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

 

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 v. Padres, Giants v. Marlins

Greetings to all of our friends who love the two-time World Champion SF Giants! The G-Men are now 35 and 31, 1.5 games back in 2nd place

It’s a time of year during which we are still trying to figure out this team.  Yes the Giants are playing .530 ball (below the .570 they need to assure taking the division) but the entire NL West is struggling. Being a game and half back at this time of year is not a cause for serious concern or panic.  We won’t have a good handle on this division until the All-Star break at the earliest, and maybe not even then. One day it’s a struggle and the Giants are being shut out and the next day they are blowing out the best team in baseball.  All we can do is watch and hope that there are no more injuries.

The Pirates series was a microcosm of the season.  Two bad losses (one with 20 runs scored in the game by both teams) and then a 10-0 blow out before heading out to Atlanta.  If the Giants win today they will finish this particular road trip at .500 or above; that’s pretty sweet against the teams they have played (2 out of 3 from the Snakes, 1 of 3 from the Pirates and so far 1 and 0 from the Braves).

The Positives

The offense is the best that we’ve seen from the Giants since the early 2001 and 2002 teams of Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds.  They are toggling between the best and second best batting average and the most runs scored in the NL.  That hasn’t even been affected by the rash of injuries (see below), which is awesome.  The defense is tightening up (we may have the 4 best defensive fielders in baseball, between Torres, Blanco, Pence and now Perez – they cover a lot of ground) and Brandon Crawford is beginning to look like a lock as an All-Star shortstop (besides hitting at a current .294 clip with power). Buster Posey is once again looking like the league MVP, batting .313 with 8 dingers (and yesterday’s three doubles) and looking like Carleton Fisk behind the plate. Hunter Pence has played in every game, is batting .299 and has 11 home runs. These guys are for real.

On the pitching side Cain and Bumgarner have righted the ship and have had back to back shut out games (against the Pirates and the Braves) and we haven’t seen much of Romo because the G-Men have either been so far ahead, or so far behind, that he hasn’t been needed. Gaudin is pitching today against the Braves, and so far he is solid as he has been in his first two starts since taking over for Vogelsong after he went on the DL with a broken hand. There has been a lot of movement up and down from Fresno and it’s been effective; Perez for Pagan, Abreu for Scutaro and a succession of catchers. On the good news side Casilla is looking he might be back next week. He’s needed with Kontos being ineffective and being sent down to Fresno. On top of that when Kontos does come up he has to serve a 3 game suspension for plunking Andrew McCutcheon in the Pirates series.

Can something be both a positive and a negative?  Case in point is Barry Zito, with a 1.78 ERA at home and a 10.94 ERA on the road.  It’s too bad that it can’t be arranged so that Zito only pitches at AT&T.

The Negatives

The injuries that are piling up. Scutaro and Vogelsong out with hand injuries, Pagan with a hamstring that won’t heal and the Panda (overweight by 70 pounds) with a bad foot. Pablo is due back for the Padres series and Scutaro might also be back. Pagan remains a question mark.

We are all wondering if Scutaro will pull a Ronnie Lott and just cut off his little finger that has a bad tendon (it’s called mallet finger – Lott had the same thing before the 1985 playoffs and just cut off his finger so he could continue to play).

The Giants are rumored to be in the market for a starting pitcher because they need Gaudin in the bullpen, and Lincecum continues to be ineffective (and might be demoted to the bullpen himself). Leading the pack of speculation is Bud Norris from the Astros, Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins and Mark Buehrle from the Blue Jays. The G-Men don’t want a rental and each of those three guys are under control of their club for at least the next two years.

The Series to come

The Padres are in 4th place and with the injuries to the Rockies (Tulowitski being on the DL with a broken rib being the worst – he’s out for six weeks at least) they are expected to move up and challenge the Giants.  The Padres are 33 and 34, 2 and half games behind the G-Men so this series could very much result in a major NL West shift. The Friars have historically owned the Giants. This will be an important set of games.

The Marlins, on the other hand, are in last place in the NL East 18 and half games out.  If Nolasco is pitching watch to see how well he does at AT&T.  This will be a tryout. Can the G-Men take the Marlins?  Don’t be too sure.  The Giants have a bad history against last place teams (look at what happened against the Blue Jays in Toronto – they got pounded and then got pounded again at home).

Giants v. Phillies; Giants v. Braves

Greetings to all of our friends who love the two-time World Champion SF Giants! The G-Men are now 16 and 12 and having a weird year so far

Let’s start this blog off on a philosophical note.  There are a 162 games in a season and you can’t win every one.  If the G-Men finish with 92 wins they are an almost certain lock to win the NL West (they are now in 2nd place behind the torrid Rockies) or to get into the playoffs. 92 wins translates to a .567 season long wins versus losses ratio.  The Gigantes are currently winning at a .571 clip.  They are where they need to be so undue worry isn’t justified.

April has been weird. For example, the G-Men have already been involved in 5 series where there were sweeps.  The Giants won three of them (Rockies, Padres and Diamondbacks) and lost two (Brewers and Padres).  In addition, it seems like a majority of the games that they have won have been come from behind victories after the starters got pounded. Lots of late inning heroics (like Belt’s three run homer in the 8th inning against the Snakes on Wednesday night in AZ).

So, let’s see what May will bring us, besides flowers and margaritas.

The Positives

Come from behind victories are a sign of character in a ball club; that means they never give up and they have confidence in themselves.  The G-Men have character to spare.  The fact Zito is still leading the team in batting average shows that.

In terms of players, Brandon Crawford (who has started every game but has cooled off at the plate) is making people forget all previous Giants shortstops (except maybe Omar and Richie). He is awesome, seldom makes errors and has shown enormous extra base power (tied with Pence with 5 homers, wow!).  Nick Noonan is a total gamer.  Who would have known?  He is batting something like .310 and will soon be pushing Scutaro for a starting job. He has already pushed Arias out of his usual late inning role.

Belt went into a slump but came out of it in a big way with game winning homers and hits.  It seems that the flu that caused him to lose 20 pounds in April and lose his stroke may have run its course.

Buster is picking up the pace after a totally flat April (he’s up to .267) and the Panda (4) and Pence (5) are blasting homers and generally looking like we expected them to look (fearsome at the plate with power to spare; the 470 foot Pence home run in Arizona was pretty awesome).

The Negatives

The starting pitchers are getting hammered.  They all (except Bumgarner, who is now the stopper) keep giving up big innings.  If someone had told me in March that Cain would have a 6.8 ERA and no wins in April I would have said they were crazy. Vogelsong is not far behind Cain, and Timmy is also over 4.  Zito (who is pitching tonight against Kershaw) has had a couple of meltdowns but is generally pitching well with 3 wins so far.

One of the really strange things is that the hitters the starters are not getting out seem to be the opposing teams 8th and 9th place batters. Opposing team pitchers are feasting on Giants pitching (first career home runs and the like).  That is a sign of a loss of concentration.

The bullpen (especially Romo, who has 11 saves already) is steady with Kontos and Gaudin being the best long guys.  The question now is what will happen when Affeldt gets off the DL (hopefully soon). Machi has been a revelation (he was brought up when Affeldt went down) and it will be hard to send him down again.  The problem is that he is a right hander.  The G-Men also seem to have a plethora of good young pitchers in the minors so if someone isn’t cutting it (do you hear footsteps Javier Lopez?) there are alternatives in Fresno.

On the defensive side of things there have been some brain fart type of errors (especially in the outfield) that have cost games.  Blanco and Pagan (both batting well above .280) both allowed the same guy to advance to 2nd in two different games and in both he scored what turned out to be the winning run. Hopefully the coaches are working on this.

The Series to come

The Dodgers are 2 and half games back of the G-Men but hitting better as a team (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzales and Matt Kemp are total studs).  The Dodgers problems have been injuries, pitchers and head cases (mostly pitchers but I put Hanley Ramirez in the head case category).  Tonight Kershaw goes against Zito.  This weekend will be a good test of the G-Men sucking up April and starting to play more consistent ball.

The Phillies are in 3rd place in the NL East and basically playing .500 ball right now. Their big hitters are Michael Young and Chase Utley.  They have Kevin Frandson (remember him?) at third base. They also have some struggling starters (Halliday with an ERA of almost 7?) so the series should be very interesting. The Giants have a real chance here to make up some ground in the standings if they can hit the Phillies starters hard.

The challenge is going to be the Braves.  The tomahawk team is seriously hot right now. They are 17 and 11 and leading the NL East.  They are the team to beat.  Their big boppers are Justin Upton (traded from the Snakes because he was a head case) and Brian Johnson, the best catcher in the game not named Buster Posey. Their pitching has been great (most of their starters are hovering in the 3 ERA range) and the pitchers can hit (Tim Hudson has the best BA on the team – he and Zito were once teammates – maybe it was in the water in Oakland). If the Giants can take this four game series (or even split) they will have established themselves as the team to beat.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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  71. Illinois Finally Offers Certainty and Relief for Victims of Sales Tax Lawsuits, but Prompt Action is Required in Pending Cases
  72. A Modest Proposal – Adopt the federal rule on Tied-House liability in California
  73. The Grapes Escaped - Why the First Amendment Matters
  74. Appellate Court Ruling Strikes Blow Against State’s Arbitrary Beer Label Ban
  75. Illinois Attorney General's Office Announces Intention to Dismiss False Claims Act Against Liquor Retailers
  76. Commercial Speech And Alcoholic Beverages - Part III
  77. Commercial Speech And Alcoholic Beverages - Part II
  78. Craft Beverages: Social Media Marketing the Effective and Compliant Way
  79. Commercial Speech And Alcoholic Beverages - Part I
  80. A LAYPERSON LOOKS AT ARSENIC IN WINE
  81. The Biggest Retailer in the World vs. the TABC
  82. Rebecca Stamey-White presents Emerging Issues in Wine Law
  83. Top Beverage Alcohol Law Firm Adds and Elevates Partners
  84. Illinois Qui Tam Lawsuits—Private Enforcement Of a State Claim: A Bonanza For A Plaintiff’s Lawyer And A Rip-Off Of Retailers
  85. BOOZE RULES OF SOCIAL MEDIA: The Retailer Right to Pay Exception
  86. LIONS AND TIGERS AND TWEETS, OH MY!
  87. AB 2004: Brewer's Incremental Parity with Wine Makers
  88. Expanding, Proud Of It, and Wanting to Tell the World
  89. DC Weighs in Strongly on Third Party Marketer Delivery Services
  90. “Visual Links” between Beer, Wine and Spirits Labels and Retailers Ruled Unlawful in California — the tied house laws run amok
  91. Hard Cider Legislative Update
  92. New Marketing Model for New York – Lot 18 and the NYSLA
  93. Sweeping Changes in Proposed NYSLA Bill Include Expansion for Craft
  94. Minimum Resale Price Policies - How to Control Price-Cutters
  95. AB 2130 – Gloves Off?
  96. “Gluten-Free” Labels for Wine, Beer and Distilled Spirits. We’re Still Waiting.
  97. AB 1252: Sanitation Overkill?
  98. Growlers: Not Just for Beer Anymore
  99. California Legislative Roundup 2014
  100. Build It and They Will Come: Craft Products Get New Privileges in CA and TX