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Saturday, May 30, 2009

First Look At the MLB '09 Draft

This is our first of many draft coverage posts that will be sprinkled in here over the next 2 weeks as we preview, cover and review the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. In this posts, I just wanted to break down a few of the p who are expected to be available when the Giants select number 6 overall.

RHP Aaron Crow: The first player I wanted to look at is the big right-hander from Missouri, Aaron Crow. It's pretty clear that San Diego State phenom Steven Strasburg will go number one. North Carolina's .400 hitting Dustin Ackely, arguably the top hitter in the draft should also be gone before the Giants select at number 6, but then things could go a number of different ways. Crow, the former Tigers' ace, is widely considered the 2nd best arm in the draft behind Strasburg. As a junior in 2008, Crow went 13-0 while striking out 127 batters in just 107 innings pitched. He was drafted number 10 overall in last years draft by the Nationals, but never came to an agreement on a contract and has played this spring with the Ft. Worth Cats of the Independent League. The 22 year-old rightie averages between 93-96 MPH with his heater consistently complimented by a slider and change that are both plus pitches as well. He's got a nice compact delievery and still provides plenty of zip on the heater. He's also had some experience playing pro ball after 3 years at the NCAA division 1A level, so he could be one of the quicker-tracked arms in the draft and could provide help to a big league team as early as 2010.

RHP Alex White: Another top flight college right-hander who scouts have going anywhere from pick #3 to somewhere in the middle of the first round is North Carolina's Alex White. The hard throwing right hander has an ideal frame for a pitcher at 6'3" and 195 pounds and has the best sinking fastaball in the draft. His 93-95 MPH sinker has drawn comparisons to those of Kevin Brown and Brandon Webb. His delivery is a lot like Webbs as well, kind of a slow delivery before the ball comes firing out of his hand. If I had my choice of Crow or White, I'd probably go with Crow, just because I think he's got a little bit stronger an arm and will be able to contribute quicker than White will.

LHP Tyler Matzek:
This guy is the top left-handed high school arm in the draft this year and the Giants had some success taking a high school lefty in 2007 ( Giants #1 prospect, Madison Bumgarner). Matzek doesn't quite have the overpowering stuff that Bumgarner has, but has been equally effective in the prep ranks. The 18 year-old lefty from Capistrano, California is a little more finesse than Bumgarner, but still averages around 92 with his heater. His strength though, lies in his command and secondary pithces. He's got a big sweeping curve that could translate into being a great strikeout pitch in the Major Leagues. I also like his mechanics on the mound. He's got a very smooth delivery and repeats it with ease. I don't think Crow or White are going to fall to the Giants at 6, and if they don't, Matzek would be a great fall-back option.

RHP Tanner Scheppers
: If this kid never got injured last year, he probably would have been a top-10 pick in 2008, but instead went in the second round and never signed a contract. Scheppers has the size at 6'4" and 200 pounds to be an innings eater and a horse when he gets to the majors. He throws 95 mph on average and can get up to 98 when needed and also posses a hard, nasty curveball. His stuff and build kind of remind me a bit of Jason Schmidt. There still are some teams that are worried about his shoulder, so he could fall down in the first round. Both he and Matzek should be available when the Giants select so if the Giants take an arm, which they most likely will do, chances are that it will be one of the two.

SS Grant Green: Although all signs are pointing towards the Giants selecting a pitcher with their first pick in this years draft, they may jump at the opportunity to grab the uber-athletic USC shortstop. Green was thought to be a top-5 pick entering the 2009 college season, but a lackluster first half has hurt his stock. He still should be a top 15 pick, and in a draft short on college positional talent, he is the cream of the crop (not including catchers). He's got five-tool talent and is an above average shortstop in the field.

Other Prep Stars In the Mix:

RHP's Jacob Turner and Zach Wheeler
: These are two promising prep arms that could be gone within the first 8 picks of the draft. Wheeler is built in the same mold of Chad Billingsly and really has the same mechanics and stuff as the young Dodgers right-hander. Turner doesn't quite have the hard fastball and the dominating stuff that Wheeler does, but at 6'4" and 200 pounds, scouts love what he could project out to be. I'd lean towards Wheeler over Turner if the Giants are determined on grabbing a high school righty, but I think Matzek has more upside than either of these two.

OF's Michael Trout, Donovan Tate: I don't think the Giants will take a high school outfielder in the first round of this draft, but if they do, it would likely be one of these two guys. Both of them are all-around outfielders with 5-tool talent. Tate may be a tad more athletic and more projectable, while Trout is a little more polished right now, but doesn't quite have the upside and athleticism of Tate down the road.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bats Come Alive Back Home

The Giants ended a forgettable road trip over the weekend, a trip in which they went just 1-5 and struggled badly to score runs. However, in their two games since returning back to AT&T Park, their offense has come alive.

The Giants have scored 12 runs in the first two games of the three game set with Atlanta and won both of the games with ease. In those two contests, the Giants received solid outings from Jonathan Sanchez (who had been struggling a bit) and Tim Lincecum, but it was the offense that really provide the spark the team needed. Travis Ishikawa was likely on the border of being demoted, as he just wasn't producing offensively. However, Ishikawa may have bought himself some more time with a breakout, 4-4 game on Monday night. The Giants 25 year-old first basemen hit his first home run of the season while both driving in and scoring 3 runs. It looks like the promotion of Jesus Guzman definitely lit a fire under Ishikawa but he's not out of the woods yet. He's still just hitting .252 with a home and 15 RBI now, which are still poor numbers for a major league first basemen. His recent performance will certainly buy him another week as the teams starting first basemen, but he's going to have to follow up on that performance, otherwise people will quickly forget. Juan Uribe has been hitting the ball well over his last 7 games (8-23 with 5 RBI) and the possibility of moving him to third and Pablo Sandoval over to first base on a regular basis has been discussed. The Giants are especially leaning towards using the Panda at first now that his elbow is hurting anyway, so Ishikawa is going to have to keep stepping his offensive game up if he wants to keep his role.

Speaking of nicked up Giants, the team got Edgar Renteria back over the weekend and he provided a nice offensive spark for the team in the first games vs. Atlanta. Renteria, who had been nursing a sore hamstring, has been one of the Giants most clutch hitters this season, despite his .250'ish average. The 33 year-old shortstop has hit .350 with runners in scoring position, and an even .400 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. And now Renteria has a new person hitting in front of him as Aaron Rowand has been moved into the leadoff spot in hopes of sparking his bat. Renteria and Rowand helped Lincecum defeat the Braves Tuesday as they both provided 2-RBI hits in leading the Giants to a 4-0 victory. Rowand has really seen his bat come alive since the move to the lead-off spot. As a lead-off hitter so far, Rowand has taken 33 at-bats and carrying a .364 average. In those 8 games, Rowand has 2 homers and 5 RBI while sporting a OPS right at 1.000. Rowand doesn't have the speed of your typical lead-off hitter, but he's getting on base and he's helped spark the offense the last two nights, so I wouldn't mess around with moving him until he starts proving otherwise.

Notes: The Giants have a couple of disabled players on their way back to the big club. Andres Torres was activated on Tuesday as Jesus Guzman returned to Fresno. One of the team's top relievers from 2008 is set to make his return any day now as well. Sergio Romo has completed his rehab assignment and is with the team, just waiting as they decide who they're going to ship out to make room for him. Romo went 7 2/3 scoreless innings in rehab work split between A San Jose and AAA Fresno... Randy Johnson goes for win #299 and a Giants sweep vs. the Braves tonight... Definitely a game you'll want to tune into if your not at the ballpark... The MLB Amateur draft is just 2 weeks away and the Giants have another high pick as they select number 6 overall. We'll start breaking down the possibilities of that pick in the next couple of posts, starting out our MLB Draft 2009 coverage, so stay tuned.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, May 25, 2009

Trade Winds Swirling

The Giants have been a hot topic on the MLB rumor mill lately, as they've been mentioned as having interest in a few hitters that may become available over the next 8 weeks. There was also a rumor started this weekend that had the Giants shopping Matt Cain in order to find that bat they desperately need.

Giants fans can take a breath of fresh air, because Matt Cain isn't going anywhere anytime soon. A Giants executive shot down the notion of shopping Cain immediately and said the story had no merit to it. I didn't really see any logic in shopping Cain anyway. He'e arguably been the teams most consistent starter this season (sorry Tim Lincecum) and at 24 years of age, hasn't come close to peaking. Cain isn't going anywhere and even with guys like Alderson and Bumgarner a year or 2 away, the Giants aren't quite as deep with starting pitchers as some make them out to be. They're comfortable, but to say they have an abundance of young starting pitching wouldn't be accurate. While team sources denied the shopping of Cain, they couldn't deny that the Giants had expressed interest in some of the proven hitters on the trade market. A couple of names that aren't going away are Marlins second basemen Dan Uggla and Nationals' first basemen Nick Johnson. I've talked about positives and negatives to Uggla in the past here, but that was written at the end of last year, after he just finished up a 32 home run, 92 RBI campaign for the Marlins. The 28 year-old second basemen has struggled to get going this season, carryign a .205 average into play on Monday. He has, however, heated up lately as he's hit four bombs and 8 RBI over the last 6 games. I just don't know what kind of price I'd pay to attain Uggla. The Marlins are going to want at least Jonathan Sanchez and possibly another young arm. The positives about Uggla is that he's under team control through the 2012 season and he's a 30 home run-a-year type bat that the Giants haven't had on their roster since Barry Bonds left after 2007.

There's also Emmanuel Burris to take into account in this situation. He's had his ups-and-downs so far this year for sure, but he's shown that he certainly has upside and the ability to eventually be a solid, everyday major league middle infielder. The only issue with Burris is his meager .278 slugging percentage, an area in which Uggla would be a drastic improvement. Uggla has played some third base in the minors before, so a move to either of the corner infield spots may not be too far-fethced of a plan if the Giants indeed intend to add him.

The other guy who has been mentioned, although not quite as seriously as Uggla, has been Nick Johnson. The 30 year-old first basemen is in the final year of his contract with Washington and probably won't last the hole year there. Johnson is a proven left-handed hitter who's always around .290-.300 with his batting average and over .400 with his on-base percentage. Johnson doesn't have quite the power that Uggla possesses, but will be on base more and hit for a higher average then him. Johnson is also a better defender at his particular position, where he's considered one of th better defensive first basemen in the game, while Uggla is average at best up the middle. The Nats also have a surplus of outfielders and could slide Adam Dunn into Johnson's place at first when they move and other teams know this so Johnson isn't going to cost anybodies top-3 prospects. Since he's a free agent after the year and probably doesn't have a large market, I'd bet the Giants could acquire Johnson without giving up one of their big league starting pitchers, or either of their top two arms (Alderson and Bumgarner) in the minors. Those are the positives on Johnson, but there are some negatives that come along with him as well. Not only is he a free agent after the year and will probably be seeking a multi-year deal, but he's had a history of injury problems and has played over 100 games in a season just three times in his 7 prior seasons. He's been healthy so far this year, but he's a tad overweight (and that's putting it nicely). He's also not quite the power bat the Giants are looking for. He's a very solid hitter when healthy, but he's never been a big power guy and as a lefty at AT&T Park, it would further diminish his limited pop.

A couple of other names that have been tossed out there, though there has been no conformation that the Giants would have interest, are Hank Blalock, Matt Holliday and Adrian Beltre. That same Giants source who denied the Giants were shopping Matt Cain, also said he didn't see a situation where the Giants would land Holliday, as the A's asking price will probably be too high, and the Holliday is yet to prove his abilities away from Coors Field. Blalock and Belte are both free agents after the year, so neither of them would be ideal adds.... Beltre has had a horrific year offensively, one that makes Travis Ishikawa's look decent, so I don't really see how he could come in and provide a spark to the offense. I guess a move back to the NL wouldn't hurt, but the only way I take Beltre is if he's basically given to the Giants. No way I part with any relevant prospect for third basemen carrying a .568 OPS.... Blalock is interesting though. I've always liked his bat and now he's healthy and playing everyday for the first time in a while and it's reflecting in his numbers. The corner infielder/DH has 11 home runs and 25 RBI on the year while filling in at first base on occasion and looking very comfortable there. With the Rangers atop their division, I'm not sure they'd look to deal any of their impact players right now, but Blalock could make some sense as a first basemen here in San Francisco for the right price.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Minor League Report: May

The Giants have struggled mightily to score runs over the last 10 days, and they've gone 1-8 over their last 9 to prove it. If you want to know why they've been struggling so bad, take a look at my last couple of posts, cause not much has changed. And since they're still sputtering and there isn't much new to report on, I figured now would be a good time to take our monthly look at what's happening in the minors.

The Giants made a couple of organizational moves at the beginning of the month, promoting a few 2007 draftees that had been doing more than their fair share in San Jose to AA Connecticut. Those three guys; Brandon Crawford, Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner have hit the ground running in the great Northeast and have done as good or better there than they were doing in San Jose. Bumgarner has been especially impressive, as he's gone 3-0 over his first 3 starts in AA. During those 3 outings, MadBum has pitched 18 innings, allowing only 10 hits and 4 walks while striking out 21 batters. Oh yeah, he's also allowed just one run, period, and is carrying an era of 0.50. The other top starter from 2007, Tim Alderson, has seen his game elevate with the promotion to AA. After carrying a mediocre 4.15 era over 5 starts in San Jose, Alderson has been lights out in Connecticut so far. Alderson has gone 2-0 in his first 2 starts, allowing 11 hits and 3 earned runs over the course of 14 innings. He's k'd 18 and walked only 1 in his three appearances (one in relief). The Giants two prize arms from the 2007 draft continue to dominate at every level they've been tested at, and it might not be too far fetched to think that we could see them in San Francisco as early as this September.

Alderson and Bumgarner aren't the only guys getting headlines in Connecticut though. Henry Sosa, another bright young starting pitcher, has got completely back on track after missing parts of last season with an arm injury. So far in 2009, Sosa has started 8 games and has a record of 3-0 and an era of just 1.85. Over his last four outings, he's been especially stingy, allowing only 2 earned runs over 22 innings. It's just a matter of time before he gets a promotion to Fresno and is waiting on the doorsteps of the big leagues. The only question I have with Sosa is whether or not he'll be able to stay in the rotation once he hits the big leagues. He's never been a guy who's pitched deep into ballgames in the minors and has the type of live arm that could translate well in late relief. I would like to see what he does as a starter in Fresno over a month or so before made that decision if I were the Giants' brass... As far as relievers in the system go, Ben Snyder, a former starter, has really come into his own since being put into the bullpen. In 11 relief-outings, spanned over 31 innings, so far this year, the 23 year-old lefty has surrendered 4 earned runs on just 16 hits (for a ridiculous ratio of 4.5 hits per 9 IP) while averaging a strikeout per inning with 31. The Giants don't have many high-upside releivers in their system right now outside of Edwin Quirarte, so seeing Snyder make the transition the way he has is re-assuring.

As far as the hitters of note through May, it's still been really all about Brandon Crawford. The former-UCLA Bruin's lightening quick start in San Jose has already placed him amongst the Giants top positional prospects and he's continuing to swing a steady bat in AA. Crawford has followed up his .371, 6 homer and 17 RBI start in San Jose by hitting .333 over his first 55 at-bats in AA. The 6'2" shortstop has just 1 home run and 3 RBI in his first 13 games in Connecticut, but the Eastern League has some of the more spacious ballparks in the minors and has traditionally carried some of the games better pitching prospects. Those numbers from the second year pro aren't too shabby at all, especially coming from the middle infield.

The teams top pick from last years draft, Buster Posey, didn't get the call-up to AA with Crawford and the two aces but he's still swinging a steady bat in San Jose. Posey has seen his production drop off slightly since his hot start, as his average has dipped below .300, but he's still producing with 7 home runs (although just one in May) and 32 RBI. I was somewhat surprised that Posey didn't get the call-up when the other guys did, but I think it's just a matter of time. They want to see him completely master the A-level before moving him along and he's not quite done that. You need to remember that Posey is a catcher, so he's got a lot more to learn than your typical everyday position player. That said, I would expect him to be in AA by mid-summer and possibly up in Fresno by the end of the year. Also helping Posey on the offensive side in San Jose is fellow '08 draftee Roger Kieschnick. The younger brother of former big leaguer Brooks Kieschnick is currently leading the San Jose Giants in batting average at .327. He's also producing runs with 5 home runs and 22 runs batted in.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Offense Goes South, Literally

The Giants just can't seem to figure out Petco Park in 2009. After getting swept their in mid-April, the Giants look like they're ready to repeat that outcome after only scoring 2 runs in the first 2 games in San Diego and dropping their record to 0-5 in San Diego this season.

The Giants offense has once again hit a cold stretch, and when this happens, it can get very frustrating. Nobody expected this team to be a power-house at the plate, but they showed throughout the first half of this month (albeit vs. some lesser pitching) that their offense could score enough to support their starting pitchers, but the Southern California air has sent the team into a semi-meltdown once again. It's prompted Bruce Bochy to do some things differently though, as he put Aaron Rowand up at the top of the order in the lead-off spot for the first time in his Giants-tenure. Rowand is a guy who has been on a steep slide since the opening week of season. In that first week Rowand hit 2 home runs and drove in drove in 7, looking primed to prove last season a fluke. However since his first 7 games, Rowand has only 1 home run and 9 RBI (over the course of 30 ballgames). He also hasn't been the gold-glove caliber defender in center field the way he was in Philadelphia. Everybody clamored that Rowand was a guy who never "takes a day off" and will literally run through a wall for his team. There's a reason why those qualities were bandied about so much in the winter of 2007; he's not a great baseball player. He had a few years in Philly and Chicago that jumped out and showed he has ability, but besides his 2007 season with the Phills, he has never been closed to being an all-star caliber player. I'm not going now sit here and beat Rowand to a pulp all post long though, just wanted to point out that the guy isn't a great baseball player, and the annual 12-15 home runs, 65+ RBI and .270'ish batting average is about what your going to get out of him, especially in this yard.

The Giants offense has, however, taken a hit by losing Edgar Renteria, and it's shown big time. The team has gone 1-4 over the last five games without their starting shortstop and second place hitter. Renteria wasn't particularly tearing the cover off of the ball, but he was getting on base steadily at the top of the order. In his absence, the Giants shortstops have gone 2-18 with no RBI or runs scored. Basically they've been obsolete offensively and are a big reason why the Giants were unable to support beautiful pitching performances from Barry Zito (8 IP, 5H, 2R, 3K's) and Jonathan Sanchez (6 IP, 2H, 2R, 5K's) over the last 2 nights. Even though they've suffered a minor melt-down though, the Giants are still just sitting a game below .500 heading into Thursday night's game in which Tim Lincecum faces former Giant Kevin Corriea in yet another lopsided pithcing match-up that the Giants should take advantage of. If they don't, it's going to be another 0-for in SoCal for San Francisco.

I did want to touch slightly on the Noah Lowry situation in this post. I'm sure most fans are well aware of by now that Lowry is officially out for 2009 as he's going to have surgery to remove his lower-left rib in order to relieve tension in his throwing arm and possibly catapult his career back into motion. I certainly feel for Lowry and his familly, but to allow his agent to pop off and blame the Giants for the way they've handled Lowry's situations is ludicrous. Noah Lowry was an important cog in the Giants rotation from 2005-2007 and if you think they didn't do everything in their power to try and get him as healthy as possible, then you need to step back and look at the situation again. I'm no medical expert, but Lowry hasn't thrown at all in a big league game since 2007, the Giants held him back out of caution, even when he felt he was able to do things he wasn't quite ready for. Again, I don't know all the behind the scenes stuff that went on with this situation, but from the outside looking in, it certainly seemed like the Giants did all they could to get the kid back on the mound. Lowry was an asset to the Giants, and it's a shame his tenure here is going to end like this. He was a winner when he was out there and and I can't help but think of what a healthy Lincecum-Cain-Lowry-Sanchez-Zito rotation would have been doing right now, and into the future.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, May 18, 2009

Giants Salvage Finale, Back to the Road

The Giants avoided getting swept by taking Sunday's game vs. the Mets. They finally got a starting pitching performance like they're used to as Matt Cain won his fourth game of year and dropped his era to 2.65.

Cain didn't just get it done on the mound either. He helped his own cause by driving in the Giants second and final run of the game with a single in the fifth. In addition to throwing 6 shutout innings, while allowing only 2 hits (although he did surrender 5 walks), Matty C was on base twice with that RBI single and a walk of his own. Cain's WHIP is still a tad high at 1.38 as he's walked at least 4 batters in 4 of his last 5 starts. Once Cain can get more consistent with his command, he's going to take another stride forward, but he's still showing the ability to get outs and keep runs off the board, amazingly, regardless of the amount of free passes he's allowing. Five walks in 6 innings pitched is a high number, and you need to have pretty darn good stuff to be able to keep a team off the board and that situation, and Cain did. Now, I'm not saying he's ready to be in the class with Lincecum and the rest of the top arms in the NL, but he's certainly moving in that direction. Right now, his 4 wins and 2.65 era (both good for top-8 in the league) jump out at you and make you think he's a potential All-Star, but he's still got some things to figure out with his command. He used to be able to get into the 8th inning routinely and often carried 1-2 hitters late into ballgames, but his high pitch total early on in games is forcing him out around the 6th and 7th innings.

The Giants brought back a familiar face when they re-called Kevin Frandsen late Saturday nigh, in order to take the roster spot of Juan Uribe, who traveled back to the Dominican for a family illness and was placed on the bereavement list. Frandsen was carrying a respectable average in Fresno and was even producing some runs, hitting 2nd in the lineup, but he's going to have to show a heck of a lot in a short amount of time (bereavement absences only last 3-5 days, typically) to prove he can be a more effective option than Rich Aurilia, Juan Uribe or someone else currently sitting on the Giants' bench. He's not going to overtake Emmanuel Burriss, who's hitting .339 in the month while leading the team in steals and is playing very solid defensively at second base.

Another Grizzly who could be on his way up to the bigs for a quick look is Jesus Guzman. I mentioned in this post about a week ago that Guzman should get consideration for the DH gig when the Giants travel to Seattle for inter-league play this week, and apparantely, Bruce Bochy and Co. have had the same idea. Guzman is torching AAA pitching right now, carrying an average in the .350's with 30 RBI and 6 long balls. It's safe to say, his bat is more than ready, so maybe the Giants can start him at DH in Seattle, then maybe ease him into games at first base if his bat proves ready. He's going to have to do some kind of fielding or be a full on pinch hitter if he's going to stick, because the Giants don't have another inter-league match-up in which they'll need a DH until later in June. They play the Rangers and Angels (LA Angels Schedule) at AT&T Park only this year so there only trip to another AL ballpark besides Seattle will be their annual trip across the Bay Bridge to Oakland.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Unit, Wilson Hammered By Mets

The Giants haven't quite figured out the Mets yet, or how to pitch David Wright for that matter. The Mets have rolled into San Francisco and taken the first three games of a four game set vs. the Giants, including laying a flat-out beating on the 45-year old Randy Johnson, and twice beating all-star closer Brian Wilson.

In the last post, I touched on how The Unit's season has been pretty much hit or miss so far. He is either on it and gives opposing hitters a tough match-up, or he has gone the other route and been absolutely pounded. In Saturday's match-up vs. the Mets, he got pounded. RJ gave up 11 hits in 4+ innings of work along with 7 earned runs and wasted a winnable opportunity vs. the NL's current best pitcher. The Giants got to Johan Santana for 3 un-earned runs, but Johnson couldn't keep the Mets off the board, something that has been an issue through the first three games of the series. The Mets scored 8 runs on Friday night, in a game which their ace, Tim Lincecum, pitched vs. the Mets #5 starter, Livan Hernandez. The Mets even got to Lincecum for 5 earned runs in 6 innings of work a night after they touched up Jonathan Sanchez for 4 runs on 9 hits in 5.2 innings. But it's not just the starters who have yet to figure out the Mets' lineup, the bullpen, and Brian Wilson in particular, has had a rough couple of games here as well. Wilson was actually the one charged with the losses in both Thursday and Friday nights' games. The Giants' gave up 3 runs in Thursday nights game, then came back Friday and blew another one.

It's not just the Mets who have touched up Giants' pitching in recent ballgames though. The Nationals scored 23 runs in their 3-game set in San Francisco earlier in the week as well. The offense has actually been doing their part for in the last few games, getting runs in from third w/less than two outs, and moving runners along on the base paths. They're also doing it without their full starting 8 all playing at 100 percent healthy at the moment. The teams starting shortstop, Edgar Renteria, has sat out the last couple of games and probably won't return until the middle of next week as he nurses a sore hamstring. Renteria has been a solid cog in the Giants lineup since starting off the season a little slow. Over the last month, Renteria is hitting .297 with 2 homers, 17 runs and 17 RBI and has been a steady hand at shortstop for the team. After his fall off in Detroit (Detroit Tigers Schedule) last year, Renteria was the signing that everyone was planning on hating this year, but he's actually been a solid add thus far and is looking more like he did in Atlanta (Atlanta Braves Schedule) that Motown. He's doing more for the team than Aaron Rowand, who's being paid significantly more than Renteria and offensively, he's providing more production than any Giants' starting shortstop since Rich Aurilia back in early 2000's.

Fred Lewis has been nursing a minor injury of his own as well. The left-fielder is having issues with his toe again, as it's kept him out of the lineup a few times this week. Lewis has cooled off mightily since his hot 2-week start to the season. However, Lewis is showing some signs of coming back to life, going 4 for his last 9 with a home run, 2 doubles and 2 RBI. The bum toe could be a sign of his slight fall off in production, the fact that he's hit for minimal power and the low stolen base total (3). I think Lewis will be fine, but if he's not %100, the Giants shouldn't be forcing into the lineup everyday right now. It's definitely a situation to keep an eye on.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Giants Take Another Series

Despite losing to the Nationals at AT&T Park on Wednesday, the Giants ended up taking two of three games from Washington and won yet another series. The team has been playing very good baseball of late and surprisingly, haven't lost a series since their first road trip to Southern California in mid-April.

The main reason why the Giants have gone 16-7 over their last 23 ballgames is because of their pitching, both starting and relief, but the offense really came alive in the first two games of the Nationals series. The offense combined to score 20 runs in the first two games, despite getting shutout in the third. Not only were the 20 runs the most the Giants have scored in back-to-back games this season, it's the most they've scored in a series this year, period. The two guys who really carried the Giants offense in the series were Randy Winn and Pablo Sandoval. The Giants young third basemen had 6 hits (3 for extra bases) along with 5 RBI and a huge walk-off home run that won the game for the Giants on Tuesday night. Sandoval has been swinging the bat pretty good lately, so his steady performance wasn't anything new, but Randy Winn's performance over the last few games has been a huge improvement to what he's done over the last couple of weeks. In a 3-game stretch from May 10-12, Winn went 9-14 with 5 RBI, 8 runs and a stolen base. Over those games, he's seen his batting average spike about 50 points and he's been moved back to the middle of the batting order. With Manny Burriss now swinging a steady bat and Travis Ishikawa and Aaron Rowand even providing multi-hit games over the last week, the Giants' offense is the strongest it's been this season.

The offense hasn't gotten all the headlines over the past couple of games though. There was another monumental win for the Randy Johnson as the 45-year old won his 298th game of his career on Monday, striking out 9 batters over 5 innings of work. Johnson has had somewhat of a sea-saw season over the first 5 weeks, but the Giants have to feel pretty good about what they've gotten from the Unit overall. I'd like to see his era drop a bit, and I think it will in due time, but he's got to start keeping the ball in the yard. Johnson has given up 10 jacks in just 36 innings pitched, a ratio of 1 every 3.5 innings, and that's been his main issue. Two of his last 3 starts though have been solid, 9 strikeout/0 walk performances, and it wouldn't surprise me if RJ gets win #300 within his next few starts.

The other 2 starters from series vs. the Nats were pretty solid as well. Matt Cain gave his standard 7 strong innings, although he did allow 9 hits and 4 earned runs and wasn't credited with an official "quality start". It was just the second time in seven starts this season that Cain failed to record a quality start, but in those two that he didn't, he still threw the ball pretty darn well. It's really good to see him getting some run support this year, and because of that, his 3-1 record is the best it's been at this point since 2006. Barry Zito, who got the start Wednesday, is also having his best statistical season since 2006. Unfortunately for Zito though, he's suffered the same tough luck that Matt Cain has so many times over the last 2 seasons, and he's really gotten no offensive support on nights in which he takes the ball. Zito had another solid outing on Wednesday, going 6+ innings allowing 4 runs on 8 hits while striking out 5. Zito suffered another loss and saw his record fall to 1-3, but Zito's been better than the 1-3 record, that's for sure. His line on Wednesday looked worse than it actually was too, as 2 of the runs charged to Zito scored after he left the game (runs scored on a broken bat, bloop single over the infield). Needles to say, Zito has rebounded, and while he's still not worth the $18 million he's being paid this season, he's become an above average major league starting pitcher again and is starting to look more like the pitcher the Giants thought they were getting when they signed him after 2006.

Extras: The Giants made a small roster move on Tuesday, demoting Osiris Matos back to Fresno and replacing him with Pat Misch who had a 2.12 era in 11 games as a reliever for Fresno. Misch had struggled mightily the last 2 years as a starter, so maybe he's found a home in the bullpen full-time... The Giants have a tough outer-division foe rolling into San Francisco for 4-game set starting Thursday as the NL East-leading Mets (New York Mets Schedule) make their 2009 trip to San Francisco.. Interleague play starts up next weekend as the Giants will travel to Seattle (Seattle Mariners Schedule) from May 22-24, and I'm really hoping Jesus Guzman may get a call-up by that time and serve as the DH in the series. Guzman has 5 hits in his last 2 games for Fresno and is carrying a .359 batting average.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Giants Beat LA, Again

The Giants have come a long way since their first road-trip of the season, in which they were swept by these Dodgers in LA. With Tim Lincecum on the mound, the Giants completed their second straight series victory over the Dodgers, and indeed, have shown that they are a much different team than the one that started the season.

It's no secret that the Giants struggle to score consistently. They're ranked last in the NL in runs scored, despite the fact that they're 2 games above .500. The reason why they are where they are is simple; they can flat out pitch, as evident by another series win, despite scoring just 6 runs in 3 games. Tim Lincecum didn't have his best stuff Sunday, but his 6 innings pitched, 8 k's and 3 earned runs on 6 hits marked his fifth straight quality start and certainly good enough to win. Lincecum left the game with the Giants down a run in the seventh, and the pressure was on the Giants' bats in order for him to avoid an L and the bats answered the bell. It took a couple extra innings to do it, but the Giants defeated the Dodgers on a 13th inning, 2-run single by Randy Winn. The Giants' right-fielder was really the offensive standout as he went 4-6 with 2 RBI and 4 runs scored. However, it was the bullpen that held on strong and gave the Giants the chance to win it after Lincecum departed. Brandon Medders, Jeremy Affeldt, Merkin Valdez, Bob Howry and Brian Wilson combined for seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball. It got a little scary at times, as both Medders and Wilson pitched through some trouble, but the Giants bullpen ultimately got the job done. Something that has been happening with a lot of consistency this year.

After taking two of three in LA and splitting two in Chicago, the Giants have to feel pretty good about their road trip. The bright spot from the trip was the team's young second basemen, Emmanuel Burris. Manny had a tremendous road trip, going 12-24 with 3 steals and 3 runs scored and saw his average rise from .211 to .286. The 23 year-old speedster also leads the team with 9 stolen bases in 12 attempts. Needless to say, Burriss has righted himself this May, and has silenced all the "bring up Frandsen" talk that was starting to surface at the end of April. Unfortunately the same didn't happen for Travis Ishikawa. The 25 year-old first-basemen had 10 official at-bats on the road trip and didn't have anything to show for them. Ishikawa has been struggling mightily since the season began and it's really weighing down the offense. Bochy had a short leash with him in Sunday's game, removing him in favor of Rich Aurilia in a spot where he felt the Giants needed a boost offensively. The Giants have also made it clear that they are looking for more out of that spot in the order and they may entertain moving Pablo Sandoval to first base full time and letting Juan Uribe man third for a while. I personally would like to see Jesus Guzman (.316 with 6 home runs and 23 RBI and only one fielding error in 30 games). He's been playing a lot of first base and has handled it well, but a potential corner infield of Sandoval and Guzman wouldn't be the strongest defensive bunch in the league. It's obvious that his bat is major league ready, or at least ready to be major league tested. The former A's (Oakland A's Schedule) and Rangers (Texas Rangers Schedule) farmhand has been in pro ball for a while, but the 24 year-old is still looking for his first big league at-bat. If he keeps hitting the ball the way he has, it should come sooner than later.

Down On The Farm
: Tim Alderson, the supplemental pick in the 2007 draft for the Giants, officially arrived in AA on Sunday. The organization's second-best pitching prospect threw a gem on Sunday in his AA debut, only allowing a walk and a runner to reach base via error in 7+ dominant innings. It was nice to see too because Alderson wasn't dominating this year at San Jose the way he did in '08 and seeing him throw his best game of the year in his first outing at the AA level was definitely reassuring... The Giants' top pitching prospect, Madison Bumgarner, gets his first taste of AA on Monday night.... Up next for the big league unit should be a team they can handle as the Washington Nationals (Washington Nationals Schedule) travel to San Francisco to start up a three game set on Monday.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, May 08, 2009

Manny's Suspension Boosts Giants' Hopes

I can't deny that the Manny Ramirez 50-game suspension bodes well for the Giants. Ramirez was arguably the National League's most valuable player through the month of April and early May. However, it's certainly no ticket to the postseason for this team, and they shouldn't be treating it as such.

Most of the Bay Area sports media beat the Ramirez story to a pulp on Thursday, but every single one of them were sending the same message; This now opens a door for the Giants in the division. I agree with this to an extent, but let's not forget, Ramirez is only going to be gone until July 3rd, so the Dodgers will have him back in plenty of time (3 months to be exact) to get back to where they are now. Also, the Dodgers were really taking off and kind of separating themselves from the rest of the National League, and they aren't sitting at 21-9 just because of the mercurial Ramirez. The team has talent up and down the roster. They still have Andre Eithier, Matt Kemp, Russel Martin, James Loney, Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson. Make no mistake about it, the Dodgers are not going to become a walk in the park all of the sudden now that Manny's out for 2 months and there's no reason the Giants shouldn't really change their approach. The only way I see his suspension having an effect on his team is if they somehow lose some confidence without their #99 in there, but I just don't see that happening with a Joe Torre led ball-club. Oh, and maybe Boston (Boston Red Sox Schedule) new a little something last summer when they dealt him away.. Just sayin'.

Now, I'm not trying to come off overly cynical here. I see why people are talking about it and analyzing it the way they have. The Dodgers aren't as good of team without ManRam than they are with him, so over the next 8 weeks, the Dodgers aren't going to be quite as good as they were over the first month. The thing I don't want to see though, is the Giants deal away a couple of young starting pitchers for a guy like Jorge Cantu, thinking that maybe they can overtake the division while Manny's on the shelf. Cantu immediately comes to mind because of the Giants' interest in him over the winter, and way he's played over the season's first month. Cantu would be a nice add to the middle of the lineup, and first-base, don't get me wrong, but is he going to be hitting .315+ all season long while averaging a homer every 11 at-bats? I highly doubt it. And of course, because he's cheap, productive and still pretty young, the Marlins (Florida Marlins Schedule) would want at least 2 solid young arms for him and I just don't think he's worth it. They shouldn't feel the need to strike now and force something just because of the situation. If the right deal rolls around and it makes sense with or without Ramirez playing for LA, then by all means, pull the trigger. But please, no making moves just to make one in light of the new situation.

Notes: The Giants get their first and only look at the Manny-less LA Dodgers this weekend, starting Friday. The Giants don't play the Dodgers again until August, so this will be their only opportunity to take advantage of not facing Ramirez... Barry Zito gets the start Friday night as he's still in search of his first win of '09, despite having thrown the ball particularly well in his previous 3 starts... Bengie Molina hit 2 home runs on Thursday, and has 3 homers and 9 RBI in May (7 HR and 27 RBI on season)... Fred Lewis also had a nice game Thursday, collecting 2 hits and driving in his first run since April 11th.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Giants' Bullpen Thriving

The season is officially a month old, and one unit that has been rock solid for the Giants, and hasn't gotten much pub, has been their bullpen. Brian Wilson is nailing things down in the ninth, and pretty much everyone who gets him the ball has done their job's so far.

The two newest additions to the Giants bullpen, Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry, have both done what the Giants have asked of them early on in the season. Affeldt is carrying a 3.18 era on 11.1 innings this year and striking out a batter an inning. Howry is at 4.35, but has really only had one bad outing in his 12 appearances. Merkin Valdez also looks completely healthy and is throwing the ball the way the Giants were hoping he would after missing most of last season with elbow issues. Those three, along with Brian Wilson, are doing their job, which is kind of what was expected of them coming in. What wasn't really expected though was that Brandon Medders and Justin Miller, two minor league invites to spring training, would be leading the bullpen in era with 3.09 and 1.74 respectively. Miller has been especially impressive since his re-call from Fresno after the season's first week. The 31 year-old righty has shown the ability to pitch more than just one inning in games, and do it successfully. Medders has been wild at times, as evident by his 10 bb's in 11.2 innings pitched, but has kept runners off the board in his innings for the most part. The Giants are going to have a decision to make in the next week or so as far as who they want to send down once Sergio Romo (2.12 era, 33 k's in 34 IP in '08) is available to return (He's just starting his assignment and should be ready by mid-May). Right now I'd say Medders gets the demotion, so he can work on his control a bit in Fresno, but the Giants have to be happy with the depth in their bully at this point.

The Giants also have to be happy with the way their ace has rebounded after his first couple of starts this year. Tim Lincecum turned in his 4th consecutive strong/dominant start on Tuesday in Chicago. It was your typical Timmy start; a solid 7 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs and 7 strikeouts in route to his 3rd victory of the year. The game was also highlighted by a Bengie Molina home run as the Giants catcher had another multi-hit day. It got me thinking a little bit, I know the season is only a month old, but all-star voting is just starting to begin, and the Giants may actually have some guys worthy of making it to the mid-summer classic this July in St. Louis (St. Louis Cardinals Schedule). The two stars from Tuesday's game would most certainly be on the National league roster if the game were tomorrow. Bengie Molina is leading all of baseball for RBI's by a catcher with 23. He's also hitting over .300 with 5 home runs and plethora of clutch hits. Lincecum is tied for the NL lead with 50 strikeouts to go with his 3-1 record and 3.05 era.

Then there are a few on the bubble. Brian Wilson, an all-star in '08, is tied for 3rd among saves leaders in the National league as he continues to develop into one of the best closers in the league. Matt Cain was also cruising until his most recent start vs. Colorado in which he gave up 5 runs and walked 4 in 6 innings. Still though, Cain is carrying a 3.09 era with a 2-1 record that could just as easily be 4-1 had he gotten a little help in a few of his starts. Finally, there's third basemen Pablo Sandoval probably, who wouldn't have even been on the radar 2 weeks ago, but his play since April 16th has put him there. Sandoval is hitting .319, which ranks third amongst NL third basemen, just behind former Giant Pedro Feliz, and the Washington's Ryan Zimmerman (Washington Nationals Schedule). Sandoval's 2 home runs and 8 RBI roughly half of where some of the other NL's third basemen are at though, so he's going to have to really have that batting average stick out if he's going to beat the odds and make it.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, May 04, 2009

Zito Returning to Form?

Barry Zito has been a different pitcher over the first month of 2009 than he was in '07 and '08. The Giants' high-priced lefty is in a groove that Giants' fans haven't yet seen from him while dawning the orange and black.

After his first two starts of the season, a lot of people were thinking "here we go again". In those first two outings, Zito was charged with 10 earned runs, on 11 hits and 6 walks in 9 innings. However, if you watched those starts closely, you'll know that Zito pitched better than his line showed in both instances. He was victimized by a lot of misplayed balls and it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong for Zito, did. Now, the defense is starting to catch the ball behind him and things are starting to fall into place. He's still not getting any run support, as evident by his 0-2 record, but practically every other statistical category has been improved for Zito so far in 2009. Through his first 29 innings pitched, he holds a 3.99 era and surprisingly low 1.16 WHIP. He also has seen an increase in strikeouts as he's k'd 19 compared to just 10 walks. Granted, it's only 29 innings, but the secret to his success has been that WHIP ratio. He's not allowing free passes and he's got the stuff to get a strikeout when he needs it, two things that were completely out of his control most of last season and '07. Zito has always been a slow starter, so it's great to see him hitting a groove here early in the season and pitching much better than the other high-priced left-hander who signed a huge contract this last winter (CC Sabathia). Oh, by the way, remember when everybody wanted the Giants to go hard after CC Sabathia? His numbers through his first 6 starts in New York (New York Yankees Schedule): 1-3, 4.85 era, 1.38 WHIP.

Besides Zito, the starting pitching as a whole has continued to carry the weight for the Giants. In fact, with minimal run support, the Giants starting rotation has gotten the team over the .500 mark, this late in a season, for the first time in a while. Sunday's game was a classic example of how things have gone for the Giants this season. They had numerous opportunities to put runs on the board throughout the game and take advantage of a terrific start from Zito, but the game went to the eleventh inning, scoreless. The Giants eventually took the game on a Rich Aurilia game-winning double, but squandered at least 3 other lucrative opportunities at putting runs on the board. If the Giants start getting the run in from third w/less than 2 outs, and putting up 4-5 runs a night to support their starting pitchers, they could take off. Again, they're a game above .500, and a few of their offensive players haven't really done anything yet. Emmanuel Burris is just starting to get his batting average going. Randy Winn, Fred Lewis and Aaron Rowand have also been struggling. But even with the offense struggling, the team has been doing enough to win (10-4 since April 17th). That alone is something that they haven't been able to do in the last few years. The team is improving, slowly, but surely.

Notes: Up next, the Giants (SF Giants Schedule) travel to Chicago (Chicago Cubs Schedule) for a short 2-game set with the Cubs starting Monday night. The Cubbies are one of the better teams in the NL and the first real, outer-division challenges the Giants face. And they're on the road... So it should be interesting to see how the Giants handle the tough environment in Chicago... Zito has now put forth 3 quality efforts while being caught by someone other than Bengie Molina.. Can't blame Bengie for Zito's two-seasons in San Francisco, but if it helps Zito to be caught by Sandoval, or Holm, or whoever, then do it.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, May 01, 2009

Giants Get Back At Dodgers

Like they did to San Diego during their last home stand, the Giants got some revenge on their other southern California foe LA Dodgers at AT&T Park this week. The Giants didn't sweep the Dodgers, but they took 2 out of 3 in the series and looked much more capable of matching up with the NL West's elite team than they did in their showing in Los Angeles in the season's opening week.

Tim Lincecum made his 3rd straight dominant outing, carrying a shutout into the seventh before surrendering a few hits and couple of runs. Lincecum's line for the day didn't look quite as good as he was throwing the ball, but he still got the win while going 7+ innings and striking out 8. "The Freak" has hit his grove after starting out slowly, and looks completely back on track now. In fact, the whole Giants rotation is really throwing the ball well, kind of like everybody expected them to coming into the year. Even Barry Zito has put together back-to-back quality outings and looks confident and in rhythm when he's out there on the mound, a complete opposite from the majority of his first 2 seasons here. In fact, Zito only put together back-to-back quality starts just 4 times last year, and only once in the first half. The fact that Zito is looking solid in the beginning of the season is also good news, because he's been a notoriously slow starter.

Jonathan Sanchez was the other starter who got the nod in the Dodgers series, and he had himself a decent start. The only thing that Sanchez did wrong was taking hitters too deep into counts too often, which was the reason why he only went 5 innings, despite not allowing any earned runs and only three hits while striking out 5. Although he's only had 3 starts, Sanchez has carried the second best era out of all the Giants starters in the month of April as he's sitting right at 2.60. Matt Cain, who's throwing like he wants to play in St. Louis at the mid-summer classic, leads the team with a 2.08 era.

The Giants also got some offensive guys really going this week. I mentioned last post that Pablo Sandoval's bat has come alive, but he's not the only one. Edgar Renteria has seen his average spike in the last couple of days. Renteria was key in the Dodgers series especially, going 6-9 with 2 RBI and 4 runs. The Giants' shortstop came into the series hitting just .217, but now enters the Giants/Rockies series at .275. The guy who all the scouts and baseball analysts felt was going to be a major bust is second on the team in RBI and leads the team in runs scored in the month of April. He's also been playing solid defense at short, where he was supposed to have no-range left and a deteriorating arm. Now, I'm not trying to say I didn't have my doubts with the Renteria signing, I made it perfectly clear at the time that I preferred Rafael Furcal, back questions and all, but I still expected a decent season out of Edgar, and much better than what he showed in Detroit last year. Oh by the way, Furcal is hititng just .241 with a home run and 5 RBI so far, roughly half the numbers that Renteria has put up. As a matter of fact, based on performances alone thus far, I think Edgar Renteria would be the NL All-Star teams' back-up shortstop, behind Hanley Ramirez. I know the season isn't even a month old yet, and I'm not deeming him a success just yet, but Renteria's play of late deserves some appreciation and attention.

Notes: Nate Schierholtz is finally getting some more playing time. Schieholtz has started twice in the past 4 days and has shown Bochy that he needs to keep finding ways to get him into the lineup by going 7-18 with 3 doubles... Emmanuel Burris is still really struggling. Despite his 2-4 night on Thursday, he's still hitting just .182 with a meager .457 OPS. Kevin Frandsen, on the other hand, has hit .342 in his last 10 games at Fresno. A move may be in place here if Burris can't get it going in early May... Another Grizzly who could get a call-up when the Giants need another infielder is Jesus Guzman, who came alive in Fresno's recent series with Reno. Guzman went 9 for 16 with 3 HR, 8 RBI and 6 Runs scored in the four-game set. Needless to say, the dude is capable of producing big numbers and his bat is major league ready. The Giants current corner infield utility-guy, Rich Aurilia, is hitting just .167 in 24 at-bats right now, so both of these situations are certainly worth keeping an eye on.
The Giants Baseball Blog