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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Taking Care of Business in Houston

It took a comeback effort in Tuesday's game, only the 2nd time all season the Giants won when trailing after the 7th inning. On Wednesday, the Giants had to hold off the Astros' attempt at a comeback and did so successfully.

Matt Cain made his first start vs. Houston since his perfect game in June on Tuesday, and he again gave the Astros lineup trouble. Unfortunately Cainer didn't get the decision in his solid 7 inning, 2-run performance as he left in a tie game, but he did more than enough to give the Giants a chance to pull out the late inning victory (thanks to some fine defensive plays behind him). Barry Zito had a tougher go of it Wednesday, getting knocked out in the third and almost surrendering the Giants' 4-0 lead. The biggest part of that game though, in my mind, came before Zito even took the hill. Hunter Pence finally made an opposing pitcher pay for walking the red hot Buster Posey. With Pence struggling and Posey scorching, pitchers were starting to feel a lot more confident in walking Posey to get to Pence, but Wednesday's big fly will hopefully stunt that plan a bit. Pence launched a 3-1 breaking ball up near the train tracks at Minute Maid Park, something that had to feel good for the former Astro and Texas native. I said on twitter before this series that this would be a great chance for Pence to catch fire. With the Astros beatable pitching, the extremely live yard, and a place where Pence has a huge comfort level, it's the perfect remedy for the slumping slugger.

Speaking of hot hitters, nobody on the Giants has been more dialed in at the plate lately than Joaquin Arias, even Pagan and Posey. The versatile infielder has really come alive since the Giants lost Melky Cabrera, hitting .476 in his last 16 games, and now has his average closing in on .300. He had arguably the two most important hits in both Giants' victories in this series, and he could be starting to put the pressure on Brandon Crawford for playing time at short. For a while there, Arias was getting starts vs. lefties only, but with the way he's taxing pitchers right now, he may find his name in the lineup much more often going forward.

The bullpen also really stepped up to help ensure a Giants' series victory. It was very re-assuring to see the late relievers come in and close the door on Houston the first two games, as Sergio Romo got the save in game one, and Javier Lopez came in to get the tough lefty and lock up the save in game 2. Santiago Casilla had impressive 8th innings in both games as Bochy has stayed true to the closer-by-committee depending on matchups. It would definitely be a positive if the Giants are able to get some roles defined as they enter the stretch drive, but for now, it appears to be working. In the middle, George Kontos really stepped up big in game two, stopping the bleeding that Barry Zito started and retiring all 8 hitters he faced. He kept the Giants in front after the Astros came charging back from that 4-run deficit. With Zito KO'd early, Bochy went through his arms Wednesday, and Guillermo Mota was able to get his feet wet for the first time since his suspension on May 7th. He was a little wild, but his arm looked live and rested. If he can harness that, he'll likely regain his spot as one of the first options amongst Giants mid-relievers.

This Astros team is one of the worst teams I've seen in a while, and the Giants really shouldn't be happy with just the series win in this one, they need to go for the sweep. The advantage they have on LA down the stretch is their schedule and they need to take full advantage of that.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, August 27, 2012

Potential September Call-Ups

We're just a few days away from the calendar turning to September, at which time MLB rosters can expand to 40 instead of 25. Here are a look at a few guys the Giants could bring up to the big league team in the next week or so.

Xavier Nady, OF: The Giants picked up the right-handed hitting outfielder with September firmly in their minds. Nady got off to a bit of a slow start in Fresno, but has come on strong of late. He blasted two home runs in Sunday's game to help the Grizzlies over the Reno Aces, and has 6 homers and 17 RBI in 21 games. I was a little surprised when the Giants went with Francisco Peguero over Nady last week when Justin Christian went down, but it won't be long before Nady's in a Giants uniform. The Giants still have a couple of days left before the waiver deadline, but if they don't get anyone, Nady could become a key cog for them down the stretch. It wouldn't surprise me if he's platooning with Blanco in left by the time LA comes to town on September 9th.

Guillermo Mota, RHP: The toughest decision the Giants face could be with Mota. Ideally, they'd love it if they could slide him into their bullpen knowing that he'd be the same sturdy arm he's been for them the last few seasons. However, after his 100-game suspension, and rocky start to his rehab assignment, they may not want to take the risk. I think the only thing they'll take into account in regards to the suspension is the missed time, not the fact he was out for use of PEDs (which has been a huge thorn in the side of this team this season). If the Giants think he can contribute, he'll be up.

Mitch Lively, RHP: The 26 year-old Lively has been one of the Grizzlies most consistent relief arms of late, and for a team desperately needing relief help, he should get a shot in SF. He's really turned up his performance lately too, sporting a 2.33 ERA in 19 innings over his last 10 appearances. During those 19 innings, he's struck out 20, walked just 5 and has allowed just 14 hits. Lively also had a 2.14 ERA in 2011 split between A and AA ball so he's shown his capabilities.

Heath Hembree, RHP: Now, this one is a little more delicate. The Giants may not want to expend Hembree any more in 2012 after the young flame thrower battled an arm injury earlier in the season. He hasn't been especially crisp since coming back from it either, but he has thrown decently in August. If he did get the nod, it wouldn't be as a late reliever with the big club, probably more of a mop up duty in low pressure situations. My guess, though, is they hold off on calling up their prized 23 year-old 'closer-of-the-future' this season.

Yusmiero Petit, RHP: The Giants tried it out with Eric Hacker, and it didn't work, but Petit may have a better shot at making the transition from minor league starter to big league reliever. After all, he's done it many of times throughout his career and has been pitching pretty well for Fresno lately. He's given up 3 earned runs or less in 7 of his last 10 starts, and likely makes a better relief candidate than Hacker because of his ability to strike guys out (143 in 159 IP). He'd also give the Giants a security blanket in case they need an emergency start down the stretch.

Dan Runzler, LHP: Runzler has been an enigma the last few years. He's got one of the livest arms in the system and can bring the heat, but his control has baffled him this season. His ERA is up in the 6's for the Grizzlies and the last thing Bochy needs is a reliever who can't throw strikes, but when he's on, he can still be dominant. If he is called up, I wouldn't look for him to be used in any close situation.

Connor Gillaspie and Nick Noonan, IF's: Most Giants fans are familiar with both these guys, as both have been in the system for a while and each are having solid years in Fresno. Gillaspie has a .287 average with 14 homers and 49 RBI. Noonan is hitting .303 with 61 RBI (.333 last 10 games). These are the most likely young hitters to get a look, due to their experience.

Of course, the players on the DL, namely Aubrey Huff, Justin Christian, Shane Loux and Brad Penny will also be activated if and when they become available. Obviously the Giants main goal will be to get quality pitchers and bats who can contribute off the bench. Then there are a couple guys who were called up earlier in the season and should get the all again like Dan Otero. Overall, not a largely inspiring list. A couple of vets on their last leg, and some young guys who've gotten a cup of coffee and not done a whole lot. Fortunately though, the Giants are in the hunt for October, and can't afford to waste roster spots on young prospects on an evaluation basis. They need to use this roster expansion intelligently, as it could determine whether or not they make the postseason.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Giants 'Walk' Their Way to Loss

You aren't going to win many games where your pitchers can't find the strike zone. It hasn't happened to the Giants' arms often lately, but it did them in on Saturday.

After a couple impressive wins to start their big four-game set with Atlanta, the Giants ran into some rare pitching difficulties with their left-handed stopper Madison Bumgarner. It was a complete 180 from the previous two games as the Giants couldn't get anything going early and the top of the order was shut down by Mike Minor. Bumgarner, who's been so good at home with an 8-1 record heading into Saturday's start, just didn't have it Saturday. He walked 4 batters and gave up 4 runs in 6 innings of work in one of his more mediocre starts in recent weeks. He didn't have that uncanny command to the corners, especially with the breaking ball, that he did in LA during his last start and the Braves hitters waited him out and worked counts in their favor. The Giants walked 7 Atlanta hitters (including 2 more by the suddenly struggling Jeremy Affeldt) while Braves' pitching didn't walk one Giant. San Francisco did manage to get three runs on the board to move to within a run of Atlanta in the 7th, but their pitching just couldn't keep the Braves down on this day.

The Giants still have the series lead heading into Sunday's game in which they'll send out Matt Cain in attempt to seal it for them. It's not going to be easy though as the Braves left-handed bats are all heating up, and Gonzalez is going to make sure Cain will be seeing plenty of them on Sunday. The Giants ace needs to take a page from the book of Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, who kept getting strike one on seemingly every batter Thursday and Friday and had tremendous success with that plan of attack.

Oh yeah, by the way, there was also a small deal made by the Dodgers this weekend, in case you didn't hear, and it has the baseball world buzzing. Since late July, the Dodgers have restocked their roster, and will have another new look to them when they come to AT&T Park in a couple weeks after swinging a mega-deal for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto. Gonzalez will go right into the starting lineup for the Dodgers and provide them a massive upgrade over James Loney at first, but other than that, the other incoming players in this deal do not impress me much at all, and the Dodgers had to take on a quarter of a billion clams in order to get them all. Carl Crawford won't even help them until next season, and he's gotten so banged up the last few years that he's nowhere near the player he was coming up in Tampa Bay. Josh Beckett has been terribly mediocre as well in 2012 and isn't anywhere near the pitcher he was when Boston got him for Florida. He's had major injury issues as well. A-Gon will help them out, I have no question about that, but I don't see this deal at all as a division-clincher for LA. After all, you can't buy team chemistry, and that's an area the Giants have them beat, hands down.

As for what the Giants may do in response to this deal, they really don't have a whole lot of options. With the waiver process, all teams behind the Giants in the standings have first rights to waived players and I don't think LA will let a quality outfielder, or even a good late reliever just fall to them. The Giants are likely going to have to finish this off with the bunch they currently have, and they're more than capable of doing so if they stick to what's gotten them into this position in the first place; sturdy pitching and competent at-bats!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Francisco Peguero Up, Christian to DL

That catch Justin Christian made Wednesday night in LA was about as good as they get, but it will be costing the Giants outfielder at least the next 15 days to recover from.

The Giants made a roster move prior to Thursday's game with the Braves, sending Christian to the 15-day DL with a sprained wrist and calling up Francisco Peguero from the Fresno Grizzlies to take his spot. Andrew Baggarly ranked the solid-hitting outfielder 5th among Giants prospects heading into the 2011 season after Peguero hit a combined .337 the previous three seasons with A San Jose and AA Richmond. This year though, the 24 year-old has taken a step back, and is hitting just .272 with a .691 OPS. He does have 68 RBI and has 10 triples on the season, but the one stat that is really disappointing for him is the 1 in the stolen base column. For a guy who had 40 steals in 2010, that's a major drop off right there, and as far as I know, there's nothing limiting him physically. So, on one hand there's the great production he showed pre-2012 with a 2010 Futures game appearance, but on the other hand, you have the guy who's largely disappointed in Fresno this year (sans the RBI total).

I've always liked Peguero, and I too ranked him inside the top-10 in our annual prospect ranking as well. I also don't mind him getting a shot in this situation. Christian was simply not getting the job done at the plate and I don't think Peguero can fair any worse. He's a good defender, and if he can hit for some average and display some of that speed we know he has, he very well could become the Giants regular left fielder. It may not be an answer in the long run, but at least it's an attempt.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giants Stay Hot, Sweep LA

The Giants went into LA a half game back of the Dodgers in the West but they'll be heading back home with a firm 2.5 game lead after sweeping their SoCal rivals.

First of all, I know there's still 6 weeks left in the season, but the Giants need to seriously be considering keeping Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro around beyond this season! The Giants 1-2 hitters again got the train rolling Wednesday night, as both singled to start the game and both ended up scoring in the first inning to again help the Giants set the tone. Angel wound up going 2-4 with a walk and three runs scored, and Scutaro had another multi-hit game and scored a pair. Each had 2 hits in every game of the series. Number 16 didn't just do it with the bat in LA either. The play he made Tuesday night to gun down A.J. Ellis at the plate was, in my mind, the play of the series for the Giants. If he doesn't come up with that throw, the Dodgers are sitting pretty with Lincecum on the ropes in a close ball game. That kept momentum on the Giants' side that they carried into game three. Then on Wednesday, the Giants got another huge defensive play by Joaquin Arias, taking a hit away from Shane Victorino early on and helping the Giants keep the Dodgers off the board.

The more Arias has been playing lately, the more he's starting to grow on me, and that was evident Wednesday when the utility man went 3-4 and drove in 5 RBI. He helped pick up the slack for a lineup that was minus Buster Posey, and provided further testament to how well San Francisco is playing right now! It seems like everyone they're putting out there is contributing in some way and this type of play was what helped carry them at the end of 2010. And if your going to bet on these Giants down the stretch, and hopefully into the playoffs, check out the MLB betting at Top Bet.

Now, as good as the Giants looked in their set with LA, they still have a couple of issues that they have to decide on as we close in on the waiver deadline. Gregor Blanco has done an adequate job in place of Melky Cabrera since he's taken over in left field, but Blanco is still much better served as the 4th outfielder for this team. Also, Justin Christian may be one of the worst hitters in the major leagues right now and isn't helping the offense whatsoever when he's put out there vs. the lefties. Defensively, both guys are brilliant, but without Hunter Pence really cooking, the Giants need all the offense they can get. A few names that have been mentioned in connection with San Francisco lately has been Jeff Franceuor and our old friend Cody Ross. Now Franceour has a much better chance at clearing waivers, but Ross would obviously be the first choice out of those two, not only for his great play in 2010, but also the tremendous job he's done with Boston this season. And then there's also the closing spot, which we still haven't seen anyone really grab hold of and claim yet. I don't mind the closer-by-committee deal right now, but down the stretch, these guys need defined roles. If Casilla keeps throwing like he did Wednesday, he should get the job back.

Mike Krukow summed up this series in a few words Wednesday night, saying "The Giants simply outplayed the Dodgers" during this three game set, and it wasn't even close. The starting pitching was on point, the defense picked up the slack and the offense hit with runners in scoring position like their season depended on it. They're playing confidently and with a sense of urgency and I can't wait till LA comes back to town in a couple of weeks.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, August 20, 2012

MadBum Outduels Kershaw

Monday nights game one at Dodger stadium between Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw promised to be a pitchers duel, and it didn't disappoint... Round one to the Giants.

It was one of the best duels I've seen all season long, as both pitchers were really on their game, but Kershaw made a few mistakes early in the game and the Giants cashed in when they had the chance. Angel Pagan's double to lead off the game helped set the tone and allowed the Giants to get on the board before Bumgarner even took the hill, and he made it stand. The Giants' 23 year-old lefty wound up going 8 strong, allowing just 4 hits and no walks with 10 strikeouts. He was able to keep the Dodgers 3-4-5 hitters off the base paths and that was the key for MadBum Monday night. The fastball was working, the curve was breaking and he was getting ahead of hitters with strike one with regularity. His pitch count was a little high at 123 after the eight, and Boch didn't want to risk running him out there vs. the Dodgers 2-3-4, all right handers, in the 9th. The Giants new closer-by-committee set-up got the nod and did a decent job. Romo left one up to Hanley, but Javier Lopez came in and got Either for the win. The new committee thing is starting to bug me though.

This was really a well played game all around, but the Giants got more opportunities than LA with RISP. Once again, the Giants top part of the order came through, as Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval accounted for the majority of the offense. 'The Panda' has been a little slow out the gate since coming off the DL last week and looks heavier than he did when he was playing in July, but Monday nights game hopefully gets him going a bit. He kicked a ball on defense that should have been an easy 5-3 putout, and he's got to tighten that up,but he made up for it with the stick, driving in both of San Francisco's runs. Sandoval got the Giants on the board Monday by driving in Pagan with a line drive sac fly out to left, then came out and muscled one over the infield on a pitch on the hands to drive in Angel again in the 6th. Pagan and Scutaro each had an impact at the plate vs. the LA's ace lefty as well, collecting 2 hits each.

Now these next two games really move the advantage to the Giants' side, if Tim Lincecum is himself that is. Timmy will go Tuesday night against Joe Blanton, who's always pitched the Giants well, but is very beatable. Then it's Cain-Capuano in the finale Wednesday. Hopefully Timmy saw how the first pitch strike took so much pressure off Madison on Monday and attacks the zone early on in his start. That's been the key for him lately, when he's throwing strikes and getting ahead, he's wins. When he's not, it goes down hill quickly.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Melky Who? SF Offense Stepping Up

After a lackluster performance on Wednesday, just hours after hearing that one of their offensive catalysts would be suspended the rest of the way, the Giants had something to prove in San Diego and they've played like it.

Matt Cain got things started with just another terrific outing, mowing down San Diego and allowing just a run on 3 hits with 6 K's over 8 innings of work. He and Buster Posey were in sync and on the same page from pitch one and Matt Cain made it look easy. Cain built off his great start last week vs. the Rockies after his perfect game celebration, and he looks like his arm has bounced back a bit. It seemed like towards the end of July and into early August, Cain was missing high with a lot of pitches and appeared to be getting a tired arm but that hasn't been the case the last few outings for him. Hopefully this is a sign of Cain returning to his first-half dominance cause now that the offense has lost a huge piece of the puzzle, their pitching will have to pick it up down the stretch. When I say pitching staff, it's mostly aimed towards Lincecum, who I think still holds the key for this team. But also Barry Zito, who was in a little groove in July, but has again fallen back to old ways. The Giants need more than 3/5 of their rotation throwing well at the same time, it's on Timmy and Barry to step it up!

Offensively, Bochy and Sabean have to be pleased with the way the team's responded with the bats against the Padres. They had another hit parade in Friday nights game in which just about everyone in the lineup got in on, much like their victory in game two over Washington. Then on Saturday, the did much of the same, but in comeback fashion, which is always good to see this team do. A big reason why they were able to put up some runs the last two games has been the emergence of the bottom and top half of the orders. Brandon Belt has become a big key now that he's protecting the middle order, and he continues to get the job done. Also, Marco Scutaro has been one of the Giants best RBI guys since coming over from Colorado and the other Brandon (Crawford) has steadily risen his average over the last 10 games. With Pagan hitting over .330 since returning to the top spot, and Scutaro hitting over .340 as a Giant, the top of the order is doing it's job. And with the way Belt and Crawford have stepped up lately for the bottom part, the Giants' lineup looks like it's ready to really take off when Panda gets back in synch (especially now that Pence settling in).

One of the things the Giants have had trouble with this year is coming back from 2+ run deficits and they were able to do that in game two vs. San Diego. I can't stress how important that is, on a number of fronts. Most importantly though, it keeps them in first place heading into Sunday's game and gives them the opportunity to sweep the Pads, something a good team should take advantage of.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Surviving Without Melky

The Giants ran into a double-dose of bad luck Wednesday as the news of Melky Cabrera's suspension came down just before the Giants lost their series with Washington.

Melky Suspended for Season
Melky Cabrera, who was quickly becoming huge fan favorite around the Bay Area, just gave Giants fans a sucker punch to the gut. The '12 All-Star MVP was suspended the mandatory 50-games for violating the MLB drug policy by taking a Testosterone-based supplement. Once again the Giants are left shorthanded and without one of their lineup's cornerstones. Whether it's been suspensions like with Mota and Cabrera season, or injuries like with Wilson and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants just couldn't seem to get their A-team out on the field all together this season. They had the one game with Pence, Panda, Cabrera and Posey all in the lineup together and the offense looked completely rejuvinated. Turn the page to Wednesday's game, and you saw a 180-degree turnaround. And just like that, the "Melkman" honeymoon comes to an end with the 28 year-old leading baseball in hits with a .350 average and 84 runs scored. If the Giants do reach the postseason, he'd be eligible to play in a potential NLCS and World Series, but getting there just became a much tougher trek.

So, what do the Giants do now? I'll tell you what, it's really a good thing they did swing that deal for Pence before the deadline or else this would have been an even bigger blow. Bochy used Gregor Blanco out in left field in Wednesday's game, but mostly because he had a short bench and got the news about Melky less than 2 hours before first pitch. Blanco has been struggling terribly over the last 6 weeks and I don't think he'll be the answer. My guess is that either Brett Pill or Justin Christian will be back with the team by Friday, but San Francisco did pick up Xavier Nady a few weeks back, and they could ultimately look to him to pick up some of the slack that Cabrera leaves behind. There are still 2 weeks left before the waiver deadline too, and Sabean is likely to hike up efforts on that front, but he said before Tuesday nights game that the waiver wire stuff was extremely quiet right now. He added Cody Ross under similar circumstances in 2010. It wouldn't even surprise me if Sabes looked into a guy like Johnny Damon, who was just released by Cleveland.

It just sucks this came down when it did, being right in the thick of the pennant race and all. I have definitely lost some respect for Melky and do wonder how much of his production has been a byproduct of the PED use, but I'd still take him back under the right circumstances. He obviously just lost out on a lot of money, and it's a good thing the Giants put extension talks on hold when they did cause now they may have a shot at getting him on that bargain 3-year deal they were pitching to him. That is, if they still want him. We'll have to see how the rest of the season goes though. I'm still a little shocked by all this, but the Giants do have enough talent to pull out of it. They'll need Timmy to be a lot better than he was Wednesday, and everyone else in the lineup will have to step it up a notch, but I still have playoff expectations for this team.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Giants Finally Figure Out Nationals

The Giants opened up this crucial 3-game set by getting embarrassed by the Nats behind the guy who's been their ace of the second half in Ryan Vogelsong. They turned to their left-handed stopper Tuesday night to get them on track and Madison Bumgarner threw a gem.

MadBum Shuts Down Nats
Bumgarner threw a complete game, allowing 1 run on 5 hits with 6 strikeouts in route to his team-leading 13th win on the season. In what was really a fine pitching matchup, the Giants' young arm got the better of Jordan Zimmerman, who is probably the Nationals' best arm right now, and gave the Giants a chance to take the series in the matinee Wednesday. Madison was certainly masterful in this one, but once again, the key to the game for me was the Giants jumping out to the early lead, albeit by just a run. We saw what happens when they get behind early on Monday, and then we saw the complete 180 turnaround Tuesday. The Giants definitely had their offense clicking on all cylinders in game two, and the bottom of the order really stuck out. Their 6-8 hitters combined to go 7-12 and drove in 4 runs. Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt each had 3-hit games and Belt led the team with 3 RBI and missed two home runs by a combined 18-inches.

Another huge step for the Giants Tuesday night came before the game even started, as Bruce bochy got to pencil in the lineup he'd been envisioning since the trade deadline acquisitions of Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence. Pablo Sandoval made his return to the starting lineup and although he didn't do a whole bunch himself, you could see the ripple effect his return had on this team. Bochy said before the game that he'd likely stick with Tuesday's batting order on most nights for the rest of the season, with Cabrera and Posey sticking at 3 and 4, Pablo moving into the fifth spot and Pence dropping to 6. I think the move takes some pressure of Pence, who had really been pressing since the deal, and it will eventually pay off for Panda as well to have #8 protecting him in the order. Boch also said Marco Scutaro will take over as the primary second basemen and number 2 hitter, but Theriot will still see time at 2nd, and Scutaro time at third when Panda rests or plays first. All in all, the Giants lineup is whole again, and things are already falling into place!

So the Giants, for the first time in 2012, figured out this Washington National squad and just in time for huge matchup Wednesday afternoon. The Giants will send Tim Lincecum up against Stephen Strasburg for the series and final meeting of the regular season between these two teams. Something tells me the Giants will be seeing them again down the road though!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pence Lifts Giants Over Rockies

Giants fans had been waiting patiently for Hunter Pence to make his impact in the lineup and the right fielder delivered big on Sunday.

Before I get to the game-winning shot though, I wanted to point out the outstanding defense he's brought to right field. AT&T Park has the most tricky right-side outfield to play in all of baseball, and Hunter's picked it up seamlessly. He saved another potential game changing hit on a diving catch in the gap Sunday, then came up with his own later in the game. Pence blasted off for the first time in a Giants uni and cashed out in his most crucial at bat since coming to San Francisco last month. In a 6-6 ballgame with 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th, Hunter connected off Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt for a decisive 3-run jack that gave the Giants the lead and the victory. I noticed Betancourt throwing a lot of fastballs to Posey, and Buster just missed one before Pence came up. Then Betancourt tried to do the same thing with Hunter Pence and Pence made him pay. This one had to feel good for number 8 after slow offensive start he's gotten off to with his new team.

Pence has gotten some big hits here and there and was managing to drive in runs, but that first big fly is the hit he was looking for to remove the monkey off his back and settle in. You could just see it in his body language running the bases. This one should propel him out of the rut he's been in since long before arriving in San Francisco.

It was certainly good to see the Giants break out the offense on Sunday after an atrocious showing Saturday, and that's something they will have to keep up in this upcoming series. Next up, the Giants host the NL East-leading Washington Nationals and they have some payback they owe Washington for that ugly 3-game set they played in DC before the All-Star break. Washington has their three best arms lined up to face the Giants (Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburgh), so they'll need all the offense they can get, and some. Someone I'll be watching closely in that regard is Brandon Belt, who's getting hot at the right time. A lot of what Belt's done recently has been a bit overlooked because of Buster Posey's scorching run, but the kid has really picked it up over the last couple of weeks. I mentioned a few posts back how he looks like he's playing with more confidence and it seems like it's growing by the day. Belt's 4-hit day Sunday raised his average up to .260, a 23 point hike over his last 10 games. I'd like to see more long balls, but they'll come if he keeps this up.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Giants Look to Build off 5-2 Trip

The Giants couldn't quite pull out the win behind Madison Bumgarner Thursday in St. Louis, but they'll still have a nice flight back home after a taking 5 of 7 on this two city road trip.

In what very well could have been a glimpse into October, the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals played each other terrifically in St. Louis this week, splitting their four game series and emerging with identical 61-51 records. We talked a lot about games 1 and 2 in our last post when it looked like the Giants offense was ready to catch fire, but they didn't do a whole lot in games 3 and 4. They took game three behind another valiant effort from Ryan Vogelsong, who's in some kind of groove right now and is making a strong case for NL Cy Young, despite his lower win total. Vogey mowed down the Cards' potent without much trouble and the Giants bullpen did a nice job preserving the victory. What was key, and what had been key for them all road trip, is they again jumped out to a first inning lead on a Buster Posey 3-run jack. Coincidentally, they didn't get that first-inning run Thursday for Bumgarner, and never got much of anything going. The Giants offense struck first in every win on this trip and had trouble scoring runs when they didn't. They win when they have a balanced attack going like they had in Denver and they need to get back to that!

Luckily for San Francisco, they'll have a reinforcement back home waiting to join them towards the middle of the home stand. Pablo Sandoval is scheduled to start his rehab Friday night in San Jose, and the Giants don't plan on him being there longer than the weekend. They've set a target return date for Sandoval between Sunday and Tuesday, so we're getting close to seeing how this lineup looks with all the key cogs out there. The Giants haven't had the opportunity to put Sandoval and Hunter Pence on the same lineup card since the big trade before the deadline and the Panda's return should have a ripple effect on the whole Giant lineup. Pablo will most likely be moved into the 6th slot behind Pence, at least to begin with, and that will give Pence protection he hasn't seen since coming over from the Phillies. For the most part, it's been Brandon Belt getting slotted into the 6-hole, and even though he had a decent roadie, the Giants are looking for something more consistent in the middle of the order. The Giants still have to decide what move they'll make in order to open a spot for Pablo, but my guess is they drop back to a 12-man pitching staff.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Zito Gem, Posey Blast Carry Giants

The Giants couldn't quite keep their mini winning streak going in Monday's game as Matt Cain ran into a 6th inning jam he couldn't escape. Luckily, Barry Zito had no such issue in Tuesday nights contest.

Barry Zito stepped up in a big way vs. a team I thought would give him trouble and he set the tone for a strong all-around game by the Giants. The lefty had some trouble with Allen Craig, who took him deep twice with two solo shots, but that was it for the Cardinals. Zito had complete command of just about every pitch he was throwing, and even that second home run by Allen Craig came on a low fastball that painted the outside corner, it was just an excellent job of hitting on Craig's part. St. Louis did scatter out 8 hits off Zito, but he stayed out of trouble most of the night because he wasn't giving up free passes. It was one of the better games I've seen Zito throw this year just because the lack of mistakes and the uncanny command. Buster Posey, who hasn't caught Zito as much this year, really did a good job with him and seemed to have #75 in focus mode all the way through. Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt shut the door on St. Louis to help the Giants even up the series at one apiece and improve Barry's record to 9-8.

One thing I've been critical on Bochy about is his need to play the matchup game in seemingly every situation. I really liked the fact that Boch stuck with Affeldt in the 9th inning instead of going with Casilla in this case. Affeldt, in my opinion, has been throwing better than any other Giants releiver the last few weeks, and when you don't have an ace closer, you have to stick with the hot hand sometimes. It worked well for the Giants Tuesday and I hope we see more of it (more on that at the bottom of the post).

Now I know we've talked a lot about Buster Posey here lately, but it's really tough to go a day without mentioning him. He's in a Bonds-like streak right now! The all-star catcher was at it again Tuesday, continuing his hot streak and homering for the 2nd game in a row. Posey's Tuesday blast, a 3-run shot, came off Lance Lynn in the top of the first which allowed Zito to take the mound in the bottom half with a comfortable lead. It was Posey's only hit Tuesday, but ultimately the deciding swing of the bat in that game. Buster has hit 6 home runs in his last 11 games and is in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak in which he's near .500. His shot off Westbrook was probably more impressive than the jack off Lance Lynn on Tuesday night, but neither were particularly good pitches to hit and just shows you what kind of zone the 25 year-old is currently tapped into. Some of that may be starting to rub off on first basemen Brandon Belt too. I've noticed Belt playing with an heir of confidence over the last week or so and not just at the plate (that base running maneuver after being picked off was brilliant).

Roster Notes: The Giants have added a few pieces to their roster over the last few days. They claimed Xavier Nady off waivers on Sunday in a move they hope will eventually add depth and another right-handed bopper to the Giants outfield. This move was made more with an eye on September though, and hopefully Nady isn't needed before then... The bigger addition for the Giants was them adding another quality reliever to mix in the form of Jose Mijares. The lefty had a 2.56 ERA in 40 games for Kansas City this season, and although he may not have been he closer/set-up guy the Giants ideally wanted, his addition frees up Jeremy Affeldt to do more late relief (which we've already seen benefits from).
The Giants Baseball Blog

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Giants Get Right in Colorado

After finishing up their home stand in forgettable fashion earlier in the week, the Giants had to get their offense going in Denver. They did exactly what they needed to!

Pagan back to leadoff
Bruce Bochy hosted a team meeting before game one on Friday night, and whatever he said worked wonders for his squad in this 3-game set. San Francisco rode a couple of offensive fueled nights in games one and two to easy victories. The key though wasn't just that the bats woke up this series, it's that they woke up early on in ballgames and provided the Giants starters some breathing room. Coors Field is the most lively park in baseball and 5 run leads there are like 2 run leads in a typical yard. One of the reasons why the Giants offense had been sputtering is because of their lack of production at the top of the order. Bochy decided to throw Pagan back at the top of the lineup for this series and he responded terrifically. Angel went 7-14 in the series, reaching base 10 times all together and scoring 7 runs. That's getting it done in the leadoff spot and something the Giants sorely need to regain. Buster Posey also continued his 2nd half assault on NL Pitching and had himself another terrific series. Posey ended up with 8 knocks (two of which left the yard) and 7 RBI.

As for the Giants newcomers, both contributed heavily in the series. Hunter Pence didn't do a whole lot with the bat in games one and two, but he showed up ready to hit Sunday. He nailed two RBI-doubles, including one off the right field wall, and drove in 4 runs in the series. I think the biggest impact we're already seeing from his though is just his presence in the middle of that order and how it's allowing Cabrera and Posey to see better pitches. I'm also sold on Marco Scutaro already. He's had some adventures in the field over at third thus far, but the guy can hit and is exactly the type of patient, steady bat the Giants needed in their infield.

Lincecum labors, finishes strong
It wasn't just the offense that stepped it up in Denver either. The pitching had a rough go of it in the second part of that last home stand, but the starters really pulled their weight in the offensive friendly confines of Coors Field. All three starting pitchers ended up with strong outings. They did all run into some trouble at some point in their start, especially Lincecum in game three, but they all managed to get through 6 and collect victories. Bumgarner and Vogelsong each had pretty good stuff throughout, but Timmy went through his start with less than stellar command. Lincecum had to labor through 6, walking 4 batters and allowing base runners in every inning, but he did a helluva job walking the tightrope and didn't allow the Rockies any big innings when it looked like some were brewing. He also was the recipient of some strong defense behind him. Melky Cabrera came up with what I thought was the play of the weekend when he threw out Wilmn Rosario at the plate trying to score on a fly out. That preserved the Giants two run lead got Lincecum two outs and out of an inning when it looked like it was going to interesting.

The thing I liked most about this series had to be the relentless, non-stop offensive barrage the Giants put up this weekend. Normally when they put up big numbers in a game, the majority of their damage is done in one inning. This weekend, it seemed like they were scoring every other inning, and I hope we see more of that consistency over these final two months.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Deadline Hangover Bites SF

Last year we saw the Giants swing a big time deal for Carlos Beltran at the end of July and never quite got things going with him. Hopefully, they figure things out quicker with their newest acquisition.

Pence hit-less in 2 games
It's only been two games since the Giants made the big splash to get Hunter Pence, but so far they haven't gotten the reaction they were hoping for out of their offense. They started this tail-spin vs. LA last weekend, and surprisingly still have a grip on first place, but they have to get right on this trip. Pence looked a little over-amped in game one after being greeted by a thunderous standing ovation Wednesday night, and didn't fair much better in game two, but he did just miss hitting two balls into the left-field seats. He drove in his first run as a Giant as well Thursday and I can tell he's starting to settle in. I think this road trip is coming at a perfect time for Pence and the Giants. Typically a road trip isn't what the doctor orders for a team struggling to score, but I think it could alleviate some pressure off the sputtering offense. Not only did they just go through an abysmal 3-7 home stand and could use a change of scenery, but now Pence will get some at bats away from the new home crowd which should also take a ton of pressure off. The Giants are going to need some other guys to step up on this trip though, and shouldn't be looking at the new right fielder as the savior.

The Giants did make a few roster moves before game four on Thursday, activating both Hector Sanchez and Shane Loux from the DL. They made way for the two players by demoting Justin Christian and Eli Whiteside, leaving them with a 13-man staff after their bullpen was taxed over the home stand. Sanchez
Sanchez activated
stepped right into the starting lineup on Thursday and it wouldn't surprise me if we start to see a lot more of the young backstop, at least until Pablo Sandoval returns. Buster Posey has been getting all the reps at catcher since Sanchez went on the DL in mid-July, but before that happened, Bochy was experimenting often with using Posey at first and Sanchez behind the plate. This really puts the pressure on Brandon Belt, who's got the most to lose and is entering put up or shut up time. The same can be said for Brandon Crawford as well. Marco Scutaro has had some up-and-down moments for the Giants already, but one thing he's proven is he can swing the bat and he needs to be out there every day. Bochy has slotted him in at third in Pablo's absence, but Scutaro could be on his way to shortstop in a few weeks. The pressure is one the youngsters now more than ever!

They're still trying to figure things out with their new players, and will have to again when they get Pablo back, but it will happen. We've got a long two months left in this season, and it will be fun to watch these guys learn to play together over the next few weeks. No time to panic Giants fans, this isn't the 2011 all over again!
The Giants Baseball Blog