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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lincecum Mediocre in Final Tune-Up

Although these last 6 games haven't meant a whole lot since the team clinched last weekend, one of the issues the Giants are still figuring out is what exactly will be their playoff rotation.

The guy who's been penciled in to start game two of the NLDS may not have the stronghold on that spot after his last two outings. The great success that Tim Lincecum was having throughout most of the second half of the season has sort of disappeared over his last two starts, as he was rocked by Arizona in San Francisco in the final home series of the regular season, then got lit up by the Padres at Petco Park on Sunday. Timmy actually didn't throw too badly in his latest start, but he did make a few mistakes that Padres' hitters did not miss. Lincecum allowed just 7 base-runners in 6 innings of work, but he gave up three long-balls. It wasn't as bad as his last outing in San Francisco, but it likely wasn't exactly how 'The Freak' wanted to go into the postseason. Bruce Bochy did make one thing clear before the game regarding Timmy and the playoffs, stating that Hector Sanchez will catch the right-hander throughout. That means Buster Posey will see some time at first base and Brandon Belt will shift out to left on those nights, which we've been seeing more of the last two weeks. The rotation still hasn't been set in stone yet by Bochy, but it's widely believed to go Cain-Lincecum-Bumgarner-Vogelsong with Zito waiting in the wings.

Although the Giants got down early to San Diego, and went into the 8th inning trailing by 3 runs, they put up a solid comeback effort in the final two frames to take the series Sunday. Brandon Belt got the big hit in the 8th, a broken bat knock to right that drove in Francisco Peguero, but it was Hunter Pence and Xavier Nady who came up with the two big hits in the 9th to decide the ballgame. Nady hit a solo shot of Houston Street to tie the game at 5, then Hunter Pence, who's been an RBI machine lately, collected his 103rd and 104th RBI's of the season with a two-run blast just a couple batters later (his 2nd in as many days). For Nady, it was his first big fly since joining the Giants as he's quietly put up some respectable numbers in limited opportunity. After the big fly, Nady's now hitting .283 with 1 HR and 7 RBI in 41 at-bats with the Orange and Black. His OBP is also a rock-solid .379 and he's making a strong case to be more than just a platoon mate for Blanco in left. Bochy has already said he's not going to do much of any changing to the lineup when the playoffs start, so it'll be Blanco in left vs. right-handers (except for Lincecum starts), but if he starts slowly, we could see a lot more of Nady... And if your going to be wagering on the upcoming MLB postseason, visit players rewards card!

Now the Giants head into LA for their final tune-up before they meet the Reds in round one, and the two things I'll be watching the closest will be how these last starts go for Vogelsong and Zito. It's hard to imagine a situation where Vogelsong is ousted from the playoff rotation, especially after he's turned it back on in his last few outings, but the Giants record in Zito starts has been better than any other starter in the 2nd half. It should be interesting to see how these two finish up. I'm also curious to see how much Buster Posey will be used in this final series. As of now, he's got the the NL batting crown in his back pocket, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him catch Vogey and take the rest of the series off.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cain Gets Giants Refocused

The Giants fell into a mini two-game losing streak after defeating the Padres and clinching their spot atop the NL West Saturday, but Matt Cain got the group refocused Wednesday night.

After kind of a let down start by Tim Lincecum in Tuesday nights game, Cainer put the Giants back in winning mode with 7 strong innings of 4 hit ball and 6 strikeouts vs. the D-Backs. Cain and Lincecum are expected to start games one and two of the NLDS and this was likely each guys last start of the regular season and it was the polar opposite for each right-hander. Lincecum went just 4 innings, walking 4 batters and giving up 7 runs. The best part of that game for Timmy was it's the last he'll see Paul Goldschmidt in 2012! As bad as Lincecum was Tuesday though, Cainer made pretty much everyone forget about it Wednesday with his 16th win of the season. The man expected to take the ball in game one showed exactly why Wednesday night and he had the Giants again looking like the NL West's elite. In addition to Cain's gem, the Giants got another solid effort out of a guy I think will be crucial come the playoffs, Brandon Belt. The lanky first basemen had another 3-hit game and you can tell he's locked in with the way the ball is jumping off his bat. Belt's average rose up to .275 after Wednesday's game and he's become such an important part of this lineup that he could find himself back in the left field during Lincecum's starts in the playoffs.

Speaking of left field, the time has come for the Giants to make an official decision on Melky Cabrera's status for the postseason. San Francisco was expected to make an announcement before Wednesday's game, but pushed it back until Thursday. Most beat writers close to the team have pretty much counted the possibility of a Melky return out, but the Giants players, including Buster Posey and Angel Pagan, each indicated they'd gladly accept Cabrera back if he's in a position to help them win. Now, this whole thing could be moot if the Giants don't make it out of the first round, as Melky wouldn't be eligible until a possible NLCS. My guess, as with most is that the Giants will sever ties with the All-Star left fielder, but the fact they've delayed the decision makes me wonder a bit. After all, as much as Bruce Bochy wants to say different, the Giants have gotten pitiful production out of left field since his suspension. Giants outfielders have hit in the low .200's with no home runs and something like 17 total RBI in 7 weeks since losing Melky. The question is, what kind of shape he'd be in and whether he'd be a better option over players who've been active the last two months. It's tough to just throw a player into a playoff game when he hasn't played competitively since early August.

Another thing Melky could have in his favor is the health factor of the Giants two primary left fielders right now. Gregor Blanco's had a shoulder issue that's been bugging him, and Xavier Nady just missed 10 games with a sore hamstring. Should both those guys go down, and Melky gets cut loose, the Giants could be up a creed without a paddle come playoff time. It's a tough decision for sure, as there are strong points to be made for his dismissal and his return, but I'm sticking to my original thought that Melky has played his last game in a Giants uniform.
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Giants Work Not Done Yet

The Giants completed phase one of their goal Saturday night at AT&T Park, but it's hardly time to start celebrating just yet.

San Francisco clinched the NL West with their win over San Diego Saturday, and have reserved their spot in the postseason with 10 days still left in the season. Their wins over the last few weeks have been almost identical as they've been getting their vintage starting efforts, and have the offense locked into a pretty good groove. After the outing Ryan Vogelsong had Friday, his first solid outing in 6 weeks, you kind of got the feeling the Giants were going to seal it up this weekend. Madison Bumgarner followed up Vogey's gem with a solid, yet unspectacular outing, but did more than enough on the mound and at the plate to help lead the Giants. Once again, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro set the table beautifully at the top of the lineup, and Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt had the hot bats in the middle of the order. Speaking of Belt and Pence, those two are going to be huge entering October as Buster Posey's walk rate is due to sky rocket, and it looks like they're up for the task. This lineup has come a long way over the last few months, and has the ability to put crooked numbers up on the board now. They don't necessarily have to be getting A+ starts every night from their starters, cause that lineup is really carrying their weight.

Now the Giants should have two main goals between now and when games start counting again. First of all, I expect to see Bochy give every regular a few days off before getting them back out there. Although it was a pretty low key celebration, their were still a lot of guys in that clubhouse who will be making their first postseason trip, and the champagne was flowing and some guys may need a day or two to get their feet back under them. However, I'd expect that by the team is back out on the road, they'll shift their focus back to winning, and trying their best to improve their status for home field advantage in October. It looks like the Reds will hold home field throughout for whoever they face, but the Giants still have a shot at overtaking Washington with a strong finish. Either way, I don't want to see Boch start mixing things up too much. Keep guys fresh, but try and keep that same lineup rolling out there together to keep building off what they've done. Sometimes you see teams who clinch early like this take the last few weeks off mentally, and never really recover. It's up to Boch to make sure that doesn't happen, and with his track record, I assume he'll do a pretty good job.  

There's still a long way to go before this team and city can really start to celebrate though, and they know it. This has been a fun, unique team to watch come together, and as I've said throughout the second half, it's reminding me more of the 2010 bunch each day. I expect them to be ready for whatever team they wind up facing in the NLDS.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Giants Taking Advantage of Schedule

We all knew that down the stretch the Giants had a much easier schedule than the Dodgers, but they had to take advantage of it. They've done that and more as their magic number in the West has shrunk to 5 heading into play Thursday.

A friendly schedule down the stretch doesn't always translate into easy victories, but Bruce Bochy has kept his team sharp. San Francisco's played magnificent baseball the last few weeks, as they've lost just one series in September, and really should have the division locked up by the end of the weekend if things keep going they way they have been. With a 9 game lead and just 13 games left on the schedule, it would take a historic meltdown for the Giants to lose this division, and that just isn't going to happen. They absolutely shut down the potent Colorado offense the last couple of nights at AT&T Park, and have the shot at a 4-game sweep Thursday afternoon. Just as I suspected, the starting pitching has again hit it's stride at the best possible time (still waiting on Vogelsong), and the bullpen by committee has worked better than I think anyone was anticipating. I would have never thought the Giants would have this much success mixing and matching the arms they use in the 9th inning, but Bochy has shown just how much of a bullpen genious he is. I was thinking they would eventually just name Sergio Romo the closer, with Santiago Casilla throwing so well in the set-up role, but as is the case with other areas on this team, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

A big part of their success the last couple of nights has been in large part because of two players who weren't getting it done in the middle of the season. Tim Lincecum didn't have his most dominant outing of the season Tuesday night, but I can't name a start in which he was actually better. He had complete command of every pitch in his arsenal, and his fastball was on point. He went 6 1/3 scoreless, and walked just two batters after the 7 walk outing last week in Arizona. Now Timmy, who was 2-11 at one point this season, has improved to 10-14 and dropped his ERA below 5 for the first time in months. He's gone 6-3 since July 31st, and just keeps getting more confidence with each outing. I knew at some point this year, we'd see the real Timmy return, and it really looks like the Giants have gotten their ace back in time for postseason play. You can add Pablo Sandoval into that camp as well. The big third baseman's bat had looked a bit slow and out of balance for weeks, but he set the tone for the Giants in Wednesday's game with his first home run since July, and Matt Cain threw 8 innings of 1-run ball for his 15th win (career high). If the Giants can keep getting this consistency from Timmy, and can get Pablo back up around .300, look out Reds and Nationals!

While one big game doesn't necessarily put Panda back on track, I do think the home run will take a bit of a  monkey off his back. Pablo prides himself in being able to knock the ball out and hit with authority, and he did that Wednesday as good as I've seen him do at any point this season. I just hope he doesn't get back into that home run happy swing he gets sometimes. He's got to stay patient and let pitches come to him. With Buster behind him, he's going to get pitches to hit, and he's got to cash in. He hadn't really done much since Buster started his torrid streak after the break, so it was awesome to see him finally take advantage on Wednesday.
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vogelsong Losing Grip on Postseason Spot

The Giants had to be pleased with the way their road trip was going heading into Sunday's finale in Arizona. However, Ryan Voglsong was the one guy who couldn't get going this week and it cost the team two games.

After a really exceptional game on Saturday night, the Giants couldn't carry it over to Sunday's get away game vs. the D-Backs. Ryan Vogelsong's struggles carried into a 7th consecutive start, as the right-hander managed to strike out 5 of the first 6 outs he recorded, but his pitch count again hiked up over 60 by the third inning and finished up at 88 in 3.1 innings. Again, the 33 year-old again hit a wall right around the 50-60 pitch plateau and it's been the same thing that's been haunting him in his recent starts. He looks crisp to start games, with his fastball in the low-90's with movement, but after he gets into his stretch, it's a whole other story. His ERA is now up over 10 in his last 7 starts, and it this point, with only a couple starts left in the regular season, the Giants may be asking themselves if he's worthy of a postseason roster spot. I never thought I'd be saying it, but with the way Zito has thrown in September, and the way he's come through in big games for San Francisco this year, he may have the upper hand at being that 4th starter should the Giants reach postseason. I mean, just look at the last two games, were we saw Zito shut down the D-Backs and out-duel Wade Miley, compared to the way Vogey struggled vs. the very same lineup the following day. These last few starts will be telling, but I don't think you can ask Vogelsong to take the ball in a playoff game with the way things have been going for him.

Despite not being able to get Vogey back on track, the Giants will certainly take the 4-2 roadie. They didn't get Xavier Nady back in time for the Arizona series, but it didn't really matter, as the offense just continues to step up in big situations. They got one real big swing off the bat of Hunter Pence in the opener Friday night, a grand slam that was part of a 2-3 effort from the Giants new right fielder. I know he hasn't hit for quite the average we were hoping for after the trade, but there hasn't been a better Giant at getting runners in from scoring position than Pence since he dawned the Orange and Black. In Saturday's game, it was Buster Posey who came up with the big two-run jack to put the Giants ahead, and we all know what happened after that. Game two ended up being one of the better games I've watched in a while, as both Zito and Miley where on their games and pitching beautifully, and it took a near perfect effort in all areas by the Giants to pull that one out. They got the big hit from Posey, the excellent start out of Zito and some terrific defense down the the final out. No, they weren't able to get Vogelsong back on track this trip, but just about everything else went the Giants' way.

Now, with their lead in the West at 7.5 games, the Giants embark on their final home stand of the regular season, and I know San Francisco fans are hoping they can celebrate a division win at AT&T Park. They'll have a pretty good shot at doing it too, as they get the Rockies for four, the Padres for three then the D-Backs again for three. Despite their loss, the 'magic number' in the West fell another game Sunday, thanks to St. Louis beating LA, so if LA keeps tumbling and the Giants keep surging, they could have this thing locked up by next weekend.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Offense Carries Giants over Rockies

Well, the Giants starting pitching has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride lately, pitching beautifully against LA last weekend, but have struggled in the thin air in Colorado the last few nights.

Ryan Vogelsong struggled again in the opener on Monday, failing to get through the fifth inning again, and surrendering 5 runs to the Rockies. He was giving up hit after hit as he just didn't appear to have much life on his breaking pitches and change up. Madison Bumgarner followed up with a spotty outing himself in game two, but the offense, which came up just short of an impressive comeback Monday night, was up to task in Tuesday's game. Bumgarner gave up 5 runs and he too failed to get out of the fifth, but he helped himself out with a 3-run big fly that tied the game at 4. After that, the Giants offense really took over the ballgame. Angel Pagan had a big triple, Marco Scutaro continued his clutch hitting and Buster Posey reached base three times Tuesday, but the player of the game in this one had to be Brandon Belt. The 24 year-old first basemen had such an up-and-down first half that many Giants fans wondered if he'd ever get it going. Well wonder no more. The kid is hitting and he's hitting with confidence. It's nothing new, as he's been steadily building his average the last 6 weeks, but what I'm ecstatic about is the fact that he's hitting with punch again. He hit an RBI double out to the wall in left that even the steady-handed Carlos Gonzalez couldn't reel in. Then he hit a bomb later in the game that really helped put the icing on the cake (2nd home run in last 5 games), finishing with a career-high 4 RBI.

Contrary to his corner infield counterpart, Pablo Sandoval has fallen on some hard times and the Giants coaches are getting inpatient. Bruce Bochy, 'Bam Bam' Muellens and others met with Sandoval before Tuesday nights tilt in Colorado to discuss some potential changes in Pablo's approach at the plate. Ever since coming off the DL in early August, Panda has slugged under .300, which is way out of the norm for him. He just isn't hitting for much power, as evident in him being stuck on 8 home runs for two months now. The Giants coaches talked about shortening Panda's stride at the plate, and taking some swing out. I don't know how much of his current slump has to do with his conditioning, but it can't be helping. It's cost him some errors on defense, I know that much. He's still making most of the plays, but there are still those moments when he fumbles some of the easier ones. In the last couple games at Coors, he's bobbled a few easy grounders that ended up leading to unearned runs for Colorado and it really hurt the club on Monday (they ended up losing by 1). Bochy doesn't want to make any big moves just yet, but Panda was benched at the end of 2010 in similar circumstances, so he knows it's time to catch up or ride the pine.

So it's been a wild couple of games in Denver, much of what you'd expect from Coors Field, but the most important thing is the Giants are heading into the rubber match Wednesday with a season-high 6 game lead in the West after Arizona beat the Dodgers Tuesday. They have to like the pitching matchup they're getting tomorrow with Tim Lincecum going up against Jeff Francis. If Timmy keeps building off his recent success, he should be fine in this one. Plus with the wet, windy weather in Denver right now, 'The Freak' should feel right at home.
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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Pence, Posey and Zito Beat LA

This was the biggest series of the year in terms of momentum in the NL West, and with 21 games left, the LA may want to start thinking about a wild card spot!

It seems like the mega-deal that netted LA Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett has sparked the Giants more than it did the Dodgers. San Francisco got their first look at the new Dodgers this weekend, including Josh Beckett on Friday night, and showed they weren't the least bit impressed. They hit a bit of an offensive wall Saturday afternoon, and never got anything going, but they looked like a team prime for a big postseason run in the opener and the finale. One of the things I thought was key to this series was that the Giants starting pitching, which had been stumbling a bit lately, had to get back on track, and that they did. They got a big outing from the guy they're hoping returns to ace-like form out of Tim Lincecum Friday night. Timmy walked 7 batters in 6 1/3 innings of work, which typically would have led to an early exit and an ugly all-around outing, but he flashed some vintage Lincecum in being able to tight-rope out of situations and ultimately giving the Giants a chance to win. Cain threw tremendously on Saturday but go no support. Then Barry Zito made it come full circle with what I believe was his best start of 2011 in Sunday's rubber match. Zito had a crisp fastball, excellent location and had the big break and outstanding command of his curve ball.

It really was a tale of two different teams heading in opposite directions this weekend. We saw the Giants play extremely well fundamentally, and the Dodgers not so much. The starting pitching stepped up exactly as it needed to, and the offense fed off of it. Pablo Sandoval's first inning sac fly, and then Hunter Pence's two-run double were a huge momentum gainer, and then Buster came up with the solo shot to really put the icing on the cake. They got out to an early lead in the first, taking the pressure of Zito, and Zito made it stand. They moved players from 2nd to 3rd with less than two out and actually hit with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers had some opportunities in Sunday's game, but went 0-8 w/RISP, and failed to do the small things the Giants have become so successful at. It certainly helped that the Giants didn't have to face Clayton Kershaw Sunday, who was scratched do to some hip soreness (I really don't get that move by Mattingly in a series of this magnitude) and the fact that Matt Kemp has been sidelined temporarily and missed the game. Still, the Giants had to take advantage of it like good teams do. The difference between this team and LA is quite apparent right now, and I don't even think the Dodgers themselves believe they have much of a shot at beating out the Giants in the West.

The starting pitchers got themselves back on track this weekend, but we can't forget about the bullpen. You rarely see late inning relievers used in a committee role, and be successful at it, but the Giants are. Sergio Romo has been masterful closing out games, and Javier Lopez has been a menace to the left-handed hitters he's being called upon to retire late in games. Also, I can't say enough about Santiago Casilla, who has taken over Romo's prior role and has not missed a beat. It's another example of how versatile and talented this Giants team is, and how every player on that roster has just one goal in mind... It's almost time to start busting out the magic number column, the Giants are smelling the finish line!
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Thursday, September 06, 2012

Giants Need Starters to Rebound vs. LA

Ever since the tail end of their last homestand, the Giants starting pitching has really run into some difficulties. With a huge series vs. LA this weekend, they'll need those struggles to end ASAP.

Before that series with the Braves a few weeks ago, seemingly every Giants starter was taking the ball into the 7th or 8th inning, and giving their team an excellent shot at controlling the game. However, since they went out of their last road trip, that pattern has come to a halt. Ryan Vogelsong has been having the most trouble lately, as 4 of his last 5 starts have been down significantly from his performance through July. The 33 year-old right-hander was leading the NL in ERA on July 29th with a 2.22 mark, and he was in the midst of 16 straight quality starts. Since that date however, risen up over a point to 3.29, and he has recorded just 2 quality starts over 7 outings. It's not just Vogey either though. Madison Bumgarner has lost his last three starts, including the finale vs. the D-Backs Wednesday that resulted in the Giants losing a series for the first time in weeks. With the inconsistencies the Giants are currently getting out of Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito, it really applies the pressure to the other starters. After all, the Giants are still a team dictated by who their starting pitching is going, and if they continue the trend they've had the last week plus, they aren't going to keep winning.

We saw it in this series with the D-Backs. The Giants were able to get some offense and comeback in game one of the series, but didn't get great starting efforts in any of the three games and their offense still isn't deep enough to bail them out of early deficits with regularity. They were hoping Xavier Nady would provide a boost to the lineup after his solid debut with the Giants in Chicago, but he really hasn't done much since hitting that big 3-run double, and left the game Wednesday with a strained groin. Now the Giants are left in the same spot with left field that they were when they originally lost Melky, and it may force them to get creative in order to keep their best offensive unit on the field. We saw last week that they were tinkering with using Joaquin Arias out there, but that hasn't happened in a game yet, and now there are whispers of possibly placing Brandon Belt back out there. Belt played a pretty good left field last year when he was asked to, but his value to this team as a first basemen is huge as he's one of the best defenders in the NL there. Still, it may makes some since, seeing that Blanco just can't get anything going right now, and the Giants do have other options they could use at third (moving Pablo across the diamond) or at catcher (moving Posey to first).

Hopefully they can figure these issues out with this huge series kicking off Friday night. I know these two teams meet again in the final series of the regular season in Pasadena, but I think this 3-game set is the one that will set the tone for the rest of the year. If the Dodgers are able to gain some ground on the Giants, it'll give them major momentum down the stretch. But at the same time, if the Giants can get right, and play the Dodgers like they did in LA in August (excellent pitching, clutch hitting and great defense), they could unofficially put the nail in the coffin for the 2012 Dodgers.
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Monday, September 03, 2012

Comeback Success Continues

The Giants just finished a road trip in which they were the comeback kings, and they've brought that magic back to AT&T Park.

After getting down in numerous games on the road last week, the Giants still managed to have a 5-1 trip, which tells you a few things. First off, they have some swagger right now offensively. They know they aren't out of any game because of their ability to string together hits. They aren't really doing it with the long ball, but they're actually hitting with runners in scoring position right now, something that eluded them early in the season. A big reason why they were able to pull out the victory on Labor Day was because the middle of their order produced like the Giants were envisioning when they brought in Hunter Pence. The new right fielder is starting to swing the bat a little better (over .300 in his last 18 games), and in turn, it's giving the guys in front of him some much better pitches to hit. This was fully evident in the Giants 9th inning comeback Monday as J.J. Putz refused to walk Buster Posey with first base open and Buster ended up tying the game with a double down the left field line. Pence launched a 2-run triple off the wall in right center earlier in the game and it put AZ pitching on notice. It's no coincidence that Posey and Panda have been heating up again since Pence has started hitting.

Another thing this late-inning comeback success has shown is the solid relief pitching the Giants have been getting lately. Unfortunately, Monday's game wasn't a great example of that, as Guillermo Mota gave up 3 runs in relief of Barry Zito, but after that, they tightened up nicely. We saw the pen come through numerous times on the recent road trip, including 2 double-play grounders induced by Javier Lopez to end games in crucial spots and terrific pitching out of the new set-up man, Santiago Casilla. Since Casilla was ousted from his closing duties, he's pretty much swapped roles with Sergio Romo, and he's done an excellent job setting up. I thought the Giants bridge from the starters to the closer would take a hit with Romo and Lopez being used largely in closing situations, but that just hasn't been the case. I'm still no fan of the closer-by-committee set-up Boch is running, but he obviously has a handle on it. Plus, I think we're starting to see Romo kind of take over the role as the season goes. Lopez is still brought in to get through tough lefties, but #54 is the guy I expect to see out there in most save situations going forward.

There were a lot of other small things done Monday to enable the Giants to pull out the victory, from Brett Pill's perfect sacrifice, to Marco Scutaro's clutch hitting, and you can just see the confidence in this team right now. Even the September call-ups appear to have grasped it. Speaking of which, I know it's just been one inning, but I was very impressed by Jean Machi's stuff Monday afternoon. He looks like a legit late-inning guy with that heavy fastball and nasty split.
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Saturday, September 01, 2012

Giants Start September With a Win

After looking like a team that had a long flight between a night/day game overlap, the Giants got some sleep Friday night and righted the ship Saturday.

Friday's game was pretty forgettable in every way, from Madison Bumgarner's start, to the lowly offensive output. Luckily the Giants got some help from Arizona who held off the Dodgers in 11 innings, enabling the Giants to keep their 4.5 game lead. On Saturday, the Giants have put the pressure on LA early, beating Chicago 5-2 and forcing the Dodgers to win Saturday night in order to avoid falling 5.5 games back. San Francisco only really needed one big inning to make up for Friday's letdown, as they jumped all over the Cubs in the very first inning. Hector Sanchez got an RBI by taking a bases loaded fastball off his jersey for a hits batsmen, then the Giants got the big hit they were hoping they'd get out their newest call-up. Xavier Nady was called up prior to the game, and Bruce Bochy said he's leaning towards using him a lot in left field to start out with, as Gregor Blanco's struggles continue. Nady paid off immediately. His swing looked solid and he looked balanced at the plate and roped a 3-run triple down the left field line to push the Giants ahead 4-0, and Tim Lincecum took over from there.

Lincecum had a very good outing, going 6.1 strong, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits with 7 strikeouts to improve his record to 8-14 on the season. Timmy was coming off 3 starts in which he failed to get through the 6th inning (though his start in LA was legit), but he was able to Saturday. He did walk 3 batters, but had pretty good command throughout the game. The only mistake he made was a 2-seamer that leaked out over the plate to David DeJuses, which was launched for a 2-run home run, but that was all the offense the Cubs came up with. Lincecum has still not quite been completely right in the second half, but his numbers since the All-Star break are starting to resemble the stats he was putting up prior to this season. A big reason for that has been the drop off in WHIP, from 1.58 in the first half to 1.27 after Saturday's outing. With the calender turning to September, it's really now or never for Lincecum in 2012. If he continues to build off this start down the stretch, the Giants will run away with the West, and the Giants will have themselves their ace back in time for October.

Xavier Nady wasn't the only guy called up the big league roster Saturday. With the rosters expanding to a 40-player limit, the Giants wasted no time infusing some fresh bodies into the mix. As suspected, they activated Aubrey Huff, Shane Loux and Brad Penny. They also recalled Brett Pill from Fresno and brought up reliever Jean Machi, who was impressive for the Giants this spring, and had a 3.97 ERA with 15 saves with the Grizzlies. The Giants will have another wave of call-ups after the Fresno season ends, but as I said a few posts back, I expect Nady and Mota to be the guys getting most the work. Huff and Pill give Bochy a few more options off the bench as pinch hitters as well. 
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