Giants v. Dodgers, Giants v. Reds

The Positives: Well, there is Cain’s perfect game for one!  The Gigantes are playing good ball.  The defense is getting better (less errors, more spectacular plays) with every game.  The outfield (all four players, Cabrera, Pagan, Blanco and Schierholtz who is getting regular time) is the best (and the fastest) that I can ever recall seeing. Crawford and Theriot are awesome up the middle of the infield and Brandon Belt’s glove has never been questioned. Posey and Sanchez are both quality receivers and with Arias backing up the Panda in the late innings the defense is stellar. On the hitting side Belt has apparently found his home run stroke (and his power bat) which is the next step in his development as the quality first baseman that we all believe he can be (isn’t confidence wonderful?).  Cabrera continues to stun with a .351 batting average and the team as a whole has probably raised its batting average by 15 percentage points over the last three weeks.  Buster is leading the team in dingers (something that we can finally talk about) and the speed on the base paths (more stolen bases to this point in the season than in the entire year last year) is really fun to watch.

From a pitching perspective you can’t get much better than Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong.  The new guy, Shane Loux, looks really good and it doesn’t get much better than Romo and Casilla (although Casilla giving up a bottom of the 9th 2 out, 3 and 2 count 3 run homer to a rookie on the A’s last night wasn’t entirely endearing).

Expect to see at least three Giants on the All-Star team (Cabrera, Posey and Cain) and maybe more. God knows that Blanco has been playing like an All-Star. Speaking of Blanco, his 7th inning catch that saved Cain’s perfect game reminded me of the great Mickey Mantle 7th inning catch (almost the same play) that saved Don Larson’s perfect game in the 1957 world series.

The Questions: The Panda is still not completely back and his weight is still an issue.  That’s why Arias is a late inning replacement. On the other side of the weight issue Timmy lost a lot of weight in the off-season and some are blaming his inconsistent performance (one inning great, the next horrible) on not having enough heft to get behind his pitches. On Timmy, will his talks with his original coach (his Dad, who he didn’t want to include in the “what’s wrong with Timmy” discussion) may make a difference? We will see. On the whole this team is jelling pretty well and we now know what we have.

The Negatives: Is the team good enough?  The Giants are probably the 4th best team in the NL at the moment but they have a disturbing habit of losing to good teams (like the Angels and the Marlins). The biggest problem is the two starts (Lincecum and Zito) whose games have become an adventure in wondering when they will flame out and allow a big inning.  Zito starts tonight against the Dodgers and we will see.

The Division: It’s now all about the Giants and the Dodgers. The teams are three games apart and this week will tell us a lot.  The Dodgers come into AT&T for the first time this year tonight. While this week is important the bigger test will be in September when almost all of the games are division games.  Right now the goal should be to keep things close.

The Series:  This is the test. First the Dodgers, who lead the NL West, and then Dusty Baker’s Reds, who lead the NL Central.  This series will establish how good the G-Men actually are.  This home series will tell us if the G-Men are for real.  I’m ready.

Giants 2012 Exhibition Baseball vs the A's

Needless to say we are all ready to “dive” into this season, so I started early - - right after the last season was over.

This exhibition homestand features the A's on Monday April 2nd at 7:15 and again on Wednesday April 4th at 12:45. The A’s have a fine young pitching staff, the new Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes in left and Coco Crisp in Centerfield. This is a weird series because the A’s will have already opened their season (in Japan; they play two real games against the Mariners this week but then come home for another exhibition series.  I don’t know how that is going to work (do they get to add new players for the Exhibition?).  For the Giants, these two games will determine who starts the season and who goes to Fresno. I’d be there except that I have to be in Vegas with the wholesalers next week.

Last year I predicted a Giants division victory.  I hadn’t counted on Posey going down in May and Freddy Sanchez going down in June, or that the Giants would stop hitting completely (even with Carlos Beltran). Of course the lowest batting average of all major league teams, the lowest percentage of hits with runners in scoring position, the fewest home runs, the fewest runs scored and the fewest RBI’s probably played a part.

My end of the year predictions were that Burrell and DeRosa would retire and that Torres, Ross and Whiteside would be gone.  I was right about Burrell, Torres and Ross and the jury is still out on Whiteside (I still think that he’s going back to the minors to continue his Crash Davis gig).  I predicted that Huff will be on the bench for much of this coming season and, given what Brent Pill and the Giraffe (Belt) are showing in spring training I am holding to that prediction.

This year the G-Men are once again clearly the class of the division from a pitching perspective what with Timmy on fire, Cain being Cain (Mr. Steady) and Bumgarner just plain looking and pitching like a stud.  Zito got married in the off-season and maybe that will help him keep his pitches down (It hasn’t so far but he is doing a serviceable job). Vogelsong was the unexpected star of the pitching staff last year (and the Willie Mac award winner) but is having a hard spring getting over oblique strains.  The big question is whether he will be ready to start or will be on the DL at the opening of the season. If Vogelsong doesn’t start then Eric Surkamp is next in line (although he got shelled yesterday). However possibly the most important event of the spring would be the signing of Matt Cain to a long term (five years is the rumor) contract for right south of $95 million.  Cain deserves it and the Giants have the money.

The relievers are super. Wilson looks like he is back to his old self (spending most of his time talking about working on his arm slot), Romo is simply the best set up man in the league, Javier Lopez is a winner (and a very cool guy) and the rest of the bullpen is back almost intact, including Affeldt, who will probably never try to make his own hamburger ever again.

Let’s do a straw pool: is it time for the beard to go?

The position players are where Bochy is going to be challenged.  It’s rare for the Giants to have so much potentially good hitting, and nowhere to put them all. Angel Pagan (left field) came over from the Mets and Melky Cabrera (center field, is it a major league rule that a guy named Cabrera has to be on every team?) came over from the Royals in the trade for Jonathan Sanchez - - end of an era there .  Both Melky and Angel are quality players, with speed and good defense (although Pagan isn’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball in Spring Training). However this is the year that the G-Men attempt to go to a speed game, and those two can do it. They already have more stolen bases in the spring than the G-Men had almost all last year.

The biggest news in spring training is a young man (28, not really that young in baseball years) named Gregor Blanco, who has been in baseball for several years but has been injured.  He was the MVP of the Venezuelan League this winter, is batting something like .430 with power, may be the fastest man on the team and is playing great defense. He will be pushing Schierholtz in right field (who will probably start, but nothing is for sure), and is almost a lock to make the team.

The real story, however, is the infield. The Panda is set at third (although his hitting hasn’t been exactly off the charts, his weight is where the team wants and he looks, well, Panda like).

Crawford is set at short (he has been hitting much better this spring but Bochy is going to slot him 8th to take the pressure off and would be ecstatic with a .250 season).

Second base looks like Burriss is finally going to get his shot because he has been playing and hitting great.  Freddy Sanchez is most likely going to open the season on the DL but is getting very close. Rumor has it that Fontenot and Theriot (who came over in the off-season from the Cardinals) are on the trading block but both are late season injury insurance unless they get traded.  Both are utility infielders. Remember that the Giants let Jeff Keppinger go in favor of keeping Fontenot (because Fontenot has better defense) so if Mike is released that will be the last act in the trade last year of two of the Giant’s best young pitchers (Henry Souza was one) that got Keppinger from the Astro’s..

First base is really crowded. Huff is starting off on his usual contract season run, playing good.  He  says that he’s doing Pilates again.  But the real story is Brent Pill and Brandon Belt. Both are really good defensive first baseman, both can back up in the outfield and both probably can’t make the team (unless Sabean works some magic). The question is who gets sent down. Most observers believe that it will be Belt because Pill is a right handed bat off the bench, which the Giants really need, and Pill is actually older than Belt.

Now we come to the real question: who is the back-up catcher?  Posey is the starter and he looks like he is back from his injury last year (remember my Carleton Fisk analogy, I hold to it). Bochy says that Posey will also get starts at first so the back-up will play.  Right now Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside and Hector Sanchez are competing for the job.  As usual, Whiteside and Stewart are batting around the Mendoza line but Sanchez (who is young) is hitting over .300.  My money is on the rookie Sanchez starting the season out as the back-up catcher.  He has nothing to learn in Fresno and the G-Men need his bat.

The rest of the division has a lot of question marks. The Dodgers are for sale and continue to be involved in the McCort divorce and they have dumped a lot of payroll (although resigning Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw were really good moves). They are picked to finish fourth in the division because of all the drama, and a real pitching fall off after Kershaw.

The Rockies are looking good from a hitting perspective (as always) and Tulowitski is back (this year with Scutero) so the defense will be solid, but have shaky starting pitching. Colorado is picked to finish third in the division. The Padres have good young pitching, good defense and nothing to lose. However I still think that they are going to finish last in the NL West.  Remember that the Padres have historically owned the Giants and let’s see if this year is any different.

The real story is the Snakes, who won the division last year.  They have Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Paul Goldsmith, Kirk Gibson as manager (I’ve always disliked Gibson, ever since he was a Dodger, he’s a hot dog but he does motivate players – at least he’s not Steve Garvey or Steve Sax) and a lot of hitting.  The Snakes are the favorites to win the division so every game against Arizona all year will be like a playoff game against the Dodgers.

Keep in mind that this is the year of the new playoff rule, where there are two wild card teams in each league who will play a one-game sudden death playoff at the end of the season. The G-Men, who are picked to finish second in the division, are one of the few teams with enough starting pitching to get though that kind of playoff scenario.

Every game this year should be like a playoff game and the G-men have now sold ALL available season tickets so getting into the park will be a challenge.

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

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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