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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shocker: Mark DeRosa Isn't Healthy

So I was writing an article today about a trade rumor involving Mark DeRosa. This is what I had written:

Reports have surfaced recently saying the Giants may be open to shopping Mark DeRosa, specifically to the Florida Marlins. Trading DeRosa would make sense for a few reasons: for one, it would provide the Giants with payroll flexibility assuming Florida is able to absorb some of his remaining salary. That could come in handy at the trade deadline this summer, considering the Giants are likely at their payroll ceiling. It’d also allow the Giants more roster flexibility, since they’ll have tough decisions to make once Andres Torres and Santiago Casilla are eligible to come off of the DL.

Most importantly, though, it’d give the Giants the opportunity to rid themselves of DeRosa before his wrist becomes an issue again. It’s tough for any player to come back from wrist surgery, but especially for one past his 35th birthday. It’s a matter of when, not if, DeRosa’s wrist flares up again- it already prevented him from a playing a few weeks ago in cold weather- and if the Giants can move him somewhere else before that happens, they should.

Except now, DeRosa is reportedly heading to the DL with an inflamed wrist. Since players on the DL can’t be traded, any potential move will have to wait until DeRosa is healthy again…healthy enough to come off the DL, anyway.

I’m no psychic, and I didn’t have to be to guess that DeRosa’s wrist would pose a problem at some point during the season. I never understood why people were counting on him to make an impact this year, since guys close to 40 don’t bounce back from two major wrist surgeries to become any kind of impact player. I don’t want to say DeRosa is done, but it’s foolish to expect any kind of meaningful contribution from him this year.

This speaks to a larger point, though: the Mark DeRosa signing may be one of Brian Sabean’s worst moves, and that’s really saying something. DeRosa was damaged goods when the Giants signed him, and it’s disconcerting to think the Giants’ medical staff didn’t catch his major wrist issues before he signed his contract. He’s provided next to nothing on the field in his time in San Francisco; maybe he’s a good clubhouse guy, but for $12 million the Giants need a lot more than that. He’s been a colossal bust and a tremendous disappointment.

When he’s somewhat healthy again and comes off the DL, maybe the Giants can fool the Marlins into thinking DeRosa can be an everyday contributor and get a useful player in return for him. I have my doubts that the Marlins would be that gullible, though.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ch-Ch-Changes: Giants Lineup Could Use a Few Tweaks

Ok, I was just looking for an excuse to use the “Y U No” guy.

I’ve always maintained that April is too early to panic during a baseball season; concern is one thing, but out-and-out panic seems silly when there are five more months to go. That’s plenty of time to try and turn things around.

Getting swept at home isn’t cause for panic, but it should be cause for serious concern. The Braves came to town and had their way with the Giants, sweeping the 3-game tilt and beating Tim Lincecum in the process.  It knocked the Giants back under .500 again and turned every series during the upcoming 10-game road trip into must win situations. Anything less than a 7-3 trip will be a disappointment.

In order to achieve that goal, the Giants likely have to make a few changes. The pitching staff suddenly has a problem with walks, but that’s not something that can really be “changed” per se; instead, it’s an issue the pitchers themselves have to work on. The lineup, though, is another story. There’s plenty of room for change there, and a few key moves could turn the Giants into a more dynamic offense. Injuries have limited their options somewhat, but there are some areas that can be improved immediately.

The top of the order is the most glaring issue that should be addressed. When Andres Torres went down with an Achilles injury, it robbed the Giants of their only real speed threat. The Giants were a station-to-station team even with Torres, mind you, but now there’s almost no hope of someone stealing a base or making things happen on the base paths.

The Giants have an option, though: they could move Cody Ross to CF, put Nate Schierholtz in RF, and bench Aaron Rowand. Schierholtz at the top of the lineup would give the Giants a more athletic presence there, as he’s the fastest player on the team not named Darren Ford. He’s also a better RF than Ross, and Ross is a better CF than Rowand, so the outfield defense would be improved as well.

Rowand had a nice little run of hitting while filling in for Torres, but his average has dropped almost 100 points over the last week and he’s reminding people of why he lost his job to Torres in the first place. He’s proven his worth, though: he’s a solid enough reserve who can get a big hit when the situation calls for it, like he did yesterday when his 2-out double put the Giants ahead in the 7th inning. He’s the team’s best RH option off the bench (sorry Mark DeRosa) but is just simply too streaky of a hitter to play every day. He can still destroy LH pitching, so his starts should be limited to when lefties are on the mound. Schierholtz deserves a shot to play every day with Torres out, and to see if he can provide a spark at the top of the lineup. It’d be very interesting to see what he could do with consistent at bats over a length of time.

Aubrey Huff is another hitter who’s struggling, though it’s not exactly a shock: Huff is a notoriously slow starter with a career .243/.317/.410 line in April, down from his overall career line of .282/.344/.474. There’s reason to believe Huff will turn his season around, since he had a similarly slow start last year. In the meantime though, the Giants would be wise to consider dropping him down in the order.

Huff has batted 3rd all year, a spot traditionally reserved for the team’s best hitter. While that designation is subjective, it’s clear that Huff hasn’t performed at a level that warrants that kind of placement in the lineup. While he’s hit well with runners in scoring position (.308) and against lefties (.321), he’s struggled mightily against RH pitchers (.173/.254/.288). The Giants aren’t going to take Huff out of the lineup but it wouldn’t hurt to move him down until his swing comes around, especially against RH starters.

In his place, the Giants should consider moving Buster Posey up in the lineup since he’s arguably the team’s best all-around hitter. Pat Burrell has been hitting well lately and is the team’s most dangerous power threat, and should be in the cleanup spot when RH pitchers are on the mound (and benched when it’s a LH, since Burrell has been terrible against them...that's where Rowand comes in). Huff is still having success against lefties, so it'd be smart to keep him in the middle of the lineup when there's one on the mound. Pablo Sandoval looks comfortable batting 5th and should stay there, even against LH pitchers. Bruce Bochy has been batting Sandoval as low as 8th against lefties, but Sandoval looks like a much better hitter from the right side of the plate this year.

So in my mind where I’m both GM and manager of the San Francisco Giants, here’s what my ideal lineups would look like for the time being:

Vs. RH:

Schierholtz, RF
Sanchez, 2B
Posey, C
Burrell, LF
Sandoval, 3B
Ross, CF
Huff, 1B
Tejada, SS

Vs. LH:

Schierholtz, RF
Sanchez, 2B
Posey, C
Huff, 1B (batting .321/.310/.464 vs. LH)
Sandoval, 3B
Rowand, LF (.450/.476/.650 vs. LH)
Ross, CF
Tejada, SS

Burrell not starting against LH pitchers gives the Giants a dangerous bat off the bench to use against RH relievers late in the game; more dangerous than Mike Fontenot, anyway. The fact that Rowand is murdering LH pitching should be enough to get him in the lineup when there’s one on the mound, and it allows him to play the Burrell role when it’s a RH starter. It might seem crazy to bat Huff as low as 7th, but he’s been absolutely terrible against RH pitchers so far and doesn’t deserve to bat higher until he starts hitting them with some regularity.

Would these changes bring immediate results? Impossible to say, but they certainly couldn’t hurt. The Giants lineup will never be a juggernaut, but they have the ability to make changes that would make them more balanced and more of a run-scoring threat. Bochy is a creature of habit, so the chances of him doing things like playing Schierholtz and moving Huff down in the order are slim. It doesn’t hurt to speculate, though.

Of course, the best move would be to bring Brandon Belt back and get him back in the lineup. But that’s another article entirely.

Friday, April 15, 2011

We're Just Regular Dudes, Man: A Look at the Giants' New TV Series

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always watched the HBO show Hard Knocks and thought to myself, “This show would be so much better if it followed a team I actually cared about.” I mean, Hard Knocks is a great show, but when you don’t have anything invested in the team it doesn’t quite mean as much. Except for when they followed the Baltimore Ravens and we got to see Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe mess with each other. That was amazing television.

Thankfully, Showtime took the Hard Knocks approach and applied it to baseball, resulting in a show called The Franchise. And what better team to follow for a year than the defending World Series champs?

The first preview episode of The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants aired this past week, with the actual series starting this summer. I watched it for the first time today, and wrote down a few thoughts:

- The show opens with an extreme close-up of Bruce Bochy lighting a cigar. Kind of an unsettling image.

- Brian Wilson talks about his dealing with the media. Clips of his infamous sailor costume moment on the Lopez show are played. He says that when people see him in the media, they think he’s either crazy or “flippin’ smart.” He forgot to mention option 3: trying too hard.

- “My brain waves work in a completely different pattern than a lot of people.” Okay, Brian. We’ve got it.

- There’s Bochy, out on the ocean fishing for sharks. Sharks are circling the boat. If only there was someone else on the boat to make the obvious “the boat is the Giants, the sharks are the other teams!” reference. Oh wait, there is.

- Freddy Sanchez has been with his wife since high school? Wow, good for them. He looks like he’s a good family man. His wife tears up when she talks about him winning the World Series. Nice moment.

- Here’s Barry Zito laying down tracks in the studio on his guitar. They show clips of his meltdown against the Padres in the second to last game of the year. Good way to introduce him.

- Zito goes on a tangent about God or the universe giving you signs and how this year he’s going to “live in the moment” which will apparently make him pitch better. Do you remember that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams’ character is asking his class why trust is so important, and the kid he calls on answers, “Because trust is…trust is…life”? Zito is that kid.

- Clips of the players arriving to Spring Training. Hey, there’s Mark DeRosa! Thanks for coming out, Mark.

- Clips of Tim Lincecum lead to the voiceover announcer giving the obligatory “the Giants have a lot of quirky characters” line. I thought that played out last year, but no.

- Willie Mays meets Miguel Tejada in the clubhouse. Mays says, “We shoulda had you a long time ago.” Somewhere in Cincinnati, Edgar Renteria weeps.

- And here’s Andres Torres’s offseason workout regimen. From what I can gather, it involves wearing designer jeans with the pant legs rolled up, running barefoot up hills, and throwing cinder blocks over his head. I mean, it doesn’t look like an easy workout or anything, but what’s with the jeans?

- If I was a cynic, I’d say that running barefoot up hills probably isn’t the best thing for your heels. But I’m not a cynic, so nope, not going to say it.

- Pablo Sandoval and his workout routine. The shots of him last year with his shirt off show just how far he’s come as far as fitness goes. It’s nice to see him so dedicated.

- Here’s Brandon Belt, his wife, and his dog. He seems like a nice guy. Shots of Aubrey Huff joking that he needs to get his outfielder’s glove are interspersed with shots of Belt ripping the ball. How prescient.

- Some fascinating footage of Bochy and Brian Sabean looking over the roster on a dry erase board in Sabean’s office, discussing Belt’s chances of making the roster. It looks like all of the guys on the bubble have a red dot next to their names.

- The most entertaining/captivating footage of the entire show deals with Marc Kroon and his attempt to make the big leagues. Kroon tells a story of introducing his kids to his absentee father for the first time, only to have his father immediately ask him for money. It’s a heartbreaking story, but also shows the strength Kroon has as a person. It’s a shame Kroon didn’t make the team out of spring, but it’s nice to know he accepted his assignment to Fresno. He’s just a guy you root for to make it.

- Kroon is far more interesting than Wilson, by the way.

- More on Sandoval. He’s lost 35 pounds and weighed in at a shade under 240. I thought he was pushing 300 last season, but it turns out he topped out at 275.

- More Zito. “I heard one time that anger is frustrated love. You don’t get angry at someone you don’t love.” I don’t know Barry, I was pretty angry at the guy who cut me off on the freeway today and I’m pretty sure I’ve never met him before.

- “We’re just regular dudes, man. And we’re just chasing our dreams.”  Zito is almost getting into “underperforming athlete complaining about people who complain about his salary” territory here, but he just barely avoids it.

- Footage of Kroon being told he didn’t make the team. Man, that’s tough to watch. I know they want cameras everywhere, but some things we don’t really need to see. It feels like this should’ve been a private moment.

- At the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s footage of Belt being told he’s made the team. He breaks down crying. Bochy tells him he doesn’t have to go back to the clubhouse right away. “You can hang out with me for a while,” he says. “You need a beer? Grab a beer!” Belt grabs a beer. Awesome.

- Huff: “Some people say have him go play the outfield. He’s your first baseman of the future, let him play there. I’ll go play the outfield.” Amen, Aubrey.

- The rest of the show is footage of the first few weeks of the season: Belt’s homer in LA, Huff’s troubles in the OF, the banner raising, the ring ceremony, the Giants/Dodgers anti-violence message, Aaron Rowand’s and Tejada’s walk-off hits, etc. The ring ceremony footage is especially cool. Huff says to Sabean, “thanks for bringing me over.”

Overall, a very good show that made me excited for the series to start this summer. I thought the breakout star of the series was easily Kroon, and I hope the Showtime cameras continued to follow him in Fresno. It was also fun to see a different side of Bochy. He’s very buttoned down and straightforward in the public eye, but he has a lot more personality than he lets on. It should be fun to see his interactions with players over the course of the season.

This show might actually be better than the Baltimore Ravens of Hard Knocks. I never thought I’d type that sentence.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bonds Guilty of Obstruction

The government's prosecution of Giants' great Barry Bonds has ended with one guilty verdict on the count of Obstruction of Justice. Every other count was thrown out.

I'll have a lot more to say about this soon.

Hot/Cold: Aaron Rowand isn't this good and other observations

TS Eliot once wrote that April is the cruelest month, and if two English degrees taught me anything it’s that he was obviously writing about baseball. April can be cruel in many ways: it can fool you into thinking things you know aren’t true, yet it allows you juuuuust enough hope to think this year might be different. That’s true for both teams and individual players. A hot (or cold) start can easily get people saying this could be the year!

I’ve talked about how people are reacting to the Giants’ mediocre start as a whole, but there are a few individual players whose starts have people talking the most. It’s important not to lose all perspective though, and if I’m anything in life it’s a perspective-bringer. Or something like that, it just sounds good.

Anyway, the players I’ve been thinking about the most:

Aaron Rowand: Giants fans are so Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to Rowand. Last year and throughout this year’s spring training, he was the guy everyone loved to pick on. He gets a few big hits over the first 11 games this season, and now he’s indispensable.

I’m still in the former camp; I don’t buy Rowand’s hot start, but I’m not against the Giants squeezing all they can out of him while he’s hitting. This isn’t the first time Rowand has started hot with the Giants, either. Forgetting about last year for a minute, let’s check out his first-half stat lines from his first two seasons in San Francisco:

2008: .291/.359/.445, 8 HR, 48 RBI
2009: .288/.348/.458, 9 HR, 40 RBI

Great, right? Earning that ridiculous contract! What’s that you say? You want to see his second half numbers? Uhh…

2008: .242/.309/.356, 5 HR, 22 RBI
2009: .218/.271/.358, 6 HR, 24 RBI

So you’ll excuse me if I’m not jumping for joy at Rowand’s .346/.346/.577 start so far this year. Again, I’m all for the Giants riding his hot start, especially with Andres Torres on the shelf. But thinking it’s anything more than that- that Rowand is going to turn it around this year, that he’s capable of being an everyday outfielder again- is setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s like being a kid with a deadbeat dad who promises to take you to the circus but then never shows to pick you up: you got your hopes up for nothing, and you should’ve known better.

Pablo Sandoval: Confession: I’m a Sandoval fan. It’s been great watching him embrace his new approach to life and baseball, and the results are showing at the plate. Sandoval is looking like the hitter the Giants thought he would be after ’09: scorching the ball, driving in runs, and being a force in the middle of the order.

Only problem is, Sandoval looked that way last April, too. He hit .368/.433/.575 with 3 HR’s and 10 RBI’s and looked to be a legitimate MVP candidate after one month. We all know what happened after that: he followed it up with three straight months of hitting under .235 en route to a terribly disappointing season.

Is Sandoval truly back to his old form? I’d like to think so, but I’m hesitant to believe it completely. Pitchers adjusted to his poor plate discipline last year and exploited it, and there’s no reason to think that won’t happen again this year. If Sandoval can adjust with them, that's a different story. He can be the same hitter he was two years ago. If he can’t? Well, the Giants better hope that doesn’t happen: there’s no Juan Uribe waiting in the wings to take over at 3rd.

Brandon Belt: Yes, he’s off to a slow start. But as the excellent Crazy Crabbers blog points out here, Belt has had some bad luck at the plate. He’s rarely looked overmatched, has shown good patience, and has a good idea of what he wants to do when he’s at bat. He doesn’t look like a typical rookie.

The calls for Belt’s demotion to the minors make little sense to me. Going to Fresno isn’t going to magically make him a better hitter; he’s a good hitter now, he just has to take his lumps and adjust to big league pitching. I’d be worried if he wasn’t making contact, but that’s not the problem. Belt’s hitting the ball, but the hits aren’t falling in just yet. That’ll change as he gets more and more comfortable at the plate. Sending him to Fresno won’t do anything to help his development; it’ll only slow it down.

Giants/Dodgers tonight. Until next time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Giants get another Opening Day extra innings win, destined to repeat as Champs

On the list of days that should rightfully be holidays, Opening Day has to rank at the top. I have so many great memories of Opening Day- mostly involving getting out of school for the day to go to the game with my Dad- that it’ll always be an incredibly special day. Even when I knew the Giants were going to be awful, Opening Day was always a time for good feelings and hope. Like in 2008, I remember thinking to myself “Well, if Dave Roberts stays healthy, and Brian Bocock plays well, and Jose Castillo starts to hit, they might be pretty good!” Nothing supports delusion quite like Opening Day.

The Giants had their home opener yesterday, a 5-4 extra innings victory over the Cardinals. The same thing happened in last year’s home opener- a 5-4 extra innings victory- and the Giants won the World Series. Obviously, that means it’s going to happen again this year. It’s just logic.

A few thoughts on the game:

- The pregame ceremonies were very cool, especially the Giants walking out as a team through the center field fence amidst a cloud of smoke. Seeing the World Series championship banner raised in the outfield was one of my all-time highlights as a Giants fan. The only low point for me was the performance from Train, one of the most annoying bands in the world. The fact that the Giants made the Cardinals stand and wait through the entire performance was unbelievably low-class; not because it forced them to stand and wait, but because it forced them to listen to Train.

- Jonathan Sanchez had a rough start, but managed to right himself and pitch well. Sanchez gave us glimpses of his good and bad self yesterday: he reminded everyone of why many consider him to have the best natural stuff on the staff, and also of why he can be so incredibly frustrating at times. I’ve come to terms with the fact that Sanchez is probably going to be that type of pitcher for the rest of his career. We just have to hope for more good than bad.

- I’m not entirely ready to buy into Pablo Sandoval’s hot start just yet- remember he hit for a blistering .368/.433/.575 line last April- but there’s no denying he looks like a different hitter than he did throughout most of 2010. He had his second straight 3-hit game yesterday, raising his average to .444. He also came through with a huge single to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th, an encouraging sign considering his .208 average with runners in scoring position last year.

- Bruce Bochy made a few questionable calls yesterday that nearly cost the Giants the game. The first was letting Jeremy Affeldt hit for himself in the bottom of the 7th with a man on 1st and the Giants holding a 3-1 lead. I realize Bochy wanted a left hander on the mound to nullify the Cardinals’ bench full of lefty hitters, but he still had Dan Runzler and Javier Lopez in the bullpen at that point. It was hard to understand why he’d let a middle reliever hit in that spot. The other call that didn’t make a lot of sense was letting Albert Pujols hit with a runner in scoring position and 1st base open in the 8th inning. Pujols ended up driving in the run, cutting the Giants’ lead to 1 and allowing the Cardinals to take the lead the next inning. If there’s one hitter in the Cardinals’ lineup that shouldn’t be allowed to beat you it’s Pujols, especially considering Matt Holliday isn’t hitting behind him right now.

- Brian Wilson still doesn’t look 100%, and his lack of innings pitched this spring is really starting to show. He may have been squeezed a bit by the home plate umpire, but the facts remain that Wilson’s breaking stuff wasn’t breaking and his control just wasn’t there. I don’t doubt that Wilson will work out the kinks, but it sure looks like he may have benefited from a minor league rehab assignment before coming off the DL.

- Aaron Rowand is making it harder to cut him when Cody Ross comes back. I’m hopeful he’s also making it easier to trade him.

Finally, here are a few pictures I managed to snap yesterday. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Asking the Wrong Question: Aubrey Huff Isn't Going Anywhere

Back in 8th grade, I had an incredibly tough algebra teacher. Not tough in the good sense, but rather in the “God, this woman is evil” sense. We used to grade our own work as homework (she’d give us the answer key) and report our score out loud the next day. One of those days, I’d forgotten my notebook but remembered my score. When my turn came around, I said exactly that.

She looked up from her grade book. “Because you told me that, I have to deduct points from your score,” she said. “If you hadn’t told me you’d forgotten your notebook, I wouldn’t have ever known.”

I started to protest. She cut me off and said, “Remember this: if you’re not going to like the answer, don’t ask the question.”

That mean old broad must’ve had a point, because 18 years later that’s the one thing I remember from her class. It’s fresh in my mind now because it seems relevant to this whole Aubrey Huff conversation. People are asking the question of what to do about Huff, when there’s no answer that’s going to satisfy them. 

Aubrey Huff is the Giants' RF, and he's going to stay there. One rough game isn't going to change that, nor should it. The more time he spends in the outfield, the more comfortable he'll get; plus, it's not as if the errors he made were on routine plays. They were both tough balls, and they would've been spectacular plays if he'd have made them. He's a solid enough outfielder to get by, and that's all the Giants can hope for right now.

Still, that’s not stopping people from asking what should be done about Huff, and some have come up with answers. Here’s a few I’ve seen, plus my thoughts about them:

Move Huff back to 1B, send Brandon Belt down: Flat-out crazy. Belt has done nothing to show he’s not capable of playing in the big leagues; in fact, it’s completely the opposite. He’s a Major League player, period. Simply because Huff had a rough time in RF is not reason enough to slow Belt’s development and acclimation to the Majors. Did I mention this idea is flat-out crazy? Because it’s flat-out crazy.

Bench Huff: Almost as crazy as the previous answer. The Giants just handed Huff a 2-year extension for around $10 million per year; they didn’t give him that kind of money to be a bench player. Not to mention the fact that Huff is one of the best run producers on the team, along with being one of the only power threats in the lineup. There is no way Huff is going to be benched. The Giants will try him at every single position on the diamond before that happens.

Move Huff to 1B, move Belt to the OF: A lot of people seem to be behind this idea, but it makes little sense to me. Is Huff an adequate 1B? Yes. But Brandon Belt is head-and-shoulders better than Huff. Belt is the kind of defensive player that wins multiple Gold Gloves; basically, he’s the best the Giants have had since JT Snow. Moving him to the OF would weaken two positions instead of one. Think of it this way: in 1997 the Giants had Glenallen Hill, possibly the worst defensive RF I’ve ever seen, playing all the time. Would it have made sense to have said, “Oh, I bet Hill would be an okay 1B… let’s move Snow to RF and stick Hill there”? No, it would’ve been insane. And Huff is no Glenallen Hill.

Move Huff to LF, play Nate Schierholtz or Aaron Rowand, bench Pat Burrell: Probably the least crazy idea, but I don’t like it because it takes Burrell’s bat out of a lineup that lacks true power hitters. I’m all for Burrell being replaced defensively when the Giants have a lead, but his bat is an important part of getting that lead right now. Plus, it’s not like moving Huff to left is going to make him a better outfielder. Is it a relatively “easier” outfield position to play? Sure, but he’ll still have to judge balls off the bat, take the correct routes, and make the routine plays. In other words, all the same things he has to do in right.

And the one answer that makes the most sense:

Grit your teeth and accept it until Cody Ross comes back: Huff isn’t going to win any Gold Gloves, but he’s also not the worst outfielder in the league. He’ll make the routine plays, he’ll occasionally make a very nice play, and he’ll have a hard time catching up to balls hit over his head. That’s the reality of the situation, and it’s a reality the Giants are going to have to live with until Ross gets back. Aubrey Huff is the Giants’ RF, Brandon Belt is the 1B, and everything’s going to be just fine.

- One last note: my latest piece for Davis Sports Deli’s “California Hatin’” rivalry blog is up, and you can find it here. It’s not much fun sharing a blog with a Dodgers fan when your team loses three of four, let me tell you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Good News: Giants Still Mathematically Alive in Playoff Race

Ah, inspirational kitty poster. We need you now more than ever.

You know, I definitely wasn’t expecting my first two articles of the season to have titles that basically said “don’t panic"... and yet here we are. Huh.

The Giants started their season the second-to-worst way possible, losing three of four to the Dodgers while looking incredibly sloppy in the process. Like I mentioned after the first loss of the series, it’s frustrating to see the Giants beat themselves. They managed to do that over and over again this weekend, to the point where you were almost wondering what could go wrong next.

Still, it’s no reason to think it’s going to be a long season. The Giants have flaws, yes, but they’re flaws that can be overcome. The mistakes they made against the Dodgers are fixable, rather than inherent.

The biggest issue by far has been the defense. The Giants of 2010 weren’t a defensive juggernaut, but for the most part they didn’t make mistakes that cost them games. So far in 2011, the Giants are letting their defensive inadequacies catch up to them in ways that make it impossible for them to win. Like last year, they don’t have the type of offensive that can overcome self-inflicted deficits. They don’t all need to be Gold Gloves out there, but they have to make the routine plays.

It was a rough weekend for Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Miguel Tejada, Pat Burrell, and especially Aubrey Huff. I feel bad for Huff, a guy who’s obviously not a great outfielder but is playing there for the good of the team. Brandon Belt has to play every day, and unless the NL suddenly adopts the DH Huff has to play the outfield. The fact that he was adequate there in ’10 gives some hope that he can get to that level again. Perhaps the fact that Huff made the transition to the outfield late in the spring is part of why he’s struggling so badly right now: he didn’t have many innings there to get acclimated to outfield conditions again. Makes you wish the Giants had just handed Belt the starting job at the onset of the spring, so Huff could’ve had all of March to prepare.

One thing is clear, though: Huff isn’t going to be benched. His bat is too important to the lineup, and the Giants didn’t just hand him a big extension to not play. Belt also has to play, and preferably at first base. I know a lot of fans are calling for Huff to move back to first and Belt to go to the outfield, but that seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Belt’s an elite defensive talent where he is now; as an outfielder, he’d be average. Huff is going to be an average defender no matter where he plays, so why weaken the defense even more by moving Belt out of his natural position? Especially considering the Giants don’t exactly have Brooks Robinson and Omar Vizquel on the left side of the infield.

All in all, this will never be a great defense but is more than capable of being a “good enough” defense. The Giants have to get back to that point.

The weekend wasn’t a total loss, though. The starting pitching- even Barry Zito- looks to be as good as advertised. Freddy Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval are having hot starts at the plate, and Sandoval looks closer to his ’09 self than he has since…uh…’09. Belt had only one bad at-bat over the four game series and doesn’t look overmatched. Pat Burrell hasn’t lost his power. Aaron Rowand may not be totally useless. All good signs.

Look, it’s four games into the season. The Giants have survived much worse starts than this, and are a better team than they’ve shown. Once they work their defensive kinks out, once Huff gets more comfortable in right, once Posey stops pressing at the plate, once Torres starts rolling... they’ll be fine. This is a very good team that just isn’t firing on all cylinders yet. It’s no time to panic.

Unless Rowand starts playing every day. Then all bets are off.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Relax: There Are 161 Games Left

I’m going to make a prediction here: the Giants will not go 0-162.

I know, I know. That’s a bold claim to make, but I’m going to stick with it. I just have a good feeling about this team.

So last night was the Giants 2011 opener, and it didn’t go so well. That’s an understatement, actually: it sucked. It sucked hard. Too many defensive mistakes, not enough hitting, and some questionable decisions all contributed to a 2-1 loss to the hated Dodgers.

Today’s a new day though, and the Giants have a chance to bounce back. Until then, here are a few thoughts on last night’s game:

- Buster Posey had a rough game behind the plate. Besides the passed ball, Posey made the ill-advised throw to third to try and pick off Matt Kemp, which sailed into left and gave the Dodgers their first run. The Dodgers stole a base off of him in the 8th, but it wasn’t Posey’s fault: Santiago Casilla seemed to completely forget a runner was on and didn’t pay any attention to him. Chalk Posey’s defensive performance up to Opening Day jitters- he’ll be fine.

- Posey’s struggles weren’t the only defensive problems the Giants had last night. Miguel Tejada made an errant throw on a force play at second, Pablo Sandoval called for Posey’s throw to third, Pat Burrell misplayed a ball in left that allowed the batter to take second, Fred Lewis dropped a routine fly… wait, that last one didn’t happen. Sorry, I immediately mention Lewis whenever I talk about the Giants struggling defensively. It’s a reflex action.

The Giants’ defense was a concern for many people coming into this season, and last night did nothing to quell their fears. Just like last year, they can’t afford to give away runs; they simply don’t have the offense to overcome that.

- Brandon Belt may have had a relatively quiet stat line, but he looked like a Major Leaguer at the plate and in the field. He made a few nice defensive plays at first, and held his own against Clayton Kershaw. His final at bat against Jonathan Broxton was a good battle, too. Belt didn’t look overmatched in any at bat, showed a good eye at the plate, and managed to work the count every time. All good signs.

- One thing I didn’t understand: after Mark DeRosa walked to lead off the eighth and Nate Schierholtz pinch ran for him, the Giants didn’t have Andres Torres sacrifice to get Schierholtz into scoring position. Considering that a) the Giants were down by a run at the time, and b) Torres is a terrible right handed hitter, it would’ve made sense to try and get the runner to second. In fact, I don’t understand why Schierholtz was running for DeRosa at all unless the plan was to get him into scoring position. Torres ended up having a long at bat, but ultimately had an unproductive one. Schierholtz stayed at first, and the Giants didn’t score in the inning.

- Tim Lincecum deserved a better fate. He locked in after a few stressful innings early on, and looked every bit as good as he did in last year’s playoffs. He looks poised to have a big year.

- Pat Burrell can still hit righties.

All in all, a disappointing way to start a World Series title defense. It’s one thing if the Giants get outplayed, but to hand the game over because of mistakes is tough to take. Good news, though: it’s a 162 game season and there’s another game tonight. The Giants will be fine.

Don’t panic.

- Few things: I’m writing for the Davis Sports Deli website, which is run by my old Fanball colleague Aaron Fischman. Every week I’ll take on a Dodgers writer head-to-head in the appropriately titled “California Hatin’” blog. Check out the first entry here.

- Spring Training may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning for next year. My friends over at Stadium Journey have an excellent overview of the Giants’ spring home, Scottsdale Stadium. Be sure to check it out here.