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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Look Back at '11: What Went Wrong

Well, we started our season review off last week here, with the things that went right with the 2011 San Francisco Giants. Today, we break down what kept them out of October and from defending their Championship this Fall.Link
First off, as you can probably guess, this one doesn't take a rocket scientist, because even those not close to this organization, knew exactly what the 2011 Giants problem was and you can sum it up in 2 words: No offense! However, it goes a little deeper than just that. This team was last in the league in offense because of a few reasons. No, you can't blame it all on Aubrey Huff or Andres Torres, and although it's an easy scapegoat, you can't blame it all on the injuries to Buster Posey or Freddy Sanchez either. They lost Sanchez, but Jeff Keppinger came in and did a fine job in his place. Maybe not quite up to Sanchez's standards defensively, but a strong contact hitter who certainly didn't hurt the team. The one injury that did really hurt though, was losing Buster in late May. The moment, the second that happened and I saw Buster on the ground in agony, I had a bad gut feeling about this 2011 Giants team. Still though, they managed to hold onto first place well after they lost Posey, and even kept afloat with Pablo Sandoval down for 6 weeks. What happened with this team is they hit a wall after the All-Star break. Everything was looking up heading into that break, they had a decent lead in the West, they were pursuing a big bat (Carlos Beltran), and it looked as if they all but had the NL West sealed up.

Then the second half came, and contrary to what they did in 2010, this team descended badly in the later months of the season. They looked old and tired, and one even content (that ones for you Aubrey) with losing. I saw no fire in this team in the second half, and I don't want to blame it on the Beltran trade, but that's when things really hit the wall. Not only did Carlos start extremely slowly then get hurt 2 weeks into his Giants tenure, he didn't start paying off until the last 2 weeks of the year, in which the team was basically eliminated. But I still don't blame Sabes for that deal, because a healthy and productive Beltran would have made all the difference in the world (as we saw in late September). Plus, at the time, the Giants were just one solid bat away from becoming favorites to repeat, it just didn't work out. I do blame Sabean for the Orlando Cabrera deal though, and not because I think Thomas Neal will become a stud someday, but only because I knew Cabrera was no improvement over the Tejada/Crawford/Fontenot mix they already had going, and it seemed like Cabrera never really fit in with this team. At the end of 2010, the Giants were a mix of younger, hungrier group featuring an effective Cody Ross, a healthy Buster Posey, a determined Aubrey Huff, and an above league average leadoff hitter who looked like he was coming into his own. They got none of that in 2011, not a single one of those players came close to what they did in 2010 and that's where this team lost it.

Even after teams like the Yankees and Red Sox win, they go out the next winter and look re-tool and get stronger. The Giants didn't do that, they stood pat, added Miguel Tejada and hoped for an exact repeat of what they got in 2010. That was wishful thinking. Even World Champs need to reload and assess their clubs before the following season, and the Giants failed in that department. When Buster Posey went down, they failed again to sure up the one position that was absolutely killing them, and rode it out with Whiteside and Stewart at catcher. Again, don't know why they choose Orlando Cabrera over even a marginal upgrade a catcher... Bad decisions, out of shape players, and injuries are what happened to the 2011 San Francisco Giants. But fortunately, with this pitching staff, a healthy Buster Posey and an all-star Pablo Sandoval set to return, it shouldn't be too hard to fix.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Texas Should Get it Right 2nd Time

Last year, we all know, the Texas Rangers were no match for the potent San Francisco Giants pitching staff, but this time around, they face a starting rotation that isn't nearly as imposing.

I just wanted to get a quick World Series preview/prediction out of the way with the series starting tonight, not that I have any outstanding interest in it. I do think the Rangers are the better team and should win, but I also would have never picked St. Louis to make it out of round one with their pitching, so they have been surprising people all month long. It should be a high-scoring series and the Rangers have more ammo. Even with Albert Pujols destined in what could be his final year in the Red and White, I see Texas winning in 6. They were there last year and have looked good all postseason long and I just don't see the Cards knocking them off. I think the Brewers would have certainly been a better matchup because of their strong pitching, but if you like offense, you should be in for a treat over the next 2 weeks. One thing the Rangers will need to have happen though is C.J. Wilson step up and rebound in game one vs. Chris Carpentar. I give the slight edge, starting pitching wise, to St. Louis, so Wilson's starts have to be wins. The bullpen edge goes to Texas hands down. With Alexi Ogundo able to eat up 3-4 innings at a time, the Rangers only need their starters to get the ball into the 2nd half of the game for their lights out pen to take control.

Series MVP: Josh Hamilton (hits .500 in the series and carries Texas' offense)

*GBB NOTE: I have a new addition to the family scheduled to arrive this week and will be out of town, most likely, through the weekend. We probably won't get to Part 2 of our Season in Review until I get back, but be on the lookout for quick thoughts on the World Series games, or Giants tidbits that may arise over the weekend. More along the lines of today's post rather than our typical 1,000+ word article!
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Look Back at '11: What Went Right

In the first part of our 3 part end of season wrap, we'll talk about some of the main things that went right with the Giants in part one, the things that didn't go so well in part 2, and what needs to be done in order to get back where they were in 2010 in part 3.

Obviously, as we've been harping all year, and since the season ended, the starting pitching, and really the pitching staff as a whole, was brilliant. There's really nothing more Bochy and Sabean could have asked out of guys like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. In the bullpen, the same guys who were nails in the playoffs last fall, picked up right were they left off as Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Cassilla, Ramon Ramirez and Sergio Romo were the main passages from the starters to closer Brian Wilson, who battled some physical problems late which cost him nearly a month of play, but still notched 36 saves and sported a solid 3.11 era. None of the Giants starters won over 13 games, because of lack of run support, but they the main four all had era's under 3.21 and one guy in particular, Ryan Vogelsong, came out of nowhere to become another anchor to this staff. He really picked up the slack were Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito left it (more on that in the next post), and he did more than solidify his spot in 2012's rotation, he showed he may be worth a extending a few years at the right price for San Francisco. Although outside of their top-4 starters, things get a little sketchy, they really can't ask for a better base for their rotation as well as a plethora of relievers heading into next year.

As rough as things went overall offensively for this team this season, there were still a few positives to bring out of 2011, believe it or not. The main of which being Pablo Sandoval's re-ascension back among the top-tiere 3rd basemen in the NL with his 23 home run/.315 average year while missing about 1/4 of the season. The ceiling the 25 year-old Panda and 24 year-old Posey have in middle of their lineup is sky high right now and that is a something this team hasn't had in a long, long time. Not since Will Clark and Matt Williams has this team produced 2 home grown daily players with all-star capabilities, and with the way most people expect Brandon Belt to expand in his sophomore season, they could be getting another young phenom in the mix next spring. Belt had a roller coaster year in 2011, but finished off nicely, going 14-43 (.326) with 4 homers and 6 RBI in the final 2 weeks of the year. The Giants sent him to the Dominican for Fall Ball to work on a few things, and I expect him back and hungry in 2012, ready to force his way into the lineup somewhere. Another nice development the Giants saw happen this year was the defensive play of rookie shortstop Brandon Crawford. The 25 year-old proved his glove certainly belongs, and showed some glimpses with the stick, although he probably needs a full year at Fresno to fine tune that swing... All in all though, really tough year for the Giants offense.

Anyway, here's the Giants Baseball Blog awards for the 2011 Giants, pointing out top pitcher, team MVP, top rookie, surprise player and defensive player

Team MVP: Pablo Sandoval- Without him, the Giants may have scored 300 runs all year.
Top Pitcher: Tim Lincecum- Was his normal freakish self with low era and high K numbers!
Standout Rookie: Brandon Belt- Up and down year, but showed he's going to be the real thing.
Surprise POY: Ryan Vogelsong- Nothing else really needs to be said!
Defensive POY: Brandon Crawford- The guys glove was so good up the middle that he was a daily player for most the season while hitting below .200!

Up Next: PT. 2, What Went Wrong
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Giants Minor Leagues Low on Big Talent

After the the trades Sabean made this July, sending away Zach Wheeler, Thomas Neal and others, the Giants farm system was sure to take a hit. They're really banking on 2011's class to help re-invigorate a dying system.

There just weren't a whole lot of players who stuck out in the Giants system this season, and those who did, found their way up to the big league roster. Obviously, there are still a few elite guys like Gary Brown, Francisco Peguero and Joe Panik to help re-shape this farm system, but their pitching, which has been their strength for the better part of the last 1/2 decade, is no longer as deep as it normally is. It's like the team's philosophy has changed and all the sudden they have a plethora of power hitting prospects who have huge holes in their swings. Now Brown (.336/14/80/54) should start 2012 as the teams top ranked prospect, but 2011 top pick Joe Panik (.341/6/54, 69 games) will be right on his heels. Then I'd expect Francisco Peguero to round out the top 3, giving the Giants three positional players as their top-3 prospects for the first time that I can remember. Peguero quietly put up another very effective year, to the point where I was surprised the Giants didn't give him a look see in September. He figured out how to hit in the Eastern League, which a lot of Giants prospects can't seem to do, hitting over .300 with with a team-high .763 OPS. Another guy who had a standout year with the bat was 2009 supplemental pick, 20 year-old Tommy Joseph (.270/ 22/95) who really came alive in the 2nd half in the Cal League. Because of that power potential, Joseph will always have value, problem is finding him a position he can play comfortably.

On the pitching front, things are pretty thin at the moment, and if your wondering if the Giants may deal a starting pitcher for offense this winter, it may not be the case. 2011 Supplemental pick, Kyle Crick, who supposedly gave the Giants the confidence to deal their top prospect in Wheeler after they took him in Junes draft. However, even if he is the next MadBum or Cainer, he's just out of high school and even on an accelerated path, still 2 full years out. The only other guy close to the top-10 as far as Giants prospects coming into the year, besides Wheeler, was lefty Eric Surkamp, and he was less than spectacular at the big league level in his brief stint. He did go 10-4 with a sub-2.50 era in AA Richmond, and can pitch, but doesn't have overpowering stuff and needs to learn to throw with confidence and trust his location. He's probably destined for AAA Fresno to start 2012, but he could be in line for some starts again if he can improve in that area. Other than Surkamp though, as we saw in September, it's Barry Zito or Jonathan Sanchez. The Giants really don't have a bunch of options, and should they trade Sanchez, they better be willing to dip into free agency for some insurance. That's if Sanchez even has any value at this point. The best thing to do in his case would be to let him come to spring training and show baseball he's back, rather than try dealing him after the year he just had.

The Giants strength is still their pitching, don't get me wrong, but depth has become and issue, so much so that it likely will keep the Giants from dealing anyone away this winter. The relief front is a whole other story, as the Giants are stacked with them, and could package a guy like Romo with a solid prospect like Peguero and really get themselves a bat that way. I know there are plenty of teams looking for proven late-inning bullpen help, especially a closing-type 28 year-old.
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Saturday, October 08, 2011

The March Towards 2012 Starts Now

I know I didn't dedicate a whole boat load of time to breaking down, inch-by-inch the positives and negatives of the 2011 San Francisco Giants, cause to me it came down to 3 simple things. The loss of Posey and then the complete fall of offensively by Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres, and the complete lack of a #5 starter all year long.

The Giants pitching was there all year, sure guys like Bumgarner and Vogey hit some bumps in the road, but I know that Dave Righetti will tell you he's more than happy with the way his staff threw as a whole (minus the 5th spot in the rotation), from their ace Tim Lincecum, all the way down to closer Brian Wilson, these guys were nails yet again. However, Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez delivered less than stellar outings in the final months of the season, as the Giants lost everyone of their starts down the stretch, and many weren't even close. To me, that sums up the Giants 2011 in a few short sentences. They had enough to win the division even after Posey went down. The Giants replaced Freddy Sanchez adequately, but they failed to do so with Buster, which still bogs me to this day. In mid July, this team looked all but assured a spot in the 2011 postseason. Remember when Beltran had just arrived in Philly with the Giants and the buzz around that time was incredible, a playoff like atmosphere, yet it seems like that was the one series that ended up doing the Giants in. That was their last real push of 2011 before they simply ran out of gas. But now with the MLB Postseason flying by (Championship Series' all ready), time to start putting in motion a plan for next years team is just weeks away. Let's hope the Giants learned from their mistake-full 2011 campaign, and right the ship.

It's still early October, so I don't want to start jargaining off potential trade scenarios or Free Agent targets, because so much can happen between now and the end of October. However, I am in very good position to give my 2 cents on what should happen with the guys the Giants currently have on roster and whether some of them should have a spot on 2012's squad. Believe or not, the Giants do have some big money coming off the books in the realm of Mark DeRosa ($6M), Miguel Tejada ($6.5M) and Cody Ross ($6M+), among others, and will have a little wiggling room for upgrades, and by golly, with the way these guys played last year, it would be hard for anyone not to be an "upgrade on that bunch. Ross was streaky, but hit below .250 and had 13 homers while Tejada suffered through one of the roughest season I've ever seen an ex-MVP go through. Again, I don't think any of these guys should be back in any role at all. Possibly DeRosa as an instructor/hitting coach as he seems to be good on the bench and a solid teacher. Anyway, I very much believe the 2012 Giants could feature just a portion of the 2011 opening day lineup they trotted out. Just to throw out an early guess for the heck of it, I could see Sabean entertaining the ideas of FA's like of shortstop Jimmy Rollins, a (Bay Area native), as well as Mike Cuddyer (who he's always had trade interest in) and quite possibly Coco Crisp (they need a leadoff guy, and he seems to fit what the want financially and possitionally). Wouldn't surprise me if at least one of those three are with the Giants in Scottsdalle come February though.

Note: First (of three) GBB Giants Mock Lineup: 2012 - October 31st!
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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Drama Surrounds Giants' Losing Season

Well, anytime you follow up a World Series Championship season with a full on tanking in the 2nd half of the season like the Giants did, blame was bound to surface and fingers were going to be pointed.

On the forefront of the Giants end of season headlines, is a lot of panic surrounding the teams future, especially offensively. The Giants were so bad this season at the plate, that it's prompted some fans in the area to call for extreme measures in order to upgrade the offense, some even suggested dealing away the team's franchise starter, Tim Lincecum. Now, I highly doubt the Giants are entertaining the idea of dealing Lincecum away for offensive help, but it's been widely speculated that he's hesitant on taking a long-term deal with this team because of the offensive uncertainty. Some people are fearing that Lincecum will bolt for greener pastures, and a better lineup, once he's a free agent, so their thinking is why not turn him into a great hitter while his value is still extremely high. While I certainly can see where these people are coming from, I still think Tim Lincecum is the last guy this organization can afford to lose. Lincecum is the face of this franchise and is a perfect poster boy for this laid back, tight-nit group. I have a very hard time fathoming any situation in which Brian Sabean could drastically improve this team by dealing away his 27 year-old ace. That said, I think it's quite obvious that the Giants need to shake things up on the offensive side in order to right their ship, and dealing away a pitcher may be only way to do just that, but Cain and Lincecum should be as untouchable now as they were 2-3 years ago. The pitching is the strength of this team and should be for years to come. You get rid of Lincecum or Cain, and you change the whole makeup of this team and deliver a major blow to the starting rotation.

The Lincecum trade idea is just one of the overreactions you'll see from fans after a disappointing year in which the expectations where so high, especially after the Giants cruised for the first 4 months of the year. Another thing popped up recently too, something that I was completely unaware of before I heard it, and that was Mike Krukow's comment on how the Giants turned their backs on Aubrey Huff, one of leaders of this team during their championship run. I don't remember the comment, but apparently Huff stated that "you can't be good every year" when discussing his struggles at the plate. It was obvious during the season that Huff wasn't 100%, and things just got worse as the season wore on, but I didn't know how careless he was towards his conditioning. The Giants players easily picked up on this and lost a lot of respect for their thong-totting first basemen when he actually went public with his nonchalant attitude towards his "off-year". I'm not going to sit here and beat this topic to death, but I certainly hope this only drives Aubrey Huff to comeback stronger that ever in 2012. The Giants are stuck with him for another year and paying him over 11 million next season, so they really need this guy to rebound, and if he wants another multi-year deal, he's going to have to show up next year in top shape. Brandon Belt is playing in the winter league right now, and you can tell he's going to be hungry for a spot this spring, and if Huff returns in the same physical shape as he did in spring this year, he should lose his spot to Belt. The Giants have already sat Barry Zito and his $18 million down, and cut Aaron Rowand and his remaining $13 mill, so I don't think they'll have a problem sitting Huff.

It's too bad they couldn't pull it out in the end, because right now Arizona is no match for Milwaukee, and I have no doubt the Giants would be better equipped for playoff ball than Arizona. That said, the Brewers are no joke, and I don't even know if the Phillies will be able to slow them down. They're getting hot at the right time, a lot like the Giants did in 2010, and it wouldn't surprise me the least to see a Texas/Milwaukee Series with the way things are looking right now. Texas is also thriving right now and can out-slug anyone, while the Brew Crew have a tremendously balanced team, with speed, power, and a deep pitching staff.
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