A return to form

I’m starting to change my tune on Tim Lincecum. Wednesday night I went to my first game at AT&T and got to see Timmy start. My mom was my date. To give you a sense of Timmy’s celebrity, my mother, who likely cannot name 75% of teams in the league, knows who Tim Lincecum. Moreover, my mom, who doesn’t know what a sac fly is, knows Timmy’s backstory; that he has gone from the best pitcher in the league, to by many estimates the worst, to whatever indiscernible entity he is right now.

The guy is popular. But more importantly, he is good. With every start like Wednesday’s (7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER) it gets harder and harder to debate this claim. Timmy now sports a 2.08 ERA (7th in the league) and a 1.5 WAR (8th in the league for pitchers.) If he can keep those numbers up, he won’t just be in the conversation to be in his fifth All-Star game, he would be in the conversation to start it.

Like always with Tim, there were troubling signs from the start. He rarely hit 90 MPH and his 4-2 Walk to strike-out ratio is nothing to drool over.

However, one sequence highlighted why I believe this brilliant stretch may not just be a fluke. Yasmani Grandel opened the 5th inning with a line drive double to center. Timmy then bounced a wild-pitch to Andre Either moving Grandel to third with no outs. I started silently hoping for a sac-fly to limit the damage because the inning had all the signs one of the implosions that have marred Timmy’s career over the past four seasons. However, Tim got Eithier to ground softly to short, he then got Uribe to pop-out to first. With Brett Anderson, the opposing pitcher, coming up it seemed Tim had weaseled his way out of trouble. Not so fast. Tim walked Anderson on five pitches. Surely, I thought, he would pay for the catastrophic mistake. Not so. Timmy confidently got phenom Joc Pederson to ground out to first. End of the threat.

Tim was far from the only contributer in the Giants three-game sweep of the hated Dodgers. The Dodgers scored zero runs in the series. To put that in perspective, the Dodgers had one less run in the series than Madison Bumgarner had homers. Bum’s blast was majestic, a 415-foot rocket off the reigning Cy Young and MVP Clayton Kershaw. However, the shot should not come as a complete shock. Bumgarner is the reigning Silver Slugger for pitchers and he hit four homerun’s last year in only 66 official at-bats. That translates to a 36-homerun season if Bum were an everyday player. Bumgarner added 6.1 innings of shutout ball on Thursday for good measure.

Whether because of Bum, or Tim or any of the other many contributors, the Giants are cruising right now. They have won six in a row, they are a mere 1.5 games out of first place, and now they travel to Colorado to hopefully feast on the cellar-dwelling Rockies.

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Ode to Buster Posey

Madison Bumgarner got much of the attention from Tuesday’s victory at Dodger Stadium, as well he should have. The reigning World Series MVP pitched 8 innings of one-run ball, besting Clayton Kershaw, the greatest pitcher on the planet, in a duel of aces.

But Bumgarner will not be the focus of this article. That distinction belongs to Buster Posey (although it is likely not the highest distinction he’s ever amassed…)

Buster Posey is the heart, soul, brain, and braun of the San Francisco Giants. On Tuesday for example, Posey was responsible for the two runs the Giants managed to scrape against Kershaw with a second-inning RBI single and a fifth-inning solo home run.

With apologies to Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo and Pablo Sandoval (the other Giants to be on all three World Series rosters), Posey is man most responsible for the Giants recent successes.

In 2008, the Giant’s fate was changed irrevocably for the better when with the fifth overall pick, they selected a standout Florida State Seminoles catcher, Gerald Demp “Buster” Posey. The Giants gave Posey a $6.2 million dollar signing bonus, which with time has looked like a better and better investment every year.

In his six-year career, which some have called the greatest start to a career in the Major League Baseball history; the Giants catcher has accumulated some serious hardware. As of today, Posey has to his name: 3 World Series Rings, 3 All-star appearances, Two Silver Sluggers, an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and recognition as the Face of MLB.

Moreover, the Giants would unarguably not be where they are without the production of Buster Posey. According to fanGraphs, in 2010 Posey’s WAR (wins above average replacement) was 4.0. Giants only won their division by one game that year meaning that if they’d had a league average catcher, instead of Posey, they would have lost the division by three games. In 2012 Posey’s WAR was 7.7 and the Giants won their division by only 8 games. It would have been a close call without him. In 2014, the Giants needed all of Posey’s 5.6 WAR to scrape the second wildcard spot. If we are to believe the sabermetricians, the Giants don’t even make the playoffs, let alone win it all, in any of their championship seasons without he work of Buster Ballgame.

All this does not even account of Posey’s unparalleled leadership on the team. This leadership cannot be quantified, but I am without a doubt that it is the reason the Giants have not lost any of their past eight elimination games in the playoffs. Posey brings a calm confidence to an otherwise sometimes frenetic clubhouse.

Posey is the leader of this team. Posey is the savior of this team. In Posey, I trust.

Giants sweep Dodgers, prove they are unquestionably the better team

Nothing cures a depressing season quite like a sweep of an archrival. The Giants did just that last week, rudely kicking the Dodgers out of town without a single win. Coming into the series, the Dodgers were 7-0 and the Giants were 1-9. Didn’t matter. The Giants played like a team as desperate for wins as they were. San Francisco twice won on walking-offs, reversing their early season trend of flailing in the clutch.

A few notes from the series.

  • Justin Maxwell could well end up being the prize of the offseason. The 31-year-old journeyman went 4-for-11 with a triple, a homerun, and a walk-off single. Can he keep it up? Who cares! He has already produced more than one would expect from a nonroster invitee to Spring Training. (He has had two more home runs in Colorado and is currently in a tied for most on the team.)
  • Tim Lincecum had his second superb start of the season, lowering his overall ERA to 2.00 flat. His velocity is still way down, but if he can keep this up, I’m not complaining.
  • At 1-1 with a 4.07 ERA and 1.315 WHIP, Clayton Kershaw has looked very human. Not dreadful. But certainly human.
  • Alex Guerrero could be primed to haunt my nightmares for the upcoming seasons. The Cuban defector (are they still considered defectors?) had four hits and two homeruns in the series despite only making one start.
  • Don Mattingly is a bad manager. This is not news. He has seemingly been on the hot seat for the entirety of his career. But for reasons unknown, the Dodger’s owners refuse to cut him loose. Yes, the Dodgers have won back-to-back division titles, but with that roster and that much money they cannot be happy having yet to even make the World Series, let alone win it. (The Giants did that last year, in case you forgot.) I believe that Mattingly is standing in the Dodgers way of taking the final step. And I am a-ok with that.
  • Example of Mattingly’s ineptitude: he intentionally walked Brandon Belt in the 9th inning despite Belt having two strikes on him. Angel Pagan had just stolen second base so first base was open. But Mattingly should have at least tried to get Belt to chase out of the strike zone, instead of giving up on a batter that was already two-thirds of the way to a strike out. Again, I’m not complaining.

Good wins Giants! That’s the most fun I’ve had blogging about this team yet.

Iowa Cubbies

In an attempt to ignore the Giant’s mounting loss total (they have won one in their past ten games for those of you not keeping track), I am going to cover a different topic in today’s blog post.

Last Friday night I went with some friends see the home opener of the Iowa Cubs, the Chicago Cubs Triple-A affiliate. I have been to easily over a hundred professional baseball games but never one in the minor leagues. I apologize for being a member of the cultural elite where we only watch baseball games while drinking Chardonnay and sitting in the same venue that might host Opera at the Park the following day.

The game itself was not thrilling, the iCubs played sleepily and lost 3-2 to the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Somehow the Dodgers found a way to haunt me even in this remote location. But since I was new to the “bush leagues’” it was quite the experience all the same. The Minor League game offered many pros and cons compared to taking one in at the Major League level.

I’ll start with the most positive of positives: the price. It just can’t be beat. Four tickets ran me only $34. To put that in perspective, equivalent seats for Tuesday’s Giants-Dodgers at AT&T Park would cost easily over $200.

But the game had other positives aside from its relative ease on my wallet. Principal Park, the Iowa Cubs home stadium, was gorgeous (and if you’ve never been to Des Moines, that isn’t usually an adjective associated with the city’s architecture.) Principal Park sits right on the Des Moines River, with a great view of Downtown Des Moines in the background. With the weather in the mid-70s and the sun setting as the game went on, the experience felt like a picturesque vision of Heartlands America.

But there is a reason the Majors is the Majors and the Minors is the Minors. Unsurprisingly, the quality of play simply cannot compare. The fastest pitcher rested around 90 MPH, and at least two of the middle infielders made errors on the mid-inning warm-up ground balls. Also, as Cubs’ uber-prospect Kris Bryant had been called up literally the day before (my poor luck), there was little in the way of star power.

Moreover, it is odd to watch a game where the winner and loser are ultimately of little consequence. With everyone angling to move up, the Minors are about individual performance. And with so many players coming and going there seems to be less of a sense of team. The result was that the crowd was more at the game for a nighttime activity, rather than to live and die with their team. There is no comparison between 10,000 people who care little to moderately about the outcome of the game, and 40,000 people who are on the edges of their seats.

So would I go to another Triple-A game? Absolutely. But, apologies to the hard working Minor Leaguers of America, I am not going to get it confused with the real thing.

Giants show tremendous fight, still lose.

Every night the Giants find new, hideous, ways to lose baseball games. Although it is difficult to imagine they will come up with a more unsettling way than last night. Because last night’s game had so seemed like the picturesque way to bust a team wide slump.

In uncharacteristic fashion, the Giants came to life late. Twice they tied the game in their would-be final at bats. The offense, which had been next to nonexistent recently, came to life to score five runs between the 7th and 12th innings. They even got a few hits with runners in scoring position!

And yet the result was the same. Another loss. Making that seven in a row–good for the worst such stretch in the past five years.

The Giants could not have asked for much better opportunities to walk-off and get their first victory at AT&T this year. Twice they had the winning run on third with the bases loaded. And twice they were unable to get him home.

They literally could have “walked” off with a little more patience. The graphic below (provided by fellow blogger Grant Brisbee) shows a ninth inning, bases loaded, at-bat by Nori Aoki. In the at-bat, Aoki struck out despite not actually seeing a pitch within the strike zone.

aoki strikeo

It is hard to criticize Aoki, as he is one of the few Giants who, ninth inning at-bat notwithstanding, is consistently playing to his potential. Worrisomely, One player who is clearly not playing to his potential is Brandon Belt. Not playing to his potential has become a theme of Brandon Belt’s career. He was once considered a top prospect but whether due to injuries or inconsistency, Belt has never put together the spectacular season that his natural talent suggests he is capable.

When Belt is on he has a dazzling glove at First Base and enormous power at the plate. For an example of his otherworldly power, look no further than this game winning homerun from last year’s 18-inning NLDS victory in Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTOFbJg4-k0.

However, when Belt is off, watching him bat is as maddening an exercise as any Giants fan can undertake. He swings at pitches he couldn’t possibly make solid contact with, his specialty is missing low-and-in sliders. Last night, Belt was at his worst, going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts. The evening brought his batting average down to .087. He has yet to get an extra-base hit. At this rate he is going to play himself out of the lineup.

Now if the pitching, specifically the bullpen, had been able to contain Arizona the offense would never have had to play catch-up in the first place. But when the Giants are struggling this bad, it is hard to address every failing element of the team in one blogpost.

(Sidenote: I don’t care that this is the age of Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, and Giancarlo Stanton; the batter who strikes the most fear in me if I am a National League pitcher is Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. As evidenced by his fifth inning three-run homerun.)

This skid will end. The Giants are not going to finish their season with a .272 winning percentage. But until it does, they could not further resemble the World Champions of a mere six months ago.

Oy Vey.

Oh, what a week it has been.

Not a whole lot is going right for the team by the Bay at the moment. Sure, they got a splendid Opening Day start from rookie Chris Heston (Side note: over the offseason you could have given any Giants fan a thousand guesses as to who would start the home opener, I promise no one would have come up with rookie Christ Heston.) And the Giants have gotten to celebrate last year’s glorious accomplishments in front of their adoring fans.

But besides Heston and the pomp and circumstance about last year, one would be hard pressed to find any recent good news about the Orange and Black. Last week I pronounced the Giants offense was on life-support. Now, it seems the offense is at least five and a half feet underground. The Giants have scored all of one run in the first two home games of their World Series Championship defense.

The most maddening element of the Giants struggles is that the Colorado Rockies pitchers have hardly been overpowering. The Giants have had ample opportunity to score in these past two games against. However, they are squandering these opportunities at a nearly unprecedented rate.

The Giants are now three for their last 40 with RISP (Runners In Scoring Position). Bringing their collective batting average with RISP to an unsightly, .068. It is called batting under the Mendoza line when you hit under .200 but I am not sure there is a name for hitting below .100. That is the level of ineptitude we are dealing with.

However, even those longer-term numbers seem positively delightful compared to the past two days in which the Giants have gone 0-for-14 with RISP.

I would almost rather they just get no-hit.

Needless to say, the inability to score runs has not done wonders for the Giants record. They are now 3-6 on the season; good for last place National League West. Granted, it is only halfway through the second week of the season so standings still do not mean much. For instance, the Washington Nationals are currently in last place in the NL East, and most experts still peg them as World Series favorites.

But one can start to look at this early in the season is trends. And the Giants current trend of being utterly unable to get a hit with RISP is cause for some concern.

Then again, the Giants did win the World Series last year (as they did two years before that, and two years before that). Which is not to excuse their play in the early stages of this season. But, as the title of my blog suggests, one does to check their privilege as a Giants fan and be at least somewhat faithful. The Giants are not going to hit .068 with RISP forever, and when the hits with RISP start comings, the wins will start coming.

Here’s hoping they come quickly.

Ugly. (The game, not that handsome man with the log)

Well, that didn’t go to plan.

The San Francisco Giants were supposed to be the team of Madison Bumgarner and the four questions marks. It was all so clearly spelled out for us in the spring training. Lincecum is washed out. Hudson is ancient. Cain is broken. Peavey is a combination of the previous three.

But Bumgarner! Madison Bumgarner was supposed to be our security blanket. We just assumed The World Series Star/ Mythic folklore hero going to be practically immaculate every time he pitched! We got so used to that last October!

But that was not the case last night. In a match up of the last year’s World Series team’s aces, James Shields clearly pitched a better game as his Padres bested the Giants to the tune of 10-2. Shields cruised through seven innings with a Joaquin Arias homerun the only blemish on his evening.

Contrarily, Bumgarner was atrocious. He only finished three innings and needed 79 pitches to get just nine outs. In that short time, he managed to get himself shelled for five runs on 10 hits.

Now just as a warned in yesterdays blog not to read too much into Lincecum’s excellent outing, we probably shouldn’t read too much into Bum’s poor one. Bumgarner caught some bad luck. A number of the base hits he allowed were groundballs that found holes. Moreover, of the ten hits he allowed, only one went for extra bases, a Matt Kemp double in the first. Plus, good pitchers have bad games. Bumgarner lost ten games last year. He even lost one in the postseason!

But I’m not going to try to sugar coat yesterday’s game as anything but an unholy shitstorm. On top of the underwhelming pitching, the Giants lost Casey McGehee in the first inning to a left knee strain. I’ll be the first to say that McGehee is no great shakes as the key addition in a World Champion defense. But with Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt already out, the Giants found themselves playing the majority of Saturday’s game without their would-be 5-6-7 hitters. They don’t want this to be a trend going forward.

Moreover, in all the general hideousness of yesterday’s game, one could forget that the Giants only scored two runs, bringing their grand total in the series to three. They don’t want this to be a trend going forward either.

If Giants fans can take any solace from yesterday, it’s that the Dodgers had just as much of bummer of a day, if not more so. Their ace, reigning Cy Young and MVP Clayton Kershaw, was rocked for six runs. The Dodgers also lost not one but two third basemen to injuries, with both Justin Turner and Juan Uribe having to leave midgame.

Somehow that just doesn’t do wonders to cheer me up.

At times like this, it is important to remember that in this long season, the Giants are going to have some off nights. Let’s just hope they don’t have too many that are as off as this one.