CZAR'S BLOG #3 OF 2018

We are 41 games into the season – can we tell anything yet?

The G-Men are 20 and 21, in 3rd place in the NL West (3 games up on the Dodgers, and 3.5 games behind the Snakes).  The G-Men are coming home from one of the weirdest road trips I’ve ever seen.  First, they sweep the torrid Braves (1st place in the NL East) in Atlanta, then they get swept in a 4 game series by the NL East 2nd place Phillies in Philadelphia. Then they lose 2 out of 3 to the Pirates in Pittsburgh, with the only saving grace being a shut-out victory today before they fly home.

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Czar's Blog #2 - Nationals, Dodgers and Padres are coming to AT&T

Welcome to Czar’s blog #2 of 2018

We are 21 games into the season – can we tell anything yet?

The G-Men are 9 and 12 and in 4th place in the NL West.  Of course that doesn’t say a lot when the vaunted (picked to be all-world before the start of the season) Dodgers also have only 9 wins, the Padres are one game back and the leader (Snakes) are on a torrid pace.

Today’s historic win against the Angels (a really good team) marked the first Giants series victory of the year, and was historic because of Belt’s 21 pitch at bat to open the game.  Maybe Belt’s big day (and 4 homers in the last 4 games, 5 total) is a sign of things to come.  It sure was a lot of fun to listen to the call of that at-bat.

There is much discussion about the age of the roster. They are an older team for sure but are they too old, or are they just adjusting and trying to find the right pace? While I’ll really worry when I see them asking for the softball rule that allows courtesy runners for old batters (I know that rule well) the adjustment to new core players (Jackson, Longoria and McCutchen), and well as the new managers and coaches (Bochy is the stability factor) should be allowed to play out.

On a side note Pence (and we all love Pence) may be done.  Mac Williamson is an awesome batter, plays a great left field and looks like the left fielder of the future.  Pence’s bad “thumb” is not an good excuse for batting .172.  Wally Pipp. Enough said.

The bottom line is that it’s too early to tell what we have yet. Let these guys play together for a while longer and then, if we remain in the middle of the pack, worry.  However taking a series from the 14 and 8 (after today) 2nd place Angels (with all-world Mike Trout) is heartening.

The Offense – where is it?

This is the real worry.

The G-Men have the lowest team batting average in the NL, and for sure have the lowest batting average with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP) in the majors. But, then you look at the new stat (speed of the ball on hits to the outfield) and you realize that the guys are scalding the ball – they are just hitting directly at the fielders.  According to this stat the Giants are hitting the ball harder than any other team. Does that mean they are pressing?  I suspect so.  Longoria is not a .243 batter, McCutchen is not a .213 batter and Posey is not a .265 batter.

The old guys hit on this last road trip (Longoria with 4 dingers, one behind Belt, McCutchen with 3 dingers, including 2 game winners, and Posey with 3) and this next series of games at AT&T (as the weather warms up) will be a test.

Regardless, RISP must be brought home.  I am noticing that Bochy is constantly fiddling with the line-up, which tells me he hasn’t found a fit yet.  I like Panik at the top of the order though, and bringing Williamson up higher in the order will probably happen in the upcoming series at AT&T.

BTW: has anyone else noticed that Blanco is playing better than Jackson, both at the plate and in the field?  Keep an eye on that contest.  Jackson feels Blanco breathing down his neck.

The Pitching – the Winchester Mystery House makes more sense

We all knew that the starting rotation would be in flux until Bum came back but the Giants have actually pitched well (lots of one and two-run games). Cueto is a stud (.035 ERA), and Stratton is the real deal. Unfortunately, Blach has choked and Holland is a middling replacement. That leaves us waiting for the real starters to come off the DL. The Shark started yesterday, went 5 innings and got the victory.  He looked good.  Now we are looking for Bum to come back (the pins were just removed from his hand) and for the rotation to stabilize.

As for the relievers, Tony Watson is looking good and Moronta is pitching like he wants a permanent job. Law, on the other hand, is back in the minors where he belongs, we are waiting for Melacon and Will Smith (like waiting for Godot) and Strickland is reverting to form (fastball down the middle and then over the wall).  I do not understand what happened to Dyson over the winter but if he can be the pitcher he was last fall that fills a lot of holes.  We all watched Gearrin almost give away the game today.  He worries me, as any reliever with a 6.43 ERA will do. The relief core needs work.

Will Bum and the Shark returning change the team?

Yes. The Shark is back.  Bum will come back.  They will stabilize the roster of young pitchers.  If we can hang in until that happens, and hit better, maybe the spring won’t be such a nail-biter (although the “torture” manta is returning).

What does the Western Division look like?

Right now the Snakes are running away with the division.  I don’t think that will continue.  The division will tighten and parity will reign until either the Giants or LA jells and beats up on the other teams.

That’s why the Giants/Dodgers upcoming series next weekend is so important.  The teams are more even than anyone realized and if the G-Men can stabilize the batting order, continue with the good defense they have played (how many one-run games can one team play?) they can go into mid-summer as the team to beat.

It’s an even year.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Czar's Blog #1 of 2018 - Are you ready for a little baseball?

Welcome to Czar’s blog #1 of 2018

Opening Day is this Thursday in LA

Opening day. You have only to say the words and you feel the shutters thrown wide, the room air out, the light pour in. In baseball, no other day is so pure with possibility. No scores yet, no losses, no blame or disappointment. No hangover, at least until the game's over.

The world is a strange and dangerous place these days, with chaos and storms on every horizon. Let’s put all that behind us and focus on real life – which is baseball.

The season is about to begin, the Czar is back for another year with updated blog technology and the first pitch is almost here.

The 2017 Giants – Requiem for a Season not meant to be

There is not much to say about 2017.  The G-Men finished 64 and 98, last in the NL West with their worst record in 32 years.  The year was marked by injuries, a motorcycle accident involving Bumgarner, meltdowns and injuries and generally bad karma.  Our consolation was three world series victories in the previous seven years (2010, 2012 and 2014) and the Dodgers going down to the Astros in the 2017 world series.

The Off-Season and Spring Training

The G-Men went against the conventional “go young” movement and instead opted for experienced offensive players who could bring power, runs and defense right away.  Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay was signed for third base (after losing Matt Duffy in Marlins trade last year), Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates came in to play right field and Austin Jackson From the Tribe will play Center Field.  McCutchen and Longoria were the veteran mainstays of the teams they left and are veterans with HOF credentials. Both are hitting the cover off the ball in spring training.  Both are, however, over 30 (which qualifies them for a wheelchair in baseball years). 

The test this year will be experience over youth (although the G-Men have young players). This team is built, offensively anyway, to win now. Think about it, there are potentially six HOF players on the team - - four on the field, Posey, Crawford (my HOF pick), Longoria and McCutchen, one more on the mound (Bumgarner) and one in the dugout (Bochy).

The Giants picked up pitchers Tony Watson (relief) from the Dodgers and Derek Holland (starter) from the White Sox.  Not a lot to say about that except that Holland will be starting and Watson is needed to shore up the bullpen until Will Smith (finally) returns from Tommy John. This spring has shown that Sam Dyson is reverting to his old “hit me” style, Strickland seems to have found another pitch to back up his blazing fastball and Law (thank God) is back in the minors.

The goal was to stay the course, add power and defense and look to compete in the very tough NL West (where the Dodgers sit at the top lording it over everyone else behind some guy called Kershaw) with healthy pitching behind Bumgarner, Cueto and the Shark,.

The plan included a lot of coaching changes: Rags is out at pitching coach, Wotus now resides at third base, and Meulens is now next to Bochy on the bench (maybe being groomed for bigger things).  Bochy is still the man though, even though the G-Men announced today they are adding Dusty Baker (much beloved) as a special advisor. Every Giants fan loves that move; Dusty is as much a part of the Giants family as Will Clark, Willy Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Barry Bonds and the other Giants greats.  He will bring stability and smarts. It’s a great move.

The original plan looked good based on spring training games - - until last week anyway.  The Giants are competitive and have good talent at almost all positions. 

Spring Training Disasters

Last week was not good. Samardjiza strained a pec muscle and is out for 3 to 4 weeks. Then Bum got hit on the hand deflecting a line drive, broke his pinky and is out until early June at the earliest.  The young guys must now pick up the slack.  Ty Blach starts the season against the Dodgers on Thursday (he is good against the Dodgers and won against Kershaw last year). Let’s see what a rotation of Blach, Cueto, Stratton and Holland looks like. 

Can the Giants compete in the division?  Most of MLB says no, the Giants are cooked because of the injuries.  I say not so fast.  The season hasn’t even started yet and I loved what Longoria said about the injuries “well, that just means we have to turn on the offense and out hit everyone.”  That is a good attitude from a player that make it happen!

Nothing is wrong with playing with a chip on your shoulder, and the Giants have a big one this year.  If they get through April and May playing .500 ball or better and then get the senior starters back (especially Bum), this could be a really good year.  The fact the Dodgers and the Snakes are coming into AT&T thinking that the G-Men are pushovers may lead to some early season surprises (before the horses come back).

What does the line-up look like?

There are a lot of tough decisions still to be made.  If the G-men carry 13 pitchers (which will probably be the case because without Bum and Shark the bullpen will be very busy), that means 12 position players.

Locks are McCutchen, Jackson and Pence in the outfield, Belt, Panik, Crawford and Longoria in the infield and Posey and Hundley behind the dish.  That’s nine players.  Blanco (playing out of his mind this spring) and Duggar (the Giants best minor league prospect, who can play and should make the team if the world were fair) are the back-up outfielders and the Panda (who looks great, has lost weight and is being paid by the Red Sox) and Tomlinson are the back-ups at the infield positions.

I count 13 players for 12 positions.  Who will be the odd man out?  Probably Duggar but stranger things have happened.

Let’s play ball!! – last exhibition games this week and home opening day on April 3rd.  Meanwhile we open on the road against, who else, the Dodgers.  That is somehow right.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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

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