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Monday, September 28, 2009

Giants Notes

The Rockies magic number for clinching a wild card birth is down to just 1 with 6 games remaining, so the Giants should be mathematically eliminated either today or tomorrow. And, although the season ends in a week, there are still some things I'd like to see happen with this club before the book closes on the 2009 season.

We talked a bit in the last post about giving Buster Posey some playing time behind the plate to see if he may be ready to take reigns of the Giants catching position at some point in 2010. Posey has actually started 2 of the last 3 ballgames, but hasn't done much with the bat yet. He's just 1-10 in his first 10 big league ab's. This is exactly why I wish they would have started playing the kid a couple weeks ago. If he finishes off the season struggling, it could very well mess with his confidence level coming into spring training next year. I don't think that will necessarily happen with Posey, but it's no secret that a positive showing in September breeds confidence heading into the next season. A prime example to look at is what happened with Pablo Sandoval last season. He tore up every minor league level he stopped at, and was thrown into the mix immediately with the Giants and didn't miss a beat. He hist .345 to end the year and set himself up for a very successful season in 2009. I'm not saying these things go hand-in-hand, but again, I'd much rather see Posey playing everyday and racking up at-bats than spot starting and struggling to get into a rythm.

It's not just Posey they should be taking a long hard look at either. There are numerous roster decisions that will arise when the season ends, including what to do with some of the teams' key free agents. Bengie Molina, Randy Winn, Randy Johnson and Brad Penny are all potential free agents after the year, and Freddy Sanchez has an 8 million dollar team option. Out of that list, the only guy who I'm really pulling for to be re-signed is Brad Penny. He showed his capabilities and his ability to pitch in the NL West over the final month of the season (3-1, 3.31 era in 32 innings in September) and he's been a very nice fit behind Cain, Lincecum and Zito. Randy Johnson is likely looking to play another season, but I think I'd lean towards Penny, who'd likely be cheaper than Johnson anyway. The three real tough decisions will revolve around Randy Winn and Bengie Molina, who've been mainstays in the Giants lineup over the past 3-5 seasons, and of course whether or not they'll pick up the option on Freddy Sanchez.

As much as I appreciate what Molina and Winn have done here over their tenure's, I think now would be a good time to cut ties with each player. Winn saw his power numbers completely fall of the charts this year, and his average and run production suffered mightily as well. It was by far his worst season in San Francisco. Molina has also struggled through most of the year in 2009. Take away his terrific April (.325, 4 hr, 18 RBI) and his numbers would be atrocious. In fact, Bengie has just 7 home runs and 25 RBI after the all-star break, and remember, this guy is the Giants clean-up hitter when he's in the lineup. Freddy Sanchez has ended up being a colossal mistake by Sabean, as he cost the Giants their #2 pitching prospect and didn't do anything to help their playoff push this year. I can think of many ways they could use the 8 million he'd cost them in 2010, including re-signing Penny and super-utility stud, Juan Uribe. We'll have much more on the Giants potential player movement when the season ends.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Giants Un-officially Out of Race

After making a nice push last week after they beat the Rockies in 2 of 3 games in San Francisco and moved to within 2.5 games of them, it looked like the Giants were going to take this race down to the wire. However, they've really started to fall apart on their recent road trip, and sit 5 games back of the Rockies with just 11 games to go.

Now, I've seen weirder things happen than a team overcoming a 5 game deficit with just 11 to go, but the Giants seem to be struggling more and more each day while the Rockies look determined to seal this thing up. After Tim Lincecum got roughed up by LA on Sunday, and then seeing Matt Cain get pounded around by the D-Backs in Tuesday's loss, I think it's finally sunk in that the Giants are not going to be a playoff team in 2009. They just don't look like a team that's playing with urgency or are fighting for their playoff lives. Maybe it's just me, but I'm really not seeing it. Their starting pitching, which has been what's really carried them all season long, has all of the sudden hit the wall. It's understandable, it is late September after all, but once their pitching starts to take a dip, then it really causes a ripple effect on the whole team. None of their starters have gone at least 5 innings yet on this road-trip in which they're 2-3, and the starting rotation is carrying an era of 13.25 in those contests and I'm a little surprised they've figured out a way to win 2 games with those kind of starting performances.

Don't get me wrong though, they've done much more than I, or any other fan likely expected coming into the year, and are still playing meaningful games in late September, which is something they haven't done in 5 years here. This season has been very much a success story for this franchise. It's tough to look at it that way at the moment, because they're struggling and likely will fail to make the playoffs, but the fact that we're even mentioning them with the playoffs in the same sentence is a step in the right direction. What I'd like to see them do over this final week and of half of the 2009 season is put Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and some of their other young players to work to see if these guys can be counted on at the beginning of 2010. I'm a little surprised that Buster Posey isn't getting more time behind the plate (played in just 3 games this month). Bengie Molina is a free agent after the year and I don't foresee the Giants re-signing him and I don't think they're planning on investing in another catcher from outside the organization, so they better throw Posey into the mix and see if he's ready. Bumgarner has gotten a little more work than Posey, and hasn't missed a beat. He's gone 8 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 2 solo home runs, and 7 hits while striking out 9 batters. I don't know that the Giants will insert him into the rotation to star the 2010 season, but I'm definitely expecting Bumgarner to have an impact on the 2010 season early, kind of like Tim Lincecum did in 2007.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, September 18, 2009

Johnson Returns As Reliever

Randy Johnson hasn't thrown a pitch for the Giants since July 5th, but the lanky left-handed legend has been activated from the 60-day DL and the Giants expect him to contribute out of the bullpen for the rest of the season.

With Brad Penny now in the rotation, and Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito each pitching very well, there really wasn't a spot in the rotation for the Big Unit anyway, so bringing him back in relief is actually a plus for this team. Right now, Jeremy Affeldt is the only left-handed reliever who Bruce Bochy really trusts with the game on the line, and now Johnson gives him another. Dan Runzler, who was among the September call-ups, has thrown very well in his limited appearances, but those have been in lopsided games and I don't think Bochy has the confidence in the young lefty to throw him out there with a game on the line in the middle of a pennant race. I'm stoked to see how Johnson does out of the pen and I have a feeling he's going to be lights out if he's healthy. He doesn't need to pace himself to pitch 6-7 innings per night now, so I'm expecting him to really let loose in the inning+ he gets each outing in relief.

Johnson will definitely help the bullpen with his return, but that's not an area on the team that is desperate for help. That area is the Giants offense, which actually came alive for the first two games of the Rockies series, both Giants victories, before being shut down by Jorge De La Rosa on Wednesday night. No Giant hitter had a multi-hit game on Wednesday, and if it weren't for Andres Torres' double, they would have been held without an extra base hit. Now, don't get me wrong, Jorge De La Rosa is a nice young lefty, who's certainly capable of doing what he did on Wednesday. I just didn't expect him to do it to a team who virtually has no room for error in their fight for a postseason birth. I don't want to say that the Giants hitters looked disinterested and overmatched, but they certainly looked like a tired bunch on Wednesday. It's really a shame too, because if they would have pulled out that victory, it really would have given them the momentum, and would have given the Rockies something to worry about. Now, even though the Giants won the series, the Rocks had to feel pretty good about themselves as they left San Francisco, still with a solid 3.5 game lead and heading into Arizona to take on one of the leagues worst teams while the Giants head to LA to take on the leagues top team. Now, this race is still very much alive, but with only 16 games on the schedule remaining, the Rockies magic number is dwindling by the day.

Bruce Bochy still hasn't given Buster Posey his first major league at-bat, as the kid has been up for nearly 3 weeks now and is the only guy on the roster who hasn't gotten into a game. It's really surprising too, because I think this kid could definitely give the Giants offense a boost, even if it is as just a pinch hitter. They need something to kick-start their offense, and I think a few nights with Buster Posey getting some action may do just that... Top pitching prospect, Madison Bumgarner, has also been out of action since he made his big league debut start on September 8th. I was kind of expecting Bochy to use the kid in relief, but apparently that's not in the cards... Jonathan Sanchez will try and get some revenge on the Dodgers in Friday night's start. Sanchez's last outing came against these Dodgers last week, and they handed Sanchez his worst start and loss since June 16th.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, September 14, 2009

Giants Need To Win This Series

A lot of people are already writing the Giants off in the NL Wild Card race. They're offense seems to be getting worse as the season draws near the end, and it almost seems as if they're just playing out the year, rather than fighting for a playoff spot.

This post will be a little shorter than our normal posts here at the Giants Baseball Blog, just because it won't take a whole post to say what needs to be said. The Giants have Tim Lincecum going tonight, in his first start since September 3rd, and it's anyones guess as to how his back will hold up throwing for the first time in 10 days. The Giants need him to be his dominant self though, as they'll need Matt Cain and Barry Zito to be as well. The Giants have it set up to where they'll have their three hottest arms going against the Rockies, and they're really in a great position to sweep this series if they can somehow manage to get the offense going early. One tip I'd have for Bochy is to give Andres Torres some more time in center field and at the top of the lineup for the time being. Eugenio Velez has gone into a slump in the leadoff spot, and it's really caused a ripple effect on the whole batting order, because the Giants rely so much on the top of their order. Torres has looked good at the plate in recent games and is a fine defensive centerfielder. In fact, here's the lineup I'd have for the these next three game vs. the Rockies, which some quick notes on it below:

1. CF Anders Torres 2. 2B Freddy Sanchez 3. RF Nate Schierholtz 4. 3B Pablo Sandoval 5. SS Juan Uribe 6. C Bengie Molina 7. 1B Travis Ishikawa 8. LF Randy Winn/Velez

*Bengie Molina has 3 RBI in September....Can no longer hit cleanup when in the order!
*Uribe should be moved to the middle of the lineup with the way he's swinging.
*Ishikawa at first is helps the defense, so I'd lean towards him there unless Sandy' needs to be.
*I'd limit PT for Renteria and Winn while they continue to stuggle, and throw Uribe at short and Lewis or Velez in left while letting Nate play full-time in rf.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, September 11, 2009

Giants Fading In September

The Giants are losing ground on the Wild Card leading Colorado Rockies, and they're doing so very quickly. They've gone just 4-5 in September thus far, and are getting banged up a little in the health department which has led them to 4.5 game deficit of the wild card leading Rockies heading into play this weekend.

It's still a little unclear when the teams ace, and most important player by far, Tim Lincecum, will make his next start after aggravating his sore back in his last outing. He's tentatively scheduled to make the start on Monday, the opening of an extremely important series vs. the Rockies, but that is anything but guaranteed. The Giants called up Madison Bumgarner on September 8th, which was Lincecum's last scheduled start, in order to give Timmy a few extra days to nurse the back along. Bumgarner threw pretty decently in his major league debut, going 5 innings vs. the Padres, allowing 2 runs on a couple of solo jacks, and just 4 hits while striking out 4 batters. He showed enough to get another nod and will start on Monday if Lincecum isn't ready, or ends up going in one of the weekend games vs. the Dodgers (highly unlikely). The call-up of Bumgarner now gives the Giants 6 starting pitchers for Bochy to use, and allows him to give some guys an extra day if needed. Even if he doesn't stick in the rotation for the final 3 weeks of the season, he provides the team with another power-armed lefty they can use in middle or long relief along with Dan Runzler.

The September downfall of the Giants hasn't been just about the team being a little banged up. They flat out aren't hitting, and they are really struggling to score runs, even vs. teams and pitchers that they shouldn't have trouble with. They just lost 2 of 3 at home to the San Diego Padres, who are 15 games below .500 and trotted out to the mound guys like Wade LeBlanc and former Giant castoff, Kevin Corriea, and both had their way with the Giants hitters. Freddy Sanchez, who cost the Giants Tim Alderson at the trade deadline, has been a major disappointment so far, I don't care how you sugar coat it. He cost the Giants their second best pitching prospect, and although he's still sporting a respectable average, the dude has been anything but clutch and has been an injury waiting to happen since dawning a Giants uniform. In fact, their isn't one particular game in which I've felt Sanchez has impacted enough to help determine the outcome of. Even Ryan Garko has had a few clutch hits which have helped the Giants pull out victories late in games, but I've yet to see that happen with Sanchez. I may be a tad over-critical of Sanchez right now, but I know what kind of value Alderson had and I certainly feel Sabean could have turned him into more than just Freddy Sanchez. Oh yeah, the Giants are just 8-8 with Sanchez in the starting lineup since he arrived in San Francisco and 12-9 without him. Not a drastic difference, but not the type of impact you'd want out a guy you dealt a top-3 prospect for.

Extras: The next 6 games could really ultimately end up deciding the Giants fate as far as their wild card chances go. They have 3 with the Dodgers this weekend, then host the Rockies for three next week. If the Giants lose ground on the Rockies by the end of that series, they'd essentially need to be perfect for their remaining games and hope that the Rocks hit a rough patch. One thing the Giants do have in favor for them as far as their schedule goes, is that they'll play 12 of their remaining 18 games at home, where they're the best team in the NL.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Penny Proving Pivotal

The Baseball world didn't take too much out of the Giants signing of Brad Penny last week. He struggled through most of the season in Boston and I don't think anyone really expected much out of him the rest of the way. However, he's shown up in San Francisco and has gone above and beyond the expectations which the Giants had for him over his first two starts.

Penny followed up his Giants debut start last Wednesday (in which he held the potent Philly offense scoreless over 8 innings) with a 7 inning, 2 run, 6 strikeout victory over the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on Monday afternoon. Penny is looking very comfortable back here in the NL West, and has really solidified the back-end of the Giants rotation with Randy Johnson on the shelve. The big right-hander looks strong and motivated and I'm really expecting him to keep up his solid performance over the season's final 3 weeks. In fact, he's looked so strong in his 2 outings with the Giants, that he's going to get consideration for a post-season rotation spot if the Giants do indeed make the playoffs. Obviously they'll have Cain and Lincecum as the first two starters, and I'd expect Barry Zito to get a start after the way he's thrown in the second half of the year, then they'd likely look to Penny as the fourth man. Randy Johnson has stated that he expects to return to the team before the season ends, but he'll do so as a reliever. Penny could also enter the bullpen in the postseason if the Giants make it and decide to go with a 3-man rotation in the NLDS. There is a ton a of baseball to be played still though, and this is all speculation and optimistic planning on my part, but the Giants have some depth in their rotation and it could leave them with a lights-out bullpen in October if they can manage to make it.

Another new development happening with the ballclub is Bruce Bochy switching up the defensive positioning a bit. Pablo Sandoval has been battling a few nagging injuries and Bochy is hoping a switch over to first base for a while will take some of the pressure off of his body. Not to mention, Juan Uribe is the hottest Giants hitter going right now, and since Freddy Sanchez just returned from the DL, the only way Uribe can be kept in the lineup on a daily basis is if he starts at third. Uribe has gone 9 for 25 with 4 homers, 8 RBI and 6 runs scored over the last week. He's quietly putting together a very nice season as a utility guy, and I really don't think the Giants are in the position they currently are if Juan Uribe is not on this team. His overall season numbers don't jump out at you too much (.282, 12 home runs, 40 RBI), but he puts up numbers when it matters and has been one of the Giants most clutch hitters in 2009. A good indicator of how valuable he's been to the Giants is his .816 OPS, which isn't earth shattering by any stretch, but is good for second on the Giants behind Pablo Sandoval.

: Buster Posey, who was called up about a week ago when Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval were both unavailable to catch, is still looking to make his big league debut. I'm a little surprised Bochy hasn't just thrown him out as a pinch hitter or something, but I fully expect Posey to get his feet wet a little up here before the end of the season... Madison Bumgarner also got called up, in a surprising move, on Tuesday. Bumgarner is the Giants top pitching prospect and has been nothing short of dominant in his 2 years in the minors. It's still unclear as to what Bumgarner's role will be right off the bat, but apparantely Tim Linceucm has a sore back which may force him to miss a start and Bumgarner could slip into his spot. That's just speculation on our part, but it's pretty exciting to see both the teams elite prospects arrive at the major league level at the same time!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, September 04, 2009

Interview with SI's Tom Verducci

We recently had a chance to catch-up with SI's senior baseball writer, and one of the best baseball minds in the media as far as we're concerned, Tom Verducci. We talked to Tom a little bit about the Giants chances at the postseason and got his views on what the future holds for some of the younger players on the roster, so here it is:

Q1: How do you see the NL Wild Card playing out? The Giants had the lead for a while there to start the second half, but their offense has gone stagnant and the Rockies are really heating up. Any chance the Giants re-gain their momentum over the last month and re-take the lead, or do you see the Rockies (or Dodgers if they continue to stumble) staying atop the bunch in the NL?

A: I'm guessing it's going to take about 92 wins to win the wild card. The Giants would need to go 23-12 to get there. Can they do it? Sure. They've already had a 23-12 run this season. We know they have the pitching to do it. But the injuries to key offensive players make it very difficult. Obviously the Giants are going to have to take care of business when they play Colorado head to head. Nobody has slowed down the Rockies for four months of .700 baseball. They're bound to step on a banana peel at some point, right? I still think the Rockies are the wild card favorites, but I think the Giants do have a run in them to make it close.

Q2: There are still a couple of days before the MLB Waiver trade deadline. Have you heard anything regarding the Giants possibly acquiring some more help for the stretch drive? Who are some names that have been placed on waivers or could be before the 31st?

A: I wouldn't expect very much. The Giants may have some interest in bats such as Felipe Lopez and Mike Cameron of the Brewers, but in both cases Milwaukee would want a decent prospect in return rather than viewing those guys as pure salary dumps.

Q3: The Giants made a couple of moves before the non-waiver deadline, acquiring Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko in attempt to help bolster their sub-par offense. What was your initial
reaction to these deals, and did you think that those 2 would be enough to help keep the Giants atop the NL Wild Card? Do you expect these guys will become mainstays in the Giants lineup over the next couple of years?

A: I liked both moves because without the addition of any bats the Giants' postseason chances were about nil. I guess the deal for Sanchez depends on what you think Tim Alderson will be in the big leagues. Scouts like his breaking stuff, but the Giants saw some regression this year, particularly with velocity and command. Sanchez will play next year at 32 for $8 million and has to hit well over .300, as he did in 2006, to be really valuable, so I don't think he's going to be a mainstay. Garko does hit lefthanders well so he does fit a role, but I don't see him as an everyday fixture in the Giants lineup for years to come.

Q4: Over the last couple of years, there's been a lot of talk about Jonathan Sanchez's potential and his value as a trade chip. He's shown flashes of brilliance, including his near perfect game last month, but can't seem to find any consistency. How do other general managers and team executives around the league view this guy? Is he someone who could bring the Giants back a nice bat in a deal, or is he someone they'd be better off hanging onto and hope he reaches his potential in San Francisco?

A: I think people around baseball would love to get Sanchez from the Giants on the premise that maybe they can get him cheaply. The guy is lefthanded, only 26, has never even qualified for the ERA title yet, never made 30 starts, and strikes out one batter per inning. Obviously, the walks are a concern. But he still has big potential. Of course, people have been saying that about Oliver Perez for years.

Q5: Even the casual baseball fan is becoming familiar with "The Big Panda" Pablo Sandoval as the Giants have finally developed a position player of note. What's your take on Sandoval? Do you
think he's a guy who will be a .320+ hitter with 30 homers and 100+ RBI a year type player, or do you think those numbers will recede as the league starts to learn him some more.

A: Sandoval reminds me of guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Vladimir Guerrero. They can hit just about anything and go up there hacking. That's normally not a game plan for consistent success, but these guys have exceptional hand-eye coordination and you'd rather not change them. My only concern long term would be his size; he's 245 pounds at age 22. He's a better athlete than what he appears to be, but you wonder about staying away from injuries when you play at that size.

The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Giants Add Brad Penny

We talked about it in our last post on Friday, and it came to fruition on Monday evening. The Giants had been looking for another starting pitcher to help for the stretch run for the last couple of weeks, and signed Brad Penny on Monday, giving the team another veteran presence in the rotation as they try and push for a playoff birth.

Penny didn't have the best year in Boston, his first season in the American League, but he feels good and he did scatter a few decent outings in there over his last 5-6 starts. Regardless of what he did in Boston, the Giants are hoping a return to the National League West, where he had tremendous success as a Dodger, will re-focus the big fella and get him back on track. It looks like Penny will likely take the fifth spot in the rotation behind Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, the new Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez. I am not expecting too much out of Penny, but I really do think he has the chance to make a big impact on the Giants chances if he can revert back to his 2007 form. Another positive coming from this move is that it was completed on August 31st, just before the post-season roster deadline. If the Giants had waited until today (September 1st) to make the deal, Penny wouldn't have been able to qualify for a postseason roster spot if the Giants end up making it. On the less positive side, this does mean that the Giants aren't expecting anything from Randy Johnson the rest of the way, or if they are, they aren't expecting it until the very end of the month. Overall though, I like this low-risk, potentially high-reward move, and I'm stoked to see what Penny does in his Giants' debut tomorrow night in Philadelphia.

The Penny signing comes in light of the Giants sweeping the Wild Card leading Rockies at home, and putting themselves back atop the NL Wild Card standings, so it really was a successfull weekend all around for the orange and black. The game on Sunday really had a playoff kind of feel to it and when Edgar Renteria hit that grand slam in the 7th inning of that game, it almost felt as if the Giants had clinched the wild card right then and there. The offense showed up this weekend and provided more than enough run support for the Giants starters. Renteria had himself a very solid series, collecting 4 hits, driving in 5 runs over the weekend. Pablo Sandoval also contributed a couple of homers along with 4 hits of his own in the three game set. On the mound, Tim Lincecum won his first game since August 1st on Friday night, dominating the Rockies to the tune of 8 IP, 4 hits, 0 runs and 8 k's. Barry Zito followed Lincecum's effort and continued his second half dominance with an 8 1/3 inning, 7 strikeout, 1 run performance of his own. Zito's numbers for the second half continue to get better and better with each outing he has. He's now 4-2 with a 1.92 era and .225 BAA in 56 innings since the all-star break. He's looking like a front-end of the rotation starter for the first time in his Giants' tenure and has his era below 4 for the first time since 2006.

Up Next for the Giants will be a potential playoff preview, as they travel into Philadelphia for a 3-game set with the NL East leaders. If the season ended today, It would be the Giants and the Phillies squaring off in round one of the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see how SF will match-up with Philly. The Giants will send Jonathan Sanchez to the hill Tuesday night, followed by Brad Penny Wednesday and then Tim Lincecum will face Pedro Martinez in Thursday's finale!
The Giants Baseball Blog