Friday, July 31, 2009

The PG Beat: Cliff Lee owns Giants, Affeldt and company self-destruct in the seventh inning

New Philadelphia pitcher Cliff Lee not only killed the Giants on Friday night with his pitching (9 IP, 1 run allowed), but also with his hitting (2-for-4, including a double).

Well...can't say I didn't see this one coming, even if I didn't want to admit it. Cliff Lee made his debut for the Phillies, and he couldn't have done much better as he mowed down the Giants hitters in a 5-1 victory on Friday night. Lee made every Giants hitter tonight look silly, even the Panda, who went o-for-4 against the reigning American League Cy Young award winner.

The Giants are exactly the kind of team that plays into Lee's strengths as a pitcher, and it was on full display tonight. Lee did what he always did (have great command, and mix it up with heat and breaking ball pitches, even though his stuff isn't great), and the Giants hitters did what they always did (overly aggressive, swinging at too many pitches out of the zone). It really was a rough game to watch if you're a Giants fan, and I'm sure a lot of people are fuming as Ryan Garko has only gotten one hit in his first three games as first baseman for the Giants. However, it was only one game for the Giants and this is only three games from Garko. In all honesty, I expected a loss in this game out of all the games in the series (Lee going against Sadowski just didn't look good on paper), and I think we need a couple of weeks to evaluate how good Garko is going to be. I think by next week, he should be getting into a comfort zone as a hitter. If he isn't? Well...then we're in some trouble, but we'll worry about that if that happens and when we get there.

The one thing I will say is that while I ripped him apart last week, you can't blame this loss on Sadowski (even though he did get the loss). Sadowski, who again for a third straight start, suffered from control issues throughout the nights, tallied a high pitch count early in the game (he was around 60 pitches at the end of the third inning and threw 82 pitches in four innings of work) and just didn't seem have that much confidence on the mound. However, he only gave up one run, a homer to Jason Werth in the second, and kept the Giants in the game as they continued to swing and miss against Lee's breaking balls. I am curious to know why Bochy pulled Sadowski so early. After pitching the fourth, the camera showed him wincing and holding his arm as he walked to the dugout. I haven't checked anything yet, but I have a feeling he strained something. Even though he wasn't pitching great, he merited at least another inning of work, especially with the game only 1-0. It's definitely something to pay attention to when carousing on Extra Baggs later tonight.

Surprisingly, if you want to blame anyone other than the offense and Lee, you can blame the bullpen. Don't look to the usual suspects to blame in this one though. Relievers who have been struggling as of late, Sergio Romo, Bob Howry and Merkin Valdez, actually looked very good tonight. It was the usual late-inning studs who struggled mightily instead. Jeremy Affeldt and Brandon Medders, two pitchers who had been looking very good in relief this year for the Giants simply imploded as they combined to allow three walks and three runs combined in only 1/3 innings of work...combined. That is a tough one to stomach, and after the game got to 4-0, I kind of just threw in the towel. Granted, these things tend to happen to relievers. They aren't perfect, and they're going to have their breakdowns every now and then. That's when you need your offense to step up and make up the difference. Unfortunately, that didn't happen tonight and in all honesty, the Giants offense hasn't picked up the pitching when it struggles since Opening Day. This Giants team goes how the pitching goes and that doesn't bode well I believe for Giants fans as we enter these last two months of the season. We just can't rely on pitching the whole time. We need the offense to set the tone sometimes, and unfortunately, that hasn't happened very often this year, especially against good teams like the Phillies.

That being said, I knew we weren't going to sweep the Phillies in this series, and this loss was definitely a predictable one, as tough as that is to say as a Giants fan. With Lincecum on the hill (going to the game tomorrow! Yahoo!) going against Joe Blanton, a pitcher who plays more to our strengths than Lee, I like our chances. If we can take at least two in this series, I can live with myself. If we can take three and win this series, I'll be ecstatic.

Tomorrow is the key to which direction this series will sway. For it to go in the Giant favor, Lincecum needs to have a good performance, and the offense needs to bounce back from tonight's lackluster effort.

Postgame Box notes:

Winning pitcher: Cliff Lee (1-0) 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO.
Losing pitcher: Ryan Sadowski (2-4) 4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO.

Giants standouts: Juan Uribe, 2B (18). Aaron Rowand, 2B (25).
Phillies standouts: Jayson Werth, 2-for-5, HR (22). Ben Francisco, 2B (2). Cliff Lee (I know he killed us hitting too!), 2-for-4, 2B (1).

Probable starters for next game: Blanton (7-4) vs. Lincecum (11-3).

Potent Preview: Philadelphia Phillies (58-42) at San Francisco Giants (56-46)

Probable starters:
PHI: Cliff Lee (7-9) 3.14 ERA (Stats with Cleveland). SFO: Ryan Sadowski (2-3) 4.81 ERA.

I'm still on cloud nine from that victory yesterday. I don't know. To me, after suffering from that road trip last week, it was awesome to see the Giants bats come alive against a very good team like the Phillies. Granted, I took the game with a grain of salt. Rodrigo Lopez is basically turning into Ryan Sadowski on the hill for Philadelphia: he had a good first couple of starts, but his last two starts haven't been very good. In his previous start before he faced the Giants last night, he gave up ten hits and five or six runs (I don't know the exact number and I'm too lazy to check the exact number). Then last night, he got shelled. If anything, with the acquisition of Cliff Lee, I think Lopez will be either moved sometime today or sent to the bullpen. The Phillies have Happ, Moyer, Lee, Hamels and coming-soon Pedro in the rotation, so there won't really be a place for Lopez come next week.

Speaking of Sadowski, this is a make or break start for the kid. Personally, I want him out. I really want to see what Kevin Pucetas is made of and I just don't think we're going to see those two starts Sadowski had against St. Louis and Milwaukee. I think teams have enough scouting on him, and people know what to expect from him. Furthermore, Sadowski just doesn't have any confidence out there on the mound. He's just a wreck out there, and I just don't think the Giants can afford to have that on the mound while they are in the thick of the Wild Card race with Colorado.

To make matters worse, Sadowski will be facing a challenge on the mound in Cliff Lee. Seriously, could Sadowski have gotten a worse draw here? He's facing last year's Cy Young winner with this being a crucial start for him. Lee doesn't have dominating stuff, but he's exactly the kind of pitcher that troubles the Giants' aggressive mentality at the plate: throws a lot of junk, and gets a lot of guys to chase out of the zone. If Sadowski is going to have a good start, he will need run support. Sadowski has showed that if he has gotten run support he can be a very good pitcher. However, when he is pitching in a tight game this year, he simply doesn't have the confidence to get it done and he ends up trying to pinpoint too often instead of simply rearing back and throwing like any pitcher should.

I seriously don't know how the offense will do tonight. This game has all the makings of the offense hitting the tank, and Sadowski getting shelled. However, if Pablo can continue this hot-hitting trend at home, and if Eugenio Velez can continue to marvel his doubters with the bat, then I think the Giants can pull this one out. They have succeeded against good pitchers this year. They beat Chris Carpenter in St. Louis, and they mashed Jake Peavy earlier in the year.

Will they do that againt Lee? I don't know. But hey, let's cross our fingers, heh?

For game updates check out the SJ Mercury's Andrew Baggarly's Giants blog at Extra Baggs. For live game thread and chat, check out the McCovey Chronicles.

With PED Revelation, David Ortiz Should Be Held to Same Standard As Bonds

After these recent steroid allegations concerning David Ortiz (right), the media and fans should hold him to the same agonizing standard they held Barry Bonds (left) regardless of their differences in personality and liakbility.

From Bleacher Report

Say what you want about Barry Bonds. You can call him a liar, a terrible human being, a jerk, or whatever expletive comes to mind.

If you know him as a "cheater" though, then you better be ready to give the same harsh treatment to David Ortiz that you gave to Bonds after the New York Times reported today that he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

That's right. I hope ballparks all over the nation will give the same amount of abuse Bonds went through in the twilight years of his career. Fans, who were holding syringes, steroid signs, and yelling "cheater!" every time Bonds went up to bat, better be doing that to Ortiz whenever he steps up to plate at an opposing ballpark.

It is only fair. If you hate Bonds because he is a cheater, than you need to hold the same standard to all cheaters. It shouldn't be a pick and choose buffet in terms of who you should boo.

However, I have a feeling that whatever Ortiz chooses to do, whether he goes the Bonds and Roger Clemens route and denies it, or goes the Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte route and admits it, Ortiz won't get a glimmer of the hatred Bonds received.

Because after all, he's "Big Papi." The fans love him. The media loves him. Boston, one of the biggest baseball market along with New York, loves him as well.

His clutch hits got them a World Series in 2004 after 86 years. "Big Papi" helped end the "curse" along with his buddy and fellow positive-testing buddy Manny Ramirez.

So nobody is going to hold him as accountable as Bonds. Sure, there will be some negative sentiment initially, but it won't define Ortiz's career like it did for Bonds.

Never mind that Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he took steroids and Ortiz wasn't. The legacy of Ortiz bringing a championship to the Red Sox will forever outweigh the reports of his PED use.

You don't believe me? Just look at the other superstars who are getting the same pass that Ortiz undoubtedly will get.

Ramirez, who actually was suspended 50 games this year for alleged steroid use, has been pardoned by the whole Los Angeles media scene. Dodger Stadium still has "Mannywood," and the media still holds Ramirez in high esteem as one of the best hitters of the game currently.

Bonds was also held in high esteem as a hitter during his heyday, but not without the phrase "alleged steroid user" attached to it.

How many times have we seen that from Ramirez this year?

Not a lot. Maybe a bit in the beginning after his suspension, but now that he is back in the lineup, it seems like an afterthought, more of a "catch of the day" story than an actual controversy.

Not even California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was pardoned this much.

Furthermore, look in New York with Alex Rodriguez. The media killed him the first couple of months after Selena Roberts' report and his admittance at Spring Training to the mistake he made.

Now though? He's still one of the more popular hitters in the game. Opposing fans are more prone to point out his other embarrassing faults (e.g. dating Madonna, kissing himself in the mirror) rather than the one that should be embellished: the fact that he cheated with PEDs just like Bonds did.

Baseball fans will say "Well, I just didn't like Bonds, and he didn't admit to it," as an excuse to why Bonds was treated so harshly in comparison to A-Rod, Manny, and eventually Papi.

Then why didn't those fans hold "liar" signs instead of syringes? Why didn't those fans call him a "jerk" instead of a cheater?

It's all just the same web of hypocrisy that makes me fume as a San Francisco Giants fan. We as fans got ripped to shreds by opposing fans for supporting him. We were credited with "ruining the game of baseball" by cheering Bonds in his pursuit of Hank Aaron and Mark McGwire's records.

Now those fans, who usually came from the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees camps, are looking awfully stupid now, aren't they?

With Bonds out of the game and unlikely to sign with any team anytime soon, no one will be able to at least take back what they said about Bonds (or at least rationalize it). People can't take back those sentiments that demonized him as the sole culprit in this steroid mess. When in reality, he was just one in a handful of superstars that was doing the same thing.

Bonds won't get that opportunity to play a team where the fans are actually jeering another player for steroid use and not just him.

I'm sure if that moment happened, I could see him smiling and shaking his head in the dugout, saying to himself under his breath "What goes around comes around."

In no way am I defending Bonds for his steroid use. He did indeed cheat and that should be recognized. Additionally, in no way am I saying he is a model person and that we should absolve him for everything he's done.

However, he has paid the price for what he has done and then some in the baseball community. His reputation is dirt, and for his steroid-use alone no team will sign him, even if he can still hit the ball like he used to.

Do you think that will happen to A-Rod, Papi, or Manny?

I don't think so. Teams will still desire these guys if they are out on the market and will still throw out an exuberant amount of cash to sign these guys.

Those three players won't even touch the price Bonds paid. They won't look like saints compared to Bonds, but they won't ever go through the same scrutiny he went through from ballpark to ballpark.

In the end, all I want to happen with Ortiz, Manny, and even A-Rod is that they are held to the same standard. I don't think any rational person can hold that against me.

If you hate a cheater, hate him because he is one, not because he is a "less-likable" cheater.

That won't happen though. The Pink Hat Red Sox fans will most likely still defend Ortiz to death. A majority of Dodgers fans will still wear their Manny dreads. A-Rod will still be cheered and revered even amongst the youngest of fans.

I guarantee you that at one opposing ballpark this year, there will be some Red Sox fans holding a "We still believe in you Papi" sign.

And chances are, just three or four years ago, those same fans were holding an asterisk sign when Bonds and the Giants came to play in their ballpark.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The PG Beat: Velez rides again, Sandoval hits one in the cove, J. Sanchez looks good

Seriously, "The Kung-Fu Panda" Pablo Sandoval may be my favorite Giant since Matt Williams...who ironically also played third base as well.

What the heck man! Where the hell did Eugenio Velez come from? Seriously, you want to know who has been the best hitter this week? Look no further than Velez who has been swinging an incredibly hot bat. Velez went 3-for-5 in tonight's 7-2 win and drove in 3 RBI for a Giants offense that couldn't buy a run last week. I don't know what has gotten into him. I don't know if he knows that this is his last hurrah at the Major League level and he is doing all he can to stay, or if he has seriously improved as a player. We need more than a week to come to a decision on that. All I do know is that I have fallen in love with Velez all over again like I did back in Spring Training a year ago when he was absolutely tearing it up, and I thought he could be the Giants' leadoff hitter of the future.

Of course, it wasn't all Velez tonight. The Panda named Pablo Sandoval once again came up money as he went two-for-four with a home run into McCovey Cove, and a two-run double on a pitch from ex-Baltimore Oriole Rodrigo Lopez that looked low and out of the strike zone. This guy certainly has a mojo at this park that you just don't see on the road. I mean, it's not like the Giants have a great hitters park either. He plays in a pitcher's park for chrissakes! Yet nonetheless, he still is crushing the ball at AT&T, much to the enjoyment of Giants fans. Hopefully the Panda continues this momentum at home, especially in this series where the Giants will seriously need to generate some offense. The Giants won't be able to get away with any 1-0 games like they had in the Pittsburgh series. This Phillies offense is too good.

Speaking of the Phillies offense, where did they go tonight? Credit Jonathan Sanchez (With Freddy Sanchez now on the team, I will have to refer to him by his first name or at least first initial) for throwing a hell of a game. They guy really did deal tonight, even though he only went 5.2 innings. He had seven strikeouts, and only gave up two runs (which came from a bad first inning and a fluke homer where he tried to get macho after Utley stared him down after a ball zipped by Utley's head). In my mind that was a great start. He got a lead and he was able to pitch well with one. You have to give Sanchez credit for that. Furthermore, I wasn't too angry with Bochy pulling Sanchez. He was near the 100 pitch count and if he gave up another run, his confidence would have gotten shelled. After his no-hitter, and with Johnson on the DL, we need to be careful with our development of Sanchez, and I felt Bochy did the right thing with Sanchez in the sixth. Sanchez has nothing to be ashamed about. He had a great start and I really believe he is a better pitcher than he was in the first couple of months in the season.

Overall, a big win for the Giants to start off this series. This is a very crucial series that could be a measuring stick for this team. However, with us being back over .500, and coming off two trade deadline deals this week, I think we are building some much needed momentum as we enter August. I'm not too high on Sadowski tomorrow (especially with him pitching against new Phillies acquisition Cliff Lee), but if the Giants can swing the bats like they did tonight, than Sadowski won't have to worry about much. If Sadowski has showed us anything, he has showed that he can pitch with a lead, as evidenced by his two wins.

Postgame box notes:

Winning pitcher: Jonathan Sanchez (4-9) 5.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO.
Losing pitcher: Rodrigo Lopez (3-1) 4 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO.

Giants standouts: Eugenio Velez, 3-for-5, 2B (3), 3 RBI. Pablo Sandoval, 2-for-4, 2B (30), HR (16), 4 RBI. Edgar Renteria, 2-for-4.
Phillies standouts: Chase Utley, HR (23). Ryan Howard, 2B (23). Jimmy Rollins, 2B (27). Ben Francisco (1).

Probable starters for next game: Lee (first start in NL) vs. Sadowski (2-3).

Potent Preview: Philadelphia Phillies (58-41) at San Francisco Giants (55-46)

Probable starters:
PHI: Rodrigo Lopez (3-0) 3.09 ERA. SFO: Jonathan Sanchez (3-9) 4.92 ERA.

Okay, I know this is late, but I didn't want to get into the habit of missing previews. Furthermore, I'm very intrigued by this series as a whole. It's a matchup of two very different teams in terms of how their team is made up. The Phillies, in all honesty, are scary offensively. The fivesome of Victorino, Utley, Werth, Howard and Ibanez is flat out frightening. They can hit bombs, they can get big hits and they make it downright hard for pitchers when they face the first five hitters of the lineup. I hate to admit this, but other than the Dodgers, the Phillies have the best offensive lineup in the National League.

That being said, the Giants have one of the best rotations in the league. They have Lincecum and Cain, and have a great bullpen in guys like Affeldt and even Wilson, who is starting to shake off the rust he had during those last couple of outings in June. The only problem? The Giants won't be throwing out their best two starters in this series as Cain pitched the third game of the Pittsburgh series and won't see any action in the four game series. Thus, with Sanchez, Sadowski and Zito on the hill, this series could be a nightmare for Giants fans if the ball doesn't fall right. However, with the series at home, and the fact they are away from Coors Field 2.0 in Citizens Bank Ballpark, I like the Giants' chances in this one.

Granted, they will need Sanchez and Sadowski not to blow up and they will need Zito to not give up those big innings, but with the way the Giants have been playing the last week, I'm definitely hopeful that the Giants will give the defending World Series champs a lot bigger challenge than most of the experts would think.

For game updates check out the SJ Mercury's Andrew Baggarly's Giants blog at Extra Baggs. For live game thread and chat, check out the McCovey Chronicles.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sanchez-Alderson Trade Will Determine Future of SF Giants GM Brian Sabean

By acquiring Freddy Sanchez (middle) from Pittsburgh in exchange for lauded pitching prospect Tim Alderson, GM Brian Sabean (right), in the last year of his contract, has put his job status in the hands of the Pirates' All-Star second baseman.

From Bleacher Report

If anything, the San Francisco Giants GM has bought himself at least one more year as GM in the Bay Area.

Giants fans clamored for an offensive upgrade, as the team ranked second to last in the National League in runs scored, and Sabean came through as he was told.

On Monday, Sabean traded away minor league pitching prospect Scott Barnes for first baseman Ryan Garko from Cleveland.

On paper, Garko is what the Giants need in order to spark their inconsistent offense. With the Indians this year, Garko was batting .285 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI.

The deal did not come without some costs though. Barnes, an initially low-valued prospect going into the year, has rose his stock considerably this season in Single-A ball. This season in San Jose, Barnes had a 12-3 record and a 2.85 ERA.

However, Sabean did not stop with Garko in terms of his decision to upgrade immediately.

Today, it was confirmed that the Giants would acquire All-Star second baseman Freddy Sanchez from Pittsburgh for heralded pitching prospect Tim Alderson.

The deal certainly comes as a surprise to many Giants fans. Considering that the Pirates practically gave Nate McLouth away to the Braves for practically nothing in return, many thought the Giants would acquire Sanchez at a relatively low cost.

Many people thought in order to acquire Sanchez, the Giants would lose either second baseman Kevin Frandsen, outfielder/first baseman John Bowker, first baseman Jesus Guzman or at worst, all three.

Instead, the Giants parted ways with one of their top draft pick in 2007 in Alderson (the other was Madison Bumgarner).

While the Alderson trade does not cripple the Giants' farm system due to the amount of pitching depth the Giants have accumulated through their last few drafts, the move hurts the progress the organization was making with their farm system.

It is also a mixed signal from Sabean.

In many ways, Sabean had convinced Giants fans he was going to take a different route with the Giants' minor league players. He seemed intent on refraining from trading away their top prospects in order to get player who could make immediate, but in the end, brief, contributions.

It seemed that Sabean was sticking with that plan when he passed on making a run for Matt Holliday, and I was fine with it. As long as that was the definite long-term solution, I was up for seeing it being carried all the way through.

However, by trading away their second-best pitching prospect behind Madison Bumgarner, that solution has been dismantled at least a little bit for the time being.

Who knows why Sabean deviated so suddenly.

Perhaps he is convinced that Garko and Sanchez are indeed the missing pieces to this team, and he feels that their worth currently will outweigh Alderson and Barnes' in the future.

Maybe he believes heavily that the minor league pitching depth that they accumulated in the draft the last few years can overcome the loss of these two arms.

Whatever his reasons are, the bottom line is this:

Sabean's job will be determined on how Alderson and Sanchez pan out.

The Garko trade is also crucial to this team, but it is small peanuts compared to the trade that occurred this afternoon.

Despite how ballyhooed a prospect Alderson is, we still don't know how he will turn out at the major league level. He could be the next big thing, the next Matt Cain or the next Tim Lincecum.

Then again though, he could also be the next Kurt Ainsworth, Jason Grili or William Van Landingham.

In order for Sabean to keep his job two years from now, he will need Alderson to be closer to the latter, and he will need Sanchez to have an immediate impact when he becomes the Giants' everyday second baseman.

Sanchez needs to be as good as advertised, and worth the big prospect that was deemed "untouchable" at one point by the Giants organization months ago.

He needs to be closer to the All-Star infielder he was from April-June, and less like the player he has become in July.

Since July 10, Sanchez has suffered a 22-point batting average drop from .318 to .296. Furthermore, in the month of July, he has only batted .193 with only one RBI and scored only four runs.

His stats in San Francisco need to be a lot better than that in order for the Giants to continue to be Wild Card contenders, and for this trade to be worthwhile.

However, despite what Sanchez does during these last two months of the season, Sabean will still have a job next year.

Alderson is still a year away at the earliest in terms of making the jump to the Major League level (though considering how bare the Pirates are at this moment, he could see time at the MLB level midway through next year).

So you have to give Sabean the benefit at the doubt when his contract ends this year and they begin negotiations on his extension.

I can't imagine his extension will be very long-term. If anything, it will probably be very similar in structure to the two-year contract he signed in 2007.

Thus, fans better get used to seeing Sabean for at least the next couple of years in San Francisco.

If Sanchez ends up putting us over the top (very unlikely) and Alderson proves to be more of a bust than a breakout, it is safe to say Sabean will continue to be GM beyond his inevitable next extension.

If this Sanchez trade turns out more like the A.J. Pierzynski trade...well...

Hey, at least it will only be two more years.

The PG Beat: Giants complete sweep of Pirates in extras, Cain throws gem, Eugenio Velez!

No, that is not a Photoshop image or a picture from last year. That is indeed a picture of Eugenio Velez scoring the winning run. Not pictured: Velez kicking butt and taking names at the plate.

Last week against Colorado we had Retro-Jonathan Sanchez night. Today, in game three of the series against the Pirates, it was Retro-Matt Cain day as Matt Cain threw an absolute gem only to NOT get the decision because the Giants couldn't seem to muster a single run in nine innings of play. Thankfully, Randy Winn, who struggled all day, came through for the G-men and drove in the winning run to give the Giants the 1-0 victory in the 10th inning. Seriously, if the Giants would have lost this game to the Bucs, and traded Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez all in the same day, I would have broken my television. That's how bad things could have gotten.

By the way, I don't want to talk about the Freddy Sanchez trade mainly because I'm going to post an article about it later that I wrote for Bleacher Report. Just to give you a preview though, the trade makes me scratch my head. Just when I thought Brian Sabean was done with trading good prospects for questionable veterans, he comes out and does this. This trade deadline habit with Sabean may be worse than the plight Michael Corleone went through in the Godfather Part III.

Yet back to the game. Cain good or what? Say what you want about him, and how he lets on a lot of people on base and all the sabermetrics stuff. In the end, the guy can flat out pitch. I mean, I absolutely love the way he pitches. He works fast, he gets guys out and he gets ahead in the count a lot. That's really all it takes to be a good pitcher at any level, and I think Cain really could be a good one at the Major League level for a long time. I know Lincecum is the sexier pitcher stuff-wise, and when it comes down to it, Lincecum is the guy I want on the hill in the big game just because of his strikeout ability. However, Cain could easily be the ace on any other team and I thank God everyday that we have a one-two punch in Cain and Lincecum. This black and orange combo very well could be Maddux-Glavine of the next decade. That's how good these two pitchers are and how lucky Giants fans are to have them.

Never mind that he didn't get the win in this one. This was a performance that not only should have been a win, but a shutout. It's a shame the Giants hitters don't know how to lay off a first pitch changeup.

Speaking of hitters, where the hell did Eugenio Velez come from? I went to the game last night (a reason why I didn't have the Potent Preview yesterday or today and PG Beat yesterday) and Velez was killing the ball. He crushed his home run and the double he hit was crazy. I mean, this was Eugenio freaking Velez we are talking about! I didn't know the guy could hit it in the gap, let alone over the right field wall. Whatever has gotten into Eugenio, I hope he keeps it up. Velez has always been one of those guys I've secretly rooted for, and I was disappointed it hasn't really worked out at the Major League level like some thought it could have a year ago. That being said, maybe this call up can be his time to shine. With the way he hit in the Pirates series, manager Bruce Bochy will be hardpressed to keep him out of the lineup. With awesome speed, a dynamic glove and a surprising amount of pop in the bat, Velez provides a lot to a Giants lineup that needs some spark. Granted, this was the Pirates, and this may just be a streak, but hey, I'm all for letting it ride on the kid for the time being. Come on Bochy! Keep in Eugenio!

To sum up the series, I don't think you could ask more from a team if you're a Giants fan. We were the better team going in and we ended up proving it by getting the sweep. Was it pretty? No, but I'll take it, especially with Colorado dropping two in New York and Los Angeles getting their butts handed to them in St. Louis for two games. This was exactly the series the Giants needed to get back into the swing of things and they did just that. The Phillies won't be as easy, but it's safe to say with this sweep that they have a lot of momentum and a lot more confidence going in than they did a week ago when people were wondering if the Giants' first half was just a mirage.

That of course is still to be determined, but overall, I'm happy about the wins and I hope Sanchez and Sadowski (who is still in the rotation much to my surprise) can hold down the fort for the first two games at AT&T against Philly. It will be tough for those two, but in their own home park (where Howard, Victorino and Werth won't have the benefit of playing in Coors Field 2) I give them a good chance against the Phils, probably more than most handicappers would.

Postgame box notes:

Winning pitcher: Brian Wilson (3-4) 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO.
("Should have been" Winning pitcher: Matt Cain 9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 SO.)
Losing pitcher: Matt Capps (2-6) 0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO.

Giants standouts: Eugenio Velez, 2-4. Randy Winn, hit game-winning RBI.
Pirates standouts: Zach Duke (7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO, 87 pitches. That's efficiency!)

Probable starters for Giants next game against Philadelphia: Lopez (3-0) vs. Sanchez (3-9).
Probable starters for Pirates next game against Washington: Lannan (7-7) vs. Ohlendorf (8-8).

Monday, July 27, 2009

The PG Beat: Lincecum looks "Pedro-esque", Bonds sighting, Giants actually gain ground in NL West

After striking out 15 batters and pitching nine innings despite no shutout on the line, Lincecum inched closer to Pedro Martinez, the gold standard of modern pitchers.

15, baby. That's how many strikeouts Tim Lincecum had in the Giants' 4-2 win over Pittsburgh tonight. In many ways, Lincecum's performance tonight further proved to me that he is becoming the "Pedro Martinez" of this current generation of pitchers. You know what his stuff is. You know what he pitches he has to offer, you know what he is capable of, and still...he mows them down. That's something Pedro did on a regular basis. Everybody knew the scouting report on Pedro back in his days in Montreal, and yet, on a consistent basis, Pedro stepped up to the challenge and took the opposition down with ease until he ran into shoulder problems in 2004.

However, making that comparison of Lincecum to Pedro has been tough to do mainly because he doesn't have the cockiness or mean attitude of Simmons' favorite pitcher. Pedro could care less if he hit a batter in the head with a ball. Pedro could care less if a bench coach charging him in anger was fat, 60 years old and senile. Pedro was a surefire killer on the mound, and unfortunately, Lincecum does not have that. He doesn't have the nastiness in terms of attitude, he doesn't have the mean cockiness, but rather a Mark Fidrych, goofy cockiness that endears him even to opposing fans, something Pedro couldn't do in his wildest dreams because opposing fans hated Pedro so much. I can't ever see an opposing fan flat out hating Lincecum. He's like Floyd Patterson to Pedro's Sonny Liston. Even if you're team gets KO'd by Lincecum like the Pirates did tonight, at the end you're kind of like " least he seems like a great kid."

Because of that lack of mean streak, Lincecum will never be Pedro fully. That being said, he did show a Pedro-esque grit by taking the mound in the ninth. Look, he had nothing to prove by going out there in the ninth. He lost the shutout in the sixth, it was only a two-run game. Wilson certainly could have come against the five-six-seven hitters and punched his 26th save, and everyone would have been fine with that. Everybody still would have been talking about how Lincecum tied his career high in strikeouts tonight.

Instead, Lincecum, with the game still within striking distance, went out to the mound, with a pitch count over 100, and simply nailed the coffin in the ninth, striking out two hitters in the process to set a new game high in strikeouts at 15. Yet I don't think it was at all about the strikeouts. I really believe he could care less about setting a new season-high. Instead, he had the mentality that "This was his game, and nobody else was going to finish it."

In my mind, tonight's game and his decision to finish the game off was a step in the maturation process of Lincecum. We've seen this kid progress from hot-rookie, to team ace and now, he's making the transition to "big-time gamer." That's not an easy status to get. Guys like Pedro, Josh Beckett and Roger Clemens have status like this. Is Lincecum there yet? Not quite, but he's almost there, because only a guy who shows characteristics of the "big-time gamer" would go out in the ninth in a 4-2 game like Lincecum did tonight. Hopefully, this performance only bodes better things for the "Freak," not only for the rest of the season, but for the rest of his tenure in San Francisco as well (which I hope will be a very long time).

As for the game itself, it was a typical Giants offensive performance...but in a good way. We mustered up enough offense to win and you know what? I'll take it. A win is a win in my book and add that with the fact that both the Dodgers and Rockies lost, and we finally gained some ground in the standings for the first time in a long while. With both the Dodgers and the Rockies on the road, and the Giants playing at home, this could be a big homestand for the Giants. If the Giants can continue their hot play a AT&T, and if the Dodgers and Rockies can lose more games on their respective road trips, then the Giants can finally gain some of that momentum they swung a hold of back in June, and carry that into August, which is a crucial month during the baseball season.

The "Panda" came through with a big game tonight, as evidenced by his 3-for-4 performance at the plate. However, the big story was the Giants sending down Bowker and Downs and recalling Guzman and Velez. To be perfectly honest, I was surprised. I did not expect this to happen. Don't get me wrong, I like that both those guys are down, but calling up Guzman and Velez? Quite peculiar, and it makes you wonder if Sabean has something else up his sleeve other than the Ryan Garko deal he pulled this afternoon. I have a feeling there is, and I think Freddy Sanchez not playing tonight was a hint that something will be announced soon (most likely involving Sanchez...if you get what I'm trying to say...wink).

Lastly, great ceremony for Sue Burns, the Giants minority owner who passed away last week. It was wonderful how they put it together, and it was even better that the Giants were able to honor her passing with a W. Furthermore, good stuff in terms of seeing Barry Bonds back at AT&T Park. My dad recognized how slim Bonds looked tonight, and in all honesty, he really did look a little less bulky from his last days in a Giants uniform in 2007. Whether that is surprising or not considering his steroid circumstances, I will leave that to the cynic in you. Nonetheless, it was cool to see Bonds back at the ballpark, even if it was in civilian clothes. Granted, I don't think we'll see him in a Giants uniform ever again, and I wouldn't want to either, but can't hate Bonds if you're a Giants fan. He gave us too many memories.

Big win for the Giants, and hopefully this is the spark they need to get the ball rolling on this homestand. I'll be going to the game tomorrow with a friend, so I might be doing something special on the blog tomorrow night after I get back from the game, so definitely check it out.

Postgame box notes:

Winning pitcher: Tim Lincecum (11-3) 9 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 15 SO.
Losing pitcher: Paul Maholm (6-5) 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO.

Giants standouts: Andres Torres, 3B (5). Randy Winn, 2-for-4. Pablo Sandoval, 3-for-4, 2B (29). Bengie Molina, 2B (19).
Pirates standouts: Delwyn Yong, 2B (7). Steve Pearce, 2B (4).

Probable starters for next game: Morton (2-2) vs. Zito (6-10).

Potent Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates (43-55) at San Francisco Giants (52-46)

Probable starters:
PIT: Paul Maholm (6-4) 4.63 ERA. SFO: Tim Lincecum (10-3) 2.45 ERA.

After a dreadful 3-7 road trip against Pittsburgh, Atlanta and NL West rival Colorado, the Giants finally come back home hoping to avenge the two losses they were handed back a week ago at PNC Park after the All-Star break. The Pirates certainly are a different team on the road, as their 17-34 record indicates. To make things more enticing in the Giants favor, the men in black and orange have been hard to beat at home as well, illustrated by a 31-14 record at AT&T Park.

It will definitely be interesting this game mainly because of the Freddy Sanchez rumors going into this series. With the trade deadline on Friday, it is certainly plausible to believe that Sanchez may not leave San Francisco when this series is done, ala Doug Mientkiwiciz, who swapped locker room after the Twins finished their series with Boston. Granted, nothing has been confirmed yet, but even yesterday in SJ Mercury Giants beat writer, Andrew Baggarly's blog, he mentioned that it was highly possible that Sanchez would switch uniforms either before the series started or was over. The Giants certainly could use Sanchez to solidify things at second base, but with the Twins also contenders for his services, you can't say for sure he'll be a Giant just yet.

As with every Lincecum start, I'm extremely excited for this one. I'm excited mainly because I think Lincecum is upset after his last couple of outings, which have been good, but characterized by lack of run support and rare, but big mistakes (e.g. multi-run homers). Usually, when he is coming off a stretch like that, he usually musters his best stuff up, especially while at home. Furthermore, with a Giants team that I think is embarrassed by their last offensive outing against Maholm, this game has all the making of a blowout in favor of the Giants.

Granted, that may just be wishful thinking, but I just have that feeling with the "Freak" on the hill and the team coming back from a long, painful road trip, this could be a night where the Giants simply have one of their better performances. This team definitely has a different vibe when they're playing at home than on the road so far this year, and hopefully that can continue in the second half of the season.

Or they could continue the crappy play in the second half. Who knows. It's certainly hard to predict anything with this Giants team.

For game updates check out the SJ Mercury's Andrew Baggarly's Giants blog at Extra Baggs. For live game thread and chat, check out the McCovey Chronicles.

If It Meant Getting Victor Martinez, the Giants Should Part Ways with One of Their Top Prospects

After Matt Holliday was traded to St. Louis, I thought all the real impact players were off the market come the July 31 Trade Deadline.

Now though, it looks like there may be someone else who could be huge for the Giants. The only problem? Chances are, one of our top prospects will probably be lost to acquire this high-impact player by the Trade Deadline.

Look I love our prospects as much as the next Giants fan. I love Madison Bumgarner and the potential he could bring to the rotation next season. I really like Buster Posey, and was really impressed with what he did at Florida State last season. I am even fond of Tim Alderson, who isn't as good as Bumgarner in my mind, but still a very good prospect that could make the rotation nightmarish with Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez (potentially).

Yet when it comes down to it, I would trade any of them for a big-name, relatively young bat in a second. And according to San Francisco Chronicle Giants beat writer Henry Schulman, the Giants could acquire that kind of player in Victor Martinez.

According to Schulman's article today, the Indians have scouted the Giants farm system, which could be the first step in a possible deal for Martinez and perhaps even first baseman Ryan Garko. Garko is batting .285 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI ins 78 games, and would be a solid upgrade or platoon player with current Giants first baseman Travis Ishikawa.

However, the real gem of the deal is Martinez who is currently hitting .287 with 14 home runs, 64 RBI and a .833 OPS. Martinez immediately would be the cleanup threat the Giants have desperately missed all season, and he is still a relatively young player as well. He's only 30-years old, and his contract would hardly be a burden on this team (he currently makes $5.9 million this season, $2.1 million less than Edgar Renteria).

Furthermore, with Bengie Molina in the last year of his contract, the Giants would have an excellent upgrade at catcher next season. Catcher-of-the future Buster Posey would not have to be rushed up, and the Giants would still be contenders with the team revolving around a great rotation in Lincecum and Cain, and an excellent 3-4 hitting duo in Pablo Sandoval and Martinez.

Granted, that would be considering we don't have to give up Posey in the deal. With the Indians giving away a catcher in Martinez, it would make sense if they asked for a catcher in return, and Posey certainly would generate Indians GM Mark Shapiro's interest. However, considering the high draft pick the Giants used on Posey in last year's draft, I can't see Sabean immediately parting with him. After all, Martinez really has only one left year in his contract, and should Martinez walk after next season (that is if he has another solid year next year), the Giants would have no backup plan at catcher.

So to see the Giants throw in Posey on this deal would be ridiculous from Sabean's perspective. Who should the Giants give up then to acquire Martinez? As crazy as this sounds, I would be open to give up Alderson or even Bumgarner. I know what you're saying, "Bumgarner? Are you freaking nuts? You should throw yourself off a cliff for bringing up such an idea!"

Just hear me out though. Minor league arms are unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen with them, especially with a young guy out of high school like Bumgarner who is only 19. If Bumgarner was some guy out of college with three years of college dominance down his belt, I would say "Hey, the guy is only a step away from the majors." Yet in all honesty, even though he's dominated in Double-A this season, he's still probably a year away from making any real impact. I would want to see how he fares in Triple-A first before we let him make the jump to San Francisco, and even then, that jump probably won't come until midway next season at the soonest.

In my mind, the only reason to keep a hotshot prospect is if he would have the kind of immediate impact in the future that would make him impossible to deal. He needs to be a guy that if traded away, the team would be crippled in the future. With Lincecum and Cain, he would be the third best starter at-best for the Giants in the next couple of years. If Bumgarner was in line to be the No. 1 ace for the Giants next year or two years down the road, I would say "We got too much riding on this guy to trade him away." Yet we really don't. At best, Bumgarner would be a great third option, but the little-realized fact is there are always arms out there. You can certainly get a decent third or fourth starter on the market for a lot less than you think, and you can always build pitchers through the draft.

To put a positive spin on this situation for all those who don't want to give up antyhing, I doubt Sabean would give up both Alderson and Bumgarner. So if worse comes to worse, we would still have one good prospect left, which could be Alderson. That's the beauty of stacking prospects through the draft like the Giants have the past few years: The Giants can afford to give one away because they have other effective options that can make up the difference if one guys leaves.

Guys like Martinez though aren't as easy to come by. Either they don't turn out as good as advertised, or you are forced to grossly overpay for them. Martinez would give us one-and-a-half solid seasons with his bat at a relatively inexpensive price. Then, if he asks for too much money and leaves San Francisco, we could ease in Posey, who can gain valuable experience learning from a younger veteran like Martinez, who has been in this league for quite a while now.

In addition, Martinez is a great chemistry guy, which would benefit this Giants team, which already has great chemistry to begin with. Can you imagine the impact Martinez would have on the younger stars like Sandoval? Can you imagine him chopping it up with Uribe on the bench? He not only would make the Giants better with his offensive skills, but he would keep this Giants team at ease, especially now where it seems the pressure of the second-half has seemed to have its effect on this relatively young team.

In my mind, there are no minuses with getting Martinez, even if it comes at the expense of somebody as prized as Bumgarner. The Giants getting Martinez would be like Maggie Gyllenhal replacing Katie Holmes in The Dark Knight. Katie Holmes is more attractive, but Gyllenhal is the more proven actress, and she still is relatively comparable with Holmes in a lot of physical categories other than the fact Gyllenhall's face makes her look like she hasn't slept in three weeks (Holmes is still more attractive in the end, but even then, that is starting to go away as Tom Cruise sucks the life out of her).

Bumgarner is like Holmes. The upside is there, but Bumgarner hasn't proven it at the next level yet. He has only thrived against weaker competition, much like Holmes thrived with lesser actors , actresses and directors in films like Disturbing Behavior and The Gift. Granted, I love Bumgarner and think he could be a great pitcher, but there are no guarantees with him. He could be the next Lincecum, be he could also be the next Kurt Ainsworth as well.

It's not like we're getting an old guy past his prime like Nick Johnson or Jermaine Dye. If that was the case, I would be knocking my head against a wall knowing that we just gave up a guy two years away from perhaps hitting it big for a guy who could be out of the league in the same time span. Martinez is a player that is just hitting his groove, and would be more than just a rent-a-player as well like Holliday would have been this season.

If this deal has any clout, the Giants should go for it, regardless of how much they "value" Bumgarner or Alderson.

After all, you can't put a value on a guy who can create different handshakes for every individual player on the roster.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sadowski! Sanchez! Pucetas! A three-way dance for the Giants' fifth rotation spot!

Who will the last rotation spot. Will it be Ryan Sadowski? Jonathan Sanchez? Kevin Pucetas? Not even ECW commentator Joey Styles knows for sure.

From Bleacher Report

Who knows if Randy Johnson will be healthy for the remainder of the season. At 45 years of age, it isn't a foregone conclusion that he will come back from the shoulder injury he suffered in his last start against the Houston Astros on July 5

Johnson has never really suffered from an injury like this before, so it is certainly possible that this shoulder injury may derail and perhaps end his illustrious career by the end of the season.

However, if Johnson does come back from this shoulder injury (let's hope that the MRI goes well on Monday) and is able to work back in the rotation, that leaves the Giants with a dilemma:

Who is best suited for the fifth spot in the rotation?

Do the Giants go with the Jonathan Sanchez, the inconsistent, hard-throwing lefty who threw a no-hitter on July 10?

Do they go with Ryan Sadowski, who followed up two great starts with three rather forgettable ones?

Or do they go with the unknown commodity in Kevin Pucetas, who has shone in Fresno, but hasn't proved anything yet at the Major League level?

In some ways, it is the kind of position battle that is similar to an old-school, three-way dance for the title during the glory years of Extreme Championship Wrestling.

All three guys are certainly different, and certainly have their respective talents. Yet like the old ECW wrestlers, each starting pitcher has the kind of flaws that have kept them from being truly great.

Sanchez is similar to a Lance Storm. He has achieved some success at the next level (as evidenced by the no-hitter), and his skill-set is undeniable. However, his consistency and his struggling mental makeup have prevented him from being a real key cog in this rotation (much like Storm never had the mental fortitude or charisma to be a real serious impact star in ECW).

With a 3-9 record this year, and a 4.92 ERA, no baseball experts or fans are going to be confusing him with top of the rotation aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain anytime soon.

Ryan Sadowski is similar to a Tommy Dreamer. When you judge him on looks and skill-set alone he isn't all the impressive. Furthermore, his stats at any level haven't been that awesome either (in Fresno this season, Sadowski was 5-2 with a 4.11 ERA) similar to how Dreamer never really got a lot of titles in his tenure as ECW headliner.

Like Dreamer did for so many years during ECW's existence though, for two straight starts, Sadowski showed something that went beyond physical skills. He dominated and endeared to the fans with his excellent pitching outings that had people asking themselves "Where the heck did this kid come from?" People started to be alright with Sanchez being regulated to bullpen duty because "We have this kid Sadowski."

Unfortunately, in his last three starts, Sadowski's physical skills and past has caught up with him (as it did for Dreamer during his last couple of years in ECW). Sadowski has gotten shelled and struggled with his control, especially in his last two outings.

Now, Giants fans wonder if Sadowski' two strong pitching performances against Milwaukee and Houston were just flashes in the pan, and not indicative of a bright future like the once thought.

As for Pucetas, one could liken him to Rhyno. Pucetas has been excellent this season in Fresno with a 10-2 record, 3.26 ERA and 1.21 WHIP (and would have been called up earlier instead of Sadowski had he not pitched the day before the scheduled start against Milwaukee).

Pucetas, however, hasn't played at the Major League level and many wonder if he can be successful beyond Triple-A. Stuff-wise, he isn't all that great (according to the Baseball Cube, Pucetas has a K-rating of 61, which stems from only having 70 strikeouts in 121.1 innings pitched).

Rhyno proved himself at the ECW level, but not without some criticism that is eerily similar to Pucetas.

Many wrestling fans wonder how truly great he was as a wrestler, for most of the wrestlers he beat in the twilight years of ECW wouldn't have lasted in ECW's heyday.

Unfortunately, Rhyno never got the opportunity to prove that he was up there in legacy with guys like Dreamer, the Sandman and Raven. ECW folded shortly after he won the title, and he was an afterthought in the WWE.

A similar fate could happen to Pucetas. He has only excelled against Triple-A competition, and with guys like Cain, Lincecum and Zito instilled firmly in the rotation, Pucetas might not get much of a shot starting at the next level (even though with Sadowski struggling it is plausible to think he will be coming up to San Francisco real soon).

So now that we know which pitchers resemble which wrestlers, who will win this lethal and cutthroat three-way dance for the Giants last spot in the rotation with a NL Wild Card spot on the line?

To be perfectly honest, it could be anyone.

If you have to point to anyone, you have to narrow down the race between Pucetas and Sanchez.

Sanchez obviously has the advantage in terms of the feat achieved earlier this year and stuff-wise. At the same time, if Pucetas can come up and have an impact if called up, the Giants will be hard-pressed to keep him out of the rotation if he is piling up wins during this crucial playoff race with Colorado.

Then again, Pucetas has to prove it at the next level. Sanchez has done it somewhat. Sadowski has done it somewhat. Pucetas, on the other hand, can't say that.

It will definitely be an interesting week for the Giants. Not only will they be dealing with the unpredictability of what GM Brian Sabean will do at the trade deadline, but they will also be dealing with this very crucial rotation situation should Johnson return soon.

Whoever wins, this is clear: they need someone to have an impact and help get the Giants back on the winning track.

In the words of Joey Styles, the three-way dance between Sanchez, Sadowski and Pucetas certainly will "be...EXTREME!"