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!


He Who Hesitates…Looks Less Insightful

Casey McGehee Loses Roster Spot May 24, 2015

Casey McGehee Loses Roster Spot May 24, 2015

Four days ago, I made myself a note that said simply, “Time to bench McGehee?” I put it on my list of future blog posts. Then other more important things kept crowding it off my ToDo list so I never got around to writing it.

Here’s how Comcast SportsNet Bay Area announced this morning’s shocker:

The Giants made a surprise move on Sunday morning, designating the 32-year-old McGehee for assignment and installing 24-year-old Matt Duffy as their everyday third baseman. The move was made in part because the Giants wanted to keep 13 pitchers during this stretch, and that meant adding Hunter Strickland to the roster.

“Designated for assignment” is a baseball euphemism for “cut”. He’d have been sent straight to the AAA Sacramento River Cats but his status as a contract veteran made that impossible. He may choose to report there or he may try to catch on with some other MLB team. He said he’s going to talk to his family before making a final decision. Given his age, his pitiful performance at the plate, in the field and on the bases in the first 35 games of the season, he’s not likely to be an attractive candidate anywhere else in baseball but his age and status make a AAA assignment distasteful.

McGehee was picked up from the Marlins during the offseason as a potential replacement for last year’s third-sacker Pablo Sandoval. When they signed him, they knew he wouldn’t approach Panda’s power, but nobody expected this sputtering start. He was barely hitting .200, had struck out 24 times and knocked in a meager 9 runs. And he was leading the National League in one statistical category: GIDP. Which means “grounded into double plays.” Ouch.

MATT DUFFY settles in as new regular 3rd baseman

MATT DUFFY settles in as new regular 3rd baseman

The G-Men will go with Matt Duffy as their regular third basemen, which I think is clearly their best move and what I’d have suggested in my almost-written column. The swap marks a noticeable improvement for the team overall.

A lot of folks are probably asking themselves why Bruce Bochy didn’t make the move sooner. One reason is McGehee’s veteran status; you figure a guy with his playing time would find his way out of the terrible slump and inattentiveness. Another is that Duffy was still a bit of an unknown at the start of the season; that’s no longer the case. He’s hitting .299 with two homers and 19 RBIs. And he’s been solid, at times brilliant, with his glove. At the ripe old age of 24, I think it’s safe to say he’s our third baseman for some years to come.

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!

Giants Bats Quiet, Dodgers Quieter in Shutout

The Giants shut out the LA Dodgers at AT&T Park tonight, 2-0 behind Tim Hudson (2-3) who gave the men in orange and black 6-1/3 innings of solid pitching, scattering five hits. Sergio Romo got credit for a hold and Pablo Casilla nabbed the save.

Buster Posey was the offensive story for the Giants, collecting the only RBI of the strange night game. The Giants left nine runners on base and hit only 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position. But tonight it was enough to win their fourth straight.

Every other team in the NL West won tonight but the G-Men picked up a full game on the Dodgers and are now 3.5 games back at 21-18.

Tomorrow’s game pits Tim Lincecum (3-2, 2.43) against the Dodgers’ Brett Anderson (2-1, 3.50). Timmy’s coming off a rough start in Cincinnati where he went just 4-2/3 while giving up five hits and three earned runs before giving way to the pen. But his two previous outings were strong. Back in front of the home crowd, I think he rebounds and pitches a solid game to lead the Giants to their fifth straight victory. Call it 5-2.

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.