's arrival may allow the Giants to shop Bengie Molina this winter in attempt to shore up their weaknesses in the infield.
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