Angels, Padres and the Marlin's - 10 game series

Welcome to the 3rd Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants! 

 

The Giants really are that bad but if so how come they are doing as well as they are?

Anyone who has watched the Giants in April should be wondering how a team that appears to be so wretched has actually won10 games.  The Giants have a team BA right north of the Mendoza line, have stranded 174 men on base, have hit into more double plays (21) than any other team in baseball (thank you Casey McGehee), are scoring an almost MLB low of 3.0 runs per game (thank you Phillies for being worse) and have a pitching staff ERA somewhere above 4. In short, when you only score an average of 3 runs per game and give up an average of 4 runs you can’t expect to win many games.

Sure there are excuses, plenty of them. Injuries abound. Pence is still out with a broken arm (due back at that end of May), Cain is still out with a tight forearm but is starting to throw and may be back this month, Peavy is out with back problems and Ishikawa has a bad back. However a lot of team have much longer injury lists than the Giants.

So how come the G-Men are only 4 and half games back in the NL West (maybe the toughest division in MLB) after the worst April start since 1991 (not a memorable year)?

The answer to the question, I think, is Bruce Bochy and the bullpen.  The pen continues to be exceptionally strong and most of the games the G-Men won (like last night with a bottom of the 9th walk-off) were one run nail biting affairs. Those kind of games tell you that the manager has kept the team in the game until something good happens (like taking two out of three from the Dodgers or winning on the road).

It’s now May and let’s see if the torture of one run games can’t be abated a bit in favor of better baseball. However I still suspect that we are in for low scoring tense games for quite some time to come.

Who is good, who is not good and who cares?

The good includes the team’s only .300 hitters, Aoki and Pagan.  Nori is a gamer and the best lead-off hitter we have had in quite a while.  He gets on base, leads the team in steals (with 6 as of last night) and is an all-around pesky player. Pagan (clearly healthy now) hitting in the three hole has been a revelation.  He has been a tough out and leads the team in hits (with 32).

The RBI and HR leader is Crawford, who continues to be probably the smoothest shortstop in the game.  Maxwell has been a breath of fresh air with good defense in RF, the most dingers behind Crawford (tied with Posey who is, well, Buster Posey) and a dazzling smile.  However, and watch this when you see the game, the league is starting to figure him out and he is now getting a steady diet of off-speed pitches and junk, which he is going to have to learn to handle

After that it gets really thin.  Belt is really scuffling, McGehee should be sent down to the minors to get rid of the yips (and his reputation for hitting into double plays is, as it turns out, well deserved – how much rope Bochy will continue to give him is the real question) and find his stroke and the bench has been quiet. The G-men have very little power, and it shows.

Future bright lights continue to be Panik and Duffy (and Susac off the bench) but they are basically rookies and it shows (although Panik’s walk off last night was a thing of beauty).

The real problem is the starting pitching.  The best pitcher on the team (from an ERA perspective) right now is Heston. Bum however looked great beating Kershaw this last week and I think that his season is going to just get better and better.  Beyond that it’s a wasteland. Peavy was a train wreck before he went on the DL, Vogelsong is giving up HR’s in bunches (it’s tough to come back from two three-run dingers in 4 innings) and may be done. As for Timmy, well which one are we going to get is always the question, the Timmy that throws strikes and pitches like an All-Star or the one that is throwing batting practice to the other team?

Hudson, for his part (and he pitches today) looks ready to retire.   He is adequate if the bullpen can support him but I don’t see any fire there and if that is the case it’s going to be a long year for him  before he retires at the end of this season.  We need a healthy Matt Cain back for starters. There is no pitching depth in the farm system so maybe Sabean has something in mind; if so, we will have to wait and see what happens.

The bottom line is that the G-Men are lumbering along like an old car not hitting on all cylinders but doing just enough to get us to the next stop. Maybe Pence returning (to continue the analogy) will be the sparkplug we need to start playing better in every facet of the game

I guess that we all have to remember that THE GIANTS  ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS and everyone else is not.  That felt good to write.

The Upcoming Series - a cage match

This series coming up, the Angels, Padres and Marlins are important from a number of perspectives.  All three teams are playing around, or below, .500 ball so it will be a good test of the Giants will.  All three teams have better team ERA’s, BA’s, runs scored (and every other conceivable stat) than the G-Men so we will be underdog’s in every series.  If the Giants can hang in there at home, or win more than they lose (and last night was a great start) then we can start to move up the ladder of the NL West.

It’s time for baseball!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Giants v. Braves, Giants v. Marlins

How do you like our first place best in baseball G-Men?  

I’m live blogging Hudson’s start against Kershaw in LA right now and the G-Men are up 3 to 2 in the 8th. This last two weeks has been awesome, and a little bit unreal because the Giants haven’t been exactly blowing everyone away – they are just doing all the little things right and showing incredible balance in the process. The boys are 6 and 3 on the current road trip and if they beat the Dodgers today they would finish the road trip at 7 and 3. With a 10 and 5 home record and a 13 and 9 road record the Gigantes are 23 and 14 -  the best record in baseball (tied with the Brewers, who are beat the Yankees 6-5 today). The reasons are pretty simple: solid rotation, really good defense, timely hitting, great game management (I’ve never seen so many defensive shifts from the Giants that paid off) and a shut-down bullpen.

 

Probably the best part about this April to May run is that it’s been almost all against the NL West.  This will make September a lot more fun because everyone else in the division will be pressing to improve their divisional record while the G-Men work on just winning games.  It’s much too early to say that we are looking at a playoff team but I’ll go out on a limb and say that if anyone in Vegas bets against the Giants, they will lose their money.

 

Now we get down to the grind of the regular season where every game teaches us something more about the Giants, the NL West and the rest of the National League. Interleague has been fun (and sweeping the Tribe was a blast, not to mention sweeping the Braves in Atlanta) but the interleague games are still a sideshow.

 

The Players and the team so far

 

There are several issues that are cause for concern.  The bench is not hitting very well except for Hector Sanchez, who while hitting only .222 seems to get big hits and RBI’s in the clutch (15 RBI’s so far, for a bench player that’s pretty damn good). Tyler Colin was just brought up from Fresno to replace Belt but hasn’t had any real AB’s yet. The Panda continues to struggle, batting below the Mendoza line, and the worry is that his contract year is really getting to him. That might be the biggest issue to worry about right now but Bochy (who has Pablo batting 4th today) is doing his best to give him a chance to work through his struggles.  If the Panda starts to rake, May and June will be really fun. Pablo’s got 2 hits today, a good sign.

 

Posey on the other hand is back up to .300 and is just absolutely solid (someday when he gets into the HOF you will telling your grandchildren that you saw Buster play – two great tags at home plate today). Morse is the team leader in RBI’s (24) and is second behind Belt in HR’s with 8 dingers.  Morse is a force of nature. Crawford is making everyone forget Omar. Brandon is one highlight reel play after another, and with 4 HR’s, 17 RBI’s and a .263 BA. Speaking of the Brandon’s, Hicks is only batting .198 but has 6 HR’s, 12 RBI’s and is playing a stellar 2nd base (after starting out a little bit raw).  Hicks also hit a 2 run dinger against Kershaw, which put the G-Men ahead 3 to 2.  We like this young man J Stay tuned on this game.

 

I still love Angel Pagan, hitting .307 (tops on the team) with 3 HR’s (all to start off games), playing an awesome center field and being the straw that stirs the drink (speaking of Pagan, he hit a double off Kershaw in the 6th).  That said, Pence still has to get hot. When he does the offense will only get better.

 

On the pitching side, Hudson is money (ERA under 2, and 4 and 2) and is leading the team even with Bumgarner at 2.83 and 4 and 3. The rest of the staff is coming around.  Vogelsong (who you might remember I thought might be done) is back under a 3.93 ERA, Lincecum and Cain have both had consistent quality starts and what can you say about the bullpen except best bullpen ERA in baseball. It’s hard to pick anyone out.  Machi has 5 wins, Romo is 12 for 12 in saves and Casilla and Affeldt have been stellar.

 

The Injury Report

 

The injury report now includes Belt (broken thumb yesterday, soon to be replaced at 1st by Morse) as well as Scutaro and I think that Cain is still hurt (he couldn’t control his fastball yesterday because of the sandwich cut injury to his finger). Scutaro has apparently started rehab games in AZ but being placed on the 60 day DL is not encouraging.  The thing to watch on this homestand is how well Morse handles 1st (apparently Morse came up to the Majors as a 1st baseman, which is encouraging) and if the LF position can deliver some pop without Morse there.  Belt will be back in 6 weeks they say, which would be the end of June for the Padres and the Reds series.

 

This next six weeks will be a real test for the bench and we may see more action from Fresno if Colvin can’t cut it.

 

The Homestand, and the NL West

 

This seven game homestand against the Braves and Marlins will be followed by three games on the road against the Rockies, then home again for six games against the Twins (interleague) and the Cubs (always fun).

 

The Marlins and the Braves are both at the top of the NL East, with the Braves on top by one game (21 and 15).

 

The Braves are angry after the sweep they took at home.  This is going to be tense series of nail biters.  Look for Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman to be big hitters, with Teheran (1.71), Wood (2.87) and Santana (1.99) all with stellar ERA’s.  The Braves series will be all about pitching and defense I expect.

 

The Miami games, on the other hand, will be power and pitching. Hopefully the better defense of the G-Men will carry the day. Look for Giancarlo Stanton (.296 and 11 HR’s) and (of all people considering the ex-Brewer was in Japan last year) Casey McGeehe batting .307. The pitchers all have low ERA’s and in a stroke of luck I understand that we will miss the phenom - Jose Fernandez.  Trust me, that is a good thing.

 

A last word about the NL West. The Rockies are the surprise team, one game behind the G-Men, the Dodgers are playing down to their attitude (poor- though I must admit that the beach chair promotion was entertaining – no one could blow them up), the Padres are where they were expected to be and the Snakes are busy self-destructing. However with three teams above .500 (the G-Men, the Rockies and LA) the division is clearly one of the best in baseball.

 

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

The Czar

Giants 2012 v. Padres, Marlins and Brewers

The Positives: The 2012 Giants are hitting the ball very well generally, just not with runners in scoring position. The G-Men just finished a 7 game road trip where they took 3 out of 4 from the Mets, and dropped 2 out of 3 to the Reds., overall a winning 4 win, 3 losses road trip. That puts them 2nd in the NL West to the smoking hot Dodgers (who are fattening up on the likes of the Padres, Pirates and Astros but who play the NL East leading Nationals this weekend). This is a team that is finding itself and playing more confidently every game.  The Panda is awesome, is batting .333, and is going for a team record 19 game hitting streak to open the season tonight. He has played every inning of every game so far. Angel Pagan hit a 9th inning 3-run dinger yesterday to take a game from the Reds and looks good.  Posey is quite simply stunning and is leading the team with a .362 average.  If anything Posey looks better than last year. So far Posey is having an MVP caliber year. Schierholtz has found his groove, and is 2nd on the team in RBI’s (behind the Panda).  Nate the great is going to be a mainstay in right field. He looks really good. Other notables include Cabrera, who is 3rd in team batting average and a really dependable hitter. Up until he hurt his arm in NY (more below) Crawford was making daily highlight reel plays at short and Burriss looks like the 2nd baseman that we all thought he could be. The Crawford-Burriss double play combo is like watching than the MLB plays of the week videos daily. It’s hard to believe that the team leader in ERA is Zito (with Cain close behind – Cain has been lights out and if he keeps it up he is cruising straight for a Cy Young this year), and MadBum leads the team in W’s. This is a team that is jelling quite nicely and the fact that (after a very rough start) the G-Men are above .500 is a really good sign. The Questions: Huff is on the DL with “anxiety” issues.  That was after he missed covering 2nd base in the Mets game (when Bochy ran out of players), which cost us the game.  Huff is hitting.182 and looking generally lost.  He might be done. If so that opens the door for Pill and Belt, two good young players.  Yesterday the Giants called up Joaquin Arias from Fresno to take Huff’s roster spot and Arias, a good young player, might end up replacing Ryan Theriot when Freddy Sanchez (in the minors right now doing rehab assignments and hitting very well) comes back. Hard to say because Bochy likes veterans and Theriot is the very definition of a grizzled veteran. I don’t think that there is any question but that the choice of Hector Sanchez as the back-up catcher was the call of the season so far.  I just hope that Crawford’s elbow is OK.  We will see tonight if he starts. The biggest question continues to be “who will close”?  Wilson is out for the season and Casilla has done well so far in limited action but hasn’t been really tested.

The Negatives: There are very few that I see. Bochy and Sabean are doing a good job and the team is balanced well. It is true however that Timmy has yet to get really untracked, hits with runners in scoring position are hard to come by and the bullpen situation is really troubling.  The G-Men have good arms but there have been melt-downs. Generally speaking this might be the strongest Giants team since 2002 and that team went to the big show.

The Division: The NL West is looking very tight (with one exception) right now, with the Dodgers on top (after, as noted above, fattening up on weaker teams), the G-Men in 2nd and the Rockies and the Snakes right behind and hovering around .500.  Only the Padres have been out of it, but that might be because Petco is such a miserable place to play. I was down in San Diego this week and the word there is that they are very seriously considering bringing in the fences to help the stadium play smaller.  When even the home team has a losing record in its own stadium you know the team is in trouble. The division race will go down to the wire.  The other series to watch this weekend is the Dodgers versus the Nationals (who are red-hot and leading the NL East).  That will tell us whether or not the Dodgers are for real..

The Series:  The Padres are in town Friday through Sunday, the Marlins are in town from Tuesday through Thursday and the Brewers are here from Friday through Sunday. Even though the Padres are in last place they traditionally play VERY well against the G-Men (in fact they have owned the G-Men historically) so this weekend is a major opportunity for the G-Men to prove that they have overcome a historical problem. If the G-Men take the series from the Padres it will be a good weekend. The Miami Marlins (no longer the FLA Marlins) are struggling big time, and are last in the NL East. If the Giants play up to their potential they should take this series also. The Brewcrew are the real test.  The Brewers are 2nd in the NL Central behind the torrid Cardinals (can you all believe what Beltran is doing? They are not missing Pujols there). The Brewers will be the real test.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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