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Friday, May 31, 2013

Giants Look to Erase Road Woes

The Giants have been one of the worst teams in baseball away from AT&T Park this season at 9-15, but they're going to have to turn things around on this one, starting with the NL-leading Cardinals in St. Louis.

The Giants record is slipping, and so is there spot in the NL West standings, and the big reason why has been their miserable play away from San Francisco. It wasn't more evident than it was on the teams recent painful roadie through Canada and Denver, but they couldn't even get themselves right in at least one of their mini two-game set with the A's over at the O.co. One big reason for the drastic home/road splits is, of course, the struggling starting pitching. Matt Cain's ERA (5.46), Madison Bumgarner's (3.55), Tim Lincecum's (5.86) and especially Barry Zito's (10.19) are all significantly higher  when they pitch away from the thick, foggy atmosphere on the San Francisco Bay. On the positive side of this, these guys' track records suggest things will only get better for them moving forward, but that has to happen sooner than later. It's more important then ever for those top four starters to step things up now with Vogey shelved for the next 6 weeks. They have to be quality enough to get deep into games to alleviate some of the pressure off of the pen. They're most likely going to have to roll with an in-experienced fifth man until Vogey returns, (we saw how things went with Kickham in Oakland), so every fifth day really should be considered a bullpen day for the Giants until further notice. There's no better time for the Giants four veteran arms to start clicking all at once!

Speaking of Michael Kickham, although the young lefty had trouble in his debut A's on Tuesday, I really think the Giants ought to give him another look the next time around. Kickham was pinched on a couple of close calls that led to that big Oakland 3rd inning. I watched from my Ipad and was juggling watching the game with playing on the site  www.ipadcasino.ca, but definitely saw the positives nonetheless. Bruce Bochy had hinted after that game that Chad Gaudin could get a the nod in Sunday's game vs. St. Louis, but Mike Kickham still hasn't returned to the Grizzlies as of May 31st, which could indicate the Giants are keeping him around to be activated to start that game. Again, I like Kickham, and feel he was the most deserving of the Grizzlies' arms to get the call in the first place, and I think giving him a 2nd start in his hometown (born in St. Louis) could be a good thing for the lefty. As good as Gaudin has been, I'd really prefer to keep him in the bullpen. The Giants' pen is already a bit shorthanded without Casilla and an ineffective Ramon Ramirez taking his spot at the moment. Also, George Kontos has been a bit hit-and-miss this year and the Giants' right-handed releif options, especially in the later innings, aren't nearly as effective as they were when Romo was locking down the 8th and B-Weezy had the 9th.

Now, things should get better when Casilla gets back, but I still am a huge advocate of giving Heath Hembree a look finally. If he could come up and be that bridge from the rest of the pen to Romo in the 9th, it would allow Boch to use Casilla more freely whenever he needed to and make the bullpen a whole lot tougher. I really like that idea. Plus it would give the Giants a legit closing option on those nights in July and August when they're going to want to keep from overusing Romo. I know he got knocked around in in few of his recent outings, but he's been nails for the most part all season long for Fresno. Without the pressure of a pennant race, or the need to rush him right into the closer's seat, I think the timing for an Hembree call-up right now would be ideal!
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Giants Face New Obstacle Without Vogey

Since your reading this blog, you're probably no stranger to the fact that Ryan Vogelsong, one of the Giants steadiest starters the last 2 seasons before his slow start to 2013, will be shelved for the next 6 weeks with a fracture on his throwing hand.

The question now for a team who's pitching staff was already working it's way out of a funk before this injury, is what do they do know? Wouldn't you know it, Vogey had been the Giants worst starter heading into his start Monday night, but coincidentally was turning in his best effort to date with a 5 inning, 3-hit taming of the powerful Washington Nationals. He was starting to look like the pre-2013 Vogey, hitting his spot with his low-90's fastball and showing complete command with that curve and change. Who knows if this was the first step towards him regaining his form or not, but nevertheless, we'll have to wait until July to see what kind of pitcher he'll be after this surgery. For a pitcher to have a fracture like that in his throwing hand than come back in be successful within a month or so seems a little optimistic, but Vogey is one guy I'm not counting out. This does leave, however, the question as to what the Giants will do with Vogey's rotation spot until he is ready to return to the team. Chad Gaudin will be the immediate replacement, and the Giants may give him a  few starts to see if he can hold that down, but he's done such a good job in the bullpen that they may have a hard time finding an adequate replacement for him there. Especially now with Santiago Casilla on the shelf as well.

Not only is this injury causing a big hole in the starting rotation, but it could end up taking away arguably the Giants best reliever (not named Romo), to date. Now, the Giants have two upcoming off-days, including Thursday, and may not need a 5th starter for another couple of weeks, but eventually they're going to need someone to step in and take 5+ starts (assuming the timeline is correct). If they do decide to keep Gaudin in the pen, which is what I'm hoping will be the choice, the top couple names down in Fresno are hardly banging the door down to the big leagues. We talked a bit about Michael Kickham and Chris Heston as fall-backs a week ago after the Giants starters had that pitiful roadie in Toronto and Colorado, but again, those two just aren't pitching up to expectations in Fresno, so I have a hard time seeing either get brought up to San Francisco right this moment. Kickham, however, could have a leg up as he's gone 2-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 25 K's in 25 innings of work over his last 4 starts. The issue with him is that he's not on the 40-man and the Giants would have to make an ensuing move in order to make him ML-roster eligible. Again, they do have a few weeks to see how things shake out, but a decision will eventually need to be made, and my money would be on Kickham if his has another couple solid outings during that span.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, May 17, 2013

Offense Heating Up, Starters Continue to Struggle

After playing their two worst games of the 2013 seasons north of the border in Toronto, the Giants got back on track Thursday in Colorado. They came back from an early 6-run deficit to beat the Rockies in game one of a 4-game set and will look to feed off that momentum throughout the weekend.

In each game up in Toronto, the Giants starting pitcher put the team behind the 8-ball significantly early on. Barry Zito got knocked around pretty good on Tuesday night, but the real concern coming out of that series has to be with Ryan Vogelsong. I talked extensively about Vogey's struggles in our last post, so I won't keep beating a dead horse, but we're 1/4 of the way through the season, and it's really time to start assessing performances. Needless to say, Vogelsong has been one of the worst starters in the game up to this point  and is now sitting at 1-4 with a 8.06 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. The other starter I'm starting to worry about is Matt Cain, who's been dealing with many of the same problems as Vogelsong. 'Cainer strung together a couple of quality starts his last two times out and was showing signs of the old Matt Cain rounding into form, but he was lit up by Colorado Thursday night in game one, giving up 6 runs on 8 hits, including 3 long balls, over 6 1/3 innings. Luckily for Cain, the Giants offense was up to the task and were able to come back and earn the right-hander his third straight victory, but it was hardly a performance he'll be happy about. What's effected Cain the most this year has been the long-ball. He's given up 13 in 56 innings after giving up just 30  the last two seasons combined.

So, with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum's ERA in the mid-5's and Vogey's north of 8, the starting pitching is hardly responsible for the Giants' current first place standing. Sure, Madison Bumgarner has done his best to help overcome the slow starts by the others, and Barry Zito has been pretty steady for the most part, but it's been the Giants offense that has been the driving force to their success this year. They showed early on this year that they have the ability to comeback in games and with the pitching struggling, that's been something they've had to do quite frequently. Unfortunately, they got down by too large of deficits in Toronto but they got back to their come-from-behind ways in Colorado. There are certainly better lineups in baseball, but the Giants are extremely stable from 1-5 in the order and are finally getting some production out of the bottom of the order too. Their 6-8 hitters played an integral part in Thursday's win, going a combined 4-10 with 5 RBI and 4 runs scored. Brandon Crawford helped pace the bottom 1/3 of the order with a huge April, and has clearly been the most improved Giant in 2013. Meanwhile, Brandon Belt was nowhere to be found offensively in April, but he's quietly been putting things together in May. Belt is hitting .275 with 3 HR, 10 RBI 9 runs and an impressive .958 OPS this month.

If there is one thing still lacking in this lineup though, it's that right-handed hitting corner outfielder that I knew they would need in the offseason, but they never were able to tackle it. A right-handed bat would be ideal in the 7-spot splitting Belt and Crawford. Gregor Blanco has been pretty solid at the plate, but Andres Torres isn't giving the team the right-handed platoon option they need, and Francisco Peguero didn't get the job done in his brief audition. Sabean's top priority heading into trade season will be a quality starter, but a right-handed bat for the outfield will continue to be a necessity until a remedy is found.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Giants' Pitching No Longer a Powerhouse

For the last 5+ years, the Giants have had what many consider one of the top pitching staffs in all of baseball, top to bottom. This year, however, their starting pitching has taken a major step back, and the bullpen isn't quite as bullet-proof as it's been the past few seasons.

After nearly being swept by the struggling Phillies, the Giants have started out behind the 8-ball in their 4-game set with Atlanta, as Ryan Vogelsong had yet another tough outing Thursday night that pushed his ERA up to 7.78 through his 7 starts. Vogey gave up 6 runs on 7 hits through 4 1/3 and surrendered his league-leading 9th home run of the season. As bad as things have been with Cain and Lincecum this year, Vogelsong has had the roughest go of it through the season's first 6 weeks, and it's gotten to the point where even Bruce Bochy is showing some concern. The three right-handers in the rotation (Cain, Lincecum and Vogey) carry a combined ERA in the 6's, and when asked about the struggles in the starting rotation, Bochy quickly replied that there are other options he could go to in terms of starters should this string of bad luck continue. I'm not sure what exactly he means by that, as the Giants are hardly deep with major league ready starting pitching, but he could mean sliding Chad Gaudin into the rotation for a start or two while giving Vogey a couple weeks to work on some issues. It's not like Vogelsong has all the sudden lost his stuff. He struck out 7 batters in his 4 1/3 innings Thursday, but he's just not hitting his targets with consistency like he's done so well in his recent Giants' tenure.


I can't really think of who else Bochy could be referring to when he says "other options" for the starting rotation besides Gaudin. If you look down at Fresno, they're having much of the same issues the Giants are having as up here, as all their starters have gotten off to rough starts as well. Mike Kickham (0-4, 5.65 ERA) and Chris Heston (3-2, 5.82 ERA) would likely be the first two options, but they certainly aren't beating the
Will Sabean Deal for SP?
door down and forcing the issue right this moment. If Vogey continues to struggle though, and the Giants feel a long term change may be in order, they could look outside the organization at various arms that could be available via trade, but it's still so early in the season that they'd probably have to overpay for any decent starting pitcher worth making a move on. One guy who I would take in a second, and someone I've been watching closely this season is Bud Norris. Obviously being the worst team in the game, the Astros are in complete rebuilding mode, and Norris is one of the guys on that roster that may be able to fetch a few solid prospects in return. Not sure if the 'Stros are open to dealing him at this time or what they'd even want for him, but he's definitely a guy I could see excelling in the pitcher friendly confines of AT&T Park.

As far as the bullpen is concerned, things have been pretty good at the back end, as Romo is 12-14 in save opportunities and Santiago Casilla has done a nice job in the set-up role. That's not really the issue, but what I am afraid of is Boch overusing Casilla as he really is the one right-hander Bochy trusts late in games besides his closer. Unlike with their starting rotation though, the Giants do have some clear-cut options within the organization should they feel the need to mix things up. Jean Machi has shown with every opportunity he's gotten that he's a big league-caliber reliever, with the potential to be a very good one.Also, with the way Heath Hembree has started the season in Fresno, it wouldn't surprise me to see him in San Francisco sooner than later, taking on a significant role as a late reliever. Hembree would provide Bochy a legit arm with closing experience who could help keep Sergio Romo fresh for the stretch drive.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Giants Look to Carry Momentum Back Home

After getting swept in San Diego by lowly Padres, the Giants had a statement to make in Arizona, and they turned what started out as a miserable road trip into a decent one by sweeping the D-Backs in Arizona.

It was like the tale of two teams in each of the two series' on that road trip, as the Giants the Giants just kept finding ways to lose in San Diego then turned into the comeback machine again in Arizona. I figured it was going to be a tough roadie after the way the first two games of the trip went. First off, the Giants got another beautiful effort out of Tim Lincecum that was all for not. Timmy threw 7 innings of 2 run ball, striking out 9 Padres and giving the Giants more than enough opportunity to take control of the game, but the offense just couldn't figure out Andrew Cashner. Then in game two, things fell apart late and the defense came up with some costly mistakes, something you rarely see this team do. The bullpen was getting beat up a bit, the starting pitching, besides Timmy, did not impress and the offense looked completely outmatched by San Diego pitching. After the series with the Padres, I was beginning to wonder whether the Giants would still be a .500+ team when they returned this weekend.

However, as frustrating as things started out in SoCal, they were essentially forgotten with the rallying this team did in desert. The one Giant who really needed to step it up offensively and start producing some runs did just that, and it played a instrumental part in the Giants getting right in Arizona. Brandon Belt, who had that torrid spring and had all these expectations coming into the year, finally found his groove a bit, and hit a couple of crucial big flies that ended up being the difference in games one and three, and all of the sudden Belt's numbers for this season have taken a 180. Over the last 10 games, Belt has hit all 3 of his home runs, driven in 9 of his 14 RBI and has seen his average spike from .183 to .244. We've always known Belt has the ability to put numbers up in a hurry, which is the reason his slow start didn't worry me too much. I am curious to see where he goes from here though. Last year, he had a week where he hit 4 homers and drove in 10 runs or something crazy, and everyone thought he'd take off after that, but it didn't really happen. This time around though, I'd be surprised if we don't see a more consistent Belt, and see those numbers steadily rise over the next few weeks. He's obviously got the talent, he's just got to get that confidence going and it sure looks like he's found it here in early May.

So, after the roller coaster road trip, the Giants will kick off a big 10-game home stand with three vs. LA over the weekend, 3 vs. Philly next week and 4 vs. the powerhouse Braves next weekend. Of course, the games with LA are always intriguing, but I'm really looking forward to facing Atlanta. Right now, I think the Braves and Giants have the two best all-around squads in the NL and even though it's still very early, I'm anxious to see how these two measure up vs. one another.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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