Giants versus Dodgers

Welcome to the 4th Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants!  The rules are below. 

 

Hunter Pence is back and we are in awe of Brandon Crawford

This has been a good road trip for the G-Men. A split with the Astros and taking three out of four against the Reds, a team that usually hits the snot out of the ball at Riverfront stadium, except that for this series the Giants were the big boppers, with multiple HR’s and double digit scoring for the first time this season. The Giants really like Riverfront and a lot of guys (not named McGehee) got very healthy there.

The biggest news of the road trip was Hunter Pence coming back from the DL and his broken arm (early for the Saturday game) and raring to play.  The storyline was that Hunter was hitting the ball hard in Sacramento for the Rivercats and texted just about everyone on the team (including Bochy) telling them that he was an “offensive machine” and ready to go.  He was not lying: 2 for 3 on Saturday night and 2 for 4 with a dinger today.  How long he can stay at .500 with a 1.000 slugging percentage is anyone’s guess but welcome back Hunter Pence – he is energy personified.

Hector Sanchez went back to Sacramento when Pence came up (good, Hector needs to play and Susac is the better catcher right now) and Maxwell went to the bench where he will be a dependable power bat in pinch-hitting situations. This is a much more well- rounded team than it has been for the last month without Pence.

Good hitting is contagious.  Belt (“Mr. Streaky Hitter”) suddenly got hot, hit three HR’s in Cincinnati and is batting .321.  But the real story is Brandon Crawford, .285 BA, 6 HR’s, 8 doubles, running away with the team lead in RBI’s with 25 and playing all-star caliber shortstop. It does seem that that a couple of grand slams helps the RBI totals.  Let us not forget Aoki, Pagan, Duffy and Panik - all doing well and playing solid baseball. Buster, as always, is in a league of his own – and he does own Riverfront.

The bullpen continues to be the strength of the Giants, who have played in (and won) more one-run games (usually low scoring – this trip was an aberration) than any other team in MLB. Casilla’s three K’s today in the 9th inning on 9 pitches was about as inspiring as a bullpen can get, especially after watching Chapman blow 102 mph heaters past the Giants hitters and still getting touched for hits. The starting pitching is also coming around.  Bum is rounding into mid-season form and the other starters (including Heston who had a complete game in Texas but got knocked out in the third inning today) are delivering 5 or 6 good innings, which sets up the bullpen.  We are seeing the beginning of a pattern that might hold throughout this season. I still don’t trust Vogelsong but he has looked real good in his last two starts.

Right now though, it’s all good.

Good Defense, good pitching, timely hitting and above .500 in second place in the NL West

The mantra of the season will be good defense, good pitching and timely hitting.  While it seems like we should care a lot more about the obscene number of runners left on base in scoring position, or the low team BA, or (until the recent series and ignoring Buster Posey) the incredible lack of power, the fact that the G-Men are two games over .500 and behind the Dodgers in second place the NL West is something that would have seemed like a pipedream three weeks ago  And, as noted below, the LA team is coming into town on Tuesday night for a 3-game series (which will culminate on Thursday with another Bumgarner/Kershaw shootout).

The two biggest lingering questions that I see right now are: (1) what is going to happen when Cain comes back and will he be the Matt Cain of old, and (2) when is Bochy going to get fed up and lose all patience with McGehee, who is still hitting below the Mendoza line and is on track for the all-time MLB record for hitting into double plays. Even when he hit his grand slam on the last home stand (nice to be sure) he followed it in the same game with two more double plays.

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t think that Matt Duffy (the “Duff Man”) shouldn’t be our starting third baseman?

The Upcoming Series against the Dodgers – early season at the OK corral?

This may be the most important early three game series of the year. First the G-Men swept the Dodgers at home in April to break the losing streak and start what is now a really impressive winning streak but then lost two out of three at Chavez Ravine.  These three games will either tighten up the NL West and show the Dodgers what a world series championship team can do when clicking on all cylinders, or it will showcase the powerful offensive Juggernaut that is the team that shall not be named and further separate them from the pack. Get ready for fireworks.

After this series the G-Men go on the road to face the Rockies (will they – or can they? - trade Troy is the question there) in Colorado and then onto the Braves in Atlanta for another Tim Hudson homecoming.

It’s time for baseball!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

The Czar

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

2015 Baseball is Here

Welcome to the 1st Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants!

First, some history to get you ready for 2015 baseball, Giants style

2010 – a season never forgotten, a rally thong from a veteran and Buster Posey as rookie of the year. 

2012 – we are the champions, Zito pitches for the ages, Lincecum comes through and the Panda destroys Detroit.

2014 – Ishikawa’s channels Bobby Thompson, the most electrifying baseball moment most of us under 90 have ever seen.


A short offseason, a spring training that did not look good and the last position battles

The G-Men went to Arizona. 19 losses, 9 wins and 2 ties later the G-Men are ready to come home tomorrow night and Friday and then go on the road again for 8 games before they come home to start the regular season on April 13th.

What happened in Arizona?  Hunter Pence broke his arm (he got hit by a pitch) and is out through the end of April (the only saving grace is that it happened early in spring training, it was a simple fracture and Hunter continues to work out). The play was generally sloppy in Arizona and Bochy got on the players for it.  The good news is that the Giants started to play better about two weeks ago and are now looking like a major league team. Can they up the intensity now? That is the big question.

The question mark for the next four games (before the opener in Arizona against the Snakes) is who is going to finally make the team. There are only a few positions waiting to be finally decided, with the most important being the last utility infield position, which is between Adrianza and Matt Duffy. 

Duffy is batting .385, with 2 HR’s (including a 2 run shot today) and 13 RBI’s.  He got the players Barney Nugent Award for the most inspirational player in camp. Adrianza is batting .234 with no HR’s and 4 RBI’s. The difference between the two, however, is that Duffy has minor league options remaining and Adrianza doesn’t.  If the Giants try to send Adrianza down they might lose him. The betting position right now is that Sabean is on the wire trying to trade Adrianza.  Duffy not making the team would not be the end of the world but I think that we need him and losing Adrianza would not be the end of the world.  After all, we lost Ishi that way, and then got him back when he was released by the Pirates.

Other battles that are over include Justin Maxwell (perhaps the only real consistent HR threat besides Posey and Pence) beating out Juan Perez for the final outfield spot, Hector Sanchez beating out Andrew Susac for back-up catcher (not a bad thing, Susac should play every day and he can’t behind Buster) and Duvall being sent down again (he’s not ready is the consensus).

On the pitching side of things, Machi beat out Kontos and Strickland for the last spot in the bullpen, and Lincecum retained his starter role over Vogelsong with strong games over the last week.

The Team Right Now

The 2015 Giants look a lot like the 2014 Giants with the exception of Michael Morse going to Miami and the Panda defecting to Boston (where he gets to eat freely without being hassled).

The Infield

Around the horn in the infield will be Buster Posey (who is looking really good!) behind the dish and ready for a great year, Brandon Belt at 1st (also looking for a break-out power year after all the injuries last year), Joe Panik (who hurt his ankle today, but the reports are that it’s just a sprain) at 2nd, Brandon Crawford (who us trying to channel Ozzie Smith with trick plays – there is a great video of his trick plays on line) at short and newcomer Casey McGehee at third.

Casey is a respected and loved player wherever he goes. He was the comeback player of the year last year in Miami, hits for high average (lots of doubles), is a solid defender and a good teammate. He just should try not to keep hitting HR’s.  His story (from his days with the Brew Crew onward) is inspirational and he fits well with the G-Men.

The Outfield

In the outfield, Maxwell and Ishikawa will probably split time with Blanco at right, Pagan (if healthy) will be in Center and Aoki (a slick fielder and good hitter for average) will take left field. This is all waiting for the return of Hunter Pence to his place at the wall

I suspect that Maxwell will go down when Pence comes back but it depends.  If Ishikawa is cold and Maxwell is hot it could be Ishi reporting to the Sacramento Grizzlies. Pagan’s health is still a question, although he swears that his back is fine and the only reason he got the shot  in his back was so that he could sleep on a soft bed. We will see.

The Pitchers

The Giant’s front line pitching staff looks strong.  Bumgarner is the best in the game (and that is taking Kershaw into account). Cain is looking good after his recuperation from surgery. Is he the Matt Cain of old?  We will see but I’m betting that he is. Peavy is a question mark because he hasn’t looked good this spring but then again he didn’t look good last season until he did.  Peavy is a gamer. 

This is Hudson’s last year and Rags is going to coddle him I expect.  He will come out of games early for Vogelsong or Petit, which is just fine.  If he can give five innings of classic Hudson ball he’s worth it.

Lincecum is starting.  He worked with his Dad on his mechanics all winter and, as usual, sometimes he has them, and sometimes he doesn’t.  This is a contract year for Timmy and he wants to go into his next uniform (probably as a Mariner) wrapped in glory.  We are all counting on him doing exactly that.

As for the bullpen, the G-Men have the best and most experienced pen in the game. Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, Lopez, now joined by Machi, Vogelsong and Petit are an experienced and awesome crew.

The Intangibles

Bruce Bochy, Ron Wotus, Dave Righetti, Billy Hayes. Roberto Kelly and Brian Sabean (not necessarily in that order).  Tim Flannery retired and there has a little shifting of responsibilities, but not much.  This is a tested group of coaches led by the best manager and the best General Manager in the game.  This is one of the main reasons why the Giants win, and why the G-Men are going back to the playoffs in September (you heard it here first J).

The Division

The NL West may be the toughest division in baseball this year. The scribes generally pick the G-Men to finish third at .500, with the Dodgers first and the Padres second. The Snakes and the Rockies have their strengths but obvious weaknesses (pitching in the case of both teams).

The Padres are loaded (they got power up the yin-yang with Matt Kemp, Maybin, Quentin, and Upton in the outfield and a solid infield) and then they picked up James Shields to bookend Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy (always a Giants killer).  I think that if the G-Men don’t take the division the Padres have a real shot. They are the real deal.

The Dodgers are once again the best team that money can buy with Kershaw as the face of the franchise, followed by Puig (he of the infinite mustard). They picked up Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, Adrian Gonzales is one of the best and Andre Ethier (now free from the shadow of Kemp) is hitting the stuffing out of the ball.  Their new centerfielder (Joc Pederson – very LA, three letter first name, sounds like he should be playing for a prep school or someplace like USC) looks like he may in fact be the second coming of Mike Trout, as advertised.  The only question marks on the Dodgers are the pitching. Ryu is on the DL, Kenley Jansen hurt himself and after Kershaw there isn’t a lot to talk about.

26 of the first 30 games (and the first 23) are against division rivals so we will know pretty quickly how the Giants stack up against the real opposition. The key to the division might be in the first series in Arizona,  If the Giants can handle the Snakes, then they get confidence going into the first home opening series against the Rockies and the Snakes, followed by the Dodgers.

Meanwhile, the last two exhibition games against the A’s (who are looking VERY good) loom large as a test, starting tomorrow.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

 

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