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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Giants Go 4-2, Narrowly Miss 6-0 Home Stand

After taking the first 4 games of their mini 6 game home stand, the Giants narrowly missed walking away with a 6-game sweep as they battled the D-Backs into extra innings in both of their losses.

With the Diamondbacks taking 2 out of 3 in the series, it pulls them to within a half game of the 2nd place Giants, who are now 1.5 back of the first place Rockies. It's really a shame they couldn't quite squeak out Wednesday's game to back a terrific outing by Madison Bumgarner and take the series vs. Arizona, but everyone will happily take a 4-2 stint anytime. Bumgarner has been the Giants default ace throughout the first month of the season, and he showed you exactly why Wednesday, going 7.1 innings, allowing 1 run on 5 hits and a walk to go with 7 punch-outs. The performance lowered his ERA to 1.87 and his WHIP to 0.89 to go with his 3-0 record. As great as MadBum was Wednesday though, the two key starts during this home stand in my eyes though came from the arms of Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito. Lincecum had the best outing of his young season, and really one of the best starts I've seen from him since 2011, granted it was vs. the Padres. He shut San Diego out over 7+, walking just 1 and striking out 8. Zito's outing was big just because he got rocked last week in Milwaukee, so he needed a strong outing to avoid getting back into one of his ruts, and he delivered.

Outside of Bumgarner, the Giants starting pitching has had some question marks early on. Cain and Vogey have gotten off to slow starts, and prior to his last outing, Lincecum has been off as well. I fully expect Cain and Vogelsong to come around sooner than later, and Zito has been solid outside of that start in Milwaukee. The wild card continues to be Tim Linececum. Look at all the success the team had last year with Linececum actually holding them back in some instances, then imagine if they get that sort of play coupled with a re-born ace!

As far as the offense is concerned, they didn't really light things on fire over the last week, averaging just 3.5 runs per game over the 6-game span, but their are a few huge positives they'll be taking out on the road with them. First off, it looks like Buster Posey is finally getting things into gear. He hit homers on back-to-back nights (his first two of the season) and drove in 6 vs. the Padres and D-Backs which is over half of his total for the season to date. Secondly, Brandon Crawford has just kept fire after a real strong roadie last time out, carrying that success back home with him and really showing how far he's come in the power department. Crawford hit the game-tying shot in the 8th inning of Wednesday's game for his 4th of the year, which ties him with Hunter Pence for team lead. He'll carry a clean .320 average, 4 big flies and 10 RBI into this road trip, and is the Giants' toughest out at the moment. Meanwhile, the other Brandon, who hit the big game-tying home run off J.J. Putz to help the Giants complete the comeback win in game one vs. Arizona, looks to be breaking out of his slump too. After tearing up the Cactus League this spring, I would have thought he'd have his first home run before April 24th, but going 6 for 14 with some big hits on the home stand certainly is a step in the right direction.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Giants Slowed Down In Milwaukee

After starting off the road trip by taking 3 of 4 in Chicago and winning in comeback fashion, the Giants came just short of pulling off two comeback wins in the first two games of their series with the Brewers.

In game one, the inevitable happened as Barry Zito came tumbling back to earth and his 16-start team winning streak came to an end as the Brewers really teed off on him. It was the worst I've seen Zito look since early last year as he just wasn't fooling anyone and didn't have his crisp command working for him but it was one game in a live yard and I'm confident he'll get back on track in his next outing back home. Ryan Vogelsong had the complete opposite luck in Wednesday's game, as the Brewers jumped him for 3 early runs, but he nailed down after to turn in a very solid effort. It's really been only one Brewer's hitter that the Giants haven't been able to figure out and that's been Yuniesky Betancourt. Had it not been for his grand slam in game one, then two-run job off the top of the wall in center in game two, we're likely looking at two Giants' victories. If you would have told me a Brewer would have 2 homers and 7 RBI in the first two games of this series, my money would have been firmly on Ryan Braun, but the scary thing is, he's really done nothing in the two games yet and is bound for a breakout in Thursday's finale.

If there is one positive to take into game three in Milwaukee, it's that the Giants have the confidence that they'll be in the game no matter what happens early on. They got behind by 6 on Tuesday and almost made the full comeback, then erased that early 3-run deficit vs. a Kyle Lohse that was very much on his game on Wednesday. Both Vogey and Lohse had off innings, but were dominant for the other 6 they worked, leaving it up to the bullpens. Typically, in a close, late game you like the Giants chances, but they're working without one of their best relievers in Jeremy Affeldt and they didn't help themselves as Brandon Crawford made a rare fielding mistake on a throw he shouldn't have made in that bottom of the ninth. On the other hand, Crawford was one of the main reasons the Giants were even in this game as he collected another multi-hit game and improved his hit-streak to a career-high 10 games. He's showing more power and has looked like a completely different hitter at the plate early on in 2013. You can see it in his body language it the plate and I'm now expecting good at-bats from him each time out.

Tuesday's loss can be attributed to an off night for Zito and his historic inabilities at Miller Park, but you can't really put Wednesday's loss on one guy. Santiago Casilla was the losing pitcher, and Crawford's errant throw helped set up the winning run at third with less than two outs, but the Giants did have some opportunities to move ahead in this game after they tied it in the 6th. Their offense has slowly been rounding into form, but they still aren't getting much from Buster Posey or Brandon Belt and until one of those guys gets going, they're going to have to continue to scrape for runs. On most nights, their defense and their pitching will come through for them, it's that offense that's going to be the question mark all season long, and they fell just short in a winnable game Wednesday!
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Offense Starting to Come Around

Through the first week of the season, the Giants pitching was on point and it had to be, cause their lineup wasn't giving them much support. However, they've picked things up in week 2, and head in to Sunday's game in Chicago with a chance to take 3 of 4 from the Cubbies.

The two wins in this series have come behind the arms of Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner, who each earned victories in opposite fashion. Vogelsong gave up five runs early on in the series opener on Thursday, but buckled down after that, and ended up pitching well enough to allow the Giants to come back from the early 5-run deficit. Then on Saturday, Madison Bumgarner had the Cubs hitters absolutely stuck until the 7th inning, when they finally broke through for 2 runs against him. Still, the start was good enough to earn MadBum his 3rd consecutive victory to start the season, and he'll carry a 1.77 ERA and 0.94 WHIP into his next start. The starting pitching, particularly Bumgarner and Zito, has really been excellent through the first couple weeks of the season, but there is still one guy the Giants really need to get going, and he'll be taking the ball in Sunday's series finale. That is of course Tim Lincecum, who did manage to earn a victory in his first start of the year in LA, but has been ridiculously wild in each of his first two starts in 2013. After last seasons major drop-off, coupled with the rough spring he had, the concerns about Lincecum are legitimate, and I'm very curious to see what he does his third time out there.

While the pitching has been really solid throughout, the offense has been a step behind, but they're starting to catch up a bit. The key to me, as it was last year, is the top of that order. When Pagan and Scutaro are each hitting and getting on consistently, it just seems to make this lineup go. Scutaro was off to a really slow start that first week, but he's busted out of his slump this week, going 9 for 15 since the start of the Rockies series. Also, Pablo Sandoval has continued to come up with the clutch hit time and time again, and the Giants really dodged a bullet Saturday when he went tumbling into the stands making a play a foul pop up. With his weight issues, and his nagging elbow injury, it almost feels like a DL-stint at some point will be inevitable, but somehow he made it out of that play in one piece and managed to finish the game. Without the Giants getting much in the middle from Buster Posey and Brandon Belt yet, it's been key that Sandoval and Pence have each had pretty good starts, and they can't afford to have Panda missing any time right now. Brandon Crawford and Andres Torres have each picked things up a bit as well lately. Crawford is looking as good at the plate now as I've seen him since coming up in 2011, hitting safely in all but two games in this 2013 season and even starting to show some extra-base power. Torres (despite striking out 3 times Saturday) has 5 hits in his last 11 at-bats, including 3 doubles, and could start to grab reigns of that left field job if he keeps up that kind of production.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, April 05, 2013

Pitching Continues to Dominate Early for Giants

The Giants' rotation was considered one of the better ones in baseball coming in, and they certainly haven't disappointed through the first 4 games of the season.

After Matt Cain's solid outing in the opener that the Giants couldn't support offensively, things have gone all good for the Orange and Black. Madison Bumgarner followed Cain's start with 8 shutout innings of baseball in game two, and although he didn't do it in spectacular fashion, Tim Lincecum got the W in his 2013 debut in the rubber match with LA and didn't allow a run despite walking 7 over 5 innings of work. All these performances led up to another big one, as the Giants came home to raise the flag for their 2013 home opener, and Barry Zito picked right up where he left off in last years game 5 vs. St. Louis in the NLCS. Zito went 7 shutout innings, and displayed a lot of the traits that made him successful in the 2nd half of last season and in October. He was in the strike-zone constantly, and he had pretty good command of all his pitches. The fastball was being located on the corners, the curveball stayed down in the zone and the change and little slide/cutter he throws were on point. We still have Vogey's 2013 debut to go on Saturday, but so far, fans have to be pleased with the way the Giants are throwing the baseball.

Offensively, they were once again quiet on Friday, after scoring just 8 runs in the 3-game set in LA. The lone run of the game came on a bases loaded walk to Angel Pagan, and that was it. Granted, Jake Westbrook had his sinker working and wasn't exactly an easy assignment, I would have liked to have seen a bit more offense. Most the runs the Giants have scored this season have been attributed to opposing team mistakes, and I'm still waiting to see guys like Scutaro, Posey and Belt really get going. Brandon Crawford had a couple of solid at-bats today which was intriguing to see, and Belt actually tied into one today early in the game but unfortunately top-spinned one out to right that just missed being a cove shot by about a 1/4 inch. Overall though, I'm not overly concerned with the offense yet. They're not scoring as much as I'd like, and as much as they'll need to once their pitching comes back to earth a bit, but I have a feeling things will lighten up after this weekends festivities and they can completely put the 2012 season behind them. And after all, it's tough to bicker too much at a 3-1 start to the season, especially when Romo and the bullpen have looked as good as they have.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Monday, April 01, 2013

Kershaw Bests Cain, Giants in Opener

In one of the more frustrating openers in recent memory, Clayton Kershaw showed exactly why he's considered by many the best pitcher in the game. Not only did he shut down the Giants and complete a game in under 100 pitches, but he also homered to drive in the games first run.

There just weren't a lot of positives to take out of this one on the Giants side, outside of the fact that Cain was pretty darn impressive himself after that rocky first inning. Had it not been for that 30-pitch effort in the first, Cain may have been able to take the ball into the 8th inning like Kershaw did and maybe things turn out differently, but unfortunately the early season pitch count forced Cainer out after 6. It took him a few innings to really get command of the fastball, but after that, he had everything working smoothly as evident by his 8 strikeouts and just one walk over the 6 frames. And in typical, pre-2012 Giants fashion, they were unable to support Matty when he was out there throwing a gem. Granted, it was Kershaw, and the young lefty was certainly in his zone Monday, but I just saw too much first pitch swinging, and the Giants give away too many outs than I would have preferred to see. When a guy's in a groove like Kershaw was, they should have started waiting him out a bit and make him work. Even Scutaro, who is a notoriously patient hitter, had a few 2-pitch at-bats.

I hate to say it, but everything about this game reminded me a lot of 2011; the Giants get stifled by good pitching, and they fail to give adequate run support to Matt Cain. They really didn't have many chances offensively, as again, Kershaw was on his game, but they couldn't even work 3-ball counts out of the Dodger lefty, and that just shows you that they were in-patient. Hopefully we can chalk some of that up to opening day jitters, but they better do a quick 180 if they don't want to start 2013 in a rut like they did 2011. The only two hitters in the lineup to come up with base knocks off of Kershaw were Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan. The Panda had a couple of solid at bats and really hit the ball better than any other Giant off Kershaw, and looked good in the field as well. Hunter Pence also just missed hitting 2 big flies by a few feet each. Had it not been for Panda and Pagan's 2-4 outings though, the Giants may have been shut down all together as the lefty was perfect otherwise. Andres Torres looked like the 2011-12 version of Torres and Brandon's were both way outmatched by Kershaw.

The one Dodger who jumped out at me Monday and showed he was healthy was Carl Crawford, who made his Dodger debut after being part of that huge August trade with Boston last year. If he stays on the field and plays like he can, the Dodgers may very well posses the best outfield in the game, and he could end up giving the top of that lineup a spark very few teams have.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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