Welcome to Czar's Blog #8 of 2018 | It's August - are you ready for some baseball?

There are two months left in the season, and the beginning of August schedule is brutal – do the G-Men have a shot if they can survive this period?

The Giants continue to play .500 ball.  They are 56 and 54 (4th place, 5 games out) as this post goes out. Right now the 4 game winning streak looks good but then again three of those games were a sweep of the bottom dwelling Padres after losing 3 out of 4 to the very hot Brewers.  The current series against the Snakes is huge and Bum came up big last night in an 8-1 victory. 

Starting Monday the 1st place AL West Astros come into AT&T, and then the 3rd place NL Central Pirates (with an almost identical record to the Giants), and then a series on the road against the 1st place Dodgers, and their new lineup. If the Giants come out of the next 13 games with a record better than .500 we can think there is actually a chance of a late August, early September, run.

One wonderful thing about baseball is that, as Yogi famously said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” And folks, it is not over yet.  Our job as fans is to go to the games, cheer for the orange and black and encourage them to victory.  The Giants also have 5 more games at home than on the road in September.  That should be an advantage.  I intend to be there for every game I can get to; if for no other reason than to feast on crab sandwiches, and suck down Betty Sue’s infamous late inning Irish coffees.

If the Giants tank the next three weeks we can talk about emptying the River Cats bench to see what the future looks like.

Can the Giants overcome the loss of Cueto and the Panda?

Cueto is out until mid-2019 with Tommy John.  It was apparent in his three starts since his rehab that his arm was off.  The big loss is Panda.  His hamstring tear is an ugly injury and he will be missed.  He was the best back-up infielder (including at catcher), the best Giants pitcher (lowest ERA 0.0) this year and a clutch pinch-hitter. This makes Belt’s return imperative; especially considering that Posey just left the Snakes game with concussion symptoms after taking a wicked shot off his mask.

So, bottom line, Cueto will be missed but the pieces are there to pick up the slack; especially with the young pitchers (Rodriguez and Suarez) backing Bum and Holland. Panda is not replaceable. However, anymore starter losses and we are in trouble.

I predicted that the Giants would stand pat, and they did – what does that mean?

 See Czar’s blog #7 for details of the prediction.

It means that the young guys get to play for the next two months, we will see a constant shuttle between the AT&T and Raley’s field in Sacramento. There was no one player out there worth emptying the minor league system (even if the G-Men wanted to do that, and to blow the luxury tax threshold).

The bullpen is good (Ray Black is the real thing) and getting better, we may have a chastised Strickland back within a week or two and the G-Men have one of the best ERA’s in baseball.  On the hitting front we are in the top ten in dingers and this team can score runs; they just must do it in clutch situations.

Standing pat was the right thing to do.  Let’s play the hand we have and try not to draw to an inside straight.

The upcoming Series against the Astros and the Pirates, 2 of the best teams in baseball – will these two series tell the tale?

These two series are important, and are against dangerous teams.  This is a test and every Giants fan will be watching closely.  The G-Men must win at home to have a shot.  Now is the time.

That’s it!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Atlanta & the Pirates - the NL East and NL Central is in Town

Welcome to the 5th Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants!  The rules are below. 

 

 

It was the worst of times, and now it is the best of times

 

It’s now hard to recall the month of April, when the G-Men were in last place in the NL West. On April 17th the Giants were 4 and 17 and had lost 5 straight at home.  Since April 18th the boys have been 23 and 11 and are now one game back in the NL West behind the Dodgers, who have cooled off from their torrid start. 

Put another way, a quarter way into the season, if the playoffs were to start tomorrow the G-Men would be the wild card (and how scary would that be to the rest of baseball?)

Why the turnaround?  Well, for one thing, the team is leading the NL in batting average, and is in the top 5 in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.  The situational hitting is awesome and they are batting .307 with runners in scoring position. Crawford alone is batting .444 with RISP and the entire starting infield is batting at or around .300. On the pitching side the starters for the last 34 games have an ERA under 4 and Bum’s ERA is 1.80 over his last four starts.

The numbers however don’t really tell the story.

What does is the precision with which the team is playing since mid-April. The G-Men now look like a fine-tuned machine hitting on all cylinders (as versus a minor league team trying to find their way).  The Giants are like a Ferrari playing against muscle cars. Bochy and Wotus (his defensive adjustments are genius)  putting players in and out, adjusting the line-up for the best match-ups, using the bullpen at exactly the right time and keeping the players fresh are playing baseball like they are conducting the SF Symphony Orchestra. What a joy to watch.

Getting Hunter Pence back didn’t hurt one bit either.  He is an essential piece and his hitting and presence are clearly major contributing factors to the May run.

The problem with being a Ferrari in a field of Dodge Chargers though is that it’s awfully easy to get out of tune.  Regardless, the personnel changes cannot be faulted.  McGehee is now at Sacramento and Duffy is starting at third (making the entire infield home-grown Giants players – Posey, Belt, Panik, Crawford and Duffy – I don’t think that there is another MLB team that can say that). That’s a testament to the front office, Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans

It is really unfortunate that there wasn’t room for ishikawa (who came off the DL this week) but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for him to be parked at Sacramento for a call-up when needed. 

More personnel changes are clearly also in the works. Matt Cain will soon come off the DL and someone will have to be moved. Who will it be?  Right now all the starters are playing well, including Vogelsong. Strickland came up and is pitching lights out in the 7th and fits smoothly into the relief core. Maybe Strickland goes down because he has options, or maybe Machi (the least effective of the relievers) goes down.  Peavy is in rehab starts at San Jose and is getting shelled.  He might be done.

 

Can this pace be sustained?

 

Traditionally the Giants have loved May and hated June.  The month to come is really significant. Right  now the Giants are on a pace for a 110 win season. If they can keep it up that would be in the territory of the 1927 Yankees (who finished 110-44).  I don’t think that we are in that league (certainly not from a HR perspective – that team had Gehrig and Ruth) but again the Ferrari versus muscle car metaphor is a good one. In June the long grind begins.

Looking back at the last month of baseball (not to mention the last road trip) the G-Men swept the Angels and the Dodgers at home (the LA sweep was truly sweet – not just a sweep but a three game shutout) and the Brewers on the road.

There is no hotter team in baseball right now than the Giants and in every series from now on the target will be on their backs.  That is how it should be for the world champions.

I watch every game in awe. Bochy is the master at keeping an even keel and almost all of his moves are working right now.  When the biggest open question is how many of your starters are going to make the All-Star team (Crawford, Posey and Bumgarner for sure) you are having a pretty good time. 

The bottom line is that it’s time for the manager and the coaches to keep the team on an even keel and playing at this level.  We are one game behind the Dodgers and headed upward.  The Dodgers are still living off their torrid start in April. We could pull into first place over the next seven games at home.  That would be sweet.

 

The Upcoming Series against the Braves and the Pirates

 

The Braves are playing .500 ball and are holding strong in 3rd place in the NL East.  They just beat the Dodgers at home (but lost the series) and are coming into AT&T with something to prove. So far Atlanta has been steady, sweeping the weak teams (the Marlins and the Brewers), playing well against the teams out of their division and losing to the Nationals and the Mets.  This four game series will be a test for the Giants playing at home. The G-Men are the stronger team on paper but the Braves are solid and have always played well against the Giants.

After the Braves are the Pirates, who are in third place in the NL Central (2 games over .500), which is a dog fight all of its own.  The Pirates are holding their own (barely) against the Cardinals and beating up on Miami and the Mets (who are leading the NL East).  The Pirates are a good team and will be a test for the Giants pitching staff,

These are two good teams and the next week of baseball at China basin will be a lot of fun.

It’s time for baseball!

 

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

The Czar

Giants v. Pirates

The G-Men are almost officially out of the race  

This is one of the worst seasons of Giants baseball that I recall. The G-Men are 18 games out of first place and seem to be mailing it in. Right now and through September the reason to be going to the games is to see the line-up shifts and to watch the young guys.

 

The Positives

 

There are a few good signs. Roger Kieschnick is one.  He looks good but he’s young. Brandon Belt’s power numbers are another. Pence is still playing every game and playing hard. Sandoval is losing weight, Scutaro is professionalism personified, Crawford is performing beyond expectations and Hector Sanchez (since coming back up from the DL) is looking good behind the dish and Vogelsong is looking good coming back from his broken hand.

 

The Negatives

 

The G-Men simply cannot hit with runners in scoring position (inning opening triples and stranding the runners in successive innings?). The outfield needs Pagan, badly. Blanco and Torres may be good guys off the bench but they are not front line starters. There are too many errors and too much sloppy play. Why?  Same players that won the world series and same coaches and management. Maybe it is fatigue from the extended season and the tension of last year, and the WBC.

 

What Can the Giants do?  Is there any hope?

 

Realistically, there is no hope. The Giants are now in the spoilers role beginning with the series against the Pirates that starts today. The surprising Pirates (led by Andrew McCutchen with a .319 BA and shot at MVP) are in first place one game ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Central.  For the G-Men the games will feature line-up experiments and young folks (like Brent Pill in Left Field) before the September call-ups.

Giants v Pirates and Phillies

I delayed this blog because I have been trying to figure out this team.  I was right about Hector Sanchez making the team as the catcher and Whiteside returning to Fresno to teach the youngsters. I was also right that the Giants hitting would improve substantially and that the Snakes were the team to beat in the NL West.  See the last blog (attached for the personnel breakdown, which I think is pretty accurate). What I didn’t figure on was the Giants strength (the pitching) being pounded on like a donkey piñata at a five-year-old’s birthday party. I don’t recall when I’ve ever seen the G-Men score not less than four runs for six straight games and then go and lose four of those games.  The sweep by the Snakes was bad enough but they totally lit up LIncecum, Bumgarner and Cain. Three one-run losses in a row. We are used to one-run losses, just not after scoring 4 or more runs.

Then on to Colorado and Zito – of all people – throws a complete game shutout.  That was surrealistic (literally, remember the acid era, I almost expected to hear Grace Slick singing in the background instead of Tony Bennett).

That was followed yesterday by Lincecum having the shortest outing of his Cy Young career (2 and 1/3rd innings) during which he gave up six runs.  Then the G-Men got 7 back in the world’s worst 4th inning and then gave it up big time in the bottom of the inning, including 3 errors in one inning to lose 17-8. Every pitcher got shelled and the staff ERA must now be hovering somewhere around 15 runs apiece. Today Bumgarner righted the ship and pitched 7 and 1/3rd innings in a 4-2 game that Wilson actually TRIED to give away in the 9th (loading the bases and walking in a run?).

I listened to Larry Baer after the game and he gently pointed out that the season is now 3.7% percent over so there is plenty of time.  Now that is a glass half full statement if I ever heard one.

The positives: the G-Men are hitting the ball and are something like 2nd in the NL in hitting with men in scoring position and RBI’s.  Melky Cabrera is everything they said, and more (it’s starting to look like that trade for Jonathan Sanchez may have been one of Sabean’s best moves in a decade).  The Panda is awesome.  Posey (even with the shingles) is a truly great player. Schierholtz owns the Rockies (three home runs in 2 games?). Crawford is looking like the second coming of Omar Vizquel (or maybe Cal Ripken Jr.), is hitting and is making spectacular plays.

The questions: Belt is playing good defense but is once again lost at the plate. Pagan has got to be on the world’s shortest leash (batting below the Mendoza line, even with 2 hits today) and Gregor Blanco is waiting in the wings. What happened to Burris? I guess the real question is: when does Freddy Sanchez come back? Is it time for Huff to sit and let Belt and Pill play?  I say, to channel Timmy -  “F*** yeah.”

The negatives: The entire pitching staff, except for Zito and (today anyway) Bumgarner.  Even the relievers (mostly Wilson and Affleldt) looked lost and pathetic. I hope that getting home will make a difference but this is not the Giants pitching staff that I (or any other Giants fan) know.  This homestand will be a major test, starting tomorrow with Matt Cain and Saturday with Zito (was the shutout a fluke?).  Lincecum versus Hallliday on Monday night is the ultimate test.  Timmy looks lost on the mound and we know that he isn’t. Anyone who saw his face in the Rockies dugout knows how pissed he was. I don’t know what Rags is doing but I hope that it works.

The Division: I don’t believe that the Dodgers are leading the division with a 6-1 record and that the Snakes are right behind them at 5 and 2.  The G-Men are in third place at 2 and 4 (tied with CO) and the only reason they aren’t tied for last is because the Padres have played (and lost) one more game. After the first series I asked myself if the Giants were that bad or if the Snakes were that good.  My conclusion (until the Rockies series) was that the Snakes were that good.  It’s going to be a dogfight all year.  The Dodgers look good right now but so far they have gone 3 and 1 against the Padres and swept the Pirates, who come into AT&T this weekend. I still say that this season is going to come down to the G-Men and the Snakes and the May 28, 29th and 30th series against AZ at home is going to tell us a lot (the G-Men have now lost 8 in a row to the Snakes – I really dislike Kirk Gibson, he is arrogant, insufferable and an ex-Dodger, need I say more?).

The two series: The Bucs are coming into AT&T after being swept by the Dodgers but with the same 2 and 4 record as the G-Men.  They are not in a good mood.  They have a good team, led by centerfielder Andrew McCutcheon who is batting over .400, and they took 2 out of 3 from the Phillies in their opening series at home. The Phillies are 3 and 3 currently and Joe Blanton just beat the Miami Marlins. The Phillies are, well, the Phillies.  Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino (the flying Hawaiian) are hitting well and the pitching staff (Cliff Lee and Roy Halliday especially) are expected to take them to the playoffs.  This home series is not going to be easy, especially if the pitching doesn’t come back.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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