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Monday, April 27, 2009

Sandoval Returns in Arizona

Through most of the fist 2+ weeks of the regular season, many Giants fans where wondering if young Pablo Sandoval may have been a bit overwhelmed. It was the first time in the 22 year-old's career that he started a season on a big league roster and he was doing at a position he hadn't played in years. However, after the ups-and-downs, mostly downs, of the first couple of weeks, Sandoval has leveled out and has hit a grove.

The Giants' third basemen was hitting just .195 on April 18th, but started showing signs of heating up in the latest home stand. Sandoval raised his average 100 points in about a week as he left Arizona with his average up at .292, where the Giants expect it to be, more where the Giants expect him to be. The "Big Panda" also hit his first home run of the season on Sunday, an impressive shot down the right field line that put the Giants in front late in the ball game. While righting himself at the plate, Sandoval has also looked a little more comfortable in the field. He made a nice snag on a line-drive Sunday in which he turned into a 6-3 double play. He's showing he's got the instincts to play the position, he just has to control himself on the balls hit in-front of him, especially the softly hit ground balls in which he has to rush his throw to first in order to have a chance at the out. But he's making strides and seems like he's getting better each night and that's all you can really ask for.

The same can't be said for fellow youngster Travis Ishikawa. The 25 year-old is hitting just .191 through his first 15 games of the season, a huge drop off from the numbers he was putting up during spring training. Once again a case that shows that you can't judge how a player will do based only on his spring statistics. I was expecting slightly below the league average as far as offensive output from Ishikawa, but I didn't expect him to struggle this much. The Giants will still give him a few weeks here to start off in May, but if he's still not producing on May 15th, don't be surprised to see some other guys used there. Possibilities for legit time at first include Jon Bowker ( .300 with 7 RBI in Fresno), Jesus Guzman (.412, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 6 R in last 5 games in Fresno) and possibly even Nate Schierholtz, who the Giants are having trouble finding consistent at-bats for.

The Giants bullpen finally showed some vulnerability in Sunday's game. They had their chance to sweep the D-Backs after Pablo Sandoval's clutch 3-run home run in the top of the 8th inning. Not only did they lose the game, but they missed out giving Matt Cain his much deserved 3rd win of the season. Just as Sandoval hit that home run, the Giants announcers were talking about how the tide is changing for Matt Cain after getting virtually no support over the previously 2 seasons. Unfortunately for Cain though, Brian Wilson picked Sunday to have have his worst performance of the season and first official melt-down. It's no surprise that Wilson was behind in the count when surrendering the game-tying home run to Justin Upton. The dude has closer mentality and I think he's going to end up being a solid major league closer for the Giants through for the next 8+ seasons, but the guy has got to work on getting ahead of hitters and putting them away early. Plus, it would also be nice if he didn't party in Arizona on nights they have games the following day as he posted on his Twitter page before quickly retracting after the blown save. In all seriousness though, he has more than enough stuff to attack the strike zone early and I would hope that Dave Righetti and co. will start putting that in his head. Your not going to be a successful closer in this league if your consistently going 2-1, 3-1 on hitters, no matter what kind of stuff you have.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, April 24, 2009

Down On The Farm

I wanted to take some time today to discuss some of the things that have been going on in the Giants' minor league system in our monthly minor league report.

The organizational spotlight has been on the Giants high-A affiliate, the San Jose Giants. On that roster, the Giants currently have a plethora of former high round picks, including the teams top 4 prospects; Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Angel Villalona and Tim Alderson. As a matter of fact, of the Giants top-10 prospects, according to baseball America, 7 of them are playing in San Jose. Because of all the talent, it's shouldn't be a surprise to any that the San Jose Giants currently have the 2nd best record in the California League.

Leading the team in hitting is the #5 overall pick from last June's amateur draft, as Buster Posey sits at .389 with 3 home runs and 12 RBI. The teams #2 rated offensive prospect, Angel Villalona, is also turning some heads with the way he's swinging the bat. The 18 year-old first basemen is hitting .358 with 3 homers and 10 RBI. Villalona has always shown the ability to hit for power early in his career, but his .358 average is indication of him making more consistent contact at the plate. He's only k'd 8 times in 54 at-bats, a much better ratio than his 118 k's in 464 at-bats a year ago. Both Villalona and Posey have been great, but San Jose's top offensive contributor so far has come from former UCLA Bruin, Brandon Crawford. The 22 year-old shortstop has looked even better at the plate than he did last year as a Junior with UCLA. Crawford is hitting .382 (2nd on team and 5th in the Cal League) with 5 home runs (2nd in league) and 13 RBI (3rd in league) along with 2 steals and 12 runs scored. The power display has been the biggest area of improvement as Crawford has 5 bombs through 54 at-bats using a wood bat after hitting just 7 home runs in each of his last 2 years at UCLA using the aluminum stick. Normally you see players lose some pop when they first switch over, but it's been the opposite for Crawford and that is an extremely positive sign. If he keeps swinging the bat the way he has, he'll probably be shipped off to AA Connecticut in mid-May when the rest of the elite prospects go. 2nd basemen Nick Noonan (.294, 2 HR, 7 RBI), outfielder Roger Kieschnick (.298, 2 HR, 7RBI) and outfielder Thomas Neal (.333, 2 HR, 12 RBI) have also been helping carry the load offensively. 2008 supplemental draft pick, Connor Gillespie is the only top prospect not playing up to his ability. Gillaspie is hitting just .268 with a homer and 7 RBI, but he's been starting to swing the bat a lot better of late.

The pitching on the San Jose roster has been just as much of a strength as the hitting though. Madison Bumgarner picked up right where he left off last year in his first 3 starts. Bumgarner is 3-0 with a 0.56 era and 14 strikeouts compared to 2 walks in 16 innings pitched. He isn't quite striking out batters the way he did last year, but his era and WHIP once again show how dominant the 19 year-old left-hander has been. The other first-rounder' from 2007 hasn't been quite as impressive yet. Tim Alderson is still looking for his first decision, but is sporting a 3.14 era and a 12:2 strikeout ratio. Batters are hitting .305 off Alderson so far though, compared to just .235 last season. Alderson did have his best start of the season on Tuesday night though, going 7 strong, allowing only 3 hits and a run while striking out 4, so hopefully that start gets him back in sync. Two arms from last years draft are also throwing well for San Jose. Scott Barnes (top 15 team prospect) is 2-1 with a 3.86 era and 12 k's in 14 innings. San Jose's closer and 2nd round pick from 2008, Edwin Quirarte, has dominated in every sense of the word. Quirarte hasn't allowed a base runner in 4 innings and is 2 for 2 on save opportunities. Up at AA, the Giants also have another top-10 prospect throwing every 5th day. Henry Sosa has looked solid in his 3 games thus far, going 12 innings while allowing 4 earned runs (3.00 era) and striking out 11.

As I said at the top of the post, most of the teams relevant prospects are currently at either high-A San Jose or AA Connecticut, but there are a couple of guys up in Fresno that I wanted to discuss and one guy in particular down in Augusta. Ehire Adrianza, a guy the Giants recently signed out of Venezuela, has looked decent in Augusta as the 19 year-old is hitting .261 with a home run and 6 RBI. There are many in the organization that feel Adrianza has the most upside of any middle infielder in the Giants system and he's really done well in his brief pro career so far. He's great with the glove, has shown the ability to get on base consistently and reminds me a lot of a young Chone Figgins. The guys up in Fresno aren't the 21-22 year-old, fresh-out of college guys like the Giants have in San Jose and in the lower minor leagues, but there are certainly some guys in AAA right now that could absolutely play a part in the Giants future. 2008 minor league pitcher of the year for the Cal League, Kevin Pucetas, made the jump up to Fresno to start the year and he's really throwing the ball well. He struggled a bit in his first outing, but things have been getting a little better each time since with his latest outing consisting of 6 shutout innings of 4-hit baseball. On the offensive side in Fresno, there aren't really any guys tearing the cover off the ball. Kevin Frandsen leads the team with a modest .294 average along with a home run and 6 RBI, but he's heating up with the weather, going 7 for his last 14. Besides Frandsen and Jon Bowker, nobody else in Fresno is really sticking out with the bat. 1B/3B'men Jesus Guzman has fallen off big time after his spectacular winter league and spring training performance. Guzman led the Giants in home runs and RBI over the spring and didn't even get the at-bats that the big league starters did, so hopefully he gets himself going here pretty soon.

Back at the big league level, the Giants start their 3 game set with the Diamondbacks tonight with Tim Lincecum taking the mound for the 4th time this year, opposing Doug Davis... Nate Schierholtz is the only Giants positional player (excluding recent call-up Steve Holm) that hasn't yet started a game this year which is odd because he's arguably the best player on the bench. I expect to see him get the nod at some point in AZ this weekend... The team made a roster move a couple days back that I haven't gotten a chance to touch on quite yet. Alex Hinshaw was demoted to AAA Fresno and Steve Holm was re-called to San Francisco. Hinshaw battled inconsistencies to the strike zone all spring long and it carried over into the season. Already in 1/3 of an inning at Fresno, he's walked 2 and allowed 3 earned runs. It's a shame too, because Hinshaw really looked good after being brought up last year, good enough to even be mentioned as a possible closing option in-case something happened to Brian Wilson. He's got to get back on track asap, or else he's going to ultimately lose his role with the team for good.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Giants Return Favor To Padres

After getting swept by the Padres on their visit just last week, the Giants got a chance to redeem themselves vs. their foes from Southern California, and they did just that.

The Giants swept the Padres in their short two-game set in San Francisco and once again, got lights-out performances out of their starting pitchers, but their offense actually showed up on Tuesday night as well. Well, not the whole offense, but one guy in particular who had looked sluggish in the early going and is already drawing criticism. That guy is Edgar Renteria. The shortstop officially arrived for the Giants in Tuesday nights game, providing his first multi-hit game in a Giants uni, along with his first home run. Renteria went 3 for 4 with a grand-slam and 5 RBI, leading the Giants to a 8-3 victory over the Padres. It's no secret that the majority of the baseball scouting world didn't agree with the contract Brian Sabean gave Renteria over the winter, and early on there, it was looking like they were right. Now, I'm not saying Renteria is back. He followed up Tuesday's solid performance with an 0-3 day Wednesday, but he did reach base for the 6th straight game and provided pretty solid defense up the middle in support of Barry Zito's strong start.

Speaking of Zito, he really did throw better than his line showed in his first two starts, and finally got some defensive support in his start on Wednesday. Zito came into the game with an era right at 10.00, but if you've watched him pitch this year, your aware of the defensive misplays that ended up really costing him. Wednesday, however, was a completely different story. The 126-million dollar man actually pitched up to his salary level vs. the Padres. The Giants' lefty went 7 shutout innings, allowing 6 hits while striking out 5 batters. The big stat for Zito though was that he walked nobody, which happened for the first time since June 25th of last year. Unfortunately the offense couldn't get going against Chris Young and Zito didn't get a decision in the game, but it ended with another Giants victory. After Wednesday's solid outing by Zito, the Giants now have all five of their starters on track and thrwoing the ball the way they're supposed to. Matt Cain preceded Zito's gem with a quality start of his own, going 6 strong, allowing 2 earned runs and striking out 5 batters while improving his record to a team-best 2-0. As a matter of fact, the Giants starting pitchers sported an era of 0.58 (2 earned runs allowed in 34.2 innings) on the home-stand while striking out 35 batters. Cain, especially, has been a bright spot because he's actually getting some run support and it looks like this could be the year he breaks out and wins 15+ ballgames.

Now comes the big test for the Giants as they go back out onto the road. They got well at home and improved got their record back up to 6-8 after returning to AT&T at 2-7 on Friday night. They travel to Arizona tonight and start up a 3-game set with the D-Backs on Friday, the only series on the short road-trip. The Giants once again have a leg up on the pitching match-ups vs. the Arizon as the series is lined up to have Tim Lincecum vs. Doug Davis on Friday, Randy Johnson vs. Max Scherzer on Saturday and Matt Cain vs. Jon Garland wrapping things up on Sunday. Saturday's game should be an interesting one to watch as Randy Johnson pitches in Arizona for the first time in a uniform other than the Diamonbacks. Johnson is also sitting at 296 wins for his career, so a lot of the spotlight will be on him as he inches closer to that elusive 300th victory.

Extras: I recently did a short interview with the Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove League blog regarding some of the Giants as far as the fantasy baseball world is concerned. Check it out here!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, April 20, 2009

Home Sweet Home

The difference between the Giants at home and the Giants on the road so far in 2009 has been night and day. After going win-less on their first 6-game trip of the season, the Giants returned home and shut down the D-Backs, taking 2 of 3 games and pitching terrifically in the process.

As a matter of fact, the three pitching performances the Giants got over the weekend showed people why their rotation was so highly thought of coming into the year. Jonathon Sanchez, the newly dubbed stopper of the Giants (not really, but he did end the 6 game skid right) got it started by throwing 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball and beat the 'snakes 2-0 Friday night. Unfortunately, the Giants offense couldn't do anything against Doug Davis on Saturday to support Tim Lincecum's masterpiece. Lincecum righted himself after a rough couple of starts, going 8 strong, matching a career-high with 13 strikeouts while not allowing a walk or a run. Lincecum was hit with the no-decision, but gave Giants fans who were worrying about the youngster a sigh of relief. Not even Lincecum's 13-strikeout performance could top what the Big Unit did on Sunday though. After a rough couple starts in his first starts as Giant, Randy Johnson looked like Randy Johnson on Sunday, holding his former ball-club hit-less into the 7th inning while leading the Giants to a much needed series victory. I know we aren't going to keep getting these shutout starts from these pitchers, as good as they may be, but it's great to see them get the monkey of their backs and start throwing the ball the way they're capable of. They need to be the straw that stirs the Giants' drink, and hopefully, the offense will come around.

Pablo Sandoval, along with Lincecum and Johnson, had high expectations of his own coming in and hadn't lived up to them in that first week. The third-basemen had his first 3-hit game of the season on Sunday and now has his average up to .244 after looking way out of sync on the road trip. The Giants need Sandoval to be a steady offensive contributor in order to score consistently and I hate to put all this burden on the youngster's shoulders so soon, but he was a big reason why the Giants went 0-6 on that opening road trip. Sandy' went 3-22 with only 1 RBI and no extra-base hits while squandering numerous opportunities with runners on base. Not to mention, he looked just as out of sync at third base at times, than he did at the plate. Hopefully this 3-hit game will instill some confidence back into the Big Panda, cause I can't stress enough how important that guys bat is to this lineup.

The one unit on this team that has clearly done it's job has been the relievers. Only Alex Hinshaw is having trouble finding the strike zone, but that's not anything new around here. Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt have looked great so far and every bit worth the money they got this winter. Brian Wilson has only had 2 save opportunities and although he couldn't find the zone when the Giants needed him to on Saturday, he's been on top of his game here early on as well. I had begun to worry about the bullpen a bit because of all the work they've gotten here early on, but the starting pitchers gave them a nice break this weekend.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, April 17, 2009

Giants Go Winless on Road-Trip

The first road trip of the 2009 season couldn't have gone much worse for the Giants. They got swept in San Diego by a surprising Padres squad that is playing way better than they were expected to. Then they traveled an hour north to LA for three and things didn't get any better.

The defense and starting pitching were both horrendous throughout the trip. Barry Zito threw better than his line showed in Thursday's finale at Dodger Stadium. Once again, defensive blunders put the Giants in an early deficit, and the offense couldn't make up for it. And it was another misplay by Fred Lewis in left-field that did Zito in. Lewis had a terrible road trip defensively, misplaying various fly-balls and costing the Giants numerous runs. Those mistakes rest solely on Fred Lewis, no excuses. I'm not saying Lewis was the reason the Giants lost the games, because that's not entirely the case. In order to win ballgames, you need to score runs, and the Giants really struggled to do that on the trip. The team scored only 14 runs in the 6 games down south, and only 8 runs in the final 4 games. They did, however, get two key bats going in the finale in LA, as Emmanuel Burris (.192 avg) and Pablo Sandoval (.212 avg) each had multi-hit games and Sandoval drove in his first run of 2009. Those guys both had terrific springs, and it's been a bit of a surprise that both have struggled so much out of the gate. Sandoval has been especially disappointing because of the expectations he had coming into the season. Everybody knew that he'd have his growing pains on the defensive side of his game, so the fact that he's not hitting like expected is even more magnified. Besides those two youngsters, the Giants need to start getting some production out of Edgar Renteria. The free-agent signee has looked slow, and almost disinterested at times on the field so far. I hate to even begin comparing him to other free agent busts so early, but his play and body language are reminding me eerily of the way Edgardo Alfonzo carried himself during his tenure here. I am still holding out hope that Renteria will end up doing OK this year, but I'm starting to see what all the fuss was about last year in Detroit.

One of the guys who has been carrying his load has been Aaron Rowand. The Giants center fielder and top-paid positional player has looked much more like he did in 2007 than he did in '08, through the first 10 days of the season. In fact, he's played so well that other teams might even have interest in taking him off of the Giants hands if he can keep it up. There was a rumor floating around on the net the other day that said the Giants are actively shopping Rowand and are willing to eat a portion of his $48-million he's still owed over the next 4 seasons. Whether it has any merit or not, it's got me thinking. I don't really expect anything to happen, but I think it would be a great move if Sabean could somehow get out from under the Rowand contract, even if he has to pay a portion of it. I'm pretty confident that Rowand won't be a starting caliber player in 3 years, so that alone should be reason enough for Sabean to exercises every potential option with A-Row... Two teams that had interest in Rowand when he was a free agent in 2007 were the Yankees and White Sox and both of those teams may still have some interest in him under the right circumstances. If Rowand were dealt, it would open up a variety of possibilities for the Giants. It opens up another outfield spot and enables the Giants to give Nate Schierholtz his shot, finally. It would also allow them the option to re-sign Randy Winn, who is a free agent after the season and has been one of the teams most valuable players since he arrived from Seattle in 2005. Winn is extremely underrated throughout baseball and I think the Giants want to keep him. He plays the heck out of right-field at AT&T Park, which is one of the tougher fields in all of baseball, and he's a catalyst on offense, hitting around .300 yearly and getting on base consistently. It will be tough to re-sign Winn to a multi-year deal though with Rowand in tow. Again, I don't expect anything to happen and if it did, it probably wouldn't be anytime soon (maybe in July if the Giants are out of it), but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on, especially if Rowand keeps hitting.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Slumping in SoCal

The Giants got off to a quick start at home vs. the Brewers. Taking 2 of 3 games and pitching brilliantly in the process. However, since they've travelled south after that first set, they have hit a wall, as they aren't hitting, throwing or picking up the ball the way they were for most of the spring and that opening series.

I'm not too the surprised that some of the hitters have slumped over the past few days. In 3 of the teams last 4 games, they've gone up against some of the better arms in the National League (Chad Billingsley, Jake Peavy and Chris Young). The offense has mustered only 8 runs in the 4 games so far on the road trip, 6 of those runs coming in the first two. Randy Winn and Fred Lewis seem like the only batters who are seeing the ball well right now. Everybody else is scuffling. Defensively, things have been a nightmare on the trip as well. Lewis made repeated mistakes in the finale in San Diego, costing the Giants and Tim Lincecum 3 runs and ultimately the ballgame. Pablo Sandoval has also taken some strides backwards after putting together a solid stretch of games at third base to start the year. Sandoval is still learning third base and it's becoming apparent that he's got some work to do still. The scary part about his start is that he's now dipped below the Mendoza-line with the bat, and he's supposed to be an offensive catalyst. Right now, he's not earning his worth at third base and he's got to start doing so, sooner than later otherwise he's going to really dig himself a hole. I'd say Wednesday nights game would be a nice time to site the "Big Panda" down for a night and let him take in a game from the bench. The same can be said for another youngster who has seemed overwhelmed at times in this first week, and that's Emmaneul Burris. After having a lightning spring to win the second base job, Burris has looked like a completely different player since games started counting for real. Burris is just 2 for 20 so far and has really looked over matched with the bat in his hands. If Kevin Frandsen can get going in Fresno, he could get the call-up here in another week or so if Burris doesn't rebound.

So no, it's not a shock to any that the offense and defense have struggled in southern California, but what is surprising, and scary to some Giants fans, is that the teams' starting pitching has looked just as horrendous as those other units. Although you can't blame him for every run he's been credited for (Fred Lewis and Eugenio Velez misplayed balls that really cost him in San Diego), Tim Lincecum has not been Cy-like over his first 2 starts; carrying a 7.56 era and a 2.40 WHIP. The teams new acquisition, Randy Johnson, hasn't fared any better as he's sitting with an 11.42 era and 1.85 WHIP after his two starts. Most of Johnson's trouble has come on a few pitches though (one to Yovanni Gallardo and one to Orlando Hudson), while Lincecum has just looked out-of-sync since the very first inning of opening day. The only starting pitcher who can say they've turned in a valiant effort is Matt Cain. The 24 year-old righty went 7 strong in his season debut, earning a win. Cain will go in Wednesday night's game in LA and hopefully be the teams stopper and end this 4 game losing streak.

Now, the Giants have lost 4 in a row, but it's no time to go into panic mode. This team has under-performed in the first week and things should only get better. They do need to start doing some things differently though. I'd like to see Bochy mix the up the lineup for Wednesday's game vs. the Dodgers. I wouldn't mind seeing Aaron Rowand and Travis Ishikawa moved up and Edgar Renteria and Pablo Sandoval move down. Sandoval is killing this team with his first-pitch swinging in the five hole and was really an "easy out" over the opening week. He and Edgar Renteria need to be at the bottom of the order. Move 'Ishi into the 5th spot and Rowand up into the two spot and the Giants would have their 5 hottest hitters in the front of the batting order. Also, next time Bochy thinks Rowand needs a day off, I hope he considers moving Randy Winn over to center and putting Nate Schierholtz in right field, something he should have clearly done in the finale in San Diego. Eugenio Velez is a poor defensive center fielder. He can handly left and is servicable at second, but don't as an in-experienced outfielder to patrol a huge center field in Petco Park. Not too mention, Nate Schierhotlz, the teams best hitting prospect for most of the decade, is itching to get himself a start and a steady bunch of at-bats. Any time an outfielder needs a rest, Schierholtz should be figured into the equation.

In other roster notes, the Giants signed Dallas McPherson to a minor league deal over the weekend. I love this move, even if chances are low that McPhereson will ever do much for the Giants. The dude hit 42 bombs in AAA ball last season and clearly has a power bat the Giants roster could use and he's still only 28, and he's just now coming into his physical prime. If Sandoval continues to struggle at third and McPherson shows up hot in Fresno, then Sabean and Bochy could entertain the idea of bringing up D-Mac for some at-bats at the hot corner. Andris Torres has done nothing for this team in the first week and I think his roster spot could be put to better use right now, whether that be another infielder to help Sandoval and Burris, or another bullpen arm to help the early over-worked bullpen.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, April 10, 2009

Giants Take Opening Series

The Giants certainly looked like a rejuvenated ball-club in this first series of the 2009 season vs. the Brewers. Take away that one fastball Randy Johnson threw Yovanni Gallardo in Wednesday nights game and the Giants would have been looking at a 3-0 start. Nonetheless, they sit atop the NL West with the Rockies at 2-1 heading into play Friday.

Matt Cain turned in the best performance of the three starting pitchers to throw so far on Thursday, throwing 7 innings of 4 hit ball while striking out 5. As good as Cain was on Thursday and Johnson was Wednesday, the talk of the series' surrounded the bullpen and offense. Both units look much better than the versions the Giants were trotting out there in 2008, already. Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry look like steady additions and Brandon Medders and Joe Martinez (get well soon!) have pulled their weight so far. The same can be said for the offense. The veterans are starting the year red hot and the youngsters have been doing their part as well. Fred Lewis leads the team with a .556 average and 4 runs scored, Pablo Sandoval is hitting .364 and Travis Ishikawa's at .333 with 3 RBI. The vets are being led by Aaron Rowand, who looks like a completely different player this season, nothing at all like the rally killing machine that he was last season. Randy Winn is also off to a big start, as he's both scored and driven in 3 runs while stealing a couple of bases and hitting .364 heading into Friday nights game. And of course there's big money Bengie Molina who's hitting a cool .417 with a HR and 5 RBI. The only Giant who has yet to really get into the action is second basemen Emmanuel Burris and to a lesser extent, Edgar Renteria. The Giants middle-infield duo has combined 2 hits in 22 at-bats, although Renteria has been on base and has scored 3 runs. Renteria was a really popular choice for "pick your free agent bust of 2009" with a lot of baseball writers, but I think he's still going to put together a decent season here. He's not going to hit .330 like he did in St. Louis, but I would expect an average in the high 2's (.285+) with at least double digit home runs and 50+ RBI. All of which would be a huge improvement, offensively, over anyone the Giants have had there since Rich Aurilia back in the early part of the decade. Just be patient with Renteria, I think he'll be OK.

Now, are the Giants going to have 6 guys hitting over .300 all season? No-way! But as I've stated before, it's crucial for this young team to get off to a good start. They always say "it's not how you start, it's how you finish", but that's not the case for this Giants team. They are relying on young talent that needs to succeed here to gain the confidence that they belong here. Having them start the season rolling like they have is proving to this young unit that not only do they belong here, but they can win here. The Giants are now in San Diego for a three game set, a series which favors them heavily and another series that they should take at least 2 of 3 games from. I'm excited to see how Barry Zito gets his 2009 started, as he takes the ball in tonight's game vs. Shawn Hill. Now, I know chances of it happening are slim-to-none, but if Zito somehow gets back to pre-2007 Zito form, this team is going to be a good team. Not a decent young team on the up, but a legit, official "good baseball team". Not trying to add extra pressure on Zito, I mean, this is the season when the pressure is supposed to be off of him, right? Tim Lincecum has the Cy Young, Randy Johnson's in search of win number 300. Everyone has forgotten about the 126-million dollar man, it's up to him to make people remember.

*Note: Rookie right-hander Joe Martinez was placed on the 15-day DL on Friday, a day after taking a line-drive off of the forehead and being taken to the hospital. It looks like he's going to be OK, physically, lets hope he can get back on a mound sometime soon. Right-handed veteran Justin Miller will come up from Fresno to take his spot... I also wanted to give my condolences to the Adenhart familly and the Angels organization after their tragic loss on Thursday. Nick Addenhart had a bright arm and a big future and it's a shame it had to be cut short.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Offense Explodes in Opener

It almost looked as if Tuesday's opener was going to get rained out and Tim Lincecum and co. would have to wait until Wednesday to open up the 2009 season. The weather prevailed and so did the Giants bats, as they opened the season with a 10-6 beating of the Milwaukee Brewers in their first opening day win since 2005. I mentioned in my game preview post that the Giants had to take advantage of the Lincecum/Suppan match-up and they did so, even without getting a great effort out of their ace.

2008 NL Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, struggled through his first opening day assignment as the 24 year-old lasted just 3 innings, allowing 3 runs on 3 walks and 4 hits while striking out 5. Lincecum threw 74 pitches through 3, and Bochy felt like it was a little too much too soon and didn't want to overwork the youngster on the very first day of a 6-month marathon. The one at bat that I look back at that really ended up hurting Lincecum was the at-bat in which he threw a 1-2 change-up to Jeff Suppan and Suppan roped it for an RBI double before scoring on a Rickie Weeks single. His change-up was working well for him, but why him and Bengie Molina decided not to blow a 96 mph heater past the slow bat of the opposing pitcher baffled me for a second there, but hey, at least it didn't cost them the game. Those in relief of Timmy defenitely did there job though Rookie Joe Martinez was a little shaky at first, giving up a few solidly hit singles and allowing a couple of runs, but Bochy ended up getting 2 innings out of him and he ended up getting credited with the victory. Then the Giants used a combination of Brandon Medders, Jeremy Affeldt, Bob Howry, Alex Hinshaw and finally Brian Wilson to close the door on the Brewers.

Tim Lincecum had the spotlight on him in the early part of the afternoon, but it was the Giants' offense that stole the the show on Opening day. 4 Giants had multi-hit games including Bengie Molina who went 2-5 with a big fly and Aaron Rowand who went 2-3 with a home run and 3 RBI. The Giants young first-basemen who they are hoping can entrench himself into the role, got them started as Travis Ishikawa put the Giants on the board with a base-clearing 3-run triple in the bottom of the first. Pablo Sandoval aka Big Panda, the teams new young third basemen, got into the mix as well with a two-hit day, including a double and 2 runs scored. The only Giants' starter who didn't get a hit was second baseman Emmanuel Burris, but even he got involved, getting on base and both scoring and driving in a run. The unit that was supposed to be the huge question mark coming into the year, had all the answers on day one. Now, in no way am I declaring the Giants offense a powerhouse, much less a strength, but if Rowand consistently hit like he's capable of, Winn and Molina stay steady, and the youngsters continue doing what they started at the end of last season and have carried through spring training and opening day, then the Giants will be a good ball club. Not too mention, the way the team responded after they lost a lead and Lincecum got knocked out of the game was outstanding. This win has to give them the confidence that they can handle good teams, even if they don't have their ace on the mound or at full strength. Huge confidence builder and all-around great opening day for the Giants. See those of you who will be there, at the ballpark tomorrow night.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Opening Day Preview

The 2009 Major League Baseball season gets underway Sunday night, as the reigning world champion Philadelphia Phillies take on the Atlanta Braves in Philadelphia Sunday. Most of the rest of the baseball world starts Monday, with a handful of teams christening their season on Tuesday, including our San Francisco Giants.

It's been a long winter and spring, but on Tuesday, at or around 1:30 pacific time, Tim Lincecum will throw the first pitch of the '09 season to Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks and another 6-month journey begins. I won't be in attendance on Tuesday, as I have some scholastic obligations that will run into the early afternoon, but I will be there Wednesday night when the 'Unit takes the mound for the first time as a Giant. The Giants have the clear advantage in the pitching match-up for their opening series vs. the Brewers, but they are going to have to keep their powerful lineup (Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart) in the ballpark if they are going to take the set. It's really any ones guess as to what the Giants lineup will do, but they need to take advantage of the Lincecum vs. Suppan match-up. These are the types of things winning ball-clubs do and if the Giants are going to indeed be "competitive", then these are the games they should take. They are really throwing some guys into the fire this year (Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa, Emmanuel Burris) right off the bat, which is something that hasn't been done in San Francisco in years, and it should be interesting to see how these guys respond to the pressures of opening a big league season in a big league starting lineup. With the young team in-tow, it's extremly crucial that the Giants get off to a good start this year. It could be a huge downer for this young squad if the Giants go 7-15 in April. Judging on how things went in the cactus league though, I think these guys have as much confidence as they can at this point and I would be surprised if they didn't play decently to start to season.

Unlike the last couple of seasons, the Giants actually have some expectations this time around and a lot of people are anxious to see what transpires on Tuesday. Again, I have to admit, I don't quite know what to expect from the Giants this season. If their young hitters develop and contribute and some of their recent free agent signings (Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria) can provide positive impacts, then the Giants could have something. They've had two off-season's to now build in the post-Barry Bonds era, so it's time to put up or shut up. The NL West isn't the strongest division in baseball and although the D-Backs and Dodgers may have a little more talent on paper, the Giants rotation equals or betters any in the NL. I like Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and the unproven Max Scherzer(who's an injury concern), but I like Lincecum, Cain, Johnson and Sanchez a little better.

Here is a glimpse of the Opeining Day lineups for both teams:

1. CF Randy Winn 2. SS Edgar Renteria 3. LF Fred Lewis 4. C Bengie Molina 5. 3B Pablo Sandoval 6. CF Aaron Rowand 7. 1B Travis Ishikawa 8. 2B Emmanuel Burris 9. P Tim Lincecum

Brewers: 1. 2B Rickie Weeks 2. SS J.J. Hardy 3. LF Ryan Braun 4. 1B Prince Fielder 5. RF Corey Hart 6. CF Mike Cameron 7. 3B Bill Hall 8. C Jason Kendall 9. P Jeff Suppan

Click Here for the final updated version of the Giants Season Predictions.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, April 03, 2009

MLB Playoff and Award Predictions

AL MVP: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (The 2008 AL Rookie of the year should expand big time on his 27 hr, 85 RBI rookie campaign in his first full season in the bigs' and once again lead the Rays' to success in '09)
AL CY YOUNG: Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins (Liriano returned to dominance in the second half of '08 after getting back on track in the minors and will probably sport a sub-3 era and win 18+ games if healthy for 32 starts this season.)
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (Wieters will start off in AAA, but will be up a few weeks into the season, like Longoria did in '08. He probably will put up similar numbers to what Longoria did, but probably hit for a better average. Keep an eye on Tampa's David Price for this award as well.)
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins (The Twins never have quite the same talent as some of the other teams in the league, but Gardy always has them winning. He should get his first M.O.Y. award if he can guide the Twins to the playoffs yet again.)
COMEBACK P.O.Y.: Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians (Hafner hit just .197 with 5 hr and 24 RBI in '08 and you know that's not happening again. He should be back around .275, 25 hr and 100 RBI while helping Cleveland battle for the AL Central title in '09.)

NL MVP: Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers (ManRam will be in LA for the full 6 month season this time around and should put up huge power numbers while hitting around .330 and leading LA to another playoff birth. Just look at what he did in his 2-month stint there last year.)
NL CY YOUNG: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (The only concern I have with this choice is that Hamels has an elbow issue coming into the year, but I think he'll get healthy and end up building off of last years postseason success in which he went 4-0 with a 1.80 era and 30 k's in 35 innings pitched. If he goes down for any stretch of time, my pick goes to Johan Santana.)
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Cameron Maybin, Florida Marlins (Maybin got a brief stint in the bigs' last season and showed his speed and ability while also looking strong this spring. The prize acquisition from the Miguel Cabrera trade should start paying huge dividends for the fish in '09.)
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Joe Torre, Los Angeles Dodgers (Torre should lead the Dodgers to the NL West crown and possibly earn his first MOY award in the NL. Charlie Mannuel would be my 2nd pick as he really should have won it last year.)
COMEBACK P.O.Y.: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (The former Cardinal ace has only thrown 21 innings combined over the past 2 seasons, but has appeared healthy and effective this spring. Should go back to the top of the rotation for the Cards and become a 15+ game winner again with good health and a terrific offense.)

Angels over Red Sox
Rays over Twins

ALCS: Angels over Rays

Dodgers over Phillies
Cubs over Mets

NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers

Chicago Cubs over Los Angeles Angels (6 games)

Giants Notes: The Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues have officially ended as teams are getting set to play an exhibition game or two before the real games begin. A lot of good came of spring training this year as Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa both proved their ready for their everyday roles once the curtain unveils on the 2009 season. The Giants also saw a bunch of youngsters come to camp and really thrive. Jesus Guzman (.412, 5 HR, 15 RBI) was definitely a bright spot and probably stuck out the most of any youngster this spring. The Giants also got a strong showing from Buster Posey and even a few dominant outings out of 19 year-old Madison Bumgarner this spring. Posey really proved that he's closer to the big leagues than I think any of us thought and could be on the Giants roster by the 2nd half of this year. Bumgarner only threw 5 innings in the Cactus league, but showed his ability, only allowing 1 hit while striking out 6 batters. Now he's not going to be up this season at all, but if he continues to progress like he has in his first season-plus as a pro, he could debut for the Giants by the end of 2010.
The Giants Baseball Blog