Welcome to MASH -- McCovey Cove style

Welcome to the 2nd Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants!  

 

It is hard to believe how many injuries have occurred four games into the season, and how quickly many of them seem to be healing.  Pence broke his arm in the spring but the cast is off and he should start hitting soon, meanwhile he is a super cheerleader.  Cain was scratched before his first start with forearm tightness and is on the DL, hopefully not for long. Belt hurt his groin on a pop fly but didn’t get put on the DL and is expected to be playing this weekend. Ishikawa remains in Sacramento where I expect he will be for a while and Peavy’s back stiffness seems to have abated enough for him to start Sunday against the Padres.

Regardless of this litany of owies, the G-men are 3 and 1 in their first 4 games. They took their first series of the year against the Snakes, and won a 12 inning stunner against the Padres last night behind Hudson, who looked very good, and a parade of relievers including Kontos, who got the W.

Does anyone else feel like we are still in the playoffs?

 

How are the pre-season offensive projections working out?

Well, it is really early but right now the top of the order looks REALLY good.  Nori Aoki (.412) and Joe Panik (.250 but timely hits) are setting the table, Pagan (.333) is hitting like the second coming of Joe DiMaggio, Buster is hitting game winning HR’s and Crawford (.278)  is absolutely awesome, with clutch hits and clutch defense.

Casey apparently has a case of the yips (at least looking at his two errors last night) but is still hitting .293 with a dinger in his first three starts.  We haven’t really seen Belt break loose yet but Duffy, with 7 at-bats, is hitting .429 and Hector Sanchez, with 8 at-bats, is hitting .375. Not too shabby.

The point is that the lack of offense in the pre-season hype is not what we are seeing at the beginning of this season, at least in Arizona and San Diego so far. The G-Men are scoring runs with style, grace and regularity. It is a really fun team to watch, especially when stuff like Pagan getting brushed back in the “gum” incident and taking it out on Craig Kimbrell for a triple happens.

 

Is the pitching there, as advertised?

With the exception of Cain going down and Vogelsong giving up two 3-run dingers in Arizona in the game that was lost down there (you don’t win games where you give up runs like that), the pitching has been strong.  Last night was awesome. Hudson for 6, then the bullpen through 12 in a one-run game that felt like the playoffs.

Tonight is Lincecum. Saturday is Bum, Sunday is Peavy and Monday is Heston.  Not like they drew it up last week but the G-Men are carrying 13 pitchers to get through this run of 23 games without a day off so the depth is there.  The bullpen looks strong and everyone is contributing, with arms in Sacramento if we need them.

I think, based on what we have seen so far, that we can feel  real good about this team.

 

The Defense – just hit it to Crawford

The defense has been good. The runs against isn’t bad defense but three-run homers (we are a little worried about Vogie, he needs to pitch less innings), which are not defendable.  Crawford is starting out the year like a human highlight reel, reaching balls beyond the range of any other shortstop in the game, doing trick tosses for double plays and having an arm like a cannon.  Supposedly Tulo is the best SS in the game.  You will have your chance to compare them next week.

What impresses me the most is the team balance and the coaching.  Lose Pence and put Blanco or Maxwell in, shift Duffy all over the infield (he is taking balls at 1st base in practice today), Lose Belt and shift Posey to 1st and put Hector behind the plate so he can get two hits and catch a great game.  Because of the managing, coaching (except for Roberto Kelly getting the yips in his first game) and the set-up of the team the Giants right now are playing like a well-oiled machine - - like, dare I say it - - world champions!

 

The NL West and the next series

The NL is certainly going to be a dogfight.  There are three games left against the Padres and, frankly, if we split in San Diego that is a great opening road trip.

On Monday the Rockies come into AT&T, as yet undefeated (but they opened with a sweep of the Brewers and are playing the Cubs right now – the G-Men will be their first NL West series). The Rockies will be a test for the pitchers and I’m just sorry that I’m going to miss that series. Things to watch are, obviously, all of the Rockies hitters who have a team batting average right now hovering around .400. This will be a serious test of the defense.

On Thursday the Snakes come back into town.  I don’t expect them to do much better than they did in Arizona but they are not a group to be overlooked.

Then, starting on Tuesday the 21st the Dodgers come into town for their first series of the year.  LA might only be 2 and 1 at this point but they are not to be trifled with considering Kershaw and Grienke and the ability of Adrian Gonzales to hit 7 HR’s in 3 games and to be batting almost .800

That’s it. It’s time for baseball!

 

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Giants v. Diamondbacks, Giants v. Reds

The G-Men are now 43 and 51 and 6.5 games back in the NL West Greetings to all of our friends who love the two-time World Champion SF Giants! This is it, the second half of the season. The last two months (since about May 15th when Pagan went down) have been the worst Giants baseball since the mid-1980’s. 2 and 18 in the last 20 games before taking three out of four from Padres on the road in San Diego (which included Timmy’s no-no), probably the worst BA in the majors, the most men LOB, the worst defense and the most inconsistent pitching. If you can’t score runs, play defense or pitch you are not going to win ball games.

Why was this happening?  Injuries are one factor. I talked about this in the last blog. Scutaro’s back and finger, Crawford’s finger, Pagan’s hamstring (maybe Pagan will be back in September?), Panda’s weight, Casilla’s oblique, Aria’s hamstring and Sanchez’s whatever.

Well, in the second half we expect Casilla back (on Sunday), the Panda has been looking a bit slimmer (maybe it was an optical illusion but he played some really good D in San Diego), Crawford looks back to normal and has started hitting, Scutaro is steady and we expect Vogelsong back at the end of July.

Another factor (besides healing up) is that the Giants play most of their second half games at home, where they are still 5 games over .500.

In my view the next ten games will tell us whether or not the G-Men are buyers or sellers at the July 31st trade deadline.  Sabean has already said that he isn’t trading Timmy (who has the most value of the Giants) and Cain and Bumgarner are untouchable.  Lopez on the other hand is vulnerable if the price is right (Atlanta is desperate for the left-handed reliever – who is in their farm system?).  The Panda also has value but only for a good starting pitcher to replace Zito (of course if Vogelsong comes back strong Gaudin could back to long relief).

If the Giants lose the three upcoming series (the Snakes, Reds and Cubs), or even two out of three, I suspect that Sabean will go into rebuilding mode.  However if the G-Men play over .500 (maybe 7 out of 10?) then they might be buyers. Sabean has made moves at the trade deadline before. In 2011 he got Keppinger and Beltran and last year he got Pence so expect something to happen.

So, these games are incredibly important and I expect each one to be a sell-out.

The Positives

The Giants have made some good moves. They brought up Tanaka, who is a really smooth player and who might be a factor because he is so versatile.  He looks and plays like Ichiro and was a Japanese All-Star (he’s 32 and hungry and he gave up a big contract in Japan to try to make it in the show – you have to love the attitude and confidence) . He is certainly a better player than Shinjo (remember him, of the neon orange armbands?). They also picked up Jeff Francoeur who, while well-traveled (Atlanta, the Mets and then the Royals) is a really solid defensive player who has hit for power in the past. He sucked with the Royals but maybe the change in scenery will do him good.  I’ve always liked him and he allows Boche to platoon Torre and Blanco in center, which plays to their strengths.

All in all this makes for a solid team.

On the pitching side, Bumgarner is money and Timmy seems to be finding his groove. Gaudin has been solid (the Las Vegas arrest notwithstanding) and with Casilla back in the 8th inning maybe Affleldt will relax.  The G-Men bullpen is actually pretty good but has been overworked.

When they are clicking the infield of Crawford, Scutaro and Belt is solid. Tanaka is listed now as the utility infielder, which is pretty cool because he looked good in left field also. Belt has been hitting with power and may finally be coming into his own and Pence (as wildly streaky as he has been) is capable of carrying a team if he gets hot.

Finally, Buster Posey.  He is one hell of a player and worth coming to watch all by himself.  He’s Bonds without the attitude.

The Negatives

Matt Cain looks lost.. Maybe he can find his groove in the second half but he lasted on one inning in his last start at home. Barry Zito cannot win outside of AT&T.  Thankfully most of the second half games are at home but, regardless, this is his last year as a Giant.

The biggest negative is bad attitude. If the Giants believe that they can win they will. It starts with Boche. Keep your fingers crossed.

What Can the Giants do?  Is there any hope?

Yes, there is hope.  This team won 2 out of the last 3 world series.  That alone earned them the right to be watched no matter what else happens.  I’ll take finishing out of the playoffs every other year for a world series in the other years. The Giants of 51 came from 13 games down on August 15th of that year to tie the Dodgers, win a sudden death playoff and go to the world series.  The 62 Giants did the same thing.  Last year this same team won two sudden death playoff series when they were down to their last game, and then swept the world series. Until the G-Men are mathematically eliminated, they are in it.

Also, I have to point that the Dodgers are getting back into their insufferable mode; arrogant, testy, full of themselves and, what’s the word for it?  Oh yes, assholes (especially that hot dog Puig, there isn’t enough mustard in California for that guy). At the very least if we keep the best team that money can buy out of the playoff’s the season will have been worth it. Rooting for the Dodgers is like rooting for Voldemort.

The Series to come

The Snakes are In first place in the NL West. If the Gigantes sweep, they will be 3 ½ out. If they take 2 out of 3, they will be 4 ½ out. Arizona is steady.  They are 5 games over .500 and won 6 out of their last ten games.  They are 23 and 25 on the road so they are vulnerable. Who comes out of the gate hungrier will decide this series.

The Reds are 11 games OVER .500 but still in 3rd place (5 back) in the incredibly hot NL Central. They are full of All-Star hitters (Joey Votto and Jay Bruce among them) and pitchers like Homer Bailey (who no-hit the G-Men earlier this month).  The Reds are the real test and Dusty Baker likes nothing better than doing it to the G-Men at home.

The Cubs are in 4th place in the NL Central (15 games back) and are going to be sellers for sure, so they will be showing off their trade bait, Matt Garza for sure and probably Soriano, Rameriz and, yes, Schierholtz. That will be an entertaining series, more important for the Giants than the Cubs I expect.

That's it. The clock is on.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

Giants v. Mets

The G-Men are now 39 and 45 and 4 ½ games back in the NL West  This is one of the saddest blogs that I’ve written in a long time.  I’m currently watching the first game of the Dodger’s series at home following the season’s second road trip from hell, this one even worse than the earlier one.  The G-Men were 1 win and 9 losses in the last 10 games, are 15-30 on the road and over the last two months have been the worst team in the major leagues after being swept by the Dodgers in LA, losing 2 out of 3 to the Rockies in Denver and losing 3 out of 4 to the Reds in Cincinnati.  The only reason they didn’t lose 4 out of 4 was because the 4th of July game was rained out (we count that as a victory of sorts). It’s hard to be upbeat when Matt Cain can’t even make it through the 3rd inning and the Dodgers are celebrating an early 8 to 1 lead, which is the current situation.

The Positives

The only positives that I know of is that the Giants are only 4 ½ games out, Buster Posey continues to hit like the All-Star and the MVP he is and Bumgarner (the pride of North Carolina) is pretty much solid as a rock (although some run support would be helpful).

Everything else pretty much sucks.  Except for Posey, the core hitters (Scutero, Blanco, Sandoval, Crawford, Pence and Torres) are 6 for 127 over the last ten games.  That is pathetic. Blanco even struck out hacking at a pitch that bounced 2 feet in front of the plate. That’s how anxious and out of sorts the hitters are. I’d talk about tonight being the first time in 15 games that the Giants had a first inning run but that pales beside the utter failure to hit with men in scoring position.

The headlines asked if the G-Men had hit rock bottom after being no-hit by Bailey in Cincinnati: no, it’s getting worse and watching the Dodger’s high-five each other is worse.

The pitchers can’t hit their spots, the hitters are the worst they have been probably since 1985 (remember, when the Giants lost 100 games before Will Clark came up in 1986), the bullpen is worn out and the defense is making errors (physical and mental). I’d talk about power numbers but there aren’t any: home runs have been few and far between. It’s depressing.

The Negatives

First, see above.

We should mention injuries because the G-Men are about as beat up as a team can be.  Crawford’s hand, Scutero’s back, Arias’s hamstring, Pagan’s hamstring (which is so bad he’s probably out for the season), Vogelsong’s hand, Gaudin’s hand, Casilla’s oblique and Zito’s inability to pitch anywhere else than AT&T (that would be a mental injury). If there is any team that needs a serious break it’s the Gigantes.

Of all the injuries Pagan’s might be the one that most affected the team. He was the top of the order hitter and the sparkplug.  It seems like the air went out of the team when he went down (on his game-ending walk off inside the park home run – I was there; maybe the high point of this season).

What Can the Giants do?  Is there any hope?

We are only half-way through the season and 4 and ½ games out.  In 1951 the Giants came from 13 ½  games down on August 15th to tie the Dodgers and get into the World Series.  In 1962 the Giants of Mays, McCovey, Marichal and Perry were 4 games down with 6 to play and pulled even on the last day of the season and won a three game playoff with the Dodgers.  So, is it over?  No, as Pence pointed out in Animal House, was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?  NO.  Think about the playoff’s last year. On cold nights always remember the Buster Posey Grand Slam against Mat Latos.

Of course you all understand that I’m reviewing history because we have to believe, and we do. We came through Candlestick, the Earthquake series, the 100 loss season, the crushing loss to the Monkey-rally Angels in 2002 and having the Dodger’s knock us out of the playoff’s in 2004 on Steve Finlay’s 9th inning walk-off grand slam following a Cody Ransom error that would have been the third out and a playoff qualifying victory (I was there for that also – in LA).  It’s not time to wear paper bags over our head yet.

My suggestion is that we trade for Alex Rios (we need another outfielder, one that can hit with power) and a starting pitcher; maybe Nolasco or even Jake Peavy, all with large contracts and available for next year (might as well think about that).  Then we send Lincecum to the bullpen where I think that he will thrive (think John Smoltz), Panda to the bench until he loses some weight and stop thinking about the post-season (we may not be there but we can certainly play better ball then we are right  now).

The guys to watch are Buster Posey, who will have a monster second half and may carry the team by himself and Brandon Belt who is very close to being the big bopper that the G-Men thought he could be. Look for Gaudin to be a solid fourth or fifth starter, look for Cain to get his head on straight after the All-Star break and look for Vogelsong to stabilize the pitchers when he comes back.

The Series to come

The Dodgers are glorying in their rookie, Puig, who has singlehandedly turned their season around in a month (I personally find it offensive that the LA papers think that Puig should go to the All-Star game after a month in the majors - but that is very LA). Tomorrow Bumgarner pitches and Sunday it will be Gaudin against Kershaw.  It would be very nice to take the next two games, although the current 10 to 2 shellacking that the Dodgers are putting on the Giants is no fun. Other than that I really do not want to talk about the Dodgers.  They are the best team that money can buy and as full of themselves as the Yankees of old.  Remember that we are only half way through the season.

The question is whether or not we can get healthy on the Mets before the desperately needed All-Star break. The Mets are in 4th place in the NL East, 12 games out and seemingly counting the days until the break, although they just got Ike Davis back and are currently wiping up the floor with the Brewers (12 to 5).  We will be seeing David Wright, a lock for the All-Star game with a .305 BA and a great attitude and, if the Mets rotation holds, we will see Zach Wheeler (who we lost in the Beltran trade) pitching on Wednesday. It will be a “what could have been” moment.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

Giants v. Diamondbacks, Giants v. LA

The Positives:  The Giants are playing good solid ball. August has been a very good month (unlike last August) and it seems like every day brings someone else contributing a solid play, a key hit or (from the pitchers) getting a key out.  The team is displaying good balance and Bruce Bochy is managing every game like it’s the playoffs. Of course being 4 and half games in front of the Dodgers and 8 and half games in front of the Snakes is pretty nice also.  The heart of the team is Buster Posey, who has to be the MVP this year. Hunter Pence hasn’t been hitting like he should but he is nonetheless an energetic player who plays good defense (we don’t miss Nate’s arm in right field).  The Panda is still in a slump but is hitting just enough. Angel Pagan has been hotter than a pistol (as I’m writing this he just hit a triple in the game against the Cubs and then scored). Marco Scutero has been hitting over .350 since he came over from the Rockies, Joaquin Arias is hitting home runs like he’s a clean-up hitter and Brandon Belt is starting to look like the hitter they always thought he could be (4 for 4 against the Astros day before yesterday).  On defense Crawford is just awesome, the “flip” play between him and the Panda in the Astros series has to be one of the top defensive plays of the year. On the pitching side of things Cain, Vogelsong and Bumgarner are the heart of the rotation. Zito and Lincecum have been inconsistent but just good enough to get the game to the bullpen, which has been staunch.  Romo is the heart of the bullpen but everyone seems to be contributing.

The Questions: The G-Men brought up Xaiver Nady from Fresno today.  Nady was waived by the Snakes but he’s a Cal guy (GO BEARS!) and has always been a tough out. Is he the answer to the loss of Melky in left field?  Maybe. There is also talk of converting Arias (whose bat is hot) to left.  I like the idea of Scutero playing left myself, which would get Theriot back into the lineup.  I suspect that we will see a lot of interesting line up experiments over the next two weeks.

The Negatives:  The closer situation is the biggest negative. There is still no clear closer. Casilla’s blister seems to have gone away so he is pitching well again but he doesn’t seem to have the stomach for the job. This will be a problem when we get to the playoff’s unless someone else steps up.  The rosters expanded today so we will see today if there is another reliever who steps up (Penny is also back off the DL and Huff has returned as a pinch hitter off the bench).

The Division: It’s between the G-Men and the Dodgers. This is what it is all about. this is September baseball at its best. Nice tidbit: if the Giants go just 16-15 to the finish, Dodgers would have to go 20-10 from today just to tie. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

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