While I Was Away…

As you may (or may not) have noticed, this corner of the Interweb has been strangely silent the past few days. I suffered a minor fall that had some challenging side effects and I’ve been largely out of commission. But things are back to whatever passes for normal in my life these days, so I’ll resume my commentary on things Giant and Niner.

The Giants went on a mini-tear while I was out of commission (but watching more games on TV), climbed into a tie, then a half-game temporary lead in the NL West. But they’ve lost their last three in a row and are now 1-1/2 back of the Dodgers in what is shaping up as a two-team chase. The Padres are 6-1/2 out of first with the D-Backs 7 out and the Rockies 7-1/2 out, so the bunch-up behind the two essential co-leaders is pretty interesting in and of itself.

SANTIAGO CASILLA has lots of trouble with lefties

SANTIAGO CASILLA has lots of trouble with lefties

If there’s a common thread in the current three-game skid, it’s hard to find. The series-ending loss to the Braves on Monday night could be attributed in large part (but not entirely) to an extremely rare error by SS Brandon Crawford. But if the Giants had a closer who could shut down left-handed hitting as effectively as Santiago Casilla handles righties, the error wouldn’t have resulted in an explosive rally that brought the Giants to their knees.

Casilla’s overall stats (2.82 ERA and 15 of 18 save opportunities) are sterling. But when you break him down lefties vs righties, it’s a different story. Left-handed batters are ripping him at a .382 clip. That’s beyond abysmal. And it’s second worst on the team; Sergio Romo holds the “top” spot with a .421 BAA (batting average against) by lefties.

Who’s the Giants pitcher outside the starting rotation with the best record against left-handers? Javier Lopez has a BAA of .074. Gene Machi (.105) and George Kontos (.152) aren’t far behind. But only Lopez among those three has any experience as a closer, which is a whole different breed of pitcher, as you know.

Manager Bruce Bochy has been having conversations with management about cutting the pitching roster by one recently, a move that may happen as soon as the end of this series against the Pirates. But if Casilla is going to be the closer, Bochy may have to platoon closers based on whether they are facing left- or right-handers. That would suggest not reducing the size of the pitching staff.

It may be worth noting that Casilla’s lifetime BAA for lefties is a respectable .261, so he may just be going through a rough patch at this point. With the team playing well overall, maybe it’s too soon to change gears. But with the season nearly at the one-third mark, it’s not wise for the Giants to wait too long to see if Casilla is a ship that can right itself.

Tonight the Pirates will send their veteran ace A. J. Burnett (5-1, 1.81 ERA) to the mound against the hottest pitcher on the Giants’ roster, Chris Heston (5-3, 3.82). This is as crucial a game as you can have one-third of the way through the season. It’s important to avoid long losing streaks (where long is anything longer than 3). But Burnett has a certain amount of ownage against the Giants, whom he is facing for the first time this season. In 2014, the team batted .138 against him.

I’m predicting the Pirates to win tonight by two. And hoping I’m wrong.

Go, Giants!


Giants Blank Dodgers Second Straight Time Behind Lincecum and Posey (Again)

Buster Posey was scintillating at the plate and on defense and Tim Lincecum tossed a real gem as the Giants won their fifth straight by shutting out the Dodgers at AT&T Park, 4-0 tonight.

TIM LINCECUM. On a tear, ERA down to 2.04.

TIM LINCECUM. On a tear, ERA down to 2.04.

Except for the fact that he walked LA’s starting pitcher, Brett Anderson (which never ceases to annoy the crap out of me), Lincecum was about as close to perfect as you can get. Posey drove in three of the four runs and made a spectacular catch over the Dodgers’ dugout fence.

In picking up his fourth win of the season, Lincecum also dropped his ERA to a remarkable 2.04. He came into the game at 2.35.

The Giants are now just 2-1/2 games back of the league-leading Dodgers, with whom they finish their three-game brief homestand tomorrow with a rare mid-week day game. Madison Bumgarner starts for the Giants, facing LA ace Clayton Kershaw. He has struggled against the Giants this year, making six starts against them and having an 0-1 record to show for it. His ERA against San Francisco is 5.59.

Bumgarner, meanwhile, has four starts against the Dodgers, a 1-1 record and an impressive ERA (3.16) and an absolutely brilliant WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 0.97.

Couple that with the fact that LA is winless in AT&T Park this year and I’m going out on a limb here and predict a rare Giants’ sweep. It may even be a series shutout sweep. Final score? 3-0.

Go, Giants!

Stop Picking on Vogie

Ryan Vogelsong, the 37-year-old 15-year veteran pitcher for the Giants, has been the subject of a lot of negative commentary so far this season. I’ve been one of his loudest critics.

Time to shut up.

RYAN VOGELSONG -- Roaring Back with a Vengeance

RYAN VOGELSONG — Roaring Back with a Vengeance

Vogie has followed a rocky start with three consecutive gems in which he’s given up just 3 runs in 19-2/3 innings for a freezing ERA of 1.37. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) is just under 1.00, a super performance. He’s dropped his season ERA to 5.31, which is still too high but it’s certainly headed in the right direction and fast.

Reports say that Vogelsong took a hard look at his pitching after he started the season with three consecutive games in which he gave up seven or more runs as the Giants lost all three. Then he had a scratched-out win on April 23 vs LA at AT&T Park before he really bombed on April 29 against the Dodgers in LA, losing by 7-3.

He apparently decided he was pitching too carefully, trying not to lose instead of to win. He switched his outlook and what a difference it’s made!

Tim Hudson gets the ball tonight against the Dodgers, who are in town for a freakishly scheduled three-game home stand and his teammates are on a three-game streak. He’ll be facing Carlos Frias, who’s started the season with a 3-0 mark and boasts a 2.89 ERA. Despite the fact that in the pitcher-friendly home field the Giants’ sizzling bats are likely to be considerably cooled, I think the team will rally behind a Hunter Pence-fueled crowd as the Giants win by three.

Go, Giants!

Giants, Scraping Back to .500, Aren’t in As Bad Shape as They Could Be

I had some surgery recently. It went fine but the post-surgical experience was, shall we say, unexpectedly below optimum. I complained to the head of my surgical team. “It could have been worse,” he said.

I hate when people say that. Sure, it could. I could have freaking died from the so-called “minor” surgery! Still, he wasn’t wrong.

Which brings me to today’s Giants. They find themselves at .500 (18-18) just short of 1/4 of the way through the 2015 season. But they are just a half-game out of second place and only 5-1/2 games behind the division-leading Dodgers (and you know they’re going to fail, probably have a June swoon). So it could be worse.

Now if you stop to consider the key players the Giants have been playing without so far, things could actually be painted an almost pink color.

Giants OF Hunter Pence is due back today (5/16)!

Giants OF Hunter Pence is due back today (5/16)!

Hunter Pence, the core of the power and The Presence in the clubhouse, has yet to take a single at-bat this season. He is scheduled to return to the team tonight in Cincy, though it’s not clear if he’ll be in the starting lineup, come off the bench, or just be on the bench. He’ll help in whatever capacity he’s there.

Rookie pitcher Chris Heston deserves a spot in the rotation

Rookie pitcher Chris Heston deserves a spot in the rotation

Pitchers Matt Cain and Jake Peavy have both missed considerable time, leaving the Giants to depend on Ryan Vogelsong as a part of their weakened rotation. The good news there, of course, is Chris Heston, who’s been terrific as a starter. While neither Cain nor Peavy is a great pitcher, they are both seasoned regulars who were expected to be helpful in stabilizing the rotation and they’ve been missed.

When they are back at full-strength, if the Giants can stay within shouting distance, they may yet be able to salvage a decent season. I don’t see them as division champs (and haven’t from the season opener) but they can be respectable, give the Dodgers and the Padres a run for their money, and keep their fans excited.

I wouldn’t want to be Bruce Bochy, though. When Pence returns, how do you sit Justin Maxwell with the way he’s performed at the plate and in the field? You have to, of course, unless you platoon him and Nori Aoki in left. And how do you take the ball out of Heston’s hands at this point? Peavy will probably be ready to replace Vogelsong soon (not sure that’s a serious upgrade but we can’t stay with Ryan) but when Cain comes back, I suspect Peavy will sit in favor of Heston.

Tonight’s game in Cincy is the third of a four-game set that ends tomorrow afternoon. The aforementioned and much-maligned Vogelsong (1-2, 5.67 ERA) will start for the Giants. The Reds will answer with Mike Leake (2-1, 2.36). If Pence is in the starting lineup, I predict the Giants get a big lift and win their second straight in Cincinnati. If Pence isn’t on the field, I like the Reds by one.

Go, Giants!

Giants Win Another Close One But Offense Sputters When It Counts

The Giants pulled out another one-run win yesterday by registering two runs in the bottom of the 9th to trip the Miami Marlins 3-2. The win gave them a 2-1 series victory gave them a break-even 2-2 series and brought their record to an even .500 (16-16). [Thanks to Michael Payan for pointing out my mistake.]

But the continuing low power being turned in by the offense has to be a source of great concern to Bruce Bochy and the Giants’ front office.

It’s not like the Giants can’t hit at all. Their team average of .257 is seventh in the NL and they rank fourth in hits with 281. But their hitting in the clutch is…well, let’s face it…missing in action. They rank:

  • 13th in the NL in homers with 20
  • 15th in the NL in runs with 101 (Just over 3 per game!)
  • 12th with runners in scoring position (.223), 7th with runners in scoring position with two out (.250) and next-to-last with the bases loaded (.160).

Pretty abysmal picture of not getting hits when they count.

Contrast these figures with the 2014 stats, when the Giants finished their championship season at:

  • 4th in BA (.255)
  • 4th in hits (1,407)
  • 7th in homers (132)
  • 5th in scoring (650)

And situationally, the difference is like night and day. Their 2014 RiSP? .267, thirfd best in the NL. With two outs, they hit a league-leading .257. Apparently the Giant don’t like to load the bases because even in 2014 they ranked 10th of the 16 NL teams with a .238 average in that situation.

Meanwhile, the pitching, despite some real shabbiness in the back end of the starting rotation, is above-average in the two most important stats, ERA (3.63, sixth best in the league) and WHIP (1.27, fifth). Partially as a result, the Giants have already played 12 one-run,nine-inning games (in which they are a remarkable 9-3) and four extra-innings affairs (3-1).

So the 2015 season so far can be summed up quite easily. The Giants are not getting the hits when they count.

The Giants had the day off today for travel to Houston where they open up a rare 2-game stand against the AL West-leading Atros. Then it’s on to Cincinnati for four with the Reds before coming home to square off with the Dodgers in a one-series home stand.

Giants Sign ex-Jay Top Pick Ricky Romero in “Why Not?” Move

Word today is that the Giants have signed Ricky Romero, late of the Toronto Blue Jays, to a minor league deal that will essentially cost them nothing.

Romero, a 30-year-old first-round draft pick by the Jays in 2005, showed star value early on and even made the All-Star team once. But he began to run into injury after injury, hasn’t played in The Bigs since 2013, and was in rehab when the Blue Jays released him April 25. His former team is on the hook for his $7.55 million salary plus a $600,000 buyout so the Giants will likely have to part with little or no cash.

The Giants will start Romero in “Extended Spring Training” camp to see if he can be rehabilitated enough to make the major league roster.

He’s kind of a long shot but in the end, it won’t take a lot to be as good as or better than either Tim Hudson or Ryan Vogelsong, who are both complete wipe-outs in the starting rotation so far.

Running Out of Things to Say About the Giants

Chris Heston became the unlikely stopper for the Giants on Saturday, leading them to a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. But a team is only as good as the guy who pitches the day after the stopper does his job. And on Sunday, Tim Hudson was shaky, ineffective and in trouble from the opening gun. I couldn’t figure out why Bruce Bochy left him in so long.

Giants' Tim Hudson blew up early and never recovered.

Giants’ Tim Hudson blew up early and never recovered.

In the end, it was as it had been for eight of the previous nine games as the G-men started a new losing streak with a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the D-Backs. Their record is now 4-10 and at .266 they are the third worst team in baseball. Only Milwaukee (.167) and Miami (.231) have worse records.

This time, the Giants did do one thing different. Whereas in most of the recent losses, they’ve wasted opportunity after opportunity, this time they just didn’t create any chances to waste. They stranded only five base runners and only two of them in scoring position. They just didn’t hit at all as Jeremy Hellickson tossed 6-2/3 innings of decent ball, scattering eight hits and giving up just one earned run.

Hudson, meanwhile, fell behind 2-0 in the first and never really recovered, leaving after five innings of work for another non-quality start.

Today, at long last, the Giants get a day off. They are the only team in the majors to have been forced to endure 14 consecutive games to open the season, a scheduling snafu I refuse to see as an accident. As far back as I’ve been able to research it, no other team has been forced to go 14 straight right out of Spring Training without a day off. The D-backs, by comparison, are enjoying their second day off today. That grueling schedule has no doubt played a part in the Giants’ poor start and MLB should be ashamed of itself for such a stupid move. But at the end of the day, professional players need to overcome those kinds of obstacles and the Giants clearly have not.

Tomorrow, the Dodgers, leading the NL West at 9-3, come into AT&T Park to face Tim Lincecum (0-1, 2.25) in the opener. They’ll throw Brett Anderson (1-0, 3.27) at the home team. The Dodgers have played nine of their first 12 at Dodger Stadium and are on a seven-game winning streak.

The odds are stacked against the orange-and-black in this series. They have the second worst runs scored vs runs allowed margin in all of baseball, having been outscored by 25 compared to the Brewers’ 35.

I’m afraid the Dodgers will continue the Giants’ losing streak despite a good effort from Lincecum.

Los Angeles 4, San Francisco 1.