Saturday, April 30, 2011

Giants grind on

"The Giants win a game they probably shouldn't have."

--Duane Kuiper after Brian Wilson struck out Adam LaRoche.

'Tis true, 'tis true. The Giants walked nine guys, hit three, were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, hit into a double play, had a caught stealing by a pinch-runner, and made an error. Their offense consisted of a home run by the backup catcher and a bases-loaded pinch-walk from the benched-for-slumping first baseman. Mike Fontenot started at shortstop. Miguel Tejada got the call at third base with the injury to Pablo Sandoval, the club's hottest hitter. Buster Posey played first base. Jonathan Sanchez teetered on the brink of madness, or rather, I teetered on the brink of madness watching him, and still reeling a bit from all the weirdness, nearly went mad again watching Brian Wilson in the 9th. It was an ugly display by the starter and also by the closer, yet the Nationals only managed two hits and one (unearned) run! Thank goodness the middle guys were nearly perfect. There was some serious weirdness today in Washington as the Giants pulled off an improbable win.

Darren Ford got his first hit, a line drive up the middle just over the leaping Danny Espinosa at second base. He also nearly ran over Cody Ross in right field to catch a deep fly ball. It was fun to watch him jog all the way back to center field after the play. It's hard to fault a guy for trying too hard even if it did seem like he forgot there was another guy out there with a glove! He can sure move. His career minor league line is .268/.349/.374, which is not encouraging, but if he can contribute in the short term and "make things happen" as they say that can't be bad. The caught stealing was a perfect throw from Nats catcher Wilson Ramos.

I was happy to see Buster Posey get two hits, he needs to find his stroke. Mike Fontenot also got two hits. I expect we'll be seeing a lot more of him (it was his error that led to the unearned run, but it came on a high throw from Posey). Ryan Rohlinger was called up to fill the Panda's spot. Eli Whiteside deserves a nod for having a big day. Everyone on the bench is going to get called on in the coming weeks so they better be ready to contribute.

Matt Cain tomorrow. I'm hoping he's really boring, you know, lots of strikes and consecutive outs. I don't want any more high-wire acts. The Giants are a bit of a leaky boat, with some questionable patching material (Emmanuel Burriss?), and they need to stay afloat. They don't come home until the weekend and they don't have an off day until the 9th of May. I'm way past "torture" around here--that was so last year. No, I prefer "the grind." This year is a grind, a long, slow grind, like a goddamn glacier or something. Gird your loins for the long haul, me buckos, nothing is going to be easy or pretty in 2011.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Overshadowed Tim

Do I really have to "tip my cap" to another mediocre pitcher that performs like a Hall-of-Famer against our boys? Come on, this is really getting old...

Tim Lincecum (2-3) did pretty damn well ( game score 58 ) :

7 innings 7 hits 3 earned runs 7 strikeouts 0 walks
but he didn't have a chance as Jason Marquis threw a dominating 5 hit shutout to bring down the Giants, 3-0, in the first game of four in Washington. Tim was hurt by some shaky outfield defense (which is starting to look like a real Achilles heel), a bad call or two, and some weirdness. The last RBI hit by Marquis would have made Bengie Molina was up in his eyes!

There's no doubt Marquis pitched well (game score 84), but the Giants could not have been more accommodating. It only took 96 pitches to do us in (only 17 in the last two innings, shit, it felt like they were running for the exits). Only one extra base hit. Only two batters forced Marquis to throw SIX PITCHES to them all night. And one of those was Lincecum!!

This kind of embarassing loss cries out for managerial response. What do you think it will be? A meeting...some benchings...maybe an angry outburst! That would be cool...totally out of character and uncalled for, but cool.

And, is this the first time Tim has been below .500? Probably not, but I'm not sure. His first season he went 7-5, so it may have happened then.

Capitol baseball

While the B-squad took care of the Pirates yesterday, the A-team suits up tonight. Big Time Timmy Jim gets the call against a Nationals squad that's eking out a mere 3.92 rpg. Their .662 team OPS is even worse than the Giants pathetic .684. Pitching is holding things together for them in the early going--the team ERA+ is 106, and the 4.42 rpg is just about league-average (4.35). Tonight's starter Jason Marquis has been a steady perfomer. Another righty who bats left, Marquis has made 248 starts in his 12-year career, all in the NL (Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago, Colorado, Washington). Mark Gardner is listed as his number one "comp" on his B-R page.

You have to like that much-maligned Aaron Rowand has stepped up and delivered some big performances when the club really needed a boost. The Ryan Vogelsong story is also a good one, winning his first big league game in six years (actually 2,412 days). The Giants are limping along, certainly not firing on all cylinders, yet they are still .500 and only 4-1/2 off the pace. The Rockies were 12-3 when they faced the Giants, they've gone 4-4 since then. When the Giants get everyone healthy and up to full speed I'll expect a few 12-3 stretches--that will put some distance between the contenders and the wannabes.



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pirates play like Giants, win 2-0

It looked like the teams switched uniforms. The Pirates got a great start, made all the right bullpen moves, got an early run and a late run, and made some sharp plays in the field to seal it. They looked like the 2010 Giants. The Giants looked like the Padres. Whenever the Giants get frustrating to watch on offense, which is all too often, I think "at least we ain't the Padres." I'll have to re-think that. James McDonald was the star on the mound tonight--he gave up 21 ER in his previous four starts. He also throws right and bats left like Tim Lincecum.

Madison Bumgarner had his best outing and that's a good sign. I don't want to write any more about this game.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Darren Ford: difference-maker

That's what Kruk & Kuip called the speedy youngster after his performance tonight, and it's hard to argue. He went from 1st to 3rd on an errant pick off throw in the 10th inning, then dashed home on Freddy Sanchez' ground ball with a drawn-in infield to score the go-ahead run. He'd already scored the tying run as a pinch runner in the 8th, going from 1st to 3rd on another little ground ball by Freddy Sanchez, this one squirting into left field when the shortstop covered second on the play. Darren Ford got on base and made things happen and the Giants stole a win in Pittsburgh.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton pitched well, and deserved better, and looked poised to get the better of the career leader in Deserved Better, Matt Cain. The Pirates made Cain pay for his only walk. With two outs in the 6th, Matt Diaz worked his way on and alertly stole 2nd base, just ahead of a high throw from Posey. Lyle Overbay, down 0-2, fought back to 2-2 and then singled him home. It was only a little lapse by Cain, but it was almost enough to lose the game. He faced 23 batters in his six innings, throwing 97 pitches, good for a Game Score of 61.

Aaron Rowand deserves some notice for his two big base hits. All three of the Giants runs came from the lead off spot. Rowand doubled and scored in the 6th, and singled to open the 8th when Ford replaced him. Ford was safe on a fielder's choice in the 10th and scored the eventual game-winner. This was a tough, hard-fought game. The Giants ground out a gutty win on the road. It feels good after the rotten weekend.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Fun facts for funk relief

Like the Giants, I'm in a bit of a funk. I could use a distraction. Here's something from Chris Jaffe (The Hardball Times)--anniversaries of lots of fun baseball facts. Tell me which ones you like the best. (I like the one with Chris Speier and Steve Carlton.)

The main article is about a Giants-Padres game with Craig Lefferts sporting the brown. Check it out:

Silver anniversary of one of baseball's most incredible homers (4/25/11)


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Braves walk away winners

The Easter Sunday crowd in San Francisco could be forgiven for thinking they'd seen a resurrection today. Aaron Rowand, 0-for-the-series, crushed a fat breaking ball from rookie reliever Jairo Asencio in the bottom of the 7th inning for a bases-clearing double to give the Giants a 6-5 lead. It was the last of the miracles, however. Sergio Romo promptly gave the lead back, surrendering a laser-beam shot to Dan Uggla on a fat breaking ball to make it 6-6 in the 8th. The Giants could not score the go-ahead run, and Brian Wilson surrendered three runs in the 10th to hand the game back to the visitors. It's always nice to go into a tailspin right before a 10-game road trip.

Jonathan Sanchez walked Martin Prado to start the game and he scored on a hit by Chipper Jones. Jeremy Affeldt walked two in the top of the 7th inning in front of Jason Heyward who crushed a fat breaking ball for a three-run homer to give the Braves a 5-2 lead. That looked like the game right there, but the home lads had some fight left in them before giving up the ghost. The Giants walked 16 guys in the three games. Braves rookie starter Brandon Beachy gave up a two-run homer to Buster Posey in the 4th but was otherwise impressive, striking out seven in his seven innings. The Braves are a very good team and proved it this weekend in San Francisco. The Giants look like shit and need to put together a winning streak. Maybe playing the Pirates, Nationals, and Mets will be just the ticket. Let's hope so.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Poopy Tim

I absolutely hate writing the "bad Tim" posts, which explains the big delay in getting this one up. I figure if I stall, some of the pain felt reliving a disappointing Lincecum start will be lessened. It works pretty well. Too bad it doesn't change the fact that The Giants dropped another home game to the Braves, 5-2, and fell back to .500.

The big number for Tim was the SIX WALKS, a new career high. It was hard to tell how much had to do with a patient Braves lineup (featuring the newest Giant killer, Nate McLouth) or some really stinky pitches thrown by our Ace. The worst pitch of the night (and, hopefully, for the whole year) was a terrible 0-2 fastball to Martin Prado. Blurrrr. I still get shivers thinking about that one. Guess I didn't wait long enough to post after all.

Perhaps, Tim Lincecum's excrement of an effort feels that much worse due to the work of Atlanta's Tim. Tim Hudson started nearly every Giant off with a strike and just missed a complete game. Only Pat Burrell and Cody Ross appeared to have a chance against the sage veteran. Ross not only got his first RBI, but he also got his first assist by nailing the despicable Eric Hinske at second. Once we get Andres Torres back, we may start to see some improved defense.

Let's hope the Braves are just as bad at sweeping teams as we are!!!

(Note: My beloved wife gets FULL CREDIT for both the name and the artwork. Photo credit.)

Whole lotta Hanson

Tommy Hanson made it look easy against the Giants, giving up only three hits and striking out seven through seven. Any chance of a comeback was quickly crushed by the very tough Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel combo, the Atlanta version of Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson. The Braves have an excellent pitching staff and no doubt expect to contend this season despite the slow start. FanGraphs rates the Phillies as #1 in the NL with a 2.90 team FIP, followed by the Giants at 3.09 and the Braves at 3.18. Using xFIP, the three teams are closer, with Atlanta on top at 3.34, followed by Philadelphia at 3.38, and San Francisco at 3.43. If you want to keep it simple, the Padres, Marlins, and Phillies are tied with the fewest runs allowed (66), followed by the Braves (68) and the Giants (74).

Madison Bumgarner had another poor start and has yet to find his groove for 2011. It's hard to see what's wrong, other than the fact that he's giving up hits and runs at an alarming pace. In 17-1/3 IP, he's allowed 25 hits and 16 runs! He's also walked 10 guys. I thought he had found something after pitching into the 7th in his last start, but he followed that with his shortest outing of the season, failing to make it out of the 3rd inning. So far the young lefty is writing his own chapter in The Big Book of Sophomore Slumps. Let's hope he "turns a page" real soon.

Tim Lincecum gets the start today. In 27 IP The Franchise has allowed only 17 hits and 6 runs while striking out 32. He's sporting a 0.889 WHIP and a 242 ERA+.



Friday, April 22, 2011

The Mental Game

"Baseball is 90% mental; the other half is physical."

Yogi Berra is credited with that bit of wisdom. Funny thing, it is true. Baseball is a mental game. The pace may be languid, and the physical action sporadic, but the athleticism required to play professionally is a rare trait. A small percentage of the population has that kind of talent. A small percentage of those athletes make it to the big time. What separates the ones who stick from the ones who don't is mental. Fortitude. Perseverance. Desire. And what separates the greatest players is their ability to learn--to adapt and adjust. To maximize what they have and acquire new skills. Jim Kaplan's new book, The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and the Pitching Duel of the Century, brought this point home.

Mr. Kaplan relates a story about Juan Marichal telling Willie McCovey that he was going to change his approach before a game, asking him to play deeper in left field. It was June 15, 1963, at Candlestick Park and the opposing team was the Houston Colt 45s (later Astros). McCovey, amazed that the red-hot Marichal would be messing with things coming off a shutout and five straight wins, obliged nonetheless. Marichal explained that the Colts had hit him hard last time, and he needed to give them a new look. Here's Kaplan:
After consulting his notes on opponents, Marichal had concluded that Houston players were getting a preview of the coming pitch by reading his grip. Abandoning his high leg kick, he hid the ball, brought his hands together belt high and pivoted quickly.
McCovey wound up making a play on the fence late in the game to get an out and help preserve Marichal's no-hitter. Warren Spahn had the same attitude. Here's more from Kaplan:
"I don't pitch the hitter the same way from season to season," said Spahn, who could remember pitches he'd thrown 15 years prior. "Why? Well, I think hard about hitters and try to think the way they think. So there's always the possibility that the hitter may have given considerable thought to the way I pitched him in the previous year and he might be looking forward to those pitches next year."
A little later in the same chapter:
Like Spahn, Marichal had an extensive mental book on hitters' weaknesses. "This is a guessing game," he said. "I'm always trying to guess what the hitters are guessing. I haven't gotten any better, only smarter."
On July 2nd of the same 1963 season, Spahn and Marichal would pitch a 16-inning 1-0 game in San Francisco that Willie Mays would end with a home run. Spahn was pitching for the Milwaukee Braves (now Atlanta), the club he had come up with when they were still in Boston. That game is the subject of Kaplan's book, but it's really about two men, two ballplayers from different backgrounds and different generations. Their personal histories and their accomplishments on and off the field are interwoven throughout the account of the great pitching duel. Spahn was 42, and just about at the end, while Marichal was 25 and just beginning his exceptional run of great seasons (familiar to every Giants fan). Warren Spahn, the winningest left-hander in baseball history, died in 2003 aged 82. His son Greg supplies the forward for the book.

Stories about baseball before the era of division play and free agency naturally contrast sharply with much of today's game. But the game itself, and the contest of wills between the participants, remains the same. I get the feeling that Mr. Kaplan is nostalgic for a lost era of baseball, before Twitter and ESPN and whatnot. I was nine years old when the NL West and NL East were created, and I was in high school when Andy Messersmith was granted free agency. I'm not sure I've known anything but modern baseball. I remember though, when people watched the play on the field and not Jumbotrons or iPhone screens. So I can relate to his longing for some of those bygone things.

Read The Greatest Game Ever Pitched and tell me what you think.


(I've cross-posted this from my other blog Ten Pound Press.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

1st inning: 10-8

The Giants have played 18 games which is 1/9 of their 162-game season. Thus, they've finished the 1st inning of their 2011 nine inning schedule. So how do things stand so far with the defending champs?

Let's look at the offense:
Tm       R/G   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
CIN     5.56 .272 .341 .440 .781
COL     5.50 .257 .344 .426 .770
STL     5.50 .294 .360 .448 .808
ARI     5.19 .271 .335 .446 .781
PHI     4.88 .273 .330 .392 .722
HOU     4.39 .264 .321 .379 .700
SFG     4.33 .251 .316 .412 .728
LgAvg   4.33 .256 .325 .392 .717
WSN     4.29 .226 .312 .347 .658
FLA     4.12 .265 .334 .389 .724
CHC     4.11 .277 .331 .409 .740
MIL     4.11 .262 .326 .399 .725
NYM     4.00 .238 .309 .365 .674
ATL     3.47 .234 .300 .384 .684
PIT     3.44 .235 .314 .351 .665
SDP     3.33 .222 .309 .334 .643
LAD     3.32 .253 .309 .349 .658

Baseball Nirvana in San Francisco! A "league-average" offense! Such joy, naturally, is predicated on having killer pitching, so let's take a look at the other side of the equation:

Tm       R/G  WHIP  H/9 BB/9 SO/9
ATL     3.26 1.248  8.2  3.0  7.6
SDP     3.39 1.206  8.2  2.6  6.6
FLA     3.75 1.200  7.7  3.1  7.0
MIL     3.78 1.263  8.0  3.4  7.1
PHI     3.88 1.240  8.5  2.6  7.8
SFG     3.89 1.220  7.8  3.2  8.2
COL     4.17 1.239  8.1  3.1  6.7
STL     4.22 1.284  8.6  3.0  7.2
WSN     4.24 1.304  8.8  2.9  6.5
LgAvg   4.33 1.337  8.7  3.3  7.3
CIN     4.61 1.398  8.6  4.0  8.6
PIT     4.67 1.389  8.7  3.8  6.1
CHC     4.72 1.500  9.5  4.0  8.9
LAD     4.79 1.405  9.5  3.2  7.1
HOU     5.00 1.494 10.2  3.3  6.6
NYM     5.44 1.588 10.0  4.3  7.6
ARI     5.62 1.425  9.6  3.3  7.9

The 2011 Giants look good but not great. Brian Wilson had a slow start. Madison Bumgarner is struggling. Barry Zito and Santiago Casilla are on the DL. Matt Cain got blown out in Colorado. There's been a few bumps in the road. Nonetheless, Cain's poor start was preceded by three good ones, Tim Lincecum has flashed his Cy Young form, and Jonathan Sanchez is getting Ks and winning games. Key relievers Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez look strong.

It's hard to complain about a 10-8 start. A little better defense and the team could easily be 12-6. A quick look at the Baseball-Reference NL page (the source of the tables above) shows the team with 14 errors (3rd worst) and a .980 fielding percentage (also 3rd worst). Those don't include of the mental lapses we've all seen, and such metrics aren't always the best indicator of fielding prowess, but in this case I think we all agree the glove work could be improved. B-R has a rating they call "Defensive Efficiency" which they define as Percentage of balls in play converted into outs. This is an estimate based on team defensive and pitching stats. The Giants are 6th at .696, the league average being .689.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what the team will do with Ryan Vogelsong and Zito's spot in the rotation. Andres Torres is sorely missed. Aubrey Huff's bat needs to wake up. Those two players had the most WAR on the team last season! Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval need to keep up the production. It would be nice to get something from Miguel Tejada. Mostly, the team's pitchers need to stay healthy and do what they do best and that's get people out. It's April. If the Giants can stay above .500 and within shouting distance of the NL West lead I wouldn't worry about things until after the ASB. The defending champs have yet to put it all together, and that's OK with me. It's a long season. There are eight more innings yet to play.


p.s. Baseball-Reference is absolutely invaluable. If you use the site, you might think about sponsoring a page. RMC, naturally, sponsors Matt Cain's page.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Downer in Denver

Here I thought it was all lined up for a good time: home brewed beer, freshly made guacamole, and me in the middle of my vacation with Matt Cain and the Giants on TV in HD. It was not to be. Cain got rocked for most of his 4-2/3 innings, the pent up Rockies taking it all out on the normally stalwart righty. I want to say it was great to take two of three in Colorado, and it was, but the heaping dose of unrequited greed that courses  through my veins makes that hard to accept. I'll look back on this winning road trip at some point and praise the Giants for grit and fortitude, but today I wanted a genuine, Made in America CainStart™ and I got a bucket load of moldy Jell-O instead. I suppose Matt has to pitch poorly occasionally, something about the Law of Averages and all that statistical shite, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Troy Tulowitzki, held in check the first two games, was the hitting star for Colorado along with Ty Wigginton and Ryan Spilborghs who smacked the requisite three-run home runs. The Giants never really put anything together, succumbing meekly to Jorge de la Rosa who gave the Rockies the big start they'd been looking for. Buster Posey got battered all day by bats and batted balls but still managed to get hits and RBIs. That guy is one hell of a ballplayer. But you knew that.

Travel day tomorrow, then three at home with the Braves this weekend. Madison Bumgarner gets the call Friday against Tommy Hanson.


p.s. We Don't Have Enough Reasons To Hate The Dodgers Dept: Selig steps in. Enjoy your time in McCourtville, Bud.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Giants jump on Jimenez

Jonathan Sanchez drives me crazy. He nibbles, gets into long counts, walks guys, and looks ready to come apart at the seams at any moment. Then you look up and see that he's given up one hit in six innings and nobody has really made solid contact. Tonight was no exception. He bedeviled the Rockies with his usual assortment of high ones and low ones and ones they miss and ones they hit weakly. Sanchez faced 25 batters, and only 13 of the 25 saw a first-pitch strike. After an out, a hit, and a walk, his night ended in the 7th with 96 pitches (57 strikes) thrown. The Giants had built up a fat 6-1 lead, the old "grand-slam-plus-one" advantage so necessary in the purgatory that is Coors Field. Sure enough, the Rockies loaded the bases with two outs and tacked on a couple of runs when Dexter Fowler doubled off Ramon Ramirez. That was it, though. In the 8th, Javier Lopez faced the heart of the order--Carlos Gonzalez. Troy Tulowitzki, and Todd Helton--and set them down on seven pitches. That was impressive. Wilson picked up the save and the Giants had another great win on the road.

Mike Fontenot got a start at shortstop and responded with a triple and two walks, not to mention a fine diving stop in the 6th inning on a hard grounder up the middle by Ryan Spilborghs. There was a mix-up between him and Freddy Sanchez in the 5th when neither of them covered second and Buster Posey's throw to get the runner went into center field. Ty Wigginton wound up at third and later scored on an out. The funny part is that it was ball four, and the throw was pointless, but Buster didn't know that and it was a close pitch on a 3-2 count. Neither infielder broke to cover the bag. Still, you have to like it when your reserve utility guy can come in and play well and contribute to a win.

The Giants are a pitching club and that's a fact. But tonight the hitters deserve a ton of credit for jumping all over Ubaldo Jimenez in the first inning. The staff ace has missed time with an injury, and this was his first start since the season opener. Nine men came to the plate, and Jimenez threw 32 pitches, giving up four hits, a walk, and a hit batsman. Pablo Sandoval had one of the four hits--a towering three-run home run that put the hurt on. To Jimenez' credit, he lasted through the 5th without allowing another run, racked up six strikeouts, and was hitting 96 mph with the fastball. I expect he'll be back to full strength soon, and the Giants will very likely see him in San Francisco on the first weekend in May.

Matt Cain gets a daytime start tomorrow against Jorge de la Rosa. I was greedy in Arizona, and wanted a sweep. It didn't work out. You'd think I'd learn from my sins (Greed: one of the Seven Deadly). Nope. I want Matt Cain to go for the kill. I know it is only April, and I should be happy with two big wins. But I want more, so much more. I want a spirit-crushing manliness-questioning sweep with relentless pitching and pitiless power hitting. Is that so much to ask?



Monday, April 18, 2011

Double-digit Tim

In a game that seemed never to be in doubt, Tim Lincecum found a way to derail the "red hot" Rockies with a dominating win. Flirting with a no hitter and supported by the long ball again, The Freak coasted to an 8-1 victory in the opener of three in Colorado. Was it a "statement win?" Hell, yes it was. The statement was clearly that Tim Lincecum is the best and the NL West crown is ours for a reason.

Beyond the importance of this game to the 2011 campaign, Lincecum found a way to tap into some more amazing Giants history. Tonight's effort, a solid 76 game score:
7.2 innings 3 hits 1 earned run 3 walks and TEN STRIKEOUTS

marks the 28th time that Tim has recorded 10 or more strikeouts in a game, which ties him with the immortal Christy Mathewson. Timmy did that particular trick 7 times last season and he already has two this year. Want some more more fun Tim facts?
* tonight Tim went 6.1 innings before giving up a hit, which tops his previous best of six hitless innings against S.D. July '09
* ( including last year) Tim has limited opponents to one run or less in his last five road starts (5 er in 35.2 innings)
* his performance tonight pretty well matches his career long love affair with April : 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA before tonight! Yes, that is his best winning % and lowest ERA of any calendar month....except November, I guess.

Besides Timmy, the box score heroes that deserve a shout out are Nate (3 hits including a third deck HR) and Pablo (with three walks!!). These two guys look like they are about to take their games to the next level.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The agony in extras

I'm usually content to match the Giants bullpen against anyone in the league, but today the D-backs had the arms for the long haul and outlasted the good guys in 12 innings. Arizona's relievers retired the side in order in each of the final five frames and only allowed one base runner after Pablo Sandoval's home run in the 6th that put the Giants ahead 5-4. San Francisco batters struck out 14 times on the day with nine of those coming after starter Barry Enright left in the 6th. It looked bad for Madison Bumgarner early, but he settled down and pitched into the 7th, giving up eight hits and four runs. Jeremy Affeldt gave up two ground ball singles with two outs in the 8th which tied the game for Arizona, and Dan Runzler put the go-ahead run on second base in the 12th with back-to-back walks with one out. Javier Lopez gave up the single to right field that ended it, Justin Upton scoring just ahead of Nate Schierholtz's strong throw. Josh Collmenter got the last six outs and the win in his ML debut.

I was greedy this morning. I felt the Snakes were ripe for a sweep, and it looked like it might happen. After a 5-2 win Friday and a 5-3 win Saturday, the 5-4 lead in the 8th looked pretty good. Alas, they never got the ball to Brian Wilson. And seeing 16 guys in a row get mowed down was damned discouraging. Nonetheless, you have to be encouraged by MadBum's grit and fortitude, and by two wins in three road games. Colorado will be a sterner test. They've scored 85 runs in their 15 games (62 for SF), but more importantly have only allowed 59 (SF 56). They won again today and stand atop the West at 12-3. Tim Lincecum gets the start tomorrow night against Esmil Rogers.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Four in a row

Guillermo Mota pitched a career-high 4-1/3 innings tonight, facing 14 batters. He gave up three hits, a run, no walks, and struck out four. It was a huge lift for the club after an ineffective Barry Zito was pulled for an injury in the 2nd inning. The Giants jumped ahead thanks to Buster Posey's homer in the 1st, but the D-backs answered quickly and later took the lead. A run in the 6th and two more in the 7th got the Giants back on top and the bullpen did the rest. Freddy Sanchez got the big hit with two outs and the bases loaded in the 7th. Jeremy Affeldt had an impressive 1-1/3, Sergio Romo got two outs on 8 pitches, and Brian Wilson finished it. Darren Ford had his first at-bat (strikeout), and was also picked off after pinch-running for Pat Burrell. But he handled his two chances in the field flawlessly, and despite the circumstances (Andres Torres on the DL) I'm happy to see him get a shot. Brandon Belt had a hit, a walk, and a run scored. Aaron Rowand hit the ball hard four times, got three hits, and worked a walk. Even Mark DeRosa got two hits and scored a run. The Giants hit into FIVE double plays yet managed to win! Joe Saunders was grit personified, but still ran out a 12-hit, 5-run pitching line. I would be remiss not to mention the lovely strike 'em out/throw 'em out double play in the 3rd, when Buster's brilliant throw nailed Ryan Roberts after Mighty Mota whiffed Justin Upton.

Another good game by the Giants. The pitchers allowed only 6 hits and 3 runs, the hitters kept up the pressure all evening, and the fielders made all the plays. Zito hurt himself making a nice grab. I expect he'll recover quickly and be back in the ro' soon, but perhaps miss his next start. There are off-days on the 21st and 25th so they might juggle things a little. Let's hope he finds his groove soon. Madison Bumgarner gets the start tomorrow and it would be nice to see a strong outing. The bats are facing righty Barry Enright. A sweep on the road is a rare event, but a little momentum before the showdown with sizzling Colorado would be great, so I'm feeling greedy.


p.s. Rockies lose, record now 11-3 (Giants 8-6).

p.p.s. You can see me at Through the Fence Baseball doing a weekly Giants wrap called "Grindin' with the Champs." Check it out!

UPDATE: Sunday 0959--Zito placed on DL for first time in his career!! Ryan Vogelsong is his replacement. Info via Twitter/Extra Baggs.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Keep on Grindin'

Matt Cain threw 99 pitches in the first six innings and faced 23 batters. The Diamondbacks worked some counts and put a lot of balls in play, but couldn't make anything happen. It was a Cain-like performance by the big righty, and with the requisite Weaveranian 3-run HR by the red-hot Panda, the rest of the crew held on for the win. When Matt gave up the double in the 7th--it eluded Huff in RF on the line--I made a "where's Nate?" note. I know it's an inning early for the Nate Schierholtz Defensive Replacement Move, especially on the road, but I still would have gotten Pat Burrell out of there and moved Aubrey Huff to left. Might have meant an out and perhaps a few more batters from Cain. But he hit the next guy and Bochy didn't hesitate to yank him. Jeremy Affeldt made it more exciting for Ramon Ramirez, but the hard-throwing ex-Royal, Rockie, and Red Sock (do you really use those singular forms?) was up to the task and got the next five outs. The Snakes scratched out another run against Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson, but it was too little, too late. The Giants ground down another offensive attack with FIVE hurlers: R, L, R, L, R who all have gas and other goodies. Man, it is a sight some times! Pounding the zone, breaking bats, getting guys to flail, THAT IS THE WAY TO WIN. That's three in a row! Knuckle-fives to Matt Cain for his 61 Game Score in a hitters park, to Pablo Sandoval for blasting the big bomb and flashing the leather, and to Ramon Ramirez for whipping out the Hold of Death™.

JC pointed out to me the other day that this post would be our 1000th here at Raising Matt Cain. Imagine that! One thousand. Hallelujah. Fittingly, it comes on a start and a win by the man who inspired the whole thing. Thanks to all of you, loyal readers. We'll keep on grindin' if you keep hangin' with us.


p.s. Here's my first ever post: RMC no.1

p.p.s Andres Torres sent the DL and replaced by Darren Ford.

p.p.p.s. Colorado is 11-2 after a win tonight.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Grind

Brian Wilson called last night's win to take the series against the Dodgers a "grind." Like last year, the Giants are going to play a lot of close games, and they are going to need offensive contributions from everyone on the roster. Last night's slugging star was emergency starter Mike Fontenot, who hit an RBI double in the 2nd and the tie-breaking homer in the 6th. It was his first home run in orange and black! Jonathan Sanchez got burned on a couple of fat pitches by Giant-killer Rod Barajas and This Year's Blue Goo Pest Award Winner Aaron Miles, but was otherwise effective over six innings. Matt Kemp went 0-4 including two strikeouts, one by Sanchez and the other by Sergio Romo, who looked very tough. The "frisbee slider" (the proper Krukovian term) was really nasty, and the 7th inning whiff of Kemp with a man on to end the inning was a big lift. The Giants had reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the 6th and needed to put up some zeros. Sanchez finished with 9 K in his 6 IP (109 pitches) against only 2 walks.

Aaron Miles was at the plate in the top of the 8th with Tony Gwynn at second base after a one-out double. A very ugly bouncer from Jeremy Affeldt looked like it would emasculate Buster Posey, but he scooped it up with the grace and elan we've come to expect from the young star. Gwynn foolishly started to break toward third, thinking ball would elude Buster, and was caught in a 2-6-5 rundown to end the inning. Miles led off the 9th against Wilson and grounded out harmlessly after a 3-hit evening. It was a nice bit of payback for Posey, who was hit by Ted Lilly pitches in his first two plate appearances, the second prompting a both-benches warning from home plate ump Greg Gibson. To Buster's credit, he kept his cool and took his lumps without a fuss. It was obvious payback for the Juan Uribe plunkings, but it seemed a bit excessive. Lilly certainly did not need to drill him twice, and Bruce Bochy was understandably hot about it. The Giants responded by beating the Dodgers with good old-fashioned fundamental baseball--homers and strikeouts and stuff. You have to love back-to-back come-from-behind wins!

A dozen games into 2011 and the Giants sit at .500, three games behind Colorado. They play 16 of their next 19 games on the road. Keep the Maalox handy, it's going to be a grind.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Non-Terrific Tim

...but WE WON anyway! Which I choose to look at as a very good sign. I had almost forgotten that we had a few other worthy fellows on this team, as well.

This game felt a lot "bigger" than just another April matchup of the NL rivals. If you are like me, you looked to Tim Lincecum and a dominant pitching performance. Well, it wasn't meant to happen...started well, 3 clean innings...but the fourth was ugly. Lincecum's effort ( 5.1 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts ) was marred by an almost complete lack of getting ahead in the count. Every hit in Tim's bad fourth came on a hitter's count. So, tonight, The Franchise needed help from his fellows.

And they stepped up! Buster with a couple huge RBI's, Mota's terrific hold, Roward with a clutch triple, Sergio and Brian with classic relief...take your pick! A true team effort and a win that we can build on. Let's take this series!!!

MadBummed again

The Giants looked pretty helpless against Clayton Kershaw last night despite the 8 baserunners (6 hits, 2 walks) in 6-2/3 IP. The young righty is having is way with the local lads and making it look easy. Madison Bumgarner didn't get any help from his fielders, and had another long and ugly inning that doomed the team to its 6th loss in 10 games.

Kershaw is a product (7th pick overall) of the June 2006 amateur draft, which saw 18 pitchers (including Tim Lincecum) chosen among the 30 first-round picks. Ian Kennedy of the Diamondbacks and Greg Reynolds of the Rockies were also part of that crew.

The Giants allowed only 55 runs scored in 18 games against the Dodgers last season, almost exactly 3 rpg. They've allowed 19 runs in 5 games so far this season, just shy of 4 rpg. The 2010 Giants lost 5 of their first 6 against LA before winning 9 of the last 12.

The Franchise goes tonight, and once again the team is leaning on its ├╝ber-ace to right the ship. I'm getting tired of watching the Dodgers look happy and relaxed in the dugout while beating the Giants. How about you?


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lackluster loss to local boy Lohse

Barry Zito was closing in on a fine afternoon in the 6th inning, getting leadoff hitter Albert Pujols to ground out on a nasty-looking curve ball. Then the wheels came off. Two walks and two doubles spelled doom for the lefty and the Giants. Kyle Lohse had no trouble with the B-team, hanging 0-fers on Mike Fontenot, Nate Schierholtz, and Brandon Belt, and giving up only a wind-aided pop single to Eli Whiteside. He also shut down Aubrey Huff and put a 3-for-12 on Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, and Aaron Rowand. Rowand acutally looked good at the plate and hit the ball well all day, but the Chico-born Lohse was masterful and earned a deserved win for his club. The former Hamilton Union High School Brave went 8 innings and racked up a Game Score of 73 for his 96-pitch effort.

The Dodgers come to town tomorrow night. Madison Bumgarner will match up with red-hot Clayton Kershaw who shut down the Giants to open the season. Tim Lincecum gets his shot Tuesday against Chad Billingsley. Lincecum was dominating in his last start in San Diego, and was the hard-luck loser against Kershaw despite an excellent effort. Jonathan Sanchez finishes against Ted Lilly on Wednesday. A little payback against the LAtriners would be nice.


Opening Daze

It was certainly one of the craziest games I've ever attended. Being in the CF bleachers I got both sunburned and chilled to the bone--the late-game breezes were quite cold and cut right through my jacket. We had a wonderful view of Brian Wilson's sprint across the field with the flag and the ball Aaron Rowand hit to win it seemed to come straight for us. We couldn't see the warning track from row 26 and so I had to wait for the replay to sort it all out. By then we were dancing, high-fiving, and hugging complete strangers. After 4-1/2 hours of torturous baseball, only the crazies and dedicated fans were still around. Brian Wilson's agonizing 9th seemed routine at the time. He had several chances to get the final strike or the final out and got burned with a couple of rather pedestrian-looking ground balls. Even with the bases loaded the home team's win expectancy was 77.7%. Ryan Theriot's single was the biggest hit of the day in terms of Win Probability Added (.628), plunging the Giants win expectancy to a mere 14.9%. Fortunately the lads rallied in the bottom half, with eventual hero Aaron Rowand stroking a ball up the middle to get things going and setting the stage for Pablo Sandoval's clutch RBI. Walking out of the park after a blown save by Wilson would have been a real downer, and I remember thinking at the time that an extra-inning loss would be far more palatable. In the 11th, Andres Torres led off with a double and advanced on a wild pitch to third. I was certain of victory, and a quick look at FanGraphs confirms that the WE for that situation was 92.8%! Tony LaRussa brought LF Allen Craig in to guard the line, leaving only two OFs and stacking the left side of the infield with three guys. It was certainly the situation for it, but I can't recall ever seeing that in person before. With one out, Aaron Rowand obliged with a sharp smash to 3B and Torres inexplicably broke for the plate and was put out. I remember feeling my lowest at that point. Blown chances like that really piss off the baseball gods and usually the bad karma results in a crushing loss. Or so I thought. A fine inning of relief by Dan Runzler set up another chance in the 12th, and two errors by the Cardinals (one by Albert Pujols) opened the door and Mighty Aaron Rowand delivered his second big hit to send us home happy. Kudos to Javier Lopez for two innings of scoreless relief, and a nod to The Panda for a superb day with three hits and a walk. It would have been a great game under any circumstances, but that kind of up-and-down drama on the Home Opener by the defending champs made it an instant classic.

Naturally the team had to follow up one gut-wrenching, heart-stopping adventure with another. Saturday night's game lacked the free-wheeling weirdness of Friday's, but it was equally as dramatic. Matt Cain was locked in a brilliant pitcher's duel with rising star Jaime Garcia, and the booming late home run by Colby Rasmus (another young stud) seemed to seal the deal. I remember composing the post in my head ("Matt Cain made the mistake of giving up two runs in his seven innings rather than only one and was thus handed another defeat . . ."). Hah! What silliness! The whole thing was mere prelude to a glorious bottom of the 9th. Buster Posey hadn't had a hit since San Diego, and when he stroked a single off snakebit closer Ryan Franklin, you had to believe something good was going to happen. The big bomb by newcomer Miguel Tejada that ticked off Rasmus' glove was hit to almost the same spot as Rowand's winner the day before. I remember thinking "oh my god it's not a homer" and cringing with anguish, but it all worked out. Special mention to Nate "Olympic Great" Schierholtz for a superb day. His triple in the 8th was beautiful. I remember thinking the same thing as Tejada's ball ("oh my god it's not a homer") and my joy at watching that loveliest of hits--the three-bagger--was tempered by my disappointment that it would not tie the game. You have to like the big performances by Sandoval, Schierholtz, and Rowand this weekend. Everyone is going to get their chances on this team, and with Andres Torres going down people are going to have to step up. Depth is one of the team's strengths. I was also happy to see some excellent relief by Ramon Ramirez who has filled in ably for the injured Santiago Casilla. Dan Runzler managed another scoreless inning as well, let's hope he keeps it up.

The Giants have been under the spotlight this first week, their first ever as defending champs. They've had a lot of distractions with all the ceremonial folderol. Not that I minded the folderol, the organization seems to have done an excellent job with all the pomp and fuss, and it was a lot of fun to boot. The team has partied with class and style, I'll give them that. The bit last night with Al Attles, Jim Otto, Steve Young, and Reggie Jackson was clever and surprising, and the Neukom & Baer ring-bearing trips to the broadcast booths were very cool. It's a great time to be a Giants fan, but it's also time to get back to the business of winning ballgames. Here's another look at last night's come-from-behind thriller:


p.s. Special thanks and a shout-out to my friends Deann and Al for sharing their Opening Day ticket bonanza with us! You have no idea what a wonderful gift that was. GO GIANTS!!

p.p.s Charts by FanGraphs.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Wave That Flag...

...wave it wide and high! (photo credit)

The 2011 Giants wasted little time putting their fans back into a state of masochistic bliss with a crazy Home Opener. Why does it always have to be so hard...yet, so wonderful? In this year's version of the sweet madness, the good guys prevailed over the Cards, 5-4, in 12 innings.

The details are already a little blurry (Rowand was the hero, right? Or was that last year?)- and, truthfully, I missed most of the game due to work - but it came down to the same message as last (every?) year: Nothing will ever come easy for the Giants. Want evidence? The Giants were 4 for 18 with RISP and had an astounding 17 team LOB. The bottom of the eleventh, an inning that I did hear, featured the worst conceivable pinch hit "attempt": Looking at THREE called strikes with the bases loaded by DeRosa. But anybody that is shocked by our offensive ineptitude must have been ""off the grid" all last season. And remember, it worked out pretty well last year.

Look for a first hand account of this beaut of a game from the RMC primary correspondent, M. C. O'Connor, real soon. The lucky bastard got handed some tickets and I am so jealous. I do believe he saw the best Home Opener ever.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Zoog-your-mind Tim

Tim Lincecum overwhelmed the Padres with his usual assortment of two-seaming shuutos, split-fingered changeups, mind-fucking curveballs, and chin-musical heaters. Oh, and the slider. Like I could tell. He threw. They swung. We won. It seemed like he could throw whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and the Padres obliged with 13 strikeouts and only 3 hits. Tim used every part of the strike zone to befuddle the hitters and then got them out with stuff out of the strike zone. It was an amazing performance. I had no idea what was coming next and neither did the Padres. Nick Hundley absolutely 'tatered one to LF but hardly anyone else put much wood on any of Tim's pitches. The Giants needed a pick-me-up and The Franchise responded with a big start (Game Score 80). The bats got in on the act as well: a hit and two walks each for Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez, three hits apiece for Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, and Pablo Sandoval. That's 15 times on base for the first 5 spots, with 6 runs and 7 RBI. Brandon Belt got two hits as well. Brian Wilson made an appearance in the 9th inning with the team up 8-1 and managed to get two outs but left having thrown 23 pitches. Jeremy Affeldt couldn't get an out and Ramon Ramirez had to finish it. The final was 8-4 San Francisco. A satisfying and most welcome win to end an agonizing road trip. Santiago Casilla was placed on the DL (elbow inflammation) to make a spot for Wilson. Travis Ishikawa cleared waivers and was "outrighted" to Fresno, which means the Giants keep him for now.


p.s. I had the good fortune to run into some Opening Day tickets and will be in Section 141 for the presentation of the World Champions on Friday. I'll be electronically disconnected until Saturday night. I hope to be home in time for Matt Cain's game. I'll fill you in when I get back!

p.p.s. JCP had other obligations tonight so I took his spot in the lineup. He'll be pinch-hitting for me on Friday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

MadBummer in San Diego

Madison Bumgarner had an inning to forget, walking three in the 3rd and failing to field a comebacker. That mess took 31 pitches. After a leadoff double in the 4th, Ol' Boch went with Guillermo Mota. He managed to get it done despite a hasty misplay by Pablo Sandoval to blow a rundown that kept the inning alive. To be fair, Sandoval looked good spearing grounders the rest of the afternoon, and had a hit and a walk as well. Bumgarner looked fine when the game started but seemed to lose command of his breaking pitches. The inconsistent umpiring didn't help. The Giants got hosed in the top of the 3rd on what should have been a ball four call and an RBI walk to Buster Posey. I dislike umpires who are inconsistent--if the low outside pitch is a strike, call it one, if it is a ball, call it that way for everyone. But that's just whining. The Giants couldn't get the big hit against Aaron Harang. Or anyone else. MadBum lost his cool and handed the Padres three runs after being staked to a 1-0 lead in the 1st. It was one of those days where you hope a young pitcher learns "what don't kill ya makes ya tougher."

The "gee it's only April" mantra is getting tiresome. C'mon Giants, win some goddamn games!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Giants fall flat in finale

Barry Zito battled back from an atrocious 1st inning and racked up five scoreless to keep the Giants in the game. I was really impressed in the 6th after he walked two with one out but got Matt Kemp and Juan Uribe to fly out harmlessly. This is the guy who was in a car accident on Thursday! I give Zito a lot of credit today for keeping it close after the terrible start. The Giants fought back with two solo homers (Pablo Sandoval and Pat Burrell) and a two-out RBI from Buster Posey. Zito left with the game tied. Dan Runzler, unfortunately, gave up too many hard-hit balls and the Dodgers took the lead in the 7th and put the game away. Aubrey Huff had a nightmarish day in the field, letting a ball get past him in the 1st for a triple and getting tied in knots in the 7th on a long fly that fell for another triple. I love Aubrey Huff but he needs to play left field. Let's get Nate Schierholtz a start, eh?

Monday is an off-day and then Madison Bumgarner gets his first start on Tuesday against Aaron Harang in San Diego. Tim Lincecum goes Wednesday against Tim Stauffer.


p.s. Brandon Belt Moment: The Giants showed life in the 8th, loading the bases with two outs. Brandon Belt, in a scintillating PA, drew a walk off Matt Guerrier to bring in the fourth run. And a nod to Aaron Rowand for taking Jonathan Broxton deep in the 9th.