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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sandoval getting hot at right time

When Brandon Belt went down with the broken thumb a few weeks back, the Giants were going to need someone to step up in his place. Now despite missing 1/4 of their projected 2014 lineup, they have managed to not only keep the team afloat, but become one of the more potent offenses in league.

Through the first 6 weeks of the season, Brandon Belt was off to one of the better starts of any hitter in this lineup and was pacing the team in home runs and seemingly coming up with big hit after big hit. However, as hot as Brandon Belt was those first few weeks in April, Pablo Sandoval has been hotter since the big first basemen went down with the fractured thumb. He continued his torrid May with a 1-3 with his 8th home run of the year and 2 runs scored. The Panda was terrible in April and didn't really get it going until the 2nd week of May when he had his first 3-hit game of the year (3-5) vs. the Dodgers on May 11th. Since that game, the all-star third basemen has 25 hits in 67 at-bats (.373) with 6 home runs and 17 RBI. His average was sitting at .175 on the 11th of this month, and now he'll carry a .247 mark into Friday's game in St. Louis. What was shaping up to be an abysmal walk year is starting to turn into something special for the big man. More importantly though, it's a big reason why the Giants sport one of the most potent lineups in the game, even with Brandon Belt and Marco Scutaro shelved and them not quite getting Buster Posey-like production from their franchise backstop.

I also wanted to recognize Hunter Pence's strong run this month as well. Pence is another guy who was really slow out of the gate (although not to Pablo's extent), and has really seen his bat come alive in May. Pence really just had a slow first couple of weeks, and has been raking since mid-April. It's not just the home run/RBI boost that we're used to seeing out of Pence either as he's really filling up the stat sheet. He's been used predominantly in the 2nd spot this month, and has done a terrific job there slashing .315/.386/.500 with 5 HR, 15 RBI and a whopping 32 runs scored in 44 games. For the year, he's scored 40 runs which slates him second in the NL and is second on the team with 7 steals.

Michael Morse and Angel Pagan have really been consistently solid since day 1, and Brandon Crawford looks like he's evolving at the plate but it's been Pence and Sandoval's recent surge that have really paced this offense and it's a good thing too because the starting pitching is really starting to pull it's weight. These two units are starting to get it going simultaneously and when that happens in apparent why the Giants have been the class of the NL throughout the first 1/3 of the season. The two starters who were lost for much of April have really gotten a grip on things. Ryan Vogelsong has been especially stingy lately, posting a ridiculous 1.64 ERA along with 3-1 record, 1.03 WHIP and 29 K's in 33 innings this month (not including Thursday's start). I'll admit that I was skeptical of Vogey coming into the year and throughout April, but he's thrown like the same pitcher that thrived here in 2011-12 long enough now that I think it's safe to say he's back. Tim Lincecum hasn't been as dominant as Vogey, but has gone 3-2 with a 2.86 ERA, 34 K's and 29 hits allowed in just over 34 innings. The only area over that span that's really weighing him down still is the WHIP (1.47). While none of his numbers really jump out at you right now, he's had only 2 starts this year in which he's allowed 4 or more runs, but what's still hampering him is his high pitch count forcing him to leave games early. He had to leave the game with a no-hitter in tact Wednesday after making it through just 5 innings, thanks to 4 free passes and too many 3-ball counts. Lincecum looks like he's on the up though, and that WHJP/ERA will keep on dropping and his innings pitched should spike if he can just stay in the zone with a little more frequency.

Extras: As far as the two injured Giants are concerned, their really is no update in Scutaro's rehab, as he's still trying to get different opinions from specialists on how to speed up the healing of his back. I certainly don't expect to see him anytime before the All-Star break, and still think it's better than 50/50 that he misses the entire season... Brandon Belt, on the other hand, does have a time table for his return but it's still a ways off. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, which would put him out anywhere from late June to after the All-Star break. Ryan Zimmerman had a similar injury to Belts in mid-April, and he's still a week or two away from returning (though his injury didn't require surgery to put pins into his thumb). With the offense performing well, the Giants likely won't rush Belt back and I'm thinking that after the All-Star break is most realistic... Matt Cain has battled some minor aches and pains throughout the early season is currently dealing with a sore hamstring though he is slated to start Saturday's game in St. Louis. With Vogey and Timmy coming around and MadBum and Huddy each throwing the way they are, the Giants would hate to disrupt the rhythm they have in that rotation so hopefully Cainer can alleviate all health concerns Saturday.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Giants Notes: Bullpen the unsung heroes

Through the first month-plus of the regular season, every starter in the Giants rotation aside from Tim Hudson would tell you they need to be pitching better. A huge reason why the Giants are 10 games above .500 despite the hot-and-cold starting pitching has been because of their rock solid bullpen.

Look no further back than Monday night's slug-fest with Pittsburgh in which Yusmiero Petit couldn't get the job done filling in for Cain, yet the bullpen came in and combined for 8 2/3 innings of 2 run ball. Juan Gutierrez had a rare hiccup in his 1.2 innings of work, allowing the two runs to score, but the other five relievers went the remaining 7 shutout innings allowing 5 hits, 2 walks and 8 strikeouts. Everybody in that bullpen is doing their job, top to bottom. Petit had a forgetful outing Monday, but was dominant upon being pressed into duty for Cain last week, and should rebound in his next start. The three guys who have really been nails in getting the ball to Romo have been Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Jean Machi. Affeldt came off the DL towards the end of April, and all he's done since has thrown 10 scoreless innings in 9 games, allowing just 5 hits and 3 walks with 10 K's. Casilla has been as tough to hit as any reliever in baseball, period. He's thrown just under 20 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 12 hits. He's started to really rack up the strikeouts of late too and has opposing hitters at just .182 against him.

The true unsung hero in that bullpen though has to be Jean Machi. This guy kind of came out of nowhere last season and threw up some pretty solid numbers. That pretty much ensured him a spot in the 2014 bullpen but he still had to do his part in the spring. Now, all of the sudden, he's probably the Giants most dominant reliever, closer or otherwise, and seems to be thriving in key situations, as evident by his 5-0 record. He's pitched in 17 games, throwing 17 innings and allowing just 1 run (0.53 ERA) and 12 hits while carrying a 13:3 strikeout/walk ratio. The 5-0 tells a bigger story though, as he's amongst the league leaders in wins as a middle reliever. For him to be pitching in that many tight situations with the game on the line and come up on the winning end 5 times already speaks volume for how he when the games on the line. He hasn't coughed one up yet. For now, Casilla will continue to be Romo's set-up man in the 8th, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Machi used there more and more too in real tight situations.

Now, getting back into the rotation a bit, I wanted to talk a little about Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum. Don't look know, but Ryan Vogelsong may in fact have finally found a consistent release point again, and his
last few outings have been vintage 2011-12 Vogey. He had the one rough outing in Colorado last week, but if you take that blow up out of the equation he's had three other starts since April 16th, and has been really strong in all of them. In those three starts vs. the Dodgers, Braves and Indians, Vogey went 19 innings allowing just 11 hits and 2 runs with 14 k's. Unfortunately, lack of run support only allowed him to claim a victory in one of those outings, but if these last few starts are any indication, Vogey just may have re-found his formula for success. His stuff does look better, as he's staying down in the zone and his heater is back in the low-90's consistently. Lincecum, on the other hand is coming off his best start of the 2014 season by far vs.Atlanta and the Giants are hoping this kick starts him after a rough first month. Despite Lineceum's struggles, he still has some decent numbers, including his 2-1 record and 31:9 strikeout/walk ratio. Everything else though, needs to improve, including the 5.12 ERA, 1.6 WHIP, .318 BAA and his 6 big flies allowed in just 30 innings of work. He'll have a great opportunity to go out and build momentum from his last start Wednesday vs. a run-of-the-mill Pittsburgh offense.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Giants end April on high note

After a hot start and a sluggish middle of April, the Giants are heating up again.

The starting pitching seems to leveling out a bit after an up-and down couple of weeks to start the year and the offense keeps coming up with the big hit which has led to a 17-11 month of April. We'll talk a little about both units in this post but I wanted to start out with the offense. If you would have told me that Pablo Sandoval would be hitting sub-.200 and Pence and Posey were hovering around .250 with Marco Scutaro still shelved, I would have assumed this offense had a disastrous month. Instead, while Posey and Pence took some time to find their groove, it allowed other players to step up and shine. The offensive MVP for the month would have to be a toss-up between newcomer Michael Morse, who slashed .302/.351/.581 with 6 home runs and 20 RBI in April, and Angel Pagan, who went .340/.380/.470 with 2 HR, 14 RBI and 4 steals. The biggest surprise offensively for the first month would have to go to another newcomer, Brandon Hicks. People were just hoping someone would keep the seat warm while Scutaro healed, and while it's taking longer than expected, Hicks is making it a much easier wait. Although he carries just a .213 average into May, his 5 big flies have been huge as he always seems to hit them when it matters. His production has helped pick up some of Sandoval's slack.

As far as the starting pitching is concerned, there really is no question who gets the nod for most valuable in the month of April. Tim Hudson (another offseason acquisition) has been instrumental to the Giants solid start, and is off to one of his better personal starts at age 38. He's led the staff with a 4-1 record, a 2.17 ERA and a microscopic 0.74 WHIP. While we can't expect him to keep this up all season long, he looks like vintage Tim Hudson and one of the steals of the offseason thus far. The rest of the rotation has had some bumps, but for the most part appear to be on the right track. Ryan Vogelsong is coming off his most promising start of the year by far and Yusmiero Petit filled in admirably for Matt Cain Tuesday. Cain and Bumgarner are each coming off rocky starts their last time out, but both have shown signs of their usual selves recently. Right now, most of the concern amongst the rotation surrounds Tim Lincecum, who started the spring out so well, but has gone down hill ever since. Outside of his one, halfway decent outing vs. the Dodgers a few weeks back in which he still only lasted 5 innings, his starts have been forgettable for the most part. I'm also not completely convinced Vogey's back, but Petit's strong showing should allow the Bochy to skip a starter here and there if they aren't performing.

All in all, although they've been better lately, the rotation still has to tighten up it's consistency. The bullpen has been lights out, which has helped mitigate some of the rough starting performances, but eventually, Cain's gonna have to string some solid starts together and Lincecum is going to have to provide something to this team.

Injury Note: Speaking of Marco Scutaro, the Giants have been pretty hush hush on the progress of his rehab in extended spring training, but from what I'm reading and hearing, he's not making much and still has no timeline for a 2014 debut. Backs are a sensitive issue in sports especially when a guys up around 40 and it honestly wouldn't surprise me if Scutaro doesn't play a game this season. Again, Hicks' power at the plate and his exceptional glove have made him a fine fill in, but there's a reason why he's approaching 30 and has never been an everyday player. If he stops hitting the ball over the fence then his low average begins to be a glaring hole so hopefully he can keep it up.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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