Reds and Dodgers, It's Time to Send the Love

Welcome to the 5th Czar’s blog of 2017

 

What happened to the G-Men, and where do we go from here?

This is going to be a relatively unusual blog from The Czar because there really isn’t much good that can be said about the last place team in the NL (10 games back) after the first month of the season, and the worst Giants start since the early 1990’s.  The Giants have absolutely no offense, the starters are getting torched, the relievers can’t hold a lead and the defense has been breaking down at absolutely the worst possible time.  To top it off, there are injuries up and down the line-up (Span, Crawford, Bumgarner, Hill, Parker, Will Smith and, as of today, our closer Melancon).

The boys are coming off a long (11 games, the longest of the year) road trip with the low point being a 5 game losing streak against the Reds and the Mets, and the high point being taking 2 out of 3 from the Dodgers. 

There are several theories about what has happened.  Before I put forth my humble opinion, however, I am going to turn the floor over to my good friend David Wofsy for his guest analysis. 

Dear Czar,
It surprises me that anyone expected the Giants to be contenders this year.   They had the worst record in baseball for the second half of last season.  They created the illusion of being better than that by having one (and only one) good week at the end of the season (sweeping the Dodgers to squeak into the playoffs, beating the Mets behind Bumgarner, and looking competitive against the Cubs while losing three of four games).
So what happened in the off-season to the team with the worst record in baseball?  They got worse.  They lost Pagan from an already weak outfield and didn’t replace him.  Pagan wasn’t great, but there were plenty of games last year in which he sparked the offense.  They lost three experienced relievers who were admittedly at the end of the line, and replaced them with a reasonably good closer.  However, even if you forgive Melancon’s shaky first month as a Giant, and even if you believe that one good reliever can fill three holes, he can only close if they carry a lead into the late innings.  That isn’t happening very often.
The unavoidable truth is that the Giants entered the season weaker than the team that had been the worst team in baseball over a sustained period last season.  So we really had little reason to expect much more than we are getting.  Then they had the misfortune to lose a key lefty reliever (Smith) and their ace starter (albeit with an 0-4 record due to no offense).  Posey’s beaning and Crawford’s injury may have cost them an additional game or two, but there is no evidence that their presence would have changed much.  Belt is still Belt; Pence is showing his age, and Posey hits singles (unless the opportunity presents itself to hit into a double play).
Bottom line: They are who they were, only a little worse.  Rebuilding time.  Welcome Christian Arroyo.
The Bright Side:  We have no right to complain.  Over the past 15 years, the Giants are the only team in baseball to appear in four World Series, winning three and providing great excitement in all four playoff runs.  They have earned the right to a bad year.  I have had some bad years, too.
Keep the faith,
David

I think that the real take-away from David’s analysis is that there is a Bright Side and the only question is when will it start to shine.  Arroyo is the real deal.  He’s number 22 (and a Will Clark look-alike, with his number) at third base looking like a young Matt Williams.

However, I don’t think that it’s time to start talking about rebuilding.  Rather it’s time to get healthy, take each game one at a time, relax and enjoy playing the greatest game known to man.  The Giants are pressing and that never works.  The pieces are there for a decent season and it’s time to start the climb out of the cellar.  Crawford is back tomorrow, Span the week after and maybe there will be personnel surprises in the wings.

It’s time to cherish the Giants as they are, go to the games, root for a victory and relax as fans.  We are not beach-ball blowing up come-lately fans. We are the Giants faithful.  We lived through the 1962 loss to the Yankee’s, the lost years in 1983 to 1985 (100 losses for God’s sake!), and the rebuilding years after the 1989 world series earthquake loss to the A’s.  We lived through the rally monkey in 2002 and we can live through this.

Personally, I trust Bruce Bochy and the front office.  I know that they are out there seeking solutions.  Obviously left field is the first priority but so is center and so is grooming a replacement for Pence two years from now.  There are a lot of youngsters in AA and AAA (like Austin Slater) that will get the same kind of look that Arroyo is getting right now, and that might be ready for the show.

Regardless, the tale is not told on the scoreboard but in the dugout.  It’s time to relax in the stands (and in the dugout) and send our love out on the field.

As David says, keep the faith!

This next two series are against two of the hottest teams in baseball: the Reds, who just swept the G-Men in Cincinnati, and LA, which is climbing in the standings.  This is the time for us to show our support.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Dodgers & Padres - The Good The Bad & The Hopeful

Welcome to the 4th Czar’s blog of 2017

A one and four road trip against the NL West (Rockies - they swept us in 4 games) completed what has been abysmal week of baseball leavened only by last night's stellar 2-1 victory over the Dodgers to start the current 7 game home stand against the Dodgers and Padres.

The Bad - Let’s get it out of the way

  • The record - 7 and 13 and in second to last place in the NL (ahead of only Atlanta).  Not good.
  • The injuries - Posey beaned (but coming back), Bumgarner acting stupid on a dirt bike and out for 8 weeks, Span out with  a right shoulder sprain, Parker out with a broken clavicle, Williamson out with a left quad sprain, Cain with hamstring tightness, Hill out with a right forearm strain, Smith on the 60 day DL and Bochy having  been in the hospital with a heart condition last week while the team was hammered in Denver.
  • The starting pitchers - perhaps the worst ERA in the league.  Who hasn't shuddered when waiting for Samardzija to give up a big inning and multiple dingers to the other team?  Every one of our starters has suffered from the “giving up the big inning” malady.
  • The relievers - does anyone other than me think that Derek Law looks like a deer caught in the headlights every time he comes into a game? Last night he gave up the Dodgers only run in the 8th inning before settling down long enough to get the final out of the inning.  Melancon has us biting our nails and when was the last time we saw Strickland in the 8th inning?
  • The hitters -  Panik, Crawford, Pence, Belt and Posey are the heart of the order and they are producing but not, it seems, at the right time (like with men on base).  The Giants have left more men on base this year than I've seen in a long time.  The team BA is clearly low and the other players (like Marrero, released on assignment yesterday) have been failures.  The failure list includes Hernandez who, let’s face it, is in there for defense.

The Good

  • Christian Arroyo – called up yesterday from AAA where he was batting .418. He made two stellar defensive plays last night at 3B.  I’m waiting to see him break out.  He actually looks like an early version of Matt Williams from the late 1980’s.
  • The Line-Up – was completely revamped this week with Pence leading off.  I think that Panik should be leading off myself but what do I know.  I will say that last night’s line up was a bit better.  Let’s see what Bochy does tonight. We need guys that can get onbase at the top of the order, and Pence gets on base.
  • Matt Cain – other than the tight hamstring, which was hopefully caught in time (when he was lifted after six innings of very good pitching) Matt Cain has been the surprise of the early season. He looks like the horse of old and has an ERA well under 3. This could be a harbinger of good times to come.
  • Beating the Dodgers in this series -  The boys in blue are almost as bad off as the G-Men and it is truly weird to see us fight for the cellar with the Dodgers after the pre-season analysis of dominance in the division. However, if we can take this series that will play great dividends when we get to September and have to face LA (and the Rockies!) with the playoffs on line. 
  • The “Lights-on!” rally! How cool is it when the entire stadium turns on cellphone lights at the same time in the late innings to highlight a rally! 

The Hopeful

  • Drew Stubbs in Center Field while Span recovers (although Span hasn’t been exactly hitting the cover off the ball).  Stubbs is at best a journeyman player (although he was a first round draft pick back in the day). Let’s hope that he has matured and can provide some offense to go along with what has always been a stellar defense.
  • Christian Arroyo hitting over .300 in the show.
  • Ty Blach taking on Clayton Kershaw tonight in the place of Bum. Does he have it? We will see.
  • Nunez in left field making a significant contribution. He is the team leader in steals and is a great slap hitter but left field is a power hitter position, and we don’t have a power hitter.
  • A slow but steady rise in the standings while playing solid fundamental baseball. It is a long season and a lot can happen but the moves made this week are good moves.

The NL West

The Rockies are in first place and playing great.  The Snakes are right behind them and playing .619 ball. The Padres and the Dodgers are a game apart with the Giants bringing up the rear. Right now the Rockies are the surprise of the NL and are playing terrifically.  The Giants and Dodgers are both trying to correct listing ships and the Padres are, well, the Padres.
 
May the Baseball Gods be good to all of us!
 
That’s it!
 
Ciao, and GO GIANTS!
 
The Czar

Snakes and Rockies

Welcome to the 3rd Czar’s blog of 2017
 

The first road trip of the season against the NL West (Snakes and Padres) just came to an end, and not a minute too soon. It feels like the G-Men have been bitch-slapped by the division. It’s April, we are 7 games into the season and it already feels like a desperate September. Blowing 8 leads in 7 games? Giants, can we speak with you for a moment?

What does the team look like after the first week?

Answer:  2 and 5 (last place in the division!) and very strange. The hitting is strong, the defense has made unusual errors but is generally sound.  However the pitching is erratic. Why so tight? 

Question: Are the G-Men over-rated or did the Snakes and the Padres get pissed because they were both dismissed in the pre-season as factors and took it out on the Orange and Black?  Is this a home field thing? The next two weeks will go a long way towards answering these questions.

Pitching staff

The Starters: Bumgarner and Cueto are nails, Moore and Samardzija are acceptable and Cain (we all expect) is headed for Sacramento after one more bad start. Everyone seems to be pressing, and it shows.

The Relievers: Guarrin, Law, Kontos, Strickland and Melancon have all pitched and for the most part not well.   Melancon blew his first save opportunity against the Snakes but today he got the DP to get the save in what was really a must win game against San Diego.  Maybe the bullpen is that bad but maybe not.  It’s too early to tell.

My take is that the relievers need to be slotted into specific innings and stay there. Kontos in the 7th, Strickland in the 8th and Melancon in the 9th is my prediction for a winning bullpen.  Slot Guerran, Law and the others for long relief. Again, I predict (unless he has a really good start next week) that Matt Cain is toast and we will quickly see Beede up here fighting it out with Blach for the 5th starter slot.

The Offense and the Defense

Infield

Belt is hitting really well and with power (3 HR’s) at 1st, Panik at 2nd is batting .400 and looks like the second coming of Joe Morgan, Nunez at 3rd is batting .375 with 3 steals and Crawford (MVP?) at short is at .348 and looks like he has had all of the big hits this season.

Can someone explain to me how Belt, one of the best defensive first basemen in the game, lets a ball go between his legs to basically lose a game?

Buster Posey, the best catcher (and the best player) currently playing baseball, is as strong as ever behind the dish but he can’t carry the team by himself.

The infield looks good which is why the key errors are so difficult to understand.

Outfield

Hunter is playing healthy this year and so far it shows.  Span has been hurt but came back today and played well. Chris Marrero got his first hit today.  Gorky’s is an acceptable center fielder but looks surprisingly like Gregor Blanco.

The problems with the outfield are mostly in left field where Marrero, Parker and (surprisingly) Arron Hill are battling it out.  I like Hill.  He is a veteran with power and baseball savvy.  If he can play left field I expect we will see him a lot more.

In terms of offense, however, one cannot overlook Bumgarner.  He is tied for the team lead in batting (.400 with Panik) with 2 dingers in the first game (where the lead was blown later). Bum is what Babe Ruth must have looked like when he was pitching for the Red Sox before he got traded to the Yankees and stopped pitching.

The bottom line is that the Giants are scoring 4.9 runs a game.  The record should be a lot better than 2 and 5. Of course, when the team ERA is over 5 that would explain a lot. Maybe AT&T will help :).

The Coaching Staff

I wonder what they think about this start. Bochy is certainly not panicking but he has to be wondering what team he is watching.  If I was Rags I would be sweating bullets over the inconsistency of the bullpen. 8 blown leads?

The NL West

Right now it’s really early.  The Snakes are in first place and coming into AT&T tomorrow. The Rockies are in 2nd place, the Dodgers in 3rd, the Padres in 4th and the G-Men are bringing up the rear.  I don’t expect that those will be the standings after the next series. But, who knows, that’s why baseball is so much fun.  You can take nothing for granted.

Now it is time to get the glove ready for AT&T and enjoy baseball – it’s time to turn the ship around!

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Run to the Playoffs, Starting with the A's

Welcome to the 2nd Czar’s blog of 2017 celebrating the end of Spring Training and the true beginning of 2017, when baseball comes back to the City by the Bay.

 

The G-Men return home to AT&T on Thursday (with a 40 man roster – who will be voted off the island? That is the question that may be answered below) and play Thursday and Friday this week before a game in Oakland on Saturday and then off to Arizona for the Snakes home opener next Sunday – the true beginning of the season.

What does the team look like coming out of Arizona?

Answer: Pretty healthy, except for Will Smith’s upcoming Tommy John (out for the year), Williamson’s leg (really?) and Morse’s hamstring.

Pitching staff: The pitching staff is coming together well and the competition there has been the real story of the spring – especially when we are talking about Matt Cain. He is in the last year of his big contract and will earn $18 million while pitching himself out of a job. He also may be this year’s answer to the annual Barry Zito trivia question about who has the worst contract on the team.

The Starters: Bumgarner is once again the stud of the rotation, although he is being pushed by Cueto for the cool factor (is there anyone more relaxed than Cueto on the mound?). While Moore’s ERA is in the 5’s and Samardzija and Cain are in the 8’s, Moore is looking game ready, Samardzija is throwing very hard and Cain is getting rocked by leaving balls over the plate.  He is not fooling batters..

The big story is the young guys, especially Ty Blach and Beede, both of whom are pitching like starters in waiting.  Blach and Cain are locked in a fight for the 5th starter (versus long reliever) spot and Blach is winning. The story will play itself out at AT&T on Thursday and Friday.  Expect both to pitch in the series.  Beede on the other hand is probably a lock for the River Cats even though he deserves to be up here. $18 million does that to a front office.

The Relievers: Guarrin, Law and Kontos will be in middle relief, perhaps joined by Strickland on occasion, Melancon (the big off-season acquisition) will be the closer.  The battle right now will be between Okert and Osich for the remaining spot.   With Lopez retired and Sergio having scuttled off to LA like a cockroach in the off-season (although you can’t blame him for wanting to play, and he did give us a lot of good years) the relievers will have a different look this year, hopefully better than we saw in Game 4 against the Cubs (shudder).

The Infield is acknowledged to be best in the NL 

Belt (who is hitting really well and with power) at 1st, Panik at 2nd, Nunez at 3rd, Crawford at short (did you see Craw in the WBC? my God that man put on a show – he is no longer going to be fooling anyone) and Buster Posey, the best catcher (and the best player) currently playing baseball, behind the dish.  It doesn’t get any better than this group.  The defensive metrics for this group when they are together are off the charts.  Buster and Brandon look (after the WBC) to be in mid-season form.

The remaining spots include Gillespie (pretty a lock as back up third base), with Aaron Hill versus Kelby Tomlinson and Jimmy Rollins for the remaining spots.  The money is on Gillespie and Hill (who have both played well) making the team, and that Tomlinson (who has options left) goes down along with the surprising Korean utility fielder Hwang. Who wants to take money on Jimmy Rollins retiring?  Who wants to take a bet on Hwang making the team if the Giants take one less pitcher?

Outfield: The bottom line is that the outfield is healthy and ready for the season. Hunter Pence is Hunter Pence. Denard Span is showing what he can do when he’s healthy but the real contest has been between Parker (who probably has the job locked after hitting the cover off the ball this spring), Williamson (with both a bad leg and options – can you say River Cats?) and a new face, Chris Marrero.  Remember that name. The guy can hit. Gorkys Hernandez is the fourth outfielder (in the traditional Blanco spot).

Again, no real surprises after spring training, which is a testament to the consistency of the Giants front office and coaching staff.  Bruce Bochy is the best manager in the game today, no question.

One question? Will old age affect the G-Men? Posey is 30, Pence is 33, Melancon is 32, Cueto is 31 and Crawford is 30.That’s long in the tooth for baseball and it’s a really long season.  Look for the young guys (like Austin Slater) warming up if the season doesn’t go well. 

The Coaching Staff: Usually this isn’t an issue with Rags and Bochy in the dugout but there are two new base coaches this year.  Billy Hayes is gone at first and replaced by Jose Alguacil (who got beaned really bad in Scottsdale) and Phil Nevin is replacing Roberto Kelly (who stunk last year) at third.  Look for a better running game.  Nevin is a manager in waiting.

The NL West – what’s happening there?  

While this will be mostly a two-team race (Dodgers, and the Giants), the G-Men face an uphill battle all the way.  The Rockies are stockpiling pitchers but are still playing in Denver, the Padres are rebuilding and Arizona is a mess.

That said, here is what the Dodgers (who are no doubt a strong and arrogant ream led by all-world Clayton Kershaw) are saying about the Giants.  This is one of their team report to the fans:

The Giants aren’t that good. You really shouldn’t be worried about them. Don’t get me wrong or misunderstand what I am saying here. The Giants will be competitive in 2017. They’ll be the Dodgers primary obstacle to the division title. But are they pennant contenders? I’m going to say no.

The report goes on to diss the entire Giants team as weak and over-rated. I can’t wait to be at the first Giants-Dodgers game this year at AT&T (that will be April 24th) and see if we can’t shove these words down their throats. Where is Candlestick Park when we need it on a Friday night?

And thus it begins.

Now it is time to get the glove ready for AT&T and enjoy baseball – 2017 style!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Want to be in a Giants Commercial?

Welcome to the first 2017 Czar’s blog

I know that this is early for the first Czar’s blog post of the year. Pitchers and catchers don’t report for another 18 days, and most of us are still reeling from the last Cubs game in October with the 9th inning relief pitching disaster (the worst pitching moment in Giants history since 2002 in Anaheim when Dusty took the ball from Russ Ortiz) but there is a special offer from the Giants to occupy AT&T next Monday as part of a Giants commercial shoot. 

Here is the link with the details and the registration link.

The event is on Wednesday February 8th and if I could be there I would be but duty calls at the office.

Now for a taste of baseball.  This morning the Giants/Dodgers historic rivalry was voted the number one rivalry in baseball.  You think? The team that shall not be named has re-tooled for the season is picked to finish 10 games in front of the orange and black.  I suspect that we will all have something to say about that.

http://m.mlb.com/news/article/214516288/ranking-mlbs-top-5-rivalries/

GO GIANTS!

Ciao,

The Czar

2016 Post-Season #1 - Backs Against the Wall

Welcome to the first 2016 Czar’s Postseason blog of 2016.

 

The Playoffs – How did the Giants make it?

The Giants played the last week of September like they played the first half of the season, with confidence, good pitching and timely hitting.  The Dodger’s series was exceptionally sweet. There is nothing like a sweep to finish off the year and secure the wild card. The Cardinals victory last Sunday meant that the G-Men couldn’t back into October but had to earn it – and earn it they did.

The Wild-Card – Bum at his Best

Bum against Thor on the road.  This was a game for the ages. Nail-biting on every pitch until Terry Collins blinked, pulled Thor, put in his closer and we then watched him give up a 3-run dinger to that most unlikely of post-season hero’s – Conor Gillaspie, who was on the roster and playing third because of an injury to Nunez.

Was anyone surprised?  No.  Conor just joined Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro and Travis Ishikawa in Giants post-season lore.  I want his bobblehead.

Onto the NLDS, where we are now.

Wrigley Field – Where teams have gone to die this year

The first two NLDS games against the Cubs at Wrigley field have been excruciating. First a 1-0 loss on a home run in the basket (could have and should have been caught by Pagan) after a masterpiece of pitching by Cueto against Lester (who was not untouchable – the G-Men ran themselves out of the game by being picked off and by not being able to score with RISP – sound familiar?).

In Game two last night, Samardjiza choked and gave up four runs, and the G-Men ultimately lost 5-2. An ugly game in that it appeared the G-Men reverted to their second half style with an inability to score with RISP, a lack of timely hitting and questionable relief pitching (a home run to a reliever?  Spare me).

The Cubs are rated better by the national press than the Giants at every position except catcher (dissing Buster Posey is never smart). While the Giants are considered dead on arrival against the 103 wins Cubs with Joe Maddon, Bill Murray and the baseball Gods all against them, the history of the post season even year Giants casts just enough doubt that there should be serious butterflies in the stomach of every long suffering Cubs fan.

Keep in mind that the Giants and the Cubs have played relatively even this year for the season.  It is not over.

Elimination Game time

Tomorrow night it is Madison Bumgarner against Jake Arrieta for all the marbles.  It’s an elimination game in front of 40,000 plus faithful at AT&T. We have the Cubs just where we want them – terrified of the even year magic that propelled us past Atlanta in 2010, the Reds in 2012 (three elimination games in the row) and the Nats in 2014.  It’s now one game at a time and regardless what happens we will be yelling our throats out and waving our rally rags for the G-Men.

If there is a Tuesday night, the question is whether it will be Matt Moore (who pitched brilliantly against the Dodgers) or Cueto on short rest.  I predict Moore with Cueto for game 5 but who knows – this is Bochy time and Giants time.  It doesn’t get any better.

May the force be with you always.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

"To be or not to be" in the playoffs, that is the question

Welcome to the 13th (and maybe the last) Czar’s blog of 2016

With apologies to William Shakespeare:

To be, or not to be in the playoffs--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of an outrageous lack of hitting in the second half of the season
Or to take up bats against a sea of Rockies and Dodgers pitchers
And by opposing hit them hard. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that this strange season has visited upon the Giants faithful!

The Playoffs – Will The Giants make it?

That is indeed the question.  There are six games left in the season and the G-Men are one game back of the Mets for the top wild card spot and a half game ahead of the Cardinals (who have the tiebreaker on them) for the last spot.

The challenges include the obvious: scoring more runs and allowing fewer of them against the Colorado Rockies, starting tomorrow night. Then we have to take the three weekend games against the Dodgers, who have clinched the NL West title. LA would like nothing more than to bury the Giants. Hopefully the fact that the G-Men got buried by the Padres is a function of the fact that the Friars own the Giants, and pretty much always have.

The Giants own the NL's worst second-half record (25-41) and must focus on doing better than the Mets and Cardinals. We begin the final week of the regular season one game behind New York for the top spot and leading St. Louis by a half-game for the second spot.

This is the biggest week of the season. We can do it if the following can be accomplished.

Start hitting!

The Giants' pathetic hitting has obscured all other facets of their game. Last Saturday's nine-run, 12-hit game at San Diego ended a stretch in which they had scored 12 runs in seven games. Is anyone surprised that the G-Men entered Monday with 84 runs scored in September, the NL's second-lowest total?

Bring the bullpen back from the abyss and help out the starters!

The bullpen has stabilized somewhat since earlier this month when the relievers seemingly blew leads daily.  Romo has converted three consecutive save opportunities, and Strickland is looking good. The starters are performing adequately (although the potential loss of Cueto is really worrying). Regardless, the fact that the Giants have lost a franchise-record nine games this season in which they led entering the ninth inning (five of them this month) should send shudders through the faithful.

I don’t know where Casilla went but he should stay gone. I can’t recall the last Giants pitcher that got booed off the field.

Let’s focus on the Rockies and Dodgers.

The G-Men are 8-8 this season against each team. We can beat both of them, and must beat them. LA has outscored San Francisco by 59-58. That is NOT ownage. As for the Rockies, of the top nine hitters at AT&T this year, three are Rockies. Mark Reynolds (.409), DJ LeMahieu (.379) and Nolan Arenado (.333, two homers, seven RBIs).

Three Dodgers also have done much too well at AT&T – Adrian Gonzalez (.367), Chase Utley (.346) and Joc Pederson (.320, two homers). If we must hate, make it Utley. Personally, I’m sticking needles in Utley’s bobblehead.

The fans MUST support the team at home!

The Giants' 40-35 record at AT&T Park is not good. There are six consecutive home games left. If the G-Men score early and get the crowd in the game we will have our best chance of winning.  None of us should forget for a moment that the wild card was the route the G-Men took to the WS in 2014.

Play like the Giants

Buster Posey and Hunter Pence are capable of taking over a game, Brandon Crawford is a big-time shortstop, and Pagan, Span and Nunez (if healthy) are legitimate threats.

Behind them Joe Panik is a terrific  second baseman and Kilby Thompson is a clutch hitter if there ever was one. Don’t ever forget what Belt is capable of at AT&T.  He and Span have the only splash hits this year.

No more excuses.  Its time: either that or we join the Danish King on the Ramparts bemoaning what could have been!

May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always. 

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

The Czar

A Tale of Two Teams

Welcome to the 12th Czar’s blog of 2016.

Two teams – the Giants pre the All-Star break and the Giants in August and right up until the last five games, including the game today that culminated in a sweep of the Snakes.

The early season Giants.  Confident hitters, good defense, strong pitching and a capable bullpen.

The current Giants. Looking like a bottom of the standings team that can’t hit with men in scoring position making key defensive errors with a bullpen that can’t hold a lead.

Which team is for real? We will find out over the next 20 games.

Before I left for Bali and Komodo I asked to return to a first place team with a bullpen that can hold a lead.  Instead I return to the Dodgers in first place, Puig called back up again with the boys in blue and Casilla channeling Brian Wilson at his worst.

I am asking the dragon (see attached) for help, perhaps by eating a key Dodger player or two, with maybe Casilla as an appetizer.

The problem, in one word, is hitting.  The bats are cold and (until today with some great Hunter Pence swings) it seemed that every batter was pressing. Has someone stolen the offense (maybe awful, mean, fairies from LA?).

I am constantly reminding myself that the Giants are in the top four in MLB (above the Dodgers mind you) in fielding and pitching (although it sure doesn’t seem that way when you look at the relievers giving it up on a regular basis) and what we have seen are not the real Giants. So the hope right now is to believe that what they have done over the last five days are the real Giants and the team from the eight weeks before was some sleep-walking zombie apparition.

The Playoffs are here

The G-Men are in the playoffs right now and are one of the top five teams in the NL (along with the Cubs  - who are cruising into the playoffs - the Nationals, the Cardinals and LA).   The Gigantes must win the series against the Cardinals to hold their current lead for the first wild card and pound the Padres and the Rockies (aren’t division games to finish off a season fun?). If they do play the rest of the month like they have done since that blown save fiasco in Denver there is a good chance that they will at least hold the wild card and get into the playoffs in October.  Every inning and every game count right now. 

However it will most definitely all come down to the games left against the team that shall not be named from LA –  in LA first and finishing at home. We will have a much longer discussion of that key series in the last blog of the year before the final week of baseball. However keep in mind that the current three game deficient can be made up pretty quickly. The Giants destiny is in their hands.

What do we need to get there?

Matt Moore has been pitching very well, as his one hitter against the Cubs and his 11 strikeout day today shows.  If Bum and Cueto can continue their pitching, Moore and Samardzija are very able 3rd and 4th starters. We have the talent. Do we have the will?

But it all comes down to the big boys with the bats. Pence, Posey, Pagan, Panik, Crawford, Belt, Span and Nunez.  If they hit, we win. If they don’t we struggle.

The games below (the Cardinals and Padres) will go quickly so get back to me as soon as you can. The Czar leaves for Italy on Tuesday (duty calls, being a wine lawyer requires constant sacrifice) so the tickets for this upcoming home series need to be allocated by tomorrow afternoon.

May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Long Road to the Playoff's

Welcome to the 11th Czar’s blog of 2016.

This is a special blog in that it covers the rest of this home series, and the next.  That is because the Czar is heading to Indonesia for almost three weeks of scuba diving and trying to pick up the Giants scores from what internet might be available in the far reaches of the Labuanbajo-Maumere corridor. 

We are at the beginning of August and anyone who watched today’s Casilla meltdown (3 run HR in the top of the ninth to finish the bullpen blowing a 6 run lead) that cost us a series win against the Orioles, understands torture, frustration and gnashing your teeth so hard that a visit to the dentist is not only mandatory but desired, just for the pain medication.

The Orioles, who now have the identical record of the Giants (66 and 51) and are a half game back of Toronto in the AL East, are a good team (huge guys with big bats – true monsters) with an excellent closer and will be in the playoffs.  But they are not that good, and today’s game should not have been lost. We hope that the kick in the teeth administered today by the Orange birds shakes something up, like demoting Casilla and establishing Law as the closer.

The only saving grace in all of this is that the Dodgers (one of the best hitting teams in baseball mind you) also lost.  That leaves the Giants one game in front of the NL West, which at times (considering the 8 and 18 record since the All-Star break) should be considered a miracle. Someone out there is saying their prayers and its working.

It’s not all dark. The Giants are still 11th in MLB in hitting (.258 team BA), 4th in pitching (3.68 team ERA) and 10th in fielding (.985 fielding average).  That is, of course, reflective of the excellent play before the last 25 or so games when they have basically tanked.  Regardless, that also means there is room to come back in the next two home series (Pirates, Mets, Braves and Snakes), to see what can be done in the showdown coming at Chavez Ravine next week, and perform well at the beginning of the stretch run during the first week of September in Chicago against the rampaging Cubs.

There is a lot of baseball left and it’s time to suck it up.

What about the trades, will they pay off?

Most of the scribes agree that the Giants trade deadline moves improved the team.  I agree with the consensus but I don’t think that they did enough and I don’t think that the value exchanged was necessarily even.

Matt Moore was picked up from the Marlins. Matt has a career 3.86 ERA with good strikeout pitches. This trade cost Matt Duffy (still on the DL but playing now) going to the Marlins with some prospects.  

Getting Moore as a starter freed up Peavy to go to the bullpen for what will likely be the last few months of his major league career.  Peavy is enough of a gamer that even a few innings of vintage Jake out of the bullpen will be worth it in the playoffs.  Think Jeremy Affeldt against the Cards in the 2014 NLCS to advance to the WS. Seriously.

Duffy was expendable (no matter how much everyone liked him) because of the outstanding play of Eduardo Nunez, a .300 plus hitter and base stealer with adequate to good defense (great grab of the game today), who arrived from Minnesota earlier in the month in return for a well-regarded minor league left hander – Mejia.

Finally, the Giants picked up another middle to late inning reliever, Will Smith, from the Brewers for Andrew Susac and Phil Bickford.  Smith is an expensive player considering the trade value given up.  The rationale I hear was that Susac is stuck behind Posey and Trevor Brown and while Bickford was a top pitching prospect Smith is young and under team control for another three years. However Smith hasn’t shown much yet.  Now if he could have replaced Casilla maybe this would have been a good deal. Personally I’m ready to ask if Trevor Hoffman is ready to come out of retirement.

The trades were made specifically to improve the bullpen. Now consider the number of leads that the bullpen has squandered recently (including today) and tell me if the improvement is there. Just saying.

Can the G-Men put it back together?

The most important moves over the last four weeks have been getting Panik and Pence back from the DL. Panik is starting to hit with regularity and his defense is sparking, although he still looks like he should be on the inside cover of a high school yearbook as prom king.

Pence is an animal.  Check out his black eye from hitting himself in the eye with a foul ball.  He ranged all over the outfield today and hit a huge dinger.  If he gets untracked he and Buster can carry the team over the next seven weeks all by themselves.  Speaking of Buster, he is a hall of fame catcher and a true joy to watch.  Do not miss a Posey at-bat, ever, and check out his percentage of base stealers thrown out. I believe that it’s the best in baseball.

The hitting should be there, but hasn’t been for some reason. Belt looks like he is getting untracked, Crawford had the first 7 hit game in the history of the Giants (after another bullpen meltdown), Pagan is on a 12 game hitting streak and Span is getting clutch RBI’s.  It shouldn’t be as tight as it has been.  These guys are good regardless of the number of runners left on base with less than two outs. I don’t know where the clutch hitting went but unless it returns we are in for a very long seven weeks.

Finally, a word about the pitching.  Bum and Cueto look really good and we will see what Moore and Samardjiza can do but none of them can carry the team. The starters and the relievers need to pick up their game if they expect to taste anything more than the wild card or maybe the NLDS in October.

The answer to the question posed above is YES.  However they need to improve in every facet of the game and play like the champions they are.

The Upcoming Games

The Pirates come into town tomorrow after handing some pain to the Dodgers. The Bucs are chasing a wild card spot one game behind the Cards (in a division with the Cubs 13 games up) and just whaled on the Dodgers. The Lumber Company wants it and the G-Men had better be prepared. Everyone likes the Pirates, and Vogelsong will get one hell of a welcome when he shows up to pitch at AT&T.

Then the Mets come into town, one game over .500, hurting and out of sorts.  Of course that means they will play like the 27 Yankees against the G-Men.

The series after the show-down and shoot-out in Chavez Ravine will feature the Braves and the Snakes.  Two teams way down in the standings but two teams who have historically played well against the Orange and he Black. However that will start September and I will be back then with my glove in the stands trying to catch a foul ball while balancing an Irish coffee and eating a crab sandwich.

May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Reds, Nationals and Charles Dickens

Welcome to the 10th Czar’s blog of 2016.

With apologies to Dickens it truly is the best of times and the worst of times. It is the best of times with 2/3rd of the season behind us and the G-Men being in first place in the NL West 3.5 games in front of the Dodgers. It is the worst of times limping home 1 and 7 from a post-All Star road trip against the Padres (swept in San Diego), the Red Sox (swept in Fenway) and the Yankees (lost 2 out of 3), and looking generally horrible.

What happened? It wasn’t so much an epic meltdown as a succession of lethargic games punctuated by moments of total and abject bullpen failure. When Casilla fell off the mound and balked home the winning run in the 10th inning after having come back against the Padres it was probably the most “not good at all” moment in recent Giants history (not on the scale of Dusty taking the ball out of Russ Ortiz’s hand in inning 7 of you know what game, but up there).

I’m glad though that Jim Rome enjoyed the “desperate, spastic throw” towards the plate.  At least someone had fun.

It’s still about the injury list as the Trade Deadline (August 1st) approaches

The Giants are down to 6 players on the DL right now, including three starting position players. The real losses continue to be Pence and Panik (both on minor league rehab assignments and coming along slowly) and Duffy (about to start rehab). On the pitching side only Gearrin is still on the DL and he is expected to start bullpen work this week.

By way of contrast, the Dodgers are up to 14 on the DL, with Kershaw going into surgery and maybe out for the season. That might partially explain the reason the G-Men continue to lead the division. However no one, and I include the Dodgers players here (not the Dodgers fans though, until they dump the wave and the beach balls it will always be juvenile delinquent time in Chavez Ravine), wants to limp into the play-offs on someone else’s injury list.

Bobby Evans is for sure working the wire as the trade deadline approaches and I have to believe that conversations were being held in NY over the arms available out of the Yankees bullpen, especially concerning Chapman (is the domestic violence charge reducing his value?) and Andrew Miller, both really hard throwers.

Does anyone remember George Plimpton’s Sidd Fitch, he of the 168 mph fastball for the Mets?  Well, Chapman (with a 105 mph fastball) is the closest I’ve ever seen to the legendary Fitch.  In fact, anyone that watched the game today should have spotted Brian Sabean in the stands directly behind home plate.  He could have been looking for Fitch.

Short of getting Chapman, Miller or another reliever to heal a seriously leaky bullpen, the G-Men have correctly noted that there is no position player out there better than the three guys on the way back from the DL, especially Pence and Panik. 

This week will be dominated by trade stories I’m sure, and the Giants will be in the thick of it, but don’t expect a deal for a position player, unless it’s giving up Parker or Williamson for pitching. They are both (especially Mac, who looks like he stepped out of GQ) making the most of their time with the big club and increasing their trade value by the day.  Mac is a serious bopper and if we can keep him I see left field in his future.

Can the G-Men put it back together?

Yes they can.

We who worship at the church of Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have faith. JoBu is taking the fear from our bats as we speak. Of course, the Reds pitching might help.

The G-Men still have a stellar defense, led by Crawford with the best defensive stats in baseball (at least until his 3 error game against the Yankees which followed a puff piece in the NYT that clearly put a jinx on him).

We also still have MadBum and Cueto, with Samardjiza right behind. We will see Peavy and Cain over the next two days. The starters have been the strength so far this season and if they get it together in August we have a great shot at staying in front of the division.

The bullpen has clearly been the problem (well, an inability to hit with men in scoring position also has something to do with it) because you can’t blow as many leads as they have blown and expect to survive through the playoffs. Still, we have Romo and Lopez in the bullpen looking historically good. Osich, Law and Strickland are looking average at best but maybe coming home will help them. Casilla has been a disaster. He needs a long break or a demotion to the 7th inning.

The Upcoming Games

This will be a vitally important homestand.

The Reds (30th in MLB - out of 30 teams - in pitching) come in for three games starting tomorrow night (I’ll be there Tuesday). The Reds, who are last in the NL Central (21.5 games back of the Cubs) are sellers at the trade deadline but are not to be trifled with.  They play well at AT&T and they have Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.  That said, if there ever was a team coming into town to try and get healthy against, it’s the Reds.

Then the Nationals (1st in pitching in MLB) come in for four games.  This is a playoff gut check series. Dusty Baker’s Nationals have almost the same record as the G-Men (58 and 41), and lead the NL East by 4.5 games over the Marlins. Scherzer, Strasburg and Roark are three of the top pitchers in the NL and Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper are nails. This will be October baseball and we all just hope that Panik at least (if not Pence) will be back for the series. We will need every break we can get against a very hot, and very good, nationals team. Friday night is Cueto and I’m not going to miss that game!

It should be fun. We play both ends of the MLB pitching stat list in back to back series.

May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

River Cats versus Rockies and Snakes

Welcome to the 9th Czar’s blog of 2016.

We are now at the 82 game mark, half way through the season. The G-Men are 51 and 31, 20 games over .500 and on track for a 100 win season. These next six games lead up to the All-Star break. After the break we start an 8 game road trip leading off with the Padres and ending up visiting the Red Sox and the Yankees in the AL East. Bum may or may not hit if he pitches one of those AL games but you have to believe that the national press will be all over it because of what happened in Arizona on Thursday.

Regardless, if the playoffs started today it would be the Cubs against the winner of the wild card game (either the Dodgers or the Mets) and the Giants against the Nationals, with the Cubs having home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the Nationals at AT&T. Anyone for a Giants/Cubs NLCS (Bochy versus Maddon)? It’s a distinct possibility based on what we have seen so far.

The injury list, the story of the season so far

The Giants have 10 players on the injury list or the DL right now, including five starters (if you count Tomlinson, the 4th infielder, as a starter). The real losses are Pence (August return), Duffy (Achilles strain, still out), Panik (7 day concussion DL) and Span (day to day). On the pitching side Cain and Romo are out but are due back soon (both are on minor league rehab assignments). Adrianza has been out all season, and Pena (one of the River Cats brought up when Duffy went down) is out for a week with a left ankle strain.

Injuries are not, however, limited to the G-Men. The Dodgers have 12 players on the injury list, including 8 pitchers, the most notable being Kershaw but also including four other pitchers that have started games this season (Ryu, Anderson, Wood and McCarthy). Starters on the injury list include Puig, Pederson, Hernandez and Eithier.  While I find it difficult to be sympathetic for the boys in blue, this injury list has to hurt.

The fact that the Dodgers are playing as well as they have (keeping pace but 6 games back) is very scary.  We don’t see the Dodger’s until mid-August in LA and then at AT&T for the closing series of the regular season.  Both teams should be healthy by that time so we can certainly expect to see good baseball. The Dodgers will not go quietly into the night.

However, as Tom Hanks so memorably pointed out, there is no crying in baseball so every team has to suck it up and perform regardless of injuries.

How are the Giants coping with so many players going down?

The answer to this question lies in Sacramento.  The River Cats have arrived in town and are doing a hell of a job. Gillespie (looking every inch a starter, unlike the last time he was up), Grant Green and Pena have covered third for Duffy and second for Panik and all have played well and hit well.  The G-Men did pick up Ruben Tejeda, an historically good hitter and decent fielder who went bad and got released by the Cardinals after being released by the Mets. Tejada hasn’t had a hit yet as a Giant and I expect he will be the first to go down (or away) when one of the regulars comes back up.

In the outfield, Pagan is back with a vengeance and Williamson and Parker (both always an adventure in the outfield) clearly have the power to make a dent in what we are missing with Pence out. Parker’s dinger last night to the opposite field was a thing of beauty, as was the Williamson HR against the Pirates a week or so ago.

Regardless, while we watch re-runs of General Hospital there is baseball to be played.

The Giants are winning – why?

Let’s start with the basics. That would be the fact that the Giants are playing evenly in all aspects of the game; 6th in pitching in MLB, 8th in hitting and 10th in fielding. You can’t get much more balanced then that.

However, I can’t say it too many times.  It’s really the pitching.  Bumgarner (2.20 ERA, 9 W’s) and Cueto (2.57 ERA, 12 W’s) are both having Cy Young type years. Samardzija has been good and bad and we are all holding our breath for tonight’s start in Arizona.  The three top starters have 29 wins between them (think about that stat for a moment – evened out over an entire season that could translate to three 20 game winners, shades of the 1962 G-Men).  The rumor mill says that Bochy is considering moving Suarez’s start on Sunday of next week to give Bum another start before the All-Star game (Bum won’t be eligible to pitch in the AS game if that happens, but who cares as long as we get another W). Every W is cherished.

The bull-pen continues to perform well and is giving the team time to come back in the late innings, which recently seems to be a Giants specialty. I don’t know where the Giants stand in come from behind victories but it has to be close to the top of the MLB list.

The hitting, fielding and the Coaching staff

Fielding also wins games, as anyone who saw the Crawford/Belt DP last night understands. Crawford and Belt both deserve the All-Star honors they are going to get. Between them they have turned first base and the up the middle defense into a ballet of web gems plays.  Span has been no slouch in Center field either, and Buster behind the plate is simply the best catcher in the game, period, and is a deadly hitter.  We are watching a hall of fame career unfold before our eyes.

It’s kind of a mystery why the Giants are hitting so well (.265 team BA) when it seems like they don’t hit a lot of HR’s, or a lot of doubles.  My take is that the hits are timely because of good coaching, good intelligence on opposing pitchers and good baserunning.  However without Belt, Posey and Crawford (team leaders in BA, RBI’s and HR’s) the team would be in a world of hurt.

Finally, team management and the coaches are mixing and matching without any sense of panic whatsoever.  Whenever they need another piece they find it – most recently from Sacramento. Pretty awesome in all aspects of the game.

The Upcoming Games

The upcoming games are all division contests. The Rockies always play the G-men hard, and they are relatively healthy. You can watch the Snakes tonight (as this goes out the Giants are up 3-0) but remember the April series where the Snakes swept a four game series at AT&T.  The Diamondbacks like AT&T. That series, hopefully, will be payback.

May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Phillies, A's, Smoke, Mirrors and Bochy

Welcome to the 8th Czar’s blog of 2016.

We are entering the time of year when baseball is pure and is the only game in town. Hockey and Basketball are past (we have to move past the pain) and we are heading into July.  The All-Star game is around the corner and it is time to focus on the hard work - the division races - before we reach September and focus on the fact that this is an even year.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

The Record – the Good

After beating the Pirates 7-6 in a come from behind victory tonight in Pittsburgh (that’s 24 one run games this year already, and the G-Men are 17 and 7 in them), I truly believe that anything is possible. Right now the Giants are 46 and 27, six games up on the Dodgers and kicking ass in the NL West. If they can keep up this pace the Orange and Black will have 99 wins for the year.

The Pitching Staff – The Bad

The bad as in bad-ass.

The starters are the reason we are where we are. Bumgarner (1.85 ERA, 8 W’s) and Cueto (2.06 ERA, 11 W’s) are both having Cy Young type years. Samardzija (3.59 ERA, 8 W’s) while he blew it today in the 3rd (and was saved by Derek Law) has looked like a legitimate 3rd starter on a top notch rotation. The three top starters have 27 wins between them, The back end of the rotation (Peavy, and now Suarez) are serviceable and have been keeping the Giants in games until the bullpen comes in to save them. Cain came back up and then went down again. The jury is out (he did have two good starts) but it’s looking worse and worse for the horse.

The bull-pen is where the gems are at. Even with Casilla (he of the frustration and the blown saves) the bullpen has produced very well.  Kontos, Law and Gearrin have been lights out, Strickland has looked good (and bad – he has to stop with that 98 mph “straight as a string” heater) and Lopez (sorry to say because he may be the coolest looking guy in baseball) is starting to show his age.

Regardless, the Giants have the 5th best pitching staff in MLB with a 3.41 ERA. The pitchers are reason number one for the win-loss record.

The Injury list – The Ugly

The fact that the G-Men are playing at the level they are with the injury list growing like it is a testament to the GM and his staff being able to find players that fit into the Giants system stocked in the minor leagues and ready to come up.

Pence, after surgery on June 9th is probably out until the end of July with a torn tendon, Duffy went down yesterday with an Achilles tendon – those take a while to heal. Tomlinson has a left thumb strain and has been out since June 10th. Romo has been on the 60 day DL and is now starting rehab assignments.  He might be back next week. Cain is out again with no return in sight that I can see.

The major loss is Pence. He started agility drills today so let’s see what happens with him.

The season is long and the Giants are not a young team as those things go so more injuries can be expected (they are being very careful with Span and Pagan I expect).  That is why the recent good performances from Pena and Gillespie (replacing Duffy) as well as Parker and Williamson (replacing Pence) are so inspiring.

The rumor mill has Christian Arroyo and/or Austin Slater (a hot shot hitter from Stanford) available but the odds against them being called up are long because the Club is loath to lose a year to free agency by an early call-up unless they absolutely have to,  I recall that Crawford and Belt were held in the minors several years ago under similar circumstances (the 2011 injury to Buster Posey).

Managing the injury list has been a significant accomplishment and a major reason for the great record.  Stayed tuned because it’s only going to get harder from here on.

The hitting, fielding and the Coaching staff

This is where the mystery begins. The Giants are 12th in MLB in hitting (solidly middle of the pack with 4.45 runs a game), and 7th in Team defense (at ,987) but their hitting and fielding has been timely.  It seems like whenever a big hit is needed (Pagan’s Grand Slam?) or a defensive play is needed (the Brandon’s, or Buster’s and Casilla’s strike-them-out, throw-them-out, to end the game tonight) the G-Men get it done. That says something about character and making sure that the right player is in the right place at the right time prepared to make the right play.

Character is the other number one reason we are 6 games up on the team from Chavez Ravine; that and Bochy and Rags. There is absolutely no better managers and coaches in baseball. Yes Joel Maddon is doing a good job with the Cubs but the Giants still took 2 out of 3 from them.

The schedule

This has been interesting. Early on when they were full strength the G-Man opened up a great lead on the NL West and had a lot of tough games in a row.  Now they are getting a rest between games and beating up on the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Rays and Milwaukee Brewers of this world. July, however, brings back the NL West (the Snakes, Rockies and Padres) as well as the Nationals.  July will be a test.

The Upcoming Games

The Phillies and the A’s are in town for a very short 5 game series. 

The Phillies are not having a good year. They are 30 and 43, and 13 games back of the Nationals in the NL East. They are hurting all around. Ryan Howard is batting .143. They are last in MLB in hitting, and in the bottom 5 in pitching and fielding.  Regardless, they are a proud major league team from a proud city and they historically play well at AT&T. This is just the kind of team to be afraid of because a let-down could happen very easily.

The same thing with the A’s, who are in last place in the AL West (17 games back of Texas) and who will be coming across the bay with their rabid fans out for blood after losing three police chiefs in 9 days. The A’s series is 2 at AT&T and 2 at OCO, so you can also go across the bay and see who Bochy DH’s (probably Buster is my guess).

These are games the Giants should win. Hopefully Bochy won’t let them slack off and we can go into the series the week after against the Snakes rested and with a larger lead. The Dodgers will be playing the Pirates and the Brewers and they start July against the Rockies.

Remember that the Czar’s ticket deal includes whoever getting the tickets obtaining the BobbleHead or other goodie available that night for the Czar’s collection.  There are two in the upcoming series.

May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Red Sox, Dodger's and Brewers

Welcome to the 7th Czar’s blog of 2016.

Even though the Warriors are in the NBA Finals after an epic comeback in the Conference Championships (shades of 2012 and watching Steph Curry channel Marco Scutaro – without the rain – after 5 elimination games), and even though the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time ever, we can never ignore or forget our real true love – The Giants!

First Place with the Second Best Record in Baseball – How are they doing it?

In the last blog I gave the G-Men at B+/A- when they were only 2 games up in the NL West.  Well, they were clearly stung by the grade because since then the boys in Orange and Black have been on a tear that looks like a 4th quarter Warriors scoring run and are 4.5 games in front of the division, and 12 games over .500.  OK, A+.

Only the Cubs have a better record in baseball, and the G-Men took the last series from the Cubs 2 to 1.

The streak over the last month has been beautiful, and the reason is balance and smart hardnosed baseball. 

The pitching isstrong (5th in MLB with a 2.51 ERA) and has been the main reason for the streak.  The starters are going deep and the bullpen (with its weaknesses and the loss of Romo) as a result isn’t tested night after night. However we could do with a little less drama from Casilla – blowing a save is one thing but getting pissed at his fielders, or his manager, and showing it, is a ticket to Brian Wilson land.

The defense is 2nd in MLB with a .989 fielding percentage. On that note, can you believe that we get to watch Brandon Crawford every day?  The man is a genius with the glove and he has an arm like a cannon. His infield mates Panik, Duffy, Belt and Posey may be one of the best infields to ever play the game. Right now they get my vote. Defense wins games.

While the hitting (without power mind you) is middle of the pack (14th in MLB, .256 BA), the G-Men have won more one run games than any team in either league.  That shows grit and doing a lot of little things right. The coaching staff (especially Bochy but don’t forget Rags and Wotus) is doing a tremendous job of managing games.  No false moves, always a plan and never panic. We are watching history in every Bochy managed game.

Perhaps best of all is the fact that the streak has been built on victories over the NL West.  That bodes well for September when the division lead will be on the line. Right now it looks like the Dodgers are the real opposition, although their hitting has been pretty pathetic so far (team BA of .235), but maybe not much longer as Cory Seager is getting hot. 

The upcoming series against the Dodgers will be really critical in solidifying the Giants early jump on the NL West.  One interesting note about the Dodgers is that they just released Carl Crawford on waivers and are eating his $20 million contract. See below about injuries.  I suspect that a lot of teams will be looking at a free-agent left fielder with his credentials whose salary is already paid.

Doom and Gloom over injuries? Maybe yes, maybe no

Right now most of the outfield is on the DL.  Pence is out at least 8 weeks with a torn tendon that needs surgery.  He is currently the team leader in average (.298) and RBI’s (36) and second in dingers (7) behind Buster.  His production will be seriously missed. Pagan is also out and but is due back in about a week. He has on-going hammie issues also, and a history of getting hurt when needed the most (although this is a contract year).  That leaves Span (with an injury history himself), Blanco (who gets worn down from regular duty it seems) and the new guys from AAA (Parker and Williamson), who are both batting below the Mendoza line.  That’s outfield trouble.

There is a lot of speculation that the Giants are looking for a trade. They might take a look at Carl Crawford (why not, in his prime he was a hell of a player) but the rumors are that they are looking for something more stable and long term.  Names that have been mentioned are John Jay from the Padres, Jay Bruce from the Reds and Ryan Braun from the Brewers.  Each has issues but could be available considering how far back in the standings their respective teams are; I’ve even heard (shudder) Carlos Beltran mentioned because the Yankees are tanking. 

Personally I would put Kelby Tomlinson in left field and promote another back-up infielder from the minors until Adrianza is back off the 60-day DL at the end of June (Is Christian Arroyo ready?)

The pitching side of the equation is a little better (not much mind you) from an injury perspective. Matt Cain finally finds hisgroove and then he goes on the DL with a hamstring sprain. We will see Peavy tonight in St. Louis.  This is a test for him. The biggest loss is Sergio Romo, who is desperately needed to stabilize the bullpen in the late innings.  However who am I to argue with the success that Rags has had with turning around Peavy (at least in the last two starts), letting Cueto be Cueto (isn’t he a hoot!), and getting the most out of Samardjiza (although the 4 HR’s he gave up yesterday in 9 batters to the Cardinals was not very much fun to watch).

Suarez looks like a keeper and Stratton also looks good in a very small sample size. Finally, do not forget that Bumgarner really is the best pitcher in baseball (Kershaw is OK but Bum is the real thing, and he hits better than Kershaw).  A recent stat going around the league notes that Bum has the same number of home runs in the same number of at-bats this year as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.  He should be the DH when the G-Men play interleague.  Remember that Babe Ruth started as a pitcher and won 94 games. MadBum currently has 92 career wins. Just saying.

The Upcoming Games

This slightly unusual 8 game series (sandwiched around two off-days at home, which is rare and probably very welcomed) includes two games with the AL East leading Red Sox. Question: will they activate Panda from the 60-day DL for the series?  I don’t think so but it would be fun to see him come off the DL (which he is on for being too fat) to take a bow at home.

Then a three game series at home against the Dodgers which, for the Dodgers anyway, is perform or die because they are getting buried in the NL West.  The G-Men have a serious opportunity to put a lot of daylight between themselves and Chavez Ravine.

Finally, the home stand closes off against the Brew Crew which is 14 games back of the Cubs in the NL Central.  There is nothing that the Brewers (which have some awesome bats and some not so awesome pitching) and their rabid west cast fans would like more than to take a couple ofgames from the G-men. We will see but those games will be a lot of fun regardless. I always save my bratwurst ration for the Brewers games, somehow they just taste better then.

May the force, and seven innings from the starters, be with you always.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Cubbies and the Padres

Welcome to the 6th Czar’s blog of 2016. The G-Men are in town for a short series against the Cubs (the best team in the NL right now) this weekend, and against the Padres (the NL West) next week.

 

The Report Card

The G-Men come into the weekend series against the best Cubs team since 1908 2.5 games ahead of NL West with a 7 game winning streak.  That’s the good news.  The better news is that the pitching is starting to shape up. Cain’s last two starts have been 7 and 8 innings and he looks like the Matt Cain of old (including with the lack of run support). 

Peavy may be a little bit behind but he too is looking better. It seems that when he takes the intensity down a notch he is a better pitcher (that, by the way, was a Bochy observation that hopefully sent a message to Jake)

The Cubs will be the real test of how much progress the Giants have made since the disastrous period early this month when the G-Men couldn’t hit a lick with men on base, hit into a record breaking number of double plays and seemed snake-bitten.

Speaking of snake-bitten, taking four straight in Arizona over the weekend was sweet revenge for the Snakes sweep at AT&T at the end of April.

Regardless, this is a team that looks primed and ready for the summer campaign. There is one more game today against the Padres before the Cubs series starts on Friday.

The hitters are dangerous. Pence especially. Belt, Crawford and Posey are strong. Panik and Duffy are in minor slumps but still getting on base.  Span is starting to look like a solid hitter (with a good glove) and having Pagan back in left field makes a big difference.

The pitchers are looking really good.  It’s hard to tell how good the bullpen is (even with the Casilla meltdown last week after Bochy pulled him against Arizona because Lamb owns Casilla) because the starters are going so deep into the games. Last night’s complete game from Cueto is just the most recent example of a great start.  Bum is the best pitcher in baseball this side of Kershaw and Cueto and Samardjiza are not far behind.  Romo is still on the DL but may be close to coming back.  With the bullpen fresh and the starters going deep there is no reason to rush him.

The G-Men are doing a good job of beating up on the NL West while playing even against the teams from the other divisions. This is a really good time to be watching the Giants.  Nothing illustrates the up and down rhythms of a season quite so much as the last three weeks.

If the Giants are able to take the Cubs series they will establish themselves as not just a legitimate playoff caliber team but the team to beat in the NL.

A side note on Tim Lincecum going to the Angels.  Good for Timmy. May he thrive and prosper.  The strong outings by Cain and Peavy over the last 10 days made picking him up less likely but it’s a long year and there will be many twists and turns in the road, which is why we love baseball.

Grade: B+/A-   We will try this exercise against next week. What do you think out there?

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Rockies and the Blue Jays

Welcome to the 5th Czar’s blog of 2016. The G-Men are in town until May 11th continuing the campaign against the NL West (the Rockies, one game behind the Giants in the standings), and then the AL East with the hard-hitting Toronto Blue Jays (in 3rd place behind the Red Sox and the Orioles). If there are Canadians on this blog they will get Czar’s priority.

 

The April Report Card

Let’s start with the good news, sparse though it might be.  The G-Men are in 1st place in the NL West, and only because the Dodgers keep losing.  The emails that I get from my Dodger’s friends point out that management and the coaching staff are “lame” and the only reason to watch LA is to hear the Vin Scully farewell tour.

May it always be so but being in 1st place when you are one game above .500 is not exactly 1927 Yankee’s territory. BTW: the last road trip was 3 and 3, and before that the G-Men got swept at home by the Snakes (who are now 5 games under .500 in 4th place – however, Arizona seems to own the Giants). I give the month of April a “B” grade at best,  The only reason we are in first place is because of the Dodgers meltdowns.

Pitching Staff

The starters are performing quite well with the exception of Peavy, who sucks big time.  He got hammered by the Reds in today’s loss (giving up 4 dingers?).  Bum, Cueto and Samardzija are dependable starters with ERA’s in the low threes and WHIP’s right around 1 and change.  However the bottom line is that we have 3 dependable pitchers and two question marks.  Cain looks like the old Matt Cain for an inning or two, and then he hits two guys in a row, has to get in the stretch and gives up three runs.  Cain and Peavy are the principal reasons the team is one game over .500.

We cannot thrive on 3 starters.  Peavy (he of the 9 ERA) is on a short leash.  The problem is that there isn’t anyone to replace him. Heston melted down (and was sent down) and there are no real replacements in the farm system.

That brings up the Timmy question.  He is finally supposed to have his show this week (on Friday in Arizona), and the Giants are suddenly interested.  They have always been interested in him as a reliever, but maybe now they will look at him harder as a starter if Peavy can’t get untracked.  At the very least if he accepted a long relief role he would be poised to be a replacement.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Let Tim Smoke (in every way possible)!

The relievers are performing pretty well and Casilla is looking good when he gets in. Lopez is getting one out with one pitch more often than not and it turns out that he leads the majors in that weird stat.   The new boy Vin seems to have the jitters and Mike Broadway did not look good in his stint up in the bigs.

The Injury list

Pagan (left hammie) is mending well but Angel has always had tender hamstrings and even though when he has been playing he has been great (batting .315) you still worry about his legs.  Panik is out with a groin strain but has been relatively ably replaced by Tomlinson. Romo and Kontos are still out from strained flexor tendons, and they are both missed. Adrieanza is also out with a broken foot.  He has not really been missed.

The Offense and the Defense

The bats are heating up. Belt is the leader right now (,323 and looking really comfortable at the plate – he now drawing walks in the Barry Bonds territory), with  Posey right behind him at .315. Pence may be batting only .279 but he is hitting dingers and with men on base with a vengeance (5 dingers, 29 hits and a team leading 23 RBI”s) along with awesome defense, which is why he was NL player of the week,  

The defense is playing well.  Duffy looks like he is going to own third base forever, Pagan and Blanco in left are great defenders. Pence in right is a wild man marvel and the Brandons regularly put on a show.

The series to come

We have six games at home against the Rockies and the Blue Jays.  When the Rockies come into town we will see Nolan Arenado, Gonzales and LeMahieu.  Pitching will be Chatwood, Bettis and Qualls, although I don’t know the order.

When the Blue Jays arrive it will look like the Rockies of old because of Troy Tulowitski, who used to drive us nuts as a Rockie. However the Blue Jay’ pitching has been the story there.  Most of their starters are in the high 2’s from an ERA standpoint. Stroman, Estrada and Sanchez should not be taken lightly.

It is well past time for the Giants to step up their game and it will have to be through the pitching.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Long Home Stand and Settling Into The Season

Welcome to the 4th Czar’s blog of 2016. The G-Men are in town until April 27th continuing the opening month campaign against the NL West. The Snakes and the Padres are coming into town sandwiched around Barry Bonds Marlins.

 

How do the troops look so far?

Although we are only 13 games into the regular season, several trends are starting to stand out.

Pitching Staff

The starters, with the exception of Jake Peavey (who pitches tonight) are performing quite well.  Bum has a non-decision in a close extra inning loss to the Dodgers, and then got pounded in LA on Friday night.  He still looks good. Cuero has two excellent starts (and wins) and is pitching like a legitimate number 2.  Samardzija has had two solid outings and has pitched well. Those contracts, based on a small sample size, look very good right now.  Matt Cain is also pitching well, even though he’s being babied by the coaching staff.  Peavy is the problem.  Hopefully tonight he can right his ship but he looks very shaky.

The relievers are not performing as well as we are used to expecting.  Romo is on the DL and Lopez gave up a two-run dinger to the Dodgers yesterday (to a left handed batter no less, the first time in two years) that lost that game.   Casilla is looking like Casilla. He’s capable of a shut-down inning but is having a problem pitching around any errors (which also shouldn’t happen) or less than stellar plays.  A bobble by Panik cost us a game against the Dodgers on the home stand.  On the good side, Strickland, Osich and Kontos are pitching shut down innings. Even though Heston in long relief looks overmatched, maybe it’s just the jitters.  Time will tell there.

The bottom line is that the bullpen is more of a work in progress than we expected coming out of spring training.  Keep an eye on this trend. Thankfully we have the best pitching coaches in baseball in Rags and Gardie.

The Offense and the Defense

The bats have been a little cold. Pagan is the leader right now (over .300), with Belt right behind him, but Posey and Pence are down in the .250 range. The G-Men opened up the offense in several games early in the first home stand and they are too good for us to believe that this recent cold spell will continue. 

Keep the line moving guys!  You can’t expect to win every game with a home run.

The defense has been generally good with the exception of one very bad game from Tomlinson, and the loss of Adrienza to a broken foot.  Needless to say the coaches are working with Tomlinson.  Hopefully he will improve because a back-up to Crawford (whose defense is awesome) is critical.

The Giants and the Dodgers – G-Men get the opening series 4 to 3, and the NL West looms

The G-Men have had 7 games against the Dodgers so far, and have won 4 of them.  Thus, no reason to panic. Now the rest of the NL West comes into town.  While the early standings show the G-Men in 3rd place behind the Dodger and the Rockies (we dropped 2 out of 3 games to the Rockies in Denver last week), it is very early.

The upcoming series against the Snakes and the Padres (with Miami in the middle) will tell us a lot about this year in the NL West.  The G-Men are playing even with the Dodgers so if they can dominate the Snakes and the Padres they have a shot at the division lead. The losses to date mostly came on the road (the G-Men have had only one home series, and they went 3 and1) so the friendly confines of AT&T will be welcome.

It’s wonderful to have baseball back on a regular basis, and the fact that the Warriors are in the basketball playoffs is just the icing on the bay area cake.

When did “to Steph” become a verb?

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

It's Opening Day And The Dodgers Are In Town

Welcome to the 3rd Czar’s blog of 2016. It might still be April but it’s now serious. It’s Opening Day, the Dodgers are in town for the first time in 2016, and both teams look healthy.  From the weather reports this upcoming 4 game series will be a mid-summer affair, and the ball may be flying at AT&T.

 

The Giants and the Dodgers – performing to expectations?

The G-Men come into the home opener 2 and 1 after meeting the rebuilding Brewers inside the dome in Milwaukee.  Bum pitched the opener with the flu (which took out Denard Span yesterday) but was serviceable enough to get the victory because the bats came alive and crushed the Brewers 12-3. 

The preseason expectation of Giants power (from Span, Duffy, Crawford, Belt, Posey and Pence) looks to be very accurate.  Duffy has made everyone forget that there ever was a Panda (who, by the way, has been benched in Boston over, guess what, his weight – talk about dodging a bullet there!).

The back to back to back home runs in the Brewers home opener (Span, Panik and Posey) was an awesome moment (check out the video if you haven’t seen them) and if those dingers are signs of things to come this will be a terrific season.

Cueto was terrific in game two, which the Giants won 2-1.  He is exactly as advertised and his defense is as impressive as his pitching. Game 3 was different however.  Samardzija was not sharp, the Giants walked lead-off batters something like 4 times and walked 7 in the game.  Still, they had a shot at the victory but lost 4-3. The Shark is clearly a work in progress.

Today’s game is important for Peavy, and this entire series (Cain on Friday, Bum on Saturday and Cueto on Sunday) will be like the playoffs. The players to watch are Span and Pagan (who is starting off the season very hot).

The Dodger’s, for their part, are coming off of a sweep of the Padres (the Padres scored exactly zero runs in three games against the Dodgers) and are coming into AT&T with an attitude. Expect a rumble today (although I would be surprised to see another shutout) and through the weekend.

It appears that the Dodger’s young talent is ably supported by good pitching (expected from Kershaw) but continued with Kazmir and Meada (who got a homer himself) pitching lights out against a team (the Padres) that has lots of problems. But those are the Dodgers, they love to brag about beating up on the weak teams (can you say bully?).

Today is Alex Wood against Peavy.  Expect a lot of noise in the stands, if nothing else from me. 

This blog is short because I’ve been focusing on Booze Rules (check that out) and I have to get to the game. Now is the time to plunge into the season.  It feels like October in April.

BEAT LA!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Rites of Spring

Welcome to the 2nd Czar’s blog of 2016 celebrating the end of Spring Training and the true beginning of 2016, when baseball comes back to the City by the Bay. The G-Men return home to AT&T today and play tomorrow and Friday before a game in Oakland and then off to Milwaukee for the Brewer’s home opener.

 

What does the team look like coming out of Arizona?

Answer: They look healthy and ready to play!

Pitching staff: The pitching staff has a high spring ERA but then again, they always do,  Spring is the time for pitchers to test pitches and get back in condition.  The good news is that the staff is healthy and the starters and relievers have pitched well over the last couple of weeks. The bad news is that the Spring ERA’s look pretty pathetic.

The Starters: I suspect that Bumgarner is not going to have a 11.12 ERA for long but we will see him on Monday against the Brewers. Peavy is at 7.62 for the spring but is starting to look very tough, Cueto is at 9.58, Smardzija is at 7.20 and Cain is at 12.15. The starters obviously need to suck it up now that the season is starting.

The Relievers (who have for the most part pitched much better than the starters): Heston, Osich and Kontos will be in long relief, Lopez and Romo (who has looked exceptionally tough) will be specialists, and Strickland and Casilla will be fighting it out as closers.   The G-Men are going to carry 13 pitchers so it looks like Cody Gearrin will get a shot (but maybe Jake Dunning will replace him – the last position battle going on).

Does all this sound familiar?  It should.  This is exactly how it looked going into Spring Training

The Infield is acknowledged to be best in the NL 

Belt (who is hitting really well and with power) at 1st, Panik at 2nd, Duffy at 3rd, Crawford at short and Buster Posey, the best catcher (and the best player) currently playing baseball, behind the dish.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  The defensive metrics for this group when they are together are off the charts.  Moreover they are hitting the snot out of the ball (the most home runs during spring training of any team in baseball).  Of course that is spring training but let’s see what they look like at AT&T this week.

Kelby Tomlinson (Clark Kent) made the team as the back-up infielder and Adrianza has been a real surprise. He hit the weight room in the off-season, gained 14 pounds (with no loss of speed) and his hitting (.333) has been solid.  Needless to say he made the starting 25.

One surprise.  Susac (he needs to get his wrist healthy) got sent down and Trevor Brown made the team as the back-up catcher.

Outfield: The bottom line is that the outfield is healthy and ready for the season. Hunter Pence is back (.471 and 6 dingers!). Denard Span is showing what he can do when he’s healthy but the eye opener has been a good-looking Pagan in left field (.395 with power – can you say “contract year” for Pagan?). Blanco is the fourth outfielder (which may all the outfielders that are carried early on – but Belt can play outfield in a pinch). Maxwell and Williamson both went to Sacramento, along with Conor Gillespie (who had a good spring and Gorkys Hernandez, another spring surprise).

Again, no real surprises after spring training, which is a testament to the Giants front office and coaching staff.  Bruce Bochy is the best manager in the game today, no question.

One question? Where’s Timmy?  Complete silence from the Lincecum corner.  I keep expecting something but who knows.

The NL West – what’s happening there?  

While this will be a three-team race (Dodgers, Giants and Snakes), the April ball-games will tell a lot.  The G-Men face the Dodgers (7 games), Rockies (3 games), Snakes (4 games) and the Padres (3 games) in April. That’s 14 games against the NL West alone.  Factor in a series against the Brewers and Marlins and it’s a very tough few weeks, with almost no days off.  That’s why Bochy is carrying 13 pitchers.  Let’s see how fresh the G-Men are after April.

The Dodgers are beset with injuries but the Snakes are playing well in the spring, as are the Padres. It is really too early to report without some games under our belt. We will have a much better handle on the NL West after April is over.

The next blog post (probably early next week) will offer tickets to the first homestand, and there will be tickets available, so make sure the blog post email gets through!

Now it is time to get the glove ready for AT&T and enjoy baseball – 2016 style!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Spring Training in an Even Year

Welcome to the 1st Czar’s blog of 2016 celebrating the true beginning of the new year – when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale for San Francisco Giants training camp.  Position players reported today.

 

Without further ado, let’s check in on the boys in Orange and Black, who finished last season with a winning 84/78 record but out of the playoffs.

There are many theories behind the odd/even year thing but the one I most favor is the injury theory. That holds that a team playing late into a season doesn’t have time to recover from the inevitable run of injuries attendant to any 162 game season, which made the Kansas City Royals victory last year (and all the Yankee’s back to back titles) all the more remarkable.

However that also points up a Giants weakness, which is their relative lack of depth.

Where we left off in October – The injury list Now

  • Aoki – Concussion symptoms. He was not available in left field for the end of the season run, which forced Blanco to play more than expected. Aoki is now with the Mariners where he can cheer on Ichiro (who will soon pass Pete Rose if you include Ichiro’s Japanese hits).
  • Cain – nerve irritation.  He says he’s fine and is now the 5th starter making $18 million a year.  Matt must a major piece this year and the lingering injury uncertainty is one of the reasons the national press is questioning the Giants pitching staff.
  • Crawford – calf injury and oblique but he still got a gold glove and a silver slugger award.  He is rightfully regarded as the best shortstop in the NL and was rewarded with an appropriate contract in the off-season.
  • Lincecum – hip, out for the season and probably no longer a Giant because there is no place for him on the roster. Especially concerning is that he keeps delaying throwing off a mound.  He could be done but if he is 2 Cy Young’s and 3 rings will keep him forever in the hearts of all the Giants faithful. I will never see number 55 again without thinking of the Freak - - he will be taking tokes in our thoughts forever.
  • Panik – back tightness. Scary stuff after what happened to Scutero and Sanchez but Panik says that his back is healed and he’s full strength.  Let that be so because he’s a legitimate .300 hitter with great baseball sense and a great glove. He has the ability to be our best 2nd baseman since Jeff Kent.
  • Pence – left oblique strain (after a broken arm). He was out for 110 games.  Hunter is the heart and soul of the team.  He is truly the straw that stirs the drink (with apologies to Reggie). He’s healthy with a new haircut, and a new girlfriend. The haircut worries us all.
  • Sanchez and Susac (both back-up catchers!) out for the season in September. Hector is gone and Susac is a question mark. Backup catcher is a position to watch in spring training. Trevor Brown (a very good looking kid) is going to be pushing Susac hard.

What did the off-season look like?

The Giants brain trust stepped up to the plate and addressed the biggest need –starting pitching.  They picked up Johnny Cueto from the Royals and Jeff Smardzija from the White Sox.  Two work horse pitchers (200 plus inning eaters) joining the other horse (Cain).  Then the hole that Aoki left in left field was filled with Denard Span from the Nationals. This was about $220 million in salary commitments but – if they can perform coming off of injuries (Span), and a down year (Samardzija) the rotation and lineup will be solid.  The worry is that the reason the Giants got a bargain was because the players really are injured.

What is this year supposed to look like?

Pitching staff: solid. Bumgarner (personally I will take Bum over Kershaw anytime – the fact that he brought his horse to spring training says it all), Peavy (however, is he healthy? There is a question mark there with his hip – and he did not have surgery in the off-season), Cueto (who was smoking hot with the Reds but less so with the Royals, until the playoffs), Smardzija (a Dave Righetti project) and Cain. Heston, Osich and Kontos will be in long relief, Lopez and Romo will be specialists, and Strickland and Casilla will be fighting it out as closers. Affeldt retired but there may be some real surprises here in training camp. Law and Okert will be fighting for spots.  Keep in mind that the ESPN knuckleheads picked the Dodgers pitching staff over the Giants based on depth.  We will see on April 7th.

Infield: best in the NL?  Belt (with a one year deal to avoid arbitration) at 1st, Panik at 2nd, Duffy at 3rd, Crawford at short and Buster Posey, the best catcher (and probably best player) currently playing baseball, behind the dish.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  The defensive metrics for this group when they are together are off the charts.  The challenge however is behind them. Kelby Tomlinson (Clark Kent) showed at the end of last season that he can play. The question is whether or not he can keep it up this year. I’ve never been a fan of Adrianza and I suspect that this spring will see him seriously tested. It would have been nice to see Juan Uribe as a back-up but that was not to be.

Outfield: improved and healthy, or not ready for prime time? The good news is that Hunter Pence is back, and that the G-Men picked up a really good center fielder and lead-off hitter in Denard Span from the Nationals. However Span spent most of last season injured.  Pagan is slated for left field (Pagan is in a contract year but he is 35, and he is fragile) with Blanco as the fourth outfielder.  The battle for back-up in the outfield will be Maxwell and Williamson, neither overwhelming. This is a unit that is supposed to have power but, except for Pence, the numbers just aren’t there.  I would not be surprised to see some trade moves involving Pagan (and maybe Maxwell or Williamson) in the spring.

The NL West – what’s happening there?  Right now the national press is split over the Giants or the Dodgers coming out on top of the NL West.  This blog of course picks the G-Men to come out on top, but it will be a dog-fight right down to the wire.

It may really be a three-team race. Many (including John Smoltz at MLB) favor the Giants because the Dodgers lost Grienke to the Diamondbacks, and the Giants are a solid team.

Do not leave the Snakes out of this discussion. The may have a really good year and challenge when one considers that the Snakes got Shelby Miller from Atlanta, Patrick Corbin is healthy and Paul Goldschmidt is the best first baseman in baseball not named Adrian Gonzales.  I would also notforget that Tony La Russo in putting together the back end in Arizona.  He is not to be trifled with.

But the Dodgers have young position starters (Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig – with a new attitude that I will believe when I see it -  and the supposed rookie sensation at SS in Corey Seager) along with incredible depth that are causing the national press to favor them over the G-Men. While the Dodger’s also have all-world pitcher Clayton Kershaw behind him are pitchers (such as Kazmir, Anderson and Maeda) that, while serviceable, are not world class.

I do not want to leave out the Padres and the Rockies, both good teams that are in a rebuilding mode. While they are not expected to challenge for the division lead they are not to be overlooked, especially the Rockies hitters.

Finally, do not forget the intangibles.  In the Giants case that includes Bochy and Wotus (the best managers in the league), the Giants front office of Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans and our secret weapons – the fans and AT&T park.

Against that the boys in blue have a new manager (Dave Roberts, who we like but who is a rookie manager after Mattingly got canned and went to Miami) and the Snakes have Chip Hale.  I think that the odds here favor Bochy and Wotus, don’t you?

Now it is time to sit down, pull up the easy chair, get the glove ready for AT&T and enjoy baseball – 2016 style!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Rest of The Season!

Welcome to the 12th Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants!  The rules are below.

 

Is there a chance to overcome the injuries, as well as the Dodgers, and make the playoffs?

·         Like I said in the last blog the Dodgers series would tell the tale, and unfortunately it did.  We played three playoff games against the Dodgers best pitchers and lost three one-run games with a short-handed team that limped into the series. Kershaw and Grienke were as advertised but I think that the key to the LA success (for the moment anyway) was putting Puig, a clubhouse cancer, on the DL and picking up the best Phillies infield of the last decade (Utley and Rollins) for the end of the season run. It is always amazing what a ton of money will do.

·         Regardless, there is always a chance as long as the G-Men are not mathematically eliminated.  The Dodgers have been known to choke (you think? last WS was 1988 for the most expensive payroll in baseball) and the LA team has to play three games at the end of the season at AT&T against what will certainly be a very surly Giants team.  If the G-Men can pull out a few series and the Dodgers lose a few, and the separation is around four games at the end, it’s anyone’s division. Wouldn’t that be sweet? (payback for 2004 anyone?).

·         I would counsel the nay-sayers who are burying the Giants (which include most of the sportswriters – and the entire Dodgers nation) to remember the 2012 team that was down two games to the Reds and came back to win the divisional series, and were then down three games to the Cardinals and came back (in the rain no less) to beat the Red Birds in the NLCS.  That was five elimination games – odds such as are facing the Giants now can be (and have been) overcome. The faithful believe.

What does the rest of September and October look like?

·         With the exception of 3 games against the A’s, the entire rest of the season is against the NL West.  The Dodgers, by contrast, have to get through the Pirates (my other favorite team – Go Bucs! – Did you know that they are called the Pirates because they signed one of the first free agents in baseball history?  True fact. Louis Bierbauer).

·         While the schedule slightly favors the Giants, what doesn’t favor the Giants is the incredible run of injuries.

·         Aoki – Concussion symptoms. Damn Arrietta, I will never root for the Cubs again after seeing that headhunter in action.

·         Cain – nerve irritation

·         Crawford – calf injury and oblique

·         LIncecum – hip, out for the season (and maybe as a Giant, but I think that Timmy will be back next year)

·         Panik – back tightness, day to day and probably out for a week,

·         Pence – left oblique strain, probably out for the season

·         Sanchez and Susac (both back-up catchers! – out for the season

·         Buster Posey – still playing but hurt.

·         These are our key players, especially Pence.  Marlon Byrd was a good pick-up but cannot replace Pence.

·         The rookies, Duffy and Tomlinson, are both playing very well but Adrianza is a disaster at shortstop (OK defense, no hit) which is why Noonan is back in a Giants uniform and the new back-up catcher is a career minor leaguer (and looks it).  I was actually thinking that maybe it’s time to bring Eli Whiteside out of retirement.

·         Of the pitchers, Bumgarner and Peavy are carrying the load, Leake looks serviceable but Heston is struggling and I think that this might be Vogelsong;s last year (it’s certainly Hudson’s last year but he is fresh and he might win some key games down the stretch).  The bullpen is back to full strength now that Affeldt (who makes a career of getting hurt playing with his kids) is back.  The bullpen could be the key to a September run.

·         This coming series at home will be telling.  The G-men are coming off of a mediocre road trip against the Snakes and the Rockies and maybe being at home will refresh them. They did look tired over the last two weeks.

What does the off-season look like?

·         Look for free agent signings at pitcher.  I think that the Giants are going to take a run at the Nationals pitching staff because they need a solid number two behind Bumgarner, and Peavy or Leake don’t rise up to that level.

·         Maybe Cain can come back and maybe Timmy’s hip surgery solves his velocity problem but this off season is going to be all about starting pitching. If its home grown (Cain or Lincecum) getting healthy all the better but Bobby Evans will not be afraid to trade.

·         The position players look really good though. Duffy has proven himself as a third baseman with power (anyone miss the Panda? I thoughtnot), Panik is as smooth as they come, Belt is playing well, Blanco has emerged as a force, Crawford is still the best defensive shortstop in baseball, Aoki is one of the best lead-off hitters we have ever had, Marlon Byrd is a great power threat off the bench and, oh yeah, Buster Posey is MVP and we will be talking about him in the Hall of Fame someday.

·         Finally, never forget that the Giants are the reigning World Champions. I don’t know if there is anything to this odd and even year thing, but who cares – this is a great team and we love them!

 

It’s time for baseball!

 

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

The Czar