Snakes, Rockies and Padres, Oh My

Welcome to Czar’s blog #14 of 2017

The worst team in history?  Not really

I’d like to start today’s blog by highlighting the team that really was the worst in history:

Cleveland Spiders, 1899 (20-134, .130)
This is the holy grail of bad baseball. In 1899, the owners of the Spiders purchased the St. Louis Browns franchise. They didn't give up their controlling interest in the Spiders, however, and decided to leverage their newfound conflict of interest by trading Cleveland's best players—to themselves. They decimated the Spiders' roster, sending the best players (including Cy Young) to St. Louis and fielding a team that became the worst in baseball history. After a 10-1 Opening Day loss, the Cleveland Plain Dealer pronounced on its front page "The Farce Has Begun." Had it ever.
The Spiders won consecutive games once all season. Home games were so poorly attended that other teams refused to travel to Cleveland to play them. As a result, the team played only 42 home games and were forced to play 112 games on the road, losing 101 of them. The pitching staff gave up 1,254 runs (averaging 8.1 per game), batters hit 12 home runs all season, and the Spiders set numerous other records that no team would ever want to own. In the end, the National League performed a mercy killing, disbanding the Spiders and three other teams as the league contracted from 12 teams to eight.

This puts it in context. The Spiders are now the Cleveland Indians, with the longest modern era winning streak since the 1916 New York Giants.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?

The G-men are currently last in the NL West (and worst in baseball, behind even the Phillies) and the two goals for the remaining games of the season are first, not to lose 100 games, and second, to have an effect on the battle for wild card in the upcoming series against the Snakes and the Rockies. Of course, the first choice in the draft may not be so bad either.

Personnel Issues to address in the off-season, and maybe in September

Will the Panda come back?  The jury is out, although with a .178 BA he is clearly not even hitting his weight.  It’s a no-loss decision for the G-Men to invite him to Spring Training, but the competition at 3rd base next year (Arroyo and Ryder especially, and lots of FA hopefuls) will be intense.

Will the Bullpen Improve?  Well, it can’t get any worse than it’s been this year.  There are signs of hope if (1) Melancon heals completely and can return to the form that caused the G-Men to spend all that money on him, and (2) Will Smith’s Tommy John operation is successful and he comes back like he should.  Coupled with a reinvigorated Sam Dyson and a slew of young relievers the bullpen should come around.  The issue will be finding dependable slots for the young arms so that they know their roles. 

Speaking of bullpens, did you see the dugout meltdown the other night by Eli Whiteside, the 2010 back-up catcher, current bullpen catcher and coach and Crash Davis clone?  It was a thing of beauty.  That is the kind of attitude that the Giants need to prosper. That, and either trading Hunter Strickland for a bag of peanuts, enrolling him in an anger management course or teaching him a second pitch.

Position player roulette?  The problem isn’t that we don’t have good position players, it’s that they aren’t playing well together.  The team has been out of sync all season. Belt is out with concussions, Hunter Pence is streaky, Span is fine when healthy but is slowing up and has a weak arm.  Add to that the fact that left field is a black hole and every rookie that has come up has gone back down injured (see: Parker, Arroyo, Slater) and you have a last place team made up of good players.  Crawford, Panik and Tomlinson (super sub) are not going anywhere, and Buster’s legend grows game by game.

The Pitching Staff, all that bad?  I don’t think that Bum is fully healthy. That is something to be addressed in the off-season. Cueto is apparently coming back and when he doesn’t have blisters he’s good.  Samardjiza is a flame thrower but Matt Moore (who cost us Duffy) is a lost cause.  There are also great young arms ready to break out – Stratton and Blach being on top of the list.  The bottom line is that the talent is there but is not performing.  Again, the team is out of sync.

The Coaching staff and the Front Office – is it their fault?  I do think that this is where the blame lies.  Bochy is a hall of fame manager but seems grouchier than usual this season (losing does that to you I suppose) and the front office hasn’t made any moves to really shake things up – like trading Bumgarner for Stanton (just kidding, but maybe not).  There will be a lot of questions to discuss before spring training 2018 rolls around.

The Snakes and Rockies – Battle for the Wild Card, or the Division!

This is why the remaining games of the season (until we get to the Padres, which will be baseball games played for pride and to prevent 100 losses) are important.

The Rockies are chasing the Snakes for the wild card, along with the Pirates and the Cardinals.  It is conceivable that three NL West teams could be in the playoffs and it’s up to the Giants to play well enough to see that doesn’t happen.  The Dodgers have clinched at least a wild card (and seem to be falling apart – did someone take Joba’s rum?) but these last series are critical, and the G-Men have a real role to play. 

Let’s see if the Gigantes can suck it up and make a statement.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Giants v. Cardinals

Welcome to Czar’s blog #13 of 2017

It’s time to enjoy baseball like you did when you were little

Tonight, I watched the G-Men give it up (once again) to the “rebuilding” Padres (5 and 10 in 15 games against the Friars this year), with some truly epic errors, including two on one play that had the ball bounce off Tomlinson at third, go to Crawford playing deep short, who threw it in the stands in a “Nuke La Loosh” moment.  The boys left something like 12 men on base, and were blanked 5 – 0. This road trip against the Snakes (swept in Arizona) and the Padres ended up 1 and 5. That was not a good follow up to the 4 and 3 home stand against the Brewers and the Phillies last week.

I thought to myself, “why do I watch this game?”  I answered myself (the G-Men often leave one talking to oneself): because its baseball, it’s pure, the rules are exactly the same for both sides, you never know what will happen in any moment and it’s fair competition.  I’ve loved the game since Little League and always will.  I know that the Giants currently are really down but that will not last and every game offers a shot at redemption. This is a team with a lot of pride.

Approaching the game that way we can always look out for the moment when it all comes together for a team, or a player – the pitcher that hits a home run, the rookie that gets his first hit, the sparkling defensive play to save a game, the perfect Jon Miller story.

We are little once again enjoying a pure child’s game in a world dominated by strange adults. Let’s enjoy it that way for the next month, keep speculating on the moves that management is looking to make and then gear up for the playoffs (where I expect to be rooting for Dusty and the Nationals – he deserves it).

I for one am looking forward to Friday night when rosters expand and the kids from Sacramento arrive eager to prove themselves in the big leagues.

The Rumor Mill continues on Stanton

Right now most of MLB thinks that the Giants are the team best situated to make a run at Stanton, presuming that the Derek Jeter owned Marlins want to dump salary and pick up a boat load of players. I don’t think that any player (except Bum and Buster perhaps) is off the table in a trade, and having a draft pick in the top three won’t hurt either if that’s what is needed to make a trade. I am well aware that we are talking about next year but we have to; the Gigantes were officially eliminated from the playoffs last week. 40 games back will do that to you.

The 4-Game series against the Cardinals

The Cards are in third place in the NL Central (6 games back behind the Cubs and the Brewers), and playing .500 ball. Realistically, they are out of the playoffs.  However these are two of the original baseball franchises, and are both proud teams.  This will be a hard fought series. Tomorrow night is Bumgarner (2.33 ERA) versus Wacha (4.33).  Friday the rosters expand and the Cards are bringing up their phnom from the minors (Flaherty, a 21 year old fireballer with a 2.13 ERA in the minors).  It will be a fun four game series!

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Phillies and the Brew Crew starting on Thursday night

Welcome to Czar’s Blog #12 of 2017

The Big News- Giancarlo Stanton cleared waivers!!!

OK, that’s no guarantee that the G-Men would pick up his $325 million contract (which is why he cleared waivers) but would he look good in the Orange and Black, or what?  That would be a move equal to the 1993 move that got Barry Bonds from the Pirates and rejuvenated the entire franchise (and kept them in San Francisco).  Stanton is a pure stud hitter and he has a legitimate shot at Bonds record.  When I saw him hit at AT&T I was blown away AND he hits right handed, which is the shortest porch at AT&T. He would protect Buster, probably start in left field and eventually move to right when Pence retires or moves on.

Enough of the dreams…

Where are the Giants right now?

Last place is not a good place to be but the Giants are playing good ball, and are enjoyable to watch.  They took three straight 2 to 1 series at home (from the A’s, the Snakes and the Cubs) and lost two series on the road 1 and 2 to the Nationals and the Marlins. Yes, that is the definition of a .500 ballclub but at this point in the season it is what it is (and it is better than six weeks ago).

However, it is ALWAYS worth it see a Buster Posey AB or throw from behind the plate.  Without Buster’s stabilizing influence who knows where we would be.  It’s fun to watch Buster get the Barry Bonds treatment (intentional passes in clutch situations).

The pitching is coming around.  Bum is back, Blach and Stratton look like starters in the future, Melancon is off the DL, Dyson was a steal (thank you Rags) and Samardjiza continues to pitch like a Notre Dame wide receiver.  Clearly the coaching staff is setting up for next year; and that’s what they should be doing.

At some point this year we will have to say good-bye to Matt Cain.  He’s been a stalwart Giant for 10 years, has earned three rings and pitched a perfect game.  He goes out with his head held high. I will miss him.

The DL – the bane of this Season but time to let the players heal, and the kids learn

Belt, Morse and Panik (all concussions), Cueto (blisters), Slater (Groin strain), Gomez (inflammation) and Smith (Tommy John) are all out and there is no good reason to rush them back. Let the Sacramento River Cats, San Jose Giants and the Richmond Flying squirrels see what they can do in the show. 

I like what the brain trust is doing.  Management is methodically testing every potential star in the system to see who rises above – Jarret Parker looks good, Ryder Jones looks adequate. Gomez is an interesting prospect but I’m not too sure that those behind them are ready.

The Panda experiment – working better than expected

Pablo came back appropriately chagrined and apologetic.  He was accepted in the clubhouse and he brings energy to the field.    He’s not hitting his weight yet but maybe that will come. Myquestion is whether or not he is keeping the hot corner warm for Arroyo, or if he may be a trade chip for Stanton.

The Series – the Phillies and the Brew Crew

The Phillies are in a rebuilding year, to put it mildly. They are the only team with a worse record than the Giants and their sole goal appears to be to get the number one draft choice in the spring draft.  Rebuilding year is being kind. They are being torn down to the ground.  They are coming off being swept in San Diego, losing a series to the Mets 1 and 3, and losing series to the Angels and Rockies in August.  The probable Giants pitchers for the 4 game series are Samardjiza on Thursday. Moore on Friday (when I’m going), Blach on Saturday and Bum on Sunday.

Then the Brewers come into town for a three game series.  The Brew Crew may be fading a bit but they are in a death match against the Cubs and the Cards for the NL Central crown (the three teams are a game and half apart). They will be in Denver before coming to AT&T.  They have strong hitters (Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Pina and Santana, among others), decent pitching and they are motivated.  This will be a good series.  Expect the G-Men to look for redemption by knocking a contending team out of the playoffs.  That will also be the theme through the end of August and through September.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

 

 

From the Lair with Love - A's and Snakes

Welcome to Czar’s blog #11 of 2017

 

This is a very short blog because I am up in the mountains with the slowest possible internet connection. However baseball stops for no man.

Where are we heading into this week?

Last place says it all. We did split the last homestand 5 and 5, but followed that with three straight one run losses (including tonight in extra innings) to the team that resides in LA and does the wave. You can’t say that the G-Men aren’t trying.  They have more extra-inning games than any other team in baseball but the injuries and the bad karma have taken their toll. It is time for prayers and maybe a human sacrifice or two. Let’s take a vote on the sacrifice, shall we?

Extra Czar’s credit for the most creative choice.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Giants Return Home on Monday for 10 Games

Welcome to Czar’s blog #10 of 2017

 

It’s now the second half of the season, is there still hope?

There is always hope but competing for a play-off spot is a dim dream that would require a winning streak never before experienced in MLB.  What there is hope for is another 2 and ½ months of solid baseball where the G-Men are hitting, the pitchers are dealing, the runners are being advanced and the fans are in the stands drinking great wine and eating crab sandwiches on a bright summer day.  This is San Francisco after all.

As the introduction to the Czar’s blog archive on our website puts it (we can’t be reminded too often):

“…They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”  - Field of Dreams

What do the Giants Need to compete?

Power bats.  That is what is missing.  Only Posey is hitting as well at home as he is on the road. Recall the days of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent when the G-Men had as many dingers as anyone in baseball.  That is no longer the case. No one has a really good explanation (and blaming the park is bogus) but it’s clear that we need boppers.  Watching Stanton during the Marlins series was an eye-opener.  He reminded me of the great Giants hitters of yore, from Jack Clark to Will Clark to Matt Williams to Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. I would salivate over seeing Stanton in a Giants uniform.  Not going to happen but we can dream.

I’m not the only one who has noticed the lack of pop.  I suspect that as Bobby Evans starts to wheel and deal for position players in the minors this need will be foremost in his thinking.

The Pitching in the second half

Bum is back tomorrow, and has two months to make up for his egregious motorcycle ride in Colorado.  Is he chastised?  I tend to doubt it.  Will he come back with a chip on his shoulder?  Undoubtedly.  A stud pitcher makes everyone better.

Cain is moving to the bullpen and will be a spot starter as his career winds down, and he seems fine with that (so are we). Cain has had a lot of good years in the Orange and Black, and he will eventually be on the wall on King Street.

If Samardjiza and Cueto don’t get traded (and they won’t unless the price is really good – Cueto has gone on record as saying that he wants to stay) the rotation could end up being what it should have been all year- that’s a good thing.  Thebottom line is that that pressure is off and the upcoming series (against teams playing generally at the same level as the Giants are playing, except for maybe the Tribe) should do a lot for pitcher confidence.

The Bullpen after the break

We really like Sam Dyson.  He’s a project that worked out.  I don’t know when (realistically) Melancon is coming back but the two of them would be a welcome sight in the 8th and 9th innings.  I still think that Strickland is a head case and the other guys are question marks (Kontos has been good though).  I think that if the back end of the bullpen is strong it will take the pressure off the young guys and they will also perform better.

What do the Giants need for the future?

See above: big bats.  The injuries to Austin Slater (probably out for the year) and Arroyo (maybe back in September) are really a bummer.  Those two are the future at left field and third base (although Hwang is looking like he is going to be more than adequate this summer, especially backed by Gillespie).  We do have Jarret Parker coming back, maybe in one of these series.  He was playing very well when he busted his shoulder open against the wall.

Now we need a young center fielder and a right fielder (does anyone think that Hunter has more than another year, maybe two, left in him?).  Look for outfielders with pop in the minor leagues to be the players that Evans goes after in trades. 

Speaking of trades I would be very surprised if Span is a Giant on August 1st but I would hate to see Crawford, Panik and Belt also gone (all are great defensive players) but who knows what will happen.  The only untouchable players to me are Posey and Bum.

The upcoming series – The Indians, Padres and Pirates – time to get healthy!

The big test will be the Indians, who are currently leading the AL Central by 2.5 games.  The Tribe is playing Oakland this weekend and coming into AT&T on Monday.  The studs are Jose Ramirez (.332 BA), Encarnacion (18 dingers) and Corey Kluber (2.80 ERA) and the games will be fun regardless of what happens.  If the G-Men take the series that will be incredibly motivating. 

Regardless, how can anyone not like the Tribe? They are middle America and field of dreams baseball personified.

Then we get the Padres, 5 games in front of the G-Men in the NL West and in a rebuilding year (around Wil Myers). Never ever forget what the Padres have done to the Giants over the years. I doubt that the Friars will come into AT&T overconfident but this is an important series. If the G-Men come out of this by closing up the division the season will be a lot more fun. One game at a time.

At the back end of the long series will be the Pirates, who are Andrew McCutchen’s team.  The Bucs are in 4th place in the NL Central and looking up at the Cubs and the Brewers, and down at the Reds.  The teams are actually pretty evenly matched and the series ought to be really fun.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Marlins and the All-Star Break

Welcome to Czar’s blog #9 of 2017

 

Where has this team been all season?

The G-Men are 23 games back of the Dodgers in the NL West.  They still have the worst record in baseball (other than the Phillies, who are in a league of their own) but have suddenly won 8 out of the last 10 games, including two series sweeps (one against the Rockies and one against the Pirates).  Heading into the All-Star break there is hope, albeit faint, that the year will end up with a decent record (although the play-off’s would be a pipe-dream requiring sweeping the month of August and most of September).

The G-Men are finally looking like the real Giants, and not a $180 million a year payroll bust.  It’s good to see them play this well, even if it’s probably too little, too late.

 

Buster Posey, Austin Slater and Sam Dyson

Buster is the starting catcher in the All-Star game and is having a career year, with a .326 BA and 16 dingers.  Buster is the best framer in the game and is worth going to see all by himself. We will tell our grandchildren we saw him play.

Beyond Buster, however, are players that we should all want to see prosper, and it starts with Austin Slater, who is batting .299, playing a solid game in all phases and looking like the future in left field.  Austin is really a good looking kid (even if he did go to Stanford) and if we come out this season with a solid future in left field that would be almost worth it.

The other pick-up that is worth talking about is Sam Dyson, the closer at Kansas City who lost it, and is now getting it back.  Sam was very shaky when first back but has suddenly found his mojo.  With Melancon on the DL Dyson has stepped up to the plate and steadied the bullpen, which has been a problem.  If they both are healthy we suddenly have a bullpen that can hold a lead (like happened in the first game against the Tigers on Tuesday).

The Other kids?

Christian Arroyo is smooth and looks like a young Matt Williams (Matty actually compared himself to Christian on a post-game show).  Christian is on the DL with a broken hand and I don’t really expect to see him until next season. Hwang on the other hand was a star in Korea and is now showing us why here.  He is a suburb 3rd baseman with a smooth swing and a knack for the big hit.  I expect that we are going to lose Nunez but Hwang will make up for it.

As for the other young ones (like Ryder Jones), this will be a year where we see them under the gun and truly get to take a look at what they can do.

The Pitching

Bum is currently on rehab in San Jose (where he got raked last night) but we will see him back right after the All-Star break when the new season starts. Samardjiza right now is the only pitcher really looking good.  However I expect the All-Star break to help the young guys like Blach.

Sellers or buyers at the trade deadline?

The eternal question. The Giants are sellers.  Cueto and Nunez are both gone but the core of young players (and veterans like Crawford, Belt and Panik) will stay intact.  The only surprise that we might see on the horizon is Pence being traded if there is real value there. Span might go if we get enough for him.  He is certainly playing well.

The series – The Marlins

The Marlins just split a series in St. Louis against the Cardinals.  They are in 4th place in the NL east with a record only 4 games better than the G-Men.  I fully expect the Giants to come into the weekend series with a huge chip on their shoulders and ready to play.  It will be a fun weekend of baseball!

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Mets and Rockies Six Game Home Series

Welcome to Czar’s blog #8 of 2017

 

How bad is it now?

The G-Men are 20 games back of the Rockies in the NL West.  They have the worst record in baseball (other than the Phillies, who are in a league of their own) and are on track to lose a franchise record 105 games (shades of 1985).  They keep choking in game after game: one day it’s the offense, another day it’s the pitching and another day it’s the defense (ever see a ball go through Belt’s legs before this season?).  Let’s not fool ourselves.  It’s bad.

Flickering lights of hope

Yesterday they played well against the Braves and broke a seven game losing streak.

Austin Slater came up from the minors to man left field and is hitting the snot out of the ball.  He doesn’t want to go back down and right now looks like the left fielder of the future.  That one box on the road to respectability checked.

At least two of the losses that they suffered in Colorado (4 game sweep) were come from behind victories by Colorado when the Giants went ahead in the late innings with an unusual (for the G-Men, the worst offense in MLB) surge of scoring. You can’t say they aren’t trying but when the relief pitching breaks down and the starters are ineffective what you have left is a loss. The cycle (walk off HR in the 9th) by Arenado in that come from behind game was a back breaker.

Madison Bumgarner is on track to return after (or maybe before) the All-Star break.  The tailspin did seem to correspond to his absence, although he is not totally responsible by any means.

The real hope is that the tailspin stops and the G-Men start to get some confidence back.  The year is only half over

The Pitching

Losing Bum and (pre-season to Tommy John) Will Smith didn’t help matters but it is clear that pitching is a problem. We are going to be losing Cueto but Blach looks decent and Beede is waiting in the wings.  What we need are relievers.  Smith was a big loss and Derek Law wasn’t able to make it up.  I almost feel sorry for Law being thrown in when he is so clearly incapable of getting a batter out – now he is back in the minors where he belongs until he gets an out pitch..

Strickland is serving a suspension for being an asshole (well-deserved in the view of most of baseball) and the bullpen appears to be fractured.  We need a stabilizing influence there – maybe bring Affeldt out of retirement?

Sellers or buyers at the trade deadline?

Anyone who thinks that the G-men aren’t sellers is smoking something I’d like to get myself.  Cueto is gone, although how much you can get for him (he was a rental anyway for the rest of this season) is a question-mark.  Nunez is also gone.

I think that the only safe players are Crawford, Posey, Panik and Bum.  Belt is streaky, Arroyo and Slater are the future and who wants Span anyway?

I also hate to say it but Pence may have more trade value left than actual value on the field.  He is 34, is injury prone and has one year left on his contract, a lot of which the G-Men would have to eat if he goes.

The series – The Mets and Colorado

The Mets are currently in LA and getting hammered by the Dodgers. They will not be in a good mood when they get into AT&T.  The G-Men have a shot at this series if they hang in there.

The home series ends with another three games against the Rockies, who have systematically dismantled the Giants in every way possible. The G-Men will want retribution but the question is whether or not they have the horses (apologies to Matt Cain) to take a game or two.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

AL Central, Twins and Royals, Oh My

Welcome to Czar’s blog #7 of 2017


Are the pieces fitting together?

This is a difficult team to watch on a day by day basis.  One day they look like the Giants of old, the next they look like a double A team.

The G-men are a half-game up on the Padres, who are bringing up the rear of the NL West.  Regardless of their exalted position in the standings the Gigantes are still 11 games under .500 and the best pitcher on the team (Samardzija) has a 4.29 ERA.  Not real good in anyone’s book.

I don’t know if you can count the recent road trip (3 and 4 against the Phillies and the Brewers) as a positive but at least they weren’t swept by either team.

Yes, it’s depressing.  But, we have lived through worse.

There are good players on the team: Posey for sure, Belt is playing well, Nunez is hitting well and stealing bases and Crawford is still making clutch plays.  Pence is back from the DL and Panik is solid. Span is a real question mark. The pitchers seem to be suffering for a case of “why the hell did Bum ride a motorcycle”?  The bullpen is weak and almost every time I see Derek Law stroll into the field to “I fought the Law” by the Clash I break out in hives.

The point is that there are good players on the team but they don’t seem to be playing well together.  The question for the brain trust is - - what can be done?

The pieces right now don’t seem to fit well together. They are not in sync. Maybe they are pressing, maybe they don’t have team chemistry but whatever its not working.  We are seeing weird stuff, like Strickland hitting Harper and igniting a NL firestorm of bad juju.  The weird stuff must stop.

The Answer – the kids?

One thing that I applaud Giants management for is recognizing that it’s time to see what they have in the farm system before becoming sellers at the trade deadline.

I think that Cueto is gone in July, Morris should be gone, Cain is on fumes and Blach is looking pretty good.  That’s the starters.

However no one can question the call-up of Arroyo and Slater.  Slater’s dinger was as responsible for today’s win against the Brew Crew (admittingly depleted) as anyone else.  He looks good, especially in left field.  Arroyo is the real deal and will be a mainstay for years I suspect.

It is now the time to look to the future, figure out what we have and hope for lightening to strike (preferably against the Dodgers) in July, August and September.

The AL Central Series

The Twins are at the top of the AL Central, three games over .500.  Ervin Santana has a 2.44 ERA and is leading the team in victories and Miguel Sano (.303, 15 dingers and 46 RBI’s) is hitting the snot out of the ball.  If the G-men can take two out of three in this series the picture will brighten considerably.

The Royals, the G-Men opponents in the 2014 WS, are in 4th place in the AL Central, 5 game behind the Twins. Hosmer and Moustakas are the studs there , and Vargas has a 2.18 ERA, not too shabby.

Both of these match-ups will be a test of the new philosophy of playing the young guys to see what they can do.  I also advocate a trade of Law but with our luck this year he would end up a Dodger and get 20 saves.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

The Braves, the Nationals and Memorial Day

Welcome to Czar’s blog #6 of 2017


There are about 100 games left – Do the Giants have a chance?

This is the principal question being asked by Giants fans from coast to coast. The answer is a very qualified yes (although the better question might be “chance at what?” -not finishing in the cellar?). It is quite clear however that the G-men have been simply dreadful so far in 2017. 

The bad news: We are tied with the Padres (last in the NL West but that was expected for a team – the Padres - with three Rule 5 starters) for the fewest runs scored in the NL (161). The pitching staff sports a pathetic 4.37 ERA.  Bumgarner is out until August, Hunter Pence’s hamstrings are trouble and he’s on the DL again, Nunez was out today with leg problems and we still don’t have a reliable middle reliever.  It seems like the injuries come and go but more come than go.

The recent games: The Giants have played better recently and won 8 of their last 13 (before dropping the last three games to the Cubs and finishing the road trip 3 and 4 – maybe some bad calls mixed in there but good teams overcome bad calls). There have been more home runs (mostly without runners on base) and an occasional flash of the old team but again not enough and not sustained.  Every time they look good they then look bad again. For every stellar Crawford pick there is a pitching meltdown from the bullpen in the late innings.

We are all hoping for a summer surge.  If the 20 and 29 (11 games back) G-Men can get to .500 by the All-Star break they might have a shot but even then it would be a long shot. However, except for series against the Nationals and the Rockies, before the All-Star break they are playing against teams that they should play well against.

Whatever happens it’s worth it to see Buster’s excellent season (.361 average, 1.01 OPS), and Arroyo’s development (is it time for Austin Slater in left field?). I might also mention Ty Blach who wouldn’t be getting this chance if Bum was healthy.  Blach looks good and looks like the future.  These are guys we want to see play ball and thrive.  Let’s relax and take the pressure off them and see what they can do over the next six weeks.

The NL West- Is the torch passing?

The Rockies are on top of the world and the Snakes are right behind them.  The Dodgers (you know, the team with all their money invested in Bitcoin and Puerto Rico) are close and expect to be in the hunt until the end.  This might be the year (like so many past) where we live to knock out the dreaded boys in blue.  Again, the real key will be at All-Star break when we start to look at who is a seller and who is a buyer.  Regardless, it’s still baseball and it beats the you-know-what out of politics.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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