Giants v. Padres; Giants v. Diamondbacks

The G-Men after 15 or so games It’s very early in the season but never too early to start worrying. The G-Men came out of the gate pretty well (they have won every series until the last one) and are currently 9 and 7, but are third in the NL West after being swept by the Brewers in Milwaukee over the last three days. The hot team right now is the Rockies (they are supposedly no pitching but great hitting – however they have had both great pitching and good hitting so far and they are pounding every team they are playing). The Diamondbacks are second in the NL West at 8 and 6 and the Dodgers and the Padres are both below .500.

The G-Men have had problems on the mound and at the plate.  Currently the hitter with the best batting average on the team is Barry Zito, which says something (I’m not sure exactly what).  Buster is at .213 and can’t find his stroke, Belt got the flu early in the season, lost weight and still can’t seem to get untracked (hitting .170?)  The highlight reel guys are Brandon Crawford (who really is looking like the reincarnation of Cal Ripken Jr. and is batting .352) and, of course, Hunter Pence. Who would have believed that Pence would have already had 4 dingers and Crawford 3.

The solid players are the Panda, Scutero, Pagan and the new guy (Nick Noonan) who is really turning heads (although his shortstop range needs work).  The good news is that there have been comeback wins, the team is grinding and they are over .500.

The bad news is that the starting pitchers are looking vulnerable (except Bumgarner , who has a 1.77 ERA and is the star of the staff). Who would have believed that Matt Cain would have a 7.15 ERA after 5 starts (and no victories), that Barry Zito would have a 4.86 ERA and 2 wins (the ERA is mostly due to a REALLY bad inning in Milwaukee, almost matching Cain’s REALLY bad inning in the Cubs game last week).  Vogelsong isn’t doing much better with a 5.89 ERA.

The bullpen has been pretty solid; only one blown save by Romo and the only real injury so far is Affeldt (strained oblique) who is on the DL.  Affeldt’s injury did affect the bullpen rotation, which may have cost the game yesterday (although Zito’s giving up 7 runs in the second inning didn’t help matters much).

This home series against two NL West teams should be a real test.  The Padres are last in the NL West and are a classic “rebuilding team” but they are dangerous. I don’t know when Chase Headley is due off the DL but when he comes back the Padres offense gets dangerous again.  Also, the Padres staff ERA, it should be pointed out, is lower than the Giants.  Can the G-Men use a series at home against the Padres to right the ship?  We will see.

BTW: it was kind of interesting to see the Dodgers and the Padres mix it up last weekend and both lost players, which has hurt the Dodgers more than the Padres. Carlos Quentin was suspended for something like 6 games but the Dodgers Greinke is out for who knows how long with a shoulder injury from trying to match tackles with a hitter (who he plunked) that outweighed him by about 50 pounds (not smart).  Also, the Padres are riding a three game win streak including a victory against Clayton Kershaw and a sweep of the Dodgers.

The D’backs, on the other hand, are busy beating up the AL East at the moment (playing the Yankees, and winning).  Led by our old friend Cody Ross and Paul Goldschmidt, the Snakes have SIX regulars batting over .300 and a pitching staff ERA somewhere around 3.  There is a reason they are in second place with an 8 and 6 record. Arizona is for real and we will see them starting on Monday night.

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.  On that note there is extra security this weekend at AT&T so if you get to the tickets, get to the game early.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Giants v. Cardinals (National League Championship Series)

The Series: The G-Men are playing the 2011 World Champion Cardinals, who got in (like they did in 2011) via the wild card. This is going to be a hard fought NLCS.  The Giants are the home team based on winning the division (and a better record) but the G-Men split the season series with the Cardinals 3-3, with a 1-1 split in SF and a 2-2 split in St. Louis.  The Cardinals (team BA of .271 and Team ERA of  3.71 are as close to the Giants (team BA of .269 and Team ERA of 3.68) as you can get. The Cards have more HR’s (159 to the Giants 103) but less stolen bases (G-men 118 versus Cards 91). Can you say evenly matched?

The question will be momentum and desire. The G-Men are coming off the most emotional comeback in the history of the NLDS, three games down on the road in Cincinnati and winning all three.  The Cards came back from 2 runs down in the 9th inning of game 5 to knock out the Nationals (BTW: glad to see it, teaches the Nationals to shut down Strasberg for the playoffs, what horseshit was that?).  Will this series go the distance?  Hard to say but based on the statistics it looks like a 7 game series to me.

On the Cardinals side look out for Carlos Beltran (simple awesome, we should have kept him), Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, David Freese, Descalso (perhaps the MVP of the Cardinals NLDS series) and Matt Holliday. Kozma, the new shortstop replacing Furcal, is a pistol and was batting .383 after one month in the majors. He is hot people. Finally, ignore Yadier Molina at your peril.  He might be the best catcher in baseball short of Buster. Pitching might be a weakness. But Lohse (16 wins and a 2.86 ERA), Wainwright (14 wins and a 3.94 ERA – he can be had BTW), Lynn (18 wins and a 3.78 ERA and a revitalized Chris Carpenter (just back from surgery) are going to be tough. The closer for the Cardinals (Motte) has 42 saves and is one of the save leaders of the NL.

The Positives:   Buster Posey. Period. Buster is best player in baseball right now (.338 BA, .408 OBA, 24 dingers, and 103 RBI’s) and the for sure MVP (and the Willie Mac award winner and maybe the comeback player of the year after the injury in 2011) and without him we are ten games back and not in the playoffs at all. That Grand Slam run in Game 5 in Cincinnati was chilling.  I thought that I was watching Robert Redford in the Natural hit the lights with Lightening boy.

Behind Buster (in all ways, including in the batting order) is the Reverend Hunter Pence, who is the emotional heart of the team after his magic in Cincinnati to rally the troops with his intensity.  He also plays a dynamite right field. For the first time I don’t miss Nate’s arm out there. The Gigantes are a veteran team (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutero, Xavier Nady) with a deep and skilled bench (Arias, Sanchez, Ryan Theriot, Aubrey Huff as a pinch hitter) and a strong bullpen (Casilla, Romo, Kontos, Affeldt and Lopez) and quality pitching (more about that below).

I talked about the Brandon’s (Belt and Crawford) in the last blog but I can’t say enough about these young men. Anyone who saw the picture of Crawford hanging over the rail at Candlestick when he was five years old and looking totally focused knows that this guy bleeds orange and black.  They are going to be mainstays of the G-Men for years to come.  Crawford is a human highlight reel who plays the best defense at short we have seen at AT&T since Omar was here.   Belt is as good defensively at first as Crawford is at short, and Belt is a better hitter with more power (I think that he has both Giants splash hits this year, I was there for the last one) and is fearless, as anyone watching him go over the rail for a foul ball in game 1 of NLDS knows.  He has found his groove and can now turn on the inside fastball.  I expect that we will see Belt being seriously considered for the third spot in the batting order in a year or two. He is that good.

And don’t forget Bruce Bochy. Bochy has been masterful this year with position changes, double switches, using the bullpen carefully, keeping players rested and making the right moves at the right time (although I must admit I got a little concerned in Game 4 of the NLDS when we were down to one player on the bench and Romo had to bat for himself -  for the first time this year).

The Questions: Once again, the Panda and the starting pitchers.  Pablo is overweight and looking tired. He swings at balls three feet off the plate (but occasionally connects for a ripping home run, like the one that went into the river in Cincinnati). His defense is OK but Arias is better and Pablo does have brain farts now and then. The starting pitchers are all gassed. You can see it. Now the goal is to get six innings out of the pitchers and turn to the bullpen. Putting Lincecum in the pen to relieve Zito worked like a charm but I expect that Timmy will get a start in the NCLS and Zito will be on the bench. Will they be revitalized for the NLCS?  I certainly hope so and expect so.

We are going to see Bumgarner and Vogelsong in the first two games. Bumgarner needs to focus (he is young but is growing up quickly and, hopefully, his recrd of pitching well at home will continue) and this is Vogelsong’s time – he has lived his entire life for this moment.

The Negatives:  There are very few. Panda’s weight, fatigue in the bullpen (is Affeldt’s finger OK?) and Mota.  LEAVE MOTA OFF THE ROSTER!  He may have cost us the first two games at home in the losses to the Reds and I shudder every time I see him come out of the bullpen.  Watching two losing games at home (including the 9-0 loss to the Reds) was gut wrenching.  Is AT&T a negative? The G-men seem to play better on the road than at home but then again all 5 NLDS games were won by the road team.  Maybe they are just too tight.

Wear Orange and Black. Bleed Orange.

Remember the Torture!

GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Giants v. Diamondbacks, Giants v. LA

The Positives:  The Giants are playing good solid ball. August has been a very good month (unlike last August) and it seems like every day brings someone else contributing a solid play, a key hit or (from the pitchers) getting a key out.  The team is displaying good balance and Bruce Bochy is managing every game like it’s the playoffs. Of course being 4 and half games in front of the Dodgers and 8 and half games in front of the Snakes is pretty nice also.  The heart of the team is Buster Posey, who has to be the MVP this year. Hunter Pence hasn’t been hitting like he should but he is nonetheless an energetic player who plays good defense (we don’t miss Nate’s arm in right field).  The Panda is still in a slump but is hitting just enough. Angel Pagan has been hotter than a pistol (as I’m writing this he just hit a triple in the game against the Cubs and then scored). Marco Scutero has been hitting over .350 since he came over from the Rockies, Joaquin Arias is hitting home runs like he’s a clean-up hitter and Brandon Belt is starting to look like the hitter they always thought he could be (4 for 4 against the Astros day before yesterday).  On defense Crawford is just awesome, the “flip” play between him and the Panda in the Astros series has to be one of the top defensive plays of the year. On the pitching side of things Cain, Vogelsong and Bumgarner are the heart of the rotation. Zito and Lincecum have been inconsistent but just good enough to get the game to the bullpen, which has been staunch.  Romo is the heart of the bullpen but everyone seems to be contributing.

The Questions: The G-Men brought up Xaiver Nady from Fresno today.  Nady was waived by the Snakes but he’s a Cal guy (GO BEARS!) and has always been a tough out. Is he the answer to the loss of Melky in left field?  Maybe. There is also talk of converting Arias (whose bat is hot) to left.  I like the idea of Scutero playing left myself, which would get Theriot back into the lineup.  I suspect that we will see a lot of interesting line up experiments over the next two weeks.

The Negatives:  The closer situation is the biggest negative. There is still no clear closer. Casilla’s blister seems to have gone away so he is pitching well again but he doesn’t seem to have the stomach for the job. This will be a problem when we get to the playoff’s unless someone else steps up.  The rosters expanded today so we will see today if there is another reliever who steps up (Penny is also back off the DL and Huff has returned as a pinch hitter off the bench).

The Division: It’s between the G-Men and the Dodgers. This is what it is all about. this is September baseball at its best. Nice tidbit: if the Giants go just 16-15 to the finish, Dodgers would have to go 20-10 from today just to tie. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

Giants v. Braves

The Positives:  As of this morning, the Giants are in second place in the NL West, one half game behind the Dodgers.  Given what happened with Melky this week, that’s the positives.  OK, for more, Buster Posey is practically single-handedly carrying the team, Brandon Belt and Crawford are playing very good ball and hitting well (both averages are climbing, and Crawford has an 8 game hitting streak), Hunter Pence is starting to show what he can do (which is attack the ball; his swing is vicious), and the PANDA IS BACK! The Questions: What was Melky thinking?  That he wouldn’t get caught? That his agents would protect him? That the Barry Bonds lesson has been forgotten? A 50 game suspension basically means that he’s never coming back to the Giants (I agree with JT Snow) and we need to move on. The question is how?  Soriano hates SF (and he’s an asshole besides carrying a $45 million contract – he did clear waivers I understand) and anyway there is no one out there capable of hitting .351 and carrying a team from the three-hole. Is Gary Brown ready?  Probably not. Sabean might or might not make some moves.  Frankly, he may not need to.  The line-up is good (not as good as with Melky) but good so if the pitchers come through the playoffs could still happen.  I heard Marty Lurie on NPR yesterday predicting that the G-Men would win the division.  Right on Marty!

The Negatives:  The pitching staff looks tired.  Two bad starts in a row for Vogelsong and Zito and we need to see what Lincecum does this week against the Dodgers. Cain and Bumgarner are still looking strong. The relievers have also been giving it up and we don’t have a closer; this closer by committee idea is a dog that won’t hunt. I won’t even talk about the line-up.  They just need to suck it up.

The Division: It’s between the G-Men and the Dodgers. The Gigantes go into Chavez Ravine tonight a half game down to the Dodgers and can expect taunts of “cheaters” by the blue crowd (as we say at the Lair, “blue cheats”).  The response should be one word (“Manny”!!) at the top of our lungs at Kemp. It’s going to be vicious from here on until the end of September.  Almost all of the games are against the NL West, and the majority are at home.  This is it, the stretch run.  Remember the 1951 Giants came from 13 game back to beat the Dodgers, we can do it also.

Giants v. Padres, Giants v. Mets

The Positives:  The Giants are in first place in the NL West, 1.5 games in front of the Dodgers and playing their best baseball of the year.  They are finishing up a 4 and 2 road trip having won 2 out of 3 from both the Braves (nipping at the heels of the Nationals in the NL East) and the Phillies (hurting for reasons that are not all that clear because they are a very good team).  This follows up on a horrible 1 and 5 road trip before the All-Star break, redeemed by the G-Men practically singlehandedly winning the All-Star game (four Giants on the roster, with the Panda hitting a three run triple and Melky a two-run homer) and assuring that the NL has home field advantage in the world series. The pitching is as good as it ever has been.  Lincecum has had two good starts in a row (cross your fingers that he’s back), Zito has had something like six straight quality starts (including today when the game was lost in the 11th inning and the fine game he pitched in Atlanta),and Cain, Vogelsong and Bumgarner are simply the best rotation in baseball.  To top it off, the Giants bullpen is really good with Affeldt and Lopez doing their job with little drama and Romo being routinely awesome.

On the hitting front, Melky continues to lead MLB in hits and the G-Men have shown flashes of power (2 dingers from Schierholtz today for example, after a Grand Slam from Crawford yesterday after a three-run homer the day before – Crawford is officially en fuego) and the team batting averages and RBI’s are improving steadily. The defense is also routinely excellent (even though early season errors continue to weigh the stats down) and what can you say about Buster Posey. What a stud!  If he continues the way he’s going (over .300, hits to all field, multi-hit games and solid behind the plate) he will be in contention with Kemp for the MVP

The Questions: Has Nate earned a starting spot for the rest of the season?  If he keeps hitting dingers the way he is doing now there is no way Bochy is going to remove him. Can Blanco return to form?  He missed a suicide squeeze sign yesterday and he looks tired.  He needs a rest.  It looks like Huff is done (for his career I bet) with his latest injury and Hector Sanchez is on the DL but is expected back quickly.  It was a real joy to see Eli Whiteside (Crash Davis incarnate) come up and take a start behind the dish, settle everyone down and get a couple of important hits.

The Negatives:  It’s like a broken record but runners in scoring position continue to haunt the Gigantes, and the power numbers are way low for a contending club.  The Giants are gap to gap hitters but in the smaller ball parks they need to start hitting homers.  That brings me to Brandon Belt.  He is once again lost at the plate. He’s a great defensive first baseman but a streaky hitter, and he is not on a streak right now. If Sabean is going to dip into the trade market by the 31st (during this series of home games, when the trade deadline comes) he has got to be looking for a power hitting first baseman, or someone that can play third and send Pablo to first.  There are a lot of candidates, including Carlos Quentin from the Padres and Placido Polanco from the Phillies.  The Giants just need a solid hitter, not a superstar rental (ala the Beltran deal last year).  None of us know exactly what Sabean is going to do but for sure it’s something. Sabean is constitutionally unable to stop working the phones.

The last word on the negatives has to be Santiago Casilla.  I thought that putting him in for the same yesterday (after he blew a save in the Atlanta game, his 5th blown save in 8 games) was a good call for confidence but he still looks like a deer in the headlights.  Casilla is MUCH better suited to earlier innings. There are a couple of closers out there and Sabean might very well go after one of them, maybe Broxton from the Royals (who are in fire sale mode) if we can stand having another ex-Dodger on the team

The Division: Realistically, it’s between the G-Men and the Dodgers now. The teams are currently 1.5 games apart and playing each other a LOT between now and the end of the season in September (which actually ends up in LA on the last weekend of the season).  The Dodgers are back at full strength with Kemp off the DL and next weekend’s games should be classics, which is why the tickets are already gone. I suspect that the division lead may change more than once between now and October, which isn’t a bad thing as long as the Giants are on top in October.

The Games: The Padres are in fourth place (15 games back) in the NL West (above the Rockies) but have always been tough on the Giants. The Padres certainly know what is at stake and would like nothing better than to be a factor in the division race by knocking off the front runner.  The Mets, who are in third place in the NL East, 8 and /12 games out, are in town for four games.  The Mets (damn it all) just got swept by the Dodgers in NY so the way I look at it the G-Men have to be on the attack big time.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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